Ramble on

7 – 8 March 2014
Tafraoute to Agadir to Sidi Ifni

Could it be possible that I’m not the world’s clumsiest person after all? Ingrid, one of my walking buddies in the Afella Ighir gorges, and I leave Tafraoute together. Joining us in the private taxi are two Englishmen. One of them is Ian, who works at the British embassy in Rabat, making reports about Morocco and supporting political emancipation projects. They are avid rock climbers, and were having a lot of fun scaling some of the more remote granite and quartz cliff faces of the Anti Atlas; there’re lots of routes here that have never been climbed before. It stopped being fun right around the time they dropped the key to their hire car somewhere during a climb… After a couple of hours searching and then walking back to the nearest village in the dark, they got a ride back to Tafraoute, and somehow got a spare key mailed to them overnight. Now our taxi is bringing them back to the place where they left their car, and I have to say, the sight of the beautiful, steep mountains around us almost makes me want to take up rock climbing (my first gear purchase would be a lanyard for my keys)!
After dropping off the Englishmen, our taxi takes us to kasbah Tizourgane. The castle itself is nothing particularly exciting, but the beautiful location – on a small terraced hill in the middle of a wide valley – makes this one of Morocco’s most picturesque sights. In the foothills of the Anti Atlas, I see nomadic goatherds for the first time.The sight doesn’t really live up to the Hollywood fairytale; these people are very poor and seem to be somewhat neglected by a Morocco that’s eager to move forward. Their tents seem to be made of whatever material they could find. Their goats (for milk and meat) and camels (for carrying the tents and other goods if they move) feast themselves on the argan and acacia bushes here.
As we continue our way to Agadir, we visit an agadir. If that doesn’t make sense: the largest of Morocco’s mainly Berber cities was named Agadir after the Berber word for wall or fortress. Throughout the Anti Atlas, villages built fortified communal granaries, also called agadir, to more effectively protect their harvests from attackers and thieves (from Saharan tribes, or just the next village). Each family of the village has one or more storage rooms inside the agadir. A cliff top location, a stone wall and a guard tower, and lots of food inside made these agadir excellent shelters in times of warfare, which explains their role in the resistance of the Anti Atlas Berbers from the French (most
of Morocco officially became a French colony through the Treaty of Fes in 1912, but it wasn’t until the mid 1930’s that all the Berber tribes in the mountains had been effectively subdued). Some of the agadir in the more remote areas were used to store grain until as little as ten or fifteen years ago. “Our” agadir has three floors of storage rooms, with the doors on the inside, and with the outside walls combining to form the fort. Large stones sticking out of the wall in diagonal lines provide access to the upper rooms. The girl from the comatose local village that shows us around doesn’t know exactly how old the agadir is; the taxi driver estimates it to be over 800 years old.
Agadir the city could hardly be more different from agadir the granaries; an earthquake destroyed it in 1960, and most of the city center was rebuilt in a 1960s modernist concrete style. Many find it Morocco’s ugliest city, but I can appreciate the concrete creations; perhaps those long years spent roaming my alma mater’s campus, built in the same era and with the same material, has deformed my sense of architectural beauty? Something that can’t quite please me is Agadir’s status as the sun, sand, sea and package holiday capital of Morocco; it makes for distinctly backpacker-unfriendly hotel prices, so I’m staying in Inezgane, a completely characterless transport hub just outside the city. The only memorable thing about it is the sea of people doing their Friday afternoon prayer in the parking lot and on the side walk and the grass and every other available surface because the local mosque doesn’t have enough room. The reason I came to Agadir is to pick up the replacement Swiss army knife my parents sent me. Poste Maroc is not the most transparent of organizations, sending me from one place to another, only to eventually be told that I shouldn’t even be at the postal service but at customs. By the time I get there, customs are closed, but the people are very friendly and let me in anyway, so that I don’t have to wait until after the weekend. Another Agadir encounter is a bit shocking to me. Two boys come up to me and beg me for money. I’ve seen begging children before in Morocco, but those have always been obviously homeless children, usually just asking for food, not money, which I’m happy to give them if I have something with me that I don’t plan to eat immediately. These boys are, as far as I can tell, just regular kids deprived of no need more basic than perhaps an iPhone. I don’t know if it’s a result of all the tourists walking in Agadir and thinking they’re doing good by just randomly giving money to kids, but it leaves me a bit sad.
My first day in Agadir had been pleasantly cool, with the sun not really strong enough to peek through the fog rolling in from the sea. As I leave my hotel the following morning, the wind has picked up and changed direction; it’s now obviously coming straight from the Sahara. It feels like an oven, with temperatures well above thirty degrees, and the hot wind blowing around masses of dust that form tiny dunes on every object that stands in its way. I buy a Snicker’s bar to eat on the bus; by the time I complete the five minute walk from the little shop to the waiting bus, my Snickers bar has transformed into Snickers soup-in-a-plastic-wrapper. Taking the local bus instead of a taxi turns out to be a big mistake. Instead of having fixed stops, anyone can get on or off at any time and at any place. This has the bus stopping every 200 meters or so, which gets old really, really quickly on the 60 kilometer ride to my destination, Massa.
This is the central town of the Souss Massa National Park, Morocco’s most important protected area. It has the estuaries of the Souss and Massa rivers, and several endangered animals such as 95% of the world’s remaining bald ibises. Unfortunately, by the time I get there the afternoon’s almost over, so there’s little time to do much exploring. What’s worse, there’s thunder rumbling in the distance. The guide at the park entrance, Rachid, offers me to give me a ride to the mouth of the river on his motorcycle. I tell him it’s probably not a good idea to go out there as it’s about to rain, but he’s certain that it won’t be much. He’s right; as a couple of big fat raindrops lazily fall from the sky, we ride through the soft sand while dozens of raptors circle overhead. At the river mouth, the coast is wild and teeming with birds such as cormorants and flamingos, even though the main bird season is over. On our way back, we see a jackal hunting on the other side of the river.
I’d like to explore the National Park for longer, but I’ve already been in Morocco for a week longer than I planned; if I want to make it to Mauritania before it gets too hot to do anything, I can’t afford to lose many more days. So, I press on towards my final destination in Morocco, Sidi Ifni. It requires one bus ride followed by two rides in grands taxis (the latter of which over a twisty mountain road in the dark), and I arrive there late in the evening, too tired to really notice the sound of the ocean just next to the hotel or the classic rock playing inside.

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