Just as we feel comfortable navigating our way through the Medina in Marrakech, it is time to leave. We get an early morning taxi back to the airport to rent a car and our next challenge which will be driving in Morocco. Pedestrians, bicyclists, donkey carts, motorcycles, cars and trucks all compete for the same roadways. If there are roadsigns they are first in Arabic script and then the alphabet we know. We have a map, we can do this! And we do, so with minimal backtracking we are headed out of town.
The drive to Agdz is about 200km (175mi) but we have to climb the High Atlas Mountains (a range that fronts the Atlas mountains further north) and the Tizi n’Tichia, a mountain pass on a narrow road built by the French army in the early part of the 20th century. We stop for a cup of mint tea and to change drivers at a lovely mountain village with amazing vistas (we will include photos of the amazing terrain we pass through on our way to Agdz where we will stay for the next three days).
We stop for a lunch of over-grilled meat and vegetables- everything seems to be a little overcooked here- but we are glad that is the case because it cuts down on the opportunity for stomach problems. Then we walk across the street to visit an argan showroom run by village women, who give a small demonstration of how the oil is manually extracted from the kernels of the argan tree and is used mostly in hair and skin products. Martha buys a small bottle as a souvenir.
We wind our way up and over mountain after mountain and eventually stop in Ouarzazate, a town of 60,000 and home to a couple of movie studios (the Mummy, Jewel of the Nile, Lawrence of Arabia) to pick up supplies for our stay in Agdz. We buy veggies, eggs and water, cleverly negotiated by Dave, in three shops and finally arrive in Agdz eight hours after we leave Marrakech. We head straight to Dave’s apartment and unload our things. It’s late so we make dinner and go to the roof, where we will sleep later, to check out the sunset and get our bearing on the area. There are not a lot of people out and about in this village of 10,000. Nearly all of the women have their heads covered, some with their faces veiled yet some of the younger women wear Western-style pants, long sleeve shirts or tunics. Things have quieted down to non city noises.
Dave’s small and very local apartment is quite hot so we decide to sleep on the roof. In addition to being cooler up on the roof we are treated to the brilliance of thousands of stars. There are so many that it’s actually hard to pick up the Big Dipper among them. We sleep well on our roof top mattresses, disturbed only by the braying of a nearby burro, dogs barking and, yes…the call to prayer (11:30 pm and 4:30 am, plus three times more during the day).
Yesterday, Sunday the 9th, we rise with the sun (6 am) and venture out to explore the palm grove before the heat (mid 90sF) of the day. Agdz is the beginning of an oasis that runs southeast for 100 miles along the river Dara. The backdrop for Agdz is the Kissane Mountain, which means tea glasses, and it looks like a teapot and tea glasses. We will include a photo.
We meander through the grove- not unlike the winding paths of the Medina- and see ruins of old Kasbahs (fortified enclosures) built of mud; some Kasbahs have been renovated to be hostels, maison d’hotes (B&Bs) and even a camping area…beautiful and exotic. We then see farmers working their very small plots of land. As we wander through the grove over three hours, Dave explains that he rarely takes the same path more than once and never takes the same route. It is different from the Medina because you can always see some distance, the sky is always above, and, hopefully, Jebel Kissane is a major landmark. We walk a little further than we planned and end up weary as we enter the village of Agdz so we stop for a coke and a bottle of cool water. We get the grand tour of the village, one of four or five surrounding the palm grove in this area, with its center market square. Though there are the basic amenities here (we even bought turkey fillets) there is not the variety or the quality you would get in a city such as Ouarzazate. The village is getting some civic improvements on its main square- and two new coffee shops have opened in the past couple of months there- as well as street lighting and curbs. Funds have come from the central government for this but Dave tells us that Agdz is also a center for some gold and copper mines that have re-opened in the past year.
Another fresh vegetable dinner on Dave’s two burner stove top and then back to the rooftop for another star gazing sleep. We are either so tired and missed it or the calls to prayer have taken the night off!