You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Morocco’ category.

Hellacious heat has sapped my motivation to write but nevertheless, I have continued my daily diarising so can provide you with the highlights of our month-long sojourn in the land of tasty tagines, fasting Muslims and crusty camels. Morocco, as a deeply muslim country, begun observing Ramadan the day after we arrived and this means that nothing must pass the lips of a participant. No water, no food and no cigarettes so long as it’s light, roughly 4.30am-7.45pm. Rough in the summer months!

Taghazout. I will admit to a shameful secret. I can’t surf. I know, it’s embarrassing as a New Zealander. However, S. and I were keen to rectify this state of affairs so we enrolled in a 5 day surf camp, living in a lush surf house and were fed to bursting every morning and evening. It’s a very laidback spot and combined with a daily 7am yoga course plus a weight-adjusting stomach bug which swept the surf house, was a most envigorating experience!

Essaouira. We shuttled up the coast to this salty ex-Portuguese city and loved it. Superb food, hugely atmospheric windy alleyways, the continual cawing of seagulls and the smell of sea in the air. The small fort has starred in Game of Thrones and the  imposing walls have no doubt protected legions of fishermen and traders from marauding privateers in their day. The seafood available was a highlight.

Marakkesh. The big kahuna of Moroccan cities. We dived straight in having been warned about the shark taxi drivers and aggressive marketsellers. With this in mind we booked an incredible riad so reminiscent to us of the hotels in Iran. A gentle fountain decanting into a swimming pool in the middle of the lobby, a tiny 4 room hotel with lavish decorations including a small tortoise wandering about the breakfast area. The heat put a little brake on our programme but we hustled about visiting museums including the stunning botanical garden of Yves Saint Laurent which contained a superb small museum covering the desert Berber people and their customs. We also visited another Berber museum established by a Dutch anthropologist. One of my secret passions is well-labelled museum signage… We finished by heading to a cooking workshop which sponsors a cooking school for disadvantaged women. S. and I plumped for the chicken almond pastilla, a taste bomb of incredible deliciousness.

Toubkal. The great Mount Toubkal is the highest mountain in North Africa. Fancying ourselves fearless climbers we opted for a guided hike to the top. Our Berber guide was snaffling bread and the occasional swallow of water despite Ramadan. A cheeky lad of 52 (and five children), I have imagined him as a real ladies man in his day. He had non-stop stories until the heat put the kibosh on our patter. Once we reached the base camp (refuge) we encountered a group of Russians singing and drinking cognac, smart stuff at over 3,000m altitude! We woke up at 4am for our assault on the behemoth. We reached the summit (4,167m), sliding on loose scree and the odd snow pack, to survey the Atlas mountain range which extends its ridges through the whole of Morocco. On a good day we were assured a view of the Sahara desert and the Atlantic Ocean. It wasn’t a good day but we were almost the first climbers up the hill and down by 2pm. A serious saunter of 24km in a day.

Death. At this stage we experienced the most affecting moment of our trip. We were jammed in our train coupe with 6 other Moroccans on their way to Meknes with grandma, mum and new baby. What was a bubbly scene with a burbling baby being bounced from knee to knee changed with a phone call announcing the death by car accident of the son of the older lady. Quiet weeping and shocked, hushed conversation. As they departed at the next station, one of our other coupe neighbours was carried into the coupe after collapsing in the corridor due to a dramatic reminder of the death of his own grandmother. He was laid across the seats with his head in the lap of his wife, as she fanned him as he slowly regained his senses. We broke fast with them as the sun slid behind the hills, with sweet honey biscuits and milk, and improved the mood with broken talk in French and received an invitation to visit them in their village.

Meknes. To the west of Fes lies the relaxing town of Meknes which we quite liked. It is a former royal city and has plenty of sights to see like the stables of 12,000 horses (if you believe that), former royal gardens converted into an inner-city 9-hole golf course for the former king and a more manageable souk to potter about in and look for souvenirs (none purchased).

Fes. A little known fact, I own a small print by the NZ artist Stanley Palmer of a tannery in Fes. The image struck me as exotic and an old-fashioned ideal of how stuff used to be made. The souk (market) is a confusing rabbit warren of lanes stuffed with bric-a-brac, dozens of touts wanting to be your guide or alternatively aggressively promoting their own hash. The north of Morocco is the largest supplier of marijuana to Europe. The riad we stayed in was truly beautiful, a family home turned into a six room hotel. We ventured out to the woodworking museum, an ode to the excellence with which craftsmen have embroidered homes and mosques here for centuries. We also suffered from the heat, about 40 degrees C, plus a curious lack of decent culinary options in our budget. As I was moaning in bed from a dodgy stomach, S. stuffed me full of Imodium and dragged me to the bus station to Chefchaouen to escape the furnace of Fes.

Chefchaouen. Named the ‘blue city’ of the north due to the enthusaistic application of blue wash to the walls and floors of the walled city. Traipsing over the walls, the city bent under the stone massif at its back, it’s also a hub for hiking in the adjoining national park. To be honest, we just wanted to celebrate my birthday in a place with a pool and achieved this in spades. From Chefchaouen we barrelled in a bus to Tangier and onto a high speed ferry to Spain and Granada!

Our impressions of Morocco were coloured by Ramadan. The sloth-like inhabitants, the short tempers, the energy-sapping heat and the awkwardness of eating and drinking in front of those fasting meant it wasn’t our favourite country. Despite some excellent meals, the food became a little samey after awhile. However the culture is fascinating, with the Islamic influence on architecture and dress obvious given our Iranian reference point. The Berber people bring a unique twist to what is otherwise quite Arabic in culture. The natural beauty of this land is clear and it’s a shame we were not able to experience a trip to the desert.