After a delicious breakfast, and settling the very reasonable bill with Hassan, we said our most grateful, and already nostalgic goodbyes to Palais Saguia, and headed south and west…our goal for the day is Tafraoute, a small mountain village ringed by the Anti-Atlas range… These jagged, wind-eroded mountains are, as Paul Bowles said, “like the badlands of South Dakota, writ on a grand scale.”.
A few kilometers outside of town, we came upon a local festival, at a point in the road that had a wider bit of flat ground around the pavement than most of the rest of our drive today, where the road was narrow and winding, with cliffs, rocks, and steep drops for roadside companions. As we rounded a bend, still far away from the festival site, all we first saw were lots of Berber men, women, and teenagers all converging on the same point, some by car or motor scooter, some by bicycle, many by donkey or by foot. As we approached, we saw tents set up at roadside, with so many people milling around on the road that we would have had to stop, even if we didn’t want to. There were lots of tables in front of these tents, with people selling everything from cooked fish and meat to fresh bread, baked right there in a clay and earth oven, to clothes, shoes and farm tools. It was a celebration of Berber culture, without a single tourist around – fantastic!
Tafraoute serves as the supply town for the many small Berber villages set in the surrounding fields, cliff sides and valleys of the Anti-Atlas. It has many artisans making a local, very high quality version of the babouches that we had just bought in Taroudant, as well as the agricultural, hardware and paint, and engine repair shops that one would expect to see in a working town. There is evidence here of the tourists that have begun to visit in greater numbers, in the many signs for guest houses and accommodations, and in the storefront offering adventure touring, but now it is already the off season, and our hotel in the center of town is mostly empty.
We have a walk around the town while waiting for the restaurant next to our hotel to open for dinner. We first search, in vain, for any sign that Malika has opened a cozy little nook in some back alley, near the dry riverbed, perhaps…Unlike trying to find a heavenly place to eat, we are successful in buying a couple of the plastic zipped travel bags that are ubiquitous not only here, but also throughout parts of Asia. They are used by the local farmers and laborers to carry their things if they take a local taxi or a bus somewhere, or to carry their food and necessities when they go out for a day of work in the fields. We got them for a purely functional purpose – to make it easier to carry our stuff home by dividing the bulk into an extra bag – but Tali tells me that museums in New York have actually started collecting samples of these, as symbols of the remote, rural lifestyles that they fear are steadily dying out all over the globe.
We have decided to spend just one night in Tafraout, even though it is a small village with a relaxed, pleasant and laid-back mountain feel to it. The time remaining on our journey throughout Morocco is running short, and if we want to have enough time to have a leisurely trip from one of the southernmost Moroccan towns on the Atlantic coast, Sidi Ifni, back north through Agadir and Essaouira to Casablanca, we really must go.
The trip that seemed so long before we left has so quickly moved towards its close! Our souls have been nourished by the countryside and mountain villages here in Morocco, and we have encountered much more natural beauty than we had ever expected.