A Travellerspoint blog

Morocco

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)

Into Africa

Out of Europe for now

28 °C

Last day in Paris today, we spent ages getting ready, only ended up with time for a short walk along Rue Moufftard to think what might have been. Into the Metro and the RER out to CDG. It is really good to have a rail link direct to the airport – be good to see in Melbourne.
Tried to send our suitcase to Madrid so we would not have to haul it around Morocco, but no luck in the short time available. Got into the Easyjet queue, got to the front and got sent to another queue. Through that, ages in the passport queue as easyjet obviously don’t pay for many inspectors. Then another queue - this time for the security. By the time we have queued for 2 hours, it is time to get on board – you won’t get on easy jet if you only arrive with one hour to spare. Inside the plane is good, enough leg room for the 3 hour flight and new and clean.
In Africa! Through Moroccan customs etc. And into a taxi after fixing the price. Like most taxis, it was an old Mercedes which sounded a lot older. The airport is a fair way from Casablanca, so we had time for a chat with the driver. I had thought the traffic in Paris was chaotic, but Casa was in another league. There were no rules and the lights more of a suggestion than anything else. Pedestrians were picking the busiest parts of the streets to cross and into this was a mix of motorcycles, bikes and pushcarts. Still, there were a couple of new Porsche 911s being driven around, apparently without a scratch.
We did get a good tour of the town as driver did not know where our hotel was. We got out at the Hassan II mosque, a huge structure, which most people told us was the highlight of Casa.
Hassan II mosque

Hassan II mosque

Finally at the hotel, a great old place from the 30s when apparently Casa was at its height. Get settled in, then hit the streets to look for food. The hotel gives us a map, but asks us to return it when we return as it is their only one. Dinner is a tourist restaurant, but the do make a juicy lamb tagine and have great orange juice. We all loved the mint tea.Dinner at Restaurant Al Ryad

Dinner at Restaurant Al Ryad


A short wander about and pick up some cash from the ATM. Looks like cash is the way to go in Morocco. Back to the hotel and sleep. Up late the next day, to find not much left of breakfast. The orange juice is Tang and all else rubbish. Pack and taxi to the Station, our train is departing in 3 minutes! Rush to get the tickets and on to the platform...to wait for the train which is over 40 minutes late.
In the train (1st class!) we have a compartment to ourselves for a while until a local gets in. His name is Abdul and he is very interested in us and where we come from. We have a good chat over the next few hours, and he sets us up with his friend Mohammed who is guide in Fes... The trip takes about 4 hours and we get to see affair bit of the industrial suburbs between Casa and Fes, including millions (without exaggeration) of satellite dishes.
Satellite dishes everywhere

Satellite dishes everywhere

We are also surprised by how green it is in the countryside . At Fes, we are met at the station by a taxi (80DH). We are met outside the Medina walls by our host Ibrahim, who guides us through the medina streets to Riad Tafilalet. Fortunately the Riad is close to the ciy walls and not too hard to find from the outside at least. Pay off the porters who cart all our bags across (40DH). We have time for a quick mint tea and settle in before we meet Mohammed.
Mohammed and his driver Nor pick us up and we start the tour. There are some good panoramas of Fes, and a lot of history to take in. It became the royal city of Morocco over 1100 years ago, it was on the crossing of 2 important trade routes, the Medina is the biggest in Morocco, and more besides. We are taken to see how the Zeljig mosaic tiles are cut up and put together. All the individual pieces are carved out of larger tiles by striking them out with a hammer, no matter how complex the pieces. Then they spread them all out on the floor and make the whole pattern in reverse. G especially enjoyed watching the potter spinning the Tajine pots, and the owner offered to take him on as a trainee, as long as we promised to come back in eight years to pick him up.
Fez Medina

Fez Medina


After admiring all their wares, we headed off to the Jewish quarter. This was an area on the edge of the Medina where the king centuries ago had moved back his own gates and given the land to the Jews after they had been expelled by the Spaniards. The architecture of the area is very different to the traditional houses. The Moroccan places are built around a central courtyard whose purpose is to catch light and rain for the house. The jewish houses were the design they brought with them from Andalusia with balconies and external windows.
At the Kings gate, Fes

At the Kings gate, Fes


We get our photo taken at the palace gates. The King is in town at the moment so there are a lot of soldiers around the palace. They are in the presentation version of their service uniforms and the royal guard is in a striking red number. None of them seem to have any bullets in their guns from quick examination. From here we head to the Zagora restaurant at Mohammed’s recommendation – which is okay but nothing special. Back to the medina gate, pay off the driver Nor, and successfully find our way back to the Riad.

Posted by lostagain 02:06 Archived in Morocco Tagged armchair_travel Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 9 of 9) Previous « Page 1 [2]