Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hypnotized by Berber music

October 29 2012

I love to sample different kinds of music when I travel.  I thoroughly enjoy latin, arabic pop music, any sort of eurotrash dance, thai pop, east African - I love it all. When a taxi driver takes me somewhere new and blasts his favorite radio station, I'm in 100%, humming along in the back seat.  I even enjoyed and wrote about the deafening salsa music in Panama.

2 days ago back in Tamtattouchte, Karim and Abdul #2 were playing Berber music videos in their car.  Groups of women in colorful robes sang in warbly, high voices for 30 seconds, then a group of men would answer.  Call and respond, repeat, repeat, drums, flute, repeat, repeat.  That was when I realized how much Berber culture was its own thing.  It was odd to see young guys getting so into the local village music. But that was what they liked!

My new driver, Mubarak (above), picked me up from Merzouga and we set off for Fez - after he ran a few of his personal errands.   We paid his electric bill and I had one of my biggest regrets of the whole vacation - we went past a hilarious billboard of someone milking a camel and I didn't stop to take a photo of it.

I was pleased to see this sweet interior car door design! Ha!

Another taxi with just a bar to hold onto and no seatbelt.  I put my backpack-airbag on my lap again.  

We headed over the east side of the Atlas mountains, which weren't as steep or scary as the route between Marrakech and Merzouga.  Merzouga to Fez was much less sickening.  There was rain and we did witness a recent car accident, which scared me but I was starting to feel flu-like and didn't think about it so much.

Here is the beautiful Ziz valley - another Oasis-type landscape.  Mubarak insisted that I go out and take a photo.  I felt so sick and sleepy and didn't feel like it but looking back, I'm glad he made me:

Mubarak was another enthusiastic fan of Berber music.  I thought every song sounded exactly the same.  I asked him "what is this song about?" and he would say "love, and village life".  Another hour went by and I asked him what THIS song was about.  "Oh.. I think it's about love.. and life". 

After 4 hours we stopped in a town so that Mubarak could get something to eat.  I thought that meant "5 minutes out and we are back on the road".  He asked if I wanted to eat, too but I just felt like staying in the car.  I didn't eat, pee or drink anything all day.  I was too tired.  I just locked myself in the car and watched it rain on a small, muddy town.  45 minutes later, Mubarak came back to the car.   And turned on more identical, warbly loud repetitive Berber music. 

I was not enjoying it at all but it was keeping me awake.  I recorded a voice clip on my iphone of one of the 5,000 identical songs we listened to that day:

you may have to click on the arrow to play it. I hope it works so that you can feel my pain. 

Later I looked up a little more information about Berber music.  Thanks, wikipedia!
Berber vocal styles in Morocco consist of two main types. The first, called Ahwash, is exclusively village music, probably unchanged for centuries or longer. Ahwash texts emphasize the submission of the individual to the community. Typically, it consists of two large choruses engaging in call-and-response vocals, accompanied by instrumentalists and dancers. Since this music requires anywhere from 20 to 150 participants, it is not easily portable and so rarely heard in the cities.
Much of the most interesting Berber music is not pop at all, but rather village and urban folk music. It is important to understand[ that the whole subject of Berber music and culture is inevitably colored by Berber people’s longstanding struggle to achieve basic language rights and identity recognition in modern North African societies.[2
And I hope that I never have to spend an entire day listening to it, ever again.  But it gave me some local flavor!

We arrived in Fez during rush hour.  Mubarak spent an hour and a half circling the city and using trial and error to get to my hotel.  I kept asking him if he wanted me to pull out a map and show him where it was.  Just like every boyfriend I've ever had, he did not want to use a map and much preferred to get us very lost until I got angry.

Eventually, we called my hotel and between the hotel, my map and more trial + error, we found the gate to the old part of town where the friendly hotel night manager of Dar Seffarine was waiting for me with an umbrella.

Something was broken in my original hotel room and they upgraded me to the most beautiful suite I have ever seen.  This is one of my three rooms! 

I decided to enjoy being sick in my nice room and tackle confusing Fez the next day. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Midnight at the Oasis

Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Shadows paintin' our faces
Traces of romance in our heads!

Heaven's holdin' a half-moon
Shinin' just for us
Let's slip off to a sand dune, real soon
And kick up a little dust!

The ENTIRE point of my counter-clockwise trip around Morocco was to spend the night in the Sahara, 450 miles and on the far side of a mountain range from Marrakech.  The Sahara in Morocco (Erg Chebbi) is really just a tiny offshoot of the "real" Sahara.  Because I am a map nerd, I could see that it doesn't flow directly into the same Sahara of Libya, Sudan and Algeria as I had previously thought.  Since going to Libya for vacation is completely out of the question (unless they had a half marathon), this would have to do!

It was still Eid Al Adha week and buses weren't running to Merzouga, the Sahara border town that I chose.  I hired a driver, Aziz, who reminded me of a friendly mobster and looked just like a fat Moroccan Nicolas Cage.  We made many stops so that he could say hello to his friends.  I didn't mind, we had all day and I found it kind of entertaining.  Moroccan men are really touchy-feely with each other.  Aziz spoke no english so I was happy that I got use out of my arabic translation book.  I pointed to the words "toilet" and "water" so that I could stop in a town on the way.

When you say "hire a driver", in Morocco, that isn't a Lincoln Town car.  To my horror, it means a beat up taxi with NO SEATBELT.  There was a bar to hold on to between the backseat and driver.  When I asked about the seatbelt and searched for it, Aziz pointed to the bar and gave me a DUH! look.  I imagined all the ways I would be flying through the windshield and decided to fashion an airbag out of my giant backpack, putting it on my lap and cutting off my leg circulation.  Not flying through windshield > leg amputation from lack of circulation.

We stopped for some gasoline at a pump that still had spinning numbers:

Me not flying through the windshield.  I like how you can see the cheesy decals on the window and the desert landscape through it.  

After 4 hours, there it was. You could see the beginnings of the Sahara far in the distance.  This was a WOW moment for me.  I don't have a lot of those anymore.  I'm getting jaded.  This literally took my breath away.  There it is, the actual (close enough) Sahara!!

I checked into my hotel in the dusty little town.  My hotel was really nice.  The owner was away and I was the ONLY guest besides a group of 4 italian motorcyclists who liked to hang out on their balcony wearing little towels after their many showers.  Every time I saw them, one of them was in a towel and somebody had taken a shower.  They were very clean.  Much cleaner than I. 

I had a nice room with two beds.  I chose the smaller bed to sleep in and spread all my stuff over the bigger bed.  

I went out to explore the town.  It was incredibly, incredibly dull.  There was nothing to do.  There were two or three shops that sold old dirty, bent, sun-faded postcards.  I kept thinking I was missing the downtown.  Nope!  This IS the downtown!

I had a nice dinner on the patio and ate while the staff stared at me.  The owner's assistant, Mustafa, stared at me like a deer in the headlights every time he saw me.  I could not figure out what was so fascinating about me.  Have you ever seen a dirty American backpacker before, jackass?  After dinner I did a little google search "staring men morocco" and learned that I am not fascinating after all, staring is just totally OK for them.  They ask a lot of personal questions and stare.  I tried to tell myself this was just a cultural thing (besides the obvious "unmarried woman traveling by herself" thing that provoked shock or pity and often both from nearly every Moroccan I talked to.)  The French hotel owners in Marrakech got a lot of solo travelers and thought it was wonderful that I was in Morocco by myself and were impressed by all the solo travel I had done.   Again, this didn't happen in Egypt at all.  I think Egypt just gets more visitors.  But the staring and the questions were wearing me down a little bit every day.  I was trying to be patient but I am a person who needs her space.  It was a challenge, for sure.  

OK, I just adore the moroccan salad that you see everywhere:

The next day, I used an internet cafe run by a 10 year old boy that had several letters on the keyboard that would get stuck.  I hung out on the hotel patio and read my book while being stared at by Mustafa.  At one point, he actually came over to my table while I was reading, sat down and watched me read.  I was killing time before the evening/overnight camel trek and I was counting the seconds until I could be rid of Mustafa.  

My camel guide was Ahmar, who was Mustafa's friend.  I had the feeling I was being discussed and would be discussed at length when we returned from the overnight trip.  I am fascinating!

Outside the hotel, my fly-covered camel Joey was waiting.  I am not comfortable with large animals.  I was never one to want a horse or pony.  I hated every second of the two horse rides I have gone on in my life.  I wanted to do the classic "ride a camel in the desert thing" so I sucked it up and got on.  Joey was lounging on the ground, I got on the saddle, Ahmar smacked him with a stick and I shot up 6 feet in the air.  The camel was actually cute.  He had long eyelashes and a mild manner, so I bonded with him.  

We set off over some tiny bushes that quickly became pure orange sand.

I was really expecting some other tourists on this trip with me.  In fact, I had picked what seemed like the busiest hotel and asked them specifically "I won't be alone with just the camel, will I?" The assured me that it was a busy week.  But it wasn't, and I was alone with my guide.  I made small talk with him. He was fairly interesting - He had grown up in a nomadic family near the Algerian border.  I just wished that some other tourists had been there with me.  It was a little uncomfortable, like an awkward OVERNIGHT blind date.  We talked a little bit about my trip.  Then I made a joke - I laughed some story off by saying "that's because I am a crazy girl!"

That was a mistake.  A very large mistake.  He took that literally.  I mean, I am crazy, we all know that - but not in the way that he probably wanted me to be.  Kareem and Abdul would have gotten the joke, but Ahmar was a more serious guy.  Somehow that comment opened the door for some very odd flirtation from him.

While I was busy being super uncomfortable and deflecting the very one-sided sexual tension, I was in absolute awe of how beautiful this desert was.  It was completely mind-blowing. 

I got a wet, smelly smack to the back of my shirt.  Joey had peed all over his tail and was now swatting flies (and the back of my shirt - the only shirt I had on this overnight trip).  Thanks Joey!  You are adorable.

One interesting thing about Joey and his flies  - there is nowhere for flies to go when you shoo them off.  They literally will not fly away, they just go to a different spot on the camel.  We travelled out to the desert camp and returned the next day with the same 200 flies stuck to us.  

We started talking about Americans.  I asked him "are Americans ever too fat to ride the camel".  Yes, they are.  They have a closer camp to take them.  He pointed it out to me on the way.  And then he said "Not you.  You have a good body"


Joey taking a break and feeling the awkwardness:

I chose to take that comment to mean "you have a good, non-camel-breaking body", and not what I thought it meant.  Ah, crap.  This was going to be a long night.

I watched the most beautiful sunset of my whole life with a man who had brown teeth from many years of drinking sweet mint tea and no dental care and could vouch for my solid, BMI-appropriate, non-camel-injuring body:

I was promised "romantic light" when we got to the camp.  I stressed my preference for light to be very strong and unromantic.  I needed very utilitarian light.  I wanted the harshest, least romantic light available and made sure that Ahmar knew of my light preferences.  Instead, I got romantic light made from a soda bottle candle. 

The candle in the bottle was held in place by sand.  I asked him "where did you get that sand?!", which was a really stupid joke, but Ahmar thought it was hilarious.  He laughed for minutes.  It actually made me laugh, too.  Ok this was good.  Now I am the "funny" girl, not the crazy, whorish girl.  

He left me alone while he went to cook dinner and I read my book by flashlight.  

Dinner wasn't as awkward as I thought it would be.  I just asked him questions about his life.  How often do you get to dine with an Algerian-border nomad who grew up in a camel hair tent?  It was interesting.  And his veggie tagine was really, honestly good.  It was a nice dinner.  There were other people about 200 yards away, and some people drumming.  I enjoyed the faint drum music and the comforting presence of people within screaming distance.

Until he asked me to take a moonlight stroll with him.  F*ck no.  I explained very nicely that I am very much like a grandma who likes to read books and go to bed by 9:30PM.  Sadly, this is the truth.  But it worked out nicely.  I took two sleeping pills and retired to my own camel hair tent.  He seemed really disappointed in me.  I didn't really care.  

The next morning, I climbed a dune and watched the sun rise over the camp:

We made the two hour trip back to Merzouga, I took the best shower of my life and I left for Fez so that Mustafa and Ahmar could discuss me for the rest of the day,  I'm sure.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gezellig on Eid Al Adha

October 26, 2012

I ate breakfast with the only other guests at the hotel, a Dutch couple.  Because I had just been to Holland, I told them all the things I loved about Amsterdam and Edam.  "My favorite Dutch word - well, that would be the only Dutch word I learned - is gezellig!", I told them.  "We don't have a word for that in English."  Gezellig translates to "cozy, friendly times in a nice place".  It refers to people mixed with atmosphere mixed with contentment.  Laughs over beers and candlelight in a cozy pub on a crisp fall day - that's gezellig.  That's also what I did every night in Holland.  Making pie with your grandmother while watching the Facts of Life or Wheel of Fortune together - that's gezellig.

Morocco was really amazing so far, but not really gezellig.  Being yelled at in a hot, dusty souk - so not gezellig.  Being ignored in a bus station - no gezellig there either.  I was starting to feel it out in the country, though.  Now that I had met some other tourists and we were enjoying our coffee in a beautiful gorge on a sunny morning.

Abdul drove me into town in a little Renault (following another), top.  In town we met up with Karim's brother, Abdul #2, who was to take me on a four hour hike through the gorge.  We stopped for a picture at the bottom (below).  The gorge reminded me a lot of Colorado.  There was a lot of scenery in Morocco that reminded me of the American west.

Abdul was professional but friendly.  I was really comfortable talking to him, just like his brother.  We started talking about food, and I told him how much I enjoyed eating.  And how my friends called me "the bird of the sea" for that reason. In Berber, seagull sounds like "segunay".

Segunay in the gorge:

There's that orange shirt again!

Abdul led me up a rocky path.  He was a fast walker.  I had just run a half marathon five days before but I could barely keep up with him.  Of course he already heard me brag about the half marathon, so I was a little embarrassed to have to stop to rest while out of breath.  

He pointed out some wild thyme.  It was very heady and fragrant.  The mountain air was so nice after the motorbike fumes of Marrakech.  This is what Aveda candles aspire to, people. 

He took me up to a nomad Berber's home.  Everything was made of rocks.  Even the animal pens were tall circles of stacked up rocks.  The Berber clan had two caves to live in during the winter, but lived in open tents the rest of the year.  The rest of the family was in town or out with the animals somewhere, and this man who was holding down the fort made us tea from the same type of wild thyme we had just seen.  The old Berber guy had light blue eyes.  It's just odd to see such light-colored eyes here.  Apparently it's a Berber genetic variation. Abdul knew him in passing, and sometimes he would take his hikers here to meet him. 

The Berber man had just killed a goat and had strung it up.  I would think it was for the holiday, since all the city people had killed a sheep especially for today - but something tells me that he eats goat like this all the time and this was just his typical Friday night dinner.

Abdul had me pose for a photo pouring tea:

Because I am a sick, sick individual, I asked to be translated:
"where did you put the goat head"?  

The head was stuffed in a burlap bag three feet from where I was sitting.  Oh, there it is!
Nothing on that goat was going to waste.  I'm sure he even had a purpose for the goat's teeth and corneas.  The fur was definitely going to be made into a blanket or rug.  mmmm. cozy!  Gezellig? well.. possibly!

After more than four hours of fast hiking, I was starving and joked to Abdul
"I'm so hungry I could eat that goat head!"

Something I've noticed about the Moroccans and Egyptians I've met are that they have good senses of humor.  I was sometimes able to deflect a little bit of aggression in the souk with a joking comment.  I remember in Dahab, there was a very pushy restaurant guy that I would walk past three times a day but eventually we would just laugh at eachother.  There is a little bit of playfulness in the culture.  I mean, there's a whole lot I don't understand at all but it's something nice that I've noticed in North Africa.

As we were descending into the little village, Karim called Abdul and told him to invite me to the family's house for lunch.  I was excited.

Abdul led me though some back streets and alleys of the town, through some home-made aquaducts and through an olive grove:

We went to the family's guesthouse, where nobody was staying today.  Children were laughing and running  around a large, hanging sheep carcass, its wooly fur laid on the ground inside-out in one piece just as you'd take off a sweater.  The fact that they were actually able to skin the sheep in ONE PIECE impressed me so much that I forgot to feel queasy. 

Eid Al Adha is a Muslim holiday that means "feast of the sacrifice".  It recognizes the prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, and people today (In Morocco, anyhow) sacrifice a sheep.  It was crazy how many sheep I saw being carted away in wheelbarrows down alleys in Marrakech.  And today in the little village, people had already killed the sheep that morning while I was hiking and having coffee with the Dutch people, and were already washing the sheep skins in the river. 

I had no idea what Eid Al Adha lunch would entail.  I assumed that the dinner was the important meal, and I'd be just dropping by for tea and a kebab.  The family (those who was there for the meal) was three sisters, an older mother who had henna-covered hands and feet and had kohl-rimmed eyes, four brothers and four small children including a 10 month old adorable baby girl nicknamed "Couscous". The Father had died four years before, so the oldest brother took the patriarchal role.  He welcomed me and introduced everybody.  He, Karim and Abdul were the only English-speakers.  Arabic wasn't spoken in the home, either, but a Berber dialect.  

We had mint tea and watched the Hajj live from Saudi Arabia on TV:

And later, on another TV:

With the hajj being on TV, we talked a little bit about religion.  I asked them a few questions and we talked about difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.  The oldest brother made some comments like "people of all religions are welcome in our home.  All of our religions stem from the same place anyhow", which I thought was nice.  We talked about the Hajj and what it means to Muslims.  This fairly progressive family agreed that the Hajj was just a little bit showy sometimes - and the true meaning of being a Muslim is to help your neighbor, and isn't it better to save your money and just do good in your community instead?  Apparently, it costs thousands and thousands of dollars to go.  They have special travel agencies just for the hajj and every country is only allotted a certain number of permits per year.  You can be a good Muslim and go to the hajj but you can also be an equally good Muslim closer to home.

I wanted so badly to take pictures of the entire family and document the day the way I normally would but I put my phone away and just listened and got in the moment.  I felt really awkward pointing my camera in people's faces and it didn't feel right.  (Even though I had just taken a bunch of pictures of the Berber man, who I actually thought was a bit of a ham and didn't seem to mind at all. Besides, I gave him some coins as I left, which is what you do in those situations.)  I don't have pictures of the older brother who I talked to a lot or of cute little Couscous, who they actually put in my lap. I will have to rely on my memories of the family.

We went outside and Karim asked me:  "you eat everything, right?"
"oh, yes!  I eat everything!"

Eid dinner would be the bigger cuts of the sheep.  Eid lunch was the sheep's guts.  Here is the offal, just sitting out on a table ready to be strung on kabobs!

They marinated all the meat in a mixture of thyme, rosemary, coriander, pepper, cardamom, cumin and saffron.  The brothers weaved the liver and the caul fat together.  They BBQd it all, including the large honeycomb-looking stomach and passed the kebabs around. We ate the Moroccan way and just grabbed with our hands and ate with the one round loaf of bread that is at every Moroccan meal I've ever seen.

After awhile I was struggling with eating with my hands and they gave me a plate and fork.  I was slightly embarrassed, but it was OK.  The tea had absinthe in it.  I was really surprised and then found that they meant the wild absinthe plant.

The absinthe:

I am a pretty brave eater so I tried to forget the visual of the dead sheep carcass in the yard and the thought of all the functions of the internal organs I was eating.  I told Karim to translate to everyone for me "Thank you so much for sharing your holiday with me.  It is an honor for me to be here with you all".   I complimented the brother on the gut-marinade, and wrote down the ingredients that I might use one day with non-sheep gut meat. After dinner, we ate pomegranates fresh from a tree in the yard.  How could you possibly top this dessert?

They also had a pear tree, but didn't know the english word for pear and asked me to tell them what it was. 

After dinner, Karim took me on a walk into the village of Tamtattouchte with his little nephew.  He ran into some of his neighborhood friends and they posed for a photo by this sign.  The sign probably says something really lame, but it looked like a good photo to me. 

It was getting late so we didn't go far into town.  We turned around and I raced the nephew back to the guesthouse about 150 yards.  He probably thought the large foreign woman was completely crazy.  Actually, that's nothing new.  They drove me back to my guesthouse while playing Berber music.  Berber music is usually one man singing in a warbly voice for 2 minutes, then a woman always answers, singing back for 2 minutes.  There is a lot of percussion.  I got to know Berber music VERY well a few days later.  Too well.  It is nothing like any other music I've heard.  Karim, Abdul and I talked about what middle eastern-type music I know about.  They were surprised to know that I have an Amr Diab CD.  Amr is an Egyptian pop singer I heard a lot in Egypt two years ago.  This was probably like admitting I have a Justin Bieber CD, but I'll defend Amr and say that he is much better. 

I wouldn't see Karim, Abdul #1 or #2 again because they were going to spend the rest of the night with their families and I was going to the desert the next day.  But I won't ever forget them and how they showed me the nicest possible side of Morocco.  They probably invite people into their home all the time and didn't realize how much it meant to me.  This was the kind of day with opportunities that happened because I was alone and got out of the big city.  The Atlas mountains are a world away from Marrakech - different language, different music and the most hospitable people you could ever hope to meet.  It was a total Gezellig day. 

Friday, November 09, 2012

Three people threw up on this bus and none of them were me

I wanted to break up my time in Morocco between Imperial Cities and natural sights.  I only had time to really see four things in ten days, and they had to be reachable during a holiday (Eid Al Adha) week.  I emailed hotels, bus companies and even investigated tour guides.  I have never researched a destination more than I did Morocco.  I had to cut two things off my list that I badly wanted to see. (Essouria and Chefchaouen).  I posted questions on forums and I googled and double-checked ratings.  Ultimately I decided to do the trip independently, using a combination of bus, train and hiring drivers.  I also relied heavily on my hotels to help me.  If I needed them to buy a bus ticket for me and have me pay them later - I just asked and luckily they did it.  There really is a tradition of hospitality in Morocco.  Hotel operators seem to genuinely care about my happiness.  Every single place I stayed checked up on me while I was there to ask "how is everything?  Are you doing OK?"

Two of my hotels arranged drivers for me and we negotiated rates back and forth through email.  Morocco is largely a cash-based society so I rarely used my credit card.  I hated carrying around so much cash (I entered the country with 1000 euros that I withdrew in Amsterdam) but I watched it and locked it up like a hawk and never had to use my credit card or give it out to someone that I didn't entirely trust.  This seemed to be the normal way that people travel here.  With the fraud notices put on my card in Holland, I didn't even want to risk having to use the ATM until the end of Morocco. I would have been stuck with no cash and no way to use my credit cards.

I arrived at the Marrakesh bus station and tried to find out where my bus was parked.  I asked a few people who worked there and they just said "no".  Not where it was, when it was coming.  I just watched the bus area but I didn't know where the end destination of my bus was, only my stop - so I couldn't look at the city name on the windshield.  I found a young couple who looked like they spoke English.  I was on their bus. Well, I trusted them and just got on their bus and hoped they were right.

We rode for a few hours towards the Atlas mountains and stopped here for a little break:

Then we started up the mountain passes.  It was exactly like driving through the mountains of Colorado.  Only less guardrails.  I looked over the right side and felt a little faint, so I just looked to the left.  The woman I was sitting next to put her head down.  Then she hiccuped.  Then she urgently rustled around for a plastic bag.  Uh oh.  

I was only mildly motion-sick, but the sounds and smell of puking made me almost puke.  I, too, rustled around for a plastic bag and had one ready.  The bus lurched around switchbacks like this one:

My neighbor didn't speak english and clearly I don't speak arabic. I felt really sorry for her.  All I could do was give her the international shoulder pat and sympathetic look and "OK? you OK?" 

A young couple was holding a one-year old baby across the aisle.  They, too, rustled for plastic bags.  The baby puked three times over the next hour.  There was another victim in the back.  Everybody on the bus was green and miserable.  The bus was  full of people going home to their families for Eid Al Adha so there was no room for the pukers to stretch out or get some air.

Eventually, we reached the Todra Gorge area, my destination.  We went through a beautiful town called Skoura that was a genuine palm oasis.  I saw a few Oasises (sp?) while in Morocco.  They were beautiful!  Quite the opposite of the DeKalb Oasis on I-88.  After hours of desert would be a lush palm forest. 

Sorry that my thumb got in the way here.  An example of an oasis town:

I arrived at the bus stop in Tinerhir and immediately had a stalker as soon as I got off the bus.  This was getting really tiring.

Hello!  What's your name? Where you trying to go?  I take you there!
Sorry, thank you.  I don't need help right now.

You Americans all the same!

I got a taxi to take me to my guesthouse out in the middle of the gorge.  It was lovely.  I had a room all alone in this castle.

It was super cozy with stone walls!

The queen of the castle had wisely packed away some wine from Marrakesh in her sigg water bottle and had a sundowner on her little balcony.  This Gorge had a river but it was dry in the other sense of the word. 

I had a lovely view of the gorge:

My guesthouse made dinner and I just ate whatever they made for me.  It was a fantastic tagine with tiny lamb meatballs.  I gushed compliments to the chef and they invited me back into the kitchen, where I hung out with Abdul and Karim.  Two polite young guys, maybe late 20s - not like the aggressive and crazy casanovas I had been meeting in Marrakesh and the bus stop. We talked about cooking, music and our families.  Karim gave me some vegetables to chop.  They were done making dinner for the guests (just three - me and a Dutch  couple) and they were now making dinner for themselves.  We made a tagine together and talked.

They liked to eat their meals outside. I wanted to leave them alone to eat but we just kept talking and I wanted to take a few pictures.  Karim and Abdul ate the moroccan way - no utensils, just using bread to grab everything.  We had a nice conversation about their lives in the village and how things are in America.  I showed them a few pictures of my friends and life in Chicago.

The tagine:

I arranged to have Karim's brother to take me on a 4 hour hike the next day.  We would leave in the morning so that he would have time to celebrate the holiday in the afternoon.  It was so nice to know that I already had someone that I could trust, even though I had never met him.  I was really lucky to get someone to take me on the 26th, because operations in Morocco pretty much shut down that day.

This was such a refreshing place to be out in the quiet mountains with nice people!  Abdul and Karim:

I came back in the guesthouse where the owner was playing the traditional Berber guitar.  (More about Berber music later!  I got a very good dose of it a few days later.) 

I slept soundly in my stone castle room and got ready for a day of hiking and what would end up being one of the most memorable days I've had in all of my travels.  Coming up - Eid Al Adha!