Wet Desert

I am a rain god. I've suspected it for many years - most of my hikes are in the wet, the Australian drought broke temporarily whenever I came home and it's been raining half the time since I moved back. But I wasn't really sure until it rained on my first day in the Sahara. We had lunch at the family home of our guide, just south of M'Hamid under warm, blue skies. The afternoon walk to our campsite was only a couple of hours long, but during that time the sky grew dark. The first pass was just a light sprinkle, but when the wind turned, those same clouds dumped hail and a soaking rain on us for half an hour. The wind turned again, ready for a third pass, but that seemed to be all the Sahara could handle in one week and the clouds broke up. I'm glad to say that the new camel hair Jalaha I bought for the safari valiently held off the worst of the wind and rain and quickly dried by the fire that night. It wasn't enough, even with 2 blankets, to keep me warm enough to sleep as the sand released its moisture all night.

By |January 21st, 2009|Categories: Morocco|0 Comments

Pushy Moroccans

I'm back from 3 days in the Sahara and have found the locals here to be very pushy. I'm staying in an auberge 4km out of town so I'm at the mercy of the owner. I'm trying to book a bus back to the west tomorrow so that I can relax for the last few days of my trip. I'll find an internet cafe somewhere to write up my experiences of life as a Sahara nomad.

By |January 19th, 2009|Categories: Morocco|0 Comments

Ourika Valley

I've decided on the desert, but stayed one more day in Marakesh with the young couple I've been travelling with so far. While checking out bus times, we met 'the fat man' in Berber gear and allowed him to convince us to take a drive into the Ourika valley to see the Berber villages. When we agreed on the price, expecting this friendly man who spoke decent English to take us, he passed us on to another man. This guy lead us at a mad pace through the streets to the taxi rank where we were then passed to a man who spoke less French than me and no English. Each wanted their own tip. Dressed in as many layers of thermals as we could, we drove up into the red hills, veering away from the road up to the ski resorts. Of course, the journey was a procession of shop visits, each with their own charm. The first had a rooftop with views of the surrounding village (clay) and the people going about their lives. We were dressed in blue headresses and photographed. Then of course, we had to buy a cheap souvenir. Next was a Aagara oil workshop where local women shelled and pressed Aagara nuts to make a cooking oil. Flavoured with honey and almonds it made a great dip. They also used the oil to make perfumes and soaps and although I wanted to buy a mint soap, $10 per bar was out of my price range, so I gave them a donation for a photo. We'd eaten on the way up, but when we reached the top, our driver directed us to a restaurant with beautiful views down the Ourika

By |January 16th, 2009|Categories: Morocco|0 Comments

Clay hotel

I forgot to mention the youth hostel I stayed in at Casablanca. It was also all in clay, with clay tones throughout. It was obviously built for summer with a single high roof over the whole complex. It was strange to sleep in a room with walls about 3 times as high as the breadth, and more so to have it open to the maze of other rooms at the top.

By |January 16th, 2009|Categories: Morocco|0 Comments

Night Markets in Marakesh

I've just had dinner at the markets in the main square of Marakesh. I chose a chicken couscous, but without a guide I refrained from trying to eat it local style - with fingers. It was challenging enough to work out that the dish of chilli was for dipping the bread. I had wondered if I was meant to be pouring it over the couscous or trying to eat it with the fork. Scott and Pip, the Aussie couple tried the meat tajine. Very tender, apparently, but dissapointingly, came on a plate rather than in the tajine. We'd wandered through the markets for a while, letting the sales people in front of each stall try to convince us theirs was the best. In the end, we chose number 97, mostly because the guy started quoting from Summer Heights High. There were also many stalls selling freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice and just as many more selling nuts and dried fruit in huge piles. Nearby, women paint henna on hands, men in colourful outfits ask to have their photos taken and men hold cups of water out for their charmed snakes to drink from. It's all visible from our hotel rooftop if the pressure from the vendors gets too much.

By |January 15th, 2009|Categories: Morocco|0 Comments

Clay City

A few hours into the bus ride, we neared tall mountains that seemed to be snow right to their base. These were the Atlas mountains and I certainly hadn't brought clothes for that climate. It's now the desert or the sea. Near the base of the mountains sits a massive collection of clay buildings, mostly surrounded by a tall clay wall. Marakesh. This is where I'm staying tonight. The taxi driver who brought us from the bus into town said pointed out that it's a 500km trip to the desert which severly reduces my chances of making it on this trip. I might still head out there just to look, without actually making a trip onto the sands. We wandered the streets of Marakesh, taking pictures of the tall spire of the mosque from many angles. A 3 year old girl laughed in delight when she saw me taking pictures so I took one of her and showed her. She pointed at herself and kissed the screen. Her mother got embarrassed and called her away. I tried to talk to the mother and her friend, who was solving maths problems in a notebook, but got little besides names, ages (the mother was 17!) and that the friend was a maths student. I got the impression that it wasn't good custom for a man to talk to a woman in the park. We ended up in an old palace, intricately tiled in every room with myriad designs. More impressive were the patterns carved right into the clay arches and around the ceilings. Some were coloured and some had stained glass fitted into the holes. I noticed that the carvings are all angled downwards, presumably to give

By |January 15th, 2009|Categories: Morocco|0 Comments

Clay Villas

It's going to be tough to keep up to date on this trip. I have little incentive to waste time in an internet cafe when the life outside is so vibrant. I met an Australian couple at breakfast this morning who were heading to Marakesh, which is as far as I've got with my plans. They had tickets for the bus, so I decided on that route as well. The open countryside held my attention for a while, but while the endless plains rolled past, I thought I'd get in some planning. The big question is whether to settle in the mountains, the desert or by the sea. The desert is probably the most interesting and there are tours for about $60 per day. That was as far as I got before a glance out the window showed me a clay villa. I'd almost missed it with my head buried in the Lonely Planet. I quickly stashed it in my bag again. The villas seem at first to be open roofed, but a closer look shows a few closed-in rooms along one or two of the walls. These would be where the families live, I guessed, while the open area is the store and barn. These structures appeared in isolation and in village clusters, sometimes at the base of hills, others amidst tilled fields and some next to archeological dig sites. The fields were almost always walled off by cactus hedges.

By |January 15th, 2009|Categories: Morocco|0 Comments

Moroccan Whiskey

I met a Japanese couple on the train from the airport in Morocco who were just here for the day. This evening they catch a plane to Guinea where they'll take a course in drumming (him) and dancing (her). We got ripped off by the taxi driver who wanted 50 dirhams ($10) for the trip to town from the station and then wanted 50 each when we arrived. He didn't get the latter. That was really the only negative experience of the day. The locals love to talk and some get so carried away that they forget to try to sell you something. Ayumi was admiring the carved wooden door next to a shop in the markets and Sayid, the owner of the shop, came out to talk to him. It turned out he was a drummer of the Berber style and the two began talking. Suddenly he was dragging us through the warren of narrow market streets to a tea shop in a whitewashed culdesac. He called the mint tea 'Moroccan Whiskey'. Ayumi was asked to pour (apparently that's an honour), but we didn't yet know the protocol. The tea is served scaldingly hot in a small pot. To cool it down, the locals pour it out from great height (the higher the better, as long as you don't spill it) into a glass, then pour it back into the pot. This might be done a few times until the tea is cool enough to drink. We sipped at hot syrupy tea for half an hour while Sayid dug up drumming tracks on his mobile phone for us. Ayumi wanted to see the drums Sayid played, but they were at his house so he

By |January 14th, 2009|Categories: Morocco|0 Comments

Heading to Morocco

When I lived in Belgium, I was disappointed at the way every crime seemed to be blamed on the Moroccon immigrants. The gangs were always Moroccan, thefts were by Moroccons, shootings were done by Moroccons. I'm keen to see these people on their home turf. By Tuesday I'll be in the country getting first hand experience of their own culture. This will be my last trip before I begin my Masters in Applied Anthropology, so it may be the last in this style.

By |January 9th, 2009|Categories: Morocco|0 Comments