30 January 2012

Another 3 months in Tahannaout...

Our three month stay in Morocco came and went; before we knew it we were on our way back to the UK, a cold, wet, miserable UK. However, before we left Morocco one decision had to be made - to return to Morocco for a further 3 months or to settle back in the UK where I would have to start searching for work again.....a No-Brainer! Hence, on 17th January 2012, we arrived back in beautiful Morocco, armed with 4 packs of Tetley teabags, Cheerios, Shreddies, goodies from the Pound shop and a few more clothes! It felt so good to be back, another 3 months to explore this stunningly beautiful country!

We pick up our hire car from our friend, Adil, at the airport...it is the same car with the same small hole in the windscreen caused by a huge lorry kicking up stones off the road in its wake, but now it is clean and ready to start the new journeys we have planned for it over the next few months. Adil welcomes us with a massive grin and 'Hello, my Moroccan friends', always smiling, always friendly...so typical of the Marrakchi people.

Soon it is as if we have never been away...we pop into Carrefour for a few bits and pieces of groceries to tide us over and head back towards the snow-capped mountains to 'our' home in Tahannaout. As we approach we wonder how the dogs will be - we've only been away for 2 weeks but it feels like we've not seen them for months...will they recognise us? Will they be bigger now? Will they all still be here or will they have wondered off without our input of food? We need not have worried. I go in through the gate first and look around me...nothing...but then a little black head appears at the top of the stairs leading to the garden, closely followed by several other heads, all peering in my general direction. I crouch down and Stripe tentatively approaches, sniffing the air. One lick, then another, then the tail starts wagging furiously, a sign to the other dogs that all is well...then we are surrounded by 7 dogs, all running around us, play fighting, licking us and wagging their tails so hard it seems they may fall off. Now they know they will eat again! The only apparent differences in them are that they are all 'leggier', Chunky is less chunky, and they've all found their voices...a few sleepless nights to come then I reckon! Over the coming days the dogs' affection grows and grows, and soon it is as if we are their masters and they our pets...no more hesitation in approaching us, even Mr Dog rolls over when we come near, and Mr Sneezy joins the others sitting on the patio waiting to be stroked. We are aware this isn't particularly a good thing as they are meant to be guard dogs...but we can at least help these puppies to grow strong whilst we are here, and then they will be more able to fend for themselves once we're gone.

Mrs Dog, Blackie, The Chunkster and Tanny
as seen through the dirt on our windows that they have created 

Blackie and Tanny

Mrs Dog and The Chunkster having a rest

All 7 dogs!

Tanny and Stripe keep an eye on us

As you're probably aware I could talk about the dogs all day long, but now onto other things...
We have now become paid-up members of the British Business Group, which is essentially a network of British/English speaking business owners in Marrakech, made up of diverse people from all walks of life. That is why on a cold winter's day we make our way up to the wonderful Kasbah du Toubkal for lunch with some of the group and also to have meetings with Martin's boss who owns the Kasbah with his brother. We have been invited to stay for the weekend. On arrival we find that we have been given a room in the Garden Suite, the best accommodation available, and will be sharing the upper floor of the suite with friends. This is a lovely surprise. Our room has everything you could wish for, together with fabulous views of the surrounding mountains...hairdryer, djellabahs, babouches, complimentary fridge stacked with soft drinks, fruit, snacks...and even his and hers earbuds! The upstairs which we share has a fully equipped kitchen, a large dining table, beautiful log fire and sofas, together with a view from the balcony to die for, visible through the 12 metre windows which stretch almost the length of the room. In here we are served our evening meals by the wonderful Berber staff of the Kasbah, accompanied by the wine and beer which has been left to chill on the balcony. We are truly spoilt!

Me admiring the view from our balcony

The frozen tagine fountain

Mart and I enjoying the sunshine

A spot of business on Saturday, then Sunday it is time to meet the British Business Group members who have come for lunch along with other invitees from various hotels and riads in Marrakech. The waiters carefully lay tables outside on the terraces, the traditional Berber dinner services are set out on red tablecloths, a table serving mint tea out of silver teapots is set up, wine glasses and copious bottles of wine stand alongside soft drinks.

A table is laid

Mint tea and snacks

The woman baking our bread

Slowly people start to arrive, having made their way up the steep slopes and steps to the Kasbah from the trail head village of Imlil, some on foot, others by mule. It's good to know we are not the only ones who are totally done in by the time we negotiate the path, as people arrive gasping for breath and a sit down. This is, of course, all part of the adventure of visiting the Kasbah du Toubkal.

Mohammed and Lahcen greet the guests at Reception

About 80 people in total arrive, families, couples and single people, some who have never been here before, and some, like us, who absolutely love this place. We have a wonderful lunch, salads, lamb tagine, couscous and chicken, with fruit for dessert, and then spend time mingling and getting to know each other. The sun is by now blazing, and despite the cool mountain air our faces are getting burnt as we delight in each other's company.

Al fresco dining with the BBG

Beautiful view down the valley

View towards the waterfall and snowy mountains

After a tour of the various rooms on offer to guests and the communal rooms for dining, reading or just being, it is time for people to leave so as to get down the steep hillside before dusk falls. Not for us though as we are invited to stay one more night. I could get used to this lifestyle :D On Monday morning after taking lots of photos from the Kasbah's roof terraces we descend the hill and are greeted at our car by a man selling jewellery. I chatted and laughed with this man last time I was here but left without buying anything from him. This time I make amends and buy a coral necklace on the condition that I can have a photo of him - it is these friendly encounters that add to the richness of life here. We eventually set off to drive back to Tahannaout along the mountain roads, and Martin is able to start work again - amending and updating the Kasbah website...It is difficult to believe he works for such a wonderful place! What a privilege!

My jewellery man

03 January 2012

Day 85: Moulay Brahim and the Kik plateau

We have always wondered where the road leads to when you turn off before the village of Asni on the mountain road. Today we will find out.The signpost says 'Moulay Brahim', a village named after a well-known Moroccan sufi saint. As we take the turning we can see the road winding it's way back and forth steeply up the mountainside ahead of us and anticipate the spectacular views from the top.

As we climb up and up we begin to see the snow-clad mountains ;they seem so near yet so far at the same time. The valley between us and them is green and verdant despite the fact it is technically winter here!

Finally we reach the actual village of Moulay Brahim. It is a fairly typical more modern village perched on the hillside, the houses arranged in an unorderly fashion around the ornate mosque. We meet very few people, but the few we do meet are men going about their daily business, leading their heavily laden donkeys along the fields and empty roads or herding their flocks of sheep on the mountainside. A lone turkey crosses our path, scouting for food - it's the only one we've seen this Christmas! One man greets us and points us in the direction of the Kik plateau; there is almost a sense of urgency in his voice telling us we must go there. So on we go...

Wow! This is the beautiful Kik plateau. We have now climbed quite a way up in our car and the land has flattened out revealing the most stunning landscape - in part desolate but dotted with the occasional village. We can see for miles across ploughed fields, barren land and terraced escarpments to the mountains beyond - they provide a glorious backdrop to this plateau. A danger sign on the roadside catches my eye - what danger can there possibly be in this deserted area?

Oh, maybe this is the danger...a shepherd is guiding his sheep across the empty road!

Suddenly we hear voices....several snotty-nosed boys, no more than 8 years of age, are running behind the car shouting 'Bonjour' and 'Salaam'. We stop the car and greet them...but are bombarded in broken French with requests for money, pens and sweets. It is obvious to us that they very rarely see Europeans - and think everyone who visits is loaded with money. Maybe we are in comparison to them?! We make a mental note to bring back some pens and sweets if we ever come this way again - and I'm sure we will.... inch'allah!

A little further along the road we come across a beautiful old village and make our way down the track that leads to it. A woman comes out of her house to see who is visiting her village in a car...she smiles and waves and we approach to chat - loosely termed of course as she doesn't speak English or French and our Berber and Arabic is very limited to say the least. But chat we do...and at the sight of a few dirhams she is happy to pose for a few photos outside her front door. We learn that the village is called Asaflala. After a few more minutes of smiles and nods and the odd word we continue on our way. It amazes us that people can live in such remote areas - yet we can see why one would not want to leave when surrounded by such stunning scenery.

The friendly smiley woman we met, posing outside her front door

A shepherd tending his flock

I'd love walking to work if I lived here!

Towards the end of the plateau we can see down towards Lake Lalla Takerkoust which marks the end of the winding route down and the start of the road towards Marrakech. During the spring this natural lake stores the water that trickles down from the mountains. It is a very popular place for Marrakchis to visit in summer for a picnic and a stroll and to escape the heat of the city. Today, however, we are heading home before the darkness falls.

And so ends another day in this beautiful country...