I was driving a rented car on the windy road of Todra Gorges in Morocco when I stopped at a sign that read “Route barrée” in front of me. The road ended soon. An off-road continued roughly through the water to the opposite bank of the river. I ignored the off-road.
I took a quick picture and wanted to turn back. When I was about to leave, a car of the Royal Gendarmerie showed up out of nowhere and blocked my car. I felt uneasy but waited patiently to see what would happen next.
The gendarme got out of the car and welcomed me in French. “Je vous souhaite la bienvenue.”
I smiled and asked, “Do you speak English?”
He continued in French, “Où allez-vous?” Where are you going?
I mustered up all my French skills and explained, pointing the barrier, “Je voudrais aller à Tamtetoucht, mais la route est finie.” I wanted to go to Tamtetoucht village, but the road ended here.
Unimpressed, the gendarme pointed out the road to Tamtetoucht village through the river. “Ah, no, no, Tamtetoucht, ok. Inch’allah.” If the gendarme was encouraging me, then the off-road must be passable.
I wanted to explore remote places, but I hadn’t yet taken a big risk. To go further, I needed to follow an off-road and manage on my own. I still decided to give it a try. I could turn back if something went wrong.
I got into the car and drove through the water to the other side of the river towards Tamtatoucht. I continued on the new off-road, which was dusty with sharp, small rocks. I drove as slowly as I could. The wild scenery changed constantly. Enormous, red rock walls appeared after each bend of the road. Some workers were trying to fix the road, but their efforts didn’t seem to help much.
I had to cross the river again with my car, through the water. The road appeared to follow the tangled course of the gorges far ahead. I was thinking of turning back when I saw a German campervan coming from the opposite direction. I stopped the car beside theirs and rolled down the window and asked, “How is the road to Tamtetoucht?”
The driver didn’t speak English, but his wife was delighted to explain. “Tamtetoucht is a very beautiful village. And there are a lot of yellow maize fields in bloom.”
I felt more motivated after what the German woman had told me and decided to continue to Tamtetoucht. I had just a few kilometers left to the village. I drove ahead. I felt afraid and suspicious, and yet, I also surprised myself; I felt stronger and happier. I felt wiser and more alive than I thought I was.
The narrow gorges opened gradually into a large valley. I could see landscapes over the High Atlas Mountains. I noticed a small, white shrine on the right side of the road. A herd of goats with its shepherd were passing along. I felt that I was getting close to my destination and I was eager to reach it.
After I crossed the river through the water for the last time, I saw a village and the yellow maize fields that the German woman had described to me. Some women working in the fields casually looked back at me when I stopped the car to watch them work from a distance.
I soon entered Tamtetoucht village. Brown, mud-brick homes dotted the sides of the main road. The houses seemed abandoned, but I could see some children scattered around. Locals carted bales of grass and maize with mules. Some children were also helping their parents work, despite how young some of them appeared. Other children played football at the end of the village. The boys playing football looked at me as I drove along and continued with their game. When I reached the end of the road, I turned the car and went back to the village to take some photos of the women in the fields. I thought they created an authentic image of the Moroccan village lifestyle from the High Atlas Mountains.
The sun was burning by midday. I was looking at a maize field. A woman carrying a bale of grass on her back was coming from the field towards me. She smiled and waved at me saying, “Hey, hey!”
I stopped when I saw her smile. She was wearing traditional white djellabas with big purple flowers and white embroidery around the neck. She had a black hijab on her head and another blue one layered underneath. She pointed to her house on the other side of the road. “Café, thé?”
I nodded right away and followed her up on a terrace. The terrace had a sitting area shaded by a brown camel-wool sheet. I sat and waited for her as she went downstairs to prepare the tea.
I had always dreamed of sitting on a shaded terrace while drinking tea and looking at this kind of scenery. Earlier, I had not stopped the car for even a moment to breathe and look around.
When I had first reached Tamtetoucht, I had felt like turning back. I wanted to visit the village quickly, take some shots, and return to safety. Meeting this woman changed my perspective completely. With her sincere and inviting smile, she convinced me to sit under the comfortable shade of her terrace and relax. I was grateful I took the time to stop and explore the village better.
My new friend came to the terrace with the traditional Moroccan tea and sat beside me at the table. I was sipping the hot liquid from a small transparent glass. Neither one of us spoke much French, but we smiled from time to time at each other. I pointed to myself and said, “Iuliana.” Then I pointed towards her.
“Aicha,” she said. I didn’t know how to spell her name, so I handed her a pocketbook to write it down. She tried to write it, but then she shook her head and said, pointing at herself, “Pas l’école.” She hadn’t had the chance to go to school.
I realized I was in a remote village in the middle of Morocco where people didn’t have too many opportunities to get an education. If the villages were too small, children would have to study in another village. At a very young age, Moroccan people learn their life must be focused on working in the field to help their families; this was at the core of their world. I looked at Aicha’s hands; they showed she had been working hard her whole life. But when I saw her smile, I couldn’t help but admire her strength in accepting her life, as hard as it was, with some sense of contentment.
Aicha smiled at me constantly. I couldn’t help but also smile. Aicha pointed at me and then towards the maize field.
I accepted her invitation right away.
We went down from the terrace where we had shared tea and headed to the river. We crossed the river in a place where locals had put down stepping stones. Aicha guided me through the maize field where she usually worked. Other women were also working in the field, even though it was sweltering. We walked around the field for a little while. In the end, Aicha picked up some corn cobs from the plants. Then we turned back at her house.
When we got back in front of her house, Aicha gestured at me, the corncobs, and at her mouth. She wanted to cook for me. I was excited, and almost accepted her invitation, but I remembered with regret that I had a confirmed booking in Dades Gorges, some 100 kilometers away from where I was now. I explained to her, “Je dois aller à Dades aujourd’hui.” I have to go to the Dades today.
She looked sad and disappointed. I added, “Je ne peux pas rester ici.” I could not stay overnight.
Her smile disappeared. I felt terrible. I grabbed some biscuits and wafers from my car and gave them to her. She tried to smile. I understood it was that moment when as a traveler you have to come to say goodbye.
I realized I’d had an experience that challenged my limits by coming alone to a remote village up a terrible off-road. Even though I couldn’t talk much with Aicha, having the courage to sit and learn from her taught me an important lesson.
I left Aicha with a heavy heart. I realized that traveling represents a series of experiences that come together. Sometimes the biggest struggles render the most significant payoffs, and that is the best part of the whole experience. It’s not about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance and allowing anything to occur. If you’re afraid, you’re going to close yourself off from many adventures, which eventually could lead you to a richer life.
As they say, taking chances is just about overcoming your fears. In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take. Because the truth is, every time you take a risk in life, no matter how it ends up, you will find yourself in a different place.
Photos by author.
Iuliana is a passionate explorer, travel writer, and blogger. Her life motto is simple: “We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting” (Kahlil Gibran). She currently lives in Sibiu, Romania, where she is writing for several Romanian and worldwide journals. Iuliana has a Master's degree in Architecture and a Doctorate in Heritage Tourism. In her writing, she focuses on the cultural aspects of her travels, with a special interest in the authentic experiences of a place.