I woke up when the Sufi music playing on the car stereo suddenly stopped. We had been driving for a couple of hours and Ahmed, our Egyptian driver, had decided to pull over for a break. Bracing against the high wind, we stepped out, a few feet away from a sheer deadly drop.
Below us lay the serpentine Tizi N’Ticka pass.
The road is new (completed in 1936) but the route is a thousand years old.
In the 11th and 12th century, long caravans would come through here. The weather-hardened tradesman would wear long flowing robes, bulbous multi-colored turbans and worn-out leather sandals. They have been to faraway lands like Niger, Mali and Ethiopia. For over 50 days, they have been travelling across the barren and dangerous Sahara fighting nature, hunger, thirst and dacoits. Their camels are laden with gold, ivory and slaves tied behind them. They would take several more days to cross the high Atlas, the trek becoming virtually impossible in the six months when the mountain range is covered under snow. Back in Marrakech, they would rest a few months and once again set out for the journey. This time the prodigiously fattened camels would carry salt. Salt for gold! No wonder they did not mind the “trip”.
Our spacious 4X4 enthusiastically attacked the decline, the grating of the low gear the only apparent sign of a dramatically changing terrain. Inside the cabin, we were comfortably sprawled. The kids were having a ball with no seatbelts to tether them down. Sitting shotgun, Sayeed our guide started explaining the 8th century political landscape in Morocco. He was obviously taking his job seriously. We pulled out a packet chiwada – appetizingly zesty fried flattened rice – and offered him some. Childlike, we rolled with laughter when the piquant spices almost choked him. But it did quieten him for a while.
I decided to take another nap until our lunch stop at Telouet.