Trip through Southern Morocco in April – May 1965

Around Christmas 1964 I started thinking about my holidays 1965. Up till then I was used to spending almost my entire vacation (I had 2 weeks and 3 days at the time) on a skiing holiday, but fond of travelling I felt the urge to see a new country. It so happened that my dear friend Ankie had moved to Casablanca as an “au pair”. Not keen on staying in that position for too long, but not wanting to leave Morocco either, she had moved in with Virginie, a Dutch paintress, who had a spare room in her cute little house. There she had started “ateliers” (workshops) for young children, where she kept them busy with all kinds of creative activities. To make ends meet she also worked as a secretary and made and sold tapestries to hang on the wall. These “ateliers” became a big success and soon not only children from expats but also Moroccan children attended. She had often invited me to come and visit her, so I wrote her a Christmas letter saying that I would love to come, but that Morocco was a bit too far to go to in my new (first) car and moreover I would like to see more of the country itself….

She immediately answered: how nice that you’ll come; we are organising a trip South with a group of friends at Easter, so you can join us. Please travel light but do bring drawing paper and coloured pencils.. ….  I was delighted but wanted to know everything about the group, the itinerary, the accommodation etc. etc. The only answers I got were: we are still working on it and we’ll stay where it is possible and we’ll eat what we find on the way. Do not bring too much luggage (it will be warm at Easter), but do not forget the paper and the pencils!!! Although my friends thought I had gone mad: nobody went to Morocco at the time (except Winston Churchill who made an annual trip to Marrakech and the beautiful Mamounia hotel to paint) and KLM did not even fly to Morocco, I started to make preparations. The prospects were not too encouraging, I must admit, for early 1965 students’ riots broke out and the country was in turmoil….

On April 17, the day of my departure, I woke up with the news that Sabena was on strike! I had planned to go to Brussels by helicopter and there board a plane to Casablanca. What to do?? I was told to go to the heliport anyway and wait there for instructions. It appeared that not the pilots, but only the ground personnel was on strike and that all planes had been directed to Lille. The helicopter passengers were taken to Rotterdam Airport and transported to Lille in a very old plane in which everybody, including the stewardess, got airsick. What a relief to arrive safely in Lille. After another long wait I could finally board a nice Caravelle where soft music was being played.


Our Caravelle, photographed through the airport window, just after arrival in Casablanca

A beautiful trip followed along the clearly visible coast of Morocco where gradually the lights went on. The first things I noticed after landing were palm trees, veiled women and the smell of jasmine. Yes, this was an exotic place. But no trace of Ankie and Virginie. They knew that customs would take a long time and when I was finally allowed to enter the country they were there. Overwhelmed by all the new impressions it took me a while to inquire about the situation, the size of the group and their plans in general. While driving home they looked at each other, giggled a bit and said: just the three of us will go…. All the other carefully selected people had had to cancel the trip for one reason or another. Moreover, just before picking me up the car had refused to start… At home they inspected my luggage and threw out almost all of my warmer clothes. As a lady on the plane had warned me that when the sun would not be shining it could be very cold in April, I sneakingly put back some of them, which proved very useful indeed!

The next day we started out on our adventure, waved good-bye by the neighbours who would not believe that we intended to go South as far as Tata and Akka. “But there are no roads down there”, they warned. No said Ankie gaily, there are no roads, but there are “pistes”….

A friend went with us as far as Marrakech, where we had an apartment at our disposal.  We visited a friend of this Moroccan girl in her beautiful palace-like house, where we had tea with some other Moroccan ladies. It was very interesting for me to see the inside of such a house, hidden behind a great wall, with a vast marble (hall) court-yard and several rooms with modern Western (!) furniture.

Ladies in the palace

Three beautiful Moroccon ladies in the court-yard of the palace-like house

It was also interesting to see the different worlds these ladies lived in: Ankie’s friend was a university student, dreaming of travelling and having a career, whereas the Marrakech friend of hers was a young mother living a very sheltered life with not much knowledge of what was going on outside her house. Husbands were nowhere to be seen. The next day we explored Marrakech, first visiting the souks, where my friends and their friend from Holland (me) were cordially welcomed at their favourite shops with a tea ceremony. A visit was paid to the beautiful museum Dar El Said and of course the famous Djemaa El Fna square with their dressed-up water carriers, their story tellers, snake charmers, singers, dancers, monkeys etc. It was like walking around in a fairy tale. I have been there twice again in later years, but in 1965 there was not a single tourist, except for me, but then I was treated like a guest and felt one! And this happened throughout our whole trip….

Village in the Atlas

A village in the Atlas Mountains

From Marrakech we crossed the Atlas in the direction of Taroudant. The road took us past little villages with their flat roofs, marabouts (graves of a holy man) and agadirs (for communal grain storage). Along the road there were argan trees in which goats climbed to eat the fruits, from which the famous argan oil is won. This still happened when I passed this road in 2013, but by then the little villages had grown considerably and looked very prosperous.

Ankie and Virginie with the 2CV

Ankie (in the car), Virginie and our 2CV at Taliouine

We drove on to Taliouine, where Ankie and Virginie had planned to visit the Bureau of Internal Affairs to report that we would be travelling in the area and to ask for guidance as to accommodation, itinerary etc. We were received by the Head of this office who ordered his male secretary (who had most certainly never received a request like this and did not know where to look) to entertain the ladies while he was looking for someone trustworthy who could and would accommodate us for the night.

We were lucky that just that day the Judge was holding court in Taliouine and everybody from the area around with a legal problem had gathered in an open space. As this was a men’s affair, we were not supposed to even look at them. Meanwhile the secretary did a very good job and took us to visit the souk. We went to a bakery and he even allowed me to take pictures inside a hammam, strictly forbidden for women to enter. But, we were not considered as women but as guests (of the Governor, as we called him). After a long time we were summoned back to the Bureau. The Governor had found someone who was willing to put us up for the night. And then a breathtaking trip followed in the dark to his little village (Tiz Fouin), of which he was the mokkadem (a kind of mayor). Our poor car now had to carry 4 people and extra luggage up the mountains and had to be pushed from time to time by the 3 of us. If this was not adventurous: here I was, 3 days after my departure, pushing a car in pitch darkness next to a deep ravine, not knowing where we were going…. But we trusted the Governor and were not deceived: when we had arrived our host told us to wait and thanks to the lights of the car we could see figures moving from other houses with some furniture and (many) rugs. We were brought to a room on the first floor which had been prepared with 3 couches, cushions and woollen rugs. Our host had told us that he had 2 children, which meant 2 sons, for girls did not count. A tea ceremony was prepared and we were left alone. Happy to have found such hospitality and exhausted from the day’s events we fell asleep. The next day only the father and his eldest son were visible but not his (2) wives, so Ankie said she would love to see them and also his daughters (if any). He finally consented and the door behind which they had been hiding burst open and in tumbled his 2 wives – the younger one with a baby son on her arm – and several girls, even more eager to see their strange guests than we were to see them. As the light in the room was not clear enough to take pictures, Ankie arranged for everyone to go downstairs into the courtyard in the sunshine (top picture), were we took many, many pictures, well aware that these would be absolutely unique!

Young woman with little boy

The youngest wife with her little son – my favourite picture of this trip

After many thank you’s we bade farewell to this kind family and continued our journey with the eldest son, who would accompany us until our next stop: the moussem (annual market) in Im-N-Tettelt.  This was a larger village bustling with activities in preparation of the yearly festivities which also drew many former inhabitants (even from abroad) and other guests. We were received by the mokkadem and invited to stay in his house, where the largest room (with a beautiful view of the area) was prepared for us and a young boy assigned to look after us. This was very kind indeed as the house was already overcrowded with other visitors. We immediately mingled with all the people busy setting up the different sections of the market (camels, pottery, clothing, tapestries, household utensils etc. etc.) and everywhere we were greeted warmly. At night we were served a delicious couscous with fresh (!) vegetables and waited on by our little butler. The next day we were given an official tour and all the dignitaries and other distinguished guests came to present themselves to us and bade us welcome – we felt like royalty! These were all male of course, but there was also one woman who came and greeted us, but she had moved away (and up in life) from her native village. Never ever had there been visitors from abroad, let alone 3 Dutch girls … It was a very colourful and gay spectacle; people were singing and dancing and happy to meet again after a year or longer and to do business; even marriage contracts were closed. Eyes and ears and cameras fell short to register everything! It was a truly unique experience.

Moussem in Ime-n-Tettelt

The moussem at Im-N-Tettelt. Center: Ankie negotiating

The next day the three of us went on, leaving the main road and taking a “piste” to Tata. The landscape became bare, we saw donkeys in a treadmill, camels strolling along and had to guess the route by way of little piles of stone at the edge, never knowing whether we were on the right track (at one time somebody had messed around with those stones).

Piste toTata

The piste to Tata

We arrived safely in Tata and found a place to stay in the “Governor’s” house. Ankie and Virginie had prudently arranged the trip via those former French posts (then headed by a “Gouverneur”), usually beautiful villas, which were now offices of the ministry of internal affairs. It was a pity that they were not very well kept – their once lavish gardens now overgrown – but they offered guest rooms and sometimes a meal. I had bought a huge dark brown piece of wool (destined for a man’s burnous), which served us all as a blanket, as it was indeed cold at night!

Arrival at Akka

Arrival at Akka

The following day was a very long one; from Tata we drove to Tarjicht via Akka and Foum El Hassane, seeing our first prehistoric drawing south of Akka. Driving on we stopped in Ait Ouabile, an oasis with palm trees, where we wanted to eat our lunch (we had been shopping at markets). When we entered the village immediately a crowd of children came running towards us, but stopped at a polite distance. Then the eldest child stepped forward and offered us dates as a token of welcome! This was really ancient hospitality! As we did not want to eat in front of them we hid our tins etc. and got out of the car. The little Arabic Ankie and Virginie knew came in handy again and soon a very friendly atmosphere arose in which the children showed us how well they could walk on their self-made stilts (a pole with a tin). They were delighted when Ankie tried to do the same!

Children at stilts

Children playing with their self made stilts, such a friendly atmosphere!

Later on that day we came across a heavy sand storm… Impossible to drive on, so we stopped with the nose of the car in the wind and waited, worrying that the car would not start again…. Fortunately it did, but it was getting dark and we arrived in pitch black at the next “post” where, to our astonishment, we had been expected… It then appeared that those offices where we had presented ourselves had always telephoned our next destination, informing them that 3 European ladies were driving around in their area of jurisdiction and might want help or a place to sleep….. We learned this with mixed feelings: on the one hand we were touched by their thoughtfulness, but on the other hand our trip had lost some of its adventurous nature….. But after all we ourselves did not know about these telephone calls and it was nice to know that if the car had not started after the sand storm they would have gone out and look for us. At night we tried to remove the red sand from our bodies and luggage!

Local man tries to fix our 2CV after the sand storm

When we left the next morning it became clear that the sand had caused damage to the car, as it had trouble functioning properly. This resulted in many stops on the way, while the local men gathered and tried to repair the car (see picture). They succeeded more or less enabling us to reach a garage where the sand was finally removed. We arrived safely in Goulimine, where people coming from the North had the feeling that they had just left the “normal” world, whereas we were sad that we had just entered it again….. so much so that I became less careful and drank water from a bottle which apparently had been opened before and refilled with water from the tap…. The result: I fell terribly ill.   But first we had roamed the souks of Goulimine with their beautiful ancient silver, where we also saw “blue men” from further South. Their skin indeed looked blue, due to the indigo in which their garments had been dyed. We had to stay on an extra day as it was impossible for me to travel, but fortunately Virginie had a pill which worked well. So we went on to Tiznit, the silver city (but, unfortunately, they sold only modern silver objects), from which I wrote to my Mother that we had returned to the inhabited world with water (!) and real beds…

From Tiznit we went to Agadir where we had wanted to swim in the ocean, but it was too cold, to my great  regret. In general, the weather had not been very warm during the trip either, only when the sun was shining. So in one day we went from Agadir to Casablanca, visiting Essaouira, Azzemour and El Jadida on the way. On April 26, after a trip of 9 days, we arrived back in Casablanca, tired, dirty, but o so happy and overwhelmed by the hospitality we had encountered everywhere. I had felt more safe during the trip than on the Coolsingel in Rotterdam at night! We were of course aIso relieved that the faithful Deux-Chevaux had endured all the hardships of the trip.

I stayed on in Casablanca until May 6, visiting the city and relaxing in the sun in the garden. I also took two 2- days’ trips to Rabat/Ouezzane and Fez, accompanied by different friends of my hostesses. While they were going about their business I explored the cities on my own, often assisted by a little boy, who was eager to act as a guide, in the first place to help out and not begging for money (as in later years….). Especially Fez, with the Bab Boujeloud and the beautiful Place Nejjarine with its fountain and medersa made a great impression.

Bab Boujeloud

The famous Bab Boujeloud in Fez, the entrance to the medina (old town)

In 1972 I visited (part of) Morocco again when I took a trip from Agadir to Djerba in Tunesia. We stayed a few days in Marrakech again, then continuing Eastward along the Route des Kasbahs, via Ouarzazate and Erfoud to the Algerian border. As already mentioned I visited Morocco for the third time in 2013, then taking for a great part the same route as in 1965, but going even further South. A great deal had changed for the best between 1965 and 2013: pistes had become roads, little villages had become much bigger and prosperous with impressing large family houses (built thanks to the money earned abroad), women were much in sight and boys and girls went to school together. Accommodation was to be found in good hotels almost everywhere and tourists were everywhere too…. But the souks were still the centre of activities with the same atmosphere, smell and articles and so was the hospitality!

Your author

Your author in 1965, cleaning the dishes somewhere en-route

Rotterdam September 2018, Froukje