To Marrakech

The road to Marrakech became a kind of Zeno’s paradox. What I initially planned as a straight shot began to be divided into smaller and smaller chunks, each extending into longer and longer duration. Going along with my new feeling that I shouldn’t run around like I only had two weeks, I decided to stop halfway in Ouarzazate. Since I came back from the dunes too late to catch the one morning bus to Ouarzazate anyway, I was advised to take taxis to the nearest sizable town and try from there. So off to Rissani I went. After bumming around at the gran taxi (as opposed to the petit taxis that only operate in town) for an hour, one of the drivers took pity on me and explained in French that there was another stand for my destination. I guess they were waiting for me to crack and get the whole taxi for myself – substantially more expensive for me than sharing it with others. I also noticed some minibusses but they weren’t going in my direction.

As soon as I turned up at the other stand I was bundled into a taxi. After arriving at Erfoud I went toward a bus station. The private bus companies had no more busses that day and somewhere on the way to the main ticket office a hustler attached himself to me under the guise of being a travel agent. After bouncing between a few places this is what happened: it turned out that the three o’clock bus was canceled; my helper drew me a map and suggested I take a minibus to a town halfway to Ouarzazate and then offered me a place on it. Actually no, the minibus would only take me part way there. I’d have to complete the journey by gran taxi. Now the problem with these hustlings is I never know if I am being ripped off or if I’m being greedy. Did this guy deserve a tip or would he get a cut from the minibus driver? Was the minibus ticket really worth 10 dollars as I had paid slighly more than that for a bus trip that was three times as long? Was the bus really canceled or was that just something the ticket seller said to help his friend and my new guide? And is the minibus really that far away and past that dusty lot or am I being given the long way around to justify a tip or even to be robbed? You see how the paranoia really knows no limits in these kinds of situations.

Caves in Todra Gorge. People live there. You can see clothes drying in the lower left.

We left on Moroccan time, that is an hour late. Good thing my time has no value right now. I guess the locals are just used to it. We made multiple stops to pick up more passengers, give school children a ride to school and so the driver could chat to a buddy. One time our half-full bus, capacity: 15 (official), stopped by a group of about fifteen middle-aged women and they proceeded to pile on, having to stand. Don’t think badly of me, i was in the front seat, already sharing it with another passenger, there was nowhere for me to get up. I was worried I’d get to Tinghir (as usual with Moroccan town names there are multiple spellings, not including typos on road signs) after dark. But the minibus driver was really helpful in getting me on a gran taxi and I got to town with lots of time to spare before sun down after taking three gran taxis and one minibus in one day.

Despite the little bumps along the way I felt very positive about my trip, maybe for the first time. Was it was the effect of the desert? It is often claimed to have a spiritual impact on people? Maybe it was the filling food and the physical activity of running up dunes and balancing on the camel. Or maybe it was the shower after returning, the desert sand providing extra scrubbing? Whatever the case, I felt really light and ready for anything.

I’m herding goats.

As in every town it was hard to avoid hustlers so I will say no more about it. The town was a lot less hectic than Fez and left a good impression. I woke up early the next morning and caught a taxi to the Todra gorge. It looks like a fantastic spot for rock climbing. I took a donkey path up the mountain but unfortunately did not have time to get to the top and see the village that is reportedly on the other side. But walking alone between massive walls of rock with only the occasional sound of a goat or a passing motorcycle tourist to break the silence was magical.

It’s really hard to capture the scale of the place. This gives only the barest idea.

After I got off the bus in Ouarzazate I met a couple whom I was sure I’ve seen before. It took us a little time to piece it together – we shared a taxi from the bus station in Fez. I am sure this will not be the last time I run into travelers I’ve met before. My plan was to stay in Ouarzazate but since I didn’t have a reservation and the bus station seemed to be far from the center I decided to share a taxi with them once again. We went to At Ben Haddou, an old village that’s been used for films such as “Gladiator” and “Time Bandits”, a fact that many signs will remind you. Even though the village is only about as old as Baltimore (I could be wrong about this) it doesn’t stop it being used to represent classical antiquity. I doubt things have changed much in those centuries. The village is largely abandoned but there are still some residences and shops and there’s a newer village just across the dry river bed with a ton of tourist accommodation.

Ait Ben Haddou from a distance. Granary on top of the hill surrounded by fortified walls.

I’m glad I stayed there rather than Ouarazazate. It was a heck of a lot more atmospheric. In addition to the magnificent setting, we caught the sounds of part of a wedding ceremony. We couldn’t see because it was behind a wall but the drums and chanting were more intense and exciting than I could believe possible.

The next day I took a bus to Marrakesh. I will only say that the drive is among the most beautiful I’ve seen in my life. You cross the mountains and you see many villages, and wooded valleys, and cars going around the bends far below.

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen many street musicians in Morocco.