Morocco – brought to you by the letter “T”

Search for Missing Glove Called Off

Taroudant, Morocco – A Canadian man is in mourning today as authorities called an end to an exhaustive fifteen minute search for his missing glove. It had been last seen stuffed haphazardly into the pocket of his jacket while he rode a ramshackle rental bike around the outside of the city walls. Police suspect the glove disappeared during one of his many stops to admire the impressive ramparts, paying particular attention to the way the setting sun changed the colours of the ancient mud-brick surface.

“The glove in question was allegedly sharing the same pocket as a small camera. We are working on the assumption that at some point he reached into said pocket for the camera, and when he withdrew it, the glove was inadvertently ejected onto the street, or sidewalk, presumably going unnoticed at the time.”

The man only noticed the glove was missing when he reached into his pocket for the camera when presented with a particularly tasty looking view of the central fountain.

Taroudant - location of the grim discovery

Taroudant – location of the grim discovery

He claims it was at that point he realized that “something didn’t feel quite right”, prompting him to take immediate inventory of his belongings and determining that he was mysteriously one glove short of a pair. He claims to have quickly retraced his tracks – to the gate, the park, the bench where he sat briefly before getting really bored, even near the long line of camper vans that he found amusing for some reason.

“I looked everywhere. I mean, everywhere I went on the bike, anyway, not literally everywhere. All I can think of is that someone picked it up. But why? I mean, what are you going to do with one glove? But if you could just keep an eye out for it, you know, watch for any Moroccan wearing one black glove, and let me know, I’d really appreciate it. I loved that little guy…”

The police declined to add anything further, claiming to have “already wasted enough time on this bullshit”, and stalking off.

(After a short stop in Timidarte and passing through Talioune we eventually arrived in Taroudant, spending three nights including a day trip to the village of Tioute)

Other than some minor property loss drama our few nights in Taroudant were fairly uneventful.

Tioute kasbah (the old bit)

Tioute kasbah (the old bit)

It is a manageable little city with impressive walls, a confusing kasbah and a much higher concentration of French retirees lining the streets in their campervans than one would normally think reasonable. Vibrant little square, confusing alleys packed to ludicrousness with tiny cars, shabby bikes, cantankerous donkeys and people, oh, so many people. Fun for a visit, makes you spit Coke out your nose to think of living there.

We did venture out to the nearby village of Tioute one day where we warily circled an old kasbah that has been turned into a relatively modern hotel, very careful to not attract the attention of any of the faux guides milling about the terrace. Then some more arbitrary palm grove wandering. Well, partially random. We needed to make sure we eventually made a full circle, both to return to the village and to make sure my sunglass tan was equally ridiculous on both sides.

Transportation! Some brief notes on things we’ve noticed travelling around Morocco so far.

The drivers aren’t really that crazy or aggressive like I remember from other similar seeming countries like Egypt and Syria. Of course, even though those are also Islamic countries where women where djellabahs and men are swarthy and spend much of their time drinking tea and smoking at outdoor cafés, Morocco is really nowhere near those places geographically so I guess there is no real reason they would drive the same. Except for the moustaches.

Into the Ameln (Almond) Valley

Into the Ameln (Almond) Valley

 

The biggest problem with Moroccan roads isn’t so much the traffic or even potholes, most roads are in pretty good shape that way, but road width. For some reason, rather than cracking and collapsing into dangerous craters and mud-filled potholes like our roads at home do when they thaw after a long frozen winter, Moroccan roads just seem to slowly crumble from the outside in, the gravel shoulders creeping inward until most roads are only wide enough for one large truck, or one and a half Renault box vans, or ,just barely, two American retirees on rented bicycles. So most drivers, taxi and bus drivers at least, seem to have perfected (we choose to believe) the last minute swerve that somehow allows both vehicles to keep their wheels on pavement even while the rest of the vehicle leans outward enough to narrowly miss mirrors. Or maybe that is just an optical illusion and they are only trying to get the other guy to give in and go half onto the gravel, or at least pee his pants a little. In either case, it’s really annoying when you’re trying to read.

We’ve also taken a lot of share taxis. These are small Mercedes station wagons (Reclamation projects? Typical German altruism? Fake markings?) that generally fit about 6 people – 4 squeezed tightly into the back and 2 kind of piled on top of each other in the front, the unlucky one having his or her left buttock roughly caressed by the gear shift at regular intervals.

Random gorge

Random gorge

They usually have a general destination in mind and then wait around until they find enough people to fill the vehicle, all for a very reasonable price and with plenty of impatient shuffling around and aimless staring. Some of the ones we’ve taken have been full, but in several other instances our patience has, not shockingly, run out long before enough bored kids and wandering farmers have showed up to fill the vehicle. So we offer to pay for 3 spots, or even 4 spots, in which case we get the entire back seat to ourselves while 2 large guys cram themselves into the front, one perched over the stick like a white collar criminal about to reluctantly bribe his way out of prison. Even when we try to convince one of them that it would be fine to come sit in the back with us, really, we don’t mind, they politely turn us down every time, looking startled by the very suggestion, and shaking their heads ruefully as though we are trying to undermine the very fabric of capitalism. We paid for those seats, we should enjoy them to the fullest. Even if all four cost just under $8. The first time we did this we also suspected the driver would try to capitalize on the situation by picking up more passengers along the way and double dipping, so to speak. Like they absolutely would in many other places (India, Egypt, Nicaragua, we’re looking at you…). But they never did. Not once. On top of that, to the best of our knowledge nobody has tried to overcharge us for a ride, even by a dirham or two, or even tried to tickle my belly.

Painted Rocks

Painted Rocks

Which makes it the complete opposite of the Kinsmen Park children’s train.

(From Taroudant it was on to Tiznit, then Tafraoute, where we would stay for roughly a week visiting the surrounding villages of Tirgut and Tandilt, and doing a two day hike starting in Tizarkine, passing through Tiouana, spending the night in Tiwadou and later reaching Tamsaout. Keeping all that straight?)

The Tafraoute area is a magical rock kingdom – big rocks, small rocks, round rocks, sharp rocks, boulders and shale, and in all different colours – grey, brown and red, and even blue, pink and white, thanks to a Belgian painter back in the 80’s who took it upon himself to spruce up some of the natural surroundings. A decision many have likened to nothing more than high-minded vandalism, but the results of which have, nonetheless, been allowed to remain intact, even being given occasional touch-ups, and have slowly evolved into a tourist attraction in their own right. The “Painted Rocks”, along with the “Ancient Gazelle Carvings”, the “Picturesque Villages of the Ameln Valley”, the “Beautiful Ait Mansour Gorge”, the “Spectacular Affela-Ighir Oasis” and some particularly unique rock formations – “Napoleon’s Hat”, “Lion’s Head” and “David’s Tailbone”, to name a few – are gradually turning the area into a mecca for hikers, bikers, rock-climbers and people who simply love to loiter near dry riverbeds.

The Woman Who Stares at Goats

The Woman Who Stares at Goats

A small, friendly and manageable town, Tafraoute is located near the Anti Atlas Mountains and is surrounded by rocky hills and ridges and enough hiking trails, viewpoints and oases to keep a French family of 5 and their campervan occupied for days. We even managed to get out and about most days, despite the first couple of rainy days we’d experienced in Morocco, the highlight of which was probably the one that went most awry, with all going well for the first couple hours up and over a scenic pass and down into the lush Ameln Valley before getting cocky and going off-plan and following a herd of goats along a creek up into a narrow valley. See, this area of Morocco is famous for its argon trees, and the spunky goats that literally climb them to get at the juicy top leaves. Laynni had been dying to catch a glimpse of this unusual phenomenon in person, finding the thought of goats perched high in trees the next best thing to flying pigs, or maybe speed-walking hippos. Well, consider it mission accomplished. We have officially seen goats in trees. One more thing checked off the list. Now we just need to see some dogs playing poker and watch a horse file his income tax return online. As for the hike, well, it soon became impassable so, rather than backtrack, we scrambled right up the side of the rocky embankment, puffing, gasping and being scratched by thorny shrubs, then carefully worked our way down through the cliffs and boulders of the far side to emerge in an area that appeared by all accounts to be doing double duty as both a water treatment plant and place to store used tuna tins.

Some Ameln Valley village

Some Ameln Valley village

We also were lucky enough to find ourselves in Tafraoute during three of the biggest events of the year – the Enduro d’Agadir XRally 4 day motorbike race, the annual Almond Festival and a highly contested Petanque tourney.

The motorbikers just simply started showing up one day, completely covered in mud and lined up around the block at the two garage hoses that pass for car washes in Tafraoute, the whole thing seeming very strange at the time, seeing as how we never learned about the race until later. Until then we were somewhat baffled as to why our hotel was suddenly full of recently showered Frenchmen struggling to work their large unwieldy cameras while continuing to chain-smoke. Then they were gone the next morning before we got up, simply disappearing, leaving only tables full of half-eaten bread and the faintest odour of tobacco and chain oil.

We had read all sorts of things recommending we plan our entire trip around the wonderful Almond Festival, the big culmination of yet another rousing almond growing season, with different accounts alternately suggesting the highlights were the blooming trees (which happens long before the almonds are ripe and was already passed when we arrived), or the actual harvest (which seemed to be a fair ways off yet) or the mediocre local band playing in the square and the dozens of temporary tents thrown up to sell argon products, vegetables, babouches and a variety of tourist trinkets (right on the money with that one).

Wild Petanque Action!

Wild Petanque Action!

Not exactly the World Cup, or even the Madeiran Transvestite Parade, is I guess what I’m saying.

Now, the Petanque tourney, that was something. A French game that has clearly gained huge popularity in Morocco, at least judging by the large crowd, big prize money, hovering TV cameras and shirts emblazoned with the names of a variety of different Petanque schools, it is sort of a cross between lawn bowling and curling, and features the very same lack of physical fitness and unflattering hairstyles. From the time the solemn playing of the national anthem (interestingly, unlike Canadians Moroccan leave their hats on while it plays, but on the other hand they don’t scratch at their balls as much as we do, so on the whole it is probably equally respectful) and ceremonial first toss by some old dudes who must have been former legends of the game, or maybe rich local fruit merchants, it was a blur of non-stop action, playful showboating for the cameras, awkwardly effeminate high fives and a lot of smoking as hard as possible in between throws. A breathtaking spectacle. For about half an hour anyway. Then the novelty wore off and I wandered away to find a chocolate bar.

Finally, Ait Mansour and Afella Ighir gorges – great views, peaceful roads, quietly traditional villages, restored kasbahs, trash filled river beds, it really had it all.

Gorge strolling

Gorge strolling

Plus, a friendly, helpful guide who spoke remarkable self-taught English (we did our part by adding “squirrel” and “nepotism” to his repertoire) and somehow managed to talk for two full days straight without stopping, except for two uncomfortably long bathroom breaks and the wholly amusing stretch where he was berated by local women for leading us heathens through the valley instead of praying like he should have been. Nice fella, clad in a dazzling variety of Nike, Adidas and Puma gear and matching sweatsuit.

 

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