Morocco. Friday, Saturday,Sunday, 3,4,5 March 2006

Sun 5 Mar 2006 19:27
Friday, 3  March. Villa Zagora.
Lazy breakfast followed by a morning of catching up on diaries and post cards.  Brigitta and Paula went to see some camels being washed - but they weren't. On the way back they had a look in the Hotel Kasbah Asmaa which was quite jolly and Moroccan.  Teamed up again and set off south, having bought bread, to Tamagroute, famous for its green pottery and an ancient tomb merderser still in use and associated library of ancient books.  Picked up by Mohammed who swore he was not a tout.  Took us around the old mud city down all the little dark alleys and passage ways, which was very interesting as we were almost underground some of the time.  Needless to say, we ended up in his pottery shop, nicely set out for tourists. Lots of green pottery, but also henna patterned which was much nicer and more expensive.  The henna patterns are painted onto the half baked plates by women in their homes and then back for glazing and a second firing.  We each bought one. Down to the library, where an old boy showed us around. Some of the 4,000 books were created as early as 1063 and covered Qu'rans on gazelle skin, books on astrology, medicine, algebra and geography. Most of the original collection of about 40,000 books have been dispersed around other Qu'ran schools.
Headed south a few more kms to Tinfou to see some more sand dunes, but they turned out to be very commercialised and very small.  Don't think we got there!  Back to Zagora for B & O to go on what turned out to be a very enjoyable camel ride though the oasis gardens, before all going next door to the Palais Asmaa for a drink. It is an incredible modern build hotel with 90+ rooms and set out around a huge courtyard with many of the origianal palms growing in it.  Some have been incorporated into the building as they grow up through the bar and staircase.  It has been lavishly decorated in the traditional style, but by real craftsmen and we were all most impressed at the extent and quality of the workmanship.  It is a real gem of a modern hotel. We were shown round by the manager, who was fairly idle as they only had 12 guests! Supposed to be full for April and May.  The bar had old Berber jewellery built into the front of the it.
Returned to Villa Zagora to find that the smart hotel cat that had been trying to make a bed beside us at breakfast, had had kittens on the hall sofa and was settling down well to motherhood with her 3 tiny additions. The staff had sworn she was only fat and not pregnant.  A good dinner and off to bed. 
Saturday, 4 March 2006.
Breakfast in the garden, which was lovely.  The cat left her kittens for a moment and had a saucer of milk with us before rushing back to them.  Packed and sad farewells to a lovely little hotel with its super little garden.  Drove into the town centre to photograph the famous sign to Timbuktu "52 days by camel", buy some bread and hard boiled eggs for lunch and top up on cash.  Headed north back up the Draa valley, stopping to inspect some of the Kasbahs. We spotted the unmarked track across the wadi to Ait Hammou-Said and drove into the village.  Right off the tourist trail and the locals quite uninterested in us as tourists but a young lad was very happy to show us around. It was a Glaoui village and the Kasbah was rather fine.  Now mostly ruined, it still has some traces of the better plaster work in the arcaded hall.  It is set on a bluff overlooking a bend in the river and looks stunning.  The village women were washing clothes by a side stream and Paula engaged them in conversation and showed them our photos of home - but they still refused to let me take them.  Olaf had been exploring the river side whilst we were scaling the heights of the Kasbah and saw fish and turtles which he took us to see.  The water here is supposedly rife with bilharzia.  The village is famous for its Boufeggous dates which are sold by the children on the main road in neat little orange coloured boxes.
Continued north to look at Timiderte, another, simpler kasbah which we checked out from the car.  It was quite picturesque with a pile of cut palm logs outside waiting for use in building or restoration.  Then on to Tamnougalte which was set back across the wadi again, although approached by a much better track.  We stopped for lunch under a tamerisk tree before attempting to drive up to the kasbah.  Fortunately, I realised just in time that what I had taken for the track was a sharp summit with nothing on the other side.  Saw a huge orange lizard that ran across the road.  I just had time to photograph it at some distance when it shot down a burrow.  Called in at a restaurant for Coca Cola and tea before heading into Agdz for petrol and the left turn to take us on the scenic route via Tazenackht and some rather messy cobalt mines. The scenery was not quite as spectacular as we had hoped, but it brought us round to the Ait Ben Haddou  road and eventually, our hotel at Tamdaght, the Kasbah Ellouze.  We forded the river just north of Ait Ben Haddou, and found the village about 2km further north.  The old kasba here is another Glaoui family one and is rather fine, though out of bounds as there is an Italian film company making some ghastly cheap "reality" programme.  The Kasbah Ellouze is tucked away down little alleys and is rather more basic than some we have been in.  However, friendly staff and a nice setting.  We went for a walk through a beautiful almond orchard in full blossom and worked our way back up the road after a bit of a scramble through a wadi.  Dinner at 7.30 and early to bed.
Sunday, 5 March.  At Tamdaght and Ait Ben Haddou.
Another lazy start.  The travelling is beginning to catch up on us and we are back into colder weather which makes it seem worse.  We decided on another quiet day and after breakfast drove the 2 k back to Ait Ben Haddou.  This morning there is a half gale blowing, though the sky is clear and the sun hot.  Apparently it rained hard in the High Atlas last night and none of the coaches can get through from Marrakesh.  Instead of being overrun by tourists the place is dead.  P and I decided not to run the gaunlet of the touts and the wind and dust, and drove to a good view point overlooking the valley and the Kasbah on the other side.  O & B took the donkey ride over the river and had a lovely time exploring the village with a good guide.  It is one of the best maintained kasbahs in Morocco (there are six of them in the village) having been used for various film sets including Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator and then declared a UNESCO site.  We all returned to Tamdaght and visited the little local "antique" shop.  He is a nice chap and has some rather good stuff, but it is early in the season and his prices are rather too high.  We walked around the village which is unspoilt and still very much a working Berber place.  We had hoped to have lunch at the hotel, but being Sunday all the staff had gone home.  Back into Ait Ben Haddou where we had a super omlette and chips (tagines are beginning to get a little repetitive and there will be another tonight) before again returning to the hotel for an afternoon of sunbathing, huddled in corners out of the by now strong gale, and snoozing.  Wash and brush up before dinner.  The water here is so hard that it is impossible to get any lather at all from the soap!