Morocco Ouarzazate 2001.01.30 - 02.01

Aït Benhaddou

Buses between Marrakech and Ouarzazate run frequently. In Marrakech, we flagged down a petit taxi (7 DH) near Djemaa El-Fna and had him take us to the Gare Routière (bus station). Having verified the bus schedule and fare the night before, we knew where to go, what to buy, and how much to pay. Nonetheless, the taxi drivers hollered at us for our business. "Don't take bus! Go to Ouarzazate in my taxi!" "Why would we come to a bus station to ride a taxi 200km?," we thought to question them. To top the taxi drivers, the bus ticket salesman told us to pay a higher fare of 50 DH apiece. "Yesterday we were told it's 48.50 DH," we tried to correct him. "No, the 12:30 bus is first class - it's 50 DH," holding firm. The "first class" bus was the filthiest, torn up, beat up bus we'd ever seen. Once on the bus, we'd be left alone, or so we thought. Prior to departure numerous people boarded the bus looking for money: a blind man sang, a child held bottled water (unsealed), a young mother carrying a child pleaded with tears running down her cheeks. We gave some change to the mother but told everyone else to go away. The dilapidated bus barely made it up the Tizi n'Tichka pass to cross the Atlas Mountains, but we finally made it to Ouarzazate 5 hours later.

On the bus, we met 2 incredibly good natured New Yorkers, Edwin and Johnny, and spent the next 24 hours with them. Edwin looks Arab, even though he's an El Salvadorian / Turkish Hungarian mix (or something like that). Using his looks, Edwin immediately made friends with everyone. "Hey, we're brothers! You look like my father!," he'd say where ever we went. Johnny and Edwin were also street-smart, and had a come-back line for every situation. Having found us at the Ouarzazate bus station, the Hôtel Baba manager, Mustapha, was talking with us in the common room.

Mustapha: What a great coincidence that I happened to be at the bus station when you arrived!
Johnny: Come on, we're from New York. That wasn't a coincidence.
Mustapha: Oh, maybe you don't believe me.
Edwin: Oh, maybe you don't tell the truth!

The jolly mood ended with nudges and hugs. Incidentally, the following day Mustapha was leading a lone Japanese tourist from the bus station to his hotel. He was at the bus station as another bus arrived from Marrakech, coincidentally.

The 4 of us wanted to visit Aït Benhaddou, a restored kasbah used for scenes in about 20 movies located 30km north of Ouarzazate. Over dinner, we decided how much we wanted to spend on transportation (50 DH each = 200 DH for a round-trip ride and 3-hour wait for us to explore the kasbah) and a strategy to create competition among the taxi drivers at the grand taxi station. The best price we got from Mustapha that night was 300 DH. We told him the strategy we planned to use the next morning at the taxi station, and Mustapha told us he'd try to do better. By the next morning, Mustapha said he could find us a driver for 200 DH. But by then we wanted to test our strategy, "just for research". We entered the taxi station together, making sure all the drivers noticed us. Then, as the first person approached to ask where we wanted to go, we spread out in different directions asking for prices to hire a car to Aït Benhaddou. The best price Edwin got was 350 DH. Masami got 300 DH. Wes got 300. Johnny missed his research opportunity when he stopped to buy water. All along, we told the drivers that Hôtel Baba could take us there for 200 DH, but none would match. Disappointed, we started to walk back to the hotel when we noticed a taxi following us. "I'll take you for 200 DH," he said.

Aït Benhaddou is an excellent visit. The kasbah has lots to explore in relative peace, except for the stray child begging for candy. Some photos are below.

There's another kasbah in the town of Ouarzazate. We planned to visit, but before reaching the gate, we were led through the ghetto behind and into a carpet shop. By the time we escaped the persistent salesman, it was near kasbah closing time. We never went.

At breakfast in front of Hôtel Baba, a man playing the amzhad sang local tunes to us.

A camel rider passes in front of Aït Benhaddou as we approach.

Detailed engravings like those on this building are common throughout the Aït Benhaddou buildings near the river.

Men looking for tourists to lure into their carpet shop is a common sight throughout Morocco. We planned to see the kasbah in Ouarzazate but a "guide" found us first. After escaping from a carpet shop, it was near kasbah closing time.

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