We left the market at Ourika, driving on with Hassan and Abdan bi into the mountains along the route of a lucid oued whose rock-filled bed is much larger than its present stream, passing a few small settlements, a pottery shop, terraced gardens, too small to be called fields. Above, the snowy heights passed in and out of view as the road twisted. The driver of our broken-down Mercedes played Bob Marley tapes and sang along in English with great cheer, innocent of any knowledge of the language. At one point we noticed a number of houses by the stream severely damaged, with exposed iron reinforcements protruding from their concrete walls and floors. Hassan said that at times the river swells immensely and pushes through the valley with a force that is titanic, if short-lived. Patricia asked if the builders didn’t know their work would be undone. “Oh, sure,” he answered, “but they sell it to some foreigner who wants a house by the river.”
In Setti Fatma (“sixty women,” says Abdan bi) the road gives out, turning to a rocky track shortly before the map says it will. We scampered around the river bed, taking pictures and goofing, together under the sun in sharp clear air. We walked on a bit further and then set out to climb toward the cascades. (Hassan asked the next passerby heading back toward town to tell the driver we will not return for some time.) Following the river up the mountain, we passed little homesteads with tiny lush green terraces. Small goats hopped manically around cattle with deep and empty eyes, but the homes soon gave out as we ascended, keeping close to the river bed. There had been a path at the start, but now we simply spied out the most likely route, making decisions moment by moment, passing from one side of the water to the other. Hassan explored ahead and waited, intentionally choosing the more difficult climbs for his own amusement. Abdan bi, in spite of his crippled leg, leapt and landed and leapt again. After Hassan told him “You are a monkey,” there was no stopping his scratching and vocalizing. We made our way over boulders, across slippery rocks as the temperature drops and new vistas appeared with every twist of the trail.
Once or twice we hauled over a rock to construct a better crossing. Rock to rock. I’m reminded of Dharma Bums, rock to rock. Back in time, the rip-rap of things, and here. And we’re holding hands and hoisting each other and making it higher and higher into the wet and shadowy crevice of the mountain. When we came to a handsome if modest little waterfall, Abdan bi merrily shouted a word he knows in English: “Higher! Higher!” And we climbed and climbed for hours until it seems almost too much and then – of course – Hassan pointed around the next rock and up – the cascades we were seeking!
Unaccountably, there’s a little wooden booth there, one man’s franchise. Who buys this man’s Coca-cola? His bread? Does he climb up here daily? His cell adjoined his business. We sat for coffee and gaze contentedly at each other. More pictures. Talk turned to racism. Abdan bi said, “People who feel that way should remove the pupils of their eyes since those are black.” Hassan found he has lost the pin he had been wearing for days picturing himself with Miles Davis. “He’s returned to Africa,” I told him. He said he wouldn’t care but had wanted to give the pin to Abdan bi.
There was ice there where the water trickled down the rocks. The falls were high, but afforded no sight at their foot of the massive white peaks. Suddenly, it was cold – time to go.
“We must leave here before 5:30,” Hassan said, “The water will come all at once and very big. I wouldn’t want to live here like this guy. Also, the big – er, monkeys, you know, they come down to find women who are virgins and they want to do some thing with her.”
Starting back, we discovered a better path, high above the stream, some passages even cut into the rock, much swifter going though still blocked here and there by boulders. Eventually the town below came into view, but we were a distance from the stream now, entering the terraced gardens. Making our way down into the village, we were on the wrong side of the river, but found another little rough bridge of untrimmed wood. “One at a time,” said Hassan. (Earlier, as we had crossed a similar structure, Abdan bi had launched his simian hijinks, humping up and down to shake the flexible but makeshift little crossing.)
Aftert a brief outburst of haggling over our prolonged absence we started back for Marrakech. Hassan recovered Miles Davis, not lost really, but waiting in the back seat of the beat-up Mercedes.