28 December 2011

Day 81: Sidi Fares

The last few weeks have been full of so many adventures here in Morocco that I've not had time to write about them...so apologies to all those waiting to hear from me.

I could tell you about the wonderful drives we have had through the mountains, the winding route to Sidi Fares and the friendly old man we met riding his donkey, our picnic on the hillside overlooking the fabulous Atlas mountains, the valley where three types of rocks converge and create villages reflecting their colours, the hang gliders soaring over the Kik plateau, not to mention the everyday newness of living here and all that life here brings. However, I've decided to show you instead through photographs just the one day of our visit to Sidi Fares...... a picture paints a thousand words...

En route to Sidi Fares

Kasbah Tamadot - belonging to Sir Richard Branson

An old 12th century Jewish village, Tansghart, stands in sharp contrast to
Branson's modern Kasbah across the valley

Close up view of a house in Tansghart

Stunning mountain scenery

A friendly Berber man we met on the way

His interesting face

The Imenane valley

The Toubkal Massif

The col of Likemt

Mount Toubkal


Sidi Fares

Oukaimeden (Ski resort)

Goats in the road

A fluffy goat catches our eye

Sidi Fares

Sidi Fares

Sidi Fares

The village of Tizaoute


A woman's work is never done!

The village of Ismir with Oukaimeden in the background


25 December 2011

Crib scene at Holy Martyr's Catholic church, Marrakech

Merry Christmas!!

09 December 2011

Day 62: Back to basics

We are woken up this morning by the sound of clip-clopping on the courtyard and the appearance of a horse and a donkey in the garden. Today, Said explains, is a day of ploughing the field at the end of our garden in readiness for planting crops which can be harvested in Spring. To this end, he has brought in a neighbour who has a handmade wooden plough to help him. Very few people in this town use machinery...everything is done by traditional methods. Before the horse is harnessed to the plough, however, he makes a run for it, much to our amusement and from our window we can see this mighty chestnut brown horse galloping around the field and garden, Said and Khalid trying to coax it back, brandishing sticks and attempting a bit of horse-whispering. After a few backward kicks, the horse gives in, and is quickly harnessed to the plough along with the donkey who has obviously done this for years and knows it is his duty.

We watch as the two men start to lead the animals up and down the field in straight lines, dragging the heavy plough behind them - Khalid takes the lead and Said directs the plough. It takes hours! As they near the end, Mart has a go at directing the plough - it is not as easy as Said makes it look - the plough is heavy and easily veers off in different directions as it is dragged by the animals. This is no mean feat, ploughing a field of this size.

Ploughing the field

Once the ploughing is finally finished, it is time for the various crops to be planted - Said plants coriander seeds, broad beans and peas. Once again the horse and donkey trudge up and down the field, furrowing the soil and covering the seeds. It is hours later before they are finished. Then there is the painstaking job over the next few days of labelling which crops are planted where, so that come the Spring there is no confusion and the job of harvesting will be easier.

Broad beans 

Sowing the seeds

It takes a long time...

As we drive through the local villages, we come across many other men preparing their fields using these same traditional methods. It is difficult to imagine having the time or the patience for such a laborious task - but these men seem to be happy to spend their days doing this, so as to ensure that in Spring they will be able to sell some of these crops at the market and provide continuous income for their families until next Winter.

Another field is ploughed

Just about to go out this afternoon when I found this fella clinging to the window - a gigantic cricket, looking at me with wide staring eyes. I wouldn't fancy finding him in my bed!

Jiminy Cricket

It is early evening now and Said wants to show us his father's fields which are near to our house, so off we go. There is no proper gate to the field, just a few bamboo sticks and wood tied together with plastic strapping. We edge through this 'gate' and find ourselves in a field full of ancient and new olive trees, some being nearly a thousand years old we are told. They look pretty old so we take his word for it! There are also some greengage plum trees. Said explains that he looks after this field for his father and shows us how he prunes back the plum trees to encourage new growth. Amongst the trees there is a special type of grass growing, which Said explains he has planted in order to provide special food for the cows which makes them produce milk more quickly - not that his family has any cows - but he plants it so it can be given away to others who do have cows. Very little goes to waste in this country, every bit of land is used productively! It is getting dark now and Said suddenly bends down, pointing at something on the ground - he tells us it is the hoof print of the Wild Boar. Apparently, they have been known to cross this field at night...he suggests we leave now! We don't need telling twice!

Hoof print of a Wild Boar?

An update on the puppies. They have now opened their eyes and are growing daily, making little whiny sounds and learning to bark. The brown one with the white marks in the photo is the male of the litter, the other three are female - all four are adorable and I want to just cuddle them. They are wild dogs, however, and we don't know how they will react to humans once they leave their den. We don't have to wait long to find out - over the next few days, they begin to venture out of the den, walking along the wall - led of course by the dominant male! All scurry back in, however, when we approach. It takes another few days before the male leads the other brown pup out into the garden under mother's watchful eye; the two black pups are more timid and stay in the den. We watch excitedly as Mrs Dog plays with her male pup whilst the other brown pup lies camouflaged in the long grass. This pup is greedy and even stands on his hind legs to reach mum's teats so he can have more feed - she playfully pushes him off when she's had enough of his tugging at her nipples. He is certainly chunkier than the rest of the pups! We get close enough to stroke the two pups even though they have obviously inherited the nervousness and timidity of their mother. They are gorgeous. Speaking of Mrs Dog, she now comes up to the house most days to have some bread which we save for her. If we don't see her outside and go out, she presses her nose against the window, her tail wagging furiously. She is still very timid, but will now sometimes approach me to take some bread from my hand and then retreat to eat it in her own space. It is hard to see how anyone could have been so cruel to this beautiful dog to make her fear people so much. We just want to stroke her - but she is not ready for that - yet!

Pups cuddling up together in the den

The timid black pups
Mrs Dog and her male pup
Greedy pup

Food for the dogs consists of chicken heads and claws given to Said at the market on Tuesdays. It's not a nice sight to see these strewn around the garden, but these dogs will certainly never see a tin of Chum or Pal, so I guess this is better than nothing! Yesterday, there was an unidentifiable animal's head in the garden - I'm sure it must have been very tasty - just wish the skull hadn't been left there!

Chicken claws

To finish on a lighter note, this is the season for olive picking. The men and boys bash the olive trees with sticks so that the olives fall onto the awaiting blanket beneath, then the women and girls sit in the fields and de-stone the olives. The nuts of the olives are then put into baskets which are taken to the local olive press where they are ground and made into olive oil. It is interesting to watch this process taking place from our rooftop terrace.

The olive picking process

30 November 2011

Day 48: Essaouira...Part 2

After a good night's sleep we wander around the medina once again, looking at the various items for sale. There is nothing more we really want to buy, although it is interesting just to watch people as they go about their everyday lives, women doing their shopping for meat and vegetables, beggars meandering through the crowds on the lookout for a generous soul, children chasing each other in and out of puddles newly formed by men cleaning their shop fronts with buckets of water, dogs sleeping in the middle of pavements under the hot African sun. One word to describe this scene - LIFE - and it is here in abundance!

View over the town

Looking out to sea from the Skala (fort)

The medina

Everyone comes out for a stroll late afternoon

cleverly painted boat

Blue fishing boats at the port

We've decided today to take a look at the fishing port as Essaouira is renowned for its huge trawlers and small fishing boats which between them catch enough fish to be shipped all over the country of Morocco. This is indeed a busy old place. We meet a fisherman named Hassan who has been fishing in these small blue boats that line the port for about 40 years now, and he takes us on a tour of the port explaining what is happening as we see it. We are very privileged as he takes us to the areas that tourists never see - he explains to us the different types of nets used for catching different fish, he tells us about the joys of eating Conger Eel in a tagine, how the hooks are baited before leaving the port and arranged around the outside of boxes so as not to get tangled up...but most importantly he explains how the port is the heart and soul of Essaouira and how in recent years investors wanted to make the port into a marina rather than a working port - this proposal was fortunately declined. Later we watch the trawlers coming in. Hassan tells us when they are still quite a distance away that the catch is good - he knows because of the depth of the boat as it glides through the water and by the sheer number of seagulls that follow the boat to the shore. Listening to Hassan and watching the scenes before me reminds me of Hemingway's 'The Old Man and the Sea' - this man too is a seasoned fisherman who know the trade like the back of his weather-beaten hand. Then he shows us the large boats that have recently been battered by storms. Armies of men are aboard, some welding, many with hammers - all trying to ensure that these huge vessels will be fit once again for duty. There is no fancy machinery, just plain hard graft from these men day after day. They know this is their only chance of a livelihood.

Trawlers and small fishing boats

Catching crabs

Mending nets

Life at the port

The oldest boat in the port

Lazy dog lying on the nets

Waiting for the trawler

The trawler coming in surrounded by seagulls

Locals sell some of the fish

...seagulls watch...

fish heads await the seagulls

...fighting for the spoils

fish are packed in ice and loaded on lorries for shipping

After a very interesting day out where we have gained a new insight into the fishing industry in Essaouira, it is time for an early night.

Unfortunately, Mart is suffering from a bout of food poisoning so we're heading off home this morning, a little earlier than anticipated. A walk along the lovely sandy beach beckons but he is just too ill, so reluctantly we decide we will just have to come back another time...it's a hard life! On the way back, however, we manage just to get one photo of the renowned Argan goats, so called because they climb the Argan trees to eat the nuts. I am amazed to spot this scene at the side of the road. As we stop the car, a little girl comes running to us holding a baby goat in her arms and asking for money - she is obviously used to doing this, and of course people give her money. We are just about to do the same when I suddenly realise there's something strange about this scene - you never see goats just standing on these trees, they are always eating the leaves and nuts - but these ones are just standing there staring at us. It dawns on me that the goats have either been tied to the tree or are in fact stuffed ones and not real at all! Cheeky Moroccans, some of them will do anything for a few dirhams!!!!

Real or stuffed? You decide......