Sunday 20th June, Ait Benhaddou, Morocco.
Tinerhir was little more than home to Africa's largest shoeshine academy by the feel of it. If you sat for an hour at an outdoor cafe anywhere around the town centre, it would be nothing to have to decline twenty or more offers to shine your boots. "Only two dirham!" "Only five dirham!" "Monsieur!"
"J'AI DIT NON!"
The staff at the Hotel L'Oisis were very friendly and made my stay in otherwise uninspiring Tinerhir quite pleasant and interesting. The manager, Adi, would stop me any time I passed him, and practice his latest English phrase on me. "I never go to school" he boasted, speaking in the same broken heavily concentrated fashion as Manuel, the hapless Spanish chef from the old English comedy Fawlty Towers. "I learn myself" he'd explain, and then slowly and carefully he would chew out something like "I WASH you a good day" and I would congratulate him on his almost perfect English. My approval pleased Adi no end, and he would walk off smiling, waving his hands in time as he repeated the phrase softly to himself. On my last day, he really did impress me. He'd apparently been up late the night before practising "If life is a book, he who does not travel reads only one page". My shocked reaction was as much as he could have hoped for and more, and he couldn't hide his elation that his English was improving so much. Adi was really a character.
From Tinerhir, I caught a grand taxi to Todra Gorge for a bit of nature and a chillout. The gorge itself was spectacular, and Auberge Etoile des Gorges was surrounded by towering orange coloured cliffs. I was the only guest for the two nights I stayed there, so received quite attentive service any time I needed a snack or a cup of coffee. I asked for a bed in the dormitory room, which was a cheap option and since I was alone, I had the whole big airy room to myself. I even had a double bed. The manager's name was Abdul-Halim, and he was another sincerely friendly chap. We spent many an hour sitting around telling jokes and testing each other with riddles. Unfortunately, I couldn't get much work done on my computer since the electricity was fed by a diesel generator, which they only fire up for a few hours in the evening. I spent my days either lazily wandering around the gorge, or sleeping in the hotel's open air restaurant by the road. Very relaxing, but ultimately a bit boring.
On the way to Ouarzazate (pronounced war-zazat) I bumped into Kevin the Welshman. He'd just been to Dades Gorge and was boarding the same bus that I was already on. "Of all the rattly, clapped out buses in all of Morocco.." He said Dades wasn't as impressive as Todra, and since it sounded like getting to Dades was a bit of a hassle, I decided to skip it and keep moving. Kevin didn't stop in Ouarzazate, he continued on to Ait Benhaddou and Marakesh. After a two kilometre walk into town in the midday sun, I checked into the Royal Hotel and headed for the showers. On the way to the bathroom, I was stopped by an American guy. "You must be Steve Savage" he said. I knew who he was too. His name is Ariel, and I'd swapped emails with him a few days ago, after I noticed from my web traffic statistics that there were a few people coming to my site via a link at arieltravel.com, which is his personal webpage. Turns out he'd met Lara, Juana and Sonia, the three Aussie girls I'd toured Volubilis with, and they had told him about The Savage Files. He and Kevin had also travelled together, and when Kevin sent Ariel an email a few days ago to say he'd been into the Sahara, Ariel replied "I know. I saw your photo on The Savage Files!" So Ariel and I met up for breakfast and dinner the couple of days that we were in Ouarzazate, but in between I spent most of my time making the final changes to my book. You'll be relieved to know that I *finally* submitted it to the publisher yesterday. Now it's just a waiting game.
Which reminds me... a number of people have emailed me, saying that they're 'looking forward to the book', or 'can't wait to read the book'. I don't know whether I should regard these comments as an actual order or not, so if you do want to order a copy of "..everywhere but Missouri, mate!" please email me, specifically asking me to reserve you a copy (or two...or three- there will be free postage and/or substantial discounts on any orders of more than one copy!) The first 100 copies reserved will be signed by me with a personal greeting *how rivetting* and will also include a CD slide show of all my North American adventures, set to a soundtrack of some of my favourite travel tunes from Enigma, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Pink Floyd, and more. For more details about "..everywhere but Missouri, mate!", go to my Book Preview page.
The Hotel Royal in Ouarzazate, at 36 dirham a night, was the cheapest accommodation I've had so far with the exception of dormitory rooms or berber tents. It was quite plesant too, although I felt the 50 dirham they charged for washing a small bag of my dirty clothes might have been a bit rich. Ouarzazate itself was nothing outstanding, and once I'd submitted my manuscript to the publishing company, I was ready to check out the next spot on my tour- Ait Benhaddou, one of the best preserved kasbahs in the entire Atlas region. I also felt like celebrating the culmination of so many months' work by treating myself to a little bit of luxury. After breakfast, I bought a pair of shorts in the markets. I hadn't worn shorts since I was in the US last year, but I had a strong feeling that shorts would be called for real, real soon. Ariel and I caught a grand taxi about twenty kilometres out of town to the turnoff to Ait Benhaddou. Our driver said he could take us the rest of the way as well, but wanted 70 dirham, which was ridiculous for such a short drive. From the intersection in the middle of nowhere, we tried to hitchhike but were soon approached by a grand taxi driver who was happy to take us to Ait Benhaddou for less than half what our original driver had been asking. Fifteen minutes later, I was head first into a cool, clear swimming pool! Ah luxury!
This place is just heaven! My room is basically poolside, and I'm spending the days flopping in and out of the crystal blue water, and working away on my little laptop in the shade of the trees outside my room. I can't believe that Ariel and I almost considered not staying here. The prices we were quoted on arrival seemed extortionate compared to the four or five dollars we'd been paying elsewhere, but then again this place is not like any place either of us have stayed in Morocco. We were haggling hard with the receptionist, and between ourselves were discussing just how high we were prepared to go for the luxury of a swimming pool. But the haggling came to an abrupt end when we realized that the price she'd been quoting us (less than twenty US dollars a night!) included a buffet breakfast and a four course dinner in the restaurant! By the pool, we befriended an English couple, Peter and Emma, in Morocco for their honeymoon. (they're not sure how wise Morocco was as a honeymoon destination!) The four of us spent the afternoon drinking bottles of rough Moroccan red wine by the pool, gazing out at the exotic Unesco protected kasbah.
The view from the pool is priceless, overlooking Ait Benhaddou. It's so relaxing that I just can't write any more. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.