Excerpts from a Moroccan Holiday Diary
First Impressions of Marrakesh. My first time in Africa and what a place – it is an assault on the senses. The narrow streets buzz with life as push bikes, motor scooters, cars and donkey carts all fight for space through the alley ways of the Medina in Marrakesh. Sights and smells that are a world away from what I know – the tannery, souks, artisan workshops where craftsmen sit in a cupboard-sized space to work metal, wood, leather and anything to sell – after bartering with the customer of course and offering the ‘best Berber price’.
Mountains and Valleys. Lush valleys and kaleidoscopic mountain colours all traversed in a four wheel drive vehicle using the ‘piste’ – rough, rocky, teeth rattling tracks that open up the best of Morocco’s landscape. ‘Off road’ can seem like ‘off the planet”; where the twisting and contorting of rocks, by massive plate tectonic forces in ancient times, has shaped the landscape. Erosion continues to sculpt the environment and light paints a different picture every hour of every day.
Life and the Berber Nomads. Driving in the oued (the sometimes river bed) makes the route only just passable. The landscape appears too harsh to support life and yet the nomadic families we meet defy this impression by herding camels and goats.
The Berber nomad children are beautiful – wide eyed, curious but a little afraid and who can blame them. I feel voyeuristic but excited to be drinking Berber tea in a nomad’s tent, watching the children, thinking of the differences between my own daughters lifestyle and that of these young kids. The little girls are enchanting and I am torn between interacting with them and getting (hopefully) some good shots.
We encounter a camel herder named Zaid. The simplicity of his life is extraordinary when held up to our Western extravagance and materialism but he has riches that many of us strive for. When asked his age he says ‘who cares?’. Priceless. How wonderful to not know or even care about such things. The Berbers fit their landscape and survival is paramount – there is no concern for the kind of things that plague our daily lives.
The Desert. In the desert dunes I sleep under the stars for the first time in my life! And what a sky: gazing at the constellations, the Milky Way, hoping for a fleeting glimpse of shooting stars that cross the inky blackness. Then waking, pre-dawn, to photograph the sun rising, the dunes coming to life as the light changes, edges sharpen, shadows stretch over the abstract shapes of the eternally shifting sand. No two are the same – we can see how the wind has pushed the sand up the face of the dune, sculpting the ripples up to the crest and then letting it slip down the other side. These meticulous patterns are broken only by the side winding tracks of a snake that is long gone and the paw prints of a Fennec fox. Standing there, staring across thousands of miles of Sahara, the vast expanse is stunning, physically challenging and almost overwhelming, but it has a serene quality that holds mind and body.
In the dunes we meet Muhammad who is comfortable with us and strikes a pose that is very poignant – the squint of dark eyes against Saharan sun, the blue of his robes contrasting with the desert sand of the Erg Chigaga sand sea that stretches for miles in every direction.
Lasting Impressions. I have tried to embrace every new experience such as having my palm read when looking at jewellery and not worrying about my appearance (for once). I cannot hope to capture the magnitude of this place but if these images are technically, or artistically, good or bad, no-one can deprive me of the sense of wonder that these days evoked.
Meeting the Berbers has been humbling. Appreciating how the nomads eke out their existence, envying the farmers their simple lives in the lush valleys, the happy smiling children that wave at each vehicle. I have been completely absorbed by this extraordinary place and the whole experience and I am not the only one – my fellow travellers and I could not decide what day or date it was, we just knew that we wanted to see more and not think about going home, not just yet.
Go, see Morocco for yourself. You will not regret a moment.