Meeting people

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Early nights make for early mornings, and so we’re up at dawn, Frank is cooking a Moroccan Lamb stew and I go foraging for wood and picking a few berries from the wild strawberry trees that are in the woods around us.

After a stint of Yoga in the sunshine we’re ready to hit the road once more.

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The road winds through lush olive groves and forests, up and down hills until it meanders along a river for a while. By the side of the road, we spot a fountain with two taps, from which a number of school children seem to be drinking. We need to refill our water tank, so we turn around and park up by the fountain. Immediately, we are surrounded by about 100 kids (the school is nearby), all wanting to speak to us in French or English. Talking Arabic backfires, they roll around laughing and crack jokes at our cost. So we stick to English and French. They are friendly, but the boys are quite cocky, and there is a sense that with this amount of kids, things could also quickly turn into something else. Anyway, we go about getting our water while they chat to us.

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The girls are more shy and in the background to start with, but soon they come forward too. At some point, they all crowd onto the road to catch a glimpse of the inside of our van, stopping all traffic for a few minutes and Frank resorting to crowd control measures. As soon as they see our stuff in the van, they start to engage in merchandising. They want our bikes, our clothes, anything really. It seems a lighthearted banter, but with an edge of the serious about it. It’s almost as if they are practising for adulthood – or is it a way of expressing an appreciation for someone else’s possessions?

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By the end, they all want to take selfies with us in them. Quite a few have mobile phones.

We drive on a few more kilometres and then stop off to have Frank’s lamb stew and a lunch-time nap. Around 4pm, we journey on, and the road deteriorates rapidly. We come across a very ramshackle but busy town called Tlata Beni Hmed, where we stop off to buy some bread and fruit. The police comes over to check our passports, then we’re rumbling down steep hills on dusty roads, only occasionally meeting or being overtaken by other cars. While Frank concentrates on the potholes in the road, I see Berber women with donkeys and sheep, carrying children in cloths on their backs, riding side-saddle on donkeys that are laden with olive sacks.

We see several olive presses, where many people sit on sacks full of olives, waiting their turn, and the aroma of freshly pressed olives reaches us as we drive by.

The houses have earthen walls and corrugated tin roofs, or are wholly constructed from corrugated iron. This must be so hot in the summer and so cold in the winter.

It’s getting dark, so we are looking for a place for the night. We stop by the side of a café where a group of men are watching football, drinking tea and smoking Kif. Some play cards, using lumps of dope for cash. The owner is friendly and allows us to park up by the side of the bar. We think we’re going to be fine for the night, but after dark, a guy knocks on the door and expresses his worry about safety. After a quick phone call, he leads us 2km further up the hill to the local commune in the middle of a little town. A quick handshake and a good-bye, no money has changed hands for this service, he just helped us out of a genuine concern for our safety. We don’t know his position in the community, but he was a local and obviously concerned that they don’t want trouble for tourists in this community. We feel very safe and looked after.

Around 8pm, our fire is going, I’m settled in writing the blog and Frank is whittling a piece of olive wood to make a pan handle. It’s been another very rich day!


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