Our High Atlas Mountain welcoming committee consists of men and mules at the side of the road. We, a group of 15 like-minded travelers, exit the bus, and watch as our luggage is hoisted into large cloth saddle bags on the mules. To get to the village of Warwichkt in the Tighza Valley of Morocco, we have the option to walk for an hour and a half or ride a mule. I choose the mule.
My mule handler is a man who appears to be in his 60s with a quick smile. All along the trail he talks to the other handlers in his native Berber. Few from the village speak English, although some speak French, because of the French protectorate established in Morocco in 1912. It lasted until Morocco’s independence in 1956.
The unpaved road is narrow as it passes through the terra-cotta tinted mountain pass speckled with vegetation. We cross a small river and continue along the slight incline and into the village of traditionally built houses made of mud bricks. Children wave from their school yard, and we pass women dressed traditionally in long colorful djellabas with their heads covered as they walk along the rutted village streets.
Our destination is Riad Kasbah Oliver, a newly built guest house owned by Warwichkt native Mohamed El Qasemy and his British wife, Carolyn, about 70 miles southeast of Marrakesh. The kasbah is named for their son Oliver and has 12 guest bedrooms, including eight with full bath.
“Built by hand in stone and earth by local village craftsmen, the result is simple, sustainable accommodations,” says Carolyn. “Doors were fashioned in Telouet and furniture up-cycled. Hot showers are solar-powered.”
The bright reddish-orange kasbah sets high above the village like a beacon after our journey. Immediately we are offered the customary mint tea as a welcome on the terrace. The hot drink is our signal to relax, slow down, and enjoy this haven tucked away from the world as we know it.
The kasbah is built in a square with a patio in the middle open to the sky. Inside the front door is a bright orange painted room with long couches littered with pillows. Through another door is the patio. On this floor are two dining areas and the kitchen. Our meals here are some of the best I have in Morocco, with Omar in charge of the kitchen. Others working here include Mohamed’s younger brother Ahmed, his cousins Abdellah and Hemd, brother-in-law Aziz, and several other men from the village.
Stairs take us up two levels to our rooms. A large terrace offers an excellent view of the village and surrounding mountains.
On this tour organized by Exodus Travels, we have two days of total relaxation and freedom to hike and explore. “There are gentler walks in the area. It isn’t necessary to do the lengthy one to the lake, though it is definitely worth it,” says Carolyn. “Visitors can spend time in village homes, helping out in the fields, and volunteering [to help with village projects].
“Visitors can also use the local hammam … an opportunity to meet ladies in a social setting outside the home,” she says. ”Men and women have hammam separately.” A hammam is a Middle Eastern steam bath experience. It involves extremely hot temperatures, a wet stream bath followed by exfoliation, and sometimes massage. Women perform hammam on women and men on men. In Morocco, hammam is a social gathering especially for women.
While many of my fellow travelers hiked into the mountains, I stayed in the village. It’s a hard life for the villagers. For many there is no indoor plumbing, which makes the hammam a necessity as much as a meeting place. I receive many smiles or head nods.