Before starting, a small warning: what is this post?
This is an account of our experiences and is 100% subjective. If what you are looking for is practical and useful information for traveling in Morocco, with statistics and specific data, you can find all that and much more in this post Morocco: practical guide for travelers (by clicking here). Having made this clarification, we are going to what concerns us…
Ait Ben Haddou (or all that is well in the world)
After leaving Imlil, travel by finger on five different transports for ten hours, with 40 degrees of temperature and cross the Atlas Mountains (if you did not read it yet, I recommend you do it now! and you can find it here), almost miracle we arrived at Ait Ben Haddou And by that arrival, we did not know when or how it was going to happen, from the minute zero Ait Ben Haddou was a more than special place for us.
Ait Ben Haddou was also the first place of our trip where the weather made us adapt 100% to the environment and that was an infinite learning. Coming from the city this was a novelty for me, but in some areas of Morocco that is what allowed them to survive such hostile environments and climates.
We arrived at Ait Ben Haddou when it was night, the overwhelming heat of the day had disappeared and all we could see was a huge mountain-shaped shadow that rose from the rest of the landscape, which seemed flat and empty. Nothing else. That was all. And it was enough to make us plan to wake up at sunrise, to get to know the Ksar before the souvenir shops opened, before the tourists-filled buses arrived, before the world woke up and before the temperature turned The scene in hell itself. By the time that happened, we were back in the only place we could be: the pool of our lodging.
How interesting to think how the ways we arrive or how we choose to live them can change our perspective of places 100%. If instead of the way we did it, we would have arrived in a bus full with sixty other tourists, in the middle of the day and they would have released us at the gate of the Ksar for a while, without having to make the slightest effort (in addition to the economic to pay the “Tour”), I guess our impression of the place would have been totally different and who knows, maybe we wouldn’t have liked it. On the other hand, I am very happy in the way we chose to visit Ait Ben Haddou (and to travel in general), which can be difficult at times but it is ours and nobody else’s and that’s why every effort is worth it and the rewards are huge.
In 1987, the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is the best preserved fortified city in all of Morocco, which, I think, is pure chance. It does not have any type of access restriction, no visiting hours or rules to visit it, it is simply there, supported in the middle of nowhere and anyone can visit it at any time. That is incredible on the one hand and gives a lot of freedom, like this one that we take advantage of, to be able to see it at sunrise, when it was totally empty. But freedom also brings responsibility and as nobody takes care of it or protects it, this is 100% the work of the travelers who visited it (so you know, if they go, you have to treat it very carefully…)
The Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou is one of the places that impacted me the most in Morocco (and in all my life). It is built entirely of mud, thus creating a very diffuse boundary between the land and the building, in which everything looks like the same element, characteristic very typical of the architecture of southern Morocco. It is also curious to think that, just as he was born from the earth, one day he will return to earth, nothing more than by the passage of time…
In its origins, back in the 17th century, it was a very important stop for camel caravans, both in the direction of the Sahara desert and in the direction of Marrakech.
Today there are no more caravans, but because of its location and its uniqueness, it is still a very important stop for travelers who travel along that same route, no longer in search of gold, silver, salt or slaves, but in search of adventures …
And beyond the Ksar, which is everything, the landscape that surrounded it caught my attention. It would be a mixture between the planet Mars and the moon. It seems incredible that in the same country we saw such green mountains in Tetouan and Chefchaouen, and now we only saw brown, terracotta, some little houses, and then, nothing more…
Ouarzazate, a stop to do Couch-surfing
Ouarzazate was literally that, a stop to do Couch-surfing. It was a place that we were not interested in knowing, with a temperature of 38 degrees, which far exceeded our comfort limit. But it was halfway to Tagounite, our next stop, so we decided to spend a night there, which is considered “the door to the Sahara desert” and stay through Couch-surfing.
To do this we chose Abdelilah, a Moroccan who according to his Couch-surfing profile had hosted almost 300 people and had published a statistic detailing what country in the world each one was. These two things already made me have an unusual profile and made me want to meet him. He also clarified that the place to sleep were blankets on the floor in the multipurpose room that was used as a living room, dining room, games room or place for guest accommodation. In addition, it offered the possibility to share the meals of the house with the family and requested an economic collaboration for this. He also said he had three daughters of different ages. Everything seemed perfect, he accepted us and we went there.
When we arrived everything was as it said his profile. Since it was the month of Ramadan and they were fasting, we waited for two or three hours and shared the iftar (breakfast) with the whole family, two or three hours in which the women of the house (because yes, there were two women and – We believe that- they were both HIS women…) were preparing a lot of things sweet and salty, for breakfast.
In Abdelilah’s house we saw a good example of how Moroccan society works with respect to (most) women: he was the head of the house, the only one who spoke English, the only professional and the only one who worked (he was engineer and worked in the largest solar power plant in Africa, which is in Ouarzazate). Instead, women’s work was cooking and caring for children. They did not speak English (where could they have learned it? Why would they need it…?) When we gave Abdelilah the money to collaborate with the rich food we had shared, he thanked us and said “Ahh, thank you, this is to collaborate with women ”… because of course…” food is a women’s thing……………….. ”
The daughters, who were 12, 6 and 2 years old, did not speak English, but with the passing of the hours, especially with the two younger girls, we eliminated all the language barriers that separated us and created new languages that did not need words: we invented games, we made gestures and we laughed a lot. A while later, Makal, the 6-year-old daughter, who by that time was already my best friend, gave me one of her toys, a pink plastic butterfly. At that moment I thought that my heart of tenderness was going to explode.
A while later Abdelilah went to work. I worked at night, because during the day it is literally impossible to work with that heat. We prepared to go to sleep because we were exhausted and the women prepared to go for a walk and to the square with the daughters. During the summer in general and during the month of Ramadan in particular, those who have the possibility, completely invest the schedules, because at night it is when they can eat and when the temperature becomes more or less tolerable. Then it is the most normal thing in the world to see boys, adults, families, friends taking a walk or playing in the square at one or two in the morning.
By the time women and daughters returned we were already asleep several hours ago. That night we slept on blankets, and despite the heat covered from head to toe (face included), because it was impossible to be otherwise with the amount of flies there were. Never in my life had I have been in a place with so many flies… this was not in the profile of Couch-surfing… ha.
The next day we woke up and had to do little to prepare ourselves: we had slept dressed as we arrived and we left. And yes, Ouarzazate may not interest us at all, but it ended to be one of the most authentic moments of our trip to Morocco, in which we witnessed once again that culture so different from ours in which we were now immersed and in which we receive more love, all this, once again, thanks to Couch-surfing.
PostScript 1: If you want to help me to continue with this project, don’t forget to share!
If you have any questions, queries or suggestions, you can leave it in the comments below. And if you think someone can serve or interest this information, I thank you very much for sharing it!
PostScript 2: how do we continue?
If you want to read the next chapter of this adventure and what happened after Ouarzazate, you can click on the photo below to read the next post…