21 February 2018

Tinghir, Morocco 2017

Travelling with Doug Baum means visiting people in their homes, learning about their livelihoods, seeing parts of a country off the well-trod landmarks, but not ignoring major historic sites. Morocco itself is more well-known as a tourist destination than say Tunisia, a country of vast contrasts and exceptional beauty. Morocco has much of the same in abundance. In the central to southern part of the Berber lands, interesting towns came one after another, towns we had never heard of before.

Tinghir (aka Tinerhir) is one. The Todgha River once carved its way from the High Atlas mountains, creating a stunning, deep, narrow canyon before emerging into the desert, creating a fertile oasis that Tinghir now occupies.

We check into the centrally-situated Hotel Tomboctou before dinner. Heather and Catherine then go to a traditional, if spartan, hammam for bathing and refreshing. I decline; the heat of a standard sauna-type experience triggers fibromyalgia flares and worse. Mark chooses the backpacker's laundry remedy of plunging into the hotel pool fully clothed.

Photo credit: Heather Daveno

Tomboctou is a family-built kasbah of 1944 vintage with reception rooms and galleries intended to entertain important guests. Converted now for hotel usage, its high ceilings and several storeys (and bedroom furnishings) are no less impressive for passing tourists.

After dark, it is time to meet Doug's friend Said, the camel man who never stops smiling. Said has invited us to dinner at the compound where he lives as a single man, with several single sisters, a married sister and her family, and his parents, all with their own quarters. The man is as friendly and cheerful as his photo as he ushers us into the reception room. Across the courtyard yonder we can hear activity in the communal kitchen. We settle in with the obligatory mint tea, observing the homage to (and gossip about) the royal family. 


It isn't long before Said's sisters and mother show up to greet us; vivacious, extrovert sister Leila frequently sits with us at the low table for dining. Their kitchen results appear course by course over the hours. First the bread and olives with kefta, itself very filling! Then chicken brochettes. The main tagine of chicken and vegetables arrives. It's so tempting to drift back onto the pile of cushions behind us ... it's been a long day on the road meeting Doug's various friends in unusual settings.

Leila insists on slicing apples as the final course and feeding them to us who are far too full to digest another thing. Same with the bananas. When Said enthusiastically reaches around to shake various hands, he tries to high five me, but I give him the bump, to his and Doug's great amusement. A little nap would be good at that time, but Said is just getting into high gear.

Out come the drums (did someone know Doug was once a drummer in a band?) while Said's father Youseff joins us and other family members slip into the room. Mohamed produces his flute for accompaniment and for a time we have a chorus of drums and boisterous singing. Sitting beside me, Youseff's face is positively lit with joy at the turn of events. Heather is happily curled up in the cushions. As the drumming slowly decreases and my head is nodding I looked to Doug for signs of it's past our bedtime, time to take our leave.

No ... Leila and Mama suddenly reappear with armfuls of bright fabrics and manhandle Heather and I into dressing up. They don't know my torn shoulder tendons make it torture for me. Everyone has to pose us for posterity. Nevertheless you can see we are almost asleep on our feet. Extensive goodbyes before we get to the hotel at 11:30 pm, sated and drooping.

Next morning is cool but bright. We drive to Said's which in daylight we see is on a great viewpoint of the oasis. His two "tourist" camels, very appealing animals, are standing outside; it's how Said earns money. We must have tea, in the sunny courtyard.

Photo credit: Heather Daveno

We take a long winding drive to the beautiful park-like valley floor and famed Todra Gorge. It's a longish walk on a slow upgrade through the amazing gorge of towering cliffs. Imagine the force of that river over thousands of years. Now it is more like a stream that continues to sustain oasis land and life. Keen hikers and rock climbers can find numerous routes here. I'm lagging, caught by hanging carpets and clothing irresistibly displayed by a smattering of vendors.

Yet again to say a fond, final goodbye to Said at his place of business, a slightly different viewpoint over the oasis. Doug checks some camel teeth to the fascination of local bystanders.

Back down the hill for a surprise. We park by cultivated fields ― growing plots for individual families to raise their vegetables or crops for their animals. A narrow little path through this toward a lovely forest gives a spectacular view of the town across the fields.

The surprise at the other side of the forest is the 800-year-old site of the Iklane mosque and madrasa. In disuse, parts of it are crumbling but some restoration is underway.

Photo credit: Heather Daveno

Photo credit: Heather Daveno

Photo credit: Heather Daveno

The caretaker shows us through the complex, chatting with Doug. So old, so impressive, details of architectural glory. A well in the middle of it. Yes, I climbed all the stairs. On the way back, pause to inhale the perfect town view against the bluest sky. One of those precious Moments.

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman