On our way out of the canyon we passed some loaded burrows, donkeys? Not quite sure which one but they were cute, brown and black furry, and not at all impressed by the noise and people that were about. We exited at the palm trees that mark the entrance to the gorge and the river that is clear and cold and at this point very inviting. The heat hit me in the face like an unkind slap.
Hassan turned to me and ask, ”What did you think of my little rock climbing spot?’
“Magnificent, really. I enjoyed it. I wish I had longer to explore,” I said.
“Next time we'll come for a few days so we have time to explore some of the trails,” he said turning his attention to the road.
Next time? Next time “WE come”? All right then. I was just being really quiet, but that ruckus going on in my stomach and the small difficulty with breathing might have had something to do with what the charming fellow next to me just said about “next time we come”.
We left the gorge for the hotel in the afternoon heat, which was approaching surface-of-the-sun standards. I don’t understand how anyone in this country doesn’t wear a hat, but most of them don’t. Hassan drove back through the Todra River valley road so I could have another look; there are apparently almonds as well as the pomegranates, olives, and palms. It really is lovely. Banks of dirt and rock built up to keep the moisture in surround the fields. The sky here is endless and a blue that is so intense you get lost in it. The green of the fields and palm trees stand in stark contrast to the surrounding desert of unending parched earth and sand in shades of red and brown. It makes you want to drink in the sight of green with your eyes and take it in through your skin. Now I know why the religion of Islam, born in the desert, has green as its holy color.
The houses along here look like they have risen directly out of the earth with the cutout windows staring at us like ageless eyes. It is a lonely beauty. There were quite a few of the small Berber villages dotted among the palms and set against the backdrop of ruined Kasbahs that cling to the rocky sides of the valley. Hassan is familiar with the area and pointed out the different crops to me. In the villages the sounds of children’s laughter is mixed with the sound of the calls to prayer from the mosque.
Coming back into the city of Ouarzazate the countryside is every shade of beige and brown. The towns and settlements look like dusty Lego bricks stacked to different heights, and every body of water stands out like a blue beacon in the dryness and heat of the desert. On the way to the airport we drove past the Taourirt Kasbah. It’s huge, very impressive and forbidding. Hassan says at night when it is all lit up it looks a time from when the Berbers ruled the deserts.
We arrived at the hotel to find that Ali had not even risen yet, let alone was packed and ready. I was beginning to have an uneasy feeling about this fellow. Hassan sent someone to his suite to roust him with a message we were waiting. “Shall we go in and have some lunch? I have the unfortunate feeling he will be a while.”
We sat down and a young woman came to the table with a silver ewer filled with water that smelled like sandalwood to pour over our hands. We were the only people in the dining room, not an unusual occurrence in Morocco I have found. The food is so good at home they don’t frequent the expensive restaurants.
First we were served Bstilla, a paper think pastry that you can watch the women make in the Fez medina, it is amazing. The cooked-just-right flakey pastry was filled with spicy lamb. I have had this before in Fez but with chicken. It is mouthwatering I-can’t-believe-this-good, and I am not a “food person”.
Then came the spread of salads. In Morocco the word salad has an entirely different meaning than in the west. Anywhere from six to ten small bowls are set out around a larger bowl of hot cananelle beans and a plate of fresh bread. The small bowls are filled with different dishes depending on what is in season, and the restaurant – steamed carrots, beans, squash, a sweet apple dish that is brown and thick like jam spiced with something tangy, eggplant, another apple dish like apple crust, beets, corn, tomatoes, and the variety is endless and so filling. I always have to monitor myself on the salad or I can’t eat the rest of the meal – a very big insult. You dip the bread in the bean dish and put the others on your plate to eat with the bread or alone.
For the main course we had lamb and prunes in one of the loveliest decorated tagines I have seen. It was a delicate design of red and rust over the deep brown of the pottery. A tagine is traditionally used by nomads. Placed over charcoal braziers they are used to cook the meal. Tagines are made from iron or ceramic. The bottom is a large round platter and the top is shaped like a tent with a knobbed handle at the apex for removal. It fits snuggly onto the ridge of the bottom part. The dish inside, lamb, chicken, beef, or pigeon is also called tagine. It was succulent; the meat was so tender it fell apart. “I see you are fond of Moroccan cuisine,” Hassan noted as I was chewing with my eyes closed in bliss.
“It’s among the best foods of the world, don’t you think?” I ask.
“I can’t decide if I had rather eat my food or watch you enjoy yours,” he said grinning.
“How ‘bout you just eat and not make me self conscious. How does that work for you?” I couldn’t decide if I was charmed or annoyed.
He kept smiling.
After the tagine she came with the water again and we cleaned our hands. I love that.
Next a huge platter of fresh fruit was placed on the table with individual plates and knives for serving. Oranges, bananas, apples, cherries, and grapes. I was beginning to feel stuffed in spite of the morning’s exertions, as I had worn my snug jeans. No, not at all for reasons you are thinking! They help me remember to maintain good posture – and to keep my tummy sucked in. No, really.
After the fruit they filled the table with every kind of cookie made in Morocco, and Morocco is the queen of cookie country. You find them in mounds in the bakeries, the medina, and every home you visit. Cookies are served with tea, after dinner, and afternoon snacks. The café’ au lait was perfect. Both of us admired the cookies, put passed them by as we leaned back in the cushioned chairs and sipped our coffees.
All right this is obviously going to take four parts, not three. So I shall see you tomorrow then?