Cascades D'Ouzoud, Morroco

Thursday, June 05, 2014

I've mentioned my trip to Morocco before, when I blogged about Fez a few weeks ago. But I thought I'd write about a day on that trip that I think will probably stay with me forever for good reasons as well as bad. 

We had escaped the heat of Marrakesh and taken a taxi up to Azilal, a great base point to explore the beautiful Atlas mountains from. From there we took another taxi to the Cascades, which we discovered thanks to our Lonely Planet book. Guide books were still pretty a la mode then, but I've only bought one since (a very well thumbed copy of Discover Spain) and now pretty much rely on the internet to find out about anything. Who knows if we would have found this place otherwise?

Arriving at the top of the waterfall wearing our classic tourist clobber, we were immediately collared by "I", who's employ it was to bring people down to the campsite at the foot of the waterfall. Deciding this was as good a plan as any, we headed on down merrily and set up camp under a canopy under the stars. 

We jumped straight in to the lake at the bottom of the waterfall and swam with little terrapins waiting to nip at our toes whiles monkeys climbed around energetically on the cliff faces around us. And so we passed a jolly 15 minutes trying not to get sucked down by the raging currents into the pool below, oblivious to the fact that the locals were quickly packing up and leaving around us. 

Five minutes later we started to put two and two together...

Scrambling out the water, we made our way back to the campsite, only to watch the waterfall begin to crumble in on itself and huge amounts of mud snake their way down into the lakes where we were just swimming. 

Considering we were planning a night sleeping outside, things were not looking good at this point. The campsite was rapidly becoming a mud bath and the skies were looking alarmingly somber. We did what we could to keep things dry including, of course, ourselves...

...but it became rapidly apparent we weren't sleeping here tonight. Bit of a dilemma when you're in the middle of nowhere. We had chatted quite a lot with "I" during the evening and shared a tagine with him while we waited for the storm to pass so when he offered to let us stay at his house on the top of the waterfall we gratefully accepted.

It was completely dark by this point as all the electricity that there was (there wasn't much to begin with) had been cut off in the storm. Luckily, my dad had provided me with  a torch that you make work by squeezing the side really quickly. I had assured him that I had absolutely no use for it, much as I had been telling my mother for years that I didn't need a pac-a-mac, but found myself clinging to it like a life line as we scrambled up the muddy hill in flip flops trying not to fall to our deaths. Half way up, we met a man leading a donkey down the path who said to us, very calmly, "don't trust this man. He's a bad man" and carried on walking.

Kat, who was walking ahead of me, spun on her heels and looked directly into my torch like a frightened rabbit, grabbing my hand. I imagine my expression probably mirrored hers. "I" said nothing and we carried on walking in silence until we reached the top of the hill. Unable to communicate to each other that we were all pretty freaked out by this experience, we agreed to walk into the nearest town with "I" and get some ingredients for a lamb tagine. This seems incomprehensible to me now, and probably to you, but we had nowhere else to stay and we were all questioning our own ears privately. As we walked along the street however, which was packed with vendors selling prickly pears, freshly deep fried doughnuts and huge slabs of meat on all corners we heard it again, from a different person; "Don't trust him!".

We carried on collecting ingredients for the tagine.

I genuinely think to this day we may have English'ed ourselves to death if "I" had been an axe-wielding murderer. Here we are cooking a tagine with someone who may or may not murder us.

The tagine was delicious but it was the emergence of the "fig vodka" in a clear un-labelled bottle which really sent my imagination into overdrive. Morocco is a dry country so any alcohol that is available is sold like this and looks like moonshine. Moonshine or rohypnol. We all sat around nervously sipping the vodka and playing cards while discussing the vagaries of religion. The tension was palpable.

We went to bed reluctantly and had a sleepless night, rising early and leaving a note and some money for the accommodation we had originally booked when "I" didn't stir. We left with a sense of relief but also guilt for ever suspecting someone who had shown us only perfect hospitality might chop us into tiny pieces while we slept.

It definitely made me think about how far you can trust people when you're travelling. Particularly in Morocco where for every person looking to make a quick dirham fooling tourists there's guys like Ami, who we met in Fez and who wanted to give us more free stuff that we could carry after we chatted to him for just half an hour. It probably made us less suspicious of genuine hospitality for the rest of the trip, but we never found out why we shouldn't trust "I" in the first place so it definitely had a lingering effect on us. 

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