On day 58 of our ‘Overland to Oz’ adventure we arrived at our first Wwoof: a finca in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Andalusia (Spain). The bus from Malaga took us along the coast road as far as Orgiva. From there it was a forty five minute hike up a rocky river bed to the steep white village of Bayacas.
Having divested ourselves of 5.79kg of excess belongings we were feeling lighter and more mobile than ever. “All we need now,” we said, as we trooped uphill, “is a 2-person tent and a saucepan for self-reliant off-road living.”
Shortly before nightfall we crested the ridge behind the finca. “Is this La Granja?” we called over a gate painted with images of free-ranging chickens. We were in the right place!
Our host, Kate, was expecting us. She showed us to our cassita: a rustic stone cabin with a timber and bamboo roof, wood burner, double mattress, 2-hob gas cooker, solar lights, table, two chairs and a few shelves of books/objects left behind by previous Wwoofers. It was a joy and a relief to be alone in our little cassita with a plateful of leftovers in front of us, and the night closing in outside. Very peaceful.
In the morning we joined the gang (4 others Wwofers + our host) to commence the day’s work. We cleared brush, stacked firewood and were shown about the finca.
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…