South: Atlas Mountains, Desert, and Oases
Morocco was a surprise to me in that it has so much to offer on a road trip in a rather compact space, and nicely close to my home in Europe. This part shows impressions of the second half of our journey on the southern side of the Atlas mountain range, which divides Morocco starting in the north east, going to the south west. I love these scarce but impressive landscapes, the endurance and the simple friendliness of the people here.
Moroccans are friendly and welcoming people, proud to present their home. Many have traveled Europe for work, and if they haven't, they know languages pretty well, and even if coming from small villages in the mountains, they have a good idea of their place in the world. The south is the heartland of the Berbers who make up the majority of the Moroccan population. Berbers are spread over all of north Africa, but highest density is in Morocco. They had their trouble with the previous king Hassan II, but are now reconciled by Mohammed VI. Still, as Youssef from Goulmima put it, 2% are rich, and 98% are poor. They don't care about us. We are poor, but we are happy. But, we would like things to improve. In Europe, you have liberté, fraternité, and egalité. Here we have liberté, but no fraternité and egalité. If i break my leg working, next hospital is 150 km away, and I can not really afford it.
We explored the south as a round trip from Marrakech. After crossing the Atlas mountains going south, the first stop was Ait Benhaddou, a very well preseved, still inhabited and lovely set old ksar. Sunrise and sunset here are special. These ksars are found everywhere and made up the villages up to the 20th century. They consist of a compact set of housing that can be accessed only by foot going through a labyrinth of pathways, tunnels, sharp bends and niches to reach every spot. Most of them are now deserted ruins with new stone houses built around them. Every village has them. Since they weren't built with running water and water drainage, people deserted them, since retro fitting was too much effort, and also the mud based structures wouldn't take any water leakage.
Fint Oasis was a nice green spot in the transformation zone to desert county. Passing by Dadés gorge and Todra gorge at the base of the mountains we made our way to Merzouga, one of the two spots in Morocco where you find a patch of sand desert giving you the Sahara feel. On the way back we visited Goulmima, which has an impressive ksar to offer, not charted on tourist maps, and currently renovated by UNESCO. On the way back, we took more time for the little roads in the mountains, the villages, and the people, which was a big joy for me.