As we stepped carefully across the rotted timber planks of the bridge separating Suopo village from the south side of the Dàdù River the strain and hardship of the past few months began to disassemble. There’d been few opportunities lately to feel as free and unburdened as this: no visas; no language barriers; no early starts; no borders; no rucksacks; no interference – not today.
Prayer flags, nimble and translucent as bat’s wings, threatened to take off in the wind. Gazing at them I was reminded of the weeks we’d spent, four years ago, walking between the villages of the Nubra and Indus valleys in Ladakh, and rejoiced at the persistence of communities, the world over, who live and work in harmony with nature. Continue reading
Not to touch the earth,
Not to see the sun.
Nothing left to do but
Run, run, run.
– ‘Not to Touch the Earth’, Jim Morrison –
The dispersing of students after the PDC brought us to the steady conclusion that it was high time to make tracks. With our new recruit, Sam, we packed bags and gathered our strength. Let’s go! “To the East, to meet the Czar…”
The train tracks ate up the miles. Shades of KLF Chillout Album as ambient sounds, lights and the sporadic music of doors opening and closing rippled through the carriage. Lying prone on the grimy floor of the 2nd class carriage. Smudgy faces through compartment windows, cigarette smoke from the toilet. Night tasting like ash and Sal, or was it Dean Moriarty, whispering in my ear… “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
With inertia overcome the road became our only goal. East, ever east.
Train-bus-train-bus-bus. In 31 hours we unravelled the 1,200km from Malin to Istanbul. 2 borders in 12 hours.
4am Istanbul. Nothing to do. Dark. A mist of rain. Find bearings. Coffee. Wait for the train station to open. Train tracks under construction. Change of plan. A bus. Otogar. Ankara. Peak hour traffic. Miss our stop. Run. Sweat, sweat… the Dogŭ Express. Made it! “Let this be a lesson to us,” Richie warns, “you always need longer than you think!”
Our third night since leaving Malin, our first bed: 4-berth carriage aboard the Dogŭ Express. Clean sheets and a pillow. Luxury!
I’ve heard about the legendary hospitality of villagers in countries such as Greece, Iran, Pakistan and China, but never having experienced it myself, believed it was the stuff of myth. Turns out it’s true… ‘xenia‘, the tradition of stranger hospitality is alive and well in eastern Morocco in the Valley of the Roses.
Richie and I arrived in the the village of Bouthagar in the Valley of the Roses off the back of 3 hectic nights in Marrakech. We hoped to find a quiet spot where we could be alone in nature and observe rural life, unmolested by the type of banter that made Djema El Fna (the central square in Marrakech) a tiresome place to be.
As well as checking out the local traditions of agriculture we hoped to undertake a trek or two in the nearby villages and gorges. Our friend, Mark, had been there a few months before and told us that the scenery was impressive and fairly unspoilt.
In Bouthagrar we were thrilled to chance upon a gorgeous guest house with a terrace overlooking a valley: rosy adobe dwellings, abrupt cliffs, clear river, pebbly shores and verdant terraced gardens lined with the ghostly silhouettes of silver birches, figs and olives cold be seen from every window.
When we asked at our guest house about the possibility of taking part in a day of natural building to observe the traditional technique of rammed earth construction (‘tabout’), our host Youssef wasted no time connecting us with a local builder. His name was Brahim and he had learned the tools of the trade in a 16 year apprenticeship to his father.
By 7am on day two of our stay we were accompanied to a construction site in the nearby village of Znug. On our way there we took a shining to our long-legged companion, Mohammed – the only one in the team of 5 builders who spoke French. We spoke considerably less French than him, and not a word of Arabic or the local Berber dialect. It was going to be an interesting week of learning…