The libraries of the desert route. Part II
This is an article about the lifestyle of the old Kasbah of Ouarzazate in Morocco.
I had spent the day, backpack in tow, through Marrakech. It had not been a bad day at all, Marrakech is always a good plan. But I was tired and there is a good bit of walking from the city CTM bus station to La Medina. The CTM company bus to Ouarzazate has several frequencies a day, but I thought that the most convenient to save time and money was the one that leaves half an hour past midnight and arrives at 5.10 the next morning. The CTM buses are correct and the price is reasonable so when I made it to the station I felt safe. I had no idea that a very curious night was waiting for me.
Up there on board in the bus I discovered that my seat, according to the numbering of the ticket, did not exist. Everyone seemed to be in their place except me so the driver kindly instructed me to sit in the only seat available at the end of that seeking-seats funny game.
So I did that, and it turned out that my seatmate was a young girl who didn’t seem very much upset with my company. But several of the passengers did. Immediately a pure souk discussion began about which I could not understand a half word about whether I should sit with the girl or not. Half a bus began to change seats as if it were a Marx Brothers movie until it was decided by assembly consensus that an older man, who would had been around eighty years old, should occupy the seat next to mine.
I took out my travel guide and with the help of a headlamp I started reading. The Ouarzazate region was a transit route for caravans transporting goods to and from Sudan, passing through Sijilmassa, also to northern Atlas towards Fez and Tlemcen, in Algeria. It was thus an important connecting node in Morocco for trade and ideas circulation. It must had been so also for the book collections I was chasing. The books that didn’t make it to Mauritania had passed through there, I told to myself.
Initially, there was only the Kasbah de Taourirt, a political center that allowed control of the region, surrounded by several villages located in fertile lands. With the arrival of the French, the military bastion of Ouarzazate was built, next to the Kasbah, giving rise to colonial life and the new city that early had an airport.
Today, the city continues to grow, and the suburbs are under construction, expanding its boundaries, renewing themselves. The city is halfway in between tourism, a quick source of growing wealth, and traditional agriculture. There is also a more current and modern Ouarzazate living along Avenue Mohamed V, not far away from that one that survives even in a sort of ancient conditions, populated by locals within the walls of the old Kasbah.
The bus started rolling, I kindly greeted my neighbour and fell asleep closing my travel book guide. After a couple of hours, in the middle of the closed night, I noticed the clink first and the knocking of his knees against mine afterwards. The curves were tight and a strange cold in that summer night was upon a snoring atmosphere. The man began to whimper just before he started to vomit, in a way that he had not enough with the tiny plastic bags that his dispersed relatives all over the bus were bringing to him. I tried to help him, but I couldn’t, and every time I closed my eyes again, the man persevered until he stained me. I thought that at some point that would over, but I lost all hope when an intense smell took over the environment and I knew that the poor man had completely gone bad. Fully.
I arrived this way to Ouarzazate, ground, exhausted and dirty after the night on the road. When I got back my backpack, practically all the passengers had disappeared. I looked around trying to figure out where I was. It was still night and Ouarzazate’s bus station seemed to me in the middle of nowhere. I took the mobile phone out of my pocket and opened Google Maps taking advantage of the existent reception. Five kilometres was its verdict to the camping that I had chosen as accommodation. The bus had dropped me off at Afriquia Station, which is nothing more than a petrol station on the other side of the river, far from any point of interest in the city. I tied my boots, put on my backpack and started to watch the sunrise as I walked.
Daylight started to shine through the road. As I got closer to the city, at first light in the morning I could see peasants working in the nearby fields. Heirs to a beautiful city in quick transition.
And finally I reached the camping, but the gate was closed. I busied myself knocking on the door, with no luck. A couple of workers carrying construction materials pointed out that there were about two hours left until they opened. I left the backpack on the ground cursing my luck, sat on the ground, leaned my back against the clay wall and fell asleep. It was a mistake. After a while, some noises woke me up and there they were. Two terrifying looking stray dogs shuffled nervously trying to open my backpack. I jumped on my feet, startled, but the dogs seemed to have no intention of leaving. There was a lot of lump on the ground, but only few proper stones. I had a hard time finding a pair that helped me to chase them away. The day became promising.
There were still almost an hour and a half for the Camping Ouarzazate to open and I accumulated the grime of the previous day and the fatigue that now added to a wolf hunger. I hung up my backpack again and decided it was better to move in search of breakfast to wait. It wasn’t long before I saw in the distance a place that looked like a palace, I thought it could be a Riad where they could serve breakfast. Upon arrival, I realized that my appearance did not fit the site. It was nice, traditional rustic looking. I asked about breakfast and a young boy showed me to the room where there was a magnificent buffet available to customers. A few of them ate quietly and well-dressed for breakfast sitting at the tables. I asked the price for breakfast and the boy told me to serve myself while he was calling whoever was in charge, the owner I believed to understand. I insisted, I wanted to know the price before eating. The boy insisted in turn, but I stayed in my previous statement.
Finally, an elegant-looking man came down who did not hesitate for a moment to ask me to go out with him to the patio, asked me to take a seat and explained in French that I should not worry so the region in general and that house in particular was known for its hospitality with travellers. He added he could offer me lodging at reasonable cost, but if I wanted to have only breakfast he would be honoured if I accepted a complete free breakfast. The place was Dar Kamar, an elegant adobe-looking hotel housed in a 17th-century that belonged to an ancient pasha.
Immediately the guy at the reception appeared with a tray with coffee and food and asked if I wanted natural orange juice. Might be that was why so many movies have been shot here. I had read before about the Musée du Cinema in Ouarzazate, where many Hollywood movies had been filmed. In fact, that elegant guy had completed for me one of those gestures of hospitality that I have valued so much in my trips, which make traveling to adventure something magical, and although I am more interested in reality than fiction, it was like in a movie.