Taxi or tour
Today was an easy day. Really, it was. We wanted to go out to Ait Ben Haddou. It is a famous Kasbah, that you see in all the tourist photos. Of course it is UNESCO listed. If you have been reading our blog, you know our feelings about UNESCO. We were a bit apprehensive about this, but thought it would be worth it, as UNESCO do pick the best places to list.
At the hotel, we were asked where we were going (We had declined a three day tour last night due to the price) and on finding out, he mentioned that he had a family member that is a taxi driver, and would take us there for half a day. It would only cost us 300DH. We passed on this, as we thought it was a bit much. He threw in the Movie Studios and another Kasbah for the same price. No thanks, we have some things to do first, and don’t know how long we want to take when we get there. We were told it would be the same price by Grand taxi, but did not believe him. The things we had to do first were get some papers witnessed for Australian Immigration. Government is closed on Fridays & Saturdays, so we thought we would try Sunday.
The first stop for this was the Tourist Office. We thought if we could find someone that spoke English, they could point us in the right direction. On arriving there, we found one person at the office. She only spoke French. This shouldn’t have been a problem as we have been practising charades a lot in Morocco. However on our second attempt to explain what we wanted and having a map of the area thrust at us, we gave up and walked over to the police station.
The police station was our best bet. No go there. We did find someone that spoke English, but was unwilling to witness our signatures, as he could not read the form, and would not sign anything he did not understand. This was progress from Tafraout and Tarodant. We were not surprised, as I would not sign something I do not understand either. He sent us to another station at the end of town. This is the big regional station. However no luck there. They are closed on Sundays, and while the guard did go and get someone for us, it was the same thing. He recommended we go to the government building tomorrow. If Immigration does read this – WE ARE TRYING!
As we had walked all the way through the city, we were now near the Grand Taxi station. It was a quick walk there to confirm or deny the Concierge. On finding the right area (These places have lots of vehicles, and go to all the surrounding villages so are quite large), we were told that there are no direct taxis, and we would have to hire one ourselves. Not share it with 5 other people. It would cost 150DH one way, or 300DH return. The same as the hotel. We are stingy, so turned it down. If we did decide to go, we would take the guy from the hotel. On leaving, someone ran up to us, and said we could get a taxi to a town 20km away, and take another taxi the last 9. It would be shared. Only 20DH each. It sounded good to us, and as we were the last two we squeezed ourselves in, and off we went. The trip was not too bad, and we got there in good time. This town is on the crossroads, and there are lots of shops, a few hotels, and cafes. (The cafe’s are expensive here!) A long wait, and talk to the locals, another taxi arrived. Good timing, as it was hot standing in the sun. This taxi charged us 10DHa person to go the last 9km. We started feeling as if we were paying tourist tax. Especially when everyone else payed 5 at the end… However we had made it.
Ait Ben Haddou was one of the great economic and cultural crossroads since ancient times. The desert caravans would stop by on their way to Marrakesh and the coast.
The new town where we were dropped seemed to keep the tradition going, as it is made up of almost solely hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. We new there was a town here, but not that is was such a big touristy town. Considering how hard it was supposed to be to get here. Morocco, the same as many other countries, is a place where you need your own transport.
We walked up to what was called the main entrance. It appears to be a tourist souk, however there was a path at the back that wound down to the river, where you could cross and go up to the Kasbah. From here, it looks as if the renovations to the front wall were done, but looked fake and out of style to the rest of the buildings looming up above us. As we passed underneath the grand arch, we saw the other side was just reeds and mud, not even finished. A young man came up to us and started talking. Apparently this is just a prop for a movie they had been shooting here, and will be taken down in the next couple of days. This is a good thing, and made us feel a bit better about the place. Expecting the UNESCO shakedown, we were surprised it didn’t happen. He lives in the Kasbah, along with a few other families. Most people have moved to the new village on the other side of the river. He offered his services as a tour guide, but we had to turn him down. Still, he was very talkative for a bit. Proud of all the movies shot here, and the work that is happening. How tourists are good, and are we sure we didn’t want a guide? Pointing us in the right direction, he went back to wait for someone to require his services. Now we were at the real main gate. The shakedown happened. There was a handwritten sign pinned up, stating the entrance fee, and a guy lounging there. He looked as if he was just sitting there, but apparently the gatekeeper. It wasn’t too bad considering. We had paid tourist prices to get here, and were debating how much it would cost. We had settled on 50DH each. It was a pleasant surprise to find it was only 10DH. Although we were not sure if this was official, or some enterprising person making a quick buck. There were no tickets, and we were waved through after paying.
Ait Ben Haddu is massive. Most of it is still being lived in, and there are repairs going on to make sure that it can be used as a set in future movies. We meandered around the narrow winding streets, poking our heads into doorways to see if we were allowed in to look around, or if it was some ones house (there is not much distinction). It is fairly easy to find your way around, as the Kasbah stretches up the hill behind it, and there are basically four ways to go at an intersection. Up, Down, Left or Right. Or a combination of them. A few of the streets have people selling souvenirs along them, and we were talked into stopping at one shop for a chat. Most Moroccans use this as a pretext to start their sales pitch, but on working out we had no money, the guy was happy to just talk to us. It didn’t completely stop the pitch, but it was not bad.
From there we just walked around. Looking at derelict buildings, and barred doors (Most people had a wooden door with a padlock on it to keep us pesky tourists out). Coming across one door that was intricately carved, we stepped in for a better look at it. This turned out to be a little old lady’s house. It wasn’t locked as she was home cooking lunch. On seeing two tourists pop inside her house, her first reaction was to offer us tea! We couldn’t say no, so we were invited into the kitchen to talk while the kettle boiled.
She only spoke Arabic/Berber, and we had only a few words, but we managed to get across how impressed we were with the door. It turns out (we deciphered) that it was a present after filming Gladiator. She has been involved with many of the movies filmed here, and this was a thank you.
We have to describe the kitchen here. It is a fairly bare room, there is a wardrobe balanced on two different planks of wood, and resting its top on the wall. This contains everything needed to cook and clean. There is a small bench that has a double gas burner on it, and that’s it. One chair and a chest that Anna and I were sitting on. The laundry was through the kitchen, and had a single tap, and drain. We sat there talking, and trying to interpret what was being said. It was a lot of fun, and one cup of tea ended up as three. Then we needed the guided tour of the house. This little old lady, bent double with age, jumped up, and went to a steep flight of stairs. This led to a long room, which was the living room, doubled as bedroom. We are used to these now. The rugs on the floor, pillows against the wall, and her only possessions. Photos. Her husband (deceased) in various costumes, and her. It is a resume of all the films she has worked with. Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, and many more over the years. Thinking this was it, we though the tour was over, but she kept going up stairs. This lead to the roof, where we were treated to a great view over the Kasbah, and surrounding area. Little solar panel for electricity and everything. It is amazing how little you really need, and I wish we could live as simply.
Saying our goodbyes, we headed onwards and upwards. Poking our head out through a ruined wall, we saw a couple of girls. They had found shade beside one of the exterior walls, and were having a nice afternoon tea with their dolls. Serving mud cupcakes. They called us over, and practised their English on us. Demanding for us to take photos of them. We duely did so, and were surprised when the hands came up for money. They catch on quickly here, and although they were not too disappointed when we didn’t fork it over, we were still shocked.
After a good amount of time had passed we made it to the top of the hill. There is a single building with a wall around it. Not much to look at, but great views of the valley and the town. By this stage we had been overtaken by numerous tour groups, and as we sat there soaking in the views, more passed us. Then it was time to make our way back down the hill to town. We wanted to go out a different way, but ended up at the main entrance. We were hit up for the entrance fee again, but explaining we had paid it on the other side, we were allowed to continue. However, he was a bit suspicious, as we did not have tickets!
There is a new bridge over the dry river that we wanted to go out, but it was a small way away. There was a way to get there, but involved going through a few fields of olive trees, and freshly planted crops. Still it was worth it. On the other side of the bridge, there is a very different perspective of the Kasbah, as you can see where it ends and the hill comes back out. The colours in the rocks were there in all their glory. This is in stark contrast to the earthen colours of the buildings. The best view would be from an escarpment away from town on the other side of the river, but it is a long walk from here and, honestly, we couldn’t be bothered.
So back through town, where we waited for another taxi to turn up to take us back to town. This wasn’t too bad, as there is one thing Moroccans like. Its talking to tourists. So we had a long chat to one person about the agriculture in the region. How the rains this year were late, but at least it looked as if it would happen, and people were planting the winter crops in the expectation of more rain. A taxi did turn up in due time, just as we had been invited for tea with another person, and we jumped in. If only all grand taxies could be like this. It had extra seats in the back, so we were not crammed in as tightly. It was a very pleasant trip back, and we could appreciate the views, rather than trying to avoid the elbows. To top it of, we got charged the right fare. This came as a shock, as it cost about a quarter of what it cost us to get there! (Most other countries charge double to get back!)
Quite pleased with ourselves at accomplishing something during the day, we called it a night.