Art and Wisdom in the Desert and Returning Home
Curious Installations in the Desert
The day after my return from visiting the nomads I took the opportunity to move to a beautiful, luxurious riad at a small village called Hassilabied (“white well” in Arabic, with the whiteness being due to salt deposits I am told). The management there arranged for me to be taken by 4WD to see three intriguing, gigantic art installations in the desert, built a few decades ago by a visiting eccentric artist, with local assistance. The installation that I actually entered and walked around* is known by the locals as “La Cité Orientale” (pictured).
I climbed staircases that led to nowhere, and it seemed something of a genuflection to the labyrinth of Petrarch, likewise immortalised by Umberto Eco in his novel “The Name of the Rose” and in the movie of the same name. From vantage points at the top of these staircases I could see in multiple directions distant mirages of water. When I mentioned this to my driver he commented how dangerous mirages in the desert and in life can be, because they can tempt a thirsty man to his death. On hearing his response I was struck, not for the first time, by how the desert people like my driver use desert experiences (and in particular the constant search for water) as metaphors for Being, for relationships and for life in general.
From on-high I had also seen in the distance what looked like a scarecrow, and in the shimmering heat it seemed to shiver with life. My driver told me that the nomads also build scarecrows from scrap metal in the form of discarded pots and pans covered in soot and draped on sticks and on acacia trees. The soot is applied because upturned pots covered in soot are said, in Berber culture at least, to ward off the Evil Eye.
After completing my exploration of “La Cité”, noting what a photographer’s dream it is with its unique structure, location and the forever changing shadows it casts, we returned to the luxury riad for my final night at the desert dunes.
(*Be aware though that at certain times of the year entry is forbidden to these art installation. However, I have access to the telephone number of one of the nomads who guards entry to them, so that there is never a wasted trip to see these intriguing structures, at least “intriguing” for the more artistically minded amongst us).
Afro – Moroccan Art and Returning Home
A day or so later, I took a taxi back to Erfoud for 200 dirhams (about 20 euros) where this time I stayed at Hotel Xaluca, part of a chain of hotels. It has glorious Afro-Moroccan artwork in its interior design as some of our photos depict. Due to the sheer numbers of (European and Asian) tourists who stay there, the cuisine has more variety than is common in Morocco and the French influence in the cuisine is more apparent – with lots of sweets on offer rather than the usual fruit – and for that reason alone it is a nice change. Fortunately, Xaluca has its own in-house travel agency, open until late, which was useful to me to help sort out my flight from Errachidia to Casablanca for my imminent return to Australia.
My local contact, Mouna came to visit me at the hotel the day before I was due to leave Erfoud to say goodbye, and she brought me a scarf with traditional embroidery from her mother and little pieces of traditional jewellery from Rachida and Nissrine, Rachida’s daughter (referred to in Part 1 of this blog post series) as farewell gifts.
The following day a driver in a 4WD (arranged by the hotel) took me to Errachidia to catch my flight back to Casablanca, where I stayed at the Sky Atlas Hotel very close to the international airport – a shuttle service operates around every 30 minutes to and from the hotel. As I had travelled Royal Air Maroc from Errachidia there was a free buffet lunch for me at the hotel. The next day I flew back to Australia.
Shortly after arriving in Sydney I received Whatsapp messages from my Moroccan hosts asking me to let them know I had arrived home safely.
Postscript to Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4
This itinerary is only an outline of an adventure. Obviously, though the uniqueness is in the little details, the little interactions (like helping the nomads peel the vegetables for dinner), even in the little inconveniences (like the time I accidentally dropped the soap down the traditional toilet and let out a cry causing Mouna’s mother to rush to my “aid” – in the context that we didn’t share a language in which I could assure her through the toilet door that all was okay).
Aussies In Morocco Tours™ has experienced this itinerary and has enjoyed the kindness, hospitality, and guidance of the people mentioned in this blog post. It is not a Trafalgar or Peregrine Tours-type experience. It is more real and less “hygienic” in the sense that the price of the richness of experience is that at times things may not always go exactly to plan. It is real, authentic; you might feel like a shower when you are in the desert when none is available. There might occasionally be communication issues, despite everyone’s good intentions. Rest assured though that it will be an experience that you will not forget for the rest of your life. Be aware also (as we said earlier) that the nomad lifestyle is slipping away and the homestay contacts Cara has made are ready and able now to welcome you; that may not always be so.
Note also that because you are staying with friends of Cara’s and by reason of Moroccan cultural sensibilities, she (Cara) personally approves every request to book our homestay option, in liaison with our Moroccan contacts.
Refreshed November 2020