One valley further on, a young man is running across the fields to hitch a lift with us, leaving his sheep behind. He lives in the next village, and on the way he tells us (this conversation is by far the hardest one to understand yet, maybe he spoke Tamazirgh, the local Berber language) that the lake is beautiful, that it’s safe to stay there, and many other things too, which I don’t understand. We pass a few nomad encampments, wooden structures wrapped on the outside with plastic, often bits taken from large advertising hoardings. One such house is completely wrapped in a Maroc Telecom advert, another in a car safety advert. The road peters out and our passenger hops out and leaves us to our own devices, after having led us up a cul-de-sac. We get out and decide to have a cup of tea at the one of the outdoor cafés, leaving the problem of how to turn around til later.
Two cyclists pass by. They must have worked hard to get here, it’s quite high up in the mountains, so we call out in different languages to invite them for a cuppa and it turns out they’re English. We sit together for a while, sharing stories and admiring their energy to be crossing this country on bikes. They are heading for Merzougha, so quite possibly we’ll bump into them again.
There is a Berber village by the lake. We chat to several families and are invited into their homes. They may look pretty stark on the outside, but inside, these houses are warm (a stove is chucking out heat), clean and spacious, with kitchen utensils neatly hung away on the wall and the carpets all brushed. In one, a young woman is sitting by a loom, weaving and knot-tying a carpet, her young son hiding behind the threads.
The older son is sent to get water with the donkey. Rather than leading it, he decides to ride down to the well but the donkey won’t have any of it and chucks him and the empty canisters off and scarpers over the brow of the hill, leaving the boy to run after him. The husband/father stands by the entrance of the house, looking at his family proudly and fondly, and watching over our visit.
As the sun starts to set, we return from the lake back through the forest to a large clearing where we find the police station that we were told about, opposite a tiny school. There are no other houses right there, but we spot a number of scattered Tamazirgh encampments in the distance on the edge of the forest.
We arrive just in time for sunset. There are a number of people sitting by the road or further away, watching the sun go down. It is as if work stops for that moment. Eventually they rise and disappear. A young boy lingers by the van, leaning on his bicycle. We get talking and he is happy to practice his French. We chat for a few minutes, asking about his family and his school, and then he says good bye and is off home across the hill.
Night settles in with a beautiful starlit firmament. There is no light pollution up here and the night skies are to die for. We go out and search for all the constellations we know. It takes us a while to find the polar star as it’s quite a bit further down than I am used to. A slow shooting star makes a majestic arch across a quarter of the sky. It’s been a long day and we’re off to sleep by 8pm.
A loud knock pulls us both out of deep sleep. Frank answers the door to find the boy from the afternoon, wrapped tightly in jacket, scarf and hat. Wordlessly, he hands a basket to Frank, containing a little metal pot with chicken soup in it. We thank him and give him a jar of marmalade to give to his mother in return. Just as Frank is closing the door, the boy says donne-moi un ballon. We don’t want to give our only ball away, so Frank gives him a pen instead and he seems happy.
For more photos of this chapter, click here
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