After a day of wandering around Marrakesh in the double-decker for tourists, we have decided two things: that we had enough Palmeraie and koutoubias and that the country (Morocco) was safe enough for us to go around without official supervision.
We were a heterogeneous group of ten, mostly Romanians living abroad plus a touch of French, Macedonian and German. The connections among us were pretty complex, thus we spoke in Spanish, English and Romanian at the same time, puzzling the pushy Moroccans who had troubles in identifying our nationalities.
As a result of our new found courage, we have questioned the hotel receptionist about the desert: how far was it, how could we get there and how much will it cost us? At 10 o’clock in the evening we had a plan for the next day that was worth 25 euro/person: to cross the Atlas Mountains by van in order to get to a Berber city, UNESCO heritage site. How cool was that?
Our heterogeneous group then started to hustle, asking the cute (really cute) male receptionist subtle details that would have prevented us of becoming ’10 stupid tourists trapped in the desert’ international newspaper title. A friend asked what to wear, how hot was going to be, how dangerous – well, the usual stuff Europeans ask during their first trip to North Africa.
To make a long story short, nothing happened on our way to Ait-Ben-Haddou (Aït Benhaddou), a well preserved Berber village: we become friends with the driver – another cute Moroccan named Ahmed (they were all Ahmed, somehow, maybe it was a trick to puzzle the tourists) -, we bought rocks from the side of the road (I am the proud owner of a stone elephant!) and we made plans on how will we survive the harsh conditions laying in front of us. What an adventure was about to begin!
We met our guide in the new city of Ait-Ben-Haddou (downhill). The old man spoke several languages – at the same time – and was well prepared for his role. To our astonishment, we discovered the location was extensively used by American film-makers (“The Gladiator” and “Laurence of Arabia” were shut there, among others), therefore not really a wild or dangerous place.
We played the game our guide had prepared for us: jumped-crossed a muddy water on sand bags under the amused scrutiny of some young locals. Ait-Ben-Haddou was simply amazing, shining quietly in the strong white light! The reddish colours of the walls under the hot midday sun were from another world! Even if there was no sand in the Ouarzazate desert, the immensity did the trick for us: we loved it!
Inside the village walls there was a building that could be visited, trusteed by an old Berber. We loved it too! There were pieces of pottery inside, built-in furniture and some fabrics. The village is now uninhabited, all the locals having moved to the new location, down the hill. The only human presence among the walls consisted of merchandisers ready to serve the tourists.
After searching each entrance, stone and view with the help of our cameras, we then crawled up to the top floor to admire the panorama. It left us speechless: the huge desert lay in front of our sweaty selves; a calm surface of land with no limits. We must have taken hundreds of pictures, that impressed we were…
On our way downhill, hungry and thirsty, we dreamt of a cold Coca-Cola. Amazing enough, we found it. But this is another story…