Friday, January 28, 2011

Over the Atlas, and Our First Kasbah

After our night at Douar Samra, we were picked up for the five-day tour we had arranged over the Atlas Mountains to arid Southern Morocco -- the stretch between the mountains and the ever-encroaching Sahara -- known for its kasbahs and camels and date palm oases. It was a private tour, just us with a guide, Mohammed, and driver, Tariq. (This is pretty much how tourists see Southern Morocco; I considered renting a car but ruled it out from fear of the unknown. Now, having seen how good the roads are, and how relatively easy it is to find things, I wouldn't be afraid. However, the company of the guys, both Berber nomads from the Sahara, was great.)

I had worked with the tour company to put together an itinerary that I thought would be relatively Clementine-friendly. That is: not too much time spent in the car.

Best laid plans, and all that. Ahem.

The drive over the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass, the highest mountain pass in North Africa, is gorgeous. 




And we got to enjoy almost none of it. 

{keep reading below}

We came close -- very, very close -- to calling off the tour in its first half-day. Clementine was not happy. She does not love the car seat. Unlike many babies, the motion of the car does not magically lull her to sleep. She hates being cooped up, and requires full-time entertainment, that is: increasingly desperate efforts at entertainment by demoralized parents.

The day of this amazing drive was easily the most trying of the entire trip. Miserable Clementine = miserable everybody, and the trip took much longer than it should have because we had to stop so often to try to soothe her. Things were so fraught we actually asked the guides to turn the car around at one point and take us toward Marrakesh, which they did, only to have to turn around again when we changed our minds, thereby losing even more time.

They were so accommodating and so kind about it, every single minute.

In parental retrospect, we handled it badly at the start and set a bad tone for the day. Our timing was all off. I should have asked for a long stop somewhere so that I could get Clementine to sleep for her morning nap, then back in the vehicle where the motion would hopefully prolong her sleep. Instead, we made a few short stops, no sleep was forthcoming, and then by the time she finally did fall asleep, the guides had ordered themselves breakfast and settled in to sit, so that the whole nap was wasted at a restaurant. Not their fault. Just, nothing lined up right that day, and we had major Clementine meltdown.

We had to scrap our plans to see Ait Benhaddou, the most famous of kasbahs, and drive straight to the desert city of Ouarzazate, where we arrived at around nightfall, met with the tour company director, and drastically slashed the rest of our itinerary to focus on a much smaller area, with much less driving. And I'm happy to say, it worked out. We learned from our mistakes that first day! We didn't see half of what was in the original plan, but that was fine. Another time!

The next morning, rested, we started things off in Ouarzazate with a visit to Kasbah Taourirt, smack in the middle of the city. Hello, kasbah.

Nice doorway, yes?

A little perspective?

If you've ever wondered what a kasbah is, it's a mud-brick fortress. Southern Morocco is rife with them, many having been occupied and defended in very recent history (like, 20th-century recent), and most sadly falling into total ruin, with no government oversight or money to maintain them. Some are propped up by international aid money, like UNESCO, but most are managed (barely) by their few remaining residents. 

Taourirt has been partially restored, and is quite spectacular.
It's even on the Moroccan 50 dirham note.

And you know what? Playing inside a kasbah? Super fun.

make gif

Also fun: testing out all the thrones at the cinema museum,
which is composed mostly of sets from old biblical movies.

Clementine had a time being queen of all the different dynasties.

Fun fact about this region: its major industry (other than tourism) is film! Desert Morocco stands in for "general Middle East" (both historical and contemporary) in many films, including Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, The Mummy, and many more. Babel was also filmed here, but it wasn't generic in that case: it was supposed to be Morocco (though Innaritu elected to have the locals speaking Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, instead of the Berber language they really speak here). 

You can tour Atlas Studios, but we didn't. This small museum is directly across the street from Taourirt. Here's the entrance:

Honestly, any scene looks more exotic with a jellaba (hooded robe) in it.

Or, you know, a shield and spear.

Supposedly, this costume is from Gladiator. We need to rewatch it now with and see what we recognize! Funny, we saw it in Istanbul when it came out. We'd been traveling a few weeks and were craving a movie. It's been what, eleven years?

Some of the museum sets were really beautiful. Love the color here.

Our guide, Mohammed (below with Jim and Clementine), went to film school in Ouarzazate, so he was a great source of information.

Ourazazate (pronounced War-za-zat) is the largest city in the region, though not very large. It's name means "without noise", which seemed pretty true, especially compared to chaotic Marrakesh. The guides, by the way, being desert guys, hate Marrakesh, and dread having to go there. We were in Ouarzazate but briefly, but it seemed like a lovely place, full of traditional kasbah-type architecture, lots of drama even in the newer construction, and vistas of palm groves shining green against the red, red mud.

We tried to get in a very active morning in hopes of tiring Clementine out for the drive ahead. 
Lots of climbing and dancing and swinging.



 Our ploy was a success!

And we were off again, south to Agdz and beyond, to the kasbah of Tamnougalte,
where we would spend the night inside the mud castle itself.

Until next time, and thanks for being interested!


Stella said...

I promise it will be fun to tell your daughter those stories. ("It was so lovely, and you loved it so much, you threw yourself on the floor and flopped like a fish!") Not kidding, my kids think those stories are hilarious. I always follow it up with, "but all one year olds do that, so you're not alone." Serious fun...all part of the fabric of the family. :)

Connie Onnie said...

There is a trip, the trip we do not speak of, that is what we call it if we in fact do speak of it. A few of our friends went to spend a long weekend in a cabin. My sister & husband brought their son who was a toddler. He did not sleep in the car, was screaming when they arrived and we called him Damon the rest of the miserable trip.

I made a little video for my blog of pictures of my niece & I hugging I just used Picasa.

tone almhjell said...

Being interested? I'm gobbling up every word and every image. Am I right in thinking that you loved this part of your Morocco trip more than Marrakesh? It lokked lovely.

So sorry for the car trouble. We once drove from Oslo to Kristiansund where my mother lives with Magnus, and it took us eleven hours, we had to stop so often. He did not fall asleep, but spent most of the time struggling with the seat belts and being miserable. Might just be the longest eleven hours of my life.

Rachael said...

I love all these pictures! I had no idea how beautiful Morocco was until these travel reports! Lovelovelove!

Anonymous said... does a pretty good job making animated gifs.

Beautiful pictures by the way.

Laini Taylor said...

Thank you, Connie Onnie. Super fun! Jessica, I'll try them next time :-) (back to work with me :-)

persnickety_jen said...

RE: dancing Clementine - I assume you or Jim has a copy of Photoshop? You can create an animated .gif by layering those 3 photos on top of each other. Go into the layers palette, set the time interval for each separate layer, and then check the option to loop the layers. Presto, one adorable dancing Clementine! :)

Jane said...

I love those 2 pictures of Ourazazate, just above the swinging Clementine pics

Anonymous said...

wow, beautiful photos!!! These are going to make an amazing album Fatty. Can't wait to see!

Evie said...

Love the lantern shots; I've purchased two since you've started posting about your trip.

The description desert guys made me get all doe-eyed and dreamy. *wink, wink* Haha!

Q said...

I think that picture of you swinging Clementine is absolutely perfect. Just the right timing, just the right framing to capture that moment.

Suzanne said...

Amazing photos, amazing trip... I am trying so hard not to be jealous (with limited success). That one of you swinging your adorable daughter is perhaps the coolest. And it's comforting to know that everyone's toddlers freak out no matter where the vacation, be it Disneyland or Marrakesh.

Jennifer Morian Frye said...

So incredible. Thank you so much for sharing!

Shveta Thakrar said...

Just wanted to echo everyone's thanks in sharing all this.


Laini Taylor said...

Thanks for the technical suggestions, everyone! I used picasa and it was super easy. Yay! I may be tempted to overuse it now and have lots of jerky stop-motions on my blog :-)

Suzanne, ha ha, yeah. I don't think toddlers discriminate where they'll have meltdowns! Some places are better suited . . . actually maybe they sense the worst places to have them! No, C has been amazingly awesome as far as that goes, though she did . . . assert her independence . . . ahem, at IKEA a little yesterday!

Jennifer and Shveta, thank YOU for reading!

Stephanie Perkins said...

"A little perspective?"

Ooo, I loved that reveal! :)

I want to live in these Morocco posts, meltdowns and all. More more more more more. (And you'll be doing some for Italy, right? RIGHT?)

Joanna said...

Hi Laini! Great entry. I love your phoots. I'll be going to Morocco soon and looking to explore southern part after 4 days of Marrakech. Which tour company did you use? It looks like you guys had a great trip :) We are also looking to stay in douar samra too!

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