The name, in and of itself, is like a bad comedy routine, some pale imitation of Abbott and Costello doing Who‘s on First. Where? Where’s-zit-at? Wherezizat? Ouarzazate!

where
The town is located where the Atlas Mountains begin to fall away to the arid wastes of the Sahara. It calls itself a desert town, but it is not the desert I‘ve known. On the edge of town, a lake shimmers in the sun, and the breeze is cool even in early May. An ancient Berber town whose origins lie in the old salt trade of the desert, it has in recent times become a tourist destination. It is where films like Hidalgo, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Babel were filmed. The light is flattering; strong yet slanted. Within 30 minutes, you can be bogging down in sand dunes or winding your way through snow-capped mountains.

With May 1st (Moroccan Labour Day) falling on a Friday this year, we decided to take advantage of the long weekend to see a bit of our new country. We planned months ago to go with friends, hopefully in our own car. Although we ending up having to rent a car, we headed off bright and early on Friday morning. I had my usual issues with Ilsa’s version of packing to be gone for 3 days…

packing

I made her take out all but 4 or 5 books.

It takes 4 hours of auto route (read: freeway) to get to Marrakesh. You can see a line of snow-capped peaks in mid-air from quite a distance away. They float, far above the hot rocky plains, seemingly sketched on the empty air. From Marrakesh you turn left and head into the end of the Atlas mountains. The road coils its way up through fields of poppies and pine forests into snow-capped peaks and waterfalls tumbling over barren black rocks. We had heard tales of this road, of the lack of adequate guard rails and of enormous buses and trucks with aggressive drivers sailing around the steep curves, but nothing had prepared us for its beauty, for its red rocks and green grass, its slopes covered in wild lavender and eglantine and daisies. (Note: that was pretend. I don’t really know what the purple and white and yellow flowers were. But didn’t that sound better? If I end up doing a real travel article, I’ll find out official names) We drove past rivers and through tiny towns, one street wide, made of the local red stone. We drove along narrow roads on the sides of steep slopes, eyeing bright carpets spread out to dry on the black rocks far below at the bottom of the valley.

I have much more to write but it was a long drive home and I’m tired. More to come. Also, I was recently paging through one of Donn’s photo magazines, and they had an entire story about intentionally blurry photos. I found it very inspirational, as I took pictures out the window of a moving car. Also that article has given me an effective tool to use against my mr-professional-photographer-perfectionist of a husband. Blurry is the new sharp! I told him.

Our rental was brand-new and didn’t have AC. Good thing it was us. Our AC never worked in Mauritania, where desert temps are usually well above 100 degrees F, so we handled it with grace and wild hair, as usual. But my hair was never as bad as this guy’s…

baskethead

SNOW!

mountaintop

SNOW!

snow

And some yellow flowers that I didn’t even attempt to identify…but aren’t they lovely?

yellowflowers

More tomorrow…insha’allah!

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