After we visited Rabat, the next major city along the coast was Casablanca. But we had had enough of civilization for awhile, and decided to drive a little bit further inland to a climbing spot we had read about for a few days before heading back into the bustling chaos that is every Moroccan city.
The spot we were looking for was called Benslimane, located right outside Ain Tizgha. As we approached, we started to look for a place to park overnight, and stopped on a small ledge overlooking the valley. Philipp set off on foot to check out the area to see if there’s a more ideal spot, and I stayed with the bus.
After a few minutes, a guy in a bright reflective vest shows up. I groaned, thinking this was yet another guy hanging around pretending that he owned the place trying to get tourists to pay for parking. He knocks on the window and starts speaking French. I shrug and try to tell him that I can’t understand him. Eventually he gave up and walked away. Soon enough though, he was back. By this time, Philipp had come back and was able to speak with him.
Turns out, he wanted to tell us that he has a small guarded parking lot on the top of a nearby hill, and asked if we wanted to stay there. We said yes, and drove to the place that he pointed to. He and his children walked alongside us.
We got to the lot, where this man and his family had a little tent set up where they were selling bread, soup and tea. There was a great view of the valley, and we could see the rock walls where we wanted to climb.
We grabbed our ropes and harnesses and got ready to head to the crags, but as we were leaving we saw a girl, the man’s daughter, with her horse. We gave her a fizzy drink which seemed to make her pretty happy, and some vegetable scraps for her horse. It’s mega frustrating not being able to speak French; I would have liked to talk to her.
Finally, we headed to the rocks. It was a bit of a walk, and as we were hiking through the bushes we realized that this must be a well-known family weekend spot. There were people everywhere making tagines on the fire and hanging out in big groups.
As we were climbing, a small crowd started to gather around us, which was kind of cool but also kind of disconcerting. This was the first time that we had ever climbed by ourselves and I was working on getting over my fear of heights, so it was already a bit stressful and being watched by ten people wasn’t exactly helpful, but we didn’t mind too much.
When I came down after my climb, a young guy started speaking to me in English. He was the first person that I’d met here so far who could speak my language, and I was happy to have the chance to have a conversation with someone who lives here. After we talked for a few minutes, he invited us to join him and his family for dinner. We agreed (I was already over the moon at the chance to try homemade Moroccan food) and soon we were sitting around the table with them.
The. Food. Was. So. Good.
The young guy who had invited us was from Casablanca, and the rest of his family lived in the surrounding countryside. They had made two giant tagines on the fire, and they set one in front of us. Moroccans don’t use utensils to eat, just bread and their right hands, and they don’t have individual plates; everyone just eats right out of the tagine. It’s a big no-no to touch the food with your left hand, since that’s the hand that’s generally used to clean oneself after going to the bathroom (yep- except in places where there are a lot of tourists, there is no toilet paper in bathrooms, just a faucet and a little bucket). We did our best to eat the right way, and it must have been obvious that we were a little nervous about doing something inappropriate because one of the uncles put his hand on my shoulder and said “In France, there are many rules about how one should eat. In Morocco, we are free, there are no rules.”
As we were leaving, that same uncle and his wife offered to bring us back to their farm with them to stay overnight. We thanked them but said that we had our home on wheels with us, and that we were traveling with some friends and couldn’t leave them at the moment. They asked us to take a photo with them before we left, so we all smiled for the camera. I stood up too to snap one with my phone.
I’m so happy to have been able to do this. This was my first time really interacting with the people who live in this country. As a person who comes from New York, it’s disorienting to be in a place where walking up to strangers and inviting them to family dinner is normal. But it’s also eye-opening. Yes, there are places in the world where people are open and friendly and generous to each other as a matter of course. Yes, there are places where it is possible to walk up to someone you don’t know and start a conversation without being perceived as creepy. I’m so happy to know that this exists.