Today is our day in Todra Gorge!
We went our separate ways in the morning. Eke left at 8 am with 7 other group members to do a 4hr. hike up and down the mountain. The weather was sunny and fairly warm - I guess around 20 degrees C. The climb up was certainly not a walk in the park. Lots of loose gravel, stepping from rock to rock and at times quite steep. We climbed 500-600 m. over 2.5km - several rests were needed for most of us. Our heart rates sure had no trouble getting up! The mountain is quite barren with some hard, dry, prickly kind of grass patches. Across the (dry) river we could see a shepherd with his goats up on the mountain.
At about 10am we reached a plateau, had a rest and started going across the top of the mountain to the other side. We met a shepherd with his sheep. These sheep eat only what grows on the mountain and therefore the meat is 100% organic!
We had a very neat experience of having a mid morning break with a Nomad family. We were treated to a cup of lemon-thyme tea which tasted delicious. A little boy of about 3 or 4 ran to greet our guide and he played and wrestled with him the whole time we were there. Obviously they were good friends and he was very entertaining!! He played with a very simple slingshot. The nomad family living there consists of the father who is 75 years old. His first wife died and his grown sons live in the village. There is one son with wife and baby living with him on the mountain. His second wife living with him is 44 and they have the two boys: 5 and 4 years old. The 5 year old goes to school in the village at the foot of the mountain. His older stepbrother picks him up and the boy stays with his brother. The guide told us that he is very good in math.
The home consists of a few small caves in the mountain and a nomad tent made of camel and goat hair. We sat down in the nomad tent on the hard mountain surface covered with carpets. They make the material for the roof and the sides of the tent themselves on a primitive loom. The roof does not leak - they put pomegranate seeds on top and when it rains the water runs off the roof into small trenches dug around the tent. They sleep and cook in the small caves. They do have propane gas to heat the cave and cook. There was also an open fire in front of the cave. Water is in short supply and has to be carried up the mountain. The women gather dry brush for the fire. Everything is done squatting and sitting on the (hard) ground.
Education is free in Morocco including university - another project accomplished by the present King. Again we were aware of how hard the nomads' lives are - working hard to provide for their basic needs: food, drink, clothing and a roof over their head. The wife of the elderly father served us the tea. She has the nomad tattoos on her chin and was very dark skinned. They do go down the mountain on market day to buy the necessities. The fee we paid for the tea helps. This was a very memorable experience. After our goodbyes and thank yous (Shukrun) we started our descent. The descent did not take as much effort, but took all our attention so as not to slip on the loose gravel or break our ankles on the rocks.
The view of the village was great and some beautiful panoramic views. Once down the mountain, we walked through the village alleyways, the green lush gardens to the restaurant where we were meeting the rest of the group (Brian among them) for Berber pizza.
Brian, Donna and Mark had done a 2hr walk along the river. They saw some women doing our laundry in the river, the agriculture and some good views of the gorge. Brian also had done some uploading onto the trip journal in our hotel.
The lunch was broad bean soup (with olive oil added at the table) and Berber pizza. The pizza is round pita-like bread with meat, spices and beans baked in the middle. Everything tasted great. We had tea and a display of carpets in the salon afterwards. These carpets are made by a women's cooperative in the village. The bus brought us back to the hotel which was very much appreciated by our tired legs.
Later in the afternoon six of us (both of us included) went to a local Hammam (a sort of Turkish bath). The local people go there once a week to get a good scrub. Women and men are separated. The four of us women were told to undress - keep underwear on (naked from the waist up). Our bags with clothes were stored in another room. We were "treated" by two local women - also just dressed in underwear. We were led into a tiled room where it was very hot (think sauna). Because of the language barrier we were motioned and literally pushed down to sit down on the warm floor and wash ourselves with the black soft soap that we were given at the entrance. We got pails of warm water that we could pout over ourselves. After a while we were led to another room, a little less hot; told to sit down again in a corner where there was some space. There were lots of local women with their children scrubbing each other and the children. We were the only Caucasian women there and thus looked over pretty closely!. Nobody felt inhibited about being almost naked and we felt very comfortable also. The attendants then motioned us and the scrubbing started (with a kind of loofah glove) - and hard scrubbing it was! Our skin was red afterwards! They turned us over with a hand movement and scrubbed every part of our body that was not covered! When the scrubbing was done, they threw scoops of warm water over us and did some stretching and a small arm massage. They were tough and Khalid had taught us a word "shwaye" which means "gentle" A good warning! They motioned to scrub our own face and rinse it. The last thing they did was make us stand up and then they kept throwing scoops of warm water over us - even opened our underwear and threw water "down there". Then it was back to getting dressed.
Brian and Mark got the same scrubbing by a male attendant and also were the only Caucasian males in the room. Their treatment included a lot more intense stretching - Brian felt like he was ripped apart! He could communicate a bit with this attendant as the man knew a bit of French. We had no such luck! We felt very refreshed and relaxed after the Hammam.
We went to the "bottle shop", the liquor store, and bought wine to have with dinner that evening. The liquor store is hidden and not very available - strict laws guide the use of alcohol in Morocco. It felt like we were buying illicit booze in the prohibition era. Dinner was very good: Kalia with vegetables and a glass of wine! After dinner it was time for packing again to get ready for the bus ride into the High Atlas mountains tomorrow.