31 December 2012

Bitter-sweet fair wells
Bus to Er Rachidia
Ziz Gorge
Town Ziz River
Source Bleue (Meski)
Palmerie & Pools
Ksar
Hitching to Tears for Fears

Today we are leaving Midelt.. We don’t really want to, as this is the best hotel room we have found in Morocco, but we also don’t want to stay here for the next month, so we go.. Dreading a cold night in the next place.

Crossing the Atlas via a pass.

Crossing the Atlas via a pass.

The bus takes us over a high Atlas pass called Tizi n’Talrhmeht (Pass of the She Camel). We get great views looking back to Midelt. In front of us the mountains stretch out along the plateau we are now on. The landscape is getting dryer and we are definitely heading back into the desert. Not much to say about the drive, other than that it is once again beautiful. (And once again slow..)

Who took a bite out of the mountain?

Who took a bite out of the mountain?

We eventually make it to Rich, the only bigger town between Midelt and Er Rachidia. It is much bigger than we expected, and because it seems to be market day, it is pretty busy. The bus takes a ten minute break for people to get on and off. We are almost regretting that we are not staying here, as the mountains around look great for a few days wandering.

It was better on the other side of the bus..

It was better on the other side of the bus..

Now we get to the bit we have been looking forward to : The Ziz Gorge.
The gorge proper starts after we go through a little tunnel (very little : if you blink, you would have missed it) build by the French Foreign Legion back in the 1930’s. Right after, the mountains start to close in on us. On the right is the Ziz river. (Ziz is Berber for gazelle.) The views from this side are stunning. The river with vegetation and palm trees and the orange, red rock formations. As we are sitting on the left side of the bus, we can only catch glimpses.

Desert lakes here aren't dry.

Desert lakes here aren’t dry.

On our side the rock walls go straight up to the sky. Every now and then the bus stops to let people off, and we get a quick look at life out here. It is simple. Small houses, donkeys and farm work, but always a soccer field for the kids to play. We follow the river down and hit a big lake. A fellow passenger informed us that it is Barrage Hassan Addakhil built in 1971 for irrigation and electricity supply for Er Rachidia.
They used to have bad floods and the barrage has stopped further flooding.
It also looks like it has stopped most of the river from flowing as the Ziz is not that impressive.

The expanding Er Rachidia.

The expanding Er Rachidia.

We hit Er Rachidia and the touts hit us.. Do we want a hotel, do we want to go to the desert? We want to make it clear that we don’t need anything they have to offer, and try to move away. It seems alien to them that two tourist have come to Er Rachidia and actually want to spend the night here. We know most tourist go straight to Merzouga and the famous dunes, but these locals are not promoting their own town very well.  We find a cheap ok hotel and drop our bags. Finding one of the guys from the bus station there.  From the way he grabbed the keys, and showed the rooms, it was obvious that he did have some connection to the hotel, and not just a tout.  It turns out that he works for a tour agency downstairs.

It did not stop the beggars from asking.

It did not stop the beggars from asking.

Time for some lunch and a look around. We kinda have to agree with the locals : Er Rachidia is not doing much for us. It is a big town, but the street are fairly quite. There are hardly any restaurants about with decent cheaper food, and the cafe’s are empty.  Walking through the main market marked on our 5 year old map was a surprise. We stepped in one door and almost straight out the other.  Walking up to find the grand taxis, we came across big square. It doesn’t even have any market stalls…  And the taxis have moved elsewhere.

What is the snake eating? A Rat? a Demon?

What is the snake eating? A Rat? a Demon?

As we walked away from there, we came across a massive billboard.  We don’t read Arabic, but assume from the symbol that we were not allowed to give money to beggars.  Either that, or Er Rachidia is a town that doesn’t accept money!
We walk to the river for a look, admiring the sides of buildings.  There are a lot of murals here, and while they have them up north as well, these are in our colours.  Desert shades and motifs.  Although they are ageing badly, you can still admire the way they have been done, depicting the landscapes and life for the area. As we never found a decent restaurant, or even street food, we decide to just have some pastries for lunch.

On finding the taxis, in a completely different area of the town, we take a grand taxi out to Meski, a little town 15 kilometres out. Here is the famous Source Bleue. No idea why it is famous though. It is a natural spring, that was extended by the Foreign Legion into a swimming pool. Unfortunately they charge now, just to have a look at it.

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Good masonry work last for centuries!

Good masonry work last for centuries!

It is in a beautiful setting along the Ziz river with a big Ksar on the other bank. We walk down into the palmery to try to make it there. The river water has been funneled of into lost of small streams through the palms. Some pools are bigger and have some frogs.
Coming up on the other side, the Ksar look massive. It is just a ruin nowadays, but you can easily see how impressive it must have been once. It is built on top of a natural stone ridge and almost becomes a part of it and has been build using local rock.
In the guidebook it said that this is one of the most romantic spots in the South.. not sure about that, but there is a young couple hiding away in the rock caves. And there are again plenty of broken glass bottles around, suggesting that this is a popular drinking spot at the least.

The inside is not so good..

The inside is not so good..

Around the back, we can make our way in. Wandering through the ruin, we can still see the remains of different buildings. Parts of the old mosque are still standing, with the columns that would have supported the roof. Beautiful archways and arched windows. In places the decoration and plaster is still there. Just off the mosque is a big room, that we image would have been for a very important person. We dub it “the generals room”.

But some details survived really well.

But some details survived really well.

This area is in better condition then most and you can see instantly that it was a great room. Big windows to keep an eye on coming invaders, but also decorated to be very comfy.
We take out time checking out the different spaces and trying to figure out how it was built. Compared to some Kasbahs we have seen in the South before, they used a lot of rocks in the construction here. Big natural rocks in between mud, with a thin mud layer over it. In other sections they seemed to have used bricks to build the walls.  An ideal place for a stronghold, with views stretching all the way over the valley and the riverside.  It makes a stark contrast to the Roman ruins, but in their way, are more special.  Unfortunately, they are degrading quickly, and probably won’t be around in another 20 years or so.

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It's good to be back in the land of the Ksars

It’s good to be back in the land of the Ksars

After making our way through the large complex, we came to the other side.  This looks out over the valley, and palmery.  The sun was setting, and the colours changing to spectacular shades of orange and green, as the evening light hit the rock walls and trees.  Scrambling back down, we again go through the palm trees, past small fields, and flowing water back to the new town.  From here, it was a quick walk to the highway.  Hoping it was not too late to catch a ride back to town.  Soon a grand taxi stopped.  The person waiting near us (he arrived before we did, so we were not worried) jumped in.  The taxi only had room for one more so we skipped it.  Then a car pulled up and asked if we wanted a lift.

Sunset in the desert, you can't beat it.

Sunset in the desert, you can’t beat it.

We were not even trying to hitch at this stage, as we thought there would be another taxi soon enough. Jumping in, there were two men from near Rich.  We said we had passed through there today, and that it was a beautiful place (not the town, but the surrounding hills).  Finding out we were Australian, they put on Tears for Fears, thinking it was Australian rather than English.  Still, it was a good trip back with the purple pink sunset, good music and nice people.

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Back in town we found a great cheap tanjine for dinner. Spicy and full of flavour. As it was new years night, we decided to do the local thing and get some more pastries. Not sure how New Years is celebrated here, but we do get that it involves a lot of cake, as the bakeries were busy, and people were walking around everywhere with cake boxes.
We had a quite night in. Happy New Year Everybody!!

AA

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