Chefchaouen, the blue village

The few villages give way to extensive pine forests and plantations (many of those kif), we are surprised by the contrast between this lush landscape and the desert we left a few days ago. The atmosphere is one of frontier and past. The night is already coming when we see the sinuous shape of Chefchaouen, Chaouen for its residents, the blue village for tourists. An eccentric musician, philosopher and traveler, Maurice Toulouse known on the road, recommended us the Hotel Goa and there we go with quick walk, accompanied by the usual shadow of Mustafa. We spend a whole day getting lost in the maze of alleyways that make up the Medina. The atmosphere is unique, all the houses are plastered with amazing blue tones. They say to keep away the flies during the summer heatwave. The visual result is brilliant and we are fascinated by this town. We spend the evening in Chefchaouen, together with Mohammed and Abdel Rahim, two friends of Goa.

Chefchaouen, la ville bleu

Al Hoceima, ancient rock

The rain forces us on the road. After a long bargaining with taxi drivers in Saidia, we get a passage to Nador, a very busy port near Melilla, one of two Spanish enclaves on Moroccan territory. Along the way we look incredulous at the results of massive speculation, which affects part of the Mediterranean coast near Saidia: European property developers are building hundreds of terraced houses, according to a now well known scheme. When this sea of concrete is finished, our eyes can enjoy a magnificent Mediterranean landscape, where the low forest that blends wearily to steep cliffs suddenly gives way to sandy beaches and turquoise sea. The road is short from Nador to Al Hoceima, a cliff above the blue sea, an outpost of the Rif mountains.

Al Hoceima, from a café

Saidia, Mediterranean sea

Saidia, the eastern Mediterranean Moroccan beach, just a few steps from the Algerian border.
Some clouds leave us worried, but the sandy beach and emerald waves invite us to take a long walk. Soon comes the night and the whole crowd of Moroccan tourists disappears, there are only curious gulls observing us. We sit at a bar near the beach drinking a mint tea and we immediately know Mimon, which tells us that he spent his life between the Spanish and Moroccan coasts, beyond the Mediterranean Sea, carrying the precious kif.

Saidia, Mediterranean next to Algeria

Sahara and Atlas, towards north

From Merzouga, Nazihr and his cousin give us a lift back to Erfoud, where we take a taxi to Errachidia, we are in full hamada (rocky desert), often interrupted by beautiful palms… the heat is dry and enveloping. Once in Errachidia, we discover that the only bus to our final destination leaves during the night: then we decide to rent a room to rest for a few hours. In the evening, when we walk towards the station, we know a nice Moroccan living in Spain, we have dinner with him. Night falls and our bus leaves, direction Oujda and the Mediterranean Sea. At dawn we see a new landscape, green-gold hills covered with fields of grain and forage.

Merzouga, Sahara dunes

The cool morning breeze that emanates from the palm grove wakes us up earlier than expected. Backpacks on shoulder, we leave from Tinghir and arrive in a few hours by bus to Erfoud, a small and crowded village, from where we soon move to Rissani and then take a taxi to Merzouga. We are welcomed in the hotel of Nazihr’s cousin, the beautiful view beams directly on the golden sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. We are full of energy, despite the scorching sun, and we look forward to Nadir, a boy of Berber origin who will guide us in the desert with Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, two beautiful camels.
At sunset we reach the highest dune, the Erg, where we enjoy a breathtaking view. A long descent in the fine sand brings us to the tent where we spend the night. We eat a tasty tajin with hariri, sing and play guitar. In our happy loneliness, we observe the stunned silence of the stars dancing around the moon. We sleep under this velvet blanket until dawn.

Merzouga, Sahara morocco

Tinghir and Berber people

In the evening, upon leaving our backpacks at Tombouctu hotel, we go out to discover the suq. As frequently happens, we find a new friend, Nazihr: a really nice guy, who tells us about Tinghir and the origin of its peoples, the nomadic Berbers. The next day we go with him to the Todra Gorge, a massive rock formation, up to 350 meters high, from which numerous springs of clear water flow, feeding the palm of Tinghir.
Going beyond the gorge, we clamber up a steep path, which follows the arid slopes of the mountains, foothills of the Atlas towards the desert… Nazihr guides us where we can enjoy a breathtaking view over the valley of Dades. We get to a camp of nomadic Berbers: people still live in simple tents to shelter from the sun during the day and in natural caves to protect from the cold of the night. A woman, confirming the hospitality of this people, prepares a tea of thyme, while her children Lazhen and Youssef play with us and the goats; more distant, her eldest daughter, not married yet, show us timidly the carpet she is weaving for her marriage together with the grandmother.
Then comes the night and, walking in the shadow of the ancient medina of Tinghir, we perceive the presence of ghosts coming from a distant and lost world: they are Berber men, women and children who left the hard life of the mountains, to disappear in the chaos of the city. Their spirits still roam desperate, in memory of their past nomadic life.

Tinghir and Todra gorge

Tinghir and Dades Valley

There are moments in a journey in which consciousness is suspended, giving way to the cool morning breeze. In front of the bus station of Ouarzazate stands a fine powder, indicating the way to the Sahara Desert. Silently, we hear the cries of taxi drivers, waiting that they pronounce the name of our next destination, according to a ritual that is repeated from years. Other people appear from nowhere and they seem to be interested in moving to Tinghir along the Dades Valley.
Our Mercedes, a copy of the last century beautifully decked out in tinsel and purple advertising stickers, does not betray his nine hundred thousand kilometers traveled in extreme climatic conditions and, cleverly manipulated by the driver, proceed to tear down the strip of asphalt that is immersed in the arid landscapes of the Dades Valley. Temperature forces us to frequent stops, in the attempt to draw water from numerous wells and deep groundwater. Sudden green corners above tiny shops, where they sell rose water.
Finally, it unfolds by our eyes the glittering green strip of Tinghir palm garden, we are greeted by the smiling face of Youssef, who offers us a Berber tea.

Travel tip: overnight in the charming hotel Tombouctu (near the bus station), built on the ruins of a kasbah.

Tinghr and Dades Valley

Ouarzazate and Casbah of Telouet

The starry night, pursued by a multitude of souls who find peace only at the edge of the dusty roads, finally gave way to a warm and quivering dawn. We follow the foothills of the Atlas back in the direction of Marrakech, but just before the Tizi’n Tichka pass we turn right along a small trace of dust, which is the ancient salt trail, where caravans used to pass through along the way to Marrakech, or towards the mystery of Timbuktu.
The smiling and tired faces of the peasants, followed by the playful screams of children, tell us of a world flowing with the ancient rhythms of the seasons, with no worries but always in balance between simplicity and deprivation. The place is beautiful, the colors are warm and lively as an impressionist painting. We’re fascinated. At the end of our journey, we get finally to Telouet, village of Glaoui and home to a salt mine. We visit the Casbah, which immediately we rename “the storks”, accompanied by the friendly guide Mohammed, then we rest at the nearby restaurant, where we can enjoy the intense flavors of the Berber cuisine and enjoy a bucolic landscape.

Suddenly the phone rings. We are doing lunch with Lahcen, with green tea and pistachios, he is telling us of his aspiration to travel the world and meet people far away, we think of the curiosity of Moroccan people and how this unites us, making our discussions more and more exciting and passionate.
On the other side of the receiver an anxious Brahim, who meanwhile headed towards Zagora, a few hours by bus to Ouarzazate, to meet his family. His distant voice: “Salam friend, we have a problem … you and the girl should leave the house immediately, because my cousin arrives and if he sees her, he will make a big casino.” A moment of silence, then I think of the privilege and the emotions that we felt during the two days spent together: this is the best gift that they could make us; we thank everyone, we gather our few things and we are ready to go.
Morocco of a thousand contrasts and contradictions, it is 10pm and we have to find a hotel for the night. One more night in Ouarzazate.

Travel tip: relax yourself on the terrace of restaurant Lion d’Or in Telouet, enjoying the delicious Berber cuisine (tagine, cous cous).

Tizin Tichka, Atlas

Tizi’n Tichka towards Ourzazate

We walk towards the gare routiere, and invariably we are involved in the confusion pre-departure. As soon as we cross the threshold of the station, a swarm of young men in leather jackets, beggars, barefoot children and alleged long-time travelers gets around us. The cries are more and more lively and playful, then become nervous indicating a certain dissatisfaction with the deal which does not go on smoothly. In a few seconds, upon pronouncing the magic word (Ouarzazate), we find ourselves gently pushed towards a rickety bus, decked out in a multitude of gold and red colored ribbons and spangles. We finally felt at home. Now starts the bargaining for the price and the best seats. 30, 25, 20, the price goes down and down the claims: back seats of the bus and seats upholstered in dusty hair sheep.

We walk towards the bus station, and we are inevitably involved in the pre-departure hustle… finally the bus leaves, towards the desert, but we must now face the Atlas: dense pine forests, extensive golden wheat crops and quiet Berber villages, a brief stop in Taddert for lunch. We overcome the Tizi’n Tichka (2500 meters of altitude), which in Tamazight language means “pass of the pastures”. The hot and dry air announces the desert, the Sahara. In the journey, we meet Brahim, a sympathetic Moroccan who works in Bergamo; with him we make the first steps in the more authentic Morocco. He invites us to his cousin’s house when we arrive at Ouarzazate, we talk and he gives us something to eat, we understand that there is much to share and the possibility of establishing a truly warm relationship. We spend a pleasant day with Brahim and the three brothers (Lahcen is the only one who understands English), it is a pity not to speak French, but we can understand each other with Spanish and we try to learn the first words in Arabic (Shukran, naan/la, inshallah, salam/salem). They continue to offer their hospitality, in form of mint tea, pleasant chats and delicious snacks. We understand that mutual curiosity is not always enough to brake the cultural “wall” that separates us: we cannot merge our relativism with their way of thinking linked to Muslim culture. Even from children, lives of men and women are separated. For men it is given the privilege of choice, while for women the fate will always be indelibly marked by the teachings of the mother and the wish of the father and then of the husband.
During the night, upon having enjoyed a delicious tajine of lamb cooked with our new friends, we make a long trek up to the casbah of Taourirt, all together. The full moon creates a dream, it seems to animate the casbah and relive the times of its glory, when it was one of the residences of Glaoui, the pacha of Marrakech. Ourzazate, which is located where the Valleys of Draa and Dades meet, introduces to the first seeings of the Sahara Desert. The city is quite modern (it was founded by the French in the 20s), and it is still a place of transit along the routes of traders and tourists that, from Marrakech, lead to the desert borders of Zagora and Merzouga. The climate is tempered by its altitude which exceeds 1.100 meters.

Travel tip: sit down in a bar of the city center to enjoy a tasteful mint tea, skillfully served from the teapot, in order to release all its flavour.

Casbah Taourirt, Ouarzazate