Transportation from Imlil to Taliouine, our next day’s destination, was an all day adventure through some pretty striking landscapes. For the first leg, our host Ahmed from the cozy guest house in Imlil, the day before getting married, drove us to the Tin Mal mosque before dropping us off in Ijoukak.
Tin Mal was once located at the heart of the Almohad empire and is one of only two mosques here in Morocco open to non-Muslims. It was built in the 12th century to pay tribute to Muhammed ibn Tumarat, the Almohad leader that they say lived an ascetic lifestyle, forcing his followers to either convert to Islam or die, and destroying every wine jug he met. The mosque is beautiful, though, if a bit off the beaten path, located above the surprisingly lush valley floor.
From Ijoukak, a grand taxi took us through the Tizi n’Test pass in the High Atlas mountains to Oulad Berhil, a small dusty town slightly south of where the road (in red) forks in the map above. From Ijoukak, the narrow road weaves through the mountains along steep drop-offs and doesn’t have any type of crash barrier for reassurance. Our driver took the turns like he was training for NASCAR, but only had one close call with an oncoming truck. Though the distance on the map between Ijoukak and Oulad Berhil looks almost inconsequential, it took about two and a half hours of zigzagging to arrive, keeping my fingers crossed the entire time that there wasn’t another car coming around the corner.
From Oulad Berhil it was an easy hour and a half bus ride to Taliouine, the saffron capital of Africa. You’d expect more enterprise in the only area in all of Africa that produces the worlds most expensive spice. Instead we found a small but informative cooperative and were treated to glasses of sweet saffron tea and were given the lowdown on saffron and its harvest and production. After removing and drying the thread-like stigma of a specific purple crocus, the women at the cooperative measure out one gram amounts and put them into little bags for tourists like me to buy at a very reasonable price.
The next day out of town we briefly stopped at a saffron field, which, being late October, was right at the height of harvest season. We picked a few of the bitter stigmas ourselves, smiling at one another with yellowed teeth.