I’m writing this offline again, with the intention of posting four days of log on Tuesday, our final day of the trip. It’s our fourth day without Internet access except for spotty mobile coverage. I’m able to status Facebook and see some news headlines early in the morning. Other than that, we are disconnected from the outer world. I’m reminded of Moscow, 1988, when I had to use a telegraph to send a message. stop. What will this be like in 20 years when Lily and Emma go back?
We return to Marrakesh more slowly than we departed. We’ll drive in two days what we did in one on the way down. The family isn’t in the best of spirits today. Our bodies are still hurting in various ways from the dromedary and camping. The rock-hard mattresses, mediocre food and long stints in the car are taking their toll. The girls have colds. And, of course, we’ve been on this journey for four weeks now.
It takes a long time to get rolling. We don’t have much planned today, so we leave around 10:30 a.m. The car stops several times in the first half-hour to get various things from our bags in the back. In Zagora, Trisha and I are suckered into a long visit at an exorbitantly priced antique shop. In fairness, much of the stuff was beautiful and displayed well. Trish picked out an octagonal Tuareg mirror with painted leather and dromedary bone. But the opening price is 7,000 dirham, almost a thousand U.S .dollars! We aren’t going to buy anything in that range. I don’t even counter-offer.
A few hours more driving we stop in Agdiz to eat a lunch of Kofta, Moroccan salad, bread and French fries. The girls eat pretty well, and the whole thing is $30. Not exactly cheap — but whatever. On the way back, we again appreciate the Tizi-n-Tinififft pass where the mountains are amazingly beautiful.
The Sahara camping experience was amazing, but a slow car trip through undeveloped Morocco is difficult for the girls to enjoy. It’s even a little tough for me today. Emma is very mature about it, and finds ways to quietly occupy herself. Lily struggles a bit more.
Adventure travel like this is more about the process than it is about sightseeing and events. The rewards are subtle. Kids need to see more stuff. We make a mental note for next time. Still, without substantial drive time, we couldn’t have done the night in the desert — a lifetime experience. That makes it totally worth it.
Definitely not a lifetime experience is our visit to the 18th century Taouirt Kasbah in Ouarzazate (WAR-zi-zat). We pay $20 and walk through only a few rooms in a huge Kasbah. The rest is apparently either inhabited or collapsing (or both). It’s unremarkable compared to other things we’ve seen, but it’s an excuse to get out of the car for a few minutes. Lily warms up to it after pouting for the first 10 minutes. The little doors and nooks and crannies are just her size.
Around 5 p.m., we turn off the main road and head into old Skoura along a dirt road just wide enough for our 4×4. On one side of the road are building walls. The doors open right on to the road with no sidewalk or shoulder. On the other side is a deep, open irrigation canal for watering date palms and other produce. Everything is packed tightly together with no space to walk.
The locals are in no hurry to get out of the road, so we slow to a crawl and become the subject of attention. At one spot, the road has collapsed, and we four-wheel on the edge of collapsing canals. After 20 minutes of off-road, remote driving my mind begins to wonder if something is wrong. How can a nice hotel be this difficult to get to from the main road? But as usual, as soon as I begin to doubt, I’m presented with a surprise. We arrive at Jardin de Skoura.
Skoura is more of an area than a town. It consists of dozens of kasbahs, hotels and is best known for the beautiful Todra gorge, a place we will miss because we don’t have enough time. The hotel here, however, is a real gem. We are greeted by the French owner, Caroline, and are shown our two rooms. It’s tasteful, and very clean by our recent standards. It reminds me of a remote version of the American Colony hotel in Jerusalem.
We are at more than 3,000 feet elevation, and Caroline assures us that the lack of AC is not a problem at night because it will cool down to 75F. (She’s mostly right, but it was still warm.) Dinner is well prepared. The French influence is obvious and appreciated. It’s served outdoors in an arbor of fruit trees decorated with Moroccan colored glass lights. The trees are all heavy with fruit; figs, apricots, grapes and persimmon. She presses and sells her own olive oil and makes wine and beer at the hotel.
This seems like an adult place, but surprisingly there are three other families with children. At dinner they all run around the garden and play in the hammocks, or with the hotel pets; a turtle and a dog. In appearance, it would be difficult to distinguish Jardin de Skoura from our ghost hotel last night, Chez la Pasha. But they are worlds apart.
We are close enough to the end of our trip that dinner conversation turns to matters at home. “What are we doing this weekend?” “How many weeks of camp do we have left?” Trisha and I casually plot out August.
We also talk about the next trip, which I hope will be to Asia. This trip has been a resounding success, but not without mistakes. I can see the benefit of doing a little more planning. Fortunately, planning is fun and I’ve learned a ton about how to do this better. I’ll start when I get back.
We have one day left in Morocco and then a long ride back. We look forward to seeing Marrakesh again tomorrow, but everyone’s mind is on home, sweet home.
[Photos by Trisha Creekmore]