INTO NORTH AFRICA
Where Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean come together in a powerful mix
> Journeying 2+ months across Morocco & Tunesia <
Picture this: It was 6 PM and the sun was about to set. We were sitting on the open-air terrace overlooking a vast market square, our stomachs screaming for more couscous and chicken. We could hear the sound of numerous Islamic Maghreb prayers that was being performed from the 8 or so mosques in the neighborhood, merging together into a fascinating, loud, almost explosive sound… as if the world was about to end. Immediately after, the silence was striking, but then we could hear voices from the market square. They were Arabic, Berber and Senhajn speaking natives. We left the terrace and walked out into the market square. Snake charmers played oboes to calm hissing cobras. Henna tattoo artists talked to passersbys. Water-sellers in fringed hats clang brass cups together, hoping to drive people to drink. 100 chefs had arrived with grills in tow, cueing musicians to tune up their instruments. We saw faces from all over Northern Africa: Siwans, Tuaregs, Cyrenaicans, Kabyles, Shawias, Mzabites, Riffians, Ghomarans, Brabers, Shluhs, and Zenatas.... This was Djemaa el-Fna, the biggest market square and open-air hoopla and halqa (street theatre) in North Africa. A place that hadn't been sleeping since it was the site of public executions around AD 1050. A place which name means “assembly of the dead”.
To us, North Africa doesn’t “feel like" Africa. Is has a character of its own that is different from what we have experienced south of the Sahara. The variation here is in many ways greater, and the influence from the outside and convergence of cultures is very visible. All contrasts here are great – poverty and opulence, hospitality and aggression, fierce sand dunes and snowy mountains – but all contracts are memorable, too. We have been a couple of times to North Africa and spent more than three months here. To us, this is a place with the best of many worlds. A place where Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean come together.
For most people, a trip to North Africa focuses on one of three activities: seeing the splendors of the imperial Moroccan cities, hiking in the High Atlas Mountains, or going into the greatest desert of them all – the Sahara. We've done all three things.
We drove to the mountain village of Imlil in the Toubkal Valley, where we started a longer winter trek into the High Atlas Mountains. We had bought food in the local market to bring along, and our backpacks weighted 35 kilogram each as we needed to survive for a week in the mountains. See our Trekking page for more on our spectacular mountaneering trip into the mountains.