Finally, it has arrived. Camel ride day!
Katy first read about Kasbah Ellouze on the Conversant Traveller blog while researching our trip. For a more detailed look at the hotel, their post is worth the read. It was there that Katy first read about the house camels. Not just any camels though, camels named Ella and Stan. Ella had been looking forward to meeting and riding them ever since.
So, after a nice breakfast on the terrace, we walked around to find our camels. As it turns out, Ella is the oldest of the camels so we wouldn’t be riding her. Stan, well, he was just surly. Fortunately, Ella was too excited by the prospect of riding a camel to be picky about names.
Katy and Ella climbed aboard Maryline while I hopped on Charlie. Lead by Kasbah Ellouze’s resident camel man, Omar, and his trusty sidekick, The Kid, and joined by our guide Mohamed, we set off on our little tour.
Westerners riding camels along a river must look hilarious to the locals, even if they’re certainly used to it. For me though, the amusing part was watching Omar, who was leading Katy and Ella’s camel, and The Kid, who was leading mine. I have no idea what they were saying as it was all in Berber, but Omar was constantly telling The Kid do do something different in a very frustrated tone. The Kid for his part tried to comply with much eye rolling.
While they offer much longer options, we opted for something short in the hope that we were back before the novelty wore off for Ella.
The destination for our tour was an ancient granary building in a neighbouring kasbah. Unfortunately, the previous days rain meant there was a little more water running in the river. Not a problem when we were sitting up high while the camels splashed along, but when we got to the slippery riverbank, they refused to climb it with us on top. As a broken camel leg means no more camel, you can’t blame them. So, we hopped down and crossed the last section of river on foot.
As for the kasbah granary, it’s essentially a locked building with individual rooms for each village household. Access is controlled by one family and it’s used as central storage for crops etc, from abundant years. Think storage locker, only with useful things rather than extra junk you should really throw out.
One interesting part of the granary tour was a chance to see a Berber lock in action. They also had one separate from the door to show you how the teeth lined up to make the lock work. After a quick look around and a little explanation it was back across the river and onto the camels.
Tibet, Ancient Egypt and a little GoT, all in 30 minutes
Our second outing for the day was a stop at the Atlas film studios outside nearby Ouarzazate. For those who don’t know it, Morocco is a popular TV and movie shoot location and has been for years. (CNN: Why Morocco is Africa’s little Hollywood)
The sets we saw on our tour were primarily for Kundun and Astérix et Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre. We could also see a castle structure at a distance that had been used in filming parts of both Game of Thrones and Vikings. They were actually filming something in the studio while we were there, leading to our group being shushed on a couple of occasions. Our only brush with celebrity was meeting the horse ridden by Daenerys Targaryen, aka Kahleesi, in Game of Thrones.
Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou
Our last stop of the day was the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou. As I’m sure you know, a ksar is a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls.
Sidebar: Ksar is not to be confused with a kasbah. Of course, a quick google search will show you, that kasbah sounds kind of similar… maybe: It’s a North African citadel, or the area around it… or possibly a North African castle… or the older part of the city. But don’t confuse either with a medina which is, well, the old walled part of a North African town. Suffice it to say you know it when you see it. Well, somebody does.
Where were we? Oh, right, Ait-Ben-Haddou. Ben Haddou is a Unesco World Heritage site due to it being, among other things “an eminent example of a ksar in southern Morocco illustrating the main types of earthen constructions that may be observed dating from the 17th century in the valleys of Dra, Todgha, Dadès and Souss.”
As you can imagine this makes it a busy location. Fortunately, since becoming a world heritage site, a bridge was put up to make crossing the river to visit a little easier than the old donkey ride approach.
Perhaps to our benefit, a storm was clearly about to roll in when we arrived. Rather than risk getting caught in the rain halfway up, we decided to make a quick assent and then manage our time on the way down according to the weather.
This turned out to be a good plan. We managed to make our way quickly to the top, have a look around and get some pictures with the darkening sky. We took a little more time on the way back, but didn’t stop to shop, and ran the last 50 meters back to the car as the rain started.
That night we ate another great meal at Kasbah Ellouze in the jazz room. A set menu always makes me a little nervous, but all of the food we had was delicious and they had a plan to accommodate Katy’s vegetarian diet with equally delicious food.
I don’t know what she’s saying, but it doesn’t sound like “good job”
The next morning we got out of bed a little earlier so we could visit with two Berber sisters who live next door to Kasbah Ellouze and learn how they make bread.
Katy had the pleasure of giving it a try while Ella and I watched. The idea was for Katy to make one batch while one of the sisters provided guidance and the other made a second batch.
From the get-go Katy was struggling to keep up. Yahya was with us to translate from Berber, but you didn’t need a translation to know that Katy was not living up to some pretty high expectations. There was lots of increasingly urgent encouragement. The best thing Yahya did translate was slightly desperate “I didn’t wash my hands, I can’t even help her!” After some frantic kneading, we went back to the kasbah to have some breakfast while the bread proofed.
An hour or so later, we joined the sisters in a small room with a stone oven to watch the bread bake. Fortunately, they did all the work so it was a much more relaxed atmosphere. The end result? Delicious and you couldn’t tell which bread had been Katy’s so her work must have been ok after all.
With bread in hand in was time for us to grab our bags and make the drive back from the High Atlas mountains to Marrakech.
We had a great time at Kasbah Ellouze and would certainly recommend the place and the great team of owners and staff there.