Friday, August 29, 2008
Back in training one of the language sessions we had was on travel safety – we learned the words for “cracked windshield” and “bald tire” and were told that if we were sent to a taxi that looked unsafe that we should ask for another taxi. The reality is that you go into the taxi they tell you to go to – sometimes it takes long enough for the six people you need to fill the taxi; if you waited for another taxi you might never get anywhere. I used to text Rose whenever I got into a taxi with a cracked windshield, because I was thinking of her and those days in CBT, but on this trip – and I would say also near me recently – there were more taxis with cracked windshields than without. I don’t remember the words in darija anyway. It’s enough for me to ask for the window handle (“key to the window” – and the word for window sounds like the word for chicken so as I ask I always think “key to the chicken”) should I be lucky enough to be sitting next to the window and have control. On some parts of this journey, I bought two seats – rare in terms of the lifestyle I am supposed to emulate, but not unheard of – since most of the legs of my trip involved more than one taxi and I wanted to make sure I was in a taxi and not waiting for one during the lunchtime lull.
At one of the transfers, in Tiznit, I put my luggage in the back of the taxi and told someone I was going off to the bank…then I came back and told him I was getting a snack…then I came back and told him I was going to buy water. Each time I left my luggage in the back of the taxi, I thought, “what am I doing?” Maybe I felt okay with it because it was a station wagon and I could see it, but if someone wanted to run off with it while I was away, they could have. Shawn had his bag taken from a taxi in Marrakesh, but in general what goes in the trunk stays in the trunk. Still, usually when I am waiting for a taxi and I hear the trunk open and close I make them open it and make sure my stuff is still there before we take off. This may be too much detail, but I think it paints the picture of travel here. They remove the window handles in the passenger and back seats and you have to ask for them. Remember, there are four people squeezed into the back and two in the front, one next to the door and one next to the gear shift.
The time changed on June 1, but many of the taxis in the south (also in the east, I noticed) still had their clocks set to “old time.” They won’t have to worry about it much longer – instead of the planned fall-back date of September 27, we found out this week that the time will change back on Monday, September 1, which is also the first day of Ramadan. That’s good; those who do have to work by the clock – the people in the artisana, for example – will be able to break their fast that much earlier. Well, not really – it goes by the light and the call to prayer – but they can leave work earlier.
Back to Tafraoute…the Berber language there is Tashelhit, and the second language most people spoke was French or even English, not Arabic. So my darija was of little use, thought I did try to use it, but I did pick up a few words of Tashelhit. It is similar to the Tamazight that is spoken in the Middle Atlas – that is, someone who speaks one could understand what the other is saying – but many words are different. Tarifit, the language of the Rif Berbers, is the most different from the others. In Tafraoute, the women wear long black wrap-around pieces of fabric that have beaded or sequined edges, sometimes with white headscarves but usually they are in all-black, with exposed faces. When I walked through town I looked for and eventually found one that had orange trim – something about that color combination – but I decided I probably couldn’t pull it off….
After breakfast by the pool, I set off for a walk among the villages of the Ameln Valley – there are 26, along the mountainside, with a network of springs and irrigation and therefore palm trees and agriculture. I have thought it would be cool to walk the Cinque Terre in Italy, and I imagine this to be similar (now I have to move it up on my list so I can confirm yea or nay!). No young men, so it occurred to me that there was no harassment, and no dogs (which can be a problem on country walks near Azrou); actually, I didn’t see many people or animals at all, though I did talk to a couple of old men, a couple of children, and a woman with big silver Berber jewelry (someone really wears it!) to try to figure out which village was which. My plan for the morning was to just walk through some of the villages, and I had a chance to contemplate this – if you have no real aim in mind, but you’re not where you think you’re going, are you lost? I saw four or five villages, all picturesque. The closest village to the auberge has the Traditional House, which is decorated as it was back in the day, and I thought I would walk from there to the former PCV’s village, but I overshot the first one and then it would have taken too long to get to the second one. Four of the villages also have Jewish cemeteries – I did see a couple of cemeteries but there was no reason to think they were Jewish ones so I probably didn’t see any of those either. So was I lost? I still had a nice time, and just when it was getting hot I got back to the auberge for lunch and an afternoon by the pool. And I have something to go back for – more villages, maybe a bike ride – and a day trip to a gorge with some waterfalls that sounds really nice.
I thought I would go into town in the evening. Liese had a cow thermometer – I suspected and confirmed that it was from Holland – and I walked over to it every so often. 41 C/104 F at 3 pm – in the shade. 43/100 at 4:30. I wrote some postcards, and I was running low on reading material with several days to go, so even though it was still hot I walked the 4K into Tafraoute. Inspired by the 3000m steeplechase the night before, I ran the last part of the way. Just kidding! There’s a way to hike there, but since I hadn’t found the “right” villages that morning, I stuck to the road. In a nearby village there’s a prehistoric rock engraving – which I walked to but didn’t find (of course not!). The current first-year SBD volunteer lives in town, and it would have been great to see her, but she was on vacation herself. I walked through the medina – it’s another haven for traditional shoes, and here I found some I fancied – and then ended up in a taxi with fourteen other passengers. Granted it was a station wagon, but it was still packed. Three people in the front (if you ask me they could have fit one more – for example, me, the only other woman, in there), five in my row (at least I was by the window), four in the back seat, and three in the trunk with the hatchback open. Liese invited me to join her for dinner (and the Olympics weren’t on in the bar, so it was an easy decision) on the terrace under the stars, and I had perhaps the best vegetable soup I have ever had. Plus my first pomegranate of the season! They’re not up north yet, and not sweet yet in the south, but it was good!
Tuesday morning, Liese drove me towards the Traditional House – the way was marked by plenty of signs so I can see why she was surprised that I missed the way; hey, I was hiking off the beaten track. The owner is an old blind man who showed me all of the tools and implements of simple village life - I am glad I saw it. I walked back, and once again it was time to move on. When I designed the trip originally I thought I could keep moving east, but when I reviewed it with a map I realized that to get east I would have to backtrack west, which meant spending most of the day in taxis. There’s a bus that goes along the hypotenuse straight to Agadir, but it wasn’t at a good time for me, so I went on the sides of the right triangle. To Tiznit, where this time I took my bags with me when I went to find a snack (and where the artisana, with its silver jewelry, was open, but I resisted), then Agadir (not Inezgane), then Taroudant (where I thought I had seen a Magnum bar the week earlier, but there weren’t any near the taxi stand, so I went without) and on to Talioline, the saffron capital of Morocco and the largest saffron-growing area in the world.
Saffron is, of course, the world’s most expensive spice. It comes from the stamens of the crocus sativas and over 1000 flowers have to be hand-handled to get one gram of saffron. The flowers bloom in the fall, and it would have been nice to see a sea of purple in the brown, but learning about the process (and buying some saffron) had to suffice. I stayed in a place called the Auberge du Safran and had a saffron dinner – Moroccan salad (diced tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers) with argan oil and saffron dressing and a Berber omelette made with saffron. Yum! And now I have some cooking ideas for my saffron; it also has many medicinal properties.
Talioline has a Glaoui Kasbah, partly in ruins and partly still occupied, and I walked there the next morning. I wanted to see the big saffron cooperative, and was told they opened at 9; when I went there at 9:40 they told me 20 minutes – in other words, they were on old time! The cooperative exhibit wasn’t as informative as the one at the auberge where I’d stayed – or maybe it just wasn’t as interesting as it would have been if it had been open an hour earlier – and I decided it was time to leave. I had wandered into a shop the evening before and had a long talk with the owner (again, with his Tashelhit and my Darija, we spoke mostly in English) and I went to say goodbye to him- I feel I made a friend.
Tazenacht is a small town but is known for being a rug center. It has a couple of cooperatives and several rug stores. It is said that bargains can be found there compared to the rug stores in the big cities. Several of the rug styles I seem most attracted to are from the Tazenacht region; I really liked the rug that Bob and Linda bought there on one of their trips, so I stopped there with a mindset to potentially purchase one and at the very least to have lunch. Tazenacht turned out to be hot and quiet. I wandered into a few stores and didn’t see anything I immediately fell in love with. I had a couple of people pull some rugs out for me but I just wasn’t feeling it – to properly rug shop you can’t be in a rush; you have to look, you have to have tea – and when I asked one person for a price, just to get an idea, he gave me a really high price. Bottom line – nothing I couldn’t find at Abdou’s for much less, not to mention from Abdou. So maybe I will do that. I also didn’t see a place where I absolutely had to eat lunch – so, as with Mirleft, I moved on. Wednesday and Thursday were holidays for the King’s birthday, but there was no decoration for the occasion – when I got back to Azrou there were flags flying, but nothing in the south.
I wasn’t planning to stop in Ouarzazate other than to switch taxis, but there was a Greek restaurant there that Helen, Youssef and I had tried to go to that was closed by the time we got there and we ended up at the pizza place next door. Déjà vu – it was closed, so I had pizza next door. And then went on to Skoura, in the Valley of a Thousand Casbahs. I stayed in a restored casbah, Ait Ben Moro. This is another stop that might not be on a typical tourist trip, but another PCV had mentioned it to me – and it turns out that Susan Schaefer Davis stops here on her cultural tours. I thought it had a pool, but it did not, so I stayed in the room for the afternoon, which was quite comfortable – mostly playing solitaire, because of my running low on reading material. I then went for an evening walk among the casbahs – including the one on the 50 dirham bill! I then took a walk into town to get a disposable camera – two batteries ran out while I was away. It’s all right – otherwise I might not have walked into town, so it was nice to have a sense of purpose.
I was the only guest in the hotel that night, which was a little strange. The caretaker said I was the queen of the casbah – and I felt like it, with a delicious dinner and a wonderful night’s sleep and a good breakfast and some time in the garden, playing solitaire. I took another morning casbah walk and was ready to go. I already had a ticket for the 12:40 CTM, because I thought it would be the most comfortable ride, but I probably could have taken taxis earlier and been all right and arrived at home earlier. Oh well – I did some knitting on the bus, which I wouldn’t have been able to do squished into a taxi, and since I didn’t have reading material (all in all I read three magazines, a mystery novel, and everything from COS conference – I probably should have stuck one more book in the suitcase) it was nice to have something to do. And nice to enjoy the desert scenery – more casbahs, large open spaces, camels, women washing laundry in the rivers. I’ve been on that route enough times that it seems familiar, and that felt good. In Errachidia there was a taxi ready to leave when I got there, and I was reminded of how beautiful the Ziz Valley is. All in all it was a wonderful adventure, - I was really glad I went and I would recommend it to others - but I am glad to be home.
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my blog; Lloyd Irvin
my blog; Lloyd Irvin