For five days, the mountains had been beckoning. With infinite patience, they waited for the travellers to arrive. There was no hurry. Sooner or later, the travellers always came.
(Daybreak in Marrakech, 12/31/2009)
We headed east on the empty highway. The hot sun rose over the jagged peaks, sucking the color out of the landscape and transforming it into a black and white photograph.
We drove on. As we approached the foothills, we could make out the thread of a narrow road tracing a route back and forth across the slopes.
Higher and higher we climbed. Our driver raced enthusiastically around the hairpin turns, dodging donkey carts and schoolchildren with the zeal of a man who has made peace with his life.
A road marker announced we were entering the land of the Berbers.
Imlil was our destination, a tiny village tucked into a small cleavage of bedrock in the High Atlas mountains.
We left the driver to smoke cheroots at a roadside café and set out to explore on foot.
All the long red carpets everywhere reminded me of Hollywood, except that here, instead of being stepped upon by stars, they pointed the way up toward them.
A fruit stand displayed a vintage set of scales and weights. As life has been, so it continues to be.
So many fossils, so little time.
Everywhere, one is confronted by a brutal beauty which at first shocks and then settles into a deep understanding.
Eight year old boys have no such adjustment issues.
As Piero and Luca wandered ahead...
...I spotted something that made me stop in my tracks: a horse wearing a Technicolor dreamcoat. I needed an immediate communion with that saddle.
A closer look revealed the remnants of brightly colored rugs, tassels and worn yellow leather fashioned into a patchwork masterpiece. It was equestrian couture, a la Dries Van Noten.
Unfortunately, the saddle was not for sale, but this traditional Berber-style necklace was. An assemblage of glass and ceramic beads, old coins and shells, I loved it at first sight.
On the way down the mountain, we realized we were hungry. Piero remembered seeing a pink wall with an especially ornate set of wooden doors set into it. As we rounded a bend, we saw it and gestured our driver to stop.
The doors were open now...
...and up a cobblestoned drive, we spied a pink castle. Was it a private home? A hotel? Would we be allowed in?
Piero saw the brass plaque first. He grabbed my elbow and pointed to it. "You're not going to believe this."
We walked up the main path, through a cool dark entrance hall...
...into a courtyard, through another archway...
...and came face-to-face with this view.
In true Bransonian fashion, Sir Richard purchased the property in 1998 when he spotted it during one of his famous balloon expeditions.
The handsome waiter (all the staff are hired from local villages) recommended an Atlas Breeze -- mint tea, juice, herbs, sugar. All I can say is Berber knows best.
It would have been nice if my son could have put down the menu for a moment, but even in Paradise, you can't have everything.
Unwilling to think about the fact that in twenty-four hours we would be going home, we deemed the subject verboten and discussed how delicious our tagines and cheeseburger (you-know-who) were instead.
Morning of departure
Rain dotted the cobblestones for the first time since our arrival. Luca didn't want to leave and tried to persuade us that he'd be fine on his own by giving us his best street-savvy look.
Like all great journeys, it ended too quickly.