South of Marrakech there is the range of mountains known as the High Atlas (the middle
Atlas mountains are north of Marrakech). There are two passes over the High Atlas,
one southeast of Marrakech called Tizi n'Test, the other southeast and called Tizi
n'Tichka (Tizi means "pass"). We are in Taroudannt on the south side of the Atlas
and headed over Tizi n'Test towards Marrakech first. Later we will cross back over
on Tizi n'Tichka.
The Tizi n'Test. ("Tizi" means mountain pass.)
We have been traveling up the Sous Valley, a wide agricultural valley that is an
important source of food for Maroc. Those are Argan trees in the background (mentioned
on page Al-Jadida) but no goats in them here. The marker says it is 165 km. to Marrakech. The
mountains are hidden in the clouds in the distance.
We had been warned by the GoldWing Club of Maroc that this road was steep windy and
one lane, with two way traffic. What they didn't say was that it would be foggy
and a light rain! Visibility was about 100 feet. We met two trucks and about 5
cars, and got passed by a Taxi driving without his lights on! It wasn't the worst
road we've been on but by adding the fog it became the worst road experience we've
had. My top speed was 25 kph (about 15 mph). At this rate it was going to take
all day to get to Marrakech.
Then at the pass we stopped and had a soda and rested. The elevation is 2100 m.
(over 7,000 ft.).
The pass is well named, it is a real "test" of one's driving skill to get over it!
Then the other side of the pass looked like this. The fog and rain was only on the
south side of the mountains. We had a better road, one and a half lanes and better
But still very curvy. You can see the road in the upper left, center and lower right
as it heads down into the valley.
Berber villages, made of mud and stone, perch above the little bits of arable land
in the valley bottom. There were a dozen or more of these villages along the route
down from the pass.
Many of the women had been out picking the grass and loading it onto their back to
carry it home. I wondered if these people are too poor to even own a donkey.
At the town of Asni there was a weekly market being held. We decided to visit it
and pulled off the road near the entrance. We were immediately "adopted" by a guide
who spoke excellent English.
We had been warned about "guides" at the Marrakech Medina who would lead you to the
stalls where they got the highest commission on any purchases you made, and not let
you go to places where you wanted to go, but we followed him anyway.
He led us around most all the market, explained things and didn't seem to have any
This is a spice merchant.
Out back of the market, in the bed of the river, is the parking area for the donkeys
that have brought the merchandise down from the villages that are perched along the
sides of the valley. And with the snow capped High Atlas mountains in the background
it was very scenic. These are the only "trucks" that can negotiate some of the trails
into the mountains.
He led us into the food area where bread was being baked, tajine cooked, and tea
Our guide, Elmarhouli Mohamed, is to the right of Kathy. He invited us to have tea
with him. This is usually the start of the negotiation period of a purchase but
he hadn't shown us anything particular yet.
So we went into one of the small buildings on the left in the picture above and he
ordered tea and served it. It is often called "Berber Whiskey" because this is as
close to alcohol as a Muslim comes. It is very hot, very sweet and has lots of mint
in it. It is poured from a height to aerate the tea and release the flavor of the
And this was the start of the negotiation period of a purchase! Mohamed has a satchel
with him in which are silver worked boxes, bracelets and necklaces. You can see
some on the table. We looked at several of them and decided to buy some, if we could
reach a price that we liked. (We have been warned that prices are started at 2-3
times what they'll actually take. We talked and drank tea and finally settled on
a price about half of his opening request. It was a price we were willing to pay
for the items and if we paid too much, oh well! We also had an enjoyable time in
the market, talking with Mohamed, drinking tea and negotiating over the jewelry. And
it was all done in a real Berber market, not the tourist trap souks of Marrakech. (A
"souk" is a Berber word for a market stall.)
We left the market, said good-by to Mohamed and rode into Marrakech.
High Atlas Part 2
The Tizi n'Tichka is a much better road, it is two lane most of the way, and no less
than one and a half anywhere. It runs southeast from Marrakech over the High Atlas
to the town of Ouarzazate and the Sahara Desert.
Marrakech is on a flat plain at about 2,000 ft. elevation and the pass is about 7,400
ft. Much of the loser slopes on the north side are forested or farmland.
As one climbs the greenery stops and rock is the predominant feature. And the roads
begins to wind around the slopes gaining elevation quickly.
Not everyone made it to the top and back down safely.
At the top we stopped and had a soft drink and bought some more souvenirs.
We followed a small river valley down the south side where it was laundry day for
the local women.
And then the river disappeared and we entered the desert. A sea of rock and dirt
with the occasional village of mud houses.