Elizabeth and Hassan in the snow at Chez PierreWe left Chez Pierre with many hopes that we would return one day. The setting is spectacular, and the food was beyond what you would expect. To top it all off, it was snowing again, the flakes beautiful with the flowering trees. Time to head for the gorge.
We drove just a short distance before we got out to go on foot through the narrow gorge. A stream ran along one side, and the striated walls came close above our heads. Of course, the boys had to play…
Then we went up and up and up. Mustafa told us we could find on YouTube the video of a Cadillac commercial filmed here. It certainly was an unbelievable road!
And then we continued to go up. We were in the High Atlas mountains now. Down below are the gardens growing on the lush valley floor, apple, fig and pomegranates along with green crops like fava beans and barley. But up above there was snow again, beautifully outlining the striations in the mountains.
It was also very steep. We saw goats down below, and not too far away was a fallen road sign advising of a twisty route. We backed away from the edge and got back in the cars.
The next village along was Memsrir, still high up but not as steep as it was. This is the gate into the square.Today was Saturday, the weekly market day, and the place was just beginning to close up. We observed this man selling dates both loose and in a moosh like this. Also for sale were lots of vegetables including carrots, greens and potatoes. At the shoe stall we stocked up on children’s shoes to take to the Berber tent later today. We avoided taking too many pictures – this is a conservative area and they would probably refuse permission.
It was past Memsrir where we left the paved road for the off-road adventure. The road was rocky, pitted and sometimes hard to discern, though Mustafa did a great job finding it and staying on it.
The road went on and on. Rocky hills and snow-covered mountains loomed up over and over again. We saw an occasional bird, too far off to identify, a lone man riding a donkey, another man standing next to a tent in the distance, and once a group of goats and donkeys. We stopped partway up to take photos, and of course the men had to throw a few snowballs. We stopped again near a stream for our picnic lunch. Don’t we look cold??
At last we arrived at our destination, marked by the children rushing up to the cars in great excitement. Across a rocky track to the tent, edged in stones, covered in a fabric woven from goats’ and sheep’s wool, with a fire burning in the center. The smoke permeated everything with a delicious aroma.
Inside were two women and seven children. The younger woman with the green veil was about twenty and had the little baby Sidaya. (The bright dots on this picture are shafts of sunlight coming through the loose weave of the roof of the tent.)
The older woman had three children, and the other children were the siblings of the first woman. The men were either herding the goats or off at the weekly market we had just come from, where Mustafa the guide explained that they might be selling a goat or a sheep and buying vegetables and spices to bring home for the families.
The younger woman began to make tea for us. First she got the tea glasses out of a metal box, then she washed them with elegant movements of her hands using just a little water in a shallow pan and drying them off with what looked like an old apron. She was very careful to wash everything well but used only the smallest amount of water.
We had brought them a box of tea and two cones of sugar. She poured the tea into the teapot and hammered off a piece of sugar as well (mint tea is traditionally served sweet, like iced tea in the South). Then she poured the boiling water into the pot, poured it into glasses and handed around the tray. Here’s the water boiling over the smoky fire.
Meanwhile, Hassan and Mustafa the driver were playing and singing with the children. All three men are Berber, so they could communicate and translate for us. The oldest girl, around eight, played the drum and sang a call and response song that produced great hilarity. You can just barely see her behind her drum at the left of this picture.
Even her older sister, mother of Sidaya, joined in at one point, though she was very shy and hid her face behind her veil.
The little children watched us solemnly and tried on the new shoes we brought them.
Here are two of them with Marge.
At one point, a lamb came to visit and we all had to pet it. Here are Marge and Susan enjoying its springy coat. After about an hour we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the cars. It was one of the most amazing experiences we have had on this trip or any other. Having three Berber-speaking companions made us feel we caught a real glimpse of this life, if only for a moment. What an amazing opportunity!
My friend Said is Berber, at least on his mother’s side. He speaks it too. Remarkable photographs, wow! That road is GREAT.
Biffy thought she remembered that. Would love to know what he thinks of this visit.