A long day of bus travel, after a short ride in the French family’s camper, took us from Merzouga to Ourzazate, a former fort town in eastern Morocco, recently made famous as a backdrop for numerous films including parts of Gladiator and Star Wars. Somehow, we managed to navigate the confusing separation between the main town and the area where most of the housing options lie. Hotel Nadia had an attractive description in the Lonely Planet and the price was low, so we headed there.
For less than $30, we found a perfect oasis for two road-weary travelers, complete with breakfast and a chilly courtyard pool. A lot of the sites around Ouarzazate are spread out, so we bargained with Hassan, the owner of the hotel, to go out and see the Kasbah where Gladiator was filmed. He also threw in a stop at Atlas Film Studios, which houses a huge collection of memorabilia from a host of movies. Apparently, sometimes it’s cheaper for moviemakers to hire locals or fly in planes full of extras of whatever ethnicity needed for certain films than it is to actually build the set and shoot the movie in a place like Hollywood. On the way out to the Kasbah, Hassan told us that Brad Pitt became a local hero when he paid to have electricity brought to a village involved in the filming of Babel.
Hassan and a woman named Melika who was staying at the hotel joined us for the tour of the hilltop Kasbah, with its stunning views of the valleys around it. Melika is a nurse from Rabat and was in town for a wedding. She liked Anne-Claire so much, she bought a beautiful white shirt for her ‘petite soeur’ (little sister).
We shared a terrific lunch at Hassan’s friend’s restaurant at the base of the hill, during which Hassan invited us to a meal later that day of baddaz, a fine-grained couscous made from corn that was served with a cornucopia of vegetables and some goat meat. Melika and Hassan helped us learn a few more Arabic words and phrases, delighting in both our successes and miserable failures as we tried to catch the subtle differences in pronunciation and pick up the range of new sounds required for Arabic.
It was a great last night in Morocco. So much of this beautiful country has become touristy for just that reason: The people, their traditions, and the land are all exquisitely unique. Beauty here abounds.
On this last day in Morocco, we experienced both the pragmatic opportunism and the generous hospitality that I suppose are present in every country. Like everyone else, Hassan has to feed his family, and we provided a source of income for him. But at the end of the day (literally, in fact), he didn’t have to invite us for dinner.
It’s a lesson we learn over and over as travelers – you’ll find what you’re looking for in the cultures you visit, whether it’s the salesman who’s learned English only to sell you a rug, or the gracious hostess who delights in seeing a white-skinned American drink Berber tea, try to make pastries, or struggle with a foreign language just for the pleasure of the exchange.