We drove on the next day through canyon country into the dry mountain town of Tinerhir and on into the Todra Valley rich with date palms and clustered houses following a shallow river. The Todra Gorge is a long, twisting canyon that ends in a narrow cleft in the walls several hundred feet high.
Old women walk along the road stooped from carrying heavy loads of sticks on their backs. Here, as in much of the developing world, women work like dogs (I take that back — dogs don’t do much of anything) while the men can be found loafing outside cafes. That’s a generalization of course, but needless to say I’m glad I was born when and where I was and not in Berber country where women do the bulk of the work without complaint.
The structures in this part of the country were painted in a sunny palette of earth tones with doors and window trim in sea-foam green, butter yellow and carnation pink. Many of the old adobe homes were being torn down so that new concrete boxes could be thrown up in their place. That’s progress, I guess. But at least one piece of the past was still evident — we passed a number of camel herders, some just little kids.
The Trail of a Thousand Kasbahs
And more of the past was on display along the drive through the Dades Valley en route to the town of Skoura. The area is famous not only for its rose fields that supply rose essence to the French perfume industry, but also hundreds of ancient kasbahs, which established along the ancient trade route from Timbuktu for salt and gold.
Our driver Mohamed grew up in the Dades Valley, so on the way to Skoura we stopped in for tea at his parents’ home. They were very welcoming but spoke only Berber so he translated for us. He also showed us the kitchen where his poor mother has slaved away for decades. It consisted of a couple of crude stone bowls and a round iron plate set on a dirt floor where she has to build a fire from sticks and logs. How she can make meals without even the simplest sink, stove or oven is beyond my imagination. We Americans are spoiled.
We arrived in Skoura at the end of the day and checked into yet another beautifully restored 19th-Century kasbah, the Dar Ahlam (“House of Dreams”), with warm desert decor and big picture windows looking out to the garden of olive trees. Our dinner of chicken couscous was served in a plush tent where we reclined on embroidered silk floor pillows like lazy sultans. Here, as elsewhere in the country, the service was impeccable and the food was fantastic. Once again I felt enormously spoiled.