On our third day in Morocco, we headed out of Marrakech to the Atlas Mountains. About an hour and a half outside of the city, you reach the beginning of the extensive Atlas mountains which stretch about 1600 miles across Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Its highest point is Toubkai at 13, 671 feet and the whole range of mountains is a mecca for trekkers.
We took a more leisurely approach on our trip with our personal guide, Josef, who picked us up in his 4 wheel-drive off-road vehicle.
Winding through snaking roads, there were incredible views of valleys, mountain ranges and villages at every turn of the road.
All along the way, I couldn't believe how many Berber villages with fortified mud dwellings we saw. Each unique in its own way, full of families carving out a life for themselves in the mountains.
The Berber people have been living in these villages for centuries. The men typically work with livestock and migrate around through the year, while the women keep close to the home.
As we made the curve, we spied a herd of goats wandering towards us
so we pulled off the road for a closer view.
They were being led by this Berber shepherd, who like so many others in this region, was leading his animals along the natural order of grazing--looking for water and shelter.
We passed though the Tichka Pass to begin our descent towards arid desert landscape. The topography of this side of the mountains changed drastically--we were now almost 4 hours from Marrakech. On our last 6 miles, the driver put his car into 4 wheel-drive and we went off-roading through the desert to our destination, the ancient town of Ait Ben Haddou.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage sight, Ait Ben Haddou is definitely a step back in time.
Having been one of the most important fortresses on the old salt route between the Sahara and Marrakech when slaves, gold, ivory and salt were traded, the city, whose age is not quite clear, is fascinating.
Today about 10 families live there, but in years past between 200-300 could have made their home there at any one time.
Made out of earth and clay bricks, a rainstorm is not good news for conservationists.
There are several beautiful kasbahs in the village,
which were fortified houses inhabited by the wealthy leaders of the village, and ornamented with decorative motifs.
We climbed to the summit above the village to get a perch from above
where the village took on a whole new perspective. Almost like a little sand castle city.
The city has been the backdrop for more than 20 films,
including "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Gladiator", along with "Jesus of Nazareth" when it substituted for the city of Jerusalem. Reminds me of all the backdrops for the flannel graph lessons I used years ago teaching Sunday school.
Just as we were leaving, we found a new friend,
who condescended enough to allow Hubby a smooch, capping off what had been a day of "time travel" for us.
Still more to come in the Moroccan saga if you'll stick with me and stop back by the blog for a visit in the days ahead. The people, the ways of getting around town, the Moroccan design, and probably my favorite thing to share: the colors of the souk.