Archive for Morocco

20 Oct 2012

Follow your ass

1 Comment Morocco

You would think there is a limit to the number of rugs they could buy, but apparently not. All the ducks were in a row; they were quietly sipping mint tea in a nice cushioned corner of the Riad, admiring their latest rug purchase (eyes rolling), looking pretty relaxed with life, when I put it to them.

“You guys can stay here in Marrakech and purchase all the rugs you want, or you can hop in a taxi with me and head up to the mountains. I've got a great deal on a couple of places. I found a tame taxi driver, who promises to stay in his lane most of the time, and we can even (eyes rolling) stop and look at some rugs on the way. What do you say? Are you in or out?”


 
 
 

First stop was Chez Momo II a very nice country lodge in Ouirgane. We went for a walk, chatted with the locals, had some lunch and even found time for a swim.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Next stop, I pulled out all punches and booked us in at Kasbah Toubkal with stunning views of several mountainside Berber villages and the Toubkal Peak, the highest peak in Northern Africa. The only way into the Kasbah is to follow your ass, literally. We loaded her up with all our bags and walked several steps behind, puffing and wheezing the whole way up. They have given us a room in the tower. Even more steps.

Kasbah Toubkal is a special spot — you may well all know it from the Scorcese movie Kundun, where with a few flags, some costumes and a couple of imported Yaks it was stunningly transformed into a Tibetan mountaintop monastery.

We set off early one morning for a six-hour mountain hike. What bliss. There is snow on the Toubkal peak. There was a lot of groaning and grumbling from the rear … My legs hurt. My feet ache. Are we there yet? And what about the rugs Al? Yeah Al, you promised us rugs.

Because it was cute

 

15 Oct 2012

Take me back

Comments Off on Take me back Morocco

I am still finding sand everywhere, remnants of the Sahara. The shock of big city Marrakech, after timeless mountain top Berber villages, is all too much for this poor Alpaca. Roads too narrow to share with donkeys, people and bicycles, now have to be shared with motorbikes as well. The touts are more aggressive than Fez, Rabat or Casablanca and resort to swearing when you ignore their requests to come and eat or buy yet another rug.

 

 

Despite this Marrakech still has a certain dusty smelly charm about it: freshly squeezed glasses of orange juice for four dirham, about forty cents; sitting, sipping and watching the world go by, Cobras hypnotically swaying nearby (be careful where you step); the call to prayer; street performers …. noise. We make it back to the tranquil courtyard sanctuary of our Riad (Riad Hidden), which despite its name we always manage to find.

 

 

 
 
 
 

Take me back to the Atlas mountains where a Berber salt miner leads a donkey laden heavily with sacks of salt, hard earned salt, after a morning toiling deep underground with nothing but a hand-made pickaxe. He touchingly hands us a chunk of bread to share and insists we take some of his salt. The going rate for a kilo of salt at the markets is half a dirham or about five cents. A full donkey load, a days work, about 100 dirham. Hard work — do the maths.

 

 
 
 
 
 

Take me back to the Kasbah's … wandering through the once magnificent ruins; that look like something from a fairy tale, resembling giant sandcastles. Take me back to the smiling Berbers at work in fields, shepherding goats, or sitting on the roadside chatting. Take me back into a Berber shop, an Aladdin's cave of dusty treasures, ancient brass astrolabes, giant wooden carved doors twenty foot high, silver trinkets, genie lamps and faded Berber rugs.

Take me back to verdant valleys, the clear mountain air and those magnificent mountain roads, and the sheer look of terror on Paul's face the whole way down.

Take me back, but whatever you do don't feed me another Tagine.

 

 
 
 
 
 
13 Oct 2012

Sand in my shoes

2 Comments Morocco
 
 
 

The route to Merzouga was no magic carpet ride. Try seven hours in a dusty grey landcruiser, with Abdul (guide) and Abdil (driver), Bill and Sharon from Alaska. Bill is a token West Aussie having spent a great chunk of his time in WA so we have adopted them both as new friends.

Merzouga is on the edge of the Sahara. Looking east as far as they eye can see are dunes, dunes and more dunes, then about 50kms east, across the dunes is Algeria.

The world is a small place, or as they say in Spain, el Mundo es un panuelo (the world is a handkerchief!!! Whatever). So here we are in middle of nowhere — edge of Sahara, Morocco — and who do we see; Mary, Derry, Kerry & Cherry, the Dromedaries, Alice's second cousins on her father's side. Man did they get a touch of the ugly stick! But we got to know them and they were cool. They even offered us a ride into the desert and we accepted.

Next thing you know it is late afternoon and we are trekking off into the desert camel-back … and it is beautiful, surreal like a lunar landscape. They dunes have taken on an amazing range of hues; multiple shades of pinks and oranges, beiges and browns. Long deep shadows. We stop and listen, a whisper of a breeze, the gentle plop plop of dromedary droppings dropping and then silence, total silence. In every direction all we can see is sand, endless sand. It would be easy to become lost. We crest a final dune. The sun has set and we are riding in the vestiges of light, and there it is like a mirage, a Berber village in the dunes. We dismount. Mary, Derry, Kerry and Cherry groan and moan us goodnight. We sit and eat under the stars and retire to our Berber rug tents shaking the sand from every crevice.

 

 
 
 
 

 

In the morning we wake before sunrise and half attempt a climb of a mammoth dune. Clouds spoil the sunrise and sadly we have to make our way back to civilisation. Mary, Derry, Kerry and Cherry welcome us with weary grumbles and mumbles, raising awkwardly off their knees and lead us back along the dunes.

 

 
 
06 Oct 2012

Magic carpet ride

5 Comments Morocco
 
 

Fez is like a giant above-ground rabbit warren. Karen and Angel have arrived from Sweden and we are staying in a Dar (which we have taken to mean house of many steep steps) inside the old medina. We have been here for a few days but we have barely begun to explore the labyrinth of passages. It is the largest car-free zone in the world, freeing us to ONLY contend with heavily laden donkeys and horses, wiry old men wielding large sharp edged carts, the occasional bicycle or motorcycle and the constant stream of people coursing through the narrow winding passages. Staying alert and constantly moving is the key.

 

 

 

 
 

We have developed a sixth sense, but it has failed us, taking short cuts only to find we have reached yet another dead-end passage barely shoulder-width wide and having to turn around and start again.

Pause or step ahead of or behind the group and you will soon find you have a new friend. Where are you from my friend? Would you like to see the tanneries? We have carpets. You want carpet? Step inside. No obligation. Eat my friend? You want Kif, smoke Hashish? We have beer? We have each learned some Arabic … La shokrun. No thanks … but it falls on deaf ears, the pestering continues … But why you not come inside?


 

Paul and Angel have attempted to blend in with the locals by wearing traditional berber costume, whiling away the hours drinking coffees and sugary mint teas with the local men (for this is a men only custom), while Gillian and Karen fend off offers from leering Moroccans promising wild nights of dancing and discos and in whispered tones, alcohol. Instead they have retreated to the sanctuary of a hammam and returned with their skins scrubbed smooth, smiling and looking other worldly.

 

 

We have burnt out tongues on delicious piping hot tagines and drunk more water than can possibly be good for us.

Alice has been in a dreamy state ever since she arrived. It is like she is not really here. We found her in the kitchen baking, or so she said, her head inside a bag of fine white flour like powder. Her eyes all dilated, speaking in a strange garbled foreign tongue. We took her out on the streets, all floppy and drowsy like a rag doll, when suddenly she stopped in front of a silk merchant and spent ages staring at a large cactus silk and wool throw — resplendent in reds and oranges and yellows, a fiery sunset — stroking it and saying Uncle Mal, Uncle Mal, is that you Uncle Mal? until the shopkeeper walked over and said You like, I give you good price? You buy two, even cheaper and so the haggling began.

 

 

 
 

 

02 Oct 2012

The dusty charm of Casablanca

2 Comments Casablanca, Morocco
 
 
 

 

We have had our first taste of Morocco, a charming taxi driver, who has left the meter off and charged us the grand sum of 50 dirhams when the going rate should be less than 30. We know we are being conned but still his offer of 50 dirhams is better than his first offer of 1 million euros and what's the point in squabbling over a couple of dollars.

 

 

We are staying inside the old Medina, where the streets are mainly dirt and after recent rains have turned to mud in parts. You can taste the dust and the light has a uniquely Moroccan quality. Old women sit at ancient Singer sewing machines on the sides of the road, smiling big toothless grins. Every kind of vegetable imaginable is available from makeshift carts. Fish are scaled and chopped right in the street. Motorbikes, bicycles, carts and people galore fill the streets of the Medina. Satellite dishes command the rooftops, facing skywards like sunflowers.

 

 

 

The man at the desk at our hotel tells us there are no rooms available. Fully booked. It's his idea of a joke, no doubt played on many a weary traveller. And then finds us a room.

 

Paul sleeps soundly while Gill wakens to the slightest of noises; an agonising call to prayer, street noises, people chatting, misfiring engines, ships horns blasting, cats meowing … Paul's snoring.

 

 
 
 
 

We visit the Hassan II Mosque and depending on who you talk to it is either the third or seventh largest in the world. We visit twice, once at night and once during the day. Even Alpacas have to wear a shawl to cover their shoulders. The Mosque is beautiful and can accommodate 25,000 worshippers inside during Ramadan and a further 80,000 outside. It has a scale and presence that photos cannot do justice to and it's location on the edge of the Atlantic adds to its beauty.

We bypass Rick's Cafe and the endless reruns of Casablanca, playing again and again, and instead find a traditional Moroccan restaurant and eat a divine tagine of beef and almonds and prunes and apricots. All in all a good first couple of days.