A Berber Welcome

Trip Start Nov 01, 2006
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Saturday, November 11, 2006

After a quick shower to wash off the desert we headed to the town of Tinerhir, the easiest place from which to visit the Todra Gorge.

Tinerhir is a small town on the outskirts of the gorge. It has one main strip lined with dusty cafés, small shops and a central market with a busy bus station filled with transient workers shuffling through this rundown hub. We walked the rough streets to get a sense of this impoverished Moroccan town far from the "glamour" of the imperial cities and the other more developed urban areas. The first shop we noticed was a dentist that appeared to operate out of a mechanic shop! As in most developing countries that we have visited, you get a mixed bag of reactions from the locals. Some are indifferent, some treat you with hostility, some are overly friendly and have an angle as to how to cash in on your almighty tourist dollar, and of course some are genuinely welcoming and helpful. In our short walk in Tinerhir we experienced it all. The more familiar we get with how the rest of the world lives, the more uncomfortable we are with how our resource-consuming lives leave such a large and dangerous footprint on the world.

In Tinerhir we stayed at a converted kasbah (i.e. a former fortress/palace). The high walls hid a pleasant courtyard surrounded by tidy, cool and comfortable rooms.

In the morning we set off to hike in the Todra Gorge. Our trusty van took us to the entrance to the gorge. We were met by a fierce and bitterly cold wind that was funneled into a frenetic hurricane by the 400 metre walls that enclosed the gorge. We put on all the clothes that we had bought and prepared for five more frigid hours. However, our hike brought us up from the gorge floor and into the surrounding rocky cliffs where the sun came out and soon we were sweaty and hot. The scenery, like most of the Moroccan countryside, is rocky, rugged and raw. We enjoyed the beauty as we moved up.

High above the gorge, we met a local Berber family living in the rocky cliffs. Their home consisted of a burlap tent, a rock-walled enclosure to house their sheep, and a small hand-dug cave to which the family retreated during periods of rain and flood. Amazingly, the cave was dug out of the side of the rocky cliff by the father with the aid of a sharp rock. He had a long way to go since Paul barely fit in the small enclosure that had been dug so far. The burlap tent was a simple open tent that only offered protection from the hot sun. The area under the burlap was divided into a cooking area and a sleeping area furnished with a rug that was just large enough to fit the four members of the family. The Berber family welcomed us with tea served with thyme that grew abundantly amongst the rocks throughout the gorge. We shared their tent and their home for a brief moment. The beautiful demeanor and piercingly handsome faces of the entire family and especially their young son and daughter was one of the highlights of our visit to Morocco.

Hamid explained to us that this family continued their hard traditional lifestyle because it afforded them dignity and control over their destiny. The Berber families that moved to the cities and towns often became destitute and impoverished because of their inability to cope and find employment. Indeed, Hamid had grown up in similar conditions and even had the same pig tailed/shaved head style that the young Berber boy sported to ward off the "evil eye". Warmed by the tea and our visit, we continued our hike back down into the town of Tinerhir.

As a contrast to the rocky heights surrounding the gorge, we visited the palmery that stretched out along the Todra River. A palmery is basically a palm tree dotted oasis irrigated by a river's dependable waters. Towns naturally spring up around a palmery and the fertile swath would be farmed. The wealthy families were those who were able to secure plots in the palmery. We took a walk amongst the palms and saw the fields where they grew pomegranates, alfalfa and olives. The palm trees produced sweet dates, which only grow if men take the flowers from a male tree (short) and plant them atop a female tree (tall). There is even a profession that specializes in seeding the female trees in order to produce the sweet dates.

We spent one more restful night in the kasbah and prepared to leave for the High Atlas Mountains.
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