Sunday, October 19, 2008

Merzouga - Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Day 5 (Part 2)

After a another short drive, we passed through the Draâ Valley and the town of Agdz. I had contacted a Couchsurfer in Agdz before our voyage, but didn't think I would be in the area. The Draâ River, flowing from the Atlas Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, cutting across Southern Morocco, is Morocco's longest river. The valley it carved now contains important population centres in South Morocco. Along the river there were lush fields of green, accompanied by a wide swath of a dense, dark green palm jungle maintained by the residents of the valley for the production of dates. It was an amazing sight to see the thick canopy of the palm trees against a barren and dusty background. The villages and old, abandoned kasbahs were located behind the palm trees, climbing up the shallower walls of the valley below tall, rocky cliffs.

After leaving the Valley, there was not much to see, as there were no significant water sources for a long while. At one point, Mohammed pointed to a house in a tiny village we passed and told us he was born there. Mohammed got into a long discussion of Islam, as well as Iraq and the US invasion with Felix as he was from the US. He explained to Felix that Iraq actually had a good quality of life, health care and education before the invasion, but American propaganda made it look like a horrible place. He told us that other countries the US did not invade are just as bad, if not worse than Iraq. As an example, he told us that in Morocco, anyone, especially Berbers, who speak against the King would be flown to a prison and had his tongue cut off. He even pointed us to the supposed site of the prison later that day as we passed it. At first Felix believed some of it, but as his opinion of Mohammed became more negative, he started believing less and less of what Mohammed said. In my opinion, the American media did make Iraq look like a much worse place that it actually is. Coming from Canada, I saw many scenes in our media that were not shown in the American media. I had even seen a documentary comparing the American media's coverage of the Iraq war with media coverage from other countries. I had been very surprised to learn that even iconic moments, such as the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue, had been staged and strictly controlled by the American military. However, I did not believe everything that Mohammed said, as I am sure the media in Morocco is also very biased and painted Iraq in a more positive manner than it actually is.

Throughout the long drive down the dusty road, we saw many hills, mesas and the deep scars of water erosion from torrential floods that occur once in a while in the area due to the lack of vegetation to catch the water from the rare rainstorm. We stopped once for a flock of sheep that a shepherd was herding off the road as he saw our car approaching. This scene, viewed from inside Mohammed's car, reminded me of scenes from movies such as Babel and Syriana. We stopped in Tazzarine for lunch. I ordered brochette served with fries, as brochette was of the three main things to eat in Morocco, the other two being tagine and couscous. As we ate on the balcony on the second floor, we heard the calls to prayers. Under the scorching midday sun, the town was nearly deserted, only to become even more desolate after the calls to prayers. Even the restaurant staff dissappeared. I felt bad that we were eating during the calls to prayers when everyone else was praying. After enjoying the view of the oasis town from the comfortable couches and pillows, we paid and went downstairs to wait for Mohammed. I realized that Mohammed probably stopped at this town specifically to make it in time to pray, even though he claimed that he was napping.

We passed a few more oasis towns on the way. It was amazing to see a field of green pop up in an otherwise barren landscape, surrounded by a town that would begin and end very abruptly. Leaving such an oasis town, I felt as if we were leaving behind civilization, and I would watch the swatch of green palm trees in the rear window disappear into the distance until we were once again surrounded by an empty rag desert. To pass the time, we made a hobby out of searching for dust devils. Most dust devils, being relatively weak, left only light traces of dust streaming dozens of meters up into the air. It took a certain skill to identify them. However, we did see a few powerful ones, including one that was a few metres wide that sent thick plumes of spinning dust high up into the air. This one passed in front of our car, which prompted Mohammed to roll up the windows. I imagined how much fun it would be to jump into once of those, but then realized I would probably just end up curled up into a ball on the ground as soon as I was inside as I would get sand all over me, in places that I probably didn't even know existed.

Shortly after, we reached a road sign written in Arabic and English. The sign indicated the fork in the road would lead us to Erfoud and Errachidia to the left, and Er-Rissani and Merzouga to the right. The large Arabic letters on the sign, the dusty road and terrain around us, and the palm trees of yet another oasis town in the background really made me feel like I was someplace very exotic. We took the right fork, and stopped at a gas station to refuel. We also bought a few bottles of water to drink and to use for the night in the desert. While Mohammed was fuelling, I took a look around at the landscape. It was exactly like something out of a movie. It was blindingly bright as the landscape had turned much lighter in colour. There was some sand drifting in the breeze, and the mud buildings stood in the midst of numerous palm trees feeding off of the water from the oasis.

We passed through a town with a pretty gate, which we were told is a very famous town as it was the birthplace of one of the famous rulers in Morocco. Throughout the trip, Mohammed had been telling us interesting facts about Morocco. One of the interesting things I learnt is that Morocco has a unique style of minarets. All of the minarets in Morocco were square shaped. They were pink in colour, decorated with painted green and white sections, and had a balcony at he top covered by a small domed pavilion. After learning this, I noticed that every single minaret in Morocco followed this basic style and had a very distinct architectural shape and style to it.

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