Sunday, August 2, 2015

Africa-Europe 2015 Day 35. Tinghir to Ksar Ait Benhaddou

We left Tinghir with the fresh of 9 am, planning on going west along the southern margin of the High Atlas. Farther to the south, the chain of the Anti Atlas paralleled our way. The area between the two mountain ranges is an arid high plateau, but is crossed by several of the streams coming down from the High Atlas to provide ribbons of agricultural land.

I am still suffering from nasal drip, so in a moment of desperation I took a wad of toilet paper and plugged it into my left nostril. It was like magic (uncomfortable, but still magic), and from there on I didn’t have to sneeze or have watery eyes.

The day was mostly spent in travel, but our guide had the good sense of giving us enough rest stops to make it bearable. By now we have been traveling together for several days, and personalities are becoming better defined. Most of my companions are very agreeable, but there is always a small group of “special” folks who can easily get on your nerves on a long trip.

We went through the small towns of Boumaine Dades (known for its rose water and perfumes), and Kalaat M’Gouna, until eventually we reached the impressive city of Ouarzazate, dubbed the Hollywood of Morocco. This modern city has ample boulevards, nice looking buildings, and at least four movie studios. I had never thought about this, but Morocco being a very stable country has provided the location for many desert movies (Gladiator, Jewel of the Nile, and Cleopatra, to name but a few). And here I was thinking that most of them had been filmed in the Mojave Desert. Movie producers like Morocco for the scenery, and for the fact that they have an unlimited supply of set builders and extras.

After lunch in Ouarzazate, a brief drive brought us to a small village with the impressive name of Ksar Ait Benhaddou. A ksar is the collection of several kasbahs, and lo and behold, just across the river from our hotel there is a beautiful ksar that crawls up a small hill to form an imposing medieval fortress. Ksar Ait Benhaddou was a toll point, where caravans moving across the High Atlas had to stop to pay taxes, or to exchange merchandise moving from the desert to the coast and viceversa. This was the happening place from the 13 to the 18th centuries, and in such a long time many waves of history passed through the town. Today it is a World Heritage site, but it is unfortunately decaying, because adobe structures are only good as long as they are being inhabited (they have to be in constant state of repair, or a crack will soon be enlarged to a cleft by running water).

In the afternoon we went for a walk through the ksar, and it really felt like you were walking through history. From high on top you have a beautiful look of the river, its strip of emerald green agriculture, and the endless desert beyond. You also get a nice view of the desert arena of Gladiator J

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