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Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou

Published Sun 30 May 2010 23:07 (+1200)
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Ned from the American Peace Corp with workshop guys
Ned from the American Peace Corp with workshop guys

After the nice restful day but crappy night in the Todra Gorge we were up fairly early and hit the road heading southwest towards Morocco's movie-making towns.

First stop was a place currently run by an American Peace Corps volunteer called Ned. Ned is tall, thin, bearded, super-nice, and, well, kinda jesusy. He volunteered to go overseas to help out and was sent to Morocco where he'd been for a couple of years by the time we got there, running this facility which takes in people with physical or intellectual handicaps and helps them to develop up a skill. They all work together in the workshop on various stages of making handcrafts and find the thing they're good at – some are good at bashing things into shape, some at polishing, some at detailing, etc. – and cooperatively make the products sold in their shop.

Apparently no-one would really give them much of a chance in general shops but once they've been here for a while and have shown they can develop a skill just fine they're in a much better position. And some of them are quite happy just to keep working there with their friends. And the more they sell in the shop, the less dependent they are on grants from the government and Spain, which is where a lot of the funding for this kind of facility comes from.

So that was a nice stop. We made another later in the day to a centre where they help rehabilitate people who've suffered severe injuries, from lost limbs through to strokes, re-teaching them how to use their bodies or making prosthetic limbs for them. They run a workshop there too where people can similarly upskill a bit.

Ouarzazate

Movie sets at Ouzzarte
Movie sets at Ouzzarte
Prison cell set
Prison cell set
Si demonstrates the props at the cinema museum
Si demonstrates the props at the cinema museum
Big props at the cinema museum
Big props at the cinema museum
Old-school film projector at the cinema museum
Old-school film projector at the cinema museum

In between we stopped for a wander around-lunch – I got a really fantastic apple turnover from a flash place called Boulangerie Patisserie Glacier, off the main square of Ouarzazarte (which we pronounced Whereisit?).

We then backtracked to the cinema museum (randomly closed earlier) and spent an hour wandering around looking at the sets, props, and whatnot there from films made in the area by Atlas Studios – eg. Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Babel. You can pay one of the guys there to give you a tour, which added very little except that they encouraged us to ignore the signs and get photos playing with the props.

Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou
Ait Benhaddou
"Action Couscous" pours us mint tea
"Action Couscous" pours us mint tea
Sun sets on the Ksour
Sun sets on the Ksour
Sunset skyline in Morocco
Sunset skyline in Morocco

Our destination for the evening was about 40km further up the road, Ait Benhaddou. Aside from itself being used as the film set for some of the above movies, the fortified village Kasbah is a UNESCO World Heritage site and does look really beautiful shining on its hill in the sun. We walked up to the lookout on the top as the sun set which gave a great view to the surrounding plain and hills.

Action Couscous!

"Action Couscous" teaches tagine cooking
"Action Couscous" teaches tagine cooking

We were staying in a nice place run by the Hussein family, but our host there calls himself “Action Couscous” after being an extra in movies filmed there. This is him giving a cooking tutorial – how to make tagines and proper couscous (takes 3 hours!). Very important – no pumpkin in tagines, no potato in couscous. That's the rules, apparently.

He was cheerfully posing for photos, though his wife Fatima who came in to demonstrate the finer points of mixing technique and spices, doesn't allow them of her. He was a good-natured and funny guy, whenever say his kids ran in to talk to him while he was giving the cooking tutorial he'd hold up a hand to us and say “standby!” like he was trying to organise a camera crew.

His whole family, who help run the place, seemed lovely actually.

Dinner was a delicious vegetable/lamb neck couscous, though I was absolutely exhausted after too many nights of not enough sleep (everyone else seems to be able to sleep in the van) so was very glad to finally get to bed.

It was quite peaceful there, finally a decent night's sleep and a proper hot shower in the morning! Warm bread, honey, and boiled eggs on the roof of the place looking over to the Kasbah the next morning was lovely too.

I was sad to leave Action Couscous's, we had a nice time there. Next stop was a quick trip into the mountains.