Tafraoute, Morocco   Leave a comment

Tafraoute is a town in the Anti Atlas Mountains and is a bit of a tourist magnet. We decided to go for a look and planned to do some walking and see the local sites.

To get there we needed to use another Grand Taxi so we started the morning again at Mirleft chatting to locals. Soon enough we were back at Tiznit in the big dusty wasteground full of Mercedes 240’s. We then took a Petit Taxi to a bus company office but found the only bus to Tafraoute didn’t leave until late afternoon. We didn’t want to wait for hours which left us with one other option. Another Grand Taxi, and this time all of the way into the mountains.

Mountain roads aren’t straight. And they tend to be rather precarious. Because of this they are often pretty frightening and we got pretty fed up with them when we were in Peru and Bolivia. So the prospect of undertaking this trip 7 up in a Mercedes 240 driven by a guy who most likely was in a rush (or a race maybe) was rather daunting.

To build ourselves up we went in search of breakfast. We sat down in a smokey cafe (they smoke everywhere and endlessly in Morocco) which looked to be pretty uninspiring, but the waiter pointed us next door to a shop selling an amazing array of cakes and pastries. So that is what we had for breakfast, along with mint tea and coffee.

Well fed and ready for action we headed back to the Grand Taxis. Just to prove it really is a dusty wasteground full of clapped out Mercedes 240’s…

Tiznit Grand Taxis

We took the sensible decision to pay for three seats for this journey so we had the incredible ¬†luxury of only having to share the back seat with a guy who didn’t use deodorant. The most sensible decision of all would probably be to drive the thing myself but that wasn’t something our basic grasp of French would allow. The journey was a sublime mix of white knuckle inducing fear and stunning scenery. At times it reminded me of the Sacred Valley in Peru. The whole journey was made all the more entertaining by one of the passengers in the front arguing passionately with the driver. Much gesticulation was used and at one point the driver took to calling somebody on his mobile, presumably in an attempt to settle the dispute. He had no luck though and the argument raged on as we climbed and descended numerous mountain passes. The argument may have been light hearted, but I reckon any sort of dispute in Arabic would sound heated.

Here is a photograph of the scenery out of the side window and another out of the front window. If you look closely you can just about make out my sweaty white knuckles in the second picture.

Scenery on the way to Tafraoute

Inside a grand taxi on the way to Tafraoute

Tafraoute is a pleasant little town surrounded by mountains on all sides. It is small enough to be easily explored on foot but is well stocked with pleasantly persistent salespeople. More on that later. But all in all it is fair to say that Tafraoute is very picturesque, especially from the roof of our Hotel at sunset.

Tafraoute at sunset

On the way to our hotel we were hassled by a guy who sold carpets. We dismissed him with aplomb…or so we thought. That evening as we walked the streets he appeared from nowhere…possibly from a lamp..and compelled us to take a look at his wares. His sales pitch was slick and within 2 minutes we found ourselves in his inner sanctum. The Carpet Room. First he presented us with a long decorative wooden stick type thing and asked if we knew what it was. We didn’t and he explained that it was a Berber tent peg. Then he joked that it is also used by Berber woman to punish husbands who roll in late and drunk from a day of whatever one does all day in a desert. We laughed. Then he proceeded to unroll carpet after carpet on the floor explaining each as he went.

It was relentless and we could not stop him. We explained we had small bags but he explained they could ship to our home. We tried claiming to have no home but he offered to ship to friends and family. Then he demonstrated how he could roll a small carpet up so it was easy to carry. Finally I hit upon a solution and promised to give him publicity in our world renowned travelling and carpet buying blog. Amazingly this did the trick, though he did sulk for a few moments before we bid him farewell.

Tafraoute carpet man 1
Our full day at Tafraoute was spent touring some of the sights in the surrounding area. Our driver Ali first drove us to see the “Painted Rocks”. A Belgian artist for no clear reason decided to paint some bloody great rocks in the late eighties. They have been a tourist attraction ever since and even though it is claimed that they have never been repainted we very easily discovered they are repainted every 2 years by locals.

Painted Rocks at Tafraoute

Painted rocks at Tafraoute

Painted rocks at Tafraoute

After the painted rocks we climbed up and over some mountains towards the Ait Mansour Gorges. On the way we saw some stunning scenery and this amazing village on a hillside.

Moroccan Village

Once we reached the gorge Ali dropped us off so we could walk for an hour. The gorge was an oasis of green in an otherwise stark but impressive scene.

Ait Mansour Gorge

Ait Mansour Gorge 2
There were also some settlements in the gorge which we walked through. The river through the gorge was virtually dry but the extent of the irrigation system created to carry what little water that was present was highly impressive. At times the side of the gorge towered above us on both sides to the extent that it would be impossible to climb out.

It was a great day seeing the amazing scenery of the Anti Atlas Mountains. I honestly had no idea what to expect and I was quite taken with the raw beauty.

Upon our return to Tafraoute we were quickly accosted by a young chap asking us to come and look at his shop. We fended him off and he shouted the usual response that comes in Morocco/Thailand/Just about everywhere….”Maybe later?”.

Later that evening, after another delightful sunset we headed out to eat. On our way to our chosen restaurant the same young chap pounced upon us. We fended him off this time by explaining that we were starving. Undettered he staked out the restaurant, even coming in for a drink with the owner at one point and waving to us. As we ate our tagines we resigned ourselves to another lengthy sales pitch.

Upon arriving at his shop we went through some general chit chat and soon enough we found ourselves in his carpet room. He reached for a shelf and retrieved a Berber tent peg and asked us if we knew what it was. Claire stifled a laugh whilst I gave a superb impression of a man racking his brain for some distant memory. “Is it maybe something like a tent peg?” I asked. “Yes” he replied and then proceeded to tell us how Berber housewives also use them to discipline husbands who come home late and drunk.

Then he launched into a word perfect re-enactment of our earlier carpet room experience. Here it is. As you can see we let him get a fair way into his sales pitch, but you will also note he has enough carpets to keep him talking for a week.

Tafraoute carpet man 2
I waited patiently for the right moment and delivered my “world famous travel and carpet blog” line. He sulked. We wished him well. We left and laughed hysterically in the street.

Followers of this blog and our travels will no doubt be wondering where the food photos are. At this point in our trip we had eaten 4 tagines. Like much of the great food we discover and eat they really aren’t lookers. Take this effort for example.

Tagine at Restaurant Marrakech in Tafraoute
I can assure you that it tasted great, as did the olives and the beer. But no photographer could make this look good.

All in all we really loved Tafraoute. The town has a vibrancy which reminded us of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile with a lot of tourists setting off or arriving back from tours.

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