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Monday, December 16, 2013

Day 9 – The Road toTineghir

We left the desert after two nights of glorious camp life where we had carpeted tents, a bed with plenty of blankets, a small light, a toilet, and a hot water bottle to keep us warm at night. Nice touch! We also had Hussain and his team of five to cook for us, provide tea/coffee and appetizers, and bring a bowl of hot water in the morning to wash with. The dining tent was heated and lit and a welcome refuge from the cold in the night or the early morning. We also had 4x4 drive us around to different places we visited or to meet and pick us up at a destination.

I love camping,” I said at breakfast today. “Honey, this isn't camping,” a couple people responded.

But it's Sahara Desert camping through OAT,” I replied, “and it's good enough for me.”

Yemni later told the group that the camp has made refinements. The toilets used to be outhouses and the carpets were of the plastic kind rather than wool.

My tent reminded me of a picture I cherish of the famous anthropologists, Margaret Mead and Geoffrey Bateson typing their notes after a day's work in the field. I pretended to be like them last night when I spent a couple hours writing for this blog. After all, we are “in the wild” gathering data about new and exotic things. I am writing about them. This kind of adventure travel is different from most tours where visitors don't usually have the opportunity to meet local people or obtain a broad view of the political, economic, social, and cultural contexts of a place as we are—as OAT provides for us. Leave me alone to my fantasies!!

I got up for the sunrise at 6:30 again and this time only a couple others were there. Arthur, a Kosher Jew, watched the sunrise a dune or two away from me. I thought how lucky I was to share the moment with a man and his God. Later at breakfast he shared that seeing the glorious sunrise reminded him of a Jewish prayer: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory. Hosanna in the highest.” This prayer was adopted as part of the Catholic Eucharistic prayer that is said before the bread and wine are consecrated to be the body and blood of Christ. So it has particular meaning for me especially now that I have been in the desert near the region where my religion was born. What a wonderful gift!

On the Road Again
After a nice breakfast we left camp for our next location, the oasis town of Tineghir. We crossed the J'bel Sahro Range (at about 5,000 feet) and passed through the High Atlas Mountains on our right and the AntiAtlas Mountains on our left. We were on an old caravan road and that added to the mysticism of our journey except that we were in a comfortable bus clipping along at 50-60 miles per hour rather than on a dusty trail sitting atop camels. Along the way we saw several “sand traps” made of cross-hatched palm leaves about 2 feet high. They catch the sand and keep it away from the agricultural plots in the region.

When we reached the region where the Khattara tribe lived, we stopped at an old irrigation project that is now being developed into a tourist attraction by our guide, Karim, and his family. There were a series of wells (hatar) dug every 20 to 30 yards that sat atop the ground; they looked like beehives. It was what there was below that was so astounding: a tunnel dug to connect all the wells. The tunnel represented a “pipeline” that at one time collected water (about knee deep) from the mountains that flowed downhill to the kasbah at the other end. Each well was 50-60 meters deep and the mud had to be continually scooped out to maintain the wells and the tunnel below.

Families that owned land had access to the water, but they also had to dig out and maintain the wells. They worked for as long as they used the water. For example, if they needed two hours of water every day, they worked on the well for two hours every day. A wooden bowl with a small hole in its center was the timekeeper. It measured out an hour when it was full. We went down a series of uneven steps into the seven-foot high tunnel. Karim's assistant had lighted the way for us with candles. The only light coming into the tunnel was from each well. 
This irrigation project had been operating for several centuries until the 1960s when the government built the dam lake in Errachidia, which we had seen a couple days earlier on our trip. This modern irrigation system collects water in the lake or reservoir until it is needed. Then water is moved down a channel and aqueduct to water the fields.

Without irrigation, nothing in this region would grow,” said Yemni.

A couple times on this road we saw a well with some nomads and their camels and donkeys surrounding them. The nomads were drawing water from the well for drinking and washing clothes. In the small towns we passed through we'd see students walking or on bicycles going home from school for lunch from 12 to 2 p.m. They carried backpacks or school bags with a strap on one shoulder. We will meet some students tomorrow when we visit a school. They are in school for four hours a day either in the morning or the afternoon. They have Sundays off.

We, too, had lunch about 1 p.m. and stopped at a small roadside restaurant for a picnic lunch of cold chicken, olives, bread, and cheese. It was a little too cold to be outdoors, so the proprietor moved everything indoors. An abused dog hung around the restaurant, which was sad to see. Dogs are not well liked here. A cat, however, made his presence known throughout our lunch with a constant meowing. He was begging for food from our table.

We head out again and a couple hours later finally reached the busy market town of Tineghir. We will spend two nights here and have our first hammam experience (public bathhouse) after we check into our hotel. Tineghir is built around the mountains and it is a beautiful city. We took a couple picture stops to photograph both the old town, whose mud houses and buildings are “melting down” after a 100 years of use. A new town made of concrete blocks and steel rods is being built. These buildings will, of course, last a lot longer. Like in the desert, people abandon the old mud buildings because they are too expensive to restore. The empty buildings reminded me of Detroit. However, this is part of an expected “melt down” process here, while the City of Detroit is decaying because of neglect and terrible corruption. Nevertheless, cities change all the time.

We passed through the town to get to the Todra Gorge, one of the few places where we saw water gushing along a river. Here the rock goes straight up 500 feet and except for its small spaces, it reminded me of Machu Picchu when I first witnessed the power of God in the strength of the mountains. Even though these are limestone mountains (sedimentary rock layed down by ancient oceans) and not igneous rock formed from the hot lava from volcanoes, there was no doubt of their enduring quality, which was what I experienced in the desert as well. We walked along the river and I found a spot where I could touch it. It was not cold as I had expected. Of course, there were people selling souvenirs—and a man and woman climbing up and down the rock. Then appeared what looked like a colorful, little doll house of a hotel. Perhaps the gigantic size of the rock made it look so small. We stopped there for refreshment, and I had a cafe au lait, which has become my favorite treat on this trip. We were served by a young man in a black turban and a leather jacket and jeans, part of the cross-cultural quality of the upcoming generation and Morocco itself. Our buses picked us up to take us to our hotel.

The Hammam

The Hammam goes back to the Romans who loved water and bathing. The Arabs—or in this region, the Berbers—adopted the sweat baths as part of their own culture. These public baths provide people with a chance not only to bathe but to make a ritual out of cleaning their bodies from the desert dust and sand. Six of us women and three of the men from our group participated. We were guided through the process by assistants who not only showed us what to do, but they did it for us, and that made the experience all the better.

We undressed down to our underpants, in compliance with Islamic laws of hygiene and purification. We walked into the steaming baths where we saw several other women, some of whom had small children. The stripping down was a bit embarrassing, but we all got over it after we got into the bath.

We sat on the floor on a plastic sheet that had been layed there, maybe for us, and maybe for others who received the treatment rather than do it themselves as most of the women there did. First, our aides poured hot water on us from plastic buckets they would constantly fill with water from the taps nearby. Then they gave us olive paste that we were to rub all over our bodies. This was rinsed and they scrubbed us down with another soap with a scratchy cloth that removed dead skin. This was rinsed and they used another soap. We lay on our backs and then our stomachs. They massaged our backs and one of our group who had a knee problem, had her knee done, too. On this last soap down, we had our hair washed and our heads massaged with a plastic brush. It all felt so good, and the steam of the place helped to clear our froggy throats and sinuses that many of us have been suffering with on this trip, including me.

This experience was unforgettable and one of the women later said that she felt a new closeness to those of us who participated. I guess when you strip down to nothing and bathe with each other, that happens. We dressed slowly, as we were still light-headed from the hot steam. But we felt good and revived, especially after our desert experience. What great timing!! (Yemni regularly makes the hammam part of his revival, too.) We marveled at how soft our skin was and so free of dead skin that it felt very different. Even my dry legs were clear of scaling and unusually soft to the touch. It wasn't perfumed with natural scents like lavender, as I expected, however, but the “makeover” our assistants performed was well worth the $12.50 we paid for such a wonderful treatment. Too bad we don't have the hammam in the States! 

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