When travelling it’s often the spontaneous events, the unplanned, the chance meetings and getting lost which result in the most memorable experiences.
When venturing disorientated through the heights of the High Atlas we found ourselves having to make a hasty stop to let Bee-bee’s overworked brakes cool down. We unavoidably blocked the street in a tiny Berber village; “Mafi Mushkele” (“no problem!”) came the jovial response from a group of men carrying out maintenance work on a clay and stone house.
The reek of burning brakes emanating from the car must have signalled that we weren’t moving anywhere for a while. As the workmen downed tools, accompanied by a chatter of Arabic and some gestures, we understood them to be inviting us into their home and to join them for breakfast.
Berber mountain houses are unassuming, clay and stone dwellings with several small rooms surrounding a central courtyard. We stooped through a low doorway into a sparse room with only a low table, a TV and a hazardous gas burner balancing a kettle. The seven of us made ourselves comfortable on plastic woven matting while a shy woman ushered into the room timidly carrying a tray of food. Warm, soft, homemade bread was torn, shared and dipped into clear, rich, nutty Argan oil harvested from the surrounding hills. A small plate of salty goats butter with a distinct pungent blue-cheese taste was also generously applied to chunks of bread amidst chatter, gesticulations and excited pointing and animated discussion over our photo album from home. Breakfast was washed down with copious glasses of mint tea from a seemingly bottomless pot; the hot gunpowder tea and green-flecked infusion so sweet it made your gums twinge.
As we left, youngsters scampered down the road with makeshift toys consisting of plastic bottles on wheels attached to a long stick. They weave and steer down the bumpy track with the skill and pride comparative to a child with the latest super-powered luxury radio controlled toy car hundreds of miles away.
The people expected nothing in return, a sharp contrast to the streets of Marrakech and Fes where just asking for directions comes with a price. Children here were not the cocky, street-savvy, dirham-hankering kids of the cities but shy and wary, peeping over walls in their ‘fun-size’ traditional dress. We departed leaving small gifts of notebooks and pencils for the children which the family reluctantly but appreciatively accepted; a small token incomparable to the memorable hospitality and welcome we had received. It put smiles back on our previously stressed faces as we fired-up Bee-bee and lurched ahead on our uncharted way.