Marrakech → Ait Ben Haddou: Good Samaritans in the High Atlas Mountains

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans

With three magical days in Marrakech under our belt, it was time to say farewell to the big city and discover some of the diverse and beautiful nature and culture that Morocco has to offer.

For the next seven days, we would explore nearly 900 miles (over 1400 km) of Moroccan landscape–from central Marrakech to the eastern dunes of the Sahara and then north to Fes, Chefchaouen and ultimately Tangier.

travelhelix tip: for this leg of the journey, we hired a private driver. This was a safe, easy and stress-free way to explore the Moroccan countryside. We had a great experience with our driver (and new friend!) Hicham. Please feel free to reach out with questions!

As we packed the van, we felt sad to leave Marrakech. But minutes after exiting the medina walls, we replaced this short-term longing with wide-eyed optimism, and embraced the next chapter of our adventure.

***

From medina walls to rugged landscape

Twenty minutes outside of Marrakech, we taste life beyond the city. For the first time in 3 days, we observe homes with architecture that could be appreciated from the outside.

Many of these large, elegant homes are surrounded entirely by acres of olive orchards. We speculate these homes belong to upper-class families. For some, the orchards are the source of wealth; for others, simply a culinary hobby.

More olive orchards…then groves of walnut trees…then suddenly, the landscape takes a dramatic turn: green fields and dense orchards give way to dry, red earth, bursting with cacti. These cacti have played an important role in the local Berber culture for thousands of years.

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
The Saharan Aloe Vera Cactus (part of the Agave family) produces “Sabra Silk,” a natural fiber known for strength, softness and high elasticity. When spun, Sabra Silk creates the high-quality Berber rugs & carpets renowned throughout the world.
High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
We pulled over to snap a few photos of the Sleeping Giant, off in the distance. Can you spot him?

***

Ascending the High Atlas Mountains

As we begin to climb, the dry desert landscape transitions to dense coniferous forest. The flowering cacti that had lined the side of the highway are replaced by rows of wild oleanders.

About 90 minutes outside of Marrakech, we arrive in the tiny mountainous village of Toufliht. We stop at the restaurant Tizi Aït Barka, owned by a friend of Hicham’s. What happened next would make a profound impression on us–immediately, and permanently.

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
Tizi Aït Barka rooftop terrace with beautiful 360° panoramic views of the High Atlas Mountains.

***

The Good Samaritans of Toufliht

Here’s what went down:

A large group of children are walking home from school. They play & laugh as they enter the parking lot of the restaurant.

reflections from A: from the rooftop terrace, I see a child pick up a small black object off the ground. A few of them get very excited. They continue walking. 2 minutes later, they’re gone.

D and Hicham go to the opposite side of the terrace to take pictures of the valley.

reflections from A: across the terrace, D requests a selfie. I start walking over, and discover that my phone isn’t in my pocket. I figured I had left it in the van, and think nothing of it. 10 minutes later, we head back to the van to saddle up and ride out. One problem: no sign of my phone.

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
Absorbing an incredible view from above, not realizing at all what was about to take place below.

With Hicham’s help, we turn the van inside out, but no luck. Panic grows.

The material loss of the phone is not the issue. The idea of losing 1 of our 2 communication devices, 3 weeks into a 14-week trip, is–however–concerning.

The owner of the restaurant has been observing our parking lot search efforts from a window. He soon joins us outside. Hicham translates:

Shop owner: what are you looking for?

A: a cell phone!

Shop owner: what kind of phone is it?

A: a black iPhone

Shop owner: ahhh! Did you see those kids? They found your phone in the parking lot. They gave it to me. I’ll go get it for you!

Simply, wow.

The shop owner hands us the phone. Then he tells us that he’s already rewarded the children by giving each of them a piece of candy from his store. We tell him that there will be “another round on us.”

Then we jump in the van to chase down this heroic group of good samaritans.

reflections from DnA: at that moment, we looked at each other awestruck, minds & hearts connected, thinking & feeling the same things.

A mile down the road, we spot them. As we approach, Hicham rolls down the window and begins speaking to them in Arabic. At first, there is no response, although a couple of the children look at each other uncomfortably.

Finally, one sheepishly raises his hand. Hicham delivers another message, which brings a smile to every face in the crowd. The 17 children race back up the mountain towards the restaurant, yelling joyously & leaving us in a cloud of dust behind them. Hicham turns to us and says:

“I just asked them who found your phone…then I told them that there’s more candy waiting for ALL of them back at the restaurant!”

Good people!

Back at the restaurant, we share several minutes of smiles, laughs and high-fives with our new friends. Hicham and the restaurant owner hand out 2 more rounds of candy. The kids all yell “Shukran! SHUKRAN!” (thank you!) before continuing back down the mountain…again.

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
Our heroes in the High Atlas Mountains.

With hearts full of emotion, we did our best to express our most sincere gratitude to Hicham and the restaurant owner. Hicham’s response was something we will never forget:

“These children are local Berber children, all from small villages around this area. Many are family members, and most are friends, and they are all GOOD PEOPLE: kind, friendly and honest. The idea of taking something that does not belong to them, does not exist. They knew of no other option than to return the phone. Do not be surprised at this outcome; it was the only possible outcome.”

Reflection

The rest of our journey consisted primarily of silence and internal reflection. The emotional & spiritual impact of this event on our hearts and minds, was so tangible you could feel it in the van.

After a few days in Morocco, we had visited only a handful of places. But after today, we felt a deeper connection with the people.

Our experience in Toufliht very much embodies what we consider to be the spirit of travel. It is one that will resonate with us forever.

***

The rest of the drive

Although we were mostly silent for the next 3 hours, it was certainly not an uneventful drive. These photos tell the story of what you might observe across only 76 miles (122 km) of Moroccan highway.

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
Truck falling off the side of the road (#1 of 3): for over an hour, we watched as hundreds of local villagers worked together to save this truck from falling off a cliff. Maybe it’s random acts of kindness like this that inspired the phrase “it takes a village”…?
High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
Village in the High Atlas Mountains.
High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
Truck falling off the side of the road (#2 of 3): a couple hours later, another overturned truck. No stoppage this time… and no cliffhanger… although thousands of melons were scattered along the side of the highway.
High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
Convenience store at the top of the High Atlas Mountains.
High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
Women’s argan oil co-op in the village of Tadart.
High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
SHEEP! Where are the shepherds?!
High Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Marrakech, Toufliht, Ait Ben Haddou, Good Samaritans
Between Toufliht & Ait Ben Haddou, wheat fields flourish, fed by fertile red clay.

***

Shortly before sundown, we arrive at our destination: the ancient city of Ait Ben Haddou.

Cheers!

-DnA 

4 thoughts on “Marrakech → Ait Ben Haddou: Good Samaritans in the High Atlas Mountains

    1. you’ll have to ask D, as she is the CSO (Chief Snack Officer) of travelhelix. (she was also the big kid in the group)

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