It’s my second full day here in Tafraoute, Morocco, a tiny village set against a dusty, red-rocked landscape that is not unlike that found in the American Southwest but is on a much grander scale here in the stunning yet unfortunately named Anti-Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco.
By now, a week since I’ve been in this lively North African country, I have become accustomed to the sounds of Moroccan Arabic, traditional Berber music and the frequent calls to prayer over the loudspeaker of each town’s respective mosques as constant background noise. But I am not sure if I would ever feel at home here in Morocco, with its culture so different from the one I have lived in for so long.
This trip has indeed been an enlightening experience for this middle-class, raised-Catholic girl from the suburbs of Philadelphia, and I certainly can’t put it all into words at the moment. But let me say my impression of Morocco is that it is a country of extremes: extreme natural beauty sullied by extreme disregard for trash disposal; extreme lewd behavior from men toward foreign women due to the extreme mystery of completely clad bodies of local Muslim women; extreme wealth from tourists bargaining in the souks versus extreme poverty of the Moroccan people.
I have an extreme personality myself, but even this would be too much for me on a lifetime daily basis. However, I have enjoyed visiting so much I am staying a couple of extra days to return to the southern coast and do a bit more surfing before I fly back to Portugal from Agadir via London on Sunday. These days in Tafraoute have been wonderful but I’m feeling a little landlocked, though the surrounding’s curious rock formations and low-desert landscape is a familiar comfort to me. It reminds me of the five years I spent living, hiking and mountain biking in the Sonoran desert of Arizona.
Yesterday we hiked from Tafraoute to a nearby town of Ameln, guided by Brooke, my traveling partner Sharon’s young friend who is winding down two years in the Peace Corps here. (She speaks fluent Morrocan Arabic and has been an invaluable host.)
We visited a hotel run by her Dutch friend Liesbeth, who moved here several years ago in her early 40s, giving up life as an accountant in the Netherlands for something completely different (sound familiar?). She recently married a younger Moroccan man and is busy building up her business at Chez Amaliya, a luxury hotel by Moroccan standards named after a Dutch princess, and certainly fit for one.
After that we biked to a nearby village and visited a traditional Berber home, then biked back to Amaliya and caught a ride with a local taxi (in and of itself a unique experience) as sunset turned the surrounding mountains a deep auburn and the air began the signature cooling of a desert climate. It was completely awesome and I felt so grateful to let myself be swallowed by the endless landscape, which stretches nearly untouched save for a village or two as far as the eye can see.
Other highlights of the trip include a sunset surf in which I stayed in the water until the sun was a mere orange glow on the western horizon and the near-full moon rose in the eastern sky on a beach called Mysteries near Taghazoute; smoking a hash-laced spliff and spinning in an impromptu folk dance (to no music) with a surf instructor named Simone in the extremely laid-back surf town of Imsouane; and a temporary obsession with a surprisingly difficult game in Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fna — the large open square/constant party in the city’s Medina — that requires one to lift soda bottles with a donut-shaped implement at the end of a makeshift fishing pole.
I also experimented with wearing a full head covering using Sharon’s white shawl in Marrakech after a negative experience letting my calves show in a dress that only came to my knee the night before. The locals showed their appreciation for my respect for their culture by calling me “Fatima” as I walked by; according to Islam, she was Mohammed’s favorite wife. I got the “Fatima” response so much (as opposed to the “I want to make love to you” and other catcalls my outfit elicited the night before) that we reckoned it was some kind of local joke to say this to foreign women who covered their heads, until Brooke told us it was more likely an acknowledgement of our respect for the Muslim women’s traditional clothing.
A couple of the trip’s lowlights include the sinus malady I have now that’s left me too lethargic today to join Sharon on a walk to see cave paintings in the surrounding hills, and a bump on my left temple — the result of being conked on the head by my surfboard my second day in Imsouane when we went for a surf at 7 a.m. Being so slow to awaken in the morning, I should know better than to try to operate dangerous equipment before noon!
There will be more stories and photos once I’m back in Aljezur Sunday night though sadly my camera broke a couple of days ago and I’ve had to rely on Sharon’s camera, and so will have to wait for her to post her photos before I can share images of the trip’s second half. She has been quite game at letting me be our official trip photographer since the shutter of my camera’s demise on Monday morning, though, a gesture for which I’m grateful.
Until then I hope everyone is enjoying their own life experiences now as much as I am enjoying mine, living fully in the present moment even in the best and worst moments of each day.