Thursday, March 20, 2014

the road to marrakech

so off we go on morning number 7--- now well past the mid way point of the trip... we are riding to Marrakech! (but not on the train- LOL) in our van with Aziz and Mustafa and this will not be the Marrakech Express either... this is a long and arduous, for the driver, drive through the Tich-n-Tichka  pass - some incredible dry mountain terrain - with dozens and dozens of switchbacks on a two lane road with a lot of truck traffic because it is the only route through the mountains between Marrakech and Ouarzazate.

our first stop is close to Ouarzazate- Ait Ben Haddou... where mostly the town is closed because they are filming there.  The film is the life of Gertrude Bell (starring Nicole Kidman as Bell) - here is what wikipedia says about her-

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, CBE (14 July 1868 – 12 July 1926) was an English writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, archaeologist and spy who explored, mapped, and became highly influential to British imperial policy-making due to her skill and contacts, built up through extensive travels in Greater Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Arabia. Along with T. E. Lawrence, Bell helped establish the Hashemite dynasties in what is today Jordan as well as in Iraq.

She played a major role in establishing and helping administer the modern state of Iraq, utilising her unique perspective from her travels and relations with tribal leaders throughout the Middle East. During her lifetime she was highly esteemed and trusted by British officials and given an immense amount of power for a woman at the time. She has been described as "one of the few representatives of His Majesty's Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection".

Like Lawrence, Bell had attended Oxford and earned First Class Honours in Modern History. Bell spoke Arabic, Persian, French and German. She was an archaeologist, traveller and photographer in the Middle East before World War I. Under recommendation by renowned archaeologist and historian Lt. Cmdr. David Hogarth, first Lawrence, then Bell, were assigned to Army Intelligence Headquarters in Cairo in 1915 for war service. Because both Bell and Lawrence had travelled the desert and established ties with the local tribes and gained unique perspectives of the people and the land before World War I, Hogarth realised the value of Lawrence and Bell's expertise. Both Bell and Lawrence stood hardly 5'5", yet both could ride with great determination and endurance through the desert for hours on end.

(blogger's note- I am not sure what height has to do with being able to ride "for hours on end" but maybe that creates an excellent excuse for my poor camel riding abilities being roughly 7" taller than these two renowned camel riders- LOL)

here is a photo of Bell from 1906-

but I have digressed- back to Ait Ben Haddou - again from wikipedia:

Aït Benhaddou (Berber: Ath Benhadu, Arabic: آيت بن حدّو‎) is a fortified city, or ksar, along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. It is situated in Souss-Massa-Drâa on a hill along the Ounila River and is known for its kasbahs, although they take damage with each rainstorm. Most of the town's inhabitants now live in a more modern village at the other side of the river; however, eight families still live within the ksar.  Aït Benhaddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987[1] and several films have been shot there, including:

  • Sodom And Gomorrah (1963)
  • The Man Who Would Be King (film) (1975)
  • The Message (1976)
  • Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
  • Time Bandits (1981)
  • Marco Polo (1982)
  • The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
  • The Living Daylights (1987)
  • The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
  • The Sheltering Sky (1990)
  • Kundun (1997)
  • The Mummy (1999)
  • Gladiator (2000)
  • Alexander (2004)
  • Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
  • Babel (2006)
  • Prince of Persia (2010)
  • Also used in parts of the TV series Game of Thrones.

When we were doing the trip planning and figuring out how to have GA see the highlights in a little over a week, this was on my "don't miss list"-

I liked the shots above and below because they have the snow capped mountains in the distance-

of course the village across the river offers much for tourists who must make their way through the village (run the gauntlet) in order to get to the river bed to cross into the UNESCO site...


note the historical relic of the Kodak box advert...LOL

a shot from a roof top across the river shows the majesty of the whole site...

the interior of a lovely tourist restaurant- very swanky! (Aziz negotiated a "technical stop" for GA and me)

more postcards for GA to check out...

along the way we saw lots of these- LOL and finally I caught a photo so you would know how to write STOP in arabic- about a third of the signs were in English (mostly in the cities) but the countryside ones were pretty much all in Arabic...especially in the south.

we get "on the road" in earnest- and begin the journey into the mountains- many of the photos were taken from a moving vehicle and so are not in exact focus but show the amazing drive - so I have included them anyway...

in the lower levels of the drive we saw crops and larger villages - as we climbed we saw sheep and smaller and smaller villages- perched on hillside in valleys (usually above a small green area for growing but sometimes there was no green nearby)

when the road was placed in an area with a bit of extra width there would be "shopping opportunities" perched right on the edge of the drop off--- check out the series of photos with the Coke sign and look for the cars in the road - to see what kind of ride it was-

Mustafa asked Aziz to take a cell phone shot so he could send it to his daughter-

skirting the ridge -

the hairpins below-

we got over the top and when we were on the other side of the mountains we saw more green-

police stops were common- we were always waved through with no delay- probably the license tags showed the van held tourists-

we arrive on the outskirts of Marrakech where new boulevards are being laid out--- along with the cell palms...LOL

we stop for lunch- it is after 3PM so the choice was limited but Aziz knew a nice place for a good lunch salad--- we both picked the same one-

then we began our Marrakech experiences at the Majorelle Gardens- check them out in the next post!

oh - but one more thing before I go--- here is a tripadvisor post I found on the drive- LOL

Just how scary is the Tich-n-Tichka Pass? 
reply- It's a typical, switch-back type of mountain road. It is all paved. Some places have guardrails...Some don't. The scenery is great for passengers, but drivers need to pay more attention to the road, of course! There are "scenic lookout" places to pull over periodically, and some kind of fossil shops/ cafe at the summit, if you want to stop. There are places where there are lofty drop-offs, right at the edge of the road. (Just don't look if that kind of thing psyches you out). If you're a confident driver, and comfortable with a 5-speed, it's no problem, really. I love this type of driving, but even I wouldn't attempt it in poor weather or at night. Honk before going around blind corners, and pull out to pass slower traffic where you dare!

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