Travels with V
Ksar, kasbah and the cave man
Ouarzazate part two
After the interesting and fun visit to Atlas Studios we leave Ouarzazate to explore its surrounding villages. We drive through a surreal landscape with flat top hills, suggesting this was once a sea floor, now dry and eroded.
Our first stop is the “ksar” Aït Benhaddou. A ksar is a village on a hill with a fortress on top. In Aït Benhaddou the fortress is just a guard post, but from up there the views are fantastic (see also the photo banner on top of this page).
Just a stone’s throw east of the village is a shallow gravel pit with dumped old lumber. But this is not just any garbage dump. Down there Russel Crowe fought the wild animals in the movie Gladiator. This dump was the actual coliseum.
And this, as you probably remember, is how it looked in the movie:
In Aït Benhaddou and many other villages, even in parts of Ouarzazate the houses are built with straw and red mud, very picturesque but not very durable. Wind and rain wear them down and eventually they have to be abandoned. So there are plenty of ruins around. But in some places renovations are being made, the old kasbah in Ouarzazate was declared a cultural heritage and has been thoroughly rebuilt.
As we travel further into the desert our guide says: –Welcome to planet Mars! And yes, these sterile red hills and gravel grounds bear a striking resemblance to landscapes in photos transmitted from NASA’s Mars vehicles.
We stop to stretch the legs and see in the distance two tiny dots fast moving in our direction. It’s two small girls running for their lives to get a look at the strange visitors.
Our real business out here is to pay a visit to Ali, an elderly berber nomad man who lives in a cave with his wife, his son and his family and some livestock. Donkeys, goats and chickens.
The Berber people are the indigenous people of large parts of north-west Africa, and some of them still lead a nomadic life, in the summer high up in the mountains, in the winter down in the lower valleys.
Berber people were here before the Arabic invasion, and their language is quite different from Arabic, it can sound like this:
Ali clearly has a fox behind his ear, he makes a comment, we guess it’s about us, and our guide and driver giggles. But we can’t know what he says, they just won’t tell us……
We say goodbye to Ali and continue along the desert road for a few kilometers. There we enter an oasis called Fint, a green valley between dark and arid mountains. There’s a nice restaurant with a pool and great views, a popular visitor’s spot we understand.
On our way back to the civilization we pass through an incredibly steep gorge with mountain sides rising a couple of hundred meters. Where the gorge widens we see some abandoned houses on the other side of a river. we’re told that this was a hotel and restaurant project that came to a sudden end when a giant boulder falling from the cliffs came crashing through the roof of a house.
In the last phase of this journey we ride out into the real Saharan desert, where we will celebrate the new year’s eve under the stars.