After a night in Tiznit's old medina, a shared cab dropped me off on Mirleft's main road, along with a couple Swiss travelers I'd met. The sun was out and a cool sea breeze blew through the whitewashed little town as we wound towards our guesthouse. For the next couple days I took to the beaches of Morocco's rugged southern coast. One cloudy afternoon was spent alone at Legzira, waiting in vain for the sun to reappear but enjoying for several hours the kind of windstorm that had been carving up the red cliffs for thousands of years. A pack of dogs came at me on the long and lonely walk back to the road, making me once again grateful to have invested in a weighty tripod.

The next day was spent surfing at Sidi El Ouafi. Outside my dread-locked Swiss friend and I, our group was a mix of French and Moroccans. Karim, our coach/the guy with the surfboards and wetsuits, had us run sprints up the beach before hitting the waves. Tall but chiseled, Karim had the look and swagger of the guy from the And-1 logo, and therefore everyone enjoyed taking orders from him. Finally exhausted, I crashed in the sand for part of the afternoon, then joined the Swiss man on the rocks for some fishing. A local fisherman had the only success, bounding along the rocks like a little boy and smiling wide enough to tear open his face when he felt the first tug. Chatting the night away with fellow travelers back in Mirleft, I was pretty content myself. The thought of reaching Spain [after the longest cross-country bus trip yet] was nice.



From Tafraoute, I took a 40km bike-ride through the Ameln Valley. I'd heard great things about the valley. One of the most underrated destinations in Morocco, supposedly. Scattered with medieval casbahs and lush palmeraies and bounded by vertical red-granite cliffs and the inhospitable Anti Atlas, it was also said to be home to some of Morocco's most kind and hospitable Berbers, the Cheuh. I may have passed through too quickly on the bike because I can confirm none of those things. A bit of red granite, sure. But after my time in the Ziz and Draa Valleys, the Ameln seemed as dramatic as North Texas. Within an hour of my ride my mind had already turned to the beach.

I rolled back into town in the afternoon to feast on some lentils and board the next bus to Tiznit. Beside Les Pierres Bleues and a good dose of endorphins, the best part of my short stop in Tafraoute was a much-needed new pair of Berber shoes.


Les Pierres Bleues

It was just under an hour's walk from Tafraoute to the painted rocks. I knew I was off to see a bunch of blue rocks, but was still surprised when the first spot of bright color came into view on the horizon. The landscape was odd enough without the paint, a patchwork of savannah and giant sandstone boulders, piled in seemingly man-made clusters like the Devil's Marbles. Hampi came to mind, as well as the bright blue rock temples of Jabalpur. I hadn't seen another human since the last town a few kilometers back, the one below the Chapeau de Napoleon. The dirt road had petered off as well, somewhere in the tall grass behind.

But with 15 tons of bright paint doused over the rocks ahead, there was no chance of losing the target. Just over 25 years ago it had been the work of a Belgian artist, Jean Verane. Although simple, Verane's project managed to turn a few piles of rocks into a kind of fairyland, something completely foreign, the kind of place in which a traveler might feel they've traveled somewhere. If it weren't for the giant rip in my now-useless pants from losing my footing before launching over a blue crevice, I'd have liked to ask on the long walk back what the local Berbers, whose sheep still graze nearby, have to say about Les Pierres Bleues.



There are few places where I've felt as deep into the middle of nowhere as in Agdz. Just a couple hours up from Zagora, it sits at a wide and dramatic bend of the Draa, its palmeraie forming a broad arch along the river's edge, while beyond the palms the landscape turns to pure desolation. A good amount of traffic filters through, moving north to Ourzazate or south to Zagora, but few make a meaningful stop in Agdz. Which made it an ideal choice for getting my work done. A few kilometers down the road from Agdz's central square and its handful of street-side restaurants was the massive, refurbished casbah of Qaid Ali. Complete with pool, wifi and nightly live music in its little restaurant, Qaid Ali's place would be my home for the next four days. 

On the final day I'd just finished up an "Insider's Guide" to another place I'd never been, leaving me free at last to explore Agdz. I took off into the palmeraie towards the tajine-topped peak at the valley's bend, searching for a crumbling casbah that supposedly rose just beyond the river's banks. Farmers occasionally popped out of nowhere, inviting me to soak in their cool water channels and offering directions. From the way their pointers turned out they seemed to be as lost as me. I never found the casbah, but returned to Qaid Ali in time for another swim. The next morning, my work complete, I'd head to the coast, leaving the the vast deserts and palmeraies behind.