Road to Taghia

by Daniel McArdle (United States of America)

A leap into the unknown Morocco


“The streets fill with rivers of blood,” the students assured me. That weekend was L’Eid, the feast commemorating God’s mercy after Abraham agreed to sacrifice his beloved son. Adrian had noticed my rope and found us a CouchSurfer with a Lakers hat. Wahib had his own parents-free place north of Casablanca where he surfed and biked and worked online. We shot off south for the Atlas. The last ride dropped us at a fenced-in roadside court-yard. “Le philosophe Flaton,” a man began, and I tuned in for his take on Plato’s human and animal souls. An hour away we crossed a river and raced up Catedral, the tan granite monolith at the northern edge of the mountains. But the last of the transit vans were stuffed with people heading to their family homes, so we returned to the philosopher’s courtyard. They agreed we should switch up directions a bit, to try to snag rides at the right times with Eid. “You agree?” “Yeah dudes,” I grinned. “I’m always down to do the plan backwards!” After two days’ delay we rode off on the roof of a van. “How do we do this?” I feigned responsibility. “I think you just hang on and don’t fall.” At a riverside patio in the last town on the power lines, a military man told us how drugs had ruined his body and how happy he’d be to show us the way to Taghia. The next morning, all eyes at the hostel bent toward this enormous prized ram. They hacked off his head and let him convulse and then strung him from his ankles in an olive tree above the valley. They pulled off his skin so it hung from his horns and sanctified him, apparently, with a stream of hot water from a plastic blue teapot poured straight down his ass from on high. Tiny children in silky robes touched his side solemnly. “We...,” Adrian broke our stupor. “Should have gotten a picture.” Next morning, we hiked a narrow path, far above a glistening stream. Mountain walls wound beneath tan granite peaks so steep and sheer and tight together you couldn’t possibly tell the relative heights. The path pranced up and down the cliffsides toward Taghia, a tiny town too steep to stand in where the mountains came to a grand point on an arrowhead peak. For two days we failed to fend off their feasts, instead smoking keef- which is somehow ‘Not Weed’- and trading spooky grooves on a four-string gourd. We crossed “The Barbarian Passage”, where of old they’d hewn holes in a sheer wall and stuck wooden poles in them, stuffing the spaces between with stones. Beyond, an ever-grinning barefoot man greeted us from his back at the rear of the three-walled hut he’d built after crossing the passage for the last time years before. We talked about climbers that came by, Spanish and otherwise, and he name-dropped Alex Honnold. “Kitarifoo?!” I asked, bloodstruck astonished. “You know him?!” “Yeah, yeah!” he grinned, waving at the towers where he’d seen him frolic by fingertip. Buzzing blissful and singing, I wandered off above, barefoot in the sun. “Dudes, look! Come quick!” I straddled the mountain, pointing, stoked and shirtless, at a pebble. “This rock... it’s shaped just like the mountain top.” “The Third Eye...” Wahib diagnosed solemnly. “We call it that in--” What?! Islam? Djinn?!-- “photography.” Finally climbing, a miscommunication sent our host flying up the rope by hand, toes against the wall, to fling down our gear. “They definitely climb risky here.” The eyes of the youngest lit up when I asked if anyone ever skied around here. “I’m the only one!” he cried italicized. They complimented my Arabic, but not without caveat. “You should learn Barbarian. Then you’d really be a genius.” Turning toward town the next morning, we passed a bulldozer beneath the rock and continued down the flat dirt road they’d blasted under it. Did we come by some other wilder way, or did I imagine it, looking up at the peaks instead of down at my feet? Either way, I suppose, there’s gonna be a road to Taghia soon, and I’m not sure how to feel about it.