18 August 2014

Morocco day 10: Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou

After two nights at Todra Gorge, it was back on the road, with quite a long travel day but plenty of stops to entertain us and a need to rehydrate often, as the temperatures were consistently in the 40s now that we were in southern Morocco.

We left the Gorge at 8.30am and made our first stop at Tinghir for a short wander around the local market. Most towns have a weekly market where everyone buys and sells, everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to bulk grains, clothes and all manner of strange bits and pieces. As our guide Issam explained, there’s a different method of recycling here – everything is offered for sale and someone will find a use for everything.

As we continued, we drove along a plateau with the Central High Atlas Mountain range on our left and the Ante High Atlas mountains on our right. It was an impressive landscape and, at one point, we could see a huge grey-coloured scar on the mountainside off to the left. It was the largest silver mine in Africa, where the silver sits right on the surface of the earth waiting to be dynamited and trucked away.

As we passed another gorge similar to Todra, we discovered we were on the Road of One Thousand Kasbahs. A Kasbah is a fortified house, characterised by four towered corners, which, in times past, would have been occupied by a local warlord. Many of the older Kasbahs are decaying ruins, collapsing over time due to weathering by wind and water but, fortunately, the style has been maintained – and even expanded on – in some of the more modern constructions.

We stopped briefly for refreshments at Kelaat M’Gouna, the rose capital of Morocco. The harvest of the all-pink roses takes place in April/May each year and culminates in a huge celebratory festival. All types of products are produced from the roses, like the rose water used in cooking and to make ointments and lotions to beautify the skin. I might have bought something if all the products hadn’t been a rather garish pink colour.

Our lunch stop was at Ouarzazate, the movie capital of Morocco. It’s a prosperous city, where the locals earn good money catering to the film crews and actors, building movie sets, and acting as extras. The Moroccan government encourages the business through financial concessions and the local authorities also do their best to co-operate with the film companies. We checked out the outside of the local movie museum, though didn’t go in, and drove past the Atlas Corporation studios and, though we didn’t stop for the tour, we could see some of the larger sets as we passed, including the ‘city’ in front of which The Kingdom of Heaven was filmed. 

And our movie experience didn’t there. When we reached our overnight hotel at Ait Benhaddou and walked through to the patio at the back of the hotel, our view was of the Ksar that has been used as a backdrop in movies like Lawrence of Arabia (1961) and The Man Who Would Be King (1975), and more recently, Russell Crowe’s Gladiator and Prince of Persia

Our host was a bit of an actor but the other locals were very cute!

Once we had settled in to our rooms, Issam took us on a stroll around this fabulous World Heritage site, dating from the early 18th century – though the granary building on top of the hill is thought to be even older, and it really was like walking back in time. The mud-brick buildings, the narrow alleys that twisted and turned, the crumbling walls, the magnificent views from the top – it was all amazing and I would have loved longer to explore.

Our dinner that night was served on the rooftop patio of our hotel overlooking the Ksar – a magical setting in which to end our day.