Ait Ben Haddou - Gladiator Movies

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Mar 04, 2006

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Thursday, January 12, 2006

After some last minute run around shopping for Kat and Dave, and a final Patisserie visit for me, we headed to the local Hertz Car Rental centre to pick up our vehicle.

After papers were signed and cash handed over, they brought around a dirty but relatively new Toyota Corolla. Five people and luggage all squeezed in, in relative comfort compared to the local buses or grand taxis that fly from city to city. They cram in a driver and 6 passengers in a Mercedes for the grand taxis, so we aren't doing badly.

Mike is at the wheel, the first one to test his nerves on the wrong side of the road, in a left hand drive vehicle. He handles the streets of Marrakech with aplomb, and we follow our noses out of town towards the mountains and our destination - some place called Ait Ben Haddou that Dave tells us is just dandy.

The distant snow hills of the High Atlas mountains are a beautiful backdrop. We seem to be getting closer to them, but are convinced that the route must take us through the lower valleys or round them. Those mountains seem bloody high really, and rather white.

We start the climb, commenting on the amazing views, and approaching snowline. "Wow, in ten minutes we might actually get some snow on the side of the road, wouldn't that be fun" is the general consensus. Soon enough, there are patches of white by the road as we climb, and the road gets a little skinnier. Mike is doing a sterling job at the wheel. I am doing a sterling job keeping the front window de-fogged from 'where the steering wheel should be' side of the car.

Climbing, climbing, climbing....

We reach a roadblock, but are waved through. The Corolla is handling things well. The question is though, will we still be able to handle it? Climbing, climbing, laughing laughing.... Laughter turns to more nervous laughter, and comments such as "gee this is some winding road" and "wow the snow is getting heavier" seem to be taking over the conversation. As are the words "fuck", "hell", "frickin dangerous" and the like. We are in the Morrocan Alps, and we didn't even know we were coming here.

The road conditions get very dicey. We are up rather high, with rather serious drops to the side, rather seriously icy roads, and rather seriously on the unfamiliar side of them. It is almost like a blizzard here, but nature still calls Dave to venture outside.

Finally the road starts to drop downward, and we have unexpectedly, dangerously and bravely, crossed the High Atlas range. Moonscape surroundings arrive. Morocco is a land of contrasts. The rain persists as we drive through apparent ghost towns, wondering where Dave is leading us. I admit I have done little research on Morocco... knowing Kat and Dave were going to be here was enough.

Mike has driven brilliantly. We realise his name wasn't on the rental contract. He has driven uninsured. Probably not such a great idea in hindsight.

We arrive at the outskirts of Ait Ben Haddou and pull straight in as our hotel is at the start of where the town probably is. We don't actually know where the town is, due to fog and the recommencement of light snow. It is rather chilly.

After a quick bite we spot the reason for being here out the window - the UNESCO protected Kasbah across a small stream and up against a hill. It is stunning. We wander briefly. No one is around, but unfortunately darkness arrives, and we are yet to make it over the stream to the old city.

Dinner is wonderful, with Moroccan food as part of our accomodation in this hotel that feels a little too much like the movie 'The Shining' for our liking. As always when travelling, conversation turns to toilet stories and medical conditions. Somehow we discuss Indian Toilets and Haemorroid surgery over dinner. We depart for sleep early. I am sharing with Kat and Dave. It is like school camp, but no one has served us Hot Chocolate with skin on top - Moroccan mint tea instead.

Morning reveals a majestic clear day. Total blue skies. Like excited children, Dave and I race down to the stream to cross it to look at the Kasbah, walking into some family's backyard before sneaking back out. We head back for the others at breakfast time.

Mike and Linda have gone ahead. Once we are past some nagging children asking for cash for no reason and being little shits about it, we hire a young local to show us round the stunning Kasbah. Only 100 people live here amongst the mudbrick buildings. It is so beautiful that many movies have been shot here, including Jesus of Nazareth, Jewel In The Nile, Kingdom of Heaven, and the early fight scenes of Gladiator. All of the town were employed when Rusty's film moved in, as crew or extras or both. It is the most exotic and beautifully restored Kasbah in Morocco. The views of the Kasbah, town and surrounding country are just superb.

Dave you have done it. What a destination. A highlight of the trip. We discuss that perhaps I should have married him, not Katrina.....
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