International Writers Magazine - Our 17th Year: Morocco
From the Archives
the Valley of the Hippies
out of town along the coastal road, it occurred to me how easily
the spell of civilization is broken, and how easily this void is
filled. In Taghazoute a few yards walk suffice to carry you away,
the hustle of a weekend market immediately fading to cactus strewn
hills, the road dropping away to the ocean via a dusty path, and
all traces of village life with it. Locals just about outnumber
the tourists on the beach here, but since there are relatively few
of either its a balance that shifts daily.
part of the coast of Morocco has resisted 'development' up to this point
in time, but no further. As I rounded the next corner, the shell of
a massive construction emerged on the roadside, swaggering along the
beach front for an inconsiderately long period of time. As natural resources
go beauty is up there with most double-edged of swords, missing the
top spots only because it can't be used to power motor engines.
My destination that day would be several times removed from the artifice
of concrete and glass, but it was proving to be elusive. Some said North
on the road to Essaouira; others swore it was further South, somewhere
towards Agadir. I hitched up and down the road, my friendly rides stabbing
blindly at the coast in search of a road inland, but to no avail. Eventually
a mother picked me up with her son, and as they argued between them
about where I should be heading it occurred to me that I might never
find this place. If the locals dont know where it is perhaps it
was a myth all along, bred through the preceding decades to ensnare
gullible travellers like myself.
But her confidence in the next town buoyed me. In Imouzzer I conducted
the directions litmus test, asking several groups of locals without
offering my own ideas. They all pointed the same way so I pushed on,
through a town of dust and chickens, multi-coloured buildings baking
slowly in an oven that rarely passed midday unlit.
My next ride was some kind of event organizer, passing through on his
way to a distant festival, but he remained silent for much of my journey.
Perhaps he was equally awed by the scenery; it piled up on the retinas,
each new turn bringing a fresh vista to vie for attention in a disorderly
squabble of beauty. Granite grew progressively higher, palm trees closed
in on both sides and a stream wound a path so convoluted that the road
seemed to tire of following it. Every available rock was strewn with
the happy detritus of groups picnicking, a coal fired tajine the focal
point of each cluster. Perhaps this was not such an undiscovered path.
By the time his plush 4x4 had deposited me by the roadside some 40km
on I was mildly intoxicated from the scenery, my windscreen cinema inducing
an involuntary smile that would draw strange looks elsewhere.
Names like this would diminish lesser locations, their beauty quaking
under the weight of heightened expectation - but not here. From
a tiny car park, the path wound around a hill and deposited me in
front of a view with such confidence that I felt few would begrudge
this place its epithet.
along to my left and right enwrapping dense clusters of palm tree forest,
small brick and mud houses nestling in the gaps. The stream I had followed
along the road this far meandered further into the landscape before
climbing into a canyon whose walls rose to dominate the landscape as
far as my eyes could follow.
In the 1960s, a German couple diagnosed with terminal illness
came here to find some peace in their last days, but returned home after
several months apparently free from symptoms. A small notoriety spread
among groups of travelers and the valley gained a dedicated following
among the hippy set of the time, but its relative isolation has kept
bulldozers confined to the coast for now. In moments of wild optimism
I can believe that no-one would ever be stupid enough to build a resort
or gift shop here, but it can only be a matter of time before it gets
a concrete path and do not fall off this cliff safety notices,
and the road is not pleasant thereon in.
From my vantage point on the ridge I could see a group of people sat
outside a small house, and as I descended I introduced myself to a group
of Rainbow gatherers. Regularly exiting society for short periods to
create their own (devoid of electricity and most trappings of the outside
world), Rainbow people constitute some of the most genuine and open
folks you can imagine. They are also some of the most infuriating hippies
I was welcomed into their circle to take tea, and our local host immediately
laid out a spread of extravagant nature: mint laden green tea, weighed
down with sugar as always; fresh honey with a side of incredible honeycomb;
and a mix of crushed almonds and olive oil for the dipping of bread.
Sitting with this group of gentle travelers, newly descended from a
month living in the surrounding hills with nothing but each other and
some sacks of rice, supping on the best that nature could provide, it
was impossible not to feel a connection with the earth and its people.
But then just as our tajine arrived - a slow cooked feast of vegetables
and bread to be communally devoured - they began to chant.
I have a great deal of affection for genuine spirituality - its adherents,
culture, communality and peace - but not its affectations. Show me a
group of people holding hands to chant thank you for the food
before each meal and I cannot help but wince on the inside. Perhaps
its the creeping feeling that in a thousand years time descendants
of this group will be killing others for chanting bless you for
this meal instead, though perhaps this is an exaggeration too
far. Rituals seem to leave me cold. I bade farewell after we decided
our own bill, happy bellies inevitably erring on the generous side,
and promised to say hello again after exploring the acres of green spread
The trail veered and forked, losing itself in the thickets of palm trees,
huts and bushes that crowded the valley. I took a path that seemed to
lead into someones back garden, about-faced and headed across
a stream, past farms with their borders staked out by thick fences made
of thorny bushes that are common all along this coast. Climbing a hill,
I came down upon the first of a zigzagging series of pools at the base
of the canyon whose walls rose to block out most of the sky. My path,
which I suspected I was making up as I went along, brought me close
to the groups of more adventurous Moroccans who had pushed on further
into the woods before making camp. The sizeable tajines were still present
in spite of the distance from any motor vehicle, and thick rugs and
hookah pipes often joined them. Picnicking in Morocco is a serious occupation.
At each group I passed the young people offered me a share of their
food, smells of lamb or chicken causing me to reassess the fullness
of my stomach, but I moved on.
Scrambling through bushes and cacti on the high wall for my return journey,
it became clear that I should have eenied when I meenied for
staring across at me from the opposite side was a clear path entirely
free from flesh seeking cacti spines. But sat on the edge of a dry tributary,
looking deep into the canyon below and hearing only the rustle of vegetation,
it was hard to argue with my instincts. The sun picked its way through
scattered clouds, occasionally dowsing me with warmth, and a pleasing
lethargy spread across the scene.
I threaded my way past the picnickers, now packing their goods away
in between leaping into pools where the stream eddied and gathered enough
depth. Making my way across the canyon floor I came across a lone wooden
figure stood upon a rock. I paused, assuming the hand that carved it
must be somewhere nearby but unable to find any sign. Rounding another
corner I found him; sat in the nook of a rock, his reflection cast into
the still pool that lay between us, he carved with both hands on his
tools with his subject firmly clasped between his feet, limbs working
in perfect harmony. Something about the scene was so tranquil that it
seemed blasphemous to disturb it, and I watched in silence before ascending
the waiting hill.
As I turned my back on paradise, the first drops of a rainfall began
to dampen my shirt. Given that the day had waited until this moment
to refresh me, I couldnt really begrudge the inconvenience now,
but it did present certain problems for hitching; there is a fine line
between sympathy and pity, and for the hitcher this occurs at the moment
you look wet enough to dampen a car seat. The few vans that remained
had a traveler feel to them, and sure enough a few of my new friends
remained, busying themselves with adjusting to the new weather. They
invited me into a hut belonging to their friend, a kind Frenchman whose
collection of outbuildings (Chez Abdullah) at the entrance
to the valley formed a base camp of sorts to the hill dwellers. We huddled
in a room too small for the generous collection of bodies that filled
it, but no-one complained, each settling into some form of time-passing
knitting, playing with children, drumming softly on the ever-present
Eventually a group decided they would make a run to the nearest town
for a trip to the local hammam, and I asked to be taken as far as they
were going. But once in their van a problem presented itself; the windscreen
wipers no longer functioned, and the rain continued to pour in a heavy
drizzle sufficient to need clearing.
"Lets smoke a joint and see if it clears."
This is another issue I might take with the hippy community, if such
an entity exists and would allow itself to be homogenized for a moment
the smoking of weed at each available opportunity. In spite of
my own fondness for good herb, it must be said that it engenders a sort
of directionless apathy that apologies to those leading active,
motivated lives tends to characterise many hippies already. We
shared some bread, smoked and stared at the windscreen.
"Bless the rain" said one.
"Mmm" said another. "Thank you for the rain".
There was a tension in the air, their instincts to be thankful for this
blessing of nature butting against a growing disappointment that it
would now stop them achieving their goal. It hung there, giving the
silence that followed a slight melancholy, the droplets of water refusing
to cease their steady beat on the roof above.
"I wish we could watch a DVD right now".
And so my night would have ended, sat in the haze of a dusky car park,
were it not for the introduction of an unlikely saviour. For against
all expectations, the honey man arrived. Apparently visiting the gathering
a number of times over the course of their stay in the valley, he sold
honey and honey-based goods to whoever he could, his shop the back of
a small van. After negotiations had taken place, I asked in my best
French if he would mind taking me back along the road towards town.
Sat in the passenger seat, bumping along the road with a speed that
I could only hope implied his familiarity with the terrain, I watched
the dark creep to the edge of his headlights as they darted manically
across the landscape. If the bulldozers ever do make it out here to
pave Paradise (and yes, probably put up a parking lot), it will mean
the loss of something secretly wonderful.
And to those who prefer their nature pre-packaged I say this: come chant
© Andy Redwood May 2009
adredwood at gmail.com
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