The Atlas Mountains – Stepping Further Back in Time

On the way from the airport, Mustapha had mentioned that he would be pleased to guide / drive me around Marrakech if I would like. The cost 20 euro for about 3 hours. Undecided and suffering from a caffeine deficiency, I told him I would let him know.

After spending several hours getting lost, I mean unintended exploring in the souks, which while fascinating would not hold my attention for all three days I was here. Wadi at the hotel called Mustapha on Thursday evening and we would leave at 9:00 AM on Friday.

Somehow on what was a short trip from the airport I had managed to learn a lot about Mustapha, whose family was Berber and from the Atlas Mountains. Mustapha thought the best day to head toward the mountains would be Friday, there was a weekly market we would see and Mr. Paul, I will show you the REAL Morocco! 

It did take about 40 minutes to get out of Marrakech, which has almost a million people. Marrakech was established in the 11th century and yet over the last 10 years the population has almost doubled with people coming in from the country for work, the primary business is tourism.

The four lane highway was really about 1 ½ lanes each way for autos and then ½ lane for mopeds, scooters, bicycles and donkey carts. Riding with Mustapha, there were a few things I immediately realized. 1 – I don’t want to drive and 2 – in Marrakech, there are no rules, only suggestions.

Turn signals while drive are strickly optional but remarkably I didn’t see a single accident. No automated turn signal, but eye contact, a motion of the hand or nod of your head and with an amazingly cooperative environment everyone eventually gets to where they are going and home alive at the end of the day.

A few minutes off the highway we came to a village and their weekly market. Somewhat like the souks of Marrakech but this time there are no tourists, well except for me. You can buy any vegetables you desire, pick up fresh meat.Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

You know it’s fresh because you can see them men carrying it from the slaughter rooms to the butchers’ booth. Mustapha said in the slaughter rooms there is a government inspector to make sure good conditions are maintained.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas MountainsWe walked through the market, where you could also see a doctor / dentist / barber, all of which are in adjacent booths. Not what you would think of as health care, but it has been done this way for hundreds of years.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Of course there was the café, which except for the ambiance and attire could have been the Starbucks in my neighborhood. Probably the same guys every Saturday morning.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

I shot a few images and trying to be noticed as little as possible. I really don’t think that the people minded having their photo taken, but they more likely viewed it as a revenue generating opportunity.   There were kids who offered to let me take their photo for a few Dirham – not the candid shots I had hoped for.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

We continued our drive up into the mountains turned off the main road to a dirt road – to see a beautiful view for photos! Indeed it was amazingly.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Next up we pulled off the road near a Berber Museum. When the Berbers moved down from the High Atlas Mountains in the seventh century they settled here but it was a strategic error in judgement, since their enemies had the high ground. Later that would eventually move further down and found Marrakech in the 11th Century. This should give you a reference when the locals refer to something as really old!

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas MountainsTravel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

 

While I was wandering around the souks yesterday I couldn’t help but wonder where all of the products came from. Of course there are vendors for small electronics, household goods and typical apparel which is easy to understand, but where are the Moroccan products from. It really didn’t seem like the Souk owner was just the front man for the family weaving the rugs or making leather goods. Bargaining here is a highly refined sport and well, I am not good at it. I think I have pretty good negotiating skills but not for individual items.

With the souks and the vendors in mind, Mustapha took me to a Berber Cooperative, where 250 families from various villages in the mountains brought their carpets and other products to sell. Truly amazing work and as the man showing me carpets said, no pressure, no bargaining. I didn’t believe it for a minute, but then we never got to that point! I just told him I thought the work was beautiful but I would not be buying a carpet today.

RAK16 158.jpg

Our three-hour tour was not past 4 hours and we will still in the mountains. I said that I would be honored to take Mustapha to lunch. A bit more of a drive and we stopped at a wonderful spot, ate on the terrace with a great view. I had grilled chicken with lemon. When ordering, the waiter asked: Leg or Breast? I said breast. Without cracking a smile, he asked: Right or Left? And then started to laugh!

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Although we had seen very few tourists since leaving Marrakech in the morning and there was not American among them. Sitting on the terrace at lunch, of course there was another American at the table next to us. A visiting professor of Comparative Religion, who at one time lived in Minneapolis. A small world indeed.

The trip back to Marrakech had few stops but a bit more traffic, but still great things to see.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Back at the Riad El Mansour for a bit of a rest and edit the images that I shot prior to heading out for dinner.

A full and amazing day, not only enhancing my adventure but expanding my life.

More soon.

Paul

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