A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Over the High Atlas

Tizi In Tichka pass 2260m

sunny 26 °C

Xaluca dades

Xaluca dades


Stuffed ourselves with breakfast to get us off to a good start. Late start made later by us going on Moroccan time this morning.
We head out through the valley of roses, an oasis which is famous for its roses and all sorts of rose products. It is an oasis valley and all the little plots are surrounded by hedges of roses giving it the appearance of a green patchwork held together by pink stitches.
On to and through Ouazarzate. We cruise past the film studios and see some of the sets, Egyptian, Greek and Roman. Also be good for Arizona Bad Lands and Chinese steppes. Not exciting enough to stop though. Where we do go is Sidi Ben abbouliah, an ancient Kasbah built centuries ago by one family – it used to be the seat of the extended family. Remnants of the family have moved back in as it is a great monument of what these places used to be like. The family has also installed shops should you feel so inclined to purchase anything... After a good wander around and being blown by the wind, we head back out. On our way again and off to the fantastic journey over the High Atlas.
At Sid Ben Abbouleh

At Sid Ben Abbouleh

Sid Ben Abbouleh

Sid Ben Abbouleh

In Sid Ben Abbouleh

In Sid Ben Abbouleh


The high Atlas road keeps on presenting new vistas as each corner is turned. As in the middle Atlas, the formations are fantastic and a wonder to look at. G is not doing too much looking as the road is making him a bit travel sick. We have given him a tablet to try and help.
We head over the top through the Tizi Tchika pass at 2260m, much higher than we go skiing in Australia. Lotfi says this road is usually treacherous in winter and often closed. Thanks to some incompetent driving ahead of us (a tour minibus pulling over for a photo op when it was hard enough passing already) we nearly got to see an accident first hand. We stop at a panorama point where you can see the road stretching out below us, winding down into the valley. Just the realisation of how close it is to go so far down is amazing. As at all panorama points, there are plenty of people willing to sell us stuff. G is interested in some of the quartz eggs, and we bargain with the salesman to 20DM. I think he saw us coming.
Off the high Atlas into Marrakech

Off the high Atlas into Marrakech

High Atlas Road

High Atlas Road


The road is fast and winding and getting stuck behind some belching traffic does not help – the fumes do not agree with the less hardy Australians. Again a stop at a panoramic point gives some relief, as all the slow trucks get past us again and the shop keeper makes a motza.
Off again and into the final stretch into Marrakech. Yokhima Morocco have also sorted us out a place to stay tonight since we were not that organised. As his final help to us, Lotfi sees us squared away before fond farewells are given.
Goodbye to Lotfi

Goodbye to Lotfi

We are in Dar Sofia, and a great little out of the way place it is, although easy to reach as cars can get quite close. Settled in we head down to the bright lights and hustle and bustle of Djem Al Fnaa Square.
Djem El Fnaa

Djem El Fnaa

Fruits in Djem El Fnaa

Fruits in Djem El Fnaa


First things first – we have an orange juice before dinner – and at 50 cents it is great, although possibly a bit watered down. Soon after we are touted and go in for a meal at one of the stalls. It is nothing special but it is quick and relatively cheap. Back home and off to sleep.

Posted by lostagain 11:14 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

In the saddle again

more road trip

sunny 31 °C

In the saddle again
by the road

by the road


We head up to Erfoud to then divert across towards Ouazarzate. First stop in Erfoud is a clothing shop to get a shirt like Lotfi’s that I admired. Pick out one in a light green, and L some sandals. Grab a drink, then grab some money from the ATM before heading to the fossil (museum). About 15 kms from Erfoud there are some marble deposits from the Cretaceous and Devonian periods The marble is not high quality, but it does have masses of fossils embedded in it. There are trilobites, ammonites and the forebears of squids (don’t remember the name). The balck marble in some cases is so heavily populated with the squid that it looks like a mass extinction (no, i have no evidence to back that up). The man at Mnara Marble spent quite a time taking us through the process and works before showing us the products in the showroom. There was some great slabs there, but very little presented the way I like. I could see great possibilities for it though. I did like the single squids up to 2 metres long that had been chased out and presented individually. In the end we bought a few small trinkets as souvenirs.
Todra gorgeous

Todra gorgeous


On the road again we head west towards Todra Gorge. This is a single short chasm over one hundred metres deep and is extremely dramatic. It is hard to get over the scale of it. It is very popular with tour groups, which makes it all the more amazing that the approach road is a narrow potholed thing with very few places for two buses to pass each other. The road at the gorge itself is being redone with the river through there being diverted – quite a mess while it gets done. But a must see if you have enough time in Morocco and do not mind a lot of driving.
Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge


Head on to our stop for the night – the Xaluca hotel at Dades. Michele at Yokhima Morocce has done a great job getting us this one – it is easily the most luxury we will get on this trip. We get a dip in the pool before dinner, very refreshing. Dinner is a smorgasbord, a mix of euro and local, but also keeping it fairly safe. So filling, if not exciting. Bed beckons at the end of an exhausting day and we accept.

Posted by lostagain 11:12 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Camels In Merzouga

Our friendly camels

30 °C

In Merzouga
We wake up and head upstairs onto the terrace for our breakfast. Unlike last night, we can now appreciate the reason for dining up here. On the third floor, there are views over the irrigated crops to the dunes that mark the start of the Sahara.
Breakfast view

Breakfast view


The other good news is that I have decided to be different and catch a cold in the desert.
We wait a while before heading off – we are getting used to Moroccan time, or holiday time for us.
We head nearby to see the Gnoua musicians who have brought their musical traditions from Mali up to Morocco in the distant past. They make a living playingmusic to tourists and foe special occasions. The music is very rhythmic and gets under your skin. We enjoy some Moroccan whiskey (mint tea) as we listen. We have several songs before they take a break. We get to look at their instruments and G teaches them a riff or two.
Gnoua musicians

Gnoua musicians

Ziggy played guitar...

Ziggy played guitar...


Take a break and get the footy out for a kick in the desert. G and I are a bit rusty.
The real football

The real football


On our way, we head around the corner to the surprising permanent lake that holds a huge flock of migratory white flamingos. They are camped over on the far side so it is hard to see any details, but there are plenty of them. The local trinket sellers appear out of nowhere (it is 2 kms of rocky track to Merzouga) and try to sell us anything.
For a change of pace, we head up to Al Rissani, about 30 kms away. We have a good wander around in the market which provides plenty of interesting sights, including food, clothes, souvenirs, trinkets and cheap chinese toys.
Fresh meat at Rissani Market

Fresh meat at Rissani Market

Spice store at Rissani Market

Spice store at Rissani Market

We only buy water and soft drink, not being too adventurous. We are still full from breakfast as well, so refills not required. We are noticing this at the moment that we are having large breakfasts so either lunch or dinner goes by the by.
Ready for the dunes

Ready for the dunes


Head back to the hotel for a rest before the night in the desert. L wisely gets her head down for a bit. G and I watch soccer on the telly – there are 5 different soccer channels on the free to air and another 7 if you can afford subscription! We thought that we were to be taken into the desert at 4pm, but with Moroccan time and the daylight savings changes we are chivvied outside at 6:30. We should learn to relax more but I was keen to get out.
We head out of the hotel, and there is our 4LD transport awaiting us. We are introduced to our guide Ali and our mounts and then on we get. I am first up, and a little unprepared for the steep angle of ascent as the camel straightens. G is barely on when the camel lifts and just manages to hold himself on. L is up too, and off we go. It is weird to be up so high, and to get used to the rolling, loping motion of the beasts. We are told that Ali has to lead them or they will just stop and do nothing. Mind you, even with Ali there, they appear to be determined to do nothing at times.
On Safari

On Safari


We are getting used to the movement and then we reach the sand. The change in surface leads to a change in gait and we feel like we have just started all over again. Then we start going up and down over dunes (just small ones) we have to lean back or forward or get pitched out. Ali stops us near the edge of one of the larger dunes and after having to catch L out of the saddle, leads us up for a look further into the desert. We can only see the start of the Sahara, but it covers the horizon and disappears out of sight, a really awe inspiring sight. I am glad we are just on the edge of it all. We see a number of groups passing though on the way to their own camp out under the stars.
Intrepid

Intrepid

G and Wedgie

G and Wedgie


the team (from left) Nugget, Wedgie and Eric Cantona

the team (from left) Nugget, Wedgie and Eric Cantona


Back on our mounts and on our way. We have now chosen names for our beasts. L is riding Nugget, due to the prolific number of same coming from his rear end. G has Wedgie, for obvious reasons and I am on Eric (ooh, aah) Cantona as that’s what he makes me say as we lurch over the sands. After a couple of hours we arrive at our campsite. It is not palatial, but it is made of rough woollen blankets and is probably realistic in that sense, not like the incredibly fancy ones I have seen on TV in Dubai.
Our sleeping quarters

Our sleeping quarters

berber dinner

berber dinner


Our host, Hameed, greets us off the camels and gives us a second to freshen up. We head over to the dinner tent, but it will be a lot more pleasant to be outside tonight. We have a mint tea and chat with Hameed, before we are served with dinner. We have bread and olives to start with, then Harira soup, a lightly spiced vegetable soup. The main course is again a tagine, but this time for a change it is meatballs, well spiced and in a tomato sauce, and it is without vegetables. Very nice. Last is fruit, as is usual. We relax afterwards with more tea with Hameed, chatting away, and then he plays the drums and sings. Each of us in turn try to accompany him on another drum, mostly without success.
We go for a walk into the dark to try and pick out stars and constellations. Unfortunately it has remained stubbornly clouded over the last few days and we can barely pick out the brightest stars. We talk about the desert animals and how they survive. We have seen some lizards, beetles and even a desert mouse. There were some desert fox cubs captured by the local kids earlier in the day, small sandy coloured things with massive ears to help them in the night. Hameed tells us how his family moved out of the desert when all their herd died, and he was born after that in Merzouga. He hates being in the town and is happiest when people pay him to take them to where he loves to be. His favourite is going into the desert for days at a time. I can appreciate it would be an amazing time, but my bum isn’t so sure right now.
We head to bed - it is quite warm in the tent thanks to the clouds, and we do not need all the warm clothing we have brought out especially for this night. We nod off to Hameed playing drums and singing to the desert.
We see Hameed again very soon as he wakes us to greet the Sahara dawn. Unfortunately the clouds have remained, preventing us seeing a Sahara sunrise. The clouds do present us with a beautiful display as the rising sun lights up the clouds. We sit around and enjoy it a bit longer as Hameed drags G down the dunes on his bum.
Sahara sunrise

Sahara sunrise

Sahara dawn

Sahara dawn


We mount up on Nugget, Wedgie and Eric again and squeak our way back to the hotel. L dismounts more demurely this time, and we bid our new friends farewell. Inside for a shower to remove the sand from every crevice and then onto the terrace for some breakfast.

Posted by lostagain 11:08 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Over the hills into the desert

Fez to Merzougha

sunny 28 °C

We had a day’s downtime in Riad Tafilelet after our arrangements fell through.
Doing it tough

Doing it tough


This wasn’t helped by the phones dropping out every minute, and I am not sure if the text messages work either. But a day’s recharge was in order anyway. A good dinner in house, and then packed and to bed early.Riad tafilelet at night

Riad tafilelet at night


Riad Tafilalet breakfast

Riad Tafilalet breakfast


A good breakfast before Lotfi was to arrive at 9:30 to pick us up. Trouble was, last night the clocks changed but as our host informed us, only a few people take any notice anyway. There was another couple there that got a suprise as they were flying out that night and knew nothing about it – they started their medina tour in a rush. So Lotfi turned up on time an hour late. Fond farewell, Tafilelet was a pleasant home for our Fez stay.
The tour car for the three of us is a SSangyong Stavic – comfortable for the number of us, maybe one more. Lotfi would like a 4WD, like a Landcruiser, Land Rover or X5, for the status possibly. To start with there is nothing much to see on the drive, mainly because we are fogged in and can hardly see the road ahead. This remains almost all of the way to Irfane.
It's always sunny in Morocco

It's always sunny in Morocco


This Royal city has a heavy euro influence in the designs of the houses, quite alpine in appearance. There is also an exclusive university where they teach in English and a modern hotel with design unlike anything else we have seen. There is also a training centre for athletes which isused by a number of internationals as well for a bit of altitude work. We saw many runners and cyclists out on the road, though I don’t think I would get out there on a bike.
We have a brief stop to admire the first of many breathtaking views, before going on to through the cedar mountains. Here we stop to introduce ourselves to the Barbary apes and feed them some peanuts, no doubt ruining their natural diet. The locals have every tourist stop and panoramic view point pegged out and are ready to sell you something.
Barbary Apes

Barbary Apes


On again, and we head up and into the Mid Atlas Mountains. The views here are spectacular and I get most of the way through a battery in this trip as I shoot away through the window. The formation of the land here is spectacular and would have enthralled Dad if he could see it. I realise a lot of my fascination with the form of the landscape is because of his enthusiasm when we were young. Through tunnels and passes we head to get over the top, and then on to the long drive south.
Middle Atlas road

Middle Atlas road


There are always sights to see as the road goes through so many small towns with something else different. There is a change in the building methods, if not styles. In the medinas, the dars and riads are usually three floors high, arranged around a central courtyard, the heart and display area of the house. This is open to the sky, to collect light and water. As we head out, the houses change a bit and are made with concrete columns and floors, the gaps in between filled with concrete blocks for the lower stories and light weight hollow terracotta bricks on higher stories. The whole thing looks a bit of a mess until the cement render goes over the whole lot. It also seems that you don’t build the whole lot at once; you build one, maybe two stories, and when you have more money you stick another one on. The buildings do not seem to have a hollow core, but are built as a cube, most house for the least material. Strangest to us from Australia is the lack of verandahs which may lend some much needed shade. But a bit of sun does not worry the Moroccans like it does a white boy like me.
We are heading south along the Ziz oasis, a massive oasis that goes for over one hundred kilometres, permanently fed by water from the mid Atlas. It is quite a sight in a dry land to look over an escarpment and see palms and crops as far as you can see. Some of the more intrepid people also take some irrigation water to try and scrape a crop into the dry land above.
Ziz Oasis

Ziz Oasis


The oasis ends in Erfoud, where we head off to Merzouga. It is now dark and by the time we reach our hotel it is 9pm. A quick clean up then dinner is served in the usual style. We are too tired to appreciate it and drop off quickly.

Posted by lostagain 11:05 Archived in Morocco Tagged automotive Comments (0)

In the Fes Medina

Don't try this alone...

sunny 30 °C

We had a great big breakfast to set us up for the day. Mohammed was waiting for us, this time in a traditional djellaba. We head out into the medina. Within two minutes we would have been lost. The medina consists of narrow paths that you can reach across, built up for three or more stories and sometimes built over completely so you can touch the ceiling too. These lanes are not in any regular pattern, but are determined what was built there in years long past.

Fes overpass

Fes overpass

We head around to start in the area where the coppersmiths are out beating out so much of the copperware that is used in the Moroccan kitchens. The noise of all the smiths hammering away on the copper is deafening, and we soon move on. Next is the ‘surprise market’ as you will get whatever the local farmers bring in. By the time we arrive, a lot of the produce is gone, but we also get to see the various butchers and fishmongers in action. The butchers are chopping up the carcasses in front of you, making sure you know you are getting. There is no refrigeration in these shops, so it is no surprise that most of the meat goes early. Chicken stays fresh for a lot longer as your chicken gets prepared for you there and then! Fes is a fair way from the coast so it is interesting to think how fresh the fish is.
Fish anyone?

Fish anyone?


We get taken next to the silks area where the locals get silk which they then spin and dye with ‘vegetable dyes all natural’ which are then available as short lengths for the local ladies to use in their projects. A massive range of colours are available whether through skill or natural variation the guide would not say. We also come across the famous university which is older than the Universities of Oxford, Bologna and Paris, some from Fes say the oldest in the world. It takes a paramount position in the medina, having grown to cover 5 hectares of the medina’s 84. We keep on running into the doors of the university and the central mosque as we circle around. Each of the doors is a masterpiece of painted Cedar, mosaic work and plasterwork in what we would think of as a classic Arabic design with the straight sides leading up to a circular top.
We walk past the colourful nougat sellers, the little medina supermarkets that sell everything from a front the size of a shower cubicle, the fabric and button sellers and the traditional djellaba and kaftans. It is a constant visual circus watching the people at work, shouting out to each other (the guides spend a large proportion of their time catching up with each other and whomever else they run into) and taking in a new sight around the next corner.
Next we go to the carpet man where our guide assures us we are under no obligation unless you feel the urge...Our host is very friendly and tells us all about the house we were in and the cooperative they work for, and how the carpets are made. The carpet is the ladies’ work, and they go out and select the wool, clean it and then spin it. They take it to be dyed to the colour they want and then start knotting. The whole process can take several years and the rugs are designed to have a winter (deep) and summer (shallow pile)side, as the carpets used to be what people would sleep on. The carpets are beautiful to look at, but we cannot see where would put them into our house. On the other hand, Mum would love them... ‘And they are a very reasonable price, around $3500 to get back to Australia, and if you want you could by extra and sell it to cover the cost of your trip – you can sell for $20K easily – tell you what if you can’t, do not even send me money for the carpet’. As good as the carpets and his salesmanship is we politely decline – ‘This is the first time this has happened!’ and get thrown out the tradesman’s entrance.
Next is a lunch to ease off with. Or so we thought. First course of lunch is salad – which means a dozen plates with individual salad items on it, each prepared in its own way. After that there is the main course, but since we have had the veggies, this is only meat in a tajine which is nice but not as spicy as we are used too. Not sure if they are toning it down for tourists or if it is authentic. All the waiters and guides swear it is authentic.
Ready for a light lunch

Ready for a light lunch

That was just entree

That was just entree


We then head to the famous tanneries of Fes, where we get to overlook the centuries old process of stripping back the hides in a mix of lime and pigeon droppings to remove the fat and hair. The people who have this job must not be able to taste anything after a day at work, and probably don't have many friends. All in all, it does not smell too bad, but everyone says wait a few weeks until it starts to heat up.
After the stripping bath the hides are dried, then prepared for the dye baths where the dyer has to tramp the hides in the dye for hours to get the colour in and consistent. They do all this in bare legs, where we are assured is fine as all the dyes are natural vegetable extracts - who knows it may make their leg hairs glossy and silky. The skins are then left out to dry again to set the colours. A good look around the leather shops - the only place you can get a view of the tanneries! and then off without buying again. I think our guide is frustrated with our lack of purchases as we have been told they get a cut!
The tanneries

The tanneries

In the tanneries

In the tanneries


Next place is the weavers where they are hand looming some fantastic fabrics with some great colour combinations. Gaelan is really keen on running the loom, which is man's work (unlike the carpet looms). He is tried out for his Berber burnoose, very fetching.
Who's the berber boy?

Who's the berber boy?


This was the end of the tour - there are plenty of things I have missed out, but a great day was had by all. As we said goodbye to Mohammed, we asked where a barber was,and how to get out of the medina afterwards. He found us a barber close to our side of the medina, and we set down for a cut and a shave in my case. All up Youssef spent 50 minutes on our hair, and got us mint tea too. A worthwhile 80DM.Before

Before

After

After


Next we thought we would like to go back into the medina and get some nougat - so we set off in one direction for about 200m without hitting any, so we traced our steps back. We then headed down the other direction and after a few turns started to get a bit nervous. There were a few way markers like the man selling goat's heads (and nothing else), but we did get to the nougat and spent up.
Medina Supermarket

Medina Supermarket


Traced our steps back and G guided us back to the riad. Crashed out and had no dinner -too full.

Posted by lostagain 02:30 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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