I come here on the 25th of May. This is Hollywood in Morocco. And the people I meet, a crazy punch. Hamza performs some double role in "The ten commandments" just being shot with Omar Sharif.
Sally, from Australia is about get a job as a double for Brad Pitt's partner in just another film. Or the same one. Too much talk, sometimes little substance. But it is fun. Sally's boyfriend Mourad is a cascadeur, someone who performs stunts with horses. Hasna is trying to get a job as a cascadeuse. And cascadeurs we meet many more. Tachie, Ataouie, Abdou, etc.
So basically it is hanging around the cafes and listen to the latest gossip. In the afternoon we take the Land Rover on a few tours, to the studios, and to the desert and oasises around with Sally, Hamza, Mustafa, and Hasna.
A new film about or from Syria is the new talk in town. Agents roam the streets in search for faces and bodies to be fed in the new wars to be fought on the big screen. It does not take long and I have a job to provide some of the locals with new casting cards. And soon I have one myself put down to some agent for the "Syria" project, an Arab production.
I become friends with Hasna. She is 27, Arab from Fes, lives in Casablanca and has her own import/export business. We decide to take some time off and tour some of the sites and regions here in south-eastern Morocco.
Sylvia and Jerome
We leave Ouarzazate on Monday the 30th of May first to Skoura where we spend the night in Sylvia's and Jerome's house.
I had first met the two Belgiums Sylvia and Jerome and their 2 girls Lucette and Marie-Lou in Tifnit plage more then 6 weeks ago.
Jerome is a documentary film maker, his wife an architect/interior designer by passion or profession?!. Combining her husbands need to live/work/shoot the documentary in Morocco, Sylvia has delved into constructing houses/villas and emphasizing on employing the ancient, traditional, sometimes half forgotten crafts that are so vital in realising the distinctively earthy, traditional Moroccan style.
In 2 years of work, 2 villas in the middle of the Skoura Palmerie, an impressive result.
Hasna and I leave Skoura and Jerome and Sylvia the next morning, making our way north, first to Toundoute, where we turn east and follow the piste some 100km to Ait-Youl.
It is not enough to say fascinating Scenery, and all day long.
Valley and Gorge de Dades
We reach the Valley de Dades at Ait-Youl when evening is near.
Somewhere down here we camp for the night, next to the stream. Hasna prepares a Tagine Poulet, the way her mother would do it. Wonderful.
Next day. We make it further north. All the way following the Dades Gorge first.
Somewhere we eat the leftovers from the tagine from the night before.
At some stage I help pull a truck of 8 tonnes out of a river bed.
When dusk sets in we approach the highest point: 2,930m, Tizzi-n'Ouano.
We give a lift to the 3 on the pic below. 2 on the roof, one on the bonnet. It is cold up here. They're sort of prepared.
Agoudal, in the end the laugh is on our side.
Agoudal at 2,400m, when we finally get there, is not welcoming at all. It is dark already and nearly a hundred teens and early twens (all boys of course, girls are at home at that time of the day) make it a sport asking for anything from money to stylos to sex (not directly) and being our guide for the next day.
Everyone wants to be the guardian for the car, show us a hotel, camping or herbergerie.
Crowd management is what we undertake.
Never we have any fears for ourselves or the vehicle. But teens and twens when in groups can become quite hysterical. We park in front of a cafe and have tee brought to us to drink it inside the Land Rover. Leaving the crowd to do their performance outside.
Of Hasna, they think she is French. Hasna, who so-far has pretended not to speak Arabic changes her mind, which only quietens them down temporarily ...
But the laugh is on our side. Funny their reactions. (Arab is not their language and is not always understood). But vulgarity has to be confronted with vulgarity.
For 2 hours the thing goes on and on. Some stones against the vehicle and some semi-vulgar demands to Hasna are the most serious of their undertakings. Normal tourists would have left 10 minutes after arriving here. By being steadfast and not giving in we succeed in turning the situation round.
An old Berber, father of some 10 children, invites us to his house, for soup, Harira, and tea. His little children (4 daughters between 0 and 5) are so sweet and calm, I cannot resist but giving them my teddy (the one from Anne-Sophie, sorry Anne-Sophie).
Next day after long chats with the father of 10 (it is more Hasna who talks) and some of his children, we go back to the cafe. Everything is calm and normal.
Some lessons they must have learnt yesterday, we think.
For us it was victory, We turned an initially unpleasant situation into a great evening.
Leaving Agoudal we make our way south toward the Todra Gorge which we reach around mid day. The tarred road has us back with lots of busses and tourists. Beautiful it is though. Midday and all the tourists, I cannot be bothered to take any photographs.
Road to Merzouga, a hearty Amazigh encounter.
At Tineghir we are back on the main West-East route. After a tagine lunch we go east, direction Erfoud/Rissani/Merzouga/the Tafilalt oasis, 200km away. Everyone uses different names to describe this "corner" of Morocco. There's dunes/desert, Sahara country next to the Algerian border, this is what this area stands for.
But before we get there we have to take a detour because we give a lift, some 20km, to an old man and a young women with a small baby, Berber, who live on a land some 10km on a piste away from the principal (main) road. Hasna does not mind crawl into the back for the short drive. So in the front, it's the mother with the baby in the middle between me and the old. Hasna just behind.
Having been to the nearest town to have the baby vaccinated they are quite happy that we take them right back to their land and family. It's really hot and they've sat there for a while, have not drunk for a while, waiting for transport. The baby, not 4 weeks old, covered nearly entirely under cloth and tied to the mothers back was quiet all the ride. Pearls of sweat gathered on the baby's small reddish head. The mother breast-feed him immediately after arrival.
It goes without saying that we stay for tea and a simple pre-dinner meal (we only just managed to decline a dinner invitation). All family members (about 20) we get to shake hands with and many smiles are exchanged. We are being shown round their land, their plantations, their cased water well and pump. Water, only about 20m below ground is of excellent drinking quality. And we make off with a bag of vegetables and fresh mint and other spices for our dinner tagine and tea.
One more thing worth noting are a couple of big Tamazight (Amazigh-Berber-language) letters painted on the wall. "I don't know myself, my son has done that" explains the old when we ask about their meanings. I have my doubts. Maybe he avoids talking about it to strangers and an Arab. The use of Tamazight signs was banned up until the year 2000. Through out the region we have seen Tamazight letters/signs a lot. PS. Or maybe they just mean "Welcome!"
Hasna, Arab, stuck away in Casablanca, has not known about a Berber-Amazigh written language before meeting me. You learn by travelling.
But travelling with Hasna has improved communication with the locals tremendously. She loves talking, shouting, smiling at them as a way to connect. Most Amazigh have at least a basic knowledge of Arab language.
We reach Merzouga that evening well after sunset. The price for our nice rendez-vous with the Berber family from the desert.
Settling on the camp-ground, a shower and then Hasna goes about preparing a lamp tagine. Excellent dinner is ready at about 11h. It is too hot to sleep anyway. And we can only suspect the dunes surrounding us.
It surprises me how few tourists we meet. We are the only guests on the camping. The staff goes at great length explaining what to do here, where to drive round and how to get there. Basically it is one big field of dunes 20km long stretching from north to south, which we intend to circum navigate.
Of course they'd be our guides and "It's dangerous, Sir" but I have no fear taking the Land Rover to the dunes anymore.
Of course I get it stuck soon. But deflating the tires down to a pressure of just 0.7bar is the all the trick it really takes. And afterwards the Land Rover performs like a little dune buggy. We climb up and down following camel tracks for miles.
And it is hot. You don't want to touch the vehicle or anything metal and the sand is so hot, it burns right through the soles of your sandals (You were right Anna).
After a day of driving I feel the need for a beer or 2. Hasna too. So we search the apparently only licensed place, the Hotel Merzouga. Rooms are run down so we opt for the Bedouin tent offered, completely equipped with a double bed and a sofa and we can park the Land Rover right beside.
We sit down watching the dunes glimmer a bit in a hazy sunset, digging the feet in the sand under the table. A good beer buzz, followed by an excellent meal, starting with a spiced Moroccan salad with sardines and a lamp couscous and a bottle of Moroccan red.
We cannot ask for more. Oh yeah, there was a band, a group of 4 performing desert music. (initially I wanted to come to Merzouga for the 2nd festival of Saharan music, but I had to give it a miss, was in Ouarzazate instead). Long after Hasna has gone to bed, I sit next to the musicians, finishing off the red.
So go to bed late. Don't sleep much. It is hot. We are up at 4:30, Hasna's wish!, to walk the dunes for sunrise. Still dizzy we climb the first dune and sit down and watch the spectacle. It is worth it. And since I brought my own model it is twice as much fun to take pictures.
At 6 we're back to sleep, not for long though, as it is getting hot quickly.
Back in Ouarzazate,
Later that day we make our journey back to Ouarzazate via Rissani, Alnif, and Agdz,. 450km, a grueling journey.
We hang around in Ouarzazate for a few days. Everyone knows us, the Arab woman, the foreigner and the big Land Rover. Still the cascadeurs regroup themselves for new projects, the Syria film still being the most talked about. We are not far away from getting involved ourselves.
But not this time, right now my time is up. 3 month in Morocco. My Visa expires on 10th of June.
Tuesday 7th of June we leave for Marrakech, Wednesday further on to Casablanca. Thursday morning we take Hasna's and another horse for a ride on the beach. Later I leave on my own to Tanger and Friday the 10th to Tarifa in Spain.
What a life that was, those past 2 weeks, I think to myself while sitting on a beach north-west of Tarifa starring out at the sea, over to Morocco. Yeah, what a life? The one, I have chosen for myself, the one, that makes me happy.
2 days I spend in Tarifa, meeting some old friends from Austria, Kurt, Christine and Georg. 2 days of time-out are really as much as I need and can handle. Too far away are my thoughts, too different my life in Africa. Kurt later sends me the picture on the right.
Sunday, the 13th afternoon, I am back in Tanger, meeting Hasna.