Chronicle of the crossing of the Atlas mountain range

And after our passage through the valley of Imlil, the next destination was Ait Ben Haddou, where we wanted to visit the Ksar or fortified city built with mud. For this we had two options: the one that most people use is to go back to Marrakech and from there take a long distance bus to any other destination, among them Ait Ben Haddou. But not us. We did not think it was interesting to undo that path and return to Marrakech unless it was absolutely necessary and it seemed that in this case it was not. So we decided to take the shortcut. Those fans of The Simpsons like me, will remember the memorable trip to the land of Itchy and Scratchy and why you never ever should take a shortcut. Still, deciding to take the risk, we did it.


Before reading further, a warning: what is this post?

This is a story 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). Clarified this, let’s continue with the story…


The shortcut: what you never have to do in Morocco

Taking the shortcut, Imlil and Ait Ben Haddou are separated “only” 228 km. And never better use those quotes for “only”, because it turns out that in Morocco, distances are not measured in numbers, far from it, they are measured in different types of transport, in more or less transitable routes, in a constant adaptation to the medium available. It is measured in experiences.

This was the path using the shortcut and avoiding going back to Marrakech

To travel those 228 km, we had to use five different transports, it took ten hours, and we crossed the Atlas Mountains, which divide Morocco between north and south (and also crosses Algeria and Tunisia). Because of course, something important to know when you travel through Morocco, is that you do not travel as you want, but as you can.

The first 33 km we did in a shared taxi for six persons, very much to my regret, because I hate the ritual of infinite haggling to get a taxi at an acceptable price in Morocco. The price started at 150 dirhams and ended in 70 after walking a bit away from the taxi stop.

The next 20 km we hitchhiked, in 20 minutes, in a nice new car, driven by an incredibly well-dressed Moroccan who treated me as “Madame” and was returning home to the next village. From that small part of the road I remember with all the love of the world that first contact with the air conditioning, which tasted so glorious, and that the car was so impeccably clean that it made us feel awkward putting our dusty backpacks in the trunk, which even had a small hand made carpet!

The next 24 km we did for 14 dirhams for both in the local bus number 40, where we were the only foreigners during the entire road of almost an hour, a long hour in which we were objects worthy of stares of amazement to the extent that we almost felt like circus animals.

The next 6 km we did for 15 dirhams (again, much to my dismay), in a shared taxi which left us at the roundabout at the exit of the village of Ait Ourir, from where we had to make the last stretch hitchhiking, if or if. There were no other possibilities, there were no more local buses or taxis or anything. We still had 149 km to reach our destination. At that stop, an oasis appeared in the form of a huge service station (something we had never seen in Morocco until then) where we could wet our heads (and almost the whole body) to refresh ourselves from the 40 degrees heat that had beaten us for many hours. And not only that, but the station, in the middle of nowhere, was open 24 hours, which led me to think that if we did not get transport soon, we would have to spend the night there, sleeping on a table. All this went through my head at three o’clock in the afternoon, when we still had most of the way ahead, equivalent to several hours on the route, so with the passage of minutes the idea of ​​the night at the table of the service station was getting stronger.

The miracle: Bulgarians in camper van

But the idea did not last long because after just fifteen minutes, a miracle happened! A couple of Bulgarians stopped in a camper van and they were also going to Ait Ben Haddou! They apologized for not having much space for us, when we felt like in a palace with wheels. Teddy and Anatoly opened the doors of their car and their home, gave us snacks and a lot of air conditioning, things that are appreciated immeasurably in this scorching climate. The Bulgarians were on their first long trip with their new camper van and they were going to be in Morocco for three weeks. They had notes of their route written by hand and painted with colors, as in the old days. They had organized this part of their trip based on their fascination of semi precious stones, which are abundant in this area of ​​the Atlas and vendors gather all along the roadside. I give faith that they were really fans of the stones, because on the way we stopped at every stall of stones, and from each one of them they took away some souvenir or various.

Section 5, the last 149 km with the Bulgarians in camper van
The camper van of the Bulgarians, with the Atlas mountains in the background

And in that process, we were fortunate to learn some never seen and highly efficient haggling techniques. It turned out that Anatoly, even though he spoke only Bulgarian, Russian and only a few words of English, was a professional negotiator, level 3.0, so much that, they told us, when traveling with friends, they all told him what they wanted to buy so that, with his immense skill he could get the best price, always. And the truth is that Anatoly’s gift is enviable and extremely useful in Morocco (and in many other parts of the world as well). We were witnesses of how he managed to buy products for five times less value than the initial price… which is very much! Our applause for Anatoly.

One of the many places where we stop along the way

It was also interesting to see the mechanics of the exchange. The sellers did not want only money, but were more than happy to exchange stones for almost anything travelers had available: bottles of wine, cookies, sweets, T-shirts, cigars, etc. Everything suited them, anything was better than having one more stone, among the thousands and thousands they already had. Like these ones:

And even we were protagonists of this curiosity. Normally, when the van stopped and opened its doors, the vendors would come over to check whatever was available for exchange. We were not at all planning to buy any stones or spend on anything that was not necessary and, more importantly, to carry unnecessary weight. So when one of the sellers approached me and asked me if I had something to exchange for a stone, I explained that I was not in the plan of buying anything and also, that the very few things we had with us really served us. It had not occurred to me that the white plastic hat that had been given to us in a restaurant in Spain, as a promotion of the place, and which was really horrendous, could be an object worthy of exchange. But it was for him, who saw it and immediately said that he wanted it. And the truth is that it was extra for us. So in a second, he happily put on his new very fashionable hat and left it on for the entire duration of our visit, meanwhile I accompanied him to the interior of the premises and chose the stone that I would take as a souvenir of our crossing the Atlas, which is this:

And so our journey continued, between stones, curves and mountains, until after about five hours of having started the last section of the journey with the Bulgarians, they left us in our accommodation in Ait Ben Haddou, in the middle of the night, in front of the Ksar that at that time looked like a great shadow and we would have to wait until the dawn of the next day to really know where we were…


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…

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