Monday, March 13, 2017

Sprawling Ouarzazate

From Marrakech we started our journey east towards the desert. This is another part of the journey we had much apprehension, unsure how we were going to eat or get transport in sparsely populated desert areas, with overall low expectations.

Our first stop is Ouarzazate (pronounced "what-was-it?" really fast) a four-hour bus ride from Marrakesh over the 2200m (7000+ ft) Tizi-n-Tichka pass through the Atlas. The vistas were epic. The last time we had such bus rides was in Peru. Within the first three hours of our journey into the desert, I already got my money's worth. If I don't see anything else exciting, it would be okay. As soon as we arrived, we made some quick adjustments to simplify our desert itinerary.

We had expected Ouarzazate to be a crossroads of sort. Instead it turned out to be a sprawling metropolis. It reminded us of an over-developed Chinese town; in that 90% of the town was built in the last 20 years, and abandoned projects are often spotted.

Ouarzazate also likes to highlight the fact that it has been the location for a number of films. There are studios and museums one can tour - we gave then a miss. However, we did make an effort to get to the UNESCO Ait-Benhaddou, a fortified village, which has been the location of many films. Even though we had been forewarned that "it's not too exciting," we still found it underwhelming.

The highlight of our visit to Ait-Benhaddou was getting to ride in a shared taxi on the way back. I normally dread shared taxis in developing countries. There is always an excruciating wait, then they jam about 23 people on top another in a car that's barely road worthy. This time, it took only 5 minutes to gather the 6 of us. Each person has a seat. John and I sat in the back row, as in a minivan. It was a nice car too. I could cross Morocco up and down in one of those! [The car was a Dacia Lodgy.]

In addition to the awesome scenery, one other thing that keep me (John) looking out the window as the bus climbed easily over the Atlas Mountains - highest point we reached was 2260 meters (~7000 ft) above sea level - was watching the opposing string of Fiat Pandas participating in the PANDA RAID 2017 road rally. There must have been over 200 cars.
On the road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, Morocco

On the road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, Morocco

On the road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, Morocco

On the road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, Morocco

On the road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, Morocco

Our spiffy CTM bus.
Our CTM bus - On the road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, Morocco

Friday night on the main square in Ouarzazate. That's a water tower at right, not a minaret.
Ouarzazate, Morocco

Aït Benhaddou, formerly a ksar (fortified village), is now a movie set and tourist trap.
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Although a few folks still live there, and the UNESCO Heritage designation restricts architectural changes, the whole place is basically one souvenir gauntlet after another.
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

There are some decent views from the ancient granary atop the fortified hill
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

This guys is mixing straw and mud for plaster. Note the hanging textiles for sale.
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

One of the rebuilt ksars.
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Loom.
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Sun-Ling takes in the view.
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

There a couple places where one can stand and imagine the site as it was hundreds of years ago.
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

A Dacia Lodgy, made by Renault.
Ouarzazate, Morocco

We ate well in Ouarzazate after we found Snack Resto El Bahja: lentil soup, white bean soup, salads, bread, olives, frites. Not to mention free tap water.
Ouarzazate, Morocco

View from our "very good" hotel, located on the main drag.
Ouarzazate, Morocco

The Appellate Court, built in neo-Moorish style.
Ouarzazate, Morocco

A few parts of the old Kasbah of Ouarzazate remain...
Ouarzazate, Morocco

...and the souvenir vendors are active there as well.
Ouarzazate, Morocco

One last meal at El Bahja.
Ouarzazate, Morocco

The view directly across the street from our hotel room window.
Ouarzazate, Morocco


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