We get to Ali’s house after dark, but nevertheless, his wife starts to cook and produces a delicious tagine with fish balls and a red spicy sauce.
We spend time together, looking at photos of Ali’s youth and hearing about their family life.
Next morning, Ali takes us to the Kasbah of Midelt before he has to go to work. When we return to his house, his wife insists we come in for breakfast, and this way, we meet her mother and sister. We spend a hilarious morning, the women being much freer now that the man is out of the house. Frank, being a foreigner somehow doesn’t seem to stem the flow of their jokes. When we say good bye, we feel full of delicious food as well as laughter and joy de vivre.
Our next adventure is an excursion to a disused mine about 25 km North-East of Midelt. This trip lasts most of the day and is a journey into the ‘Wild West’, crossing many brooks and some rickety bridges.
Although officially abandoned, people still harvest the disused mines for precious stones and lead, going down with no breathing apparatus and coming back coughing, their hands blackened and deformed from the hard work. They would like to take us down there, but I have absolutely no interest, and even Frank graciously declines. We carry on, winding our way down into what looks like a godforsaken valley, truly beautiful rugged rocks and a tiny trickle of a stream, every now and then a donkey, hobbled, with no sign of its owner. At some point, we are overtaken by a man on a moped. It turns out he is the head of the village above the abandoned mine, and he invites us for a cup of tea when we get there. Then he pootles off.
We meet the guardian of the abandoned village and his delightful children.
I make a connection to the girls by offering to fetch water with them. We climb across a wall and scramble down the banks, and there, in the dry river bed, they show me where they collect water from a source. They fill their 10 litre canister with a simple system: a bottle is cut in half, the top half, upside down and with a cloth in it, acting as a funnel and filter into the canister, while the bottom half is used to scoop the water from the shallow puddle of spring water.
By the time we climb back up the river bank and heave the canisters across the wall, we’ve made friends enough for them to look into our van and invite us into their house.
But Frank and I want to go to the upper village for our cup of tea, so we decline the offer and rumble on, up a gravel road. We first miss the turn-off and instead end up on top of the hill, near a quarry, with stunning views and the realisation that we need to somehow turn around and come back. We then take the correct turnoff, only to be halted by a digger in the middle of the road. It looks like it’s been there a while already; car tracks show that it’s been circumvented for a few weeks at least. We turn around to go back when the village elder arrives on his moped. But no amount of persuasion on his part will turn Emma into a 4×4, so we accept defeat and turn back.
In Midelt, we stop at a garage to refuel, grease Emma’s nipples and while we’re at it also check the tyre pressure. A faulty pressure gauge in one garage results in deflating rather than inflating one tyre, but luckily, there is another garage next door where a young man called Said is able to help. He tells us about his sister who lives in Plymouth and invites us to her house on our return to the UK (from then on, he occasionally rings us to make sure we are alright. He’s one of four ‘guardians’ we have accrued so far).
Darkness has settled in but still we would like to move further south, even if only to the next village.
There are a lot of pictures of the stunning countryside of Aouli, the abandoned mining village, plus some of the Kasbah in Midelt. Click here for the photos
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