January 09, 2008

Inshallah - or: how a trip to Morocco doesn't turn out quite the way you expect it to

(warning: it's long!)

We've been in the country for two days, taking in all the sights, smells, sounds, chaos and contradictions of Marrakesh, and we're now on a leaking, cold bus en route to Ouarzazate, a little town beyond the High Atlas mountains. After two hours of slow driving in heavy rain and fog (I know there is nothing next to the road except a deep abyss so maybe it's good not to be able to actually see that) we stop in a roadside village of a couple of shops and teahouses. In the distance we see the snow-covered mountains that we need to cross to get to Ouarzazate.

At first, it's a 'break'. Except that no one knows how long this break will last for. One hour, four hours, a day - the only real answer we get is inshallah. No one knows. There's also not really anyone who can tell us what's going on - snow, an avalanche of rocks, or just a general shut-down of the mountain pass. The weather isn't helping. It's raining sleet, hailing, very windy and freezing freezing cold.

We wander around, completely inappropriately dressed - I, at least, wasn't expecting to be caught in a snowstorm. We try to find a warm place, but none of the buildings have heating, nor reliable electricity (every time the radio is turned on, all lights shut down, but again and again they try to have everything on...). The souvenir and tea salesmen are doing good business, we warm up with some sweet mint tea and after a while we hear some good news. We're set to go, and we see the barrier gate open up and the first trucks pull up to head across the mountains.

Except that our bus isn't moving. Nor are the trucks in front of us. All passenger cars pass us by, but we sit and wait. And wait. And wait. Every now and then one of us goes outside to find a toilet, some tea and some news on what's going on. By now all electricity has disappeared and the toilets are lit by a few candles. Still no luck to find a warmer place. At the end of the afternoon I start wondering if we will start moving again that day at all. Turning the bus around is no option - the road is too narrow. Any cars going back to Marrakesh are gone by that time and I start thinking how we'll get through the night without extra heat, blankets, dry clothing.

The Moroccans on the bus are being more inventive and one of them brings in a pot of smouldering charcoal to try to get some heat in the bus. I've snuggled up in a blanket borrowed from one of the women to warm up a little bit when S. comes back on the bus looking for our driver. Apparently a car towards the back of the line is turning around and we can get a lift back to Marrakesh. But of course, our driver is nowhere to be found. By the time we do get our packs, the car has left. Returning to the bus seems pointless and we decided to see if anyone else can take us. A little boy comes up and starts talking to S. in French. I'm not paying attention until he turns to me and says the boy offered us a sleeping place in his family's house. Considering that it's getting colder by the minute - and it's all about the adventure, right? - we take him up on his offer and walk down the hill to his house.

The boy's dad, Aomar, welcomes us in and shows us to the guestroom in the Berber house. We talk a little, and arrange that we can use the local hammam so the boy takes us there.
Since 12am that day the one thing keeping me up was the thought of a hot shower in a riad in Ouarzazate. I'd lost hope, and walking in to the steaming rooms of the hammam and letting scorching hot water pour over me feels quite incredible. When we get back to the house, dinner is served. Lamb and vegetables straight from the tajine, of course with bread and sweetened tea. We (or well S., I'm not really acknowledged) talk to Aomar about his life in the village, Morocco, the relationship between Berbers and Arabs and a bit of international politics. The only heating available is a charcoal pot which doesn't have much effect so it's an early night for us and we get underneath a huge stack of blankets.

The next day feels like a new world. The view from the window looks across beautiful mountains, with cloudless bright blue sky! We go outside where Aomar's daughter has prepared breakfast: a thick yellow soup with bread, eggs and tea. Chickens and sheep wander around the patch of ground in front of the house, and the sky is the blueest I've ever seen it. The sun is out bright and, best of all, the queue of trucks on the road is gone. We are assured buses going back to Marrakesh will pass by and make a scheduled stop in the village so we walk up to the road, settle at a balcony in the sun and wait. And wait. And wait.

But, waiting in the sun isn't nearly as bad as waiting in sleet and wind. In front of us though, trucks start stopping and the road clogs up again. I look up ahead and see the barrier gate towards the mountains go down.... again. Deja-vu.

After a couple of buses drive past into the opposite direction, but without making that promised stop, we get restless. Aomar and his friends keep reassuring us that one of them eventually will stop. The mountain has held us up long enough by now, and we just want to get back to Marrakesh to make new plans. When getting up in the morning the mountains looked terribly tempting but seeing the pass close up again in good weather confirms our decision to turn back. If only someone would take us.

It's 3pm by the time we are back in Marrakesh, driven by a Moroccon guy who tells us a bit about his work, and after being amazed by the scenery. Truly stunning. After a quick lunch we get out of the city again, but heading into the opposite direction this time: the Pacific coast.

1 comment:

Cookie said...

amazing story! can't wait to see the pics.