Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA

Monday, September 5, 2011

9/5/11: Atlas Mtns. Berber villages

After a quick euro-breakfast at the hotel, we were off on the bus to head up into the Ourika Valley of the Atlas Mtns. to see how the Berber people lived. From Casablanca the terrain resembles a dry California or Nevada, with occasional stands of cacti, bearing the yellow-orange fruit that we tried in the souks of Marrakesh. About halfway to Marrakesh it becomes more fertile, water obviously underground, emanating from the mountains now immediately in front of us, the highest of which (Jebel Toubkal, at >13,000') is the third highest on the African continent. Marrakesh, being an oasis, has relatively ample water from the mountains, but is quite warm. Now above Marrakesh, the road winding southwest into the mountains took us up to about 4000' MSL, to the last point a bus could u-turn for apparently hundreds of kilometers. 

After the boys got a quick camel ride (dromedary, actually), we walked down the road which paralleled the river, footbridges a dozen or two feet above the water leading to small 'restaurants'. Plastic patio chairs/tables set up all along the river provide an outlet for the residents of Marrakesh during the hot summer months. Hibachi-style grills and tajine stands line both the roadway and river, though it was early to eat, few patrons around. We checked out a small Berber artisan's 'shop' (merely a room in his home dedicated to selling stuff), and a few people enjoyed the traditional mint tea that is served here in Morocco. 

A tajine stand.

One of many loudspeakers that could be seen in virtually any community, used by the imam for the 5-times daily call to prayer.

We then moved on to the highlight of the day, a more formal visit with a Berber family who allowed the 20+ of us to wander about their home. Although spartan to say the least (mud walls, dirt floors all around, no doors, some rooms open to the elements), they have everything they need, including a constant water source provided by one of the many ditches and canals emanating from the river to convey water to different places. They had a cow and a chicken in what would be 'our' basement, a dunkey outside, and a few cats less feral-looking than most of those we saw roaming the streets of Casablanca. 

The water conveyance outside the Berber home we visited.


A little guy named Mohammed (the most common name in the world, FYI) latched onto Reade and Tate, dragging them all over, holding hands, rubbing their heads, I think wanting to clamber up on a set of shoulders bigger than his own. The home had various rooms on different levels, some of which had items we could imagine their uses, others were empty or nearly so. Dr. Phil’s daughter Rachel noted that the rear room with nothing in it would be perfect for the big screen (I actually had to agree, having designed our home theater), though microwave dishes were not as numerous up here as they were down in Casablanca, where they could be found on even the most modest shacks.

A neighbor boy looks for handouts through the wall. He fled when one of the girls in the home we were visiting threw water on him from above.

Typical room interior.

A water jug about 2 feet high, made of old tires.

The kitchen, where the water was being boiled for tea.

We finally joined the women of the family in the kitchen/dining area for mint tea (the men were nowhere to be seen), and Mohamed explained that they never just serve it, they make it in front of you, with you, chopping the sugar from the block, mixing the leaves, boiling the water, with the matriarch of the family sitting at a small table, auspiciously pouring the water into the cups we drank from. They served warm flats of bread, for which they supplied fresh butter, olive oil, and honey. Warm, soft light bathed us through the filtered ceiling of sticks; the ambience was quite astounding. A little girl a bit older than Mohammed was bouncing around between college girls, one of whom decided to get some henna tattoos from one of the tweener Berber girls, which turned out really cool.

It became time to go and people said their goodbyes, many offering “Shukran”, thank you in Arabic. Such a fascinating little slice of life, one that we in the U.S. can scarcely imagine being our daily reality. This family seemed at least as happy as most I know back home, seeming to have what they need, and be thankful for it. 

Back in Marrakesh for lunch, as we approached the square I was pleased to observe Tate catch sight of a monkey tender heading his way from a dozen or so feet, at which time he flipped a quick 90-degree right turn to give the guy a wide berth, avoiding any unwanted contact with the monkey or his master. I gave the ‘Bug a big thumbs-up, and considered our first big adventure halfway around the world a success.

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