Morocco –The Valley of Roses, Part 1

Morocco

Morocco is a country lying between the sea, the mountains and the desert, and is definitely one of my best travel discoveries! If I had to sum up my ten-day stay in this magical land in three words, they would be:

 

PEOPLE !

Smiling, friendly, open-minded; people who, although they do not know you, while passing in the street give an obligatorily greeting with the popular Assalamu alaykoum! [Salam alekum!], which means: Let peace be with you! or briefly: Salam! (signifying Peace and health!) and invite you to take some famous Moroccan tea. Human relations play a very important role here. One of the greatest gifts we can give to another person is our time, and the Moroccans have a lot of time! They live according to the philosophy of being “here and now”, with no worries what tomorrow will bring.  🙂 I remember our dear guide – Hamid –would say the Swiss have their Swatches, and we here in Morocco have time   🙂 

LANDSCAPES !

Are of different colors and are absolutely breathtaking. I am not surprised that Morocco is often a place chosen for film production. Asterix and Obelix, Gladiator and Game of Thrones are some of the many movies which were produced in Morocco. Every few steps while traveling through the mountains we would pass valleys, rivers, oases, numerous canyons, ravines and small towns. I would sigh to myself: Wow, wow … Oh, wow! as I would take picture after picture  😛 Fortunately, I was not the only person slowing down the group.

 

MINT TEA !

How much I miss it … It is just addictive! Moroccan mint tea is very strong and is brewed in a small teapot with green or black tea and served with a mandatory huge amount of sugar. It is really trippy! Now I understand why it is called “berber whisky” 😛 . The average five-person Moroccan family uses 2 kg of sugar per week for tea alone! Not to mention the extra sugar that is used for cookies or other sweet snacks. Tea is drunk nonstop. We started the days with tea (or coffee) and in the afternoon while shopping, a seller would treat us to an OBLIGATORY tea even while chatting with one of their neighbors. An invite for tea, CANNOT be refused, because it would be taken the wrong way, and of course a cup of tea is also a must before going to sleep. Tea is drunk all day long and not only because it was hot and a person is thirsty, but because it is a symbol of human relations, a pretext for discussions. Moroccans are very chatty and take life with a sense of humor.

 

The Valley of Roses

I went to Morocco at the beginning of May with a travel group and we spent 10 unforgettable days in the l’Oued Dades Valley – commonly called the Valley of Roses. The route was as follows.

The Valley of Roses is located southeast of Morocco at the foot of the High Atlas mountain range and is a place strongly marked by the Berber culture (indigenous inhabitants of North Africa), and yet is still untouched by mass tourism. This region is famous for growing roses, from which are produced cosmetics, body oils, and rose water for face care and soaps.

The period of the roses blooming is from May to June. In the second week of May, in the city of Kelaat M’Gouna, Moussem, the so-called Rose Festival takes place. For three days, from Friday to Sunday, the city organizes numerous performances, presented by Berber musicians and dancers, as well as hostsequestrian shows simulating military attacks. And there are the fairs, where you can buy local products based on extracts from not only roses.

However, it is important not to misinterpret the name of the valley as one that refers only to fields of roses. Oh no! After crossing Ouarzazate, towards Kelaat M’Gouna, you will find immense palm groves- Skoura and the fortress of the Berber architecture.

Further towards Boutharar, you can traverse green valleys, cereal fields, and fig and almond gardens and you will see rocky mountains at the foot of which are beautiful gorges. Wandering through the Valley of Roses, it is impossible to skip the small towns, where the local population lives in traditional houses made of clay and straw chaff and breed goats, grow grains and move about on donkeys or mules. During my stay in Morocco, I had the opportunity to visit several small towns and at each stop I had the impression that time had stopped there 2000 years ago. The landscape looked like something one could imagine came straight from Bible times. I think that the Valley of Roses may also owe its name to the wide palette of brown-pink-red colors of the rock mountains.

 

Oasis of Fint

Before heading towards the Valley of Roses, we visited the heavenly Oasis of Fint, located 20 km from Ouarzazate.

In Morocco, 2 types of desert can be distinguished: sand desert –erg and  rock desert- reg. The road from Ouarzazate to the Oasis of Fint leads through the rock desert. This means that apart from the bumpy road (which kept us constantly shaking) and the rocks – there is absolutely nothing more. Suddenly, after 30 minutes, in the middle of this nothingness we came  upon a wide area with lush vegetation. Where there is water, there is also life. We came to the “Auberge La Roche Noire”, where we were kindly welcomed by Rachid and Ayou – two brothers who have hosted many tourists there over the past years.

There are 200 people living at the oasis, and they consider each other as one big family. Their ancestors came from Mali, and they have Berber origins. Life in an oasis consists of breeding goats and sheep and growing cereals and vegetables. At the oasis, you will find numerous date trees (interestingly, one tree gives from 120 to 130 kg of dates a year), but what is the most spectacular is the charming oleander bushes, with their marvelous pink flowers.

At the Fint Oasis there is also a primary school, which is attended by children up to 14 years. After that, they go to the nearest junior high school in Ouarzazate.

Did you know that the third season of Game of Thrones and Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra were both filmed in Fint. Now, I know why  🙂

After a few hours of sightseeing, we would take time for a well-deserved dinner prepared by the women of the guesthouse. We enjoyed a delicious couscous with chicken and vegetables –yummy  😛

In the afternoon we took the direction towards Tabounte, where we spent one night in a very nice hotel called “Dar Bladi”.

The next day, in the morning, we set out towards the Skoura Palm Groves. On the way we stopped to buy hand-made tajine–vessels for the preparation of the traditional Moroccan dish of the same name. Beautifully decorated mugs and plates are for sale there as well.

 

Skoura palm groves and Amridil kasbah

The Skoura palm grove is famous for its huge number of palm trees. For comparison, in Skoura live 30 thousand people, whereas there are 130 thousand palm trees. It is one of the few palm groves in Morocco still inhabited and cultivated by people. Moreover, in Skoura you can visit 35 kasbahs – a type of fortresses of Berber architecture, dated from the 17th century. I had the opportunity to visit one of them –the Kasbah Amridil, which was inhabited by a multigenerational family until 1975. Interestingly, the comedy Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves as well as many films about Jesus have been filmed there. Together with the group, we were able to visit all rooms of this construction. Two things stuck in my memory: firstly, the women who lived in Kasbah Amridil had the right to go out only twice in their entire lives – for their wedding and for their funeral; secondly, a man who had two wives sleeps with both in one room (present Moroccan law says that to marry a second wife, a man must have permission of the first wife 🙂 ).

The construction of the fortresswas amazing, but the most impressivewas the view of the palm grove.

 

Boutharar

In the afternoon we headed towards the small town of Boutharar, located between two valleys at an altitude of 1700 m. We stopped for a few nights at the “Le Mont M’goun” hostel, where an extremely friendly Mohamed welcomed us with tea and peanuts.

After a short rest, we went for a short trek in the M’goun mountains. The views were breathtaking. Just look at these beautiful colors.

 

The next day we went towards the town of Tamgallouna, where we crossed the poppy and cereal fields and saw the local people during their daily work in the field, we also met with children in schools. We were able to march along rivers, canyons and ravines. The views were simply astonishing. But you will find more in the next post! Take care!  😉

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