Thursday, July 21, 2016

MOROCCO: MERZOUGA TO SKOURA VIA THE TODRA AND DADES GORGES

It was tough dragging Bob away from the tents and the camels, but we had New Places to Go that involved a lot of driving--over 200 miles with several planned stops. He tore himself away, and we hopped in the car with our driver Aziz (the same driver we had from Fes to Merzouga) and headed off for more adventures.

It didn't take long to find the first adventure. Eagle-eye Bob noticed this sign, and while he cannot read French, he is awfully good a deciphering pictures, in this case a man milking a camel:

At Bob's bidding, Aziz made a U-turn and we drove through the gate. We looked around the complex and couldn't see any camels, so we were a little suspicious, but Aziz assured us that this was indeed a camel milk vendor:

We found three men sitting in the shade, with a woman in the background. Lickety-split, our friendly host was pouring us a glass of the stuff.  

Surprisingly, I had to work up a little more courage to drink this beverage than it had taken to sip the water from the well in the Erg Chebbi Dunes.
It was a) surprisingly cold and b) surprisingly tasty. It was quite a bit like cow's milk but with undertones of something else. Apparently it is very nutritious, much more nutritious than cow's milk:
Information from the Desert Farms website
We learned that a camel gives about five liters (about 1.3 gallons) of milk a day, half in the morning and half in the evening. These farmers ship their milk to Fes, Marrakech, and other big cities. Bob asked if they make the milk into cheese and they said no. I've since learned that camel's milk is much harder to make into cheese than other types of animal milk. It doesn't coagulate easily.

If camel's milk were available in California, I would buy it. Well, except for the price. A tall glass-and-a-half each cost us a whopping $10 (in a country where the average monthly income is under $700). Between us we maybe guzzled 24 ounces. That makes the milk about $53/gallon. What? Did they think we were gullible AMERICANS or something? But honestly, as in previous circumstances, we were happy to hand over the money. We were paying for the experience, not just the milk.  

However, then the problem arose of how much "commission" our driver was going to get for bringing us by (even though it was totally Bob's doing and not his). To try and disguise the haggling over who got what, one of the men took us over to what sufficed as a corral to show us their goats:

Yep. Those are goats, all right:

Lots of goats. When we asked about whereabouts of the camels, we were told (through our driver/translator) that they were out grazing and only came in at night.

The not-so-discrete haggling over, we hopped back into the car and continued on.

While we were driving, we got an education from Aziz about all things Moroccan. Here are some things he told us:

• About 90% of girls are married at 17 or 18. A few go to college, but not many. First the two families connect, then the prospective couple is introduced to each other. Courtship is short. Premarital sex is not allowed, and Morocco has virtually no single mothers. (Mind you, our guide was a man still in his 20s, and I'm not sure how accurate his facts are.)

• Most schools have class for two hours in the morning, then students have two hours off, and then they come back in the late afternoon for two or three more hours. They also have school on Saturdays, but only in the morning.

• Alcohol is forbidden. A Moroccan citizen caught with alcohol will spend 3-6 months in prison. Alcohol is sold to tourists, but vendors must have a special license, and they can't sell their stock to Moroccans. (Aziz played us a recording of the preacher he had played for us before, this time talking about why Muslims do not drink. He said alcohol is "the only disease sold in a bottle." That's a pretty good description!)

• There is almost no problem with smoking, drugs, or shisha among the young people. They have no money and no time. (We can vouch for that. During our whole trip I only saw two people smoking, and they were both adult men in non-public places.)

Our first rest stop was the Moulay Ali Sharif Mausoleum, an 11th or 12th century structure in Rissani:
Again, I was struck by it's similarities to the Spanish missions in California, including what we would call a cloister walk:

This was a small place, especially since as non-Muslims we were not allowed into the mausoleum or the mosque, but the grounds were exquisite, a wonderful place to sit and meditate if not for the fact that it was just a quick rest stop for us.

Al Sharif was the founder of Morocco's Alaouite Dynasty and ruled from 1631 to 1636. The current king of Morocco is his descendant.

I love the "door within a door" design:


Driving through Southern Morocco is a feast for the eyes. I loved the small towns with their small-town atmosphere that is so familiar, in spite of the "foreignness" of the culture:




Note the women's black hijabs, much more common in the small towns of southern Morocco than in the north where the clothing is exotic and colorful.

Apparently the US has partnered with one of the women's coops that we noticed all over Morocco, producing everything from ceramics to argan oil products. In the city marketplaces, the craftsmen are all men, but these coops give women a chance to develop and use creative skills:

We noticed this writing on the mountainside at least a dozen times during our trip. It reminded me of the big block letters universities put up on the mountain above their campuses:

Grazing camels, their vigilant shepherd on the far left:

Vegetation began to change as we neared the oasis city of Tinghir (aka Tinerhir), located in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains:

Lush palm trees and fertile farm land cover a 19 x 2.5-mile swath of the valley:

About 42,000 people live here:

These clay houses perched on the red-rock mountainside reminded me of the White House ruins in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona:


Coca-Cola is everywhere:

Our next stop was the Todra Gorge, carved out of the Atlas Mountain walls millennia ago by the Todra River. The Gorge is about a half-mile long and has a nice road closed to car traffic, making a sidewalk for tourists. Because of the narrow width of the gorge--in some places it is only 30 feet wide--and cliffs on either side that tower as much as 525 feet above the road, it's hard to get a photo that adequately captures its magnificence.

A river still runs through the gorge, but it must have once been a mightier force than it is now:

In some places it widens out enough to be fairly shallow:

The nearly perfectly vertical rock faces have made this a popular spot for climbers who come from all over the world to conquer its challenges. See, for example, this site.

For those more inclined to stay on the ground, there are other activities:

We stopped for lunch, and yet again Bob and I were shifted to a place far away from most of the action, and once again we were fed a pretty average meal with basically the same components as every other lunch we'd had. Really, the Moroccan lunch menu for tourists needs a lot of work.

I did have the opportunity to use the restroom there, and this choice between a seat and a squat toilet was a no brainer:

These life-sized figures enticed visitors to come visit another nearby restaurant:



We had originally only planned to visit only one of the two famous gorges in the High Atlas region, but Bob decided that if one gorge was good, then two would be better.

We passed more small villages nestled into the barren hills. Sometimes it was hard to tell the modern homes from the ruins of previous civilizations:


The Todra Gorge has a very nice road and is very accessible, but the Dades Gorge is a different story. We had to take a LONG detour that involved this lovely stretch of "highway":
Bumpy + winding roads = green Judy.

I've since read that this is one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Maybe it's because crazy commercials like this one for Cadillac are filmed there:

We had to stop at a hotel at the top not only for some photos, but also for a Coke to settle my stomach.

Views from the hotel deck:



Eventually we made our way to the Dades Gorge, another powerful example of geological forces at work:





The Dades area is known as "The Route of a Thousand Kasbahs."  Even we felt the draw of these lush, quiet valleys juxtaposed with the intimidating geology of the Atlas Mountains.





2 comments:

  1. This is a part of Morocco I would like to have spent more time in - to have had a car and explore the mountain canyons and these wonderful desert towns.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Cheese, smeese. The real question is "Can you make ice cream out of camel milk?" The variety of scenery is quite amazing.

    ReplyDelete

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