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By taxi to Asni in the High Atlas


Home -> Africa -> Morocco -> Travelogue Morocco -> 14 September 2003

Sunday 14 September, by taxi to Asni in the High Atlas

The most other hotel guests we have seen the last days at breakfast have gone and now there is a large group of French tourists. I see how the tour guide deals with them and it reminds me of my own time as a tour guide.
Elisabeth didn't have the opportunity to travel much before we met and she wants to see everything, so I first take her to places which I have already been to. Like Morocco. At the end of the 80s I organised a 3-week tour for a Dutch travel company and I spend more than 6 months in Morocco. A large part of that time I stayed in the village Asni in the High Atlas and we are going there today. This way Elisabeth also sees a bit of the mountains and the countryside.
Negotiating is one of the things a tour guide must be good at. The most important thing is to learn the different prices there are: a local price, a tourist price and the madman price (which Americans were willing to pay in the 80s, but I believe they have changed their attitude a bit). When you know these prices (for everything...) you can haggle for a price between the local and tourist price, pretending that you live here or visit often. Well, our cabdriver thinks differently about it. He wants 20 dirham for the drive to Bab Rob (where the grand taxi's for Asni and the Toubkal region leave) and I am willing to give 15 at most. Finally, we agree on putting the taximeter on, which gives the local price. He is certain it will be around 20 dirham. At the end it is exactly 10 dirham! I had offered him 15, so I give him 15. It is not about the money, it is about the sport of haggling.
On the road to AsniNormally, grand taxi's (always a Mercedes) wait until there are enough passengers, that is 6, excluding the driver! Two people on the front seat, four at the back. There is nobody for Asni and after some time we decide to pay for 6 people: 120 dirham, or € 12. The first 30 kilometers on the flat plains we often have to stop to pump up the tyres. The driver knows exactly where he can find the right places, he even stops at a small cabin in the desert where a man sits next to an airpump.
In the High AtlasWhen we enter the mountains we see gorgeous valleys with dried up riverbeds and beautiful views, but it is hard to take pictures from the bumpy car. Suddenly the driver stops with the remark: this is a nice place to take photographs.
Our cab has a breakdownWe get out of the car, but I have already seen the thermometer in his car: the engine water is boiling. He opens the hood and after a short time an oncoming taxi pulls up and gives our driver a bottle with water. We pretend to notice nothing and walk around to take some pictures.
When we arrive in Asni we are stormed by a mass of people who try to sell souvenirs. Most people here work in the olive groves on the plains or in other cities and only come back for the weekend. The people who stay behind live from the tourist industry but it is low season now. We are the only tourists and so we are prey for the tourist hunters. I wave them off with an arrogant travel guide face, but also make friendly conversation, telling them that we have been here before and just want another look around. When they are really getting annoying I explain them that we would like to talk to them later, but first want to take a walk on our own. When we leave the village to the south they finally stay behind.
Toubkal hotel at AsniI want to go to the Grand Hotel du Toubkal where I have been almost 4 weeks in 1990, but it is closed. People tell me it has been closed for the last 6 years which is a shame since it was a very nice 4-star hotel and not too expensive. I have had a great time here and I would have liked to reminisce some of the good events, sitting on the patio with view on the snowy top of the Toubkal, with 4167 meters the highest pek of Morocco and the third highest of Africa. But the hotel is closed and there is no snow on the mountains and we can't see the Toubkal since is a bit hazy.
New mosque of Asni Houses in the desertIt is much cooler here than in Marrakech but still very pleasantly warm. We take a rest, sitting against a wall and people who pass us by are very nice and friendly. The people are Berber here, not Arab and they are quite different, more closed but very friendly. There is only a small group, mainly youth, who try to make money from tourists and don't hesitate to become very aggressive in doing so.
High Atlas High AtlasThis area is very different from the surroundings of Marrakech. The houses and villages don't make much impression in the dominating desert and mountains.
When we return in the centre of the village we can quietly sit down at a coffee bar without being bothered anymore. Now and then someone joins us and some people even claim to recognize me. I find it hard to believe since it is 13 years since I was here and some of the young men were probably kids then, begging for a pencil or candy.
For less than 2 euro we drink several cups of coffee. We talk to people for two hours about their lives, the hardships and the importance of tourism, mainly in English, which surprises us since most people in Morocco speak only French as a second language. I could talk for hours about this place and the Toubkal area, but it would be about my memories of this place from a long time ago. But we are here, in the here and now, and we decide to go back to Marrakech.
Two men in one chairThere are two taxi's for Marrakech on the main square but when we walk towards them we are waited for by souvenir sellers. This time they are very persistent. When we are already sitting in the cab one man doesn't stop showing us 'priceless' items and the prices are going lower and lower. We keep saying no, but when he starts complaining that we don't have any respect for him, I have had it with him. I jump out of the car, pay for two extra people and we can leave immediately. As you can see on this (fuzzy) picture, there are already two people on the front seat so we have the back seat for us alone.
So much for my negotiating skills! We did buy one thing, a bracelet, before this persisting man came along. Despite my 'travel guide instinct' we paid way too much for it, only because we hoped to get into a cab that was on the point of leaving. But we missed that one and paid € 20 for a silver bracelet (if it is silver) that is probably worth only a few euro's. In these countries the real value is what one wants to give for something, not the financial value and Elisabeth likes it very much. But ater another 10 minutes of negotiating the price would have been much lower.
Village in the Hoge AtlasWhile the gentlemen on the front seat are in animated discussion we try to make some pictures of the scenery. Typical of the desert villages is that all houses are build close together to create as much shade as possible.
House in the desert Vegetation in the desertBut sometimes there are lonely buildings in the desert along the road, maybe for storage. The closer we come to Marrakech, the more vegetation appears. Large cactus bushes and high palmtrees. And many olive groves for the production of olive oil.
Walls of Marrakech Back to Jemaa el-Fna squareAfter 45 minutes we approach the red city wall of Marrakech and here is one of the gates near Bab Aguenaou. From the cabstand we take a small taxi to the square Jemaa el Fna.
It is much warmer here than in the mountains and we don't walk so much anymore. We stroll around the square and then climb some stairs for a nice view from a restaurant. There is quite a lot of wind, but it is a hot wind, like a föhn.
Rugs against the housesRegularly, we have seen houses with carpets hanging on the walls, like here near the Kharbouch mosque. It is remarkable that the traditionally clad women look so gloomy in their black dresses while Marrakech is such a colourful city, not only the houses but also in the souks. But like the houses, the colour red dominates the carpets and also pottery and even jewelry.
Terrace near the Koutoubia mosqueThe wind is getting so strong that we leave the roof and find a bar near the Koutoubia mosque, also a place from where we have a nice view on the chaotic road traffic. We only have to walk a few hundred meters, but we are all sweaty when we sit down. This is a climate where one should go easy and not worry too much about deadlines. As the inhabitants do, except for the traffic.
When we take a taxi back to the hotel at the end of the afternoon we have a somewhat older cabdriver who doesn't seem to understand where we want to go. He claims he knows where the hotel is, but several times we have to give him directions, because he goes totally wrong. Fortunately, I recognize already a lot of streets but we can't bring him to our hotel (as he should bring us) and we decide to get out in the neighbourhood and walk the last part.
Our favourite barThis is our favourite bar, Charly's Cabana, where we spend every night at least an hour and sometimes have dinner. Like tonight. On the way there we pass a store where I am greeted every night with 'hello Ali Baba' and Elisabeth is called Gazelle. This time we ask him why he calls us like that and he tells us a long story about the villain Ali Baba who turned into a good hero and the female gazelle who had a good influence on him. He probably thinks Ali Babab also had long hair.
After watching the traffic and the crowds for some time, we return to the hotel quite early. We feel exhausted. It is the combination of very long walks, the heat and all the impressions and new experiences. It is still a bit damp in the air and the temperature has been 40 degrees today.

 


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