To be honest, we didn’t really know what to expect when we subscribed to this particular tour as the booking process seemed a bit odd to us and the price was awkwardly cheap compared to the ones offered by other tours. We are glad we didn’t regret it though, as it proved one of the best experiences ever. Before venturing on this trip, we were mostly eager to be in the Sahara, overlooking most of the other stops on the tour’s itinerary, but the scenery straightened up our minds and senses easily to our benefit.
We chose the tour offered by Marrakech desert trips and – as already stated – it was an excellent choice. After resting for a few hours in the tiny and hellishly hot room of our riad, we got our luggage once more and walked towards the nearby Cafe de France, a meeting point for many such excursions as we came to understand. While waiting there on the square, that was shyly beginning to fill up with vendors several tour guides approached us checking out if we were on their lists, till eventually our guide showed up and gathered most of our group after a while.
We got comfortable to our seats and after a couple of short breaks – for picking up the rest of the group and refueling – Day one was on. Our driver proved to be an awesome and skillful fellow and soon I was left alone admiring the route – as Catherine was falling asleep by my side, after all the – insufficient sleep experience was running for the third day, up to that point.
It took a while to escape the city that was starting to wake up, as people were preparing to begin their busy day, but as we got outside of Marrakech, the scenery changed and I noticed some open air markets in most of the villages (in some of them the vendors were using their trucks as a shop) and hills that were loaded with prickly pears (a familiar image in Greece as well and possibly in many Mediterranean countries). Many buildings seemed old and they blended harmonically in the scenery but the similarities to Greek landscape became more intense when we started climbing the mountain road, until eventually we made a short stop on our route in order to buy some snacks and water (and allow any smokers to have one).
Our next stop was on the Tizi Ntichka pass, which is the highest mountain pass in North Africa. The place is considered to be the gateway to the Desert and is offering great views to the barren mountainous landscape. Our next stop was at the main highlight of that day’s itinerary, the village of Aït BenHaddou, a Ksar (fortified village that is) where many old and modern films have been shot. Among them Pasolini’s Oedipus rex, Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nasareth, Scorsese’s last temptation, R. Scott’s Gladiator, Stone’s Alexander etc while most recently the village was a filming location for the series Game of Thrones (as the city of Yunkai).
The village consists of many Kasbahs (fortified houses) made of clay, most of which are abandoned, as the villagers live opposite the hill where the original dwellings stand in more modern accommodations. A wide but dry river bend separates the old village from the modern settlement (we were told and saw it in a couple of old photos, that a few decades ago, the river was running wide and mighty on its bend, but nowadays just a small stream of melted snow flows down that path in springtime).
The name of the settlement signifies that the tribe of Aït , descending from the chieftain Haddou dwells on the spot. The Berber tribe that lived there had strong ties to each other and were originally pagan, before converting to Islam, but many of them were also of Jewish faith and there were even a few Christians. Our ascent to the hilltop would be a tricky one as the sun was high on the sky, but we would be refreshed by some short breaks inside the cool Kasbahs, whose construction material acted as some sort of heat repellent. The ceilings were made of some large wooden logs and many dry reeds, while the walls were mostly made of clay and straw. When we got up a flat rooftop of one of the houses, I thought I felt as if my feet were standing on a rocky boat, but it seemed like a solid construction.
Catherine looked very pretty in her green dress and panama hat. A bit later she looked pretty exhausted and after a while, I even left the group for a few minutes, as I purchased a turban and the kind old vendor offered to help me wear it on my head, Berber and Tuareg style. I guess my appearance caused some laughs to our group, Catherine certainly found it funny and I was very happy to wear something to assist me battling the sunlight. We also visited an artist who used a technique to make drawings, by which he would use his materials to put the shapes on the surface and then introduce the drawing surface to some heat, so that the shapes would finally form the drawing.
After reaching the hilltop, where the old granary was situated, it was finally time to leave the old village. We made a final stop to a souvenir shop, where we bought some much needed water and sodas, while I acted as a turban model to everyone’s cheer once more and I have to say, it was a very funny experience.
Subsequently, we marched to a restaurant to have lunch and I was mostly eager to taste Tajin for a first time. The place offered the choice to a three course menu for the price of ten euros, which was ok, maybe slightly overpriced compared to other places we visited, but it ain’t a big deal. The food was below average though, but thankfully that experience didn’t discourage us from trying a few more tajin dishes during the following days.