Well its Friday morning now and there is not much left to do apart from sit in the last warm sun I’ll feel for a while and have a cool beer (well later)
So the last 2 days have been very relaxing as the weather situation improved in Rabat. Managed to find 1 Guardian seller in the town so I get the previous days edition but it’s nice to sit with a coffee and (attempt to) complete the crossword. There are a few sights; the minerat half build and abandoned in the 9th century and the mausoleum of Mohammed V. There is a great Kasbah perched on the coast with lots of whitewashed andalucian style buildings inside and also a great outdoor cafe to watch the waves crashing against the rocks below. The old a new towns are separate something that the French town planners did in most of the towns, they didn’t want to destory the old medinas – so even here you get two areas for the price of one.
So my final thoughts on the country, the people and the holiday? Well its been such a great experience and I’d recommend the place to anyone who wants something a bit different and only 3 hours away. If you speak French its a boon too!
My favourite bits were probably going across the snow capped mountains, chilling on the beach and the square in Marrakesh. Food is pretty good, the fruit drinks are cheap and plentiful and the mint tea is just great. The weather has been bright and generally warm even in December (not sure i’d like it in 40c June though)
Things I didn’t really like: People hissing at you to move out of the way, the impatience of car drivers (0.001 seconds after lights go green they are all beeping), the constant staring; although having said all that the people are generally friendly despite living in a poor country and having to survive.
So back to the hustle and bustle and consumerism of the UK in December, not looking forward to that. You realise here that people who are living on £3 a day on average can be happy and then when you see the sickening advertisments and the pressure on families to spend, spend, spend you realise the actual meaning has been completely lost…
(sunday) The indescribable cold – was very difficult to get up – but when I finally warmed up and the car engine had defrosted (or the water in the engine something about being on a slope….) we set off further up the gorge along Wily Coyote territory! I sat for a while watching the water flowing streadily along and realised that however much we try to dam the flow it’s impossible to stop; just like the passage of life. We took a stroll along took in the incredible scenery before heading slowly back along that dodgy road avoid bikes, donkey, kids and vans full of sheep. Back in Ourzazate we finally find a hotel and spend the evening in Chez Dimitri, the ‘world famous’ former hangout of the foreign legion. Where signed photos of celebritys (and David Hasselhoff) who have produced films in the area adorn the walls. Which brings me to (monday) where we stopped off to see if the Atlas Film Studios were open for visitors. As we navigated the car through hundreds of Moroccans at the gates, the gaze felt like it was me who was coming to shoot a film – malheuresement non We got a guided tour though of parts of the sets of great films such as Asterix and Obelix, Gladiator and Kundun. In the distance they were building the set for Ridley Scott’s forthcoming blockbuster Kindom of Heaven where they were building Jerusalem for completion in 6 months. Ridley was in the hotel next to us but I didnt spot him (Not really knowing what he looks like anyway). Our guide had met Cat Deeley and had a Blue Peter badge, lucky huh! We journey back over the now slightly snow-melted mountain peaks and back to Marrakesh where we left our driver. Checking back into the Jnane Modagor hotel, I finally found the heavily fortified American Bookshop to feed my book addiction and spent the evening on the main square. Oh yeah the square – its amazing. There are hundreds of food stalls. More later….
Ok this is more, got chucked off the machine earlier. There are fresh orange stalls with juice for about 8p a glass, then there are the hot cinammon tea stalls where you get a tea and some spicy cake for about 8p too, then there is the massive area for BBQed food and any other meat you can think off, then there are the snails! Yes…. snails, boiled alive. A bowl of snails in shells for 10p.. mmm.. you get a touchpick to pick them out with but they arent like the snails in France – i.e. cindered alive in Garlic. These are just in snail-tasting water. I ate about half of my portion, the thing that put me off was the slime that was sometimes still stuck to them and their little eyes and antennas that you could still see and some of them were huge! Oh and after the food there are loads of people watching musicians, fortune tellers, snake charmers and no holds barred boxing to digest the lovely taste of snails away.
(tuesday) A bit of a non starter today, reading and relaxing. After a lovely breakfast on the terrace of the hotel reading yesterday’s newspaper I eventually packed up and took the train up to Rabat (1st class but not really that special 6 to a little compartment) and the weather took a turn for the worst somewhere along the line. By the time I arrived (30 late) it was torrential, gusting rain along the street; umbrellas missing in action. Finally found a hotel with a shower that worked unfortunately it was on the junction of 2 main roads so the ear plugs where necessary although despite the earplugs the plumbing decided to kick into action at 3am and was very loud… grrr..
(friday) Surfacing with my first sore head of the holiday we drove South thru the unfortunate driving rain along the Dada Valley. Once the sun broke through we were in Palm lined valleys. Lunch at Timboutou cafe and then onwards to the Sahara, well there were a few sand dunes, not enough to cause a sand storm anyway. She camels were sleeping due to the lack of tourists so we decided against waking them to preserve our postures at least! After looking at a few deserted and quite spooky hotels, we took rooms in another deserted hotel but at least one that was quite nice. After the sunset and the dogs stopped barking – there was a completely peaceful night lit only by the nearly full moon. I drifted to sleep with the sound of berber drums and singing in the background.
Being the only tourists in town has its advantages sometimes.
(saturday) back thru Ouarzazate for an uneventful lunch where a cheese sandwich turned out to be “la vache qui rit” on bread, and then we headed east to the Dades Gorge. This road was not quite on a par with the Phnom Pehn to Thai Border road last November (actually it doesnt come close to being as bad) but still the car was hitting a lot of pot holes as we travelled the 27k thru the gorge which was amazing. Red and yellow rock formations on either side and then a river and olive, walnut, date and orange tress growing at the base of the valley. Our accomodation was a very cheap auberge with no heating and only a generator to power the electricity. After cous cous/poulet next to a (smoky) log fire and the locals playing berber drums and singing I was cold but content. However I would probably say I have never been so cold in bed before, not even in Reading. 4 thick sheets, clothes and a hat and still freezing. Still it was worth the cold to wake up in a gorgeous valley with a little river flowing past my window
Well it’s been a few days without a net connection to speak of so now that I am back in semi-civilisation (Ouarzazate to be precise home of the Foreign Legion and the Marathon Des Sables), heres Wednesday and Thursday’s installments…
I spent Wednesday looking around a few museums in Marra. The weather was incredibly good and I got my first view of the snowcapped Atlas mountains in the distance during a trip to an old palace (now ruined and filled with Orange trees). Then I went the the new town (wide boulevards and more French feel) and had lunch and several long coffees. Spent the evening on the main square which will be described at some time in the future…
An interesting few days started on Thursday morning having breakfast on the hotel roof. Chatted to an American and Canadian women about where they were going etc and then went back to bed. Some time later got a knock asking if I would like to travel with them as they had hired a car and driver (Hello James) for a few days and their itinerary was similar to mine so I jumped at the chance. So we headed up the mountain but unfortunately the rain and the low clouds hampered any good views as we drove up the Lower Atlas. But then suddently the cloud broke and we were in the snow and the view was incredible. Stopped at the side of the road and were guided down to a small hidden village where I threw snowballs and generally got pretty cold. Then we headed for Aid Ben Haddou where Lawrence of Arabia and, more recently, Gladiator was filmed. Had to take a donkey over the river which was fun too. It was nice cruising around in a Mercedes 300 with lots of leg room, a nice way to travel if short of time.
Stopped for the evening in Zagora where we found a “very” well stocked supermarket off-license where I purchased some local beers and some Smirnoff Ice Black for the evening, bosh! Just chilled in the hotel and got pretty drunk… and learnt about AMT (American Military TV) which sounds like the worst and most propaganda driven channel in the world! Who’d of thought I’d be playing the Streets and Andy C to an American and Canadian (Sorry I didnt have the Dixie Chicks) when I woke up that morning.
Tuesday morning was spent looking around the souks in Essaouira and having mint tea at the 1 cafe I hadnt visited. I was taking photos of some herbs and chatting to the owner of the stall. Some of the mixes his family had made for generations where being presented for me to smell and they smelt great. He started showing me all the spices – literally hundreds – in his tiny little shop. It was amazing to find out all this mad stuff, especially the powder that comes from shellfish which was unbelievably condensed. Hopefully some nice photos of the Opium jar anyway – was a little like being in a herb sweet shop.
Unfortunately the super-luxury bus had broken down when I turned up at the bus station, but it turned out to be much more of an interesting journey on the bus with the cracked windscreen, protuding metal for seat-rests, leaking windows and of course the stereotypical mad-driver. I was wedged in between Bella Embergs Moroccan sister but luckily the chickens went in the luggage compartment. Stopped at a couple of little towns on the way where the local nutter passed through the bus cursing everyone if they didnt give him some money. As we continued there where times when I wasnt sure if the bus was on the road or not. Finally arrived in rainy Marrakesh after 4 hours – not bad for a 2 hour 30 journey on the posh bus.
So I finally get to Jemâa el Dja (the main square) and my hand scribbled map doesnt look anything like it should so I take some “help” from a ‘friendly’ chap who leads me on a 20 minute wild goose chase to the hotel 100m from where we were. Then he was annoyed at the paltry tip I gave him. Oh well I sort of new I was getting scamed but it was daylight and he wasnt violent!
Note to mind’s eye: “Roads” on maps may not be roads but tiny little alleyways about 1 metre wide with motorbikes hurtling along in either direction.
The main square comes alive at sunset and is penned as the greatest show on earth. Well I’ll write more about that tomorrow evening. Still getting quite haunted by the sound of the Mosques – very hard to describe; sort of a groaning noise, not sure if it’s live or recorded though.
Another note: When you take 36 photos and take the film out and realise that it’s a 400ASA film and you had it set to 125ASA (Black and White film) make sure you dont do it again, anyone know if they’ll come out? Sorry comments aren’t working – email me (Hobson as you are doing a photography course you will probably know!)