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 is a funny man but we don’t understand what he says. And when he says something teasing about us, the guide just giggles and refuses to translate.

Our next goal is an oasis in a green valley between barren hills, its name is Fint. Here women wash clothes in a little river and we enjoy a lunch in a restaurant with excellent views of the surroundings. It’s a popular place for excursions, obviously.

On our way back to civilization we pass through a narrow gorge where the steep mountains reach up to 300 meters above the river at the gorge’s bottom. It’s a sight we definitely didn’t expect to see in this desert. Along the river there are some houses, once a tourist spot with hotels and restaurants. But that came to an abrupt halt when a big boulder fell from the cliffs right through a roof.

We’re getting near the end of our Moroccan adventure, but first we ride into the real Sahara sands to celebrate the New Year under desert stars.

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