For now, our last town in the coast of Morocco is Sidi Ifni, an old Spanish colony that poses in immaculate white against the rough blue sea. Art Deco Architecture framed by tall palm trees that gets even prettier adorned by the honey tones of the evening.
The market is small, but rich in variety. One can find anything from camel meat, to fake Channel´s, to a fried dough that tastes very much like churros and will satisfy the greatest hunger with a humble investment of some 20 Euro cents.
As we start to drive inwards, we realise that the landscape changes very rapidly in Morocco, probably because of its mountainous geography that creates a variety of micro-climates. We first drive across a region literally carpeted with prickly pears, to notice that soon the green of the vegetation becomes more and more scarce and the sandy brown more prominent and we find ourselves in the desert.
We stop to spend the night in a little village outside of Guelmin. The camping is in the middle of the oasis, small and cosy, with tents full of pillows and a shady garden. A pleasant evening walk reveals some ancient houses made of mud, surrounded by palm trees, a donkey and the little village center with a pink mosque standing in the nice light of the evening.
From there, we start to travel together with a young Dutch couple, Yael and Sonny, and their camper van named Brutus (you can follow their adventure on facebook – Dailyvanlife), who we met for the first time in Sidi Ifni. And surprisingly, or not, we find out that we have a common friend, Michal, an ex Nike colleague. We have quite some laughs and adventures together, but I must report that our mastery of the Dutch language, does not improve a bit.
Our journey through the desert continues towards the east. Along the roads less travelled till we reach Icht, a village whose older quarter is built with mud and has a maze of shady corridors, instead of streets and of course is guarded by the loyal palm trees. One of the best things of being in the desert is that the sunsets and sunrises are magnificent in the infinite horizons.
The drive from Icht to Tafroute is an absolute delight, which is to date my favourite in Morocco. One loses track of time and clues of the century while passing through a gorgeous succession of valleys, mountains, oasis, casbahs dag on the rocks. Here it becomes clearer than ever that time is dust.
After this glorious drive we arrive to the Blue Rocks, a place in the desert next to Tafroute, where some Belgium artist in the 80´s decided to spray paint in blue some of the big boulders. This place divides Christian´s and my opinion. He likes it. I think it´s odd and pointless and that it would have been much nicer without the odd blue rocks. Anyway we stay there to spend the night, watch the stars and have a lovely breakfast after sunrise.
We make a short stop in Tafraoute to buy fruits and vegetables and the continue our journey.
Taroudannt is a walled city. The walls are quite well preserved and have a tone between golden brown and pink. Inside, the souks are a maze of lively variety that stimulates all senses. We buy our groceries before heading to the tanneries at the edge of the city.
The smell of the tanneries is truly unbearable, but luckily one of the employees gives us a bunch of fresh mint to put in our noses and neutralise the smell a bit. The employee is very helpful at illustrating the tanning process, which starts by submerging the skins in a big pile of pigeon poe. No wonder.
If there´s one word to describe Marrakech, this is intensity. In every sense. We arrive in the middle of the early afternoon traffic and driving through to our parking spot, next to the Koutoubia Mosque, is already an intrepid adventure.
Just setting foot on the busy Djemaa El-Fna square brings memories from our earlier trip to Marrakech a few years ago. The snakes are dancing to the enchanting sound os the flutes, the monkeys are ready to have a picture taken, the musicians banging on their bongoes, the food stall are warming up for the evening, the horse carriages are miraculously making their way through the crowds, the story tellers are setting up their little stages, the henna tattooists are ready to paint your skin. There’s bicycles, scooters, people by the thousands that stroll and come and go. So many people.
As the sun sets, the intensity just grows. The square wrapped by the moonlight, mixed with the aromatic smoke of the food stalls. Action everywhere.
I have not yet been in any other place of the world that has the vehement intensity of the Marrakech souks. Handicrafts take all shapes and forms, ranging from lamps, to pottery, to carpets, to leather goods, carpentry items, antiques, blankets, pillows, jewellery, clothes. Barbers at work, little coffee shops. And then there´s the exotic smells of the spices, the richness of the sweets, the fruits and vegetables, the fresh herbs, the somehow alarming view of the unrefrigerated butcher stores.
And the people. So many people.
The Bahia Palace is a masterpiece of craftsmanship from floor to ceiling. Across all the courtyards, rooms and corridors, one can just admire the beautiful tiled floors and wooden ceilings, the sophisticated carvings that adorn columns, arches and walls, the shady gardens, the pretty painted wooden doors and windows. And despite the surprising amount of tourists at this time of the year, one can also still thankfully find some moments of peace in some of its many wonderful corners.