moroccan cowboys

Experiencing the busy hustle and bustle of Morocco’s Marrakech is a must, but few manage the true art of mastering the medina. After perfecting it for three days, this time based at the wonderfully charming Dar Mo’da in the very heart of the medina, I was in need of some peace and solitude.

Similar to Dubai, where escaping to the desert marks the highlight of every of my visits, I headed for a countryside break, une pause – and there is only one place for that: La Pause.

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The desert around Marrakech doesn’t offer the same majestic sand dunes you find in Dubai but instead very soothing, rocky and bushy plains with rolling hills and giant plateaus. Located about 30 km from Marrakech, in what is known to locals as the ‘Marrakchi Desert’, nestled between a riverbed and the arid hills, La Pause is a fabulous hideaway, an oasis of tranquility, surrounded only by wilderness. The best way to explore the magical landscape is on horse, the same way French owner Frederic Alaime discovered the place several years ago. A hilltop ruin at the time, he transformed it into the peaceful haven it is today.

As I arrive, Fatah, my Moroccan guide is already on horseback, waiting for me with a saddled horse. We set off over a little hill, escorted by one of the camp’s ponies roaming freely alongside. The scenery couldn’t be more impressive, although there is really – nothing. Yet there is everything: the color spectrum offers multiple dimensions of ochre, beige, khaki, sand and brown, dotted with rough green fields, olive trees and bush, set under the distant snow covered peaks of the Atlas mountains, which appear to be hovering above the haze. There are no roads and hardly anything you could call a trail, all you see is the endless landscape. It’s the anti-matter to the crowded medina, here you are alone and without constriction, there is no noise; a squeak from a bird of prey soaring above us is the only sound, along with the wind gently wafting through the fields. We don’t speak, there is simply no need and silently we ride across the plains.

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On raised ground we halt and Fatah points towards a small canyon below. With the soft tone of his Berber voice, a voice that could tell a thousand tales, he announces the direction: “alla oued”, to the riverbed. There is no water at this time of the year so we follow the natural path of the wadi until we climb onto another peak. An old shepherd, watching over his goats roaming the plateau slowly raises his arm in reply to our greeting. His herdremains unimpressed by our presence and as the hill opens into another plain we unleash the horses’ force, dashing across the meadow in full gallop, the wild pony following ecstatically.

At the end of the pasturewe reach a small Berber village fortified by clay walls, miniature versions of those in the medina. There are no signs of people and we quietly follow a cactus-lined path through the village. If it weren’t for the electric cables powering the loudspeakers on a small minaret tower you would think it’s a different century. In front of one of the huts sits a man in traditional Berber clothes, smoking a pipe and as we come closer he looks up, greeting us with a friendly “salam aleykum”. “Aleykum salam”, Fatah replies gently.

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With the sun setting in the distance, applying a golden brushstroke to the landscape and turning the shepherd on the plateau into a mere silhouette we continue back towards La Pause. I feel like the Moroccan version of a cowboy returning home from a day in the fields. While we were away Frederic’s superb staff prepared a traditional Moroccan dinner under one of the tents spread around the camp: fresh Mint tea, an array of fresh salads picked from the garden, warm bread, extra virgin olive oil pressed from their own olive groves and delicious beef tajine.

As the night consumes all daylight, I head down the gas-lit path to my room. It’s still warm, yet the room is refreshingly cool, courtesy of its traditional pisé walls, made of mud and straw. To the sound of an orchestra of crickets I climb into bed, surrounded by miles of wilderness, and apart from the star filled sky, complete darkness. Here and now I am at peace with myself; stress is unknown out here and all worries are distant.

If more people took a pause like this the world would be a better place.

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