We leave Khenifra mid-afternoon. Once again, the landscape changes drastically, the fading daylight is incredible as we dive from a higher plain down into another world: We are quite speechless as we pass red, red hills as far as the eye can see. Rich, red earth, just like the one or two hills on the way out from Totnes to Torquay in Devon, but on a much larger scale and obviously with a different vegetation.
Houses made from the earth duck into the side of the hill, camouflaged almost to invisibility if it weren’t for the washing flapping in the wind.
About 5 km from Khenifra, we turn off onto a smaller road that winds itself through this landscape. On one particularly steep bend, there is a water fountain, and as we later discover, an olive mill where two men lead a mule around the millstone, grinding a whole lot of olives to a pulp. The smell of freshly ground olives reaches across the road and draws us into the mill. We stay there for a while, chatting and sampling the oil and buying a couple of litres. By the time we come back out it is dark. The men assure us that it is safe to stay the night here.
It may be safe, but it’s quite a noisy stopover. All through the night, heavy lorries rumble past us on what we thought was a little road. At one point, having been woken by yet another rumbling engine, it occurs to me that maybe they know something about the weather we don’t. We still need to get across the Atlas mountains, before they get blocked by snow! So far, the snow barriers are all up, but who knows, this might change from one minute to the next… I try to connect to the internet to check the weather forecast, but we are deep in a red earth fold where no signals reach. But now I’m awake, I get up, potter around a bit, light a fire, do some cleaning, waiting for sleep to return to my mind and limbs.
The next morning, we hear from the men by the mill that there will be at least two weeks of sunshine. They also voice their concern that they saw a light in our van at 4am – was everything ok? Are we alright? I tell you, in Morocco, the night has a thousand eyes, nothing goes by unnoticed!
I go to pick up some water from the fountain and meet two young girls. The older one immediately stops filling her own bottle and takes mine to fill. I try to chat with them in Arabic, and they respond with a delightful mixture of shyness about being talked to by a foreigner and hilarity about my terrible pronunciation :-). Later the whole family is there and I ask the older girl for her name attempting to write it on my notepad. I show it to the family – is that right? Yes, they all nod appreciatively, until with a certain hesitation about contradicting the adults around her, the girl shakes her head and corrects my spelling. Even after a couple of week’s immersion, I can’t hear the difference between some of the Arabic letters, in this case the ‘s’, of which there are two and I keep mixing them up. The children go to school, but many of the adults do not read.
For more photos of this chapter, click here
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