header photo

Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

Camping out in an ancient city

We awoke to more rain.  We had hoped it might clear out so we could see the mountains before we have to depart for the day, alas its not to be.  It was pouring when we left, and the clay soil had turned the rivers and streams red.  We feared driving back down to the highway, having slid around on the road yesterday and knowing the roads would be worse today.  But we made it back down to the main road without incident.

Then it was a 3-hour drive across the western part of the Atlas Mountains.  They are covered in pine trees.  But as you go higher and further east, they turned to desert looking very much like the Grand Canyon.

The weather wasn’t good enough for Melissa to take pictures, so she snagged this one from www.moroccopedia.com.

And this one from www.zicasso.com

There was a lot of switch back driving and passing slow moving trucks.  At one sharp corner a hay truck had lost its load and there were bales everywhere.  As we came down out of the mountains, Dave passed one last slow-moving truck, and wouldn’t you know it, a police checkpoint was right there and saw him do it – in a no passing zone.  And yes, they waved us over.  Before leaving Marrakesh, our hosts told us to watch out for two things while driving: (1) obey the speed limit because you will get caught, and (2) if you see a police check point with a stop sign – stop – and wait for them to wave you on even if the police man looks like he is sound asleep in his shack.  We were not worried as we’ve been pulled over lots of times.  Once by a policeman in El Salvador who we think wanted to practice his English, and another time we paid a bribe in Nicaragua.

So the policeman starts chattering to Dave in French.  Dave says, “Only English”.  “Ah, no problem, I prefer English.”  Dang.  Dave was hoping to just wiggle his way out by “not understanding”.  The officer then asks for driver’s license, passport, and car registration.  We hand them over, and he goes on to explain that we shouldn’t have passed the truck and that the fine is 140 dirhams (about $15 US dollars).  Dave asks, “Do I pay you?”  “Yes”.  (This is a relief as in much of Central America you have to pay at the bank and they keep your license hostage till you do – often only possible a week or more later – hence the reason bribes are common.)  So, Dave gets out of the car and sits at the little table and the officer starts to write up the ticket.  But there was a second police officer – presumably the more senior one – who told the first officer to let us go.  Why?  We have no idea.  Melissa likes to think maybe its because she was wearing her scarf on her head in a show of respect – which by then we realized was pretty uncommon for the tourists.

Our destination was Ait Ben Haddou – a famous walled city built along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech.  Lots of films have used this site including: The Man Who Would Be King, The Jewel of the Nile, and The Mummy, and even parts of the TV series Game of Thrones.  The earliest constructions are 17th century.

You have to cross a little river about two feet deep to get there.  The locals put bags of sand and rocks every few feet so people can walk across.  This picture shows the river and the hotels on the near side of the river where most of the hordes of tourists stay when visiting the ancient city.

We opted for staying at Kasbah Tebi, which is located inside Ait Ben Haddou.  It’s a bit of a camping trip as there is no electricity.  There are only about 8 rooms, and you have to book way in advance.

Here is how they get your luggage across the river:

And then up candle lit stairs:

To our room:

Which despite not having electricity is fully plumbed:

We discovered that despite the advertizing, “As all our rooms, it is all lighted with candles light in a relaxing and romantic atmosphere.”, the place was wired for electricity it just didn’t work because the city is being renovated.  Some advertising guy deserves Morocco’s award for best way to turn a problem into an advantage.

The hotel is decorated in traditional berber:

Here is where we ate our dinner by candlelight – soup, salad, chicken tangine, and desert.  All lunches and dinners in Morocco – even in the most casual of places – include soup or salad and desert.  Gonna gain 10 pounds this trip.


Go Back