Travelling to Morocco's Magical Pink Town Of Tafraout
By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer
The rain during the night had freshened the air and we felt relaxed as our bus made its way southward from Agadir, Morocco’s top resort, to Tafraout – Morocco’s so-called magical pink town. The rays of the sun created a panorama of various shades of green, in places, marred by plastic garbage bags strewn across the edging fields. It was a rejuvenating world, cursed by the piles of litter – the affliction of most third world countries.
As our guide, Abdallah talked in length in German and French, then threw in a few words of English for the benefit of my daughter and myself who were the only English-speaking members in our tour group of 26, I thought to myself, “There it goes again! Another one of those excursions where the language is going to be a problem!”
Morocco is an Arab country and, even though my daughter and I have a good knowledge of classical Arabic, we found it hard to communicate with the people. After independence in 1956, instead of Arabization, French continued and, in spite of the fact Arabic is the official language, to all ends and purposes, French became the working lingua franca. The colloquial Arabic that the people speak is so enmeshed with French that one must know that tongue in order to communicate with even the uneducated. The French-educated Moroccan elite who took over when their conquerors left made sure the people were molded in the image of their former occupiers.
In less than an hour we were winding our way up the argan-covered foothills of the Anti Atlas Mountains, the smallest of Morocco’s four mountain ranges – the others being the Rif, Middle Atlas, and High Atlas. In many places goats were having their breakfast, perched on the branches of argans – trees found only in southern Morocco and Mexico. They appeared like large black fruit growing on the trees. We were intrigued and made the driver stop a number of times to take photos.
Past Aït Baha, we drove upward through the most dramatically tortuous and magnificent scenery in the Anti Atlas. The narrow highway that was barely as wide as our bus, every few minutes would make a sharp turn on corners that were often partly washed away by the rains. With no guard rails, there were only a few feet of soil or rocks which saved us from plunging down the sheer mountain-sides, hundreds of feet into the deep valleys below. It was a nerve-racking and frightening drive.
All around, the scenery was breathtaking. Downward, the rain-soaked emerald valleys, water flowing in their usual dry riverbeds, and terraced hillsides were overshadowed in the distance by the towering mountain peaks. Here and there in the eye-catching countryside, villages built at the bases of steep hills or perched like eagles’ nests atop rocks and cliffs appeared to be sprouting from the earth itself. The panorama was picturesque, dramatic, and impressive.
We stopped for coffee at Madao, 42 km (26 mi) from Tafraout, even though it was Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. In Morocco, Islam is practiced in a tolerant fashion, and non-Muslims can go about their ways unhindered. Every waiter was fasting yet they served us food with a smile. However, some tourists, being uninformed about the Muslim religion, are not very open-minded. A French woman who was discussing Ramadan with my daughter remarked, “I can’t understand why these people fast like this. It’s just not right. They’re too fanatic.”
Upward we drove through partially terraced mountain-sides sprouting with fields of barley and flowering almond trees until we reached Tizin Taraqatin Pass, 1,500 m (4,920 ft) high. Downward the greenery became sparse with only a few trees struggling to grow. Yet, the land seemed to support a good number of people.
Along the roadside in this heart of Berber country – the Berbers, a non-Arab people, form about 50% of Morocco’s population – we passed many women, a number of whom found it difficult to keep their faces partially veiled as they tried to balance baskets of wood or garden produce on their backs. The younger ones smiled and waved as we drove by. Alas! I did not have the opportunity to verify the words of a Berber in Agadir who told me that the most beautiful women in Morocco were to be found in this part of the Anti Atlas Mountains.
Downward from Tizen Taraqatin, the valleys were fertile, but the hillsides and upper slopes were rocky and bare. Suddenly the Wadi Ameln (Valley of Almonds) came into view. Thick with almonds, argan, olive, and palm trees, encircling pink homes, the valley, overshadowed by the Anti Atlas peaks, appeared like a hidden Shangri-la.
For a while, we followed Wadi Ameln, then drove around a hillside. Before us, as if by magic, pink Tafraout, surrounded by picturesque mountains and endless flowering orchards, sparkled like a ruby set in a field of emeralds.
Situated 1,100 m (3,608 ft) high, deep in the heart of the Anti Atlas, the town is edged by ochre mammoth pillars and boulders piled together in improbable rock formations – a riot of huge granite rocks scattered over the grandiose landscape. The staggering high sheer rock walls, here and there, bathed by water descending from the summits, gave the valley an air of freshness and impregnability. It is an extraordinary scenic setting, found no place else in Morocco.
The pink kasbah-like homes (mud homes built fortress-style) of the inhabitants, some of which were perched on red boulders or clinging tenaciously to the walls of cliffs seemed to huddle among the rocks. Their facades, often painted with unusual designs of ochre or white, were very picturesque and gave the homes a look of well-being.
Erected by men who leave town to seek their fortunes elsewhere, they are some of the most prosperous-looking rural structures found in Morocco. Most of the men are grocers in large Moroccan cities or immigrants in Europe and return, usually once a year, to see their families. With them, they bring money to build these abodes and generally induce prosperity to this small town of about 6,000. A German woman in our group was not too enamored with the people. She said that some of the immigrants in Germany are not very honest. They register their children who are born in Tafraout as born in Germany and get the benefits of that country’s social services. She smirked, “Like all foreigners, they milk our country.”
We stopped awhile in the center of town to explore a Touareg (a division of the Berbers) rug market – the usual tourist trap for guided tours. Two of the owners, fluent in German and, of course, French, dressed in their impressive blue clothing, served tea while they exhibited their rugs. Every woman wanted to take pictures of the Touareg. The selling of rugs was almost forgotten – that is – by the women.
A few minutes’-drive upward and we were in the eye-catching pink kasbah-style Hotel Les Amandiers, the most prominent structure in town. Admirably perched on a rocky hillock, it dominates the magnificent valley. Built-in local style, its fortress-like design of pink crenulations, and very thick walls give the visitor a feeling of medieval protection.
From its terrace, we admired at leisure the exquisite town set in greenery and overshadowed by the wild and rugged landscape. I could see why travelers have written that Tafraout, at the center of the most extraordinary scenery one can find in Morocco, would make an ideal island of escape for honeymooners. In its fairytale setting, lovers can relax amid a world of quiet and beauty.
From the hotel, we drove east through town to photograph the unusual pink village of Aguerd-Oudad built under a huge boulder which has eroded into a strange formation, according to Abdallah, “In the shape of Napoleon’s hat.” Back across town, then westward, we passed neat pink village homes, at times, atop odd-shaped rocks. These stayed with us until we began to wind our way upward to the 1,200 m (3,936 ft) high Kirdous Pass. It was raining and all around the hills had turned into a blanket of green. However, after we left the mountains, the rain disappeared, replaced by the warm friendly sun.
We stopped at Tiznit, noted for its silver handiwork, at a tourist-trap shop. After a number of our group bought some souvenirs at highly inflated prices – to compensate for Abdallah’s cut – we drove to Agadir, one and a half hours drive away. Tired after traveling 365 km (227 mi) through mostly winding mountain roads, I felt a sense of fulfillment. Our day-long journey through a spectacular countryside, crowned by the short sojourn in the magical pink town of Tafraout, had been a memorable experience.