Ourika!

Khalid II, Mohsin, and another one of Faical’s friends, Redouane, met us at the apartment this afternoon to go to a nearby mountain river called Ourika, which turns out to be Moroccan for Eureka.  Faical, his brother Anas, and I took a bus with them to a taxi depot near Jama al-Fna. The area teemed with old diesel Mercedes-Benz taxis, which loaded and off-loaded passengers in a constant stream. I learned that these taxis are known as “Grand Taxis” because they are allowed to transport up to six passengers versus the limit of three for regular taxis. Depending on the color of the taxis, they travel specific distances. Most of the ones at the depot were green, which stay within the city limits, while the white ones – the ones we were looking for – travel further out of the city. After standing around in the searing heat for several minutes with no white Grand Taxis in sight, we walked to another location where we hopped into a green one. The boys explained that our best bet was to take a green taxi to the city limits where we would be able to find a white one.

At the city limits we came across another depot where we found a white Grand Taxi. The boys tried negotiating a reasonable fare. The first driver they spoke to wouldn’t budge, so they approached another driver. When it looked like they were on the verge of making a deal, the first driver hollered from behind that he would accept the boys’ offer. Another man who appeared to be the second driver’s friend started arguing with the first driver. I gathered that he didn’t appreciate someone undercutting his friend. They yelled at each other for several minutes. Finally another man restrained the friend, and we hopped into the taxi. The friend, however, continued shouting and at one point spat in our direction. This set our driver off again, and he jumped out of the car ready to battle. The boys tried to calm him and pulled him back into the car. We eventually started on our way.

It was a long drive. Two hours I think. I judged that we were close to our destination when the road started climbing, and we became surrounded by high hills. Yesterday Faical and I had discussed the possibility of renting a car for the trip. However, Faical had warned that it would be extremely difficult to drive in this area, and I had dropped the idea. I realized now what he meant. Drivers sped around blind curves on roads right on the edge of the mountains. Cars and trucks squeezed past on what would normally be single-vehicle roads. Tempers flared when traffic stopped or if the driver didn’t give way to a faster car. At one point our trigger-happy driver came to a dead stop in the middle of the road. He threw the door open and marched to the car behind us. The car had been tailgating us but only because our driver had tailgated it first for driving too slow. Yes, definitely a good thing we opted out of renting a car.

Ourika turned out to be a (nearly) dry river bed. Where there once was a wide, deep river, only a narrow stream now runs through a vast area littered with large rocks and stones. After eating lunch at one of the shacks that dot the side of the river bed, we headed up the mountain. It was late in the afternoon by now, and the temperature had dropped significantly. The climb started out fairly easy but soon became steep and treacherous. We hopped from rock to rock, edged past each other on narrow ledges, and climbed up haphazardly assembled stone steps. At one junction, I even swung off a ledge and dangled in the air for a bit before dropping onto the narrow path below. I felt like a regular billy goat, and I absolutely loved it.

Near the top we arrived at a waterfall. It tumbles into a picturesque pool guarded on three sides by towering black cliffs. From here the water continues to flow down the mountain, all along which the resourceful shopkeepers and restauraters on the mountain have laid long hoses to bring the water to their locations. They’ve set up ingenious little devices to run this cold water over bottles of soda, water, and other beverages in order to keep them cool.

I decided to take a dip in the pool knowing full well that it would be cold. Ever since my swim in Lake Geneva, I find that cold water no longer phases me. I changed into my swim trunks and waded in. It was freezing! I thrased about in the water and stepped under the waterfall. It beat down on me with surprising force.

On the way back down, the sun had begun its descent.  The mountains looked amazing, awash in the warm, orange glow of the setting sun.

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