Monday, May 18, 2009

Morocco – Rockin' the Kasbahs in the land of Ben Hur

We spent the night in a spectacularly renovated Kasbah in the town of Skoura, right in the heart of some of the most spectacular Kasbahs in Morocco. The next morning we stopped at Atlas Movie Studios, where a number of movies have been filmed, such as Gladiator, Kundun, the Jewel of the Nile, and currently a modern remake of Ben Hur, which was being filmed under great secrecy and security. Coming from L.A. (where this is an everyday occurrence), it was somewhat surreal to visit a burgeoning movie industry out here, but the kids really enjoyed walking through the abandoned sets - many of which were falling apart, giving a sense of how crudely they are built. Then we were off to Ait Ben Haddou, one of the most impressive Kasbah villages in the country and a UNESCO world heritage site. Kasbahs are basically military fortresses that have been transferred into family living quarters shared by one or more families. Ait Ben Haddou consists of four such Kasbahs, linked together by an intricate structure of adobe village quarters built into the base of the mountain. It was one of the more stunning and memorable images in all of Morocco and one of the reasons I was so excited to come here. On arrival, however, the winds were blowing something fierce and the kids had little patience for the sand stinging their eyes the minute we got out of the car. Casey started crying immediately and I thought to myself; “uh-oh, this is not going to be good”… but off we went anyway, hoping the winds would die down. We had a guide and the kids seemed to perk up when they learned we had to take a donkey across the river to get there. But that didn’t last long, as the blowing sand literally wore them down. Inside the complex we were protected from the wind and it was enjoyable to get a tour of traditional Moroccan living quarters and kitchens – all with dirt floors and open windows – depicting the simple existence of traditional Moroccan family life. We could see how the adobe was unable to withstand the particularly heavy rains from this winter, as many parts of the walls showed significant signs of water erosion - the adobe surfaces need to be re-finished every 3-4 years, depending on seasonal conditions. As we worked our way to the top of the village, the winds were even stronger and we began a rapid retreat back to the car as the kids were all melting down and crying. Suzanne and I both longed for the relatively carefree and simple days of traveling alone as a couple! We then headed back over the Atlas Mountains into Marrakech, where we would finish out the last three days of our trip, hopefully a bit less “memorable” than our first day. Hammadi dropped us off in town and we said our goodbyes – fondly remembering our experiences in the desert and our time with Hammadi and his family.

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