This morning, with Tali still feeling poorly, we stayed around the beautiful and comfortable Kasbah Angour until 1:00pm, then set out to explore the Ourika Valley, which is about a 100 km return trip, via our trusty rental car, from the Kasbah.
The small and medium sized Berber house compounds and villages which line the Ourika Valley are not only built into the gorges which rise from the Ourika River, they are also made from local materials, including walls made of rammed earth mixed with straw and branches, mud brick, or local stone. They have flat roofs, constructed of eucalyptus beams, on top of which is laid plastic sheeting for rainproofing, followed by mud or mud brick for insulation. Their size is scaled in proportion to the neighboring houses, and to the valley or cliffs into which they’re built. The overall effect is one of harmony with both the natural environment and one’s neighbors, modesty, and timeliness. The villages are also super-photogenic!
Apples and quinces were being harvested while we were driving in the Valley, and this is also fertile ground for walnuts and olives. Because of the many daytrippers from Marrakech who make the short drive south to the Valley, there are lots of fruit and some vegetable roadside sellers all along the route – there are also local production potters working in this area, so there are a lot of ceramics on offer, plus we also saw metal sculptures, rugs, fossils, benches and other furniture handmade from logs and tree branches, local slate, and of course “Berber-style” jewelry all offered for sale at roadside stands.
Tali, barely a moment after telling me that she thought it would be difficult to realize our idea of bringing home a Tajine cooking set (earthenware charcoal stove, plus clear-glazed ceramic dish and decoratively glazed ceramic cover), asked me to stop at one of the roadside stands so we could “just have a look.”. Of course, any tourist stopping at one of these stands with the idea of “just looking” is viewed by the merchant as a challenge to a game of “who’s the better bargainer?,” which he has generations of training not to lose!
We looked, and saw that among all of the pottery he had at roadside, there were one or two of the heavier-weight Tajine sets (they need to be made of thick, heavy clay if you’re going to actually cook with them, not just use them as serving pieces) that weren’t chipped, and despite my love of comparison shopping before I buy, Tali went ahead and made what she thought was a fair offer. After a great deal of moaning by the merchant, he agreed to Tali’s price, and we were on our way again, down the valley…but not before Tali also made an offer to another seller, who had wandered over from across the road, for a decorative knife that had caught her eye. Once again, after a great deal of moaning, her offer was accepted, and we now had ourselves a knife to go along with our Tajine set!
About halfway into our drive, there was a fork in the road, with one branch leading up to the Oukaimiden Ski Area, which is 2700 km high – North Africa’s highest ski mountain. It’s a small ski area, with only two lifts, and a ski season that runs only from December to February, but during the spring, summer, and fall, it offers a lot of great hiking trails.
As we continued driving further into the Valley, the road dipped down from high above, so that we were now driving with the river right beside us…and this section of the road was the most picturesque of our drive today! Every few meters along the road were handmade cable bridges across the Ourika River, some quite steady, some really swaying anytime someone dared walk across… some with sturdy planks as the floor of the bridge, some with rough branches with big spaces in between them…there was even one bridge that used the round ends of telephone cable rolls, laid side by side!
Some of these rickety cable bridges went to houses across the river from the road, but most went to a charming array of tagine restaurants and cafes. If we had not been so full from breakfast, we would have walked across one of the bridges, sat down at a table either just above the river, or, in many cases, the tables and chairs were actually right at the River’s edge…so if we were hot, we could stick our feet right in the river, while we were eating! It was a sight neither Tali nor I had ever seen before, and was just wonderful!
When we had driven to the end of the road that was running right at the banks of the Ourika, we turned around and returned for our final night at the Kasbah Angour.