27 October 2011

Day 19: Jaime and Tom's last day

The mood is sombre this morning as we wake up to Jaime and Tom's last day in Morocco. The weather has even joined in - it is pouring with rain. We decide to have a leisurely morning and go out somewhere nice for lunch later on. Whilst Tom settles down to play 'Just Cause 2' on Mart's computer - he's become very fond of that game over the last few days - Jaime, Mart and myself sit and reminisce over cups of tea about all the fun we've had over the last few days. We talk about our most enjoyable moments, funniest moments, happiest moments, until we are all talked out, then it's time to pack :(

Just Cause 2

It doesn't seem like the rain is going to stop today, so we head off into the new town of Marrakech called Gueliz to a cafe/restaurant that Mart and I stumbled across last week. It is a lovely little French place called 'le Charlot' and it is based on the theme of Charlie Chaplin. There are stills from his movies decorating the walls, etchings of his face on the glass tables and the windows, and even the lights have bowler hats similar to Charlie Chaplin's as light shades. We eat inside - in stark contrast to last week when Mart and I sat outside in brilliant sunshine and perused the people passing by. The food is very tasty; lasagne, breaded chicken breast, pizza and kefta (meatball tajine) are all enjoyed by their respective diners in these beautiful surroundings.

Le Charlot cafe/restaurant
Tom showing off his stashes of leftover dirhams

After an hour or so, we decide we've sat here for long enough, we still have another hour left before we need to head to the airport and we don't want to waste a single minute of time now that it is so precious. Marrakech old and new town have both been explored, we've enjoyed a trip into the mountains, we've trekked to local villages, the only other main aspect of this region as yet unexplored is the Palmeraie, so we decide to go for a drive.

How the Palmeraie should look!
The entrance to Marcus and Emma's house
complete with palm tree which has to be
driven around and Jojo in the background :-)

The Palmeraie is an area of Marrakech which is filled with thousands of date palms forming a vast oasis in which are dotted many hamlets where local Moroccans live. Since the 1970s this has become prime real estate and many expensive villas have been built under strict guidelines for wealthy Moroccans and Europeans. One of the rules is that not one palm tree can be destroyed - which makes for very interesting roads with palm trees stuck in the middle! Today, however, the Palmeraie looks very different in the rain - what should have been a sandy green oasis offering camel rides has now become a deserted muddy area, puddles everywhere! Much to Tom's delight we speed through the puddles as we wind our way through the palm groves, whilst Jaime and I inspect the ornate oversized gates behind which lie the secret lives of celebrities and local wealthy people.

Who lives in a house like this?
A typical view in the Palmeraie

Our last meal together
We can put it off no longer...the airport beckons. We are all feeling sad after a fun-filled five days, but all good things must come to an end, and the invitation is there to return.

26 October 2011

Day 18: Evening - Marrakech at night

After a quick cup of tea we are off again. We are all so tired, but being their last night Jaime and Tom don't want to miss anything! So we head off into the city of Marrakech. As we draw nearer, the traffic becomes more and more heavy...and we are glad to be ushered into a parking space near to the Koutoubia mosque. The parking attendant is gesticulating wildly to us as we walk away having parked the car - we finally deduce from my broken French that he wants us to give him the keys and take the handbrake off! To prove a point he nudges the car parked next to ours and it rolls forward! He explains further that the reason for this is that if someone wants to get out of the car park but is hemmed in, he just rolls the cars forward to enable that person to get out! We tell him that the car isn't ours so we are not going to do anything he has suggested - Why would anyone do this anyway, we ask ourselves...so we return to the car and move further into the same car park to find another place to park. This time, we find a 'normal' space and park up. Mart tells the parking attendant here that we will stay for three hours, 'trois heures' he says a few times repeatedly...the lad replies 'What? No problem!' - so much for Mart's attempts at basic French!

Koutoubia mosque
We have a lovely view of the Koutoubia all lit up at night as we walk by, and the path is getting busier as we approach the main square. Suddenly Jaime notices a man has come running up behind us and is now sitting further along the path with his hand held out begging. We are amused at this but reckon he is just trying his luck with the foreign tourists; I'm further amused when I turn around and he is now walking back along the path in the opposite direction...doesn't look like a beggar now at all! You find all sorts of people in Marrakech.

The next obstacle is crossing the main road; Jaime clings to me as the traffic lights turn to red for traffic to stop - we don't want to be lulled into a false sense of security though...we know that traffic lights mean very little to motorbikes, push bikes, donkeys with carts, coaches, buses etc...so we negotiate those vehicles carefully and finally arrive safely on the road leading to the world-famous Djemma El Fna.

The Djemma El Fna is a square and market place in Marrakech's old city, its name meaning 'Assembly of the Dead'. In olden times apparently, the heads of people who had been beheaded after wrongdoings were brought to this very square on poles and paraded for all to see, hence the name. Now it is a place of heritage and is protected by UNESCO as a place of cultural expression. During the day, as described in a previous post, it is occupied mainly by orange juice sellers, young men with monkeys on chains, snake charmers and water sellers, but by night it becomes something else altogether. Now it is full of Berber dancers, musicians, old men surrounded by locals telling traditional stories in the Berber language with a great deal of animation, and peddlers of traditional medicines. We even see one man playing a Guembri to an appreciative crowd with a live chicken balanced on his head! Alongside this scene, however, are people selling 'Amazing helicopters' which when catapulted high into the night sky light it up in shades of blue before falling to the ground. Tom just has to buy one of those. Also for sale are individual packs of tissues sold by snotty-nosed young boys who can be no more than five years of age, as well as biscuits and balloons. Jaime is shocked at how young the children are who are wandering through the crowds selling things - and even more shocked when one little boy says 'F*** You' when she doesn't buy a pack of his tissues! The spectacle has to be seen to be believed.

Tom's Amazing Helicopter

After meandering through the crowds we decide it is time to have something to eat. Fortunately for us, another major part of the scene here at night are the mobile food stalls which set themselves up every evening at dusk, just as the sun sets, so we head through the crowds towards these. As we approach the stalls we are bombarded at each with the sales patter of the young men who work there...all are in competition with each other to attract custom. One shakes hands with us as he thrusts his menu under our noses, another asks where we are from and begins to quote authors such as Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and famous book titles. Yet another tells us that his name is Abdul Oliver, not Jamie Oliver, and he is a better chef than Jamie! Phrases such as 'We have a 3 year guarantee here', 'air-conditioning', 'bloody marvellous', '24/7 takes you to heaven' are cried out to us as we pass by to get our attention...we take it all in fun and partake in some banter with the young men before finally choosing the guidebook recommendation, stall no 1!!

Stall No 1
We are seated at a long bench with large sheets of paper as place mats, and served flat breads with a spicy sauce and a mild sauce, then we choose chicken brochettes and chips from the menu, along with four cokes. The food is brought to us on saucers - even though the quantity is small, it is very tasty and enough for us after our four course meal at the Kasbah earlier today. When talking to a Welsh couple who sit beside us, Jaime is thrilled to be asked if she is still at school...what a compliment :) She doesn't let us forget this in a hurry! In the midst of all the to-ing and fro-ing of waiters we notice a teenage boy is wandering through the diners holding out to them a flat loaf of bread which has been cut down the middle to open it out, and he is asking them to fill his bread with their food - At first we think he is poor, but then Tom spots his expensive trainers...the boys here are so used to begging that they now do it regardless of need! As we sit minding our own business, a fight breaks out behind us between two teenage boys - it is soon stopped though by the intervention of an adult who slaps both boys hard and sends them packing. If this was the UK, we ponder, the adult would most likely be stabbed or at least set upon by the lads...somehow, things seem the right way round over here!

A chef hard at work
A smiley Tom
A busy evening for the stall

Fully satiated for the second time today, we set off for a stroll through the souks (market place) where Jaime engages with me in some bartering for a beautiful scarf she has seen, and ends up one happy lady when she walks away with the scarf purchased at a good price and wrapped in a Tesco carrier bag!

Tom's attention is taken by a game of Hoopla in the square. Rows of bottles of pop are set out around a circle and people are given a fishing rod with a hoop at the end, the aim being to hoopla the pop within five minutes...for a small cost of course! This game is very popular with locals, though not many seem to win. The prize is your money back if you succeed. We watch as Tom has a go, but despite his and other's deep concentration, nobody seems to win tonight!


As we continue to stroll we notice that the shops are shutting and Mart suddenly remembers that the gates of the souks are locked by 9pm. There's nothing we can do except hurry along the narrow alleyways, weaving our way left and right, ignoring the shouts of some young lads who want to tell us the wrong way out. We've now left the crowds far behind and there is no-one else in sight - we feel like we are in a TV thriller as we walk faster and faster, following Mart's intuition to find our way out. Finally we reach the gate and civilisation again...nobody in their right mind would want to be locked in the souks overnight!

Where's the way out?

We make our way to the car park, laughing and joking about the various happenings of this evening...when we come across the same 'beggar' as earlier who is now sat on the pavement...Mart gives him some money - even if he isn't a real beggar, he has contributed in some small way to our enjoyable evening.

Day 18: Morning - Kasbah du Toubkal

Today we are taking Jaime and Tom to visit Kasbah du Toubkal for lunch. This is my favourite place ever, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with my friends, hoping they too will capture the sheer beauty of it. It also happens to be the company for whom Mart works - whenever we visit, we are amazed to think that when he sits in his little office in our little house in a suburb of Birmingham, England, designing and maintaining websites, he is working for this magnificent place.

Mountain road
After a lazy morning at home we set off on our drive along mountain roads heading for Imlil, the small village in which we will park the car and set off on our 20 minute trek uphill to the Kasbah. Jaime is terrified as cars weave in and out of each other on the mountain roads, overtaking, undertaking, beeping horns loudly; at the same time we are aware of the sheer drops without barriers on our left hand side. I don't know what she's worried about, guess who's sitting in the back seat on the left hand side?! Moi!!! Halfway along the road the traffic comes to a standstill - there are roadworks which have been ongoing for the last 6 months, so we were expecting them. When I say 'roadworks', this is no small feat - there are diggers cutting into the mountainside with the aim of widening the road - it sure needs it. However, this is the only road leading from Marrakech through to Imlil and other main villages in the area, so it is impossible to divert traffic - instead, traffic is stopped whilst more rocks are chipped away by the diggers, and when there is a large build up of traffic all work stops and traffic is allowed through. This pattern continues throughout the working day - something which has not escaped the notice of the roadside sellers who pedal along on their bikes furiously until they reach the stopped traffic, and then hassle the drivers and passengers to buy local rocks which have been cut open to reveal quartz crystals within. What is funny is that some of these 'crystals' are actually coated in food dye to give a glistening colourful appearance - who do they think they are kidding?! But we must remember that people need to make a living - there is no such thing as benefits or NHS here in Morocco. As we will be waiting here for 20 minutes or more, we get out of the hot car to enjoy some sunshine and scenery along with everyone else. Tom plays on his mum's weakness, standing very close to the edge of the road next to the sheer drop, balancing on one leg and pretending to fall - boys will be boys!

Jaime and Tom at the roadworks

At last we arrive in the village of Imlil, park up and set off uphill towards our destination, the Kasbah. People here are very friendly and shout greetings to Mart and I as they recognise us from previous visits; one lad even calls to us from the rooftop of his house, trying to entice us into his shop on our return journey down the hill...'maybe later' we say, and warn Jaime never to answer 'okay' as then it will be seen as more of a contractual agreement and we won't get away without buying something. The climb is very tiring as it is made up of steep paths and steep steps. When visitors want to stay at the Kasbah their luggage is brought up by boys on donkeys and the visitors walk behind - but we have no luggage, so we make our way alone at a slow enough pace for us all to manage to breathe!

Here we are...the Kasbah in all its glory stands before us. We enter through the original wooden gate, up a few more steps and along the garden path. Mohammed greets us with the traditional Berber welcome; rosewater is poured onto our hands and we ceremoniously dip dates into a bowl of milk - the latter is to give us back our energy, Mohammed smilingly explains. (It seems Tom is far from impressed by the date ceremony - but he remains polite and covers his dislike of dates very well.) Then we are led to the rooftop for our lunch. Jaime finds it hard to take in the fantastic views that surround us. From this rooftop dining room we can see huge mountains on every side with villages seemingly perched precariously on the slopes. Snow covers the tops of the mountains, but we are here in warm sunshine. And then there is Mount Toubkal behind us - it's pointed peak higher than the rest, standing at 4167 metres - it looks magnificent with its snow-covered peak nestling against the blue sky. To our right we can just see a waterfall  - which unfortunately today does not contain a lot of water due to the recent drought - but we can certainly catch a glimpse of its splendour even today. It is truly magical here.

Chicken couscous, yummy!
Lunch is served; Moroccan salad with flat bread for starters, followed by Lamb tajine with figs and walnuts, then chicken and couscous, and finally fruit for dessert (green-skinned oranges which are lovely and sweet, bananas and pomegranates), all accompanied by water fresh from the spring. Jaime declares that the lamb is the best she has ever tasted, though she is not taken by the figs. We are all fully satiated by the end of the meal, and Jaime too has fallen in love with this place! We spend the next hour or so on the terraces admiring the spectacular views and drinking coffee. Tom has become like a member of the paparazzi since Mart let him have a go on his camera, so now we are all being photographed at every angle and with every movement - it is a fun time for us all.

Regretfully we leave the Kasbah by 3.30pm as this is Jaime and Tom's last night and we have yet to see and experience Marrakech by night - and that is a Must-Do!


Achain village
Washing hanging out to dry
Paparazzi Tom
Tom's pic of Mum
Tom's creative shot of  flowers on the terrace with  Toubkal in the background
The garden
Targa Imoula village
More beautiful scenery
Looking down the valley
Coffee time
Thoughtful Tom - love this pic!
The garden path and dining area
A fountain made out of a tajine
Another view of Toubkal
Low cloud

25 October 2011

Day 17: Afternoon - A walk to local villages

After an hour of sunbathing in the garden, we all head off for a walk with Said to the local villages. We are followed for about half a mile by a lovely little stray puppy who is yelping and whining - he has obviously lost his mother, but in Morocco there are so many strays that carry disease so we dare not touch him or allow him to get too close to us. A bus roars around the corner and we all hide our eyes as the dog criss crosses in front of it, not knowing where to go to avoid disaster - but fortunately avoid it he does. A man walking behind us starts to throw stones in the dog's direction - and the dog soon ambles off. Jaime and I feel sad, but we know that there is nothing we can do about the situation, the dog must fend for itself.

On our way
Marhaba (Welcome)

After a short while, we head off the road onto a track and walk past houses, donkeys, sheep and cows.They are obviously used to people passing this way as they take very little notice of us.

Prickly pear cacti

Along the sides of the roads are prickly pear cacti - often children will pick the fruit off these when ripe and sell them to passers by for refreshment.

A modern village
Disused mill
Mart, Said and Tom
Lovely scenery
Overtaken by a man on a donkey

One hour later we arrive in the traditional village of Azrou. Said informs us that Azrou means 'rock' or 'stone' and that is what this village is built on, hence the name. We climb above the village to look down on it, and are amazed at the way the small houses cling to the hillside - and equally amazed at the number of satellite dishes which have been installed in the village - Not everything is as antiquated as it looks! That sort of sums up Morocco - ancient and modern both vie with each other and compliment each other wherever you look - which only adds to the appeal of this country.

Looking down on the village of Azrou

Jaime and I decide to take a rest, sitting on a rock near to the summit of the hill, whilst the men continue to the top. We are shattered by now - we thought this was going to be a short walk, but it has turned into a bit of a trek! Whilst we are sitting nattering, four men on donkeys pass by - we wonder at first what they are laughing at, but then realise how bizarre we must look to them, two white Europeans with sunburnt faces sitting on a rock half way up a mountain - quite alien to their way of life.
Tom and his mate, Said

Taking a rest

A rather muddy walk!

As we head back down the hill it occurs to us females that a loo break is in order - but where do you find a loo in the middle of the countryside in Morocco? Like an apparition before our eyes, we see a Women's Co-operative at the side of the road. We decide that whatever the cost of pressure selling it will be worth it for a wee! Once inside, we are very impressed by the work of the women here. There is a tree indigenous to the south-west of Morocco called the Argan tree and nuts grow on this tree which are used by women in such co-operatives as this to make a variety of products. The women show us how they take the husks off the argan nuts, then grind the nuts to produce a paste and then this paste is made into various products such as cooking oil, moisturisers, shampoo, soap etc and sold to both locals and tourists. It is a very interesting process which is explained to us in perfect English by a young Moroccan woman. We even get to try the grinding process ourselves - it is hard work! We taste the oil produced for cooking and a lovely dip called Amlou which is made of Argan oil, almonds and honey - Tom loves the latter and buys a jar to take home, despite the cost!  Jaime treats herself to shower gel, and Mart and I buy some cooking oil and Amlou.

The workers sit underneath a painting of themselves to carry out their work
Jaime has a go at grinding the nuts
I have a go next

On the way back we take a shortcut through another village, a little more modern this time. Jaime feels like a celebrity as children and adults alike wave to us. Before we know it we are back home, walking along our path. Our two hour walk has become a three and a half hour walk - Moroccan time can always be doubled!

One last treat though...Said calls to his friend, Sadik, who is our neighbour, to come and meet us. In front of us appears a smiley but toothless Berber man who brings us his broken musical instrument to show us - it is a Guembri, which is usually a three-stringed skin-covered bass plucked lute used by the Gnawa people of Morocco - but the strings are completely gone on this one. Sadik explains that the strings are made of sheep gut - but the mice in his house have eaten them!! He is now waiting for Monday when it is Eid and Muslim men must kill a sheep, so that he can get some sheep gut to make new strings! Then he will play his Guembri and sing again in the market and at festivals. We are all fascinated and cannot wait to hear this humble man play such an interesting instrument and perform his gnawa music.

We decide to go to the local cafe/restaurant for tea to save cooking. When we get there the outside section (where Mart and I have previously had a lovely lunchtime meal) is closed, so we are led into a dingy cafe where we are the only customers. Already we are feeling that perhaps this is not a good idea - and this suspicion is confirmed when we are given a menu, only to later be told that in fact they have only two chicken portions left, two rabbit portions and two veal....err, no thanks, I say, we'll come back another time! And with that, we get up and leave, much to the indignation of the waitress who is watching her evening tip walk out of the door! C'est la vie....