We left the Riad Ksar Ighnda after the best breakfast of our trip so far…actually, the re-heated couscous and vegetable tagine that we couldn’t finish from last night’s dinner! Much better than the mostly bread breakfasts we had become used to!
Despite our rest day yesterday, spent at the Ksar, Tali is still in the grips of the flu she’s been suffering from, so our goal is a good, but not exhausting, sightseeing drive north and west from Ait Benhaddou, towards Marrakech, into the High Atlas Mountains that are just south of the city.
We hope to find a peaceful mountain retreat there, and then launch drives and walks into the small Berber towns that dot the area, including Imlil, Asni, Tahanaout, and Moulay Brahim. For now, our day’s goal was simply to get up into the area and find a place to stay overnight…we thought we might wind up staying in a few places for the three nights we had until we were due in Marrakech (as we did make reservations there, though in retrospect they were totally unnecessary).
We drove towards Marrakech, with the first part of our climb into the High Atlas Mountains by way of many road switchbacks, through dry and rocky terrain, with huge boulders precariously perched on the top of bluffs, overlooking the road below. In this section of the drive, the gorge cliffs were multi-colored, from all of the minerals they contained, and there were Berbers along the roadside, offering ordinary-looking rocks cut in half – when opened, like Aladdin’s lamp when rubbed, they magically revealed a surprise – a crystalline interior of brilliant red, or blue, or purple, or white!
In this first section of the drive into the mountains, through the dry and rocky terrain, there were few villages to look at. As we got higher up in the High Atlas, the countryside became greener, laced with river valleys where the soil was fertile – apple, olive and other fruit trees were growing, as well as evergreen trees – and there were more houses and small villages.
In these villages, we always passed by a “Teleboutique,” a tiny store where villagers could get their cell phones reloaded with more calling time, a butcher’s, with huge sides of lamb or beef hanging from big hooks out in the open air, the meats wrapped with white cloths to protect them from flies, a general store selling everything from cigarettes to bottled water, and a Tajine cafe/restaurant. There were few if any petrol stations in these small villages, so every once in a while, there were shops with litre containers of petrol for sale, sitting on wooden crates at the roadsides, in case anyone was running out of fuel.
The small shops and houses in these Berber villages formed all together a harmonious whole – a living, functioning community not dependent on tourists for its
livelihood, with the timeless, the old and the new all co-existing peacefully.
As we continued on our drive, we decided to have a look for the first evening of our stay in the High Atlas at a Kasbah I had seen mention of on the Internet, the Kasbah Angour, in Tahanaout. It turned out to be much more beautiful and comfortable than we had expected, and so we decided to stay there for all three nights we had, and use it as our base for more explorations in the days ahead.