While in Berrechid, I met Rekaya:
She’s from Tafraoute and she told me that her hometown was the very best place in Morocco. She googled Tafraoute on her phone and showed me the image results: golden mountains, palm trees, huge blue boulders. She didn’t know why someone had coated those big rocks in paint, but she smiled and shrugged and said that she did know that the people in Tafraoute were nice, and that it was a beautiful place. I believed her. (Wouldn’t you?).
So as I traveled through Morocco, I made sure to wander in the general direction of Rekaya’s town. When I reached the southern coast, I spent week or so riding buses (operated by Lux Transports) back and forth between Mirleft and Sidi Ifni:
(click on a photo to open a slideshow with captions)
Mirleft’s Plage Sauvage / “Wild Beach”
I got a new silly hat (see below) from the shop next to this one
The #18 runs back and forth along the coast, like a bigcity bus that took a wrong turn.
halfway between Mirleft and Sidi Ifni you can hop off the bus, walk down a deserted road, past an abandoned luxury hotel construction site, and down to the mostly deserted and kinda spooky but otherwise beautiful Legzira Beach.
Make sure to check the tide times. Duh. I didn’t, and crossing under one of the arches felt dumb and scary. I stopped there. At a different time of day, and maybe in the company of some friends, the rest of the beach is probably nice to visit.
Hop back on the bus and you can continue down the road to Sidi Ifni, the end of the (bus) line and the former capital of the formerly Spanish territory. It’s also the last big town on the map before Western Sahara, and it kinda feels like it.
Sidi Ifni and the surrounding region has had a back and forth history with Spain since the 1400s, and Spanish influence is visible in the architecture of the town.
I felt rather productive after mailing three items at the post office.
I’d never seen an offroad RV until I got to southern Morocco. Here are three, parked by the ocean while their owners picnicked in the morning sun.
Sidi Ifni’s waterfront
headed to the beach
Looking at a map, it appeared that Tafraoute was just a few inches away from there. Great! So I took the now-familiar number 18 bus back to Tiznit. And then waited in a parking lot for a Tafraoute-bound grand taxi to fill up.
The number 18 bus passes every 30 minutes…but 30 minutes from when? Bring a book.
I heart the #18
At the taxi stand in Tiznit. There was already one guy waiting for a ride to Tafraoute. We only had to wait for 5 more before we could leave. (That’s my driver praying over there on the left).
A few prayers and an hour later, we were off. The ride was long and frightening. Our perplexingly clumsy driver repeatedly dropped things (cell phone, coins) onto the floor and then searched for them with one hand and both eyes just as he rounded the sharpest curves. Twice I honest to goodness thought that he was going to drive us all straight into that misty blue sky. I breathed deeply and hoped that being shoehorned into the car with eight large men would help us all survive the impact.
mountains between Tiznit and Tafraoute
But our driver was apparently a professional (at being lucky). When he finally cruised nonchalantly into a parking spot in central Tafraoute, we all tumbled out of the taxi, grabbed our bags, and silently went our separate ways, as if we hadn’t just shared a 3-hour near-death experience. (I know they were scared, too).
Tafraoute was indeed beautiful, and the people I met seemed polite, distant and, yes, quite nice. While there, I did my usual routine of not doing much at all. Some walking, some eating, some sitting in the sun on quiet cafe patios, watching other people also do not very much around me.
blue skies, red mountains
sundown…and temperature drop.
coffee and sunshine to get the chill out of my bones
glad these still exist in some places
fresh bread, delivered hot
I’m not sure what kind of meat was in there, but it was delicious.
Tafraoute’s souk: Car parts, dates/figs/nuts, fruit, used clothes, tea pots, live chickens, fried fish. This is my only photo because everyone seemed completely disinterested in me and I felt like returning the favor.
This guy wouldn’t smile for a photo, but I still think he has the best cafe in Morocco.
This omelet was perfect. The coffee was perfect.
Tafraoute seemed pretty perfect.
I saw a bike rental place and got excited. I got up early(ish) the next morning, packed some snacks, got my bike, and headed out to explore:
This placed was closed every time I walked by. But the morning I wanted to rent a bike, a guy came bustling over to me while I stared at the dark windows. He said it was his brother’s place and the bikes were down the street. I was suspicious. But I wanted a bike. So I followed him.
And he took me to a garage that was indeed full of bikes. Did it really matter if they belonged to his brother…or somebody else’s brother? I gave him money and he gave me a bike, a helmet, and no paperwork. “I trust you” he said. He was nice and I felt like I should apologize for something. But I just thanked him and rode up the street to the cremerie and used my last Lactaid on a big sugary milky avocado smoothie.
Sugar shocked, I rode out of town…
…past towns and cemeteries.
(Motorized bikes are the thing in Morocco. Cool kids ride side-saddle. And never, ever peddle.)
I’d planned to visit some of the villages around Tafraoute. But, of course, I went the wrong way. I ended up on the road to “the painted rocks”, which I had mostly forgotten about and not planned to visit…but since I was in the neighborhood… (but first, a mediocre picnic).
Look, those rocks are painted.
I went that way, towards whatever that sign doesn’t indicate.
there’s more of them.
house? visitors center? swimming pool?
There were recently planted beds of sunflowers.
Something was happening here. Newly planted trees. Trucks coming and going. Where are the informational signs when you need them?
This abandoned coffee cup made me nostalgic for a moment for my old house, and my little garden, where I used to forget my coffee cup in the middle of the brick pathway or under a shrub while hurriedly watering everything in the morning before work. Oh. Hurrying to work. Nevermind.
I sat for a minute and looked at it all. And then headed back home. (Later I read a bit about the boulders — they were painted back in the 1980s by Jean Vérame, a Belgian artist who now lives in France. He’s done other big landscape outdoor works in France and other parts of Africa.
I was home in time for the evening call to prayer (the prettiest I heard in Morocco, and during which, interestingly, the town bustled with more non-prayer activity than at any other time of day):
Back in town I stopped by a little shop that had some old postcards from c. 1980 (?) Tafraoute – one of which got me wondering how they managed to remove that huge pile of boulders without Photoshop:
When I realized that I’d taken a picture of the same house but not at the exact same angle as in the postcard, I considered hopping back on the bike, peddling furiously back down the road, and stumbling around in the bushes in the fading sunlight until I found the perfect position from which to take a more comparable then/now shot. But then I told myself that sometimes I really need to get a life.
So instead I skyped with my friend and then treated myself to dinner out (instead of tuna and yogurt. again). And I had the best damn tagine (chicken stew) in all of Morocco, in the cutest single-serving tagine (serving dish), and watched a game of fut with the nicest guys who shared with me so much of their mint tea that I couldn’t sleep that night.
During my sleeplessness, I got curious about how photos were edited waaay back in the last century, and earlier. If you’re wondering, too, here’s a quick little interview about it, from PBS News Hour.
Stay tuned for more lazy adventures. There will be chilly mountains and an apple harvest.
(And thanks, Ms. Rekaya. You were right).
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