Deserts and Kasbahs

Trip Start Sep 12, 2005
Trip End Dec 12, 2005

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Monday, December 5, 2005

Our next stop took us to Ait Benhaddou which is known for its kasbah, the largest in the world which has been designated a World Heritage Site. Many movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth and the Gladiator were filmed here. This area is known as the "Valley of the 1,000 Kasbahs"; on the way to Ait Benhaddou we stopped at Amridil a 17th century kasbah which can be seen on the Moroccan 50 dirham note.

The landscape in Morocco is certainly variable. There's the green agricultural land of Fez (including many cacti and succulents), the sand of the desert, the dry and rocky (and sometimes lush) Atlas mountains and the very rich farmland of the oases. Morocco is also a major producer of roses (first brought to Morocco from Saudi Arabia), hence the rose soap, face cream, etc. The roses must be spectacular in the spring. (We also learned that Morocco is the second largest producer of phosphate in the world.)

En route to Ait Benhaddou we stopped for lunch at Quarzazate (pronounced "war-za-zat"), the home of Atlas Studios. Many movies have been filmed here, including The Man Who Would be King, The Last Tempation of Christ, and Kundun. Morocco is a popular choice for producing movies because of the vast open areas, the versatility of Moroccan actors (they can be made to look Middle Eastern, southern European or even Indian) and costs of production are low. Martin must have that "certain something" about him; three times he was asked by people in Quarazate whether he was an actor. A soccer star in Turkey, an actor here!

On the various hillsides there's messages in Arabic that are spelled out in white rocks; several of these read "God, Country, King" (the order of importance of these things to Moroccans). Another we came across stated "The Desert is Ours". Morocco has held on to the desert for hundreds of years, despite efforts of dissidents to change that. "The Green March" was one such campaign when thousands of Moroccans flooded into the desert to reinforce their claim - and a very successful strategy it was.

I find the public toilets here a contradiction to their fierce determination of keeping men and women separate as all the toilets are available to either men or women. It's kind of strange being in a stall beside a man. I never did see a local women use the coed toilets, though - only the men and the tourists. Moroccan plumbing is very touchy and everywhere they ask that you don't put toilet paper down the toilets. The problem is that they seldom provide waste receptacles for your toilet paper, so what are you supposed to do with it? Put it back in your pocket? Leave it on the floor? Put it in the toilet!

It was very cold in our hotel rooms both here and in Tinerhir and there was no heat in the rooms. During the summer months, temperatures reach 55C in the desert and 45C elsewhere, so the cool accommodations (tile floors, swimming pools) are probably greatly appreciated. Because the weather is getting so cold, our tour is the last of the season for Imaginative Traveller; tours will begin again in February.

Of course, since this is Sandra's last tour, she has been reflecting on her experiences as a tour guide. She has attributes that make her a natural leader - she is outgoing, enthusiastic, personable and unafraid of the challenges that this job has presented her. She says it has been particularly frustrating at times dealing with men in Morocco; so many of them that she deals with on a regular basis try time after time to make a pass at her, but she repeatedly lets them know that she is not interested and that their gestures are inappropriate. (She asked one Moroccan why he persisted and his answer was that for every 10 women Western women he tries to sleep with, one will capitulate.) Also, at over six feet, Sandra is an imposing figure; her physical stature alone helps people here to understand that they shouldn't mess with her. (We also found out that Sandra is a ballroom dancer! In her four-inch heels she would have quite a commanding presence!)

Because of her experiences, we talked at length with Sandra about the relationships between men and women in Morocco. She feels that the strict code of social conduct that governs all life here is changing. One of the major influences is access to the Internet which permits secret liaisons between the sexes.
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