I've spent the past few odd days quietly chilling in the south of Morocco around the Ameln Valley. My first stop was the small town of Tiznit which is famous for its many silver and gold jewelery stores. Having arrived at 5am I was a little too groggy for shopping so I headed to Aglou Beach for the day. It was a beautiful day but along the long sandy beach were only a handful of Moroccans. I lounged there for most of the day and headed back to town.
There are about 50 small gold and silver stores all packed into a little square. When you pick up a ring or pair of earrings and inquire about the price they vendor pulls out a small scale and calculates the price by weight. I bought a pair of earrings and a small gift for Maya and headed back to the hotel for some dinner and good night's sleep.
The next day I took a shared taxi to the sleepy village of Sidi Ifni which used to be a Spanish slave trading base.The sky was grey and overcast and the beach and all the restaurants were empty. Compared to the rest of Morocco where there is almost no personal space, it was eerily deserted. I walked for a bit to see the old buildings and then headed to a small restaurant for lunch. I asked for a menu but there was only one thing on the menu. He kept saying 'poule, poule' so I asked if it was 'poulet' which is chicken and he said no, poule. I figured, what the heck and said sure. I forgot about how long it takes to make things by hand in Morocco and a hungry hour later he came out with the most delicious squid stew.
I woke up early on Sunday to try and organize my next hop to Tafroute. Unfortunately the Lonely Planet guidebook wasn't updated properly because all the travel information into and out of Tiznit is incorrect. I finally found the correct taxi stand and headed up the winding mountain roads. The grand taxi had an extra row of seats in the back so it was actually a very comfortable ride and a Moroccan woman beside me spoke to me about how beautiful and unspoilt the Ameln Valley continues to be.
There are many long and short treks one can take around Tafroute usually in search of some carving or rock formation. Once I got settled in $3 a night hotel and had a quite bite, I headed off to look for the gazelle about 1km away. It was tough to find but a villager helped me out. On the way back I ran into Nikolas, a french guy who I had already met in the taxi to Tafroute, seen at the restaurant for my quick bite and whom I ended up bumping into early the next day on the way to the patisserie. I gave him some pointers on how to find the rock and found my way back to the village.
Nikolas and I decided to go trekking after our quick breakfast of pastries and coffee. We picked up some lunch supplies and got some pointers from local guide Houssine Laaroussi who is mentioned in almost every guide book and proud of it.a (He made me sit for half and hour while he pointed to my his name in each of a stack of guide books)
We made pretty good time out to see the painted rocks in the valley done by a Belgian artist about 20 years ago. Nikolas somehow was able to interpret my terrible french and I spent a lot of time asking him to repeat things slowly. We walked further and climbed a small rock hill and had a great lunch of egg, cheese and bread in the serene beauty of the valley. After a brief rest, we tried to make it out to the village of Oumensate but the sun was beginning to set so we headed back from the outskirts of the village.
Tuesday, Houssine arranged a 4 by 4 trek for us and 2 older couples into in Ait Mansour Gorges. Throughout the gorges are palmeries which look like an oasis in the middle of lots of rock and dirt. A traditional Moroccan lunch was arranged at a small house with a beautiful backyard. Everything from the ceremonial hand-washing with water poured over your hands into a silver bowl to the large tagine to the oranges and finally, coffee with cinnamon was perfect.
I wanted to stay in Tafroute for another night to see the weekly market or souq but transportation out of the village is very spotty so I decided to take the night bus to Er-Jaddida which is only about 2 hours from my destination of Oualidia. Luckily the souq had already begun when the 4 by 4 returned. Many people had their tents set up selling fruit vegetables, watches, batteries, you name it. Nikolas and I hung out at my hotel restaurant for a few hours until the bus came and watched all the people walking around, setting up and checking out the merchandise. Off on the night bus!