0302. The Amazing Tunnel Cities of Erfoud (Mor 135--new)

Erfoud Travel Blog

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People say that the magnificent desert views start right after Er Rachidia, so I’m a bit peeved to see nothing but flat, characterless landscape...

Then, a rather odd sight.  Right as dusk was setting in, I see light coming from a large pit near the highway... A bit later, another pit with a few twinkling lights far, far below... What the hell is that?

And then...

In just a split second, an incredible change--the road plunges into this canyon that appears out of nowhere in the flat surrounding.  Down below is a narrow sea of green that stretches on an on as far as the eye can see--lined by stark, brown and red cliffs on the sides... Down below, another road with a long row of houses--and, yes! little mud castles following the entire length of this amazing canyon oasis.

  It really feels like you just dropped into a whole nother planet.

Gradually the highway makes its way down to the floor of the canyon and follows this oasis for miles and miles.  I know right away that I'm going to have to come back and really explore this place... But for now I'm going to stick to my destination: Arfoud.

I get off the bus and am immediately surrounded by guides.  Apparently, a lot of desert tourist use Erfoud as a stopping point.  Realizing this one guy is going to follow me around no matter what, I finally figure I'll just let him show me to a cheap hotel--although I explain that I’m not going to pay him...
We reach a decent little place, and I offer to pay him anyways--and he refuses... Nice guy.  I hope the hotel gives him a commission...

A lot of bicycle traffic down this potholed street beyond my hotel so I figure I'll see where it goes.

  The city continues on for a bit, then suddenly the road plunges into a dense palm tree jungle... I'll have to come back and check out this road in daytime...

I head back into town, grab a delicious bowl of harira--with free seconds... and decide to call it a day...

Next morning, I head back into town... Nothing really spectacular about the town--except maybe the little stalls where the guys are chipping away at chunks of marble creating beautiful designs...

I do meet an interesting fellow--a professional band drummer who claims he played with Ziggy Marley in Essaouira... he shows me pictures of his trips to Europe with the band--and down to Senegal... it's very refreshing to meet a Moroccan who appreciates his Subsaharan neighbors--and who has seen both wealth and poverty and doesn't see Europe or America as "paradise".

..

The Castle City

...I continue on...

I've got a strong suspicion that the real interesting stuff in Arfoud is hidden in the lush palm tree jungle that surrounds the city.  So I follow an irrigation canal to see where it goes...

And then I came across one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

At first it looks just like a mud castle similar to the one in Er Rachidia--but there’s something different about this castle. For one thing, I didn't see any gates.  Just these dark holes in the walls--and people scurrying in and out--just like ants in an anthill...

Finally, I find a gate, and go inside... to almost pitch darkness... But there arre alleys, or should I say, tunnels that go on and on in several directions.  So, even though I feel a bit uneasy with these boys following me into the darkness, I know I have to explore this place.

..

It's an almost completely underground city... these tunnels go on for hundreds and hundreds of yards with doors on either side...

People living underground... incredible! 

Now, I must hasten to say, they don't live in complete darkness--each house I'm sure has access to sunlight at the upper levels--but just the thought of people walking home through long dark tunnels is the coolest thing... And the logic of living underground is obvious--this place stays cool in the hot, summer months.

Fortunately this castle has fairly straight tunnels, with a tunnel following the inside of the wall all the way around, so you don't have to worry about dead ends. 

Finally, after crisscrossing this city a couple of times, I find a hole in the wall to crawl out through...

I'll never forget my first Mud Tunnel City.

Right across the canal there’s another Tunnel City--of course I have to explore it as well... a similar design--just a bit more "fancy" with better doors on the houses and a floor of packed earth rather than a muddy trough in the middle...

I continue on through the vast oasis, in search of more Mud Cities--and soon find a third one... This one doesn't have a tunnel around the inner perimeter--so it is more of a labyrinth with a lot of dead ends... I don't mind--it's all about the adventure.
Like the castles in Midelt and Errachidia, these cities have no commerce inside of them--just a mosque (which is usually the only  non-mud structure.

  Also, in the gateway, there's always a winding covered coatyard with seating on the edge--I imagine this is where the townsfolk gather to socialize...

I reach the highway to Errachidia and decide to backtrack a few miles--I remember there's a town not to far back, and it's beautiful oasis palm jungle all the way--so I decide it'll make a good hike...

This is turning out to be one of my most exciting days in a long time.

 

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