Up early to tour and the guide leads us back through our now well known narrow passages between the riads to the main road. We pile into the van and so begin a 400 km journey. .
With the guide doing his duty of imparting information and Susie asking every question in the world we cover off on the geography, sociology, economy, history, relationships, welfare and flora and fauna of North Africa.
Out of the city and we speed (read between the lines - mad crazy driver) into the impressive Atlas mountains, through a pass on a winding road with steep drops on one side.
It is views of narrow passes, deep gorges, a wild riot of pink oleander massed on the road side and a number of heavy vehicles tearing down the opposite way! Deep green foliage line the waterways but otherwise we are looking at a barren landscape in tones of burnt red, amber, olive and greys. It contrasts vividly with the bright blue endless sky.
House size boulders sit on edges of mountains looking like chess pieces on a giants board. Wind, snow and rain have created landscapes carved that look like fortresses and towers. Joel - some places reminded me of your Afganastan photos - the barren land ones.
Apparently 3 cultures share this part of Nth Africa, the Arabs, the French and the Berbers the rural tribal people. It is the Berber villages which start appearing, made of the same materials as found locally and the rectangular flat roof homes blend into the colours of the ground. The villages are quiet in the shimmering heat, the only signs of life are the herds of goats and the occasional herdsman or grass carrier. As we get to areas more and more barren the villages turn into Kasbahs, settlements which are built upwards and enclosed in walls and cling to the upper edges of hills. They are like a city of rooms and passages. fortified well from the ancient days of warriors and wars. Steps lead every which way inside, to multi levels and rooms for eating, cooking, sleeping and keeping the goats and chooks. Courtyards and passages. The walls of the Kasbahs are made of a mix of small stones, clay and straw and are about 2feet thick. Tiny windows and the roof tops provide panoramic views over the deserted lands around. Step though the door and you go from 40 degree dry heat to the cool darkness of simple rooms. The rooms are lit by a golden light which are the sunbeams reflected from the high courtyards onto the mellow clay walls.
One kasbah we saw had been the setting of movies - titles including Jewel of the Nile, Gladiator & Prince of Persia. "Famous stars" had been there too and one ancient lady, as tiny as a 7 year old gave us a tour of her rooms - as proud as any lady from the upper class, her orphan baby lama following her close and her simple room decorated with postcards and photos of these locally produced movies.
Our tour had a lunch provided and most bizarrely we were taken to a 5 star hotel. There by ourselves in a fancy ?700+ seat restaurant we were given the pick of the menu. This hotel was used by the movie people when they come to town and had movie memorabilia (like the throne from "The 10 Commandments") lining the way to the toilets. Very surreal this fancy hotel with ordinary food in the middle of nowhere. Faux luxury.
The crass commercialism of Marrakech continued out here in the desert lands, with tables set up every which where to sell the same-same products found everywhere. Ancient antiques mass produced yesterday. One view we stopped at, doing our own photo shoot, happily admiring the scenery had two puffing men turn up on pushbikes, plastic bags holding their wares - ready to sell us the local tourism products - thunder-egg style stones, split in half and the original white crystals jazzed up with some dazzling purple paint and green glitter.
Another man had two snakes writhing around his neck, I felt a little Crocodile Dunddee-ish as I asked the tour guide to give the "thats not a snake" routine- and told of the HUGE carpet snake that appears from time to time in my home. He wandered off to bother someone else.
We each had our own way of dealing with the various sellers. One of their methods was to give you an item and commence giving you prices - refusing to take back the item and dropping the price knowing quite well you had no interest in purchasing. I would end up thanking them profusely for the lovely gift and walking off with it. Naturally they would chase me to retrieve their item at some stage muttering to themselves in French.
It is a harsh enormous place to live and their selling persistence must echo their ancestors lives battling the extremes in climate, the barren environment and hostile raiding parties.
It was a long day - travelling the twists and turns that lead up 2000 m and out to the Berber homelands but eye opening seeing another culture planting their mark on our huge planet.