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Published: August 3rd 2013
We were four bleary eyed travellers waiting outside our apartment in the French Quarter of Marrakech. It was early, that morning, as we observed the stirring of life and the awakening of the village. Savouring the taste of our recent strong black coffee, we inhaled the brisk morning air, and shrugged off our backpacks. The welcome and expected arrival of Rachid and Mustapha loomed toward us in the form of their sleek black mini van which would transport us to another place, and to another time. Little did we realise the extent of the adventure we were about to embark upon, and the lifetime bond we were going to share.
Welcoming smiles greeted us, as their faces appeared through the front windscreen. Rachid, with his twinkling eyes, and a raised eyebrow, that promised a time to reflect, and an adventure to create. Mustapha, with his quiet demeanor and determination for his job ahead. And then we were off, weaving through the morning traffic, passing the red walls of the Old Medina, avoiding donkeys laden with supplies, and witnessing the rising chaos that was the beginning to a brand new day in the Red City.
The grey of the asphalt
road stretched before us, in total contrast with the red landscape that surrounded and stifled, stretching as far as the eye could see. Millions of small rocks lay upon the surface, undisturbed and unforgiving in their settled place. Vegetation was sparse, and the land lay flat and unrelenting, setting the scene of a desolate and arid land. Within a few hours the landscape began to ease itself into rising hills as we climbed the foothold of the mountains. The road became narrower and began to wind upward. The rocks became larger, cropping up more frequently now, and the occasional donkey could be seen wandering aimlessly along the roadside. We continued to climb and wind, the road becoming steep in parts. Mountains began to appear, strangely, without any form of vegetation, rugged and rocky, desolate in their eeriness. Travel slowed and sheer cliffs beckoned, no roadside barriers in places. Suicide Gaps, as I appropriately labelled them ... witnessing rusted car bodies lying at the bottom of the cliff and visualising the horrific final moments of people who lived no more.
Stopping at a roadside café of sorts, we alighted our vehicle to feel the icy rush of cold air. The
café was perched on the side of a cliff, primitive in its raw beauty, and governing the snaky roads that twisted around the mountains for miles. We felt as though we were on top of the world, in a strange land, a prehistoric land, alien to everything familiar. Once inside the café, and welcomed by a warm fire we ordered hot strong coffee and mint tea, then proceeded through doors leading out the back to terraces perched on the edge of the very world. Magnificence !!! Breathtaking glory greeted our eyes as they wandered over cliffs and canyons below, shrouded with cloud and mist, mystery and foreboding. Thankful for my Berber headwear which was serving as a shawl, I pulled it close around myself as a shiver passed through me. I stood in awe as I sipped my sweet, hot coffee, thankful for its warmth and familiarity, I absorbed the moment, feeding upon my amazing surrounds, and appreciating the enormity of this place, and the rugged, desolate beauty it portrayed.
We are in a strange land, travelling with strange people, in the midst of one of the world's most ravaged mountain formations, so very far from home. Yet we
are so happy, and so free, so hungry for this and so eager for more. The happy banter with our fellow travellers is comforting as we continue our endless journey. Rachid's descriptions of things we will experience is endless, and seemingly far fetching. But who am I to know ? So I believe the stories of death and scorpions, of sand dunes in the Sahara Desert that loom higher than the eye can see, since this is our eventual destination.
Snow capped mountains are now in sight, majestic and shrouded in mist that hovers and dances around the peak, backwashed with the bluest and clearest of skies. A delight to the eyes and senses, a beauty unfathomable to anywhere I have ever been. We have reached the highest point by road. Savouring the moment, we gaze at our surrounds in utter silence, as we stand on the roadside and feel the cold moisture settle upon us.
Continuing our journey we now begin the long descent. The road continues to wind and hairpin. We pass mud villages which almost disappear into the landscape. Buildings camouflaged into the mountain, handmade, brick by brick and surrounded by walls that engulf and
protect. Lifestyles of simplicity, the labour of man, sustaining a life of hardship, of determination, here, in the middle of nowhere, in a harsh and unforgiving climate. The struggle of life that has survived for thousands of years and through continuing generations. The sheer isolation is incredible. The strength and determination of these people to survive is epic. I sight these buildings scattered throughout the landscape, blending, hiding. Some are crumbling ruins that have been deserted, leaving nothing but the spirits of mysterious lives lurking within.
Occasional roadside stalls appear, people shrouded in long cloaks made from camel skin, and head dress of many colours selling their wares. We stop, We stretch our legs to break the journey. Language is a barrier, and we appreciate our guides as they translate. Eventually we stop for a meal in a place built round an oasis, the amazing village by the name of Ourzazate. Buildings made from mud brick, authentic and majestic, views of the distant Sahara Desert loom in the background, the chaos of humanity appears again. So foreign, so exciting. We dine on meals cooked in tangines. Spicy, slow cooked and delicious fare served with rice and breads,
fresh dates and fruit, a feast fit for kings. We feel like kings, kings from another time, we savour, we enjoy the delights. We are complete, we are happy.
Arriving at the city of Fortitude, we make our way up a thousand steps. This entire city is deserted, A mud brick wall surrounds the city like a moat. There is what is left of a fresh water stream trickling by. Making our way across the stream there are camels, some carrying people, others strolling aimlessly about. Wandering through the alleyways and touching the rough walls with my fingers brings a sense of the past and the lives that lived, close in my thoughts. Each brick, formed by hand and placed one by one, on every formation surrounding me. The sheer amount of years and toil that built this city that once thrived with life is beyond my comprehension. We spend hours here, appreciating, and exploring. This culture holds such a depth and such a determination most of us will never understand. From a distance, although massive in construction, this city blends in with the landscape. Brilliance in foresight, brilliance in construction.
This is Northern Africa. This is natures
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