After a somewhat hectic morning of trying to rouse sleep-deprived students following a night in the Marrakech clubs, we left Marrakech for the network of Berber villages on the Haouz plain at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.
|Villagers in Lalla Takerkoust|
We stopped in the village of Lalla Takerkoust beneath a large dam and reservoir long enough to load up on drinking water for the trek, and take in the mishmash of shops selling everything from trinkets to complete cattle carcasses.
|Mohamed & Lhaucine|
Then we drove off the main highway to the small village of Tachbibt, the starting point for our 2-day trek. Our two Berber guides, Mohamed and Lhaucine, organized all our gear to be carried in large baskets by donkeys – we were quite a caravan with 8 donkeys and guides, 4 Berber men who would be our cooks, and our 2 Berber guides!
|Departing Village of Tachbibt|
We started by descending into the Oued Amezmiz, a large dry river valley that descends from the Atlas Mountains to the south through the nearby city of Amezmiz.
|Tomatoes near Tachbibt|
Water is the key to life in this region, and our guides quickly helped us to observe all the ingenious ways Berber life is built around capturing water and using every available small scrap of land for growing food: in the midst of arid desert we constantly came across patches of corn, tomatoes, beans, squash, potatoes and Moroccan mint for daily tea; in addition to the ever present olive groves were fig trees, pomegranates, quinces, walnuts, and almonds.
|Berber girl on irrigation ditch; Atlas Mountains in distance|
|Berber boys on donkey off to herd sheep|
|Picnic lunch beneath the Olive Trees|
After a couple hours of walking through the arroyo and greeting the occasional Berber child herding goats or sheep, we stopped at the edge of a large olive grove for lunch; while we rested in the shade our 4 Berber cooks sprang into action and soon produced a banquet: platters of fresh cut vegetables and salad, including peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and olives, with loaves of flatbread, cheese, mashed sardines and rice -- unbelievably delicious.
|Donkeys pass Trekkers on Trail|
|Safari hats to protect from sun|
|Traditional Berber house|
|Old & New Building Styles in Ait Zitoune|
Berber architecture reminds one of the pueblos in the American Southwest, with thick, mud walls and stone that keep temperatures cool during the daytime sun and retain the heat in the cool night. Yet many of the villages are being “modernized” and the traditional buildings being replaced with more efficient concrete block – much less pleasing aesthetically and hot during the day and cold at night, but easier to plumb and equip with electricity, apparently.
After traditional Moroccan mint tea at 4 pm, we had time to rest or roam the small village made up of perhaps 10 families. Some of the women in our group befriended a group of Berber girls and were promptly invited to participate in a female-only pre-wedding party for a new bride in the village. Others of us walked along the ridge-top observing the intricate irrigation system that brings water to verdant small fields, while listening to boys singing while they herded their sheep.
|Dabrahim with Mohamed & Lhaucine, Ait Zitoune|
We then asked Dabrahim if he had any questions for us. Only one: “Are you married?” He was astonished that in a group of 37, there was only one married couple, and 32 young people between the ages of 18 and 23 and not a single one married! Berber life centers so strongly around the family, the village, and the land that our group seemed simply inconceivable to him.
After dinner our cooks brought out their drums and musical instruments and we had a lively 2 hours of singing, drumming, and dancing, where SAS students intermingled with local men and girls, and smiles and laughter abounded. Eventually all 37 of us took our mattresses to the roof of the gite to sleep under the stars – the Milky Way gilded the sky, as did several shooting stars – a stunning night sky. The quiet of the countryside was broken only by the occasional braying of our donkeys in the courtyard below and the first call to prayer at 4:20 am (!) – echoing from several villages on the surrounding ridges and ravines, and finally culminating in a loudspeaker atop the next building over from the gite. When I woke for the first call to prayer I was delighted to see that Orion has rejoined the night sky after his annual summer absence – fall is approaching!
|Dan & Pat with Hilary, Jordan, Laura, and Kat -- Ait Zitoune village, Haouz Plain, Morocco|