12 Jun In The Pursuit of Donkeys and Mules.
This is an account of my photographic journey encountering the hard working creatures of Morocco interwoven with other tales of travel.
Where would mankind be without these placid resilient beasts of burden. I have enjoyed listening to legendary tales of donkeys, mules, horses carrying goods and humans to far flung places of the world.
In Morocco over 100,000 people rely on donkeys and mules for their livelihood. The donkeys are a normality in the crowded Medina of ancient Fes moving goods to and fro thru the narrow streets. They are an important asset in the High Atlas mountains aiding nomads to travel long distances. For the taxi carriages in the Draa Valley, donkeys and mules are interwoven into daily life. The ancient world meets modern when driving the highways in a swanky car, a donkey will be ambling on the overpass bridge with its owner seated sidesaddle.
One crisp morning in Tinerhir, Southern Morocco my friends and I had given up on the driver arriving to collect us, he was late by an hour. He had probably over exceeded his nightly tipple of date moonshine & soda water and was soundly somewhere sleeping off the after effects. We decided to go for a wander. The oasis had captivated our attention the previous evening as we arrived so we headed in that direction.
Living on the Edge
The driver was not particularly in our favorite persons list. In fact on the previous afternoon he had interrupted a local policeman. The policeman was in a intersection directing a few dilapidated cars and horse carriages. Our driver posing the question to the policeman where is the black market for purchasing of wine. Intimating that my friends husband was desperate and could not do without drinking wine. I was envisioning being imprisoned in a dank rat infested cell for the night, it was not a very appealing thought.
Seedy Back Streets.
As the story unfolded the policeman gave us directions and we ended on a seedy back street corner looking very much out of place. A middle aged chap in a flowing djellaba, resembling a decrepit Jedi knight, peddled up on his ancient push bike. He flung up his robe like a flasher and produced two bottles of wine from inside his trousers. Luckily the bottles were encased in brown paper bags. A Wine was selected by my friend’s husband with much thought and an exorbitant price was paid. We then departed for our accommodation for the night. But sadly no corkscrew was in residence in the Kasbah!
Tinerhir Oasis Food Garden
We spoke of this experience with a sense of amusement as we trudged along the dusty road towards the Tinerhir oasis.
A steep staircase descends to the floor of the oasis. On reaching the floor we were in fact captivated by the flowering fruit trees, bird calls and earthy scent of cultivated soil. The oasis was a large expanse of horticultural plots following the river. A particular family works a plot of land and the plot border is beautiful flowering fruit trees of many varieties. Stately Date palms sway in the gentle breeze throughout the oasis.
Ladies of all ages worked in the fields planting crops, little donkeys raced to and fro carrying manure in large baskets. Men trotted along side saddle on the little beasts, in a plume of smoke from their cigarettes. Boys encouraged renegade young donkeys to get on with the job. It was a donkey highway. It was a delight to absorb the atmosphere of this rich busy food growing area.
One elderly donkey captured my eye as he made the journey to the plot on his own with loaded baskets of manure. Thick padding under his baskets ensured his comfort, he appeared a much loved donkey.
From that day on I was entranced by the donkey culture.
Agdez Palmery, Draa Valley.
It was the early golden hour of the morning that reflects the shimmering light off the fronds of the date palms as I strolled along a dusty track in the Palmery. Pomegranate shrub branches hang low heavy with fruit. Builders worked quietly away renovating the old Kasbahs, the light adding a golden quality to this hour of day.
A pounding of hooves sounded from behind the bend. It looked a sharp bend which meant whatever was coming was going to swing wide. I moved over raised my camera and took a shot. In a split second l had to leap down an embankment and jump a Bilhazaria infested stream as a donkey taxi raced past. The taxi had veered too far out and I was about to end up as road kill. After returning to the road at an intersection, I took the one less used. I remember thinking what a handsome donkey as it raced past.
As I walked further thru the palmery two elderly gentlemen came my way, one walking the other riding a relaxed mule. I watched as they disappeared into the distance the light outlining the mule and rider. The light reflected off dust motes in the air and shone thru the cotton djellaba of the strolling man. I can see why so many artists are drawn to the light of Morocco.
Taxi Stand – Rissani Morocco
Rissani is a small oasis town near the northwest edge of the Sahara Desert. I found it a fascinating small town, all its shops and restaurants are located in the town center. Lots of great places to eat, the specialty medfouna is tasty with bread stuffed with minced spiced meat, poached eggs and onion.
The local donkey taxi stand gives endless hours of pleasure while watching the antics of traditional life.
High Atlas Mountains
Weaving our way on narrow windy dirt roads thru the Rose Valley we come across Nomads and their trusty Mules and Donkeys. Their mode of transport through these remote lonely regions for the Nomads as they graze their flocks of sheep and goats.
We drove along the road following the rugged southern coastline, rocky craggy hills dotted with purple wildflowers, huge waves crash onto the sandy shore, plumes of sea mist drift through the air. Donkeys are a key factor in retrieving household water from the water stations to take home to the villages.
Des Cascades Morocco
A morning was spent walking down the mountain, following the irrigation aqueduct. I meandered thru old olive orchards with their gnarled limbs heavy with black olives. Passing flocks of contented black faced sheep grazing the orchards with their shepherd watching over them from nearby. Ladies with donkeys laden with wood, baskets of other commodities, strode with purpose on the paths. Red rendered village homes sat snugly into the side of the rocky mountains. Wild red poppies showed their faces to the dappled sunlight. Peace and tranquility in perpetuation.
In the old medina of ancient Fes they walk the narrow streets, hides strapped on their backs, dyed wool and vegetables.
The cries of balak balak make way make way as the loaded donkey ambled through the parting crowds.
American Fondouk Clinic
In Fes in 1927 Amy Bend Bishop on a trip with her wealthy husband enamored by the working donkey culture, donated money to set up a clinic to care at no cost for the working mules, donkeys and horses. This enables the animals of the poorer sections of the community to receive free care.
I was lucky enough on one trip to visit the the American Fondouk clinic and am impressed by their level of care and compassion. The clinic sits behind massive wooden doors in a whitewashed compound on Route de Taza. The early morning sees crowds of robed men with their working animals crowding the entrance to receive treatment.
The clinic is a non profit organisation and donations are vital for its existence.
For those interested in reading about their philosophy the link is below.