|This is me and my daughter Margaret at the home of my friend Mubarak in the village of El Boura, which is located about 7km from Taroudant.|
This initial posting will be about my recently completed 10-day trip from my home town of Taroudant to Merzouga, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. From atop the highest sand dunes of Merzouga, the border with Algeria is within sight.
Enlarge the following map and move east so that you can see Taroudant, Ouarzazate, Er Rachidia, Erfoud, Rissani, and Merzouga.
I had purchased in advance bus tickets from Taroudant to Ouarzazate, and from Ouarzazate to Er Rachidia on CTM, one of the two major bus services in Morocco, reputed to be more comfortable, punctual, and well serviced than some of the others. Most of the time, maybe.
On the morning of November 6th, myself and my Moroccan friend Mubarak got ourselves down to the CTM station at Bab Zorgane by 11:00am, a half hour before our bus was due to leave Taroudant. Bags checked in, and we waited. And waited. Well over an hour late, the bus finally showed up, our bags stowed, and we set off. I enjoyed seeing the countryside very much and was thinking of so many people that I wanted to recommend this part of Morocco to, especially my children. It was all very pleasant and comfortable until the sky darkened and heavy rain ensued, windows fogged up, just as we were traveling along the winding twisting roads up through the mountains, and I had to remember the last fatal bus accident that we had all heard about. This obviously older bus also leaked, and after some time there was a tiny stream of water running down the aisle between the seats. The sky eventually cleared, and we made it to Ouarzazate and our hotel safely but late.
I took an early morning walk next day and found a little place that serves Besaara, green pea soup flavoured with cumin, a little lake of olive oil floating on top and a half round of bread, my favourite breakfast. It was after that that I found the new CTM bus station nearing completion, which will make for a much easier walk to my favourite cheapie, Hotel Royal, in the future.
Later that morning we made our way to the old CTM station and did find the bus to Er Rachidia, late of course. Some amazing countryside again between Ouarzazate and E. We arrived after dark in a completely strange place, much larger and busier than I had imagined, with no hotel reservation, and I'm getting tired. I saw a few hotels nearby but I was determined to find Hotel Renaissance, about which my guidebook had the following to say:
Cheap, simple rooms, some with showers, and a decent restaurant, close to the bus station. A dependable budget choice.
Not bad, eh?
I decided that the best thing to do would be to relax, have a cup of tea at the closest cafe, pull myself together and maybe ask someone. Well, nobody I asked had heard of it, that is until I decided to ask a taxi driver, who pointed it out just up the street, with a rather strange little smile on his face. We found it, and I should have known by the condition of the sign. Up a huge flight of stairs, with all the baggage, only to find a flophouse. A glance around revealed open doors, filthy sheets, drugged out hookers and patrons staring at me, and I can only imagine the expression they must have seen on my face. A very quick about turn and out of there.
Poor Mubarak could see that I was upset, but I reassured him that it was not with him, but with myself for not having made better plans. We hit the next closest place, which for some reason had too many beds crammed into small garishly decorated rooms. I gave my Carte de Sejour to a young man who obviously had never seen one before, who suggested that we could share the same room for a price, and who wanted immediate payment. With some difficulty I managed to wrench the card out of his grip and we bid our goodbyes. After that, strangely, I found myself calm and in a good mood, experienced traveler, man of the world.
Hotel Fekri, nice bright sign, was a welcome relief, and I would recommend it. Beautiful rooms, and if it were any closer it would be in the bus parking lot. The window of my room looked down upon the hubbub of all these buses and shouting men, but I did not care; in fact I found it interesting. Mubarak had a room across the hall which he was delighted to have, and we agreed that 150dh was a good price. He enjoyed his tiny TV, and slept like a baby, probably glad to be alone for a change.
Early next morning I checked to see if any of those buses went to Erfoud, our next stop. No, but after a little treck and directions from one very helpful stranger, I managed to find where all the grande taxis congregated and, rather surprisingly for me, I even found my way back to the hotel. It was with some confidence that, later in the morning, I was able to lead the way to our shared taxi to Erfoud. 25dh each. By the way, there was a Date Festival going on in Erfoudin at the time.
Astonishingly, taxis from Erfoud to Rissani were right there, and it was only a matter of minutes before we were packed into one of them. 8dh each. Places and people...all of it tremendously interesting.
To be continued...