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Monday, 28 April 2014 12:00 AM

Unusual Things to do in Morocco on Holiday - Troglodytes near Fez

I have been to Morocco many times for work and play and, whilst I always enjoy wandering around a souk or medina and watching the world go past, occasionally an experience really stands out.

When I last visited Fez our local guide Hassan took us into the Middle Atlas mountains a short drive to the south, a very scenic area and with the chance of talking to a local lady who had lived all her life in a cave dwelling near Sefrou.

The Troglodytes of Bahlil

Bahlil is a very pretty and sleepy village in the mountain foothills around an hour’s drive south from Fez, and on route between various places of interest in the Middle Atlas mountains.

There is nothing particular to catch the eye in Bahlil so it is rarely visited by many holiday makers to Morocco. The main cobbled street runs steeply downhill either side of a small stream, the village is tidy and often has the day’s washing hung out to dry in the mountain air. As you make your way uphill, you see few other faces and Hassan took us up to the top of the village where the ancient cave dwellings are still in use.

The term troglodyte created an image of people of limited vertical growth living far underground, something reminiscent of a Lord of the Rings film, but the troglodytes here are normal Moroccans in everyway other than their living accommodation, and Hassan our guide is to act as an interpreter as we have tea and chat with one.

The Moroccan Lady who lives in a Cave

Our host is a lady that has lived in this 2 roomed cave since her birth, she is now of indeterminate age (she is rather vague on this) but we guess in her 60s to 80s although the effects of a hard life or mountain living may disguise her real age.

We sit down in her living room/ sleeping room with Hassan and exchange pleasantries. We feel a little awkward – we are here on a flying visit to take a peek at her life as it is very different from ours – but she is used to this and has regular visitors so we soon have a cup of tea in hand and questions and answers are flowing. In fact soon our questions are not much more than prompts as she issues forth on her feckless husband (she had an arranged marriage very early) and her feckless children (she has 8 in total and a number of whom have married, been separated and now live back at home).

Her life has changed little over the decades other than there is running water a little nearer by – until recently she carried all water for the house by hand from the village centre – and they have excavated a separate sleeping room for her and her husband so she no longer sleeps in the same room as the rest of the family (in the room we are sitting in).

She says that since marriage she has been the main bread earner for the household  and continues to be so to this day – we feel a little less awkward about our visit as Hassan will pass over a payment at some point and we will also give a little cash gift (yes, it might be a sales pitch to get more cash, but the sums we are talking about are very modest and the story of her life is fascinating), and more than an hour flashes by and we are saying our goodbyes having learnt more about her and her life in that time than I know about many of our friends back home.

It was a visit not to forget during a day in the beautiful mountain scenery.