Reflections on Morocco

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When booking our flights, we were unable to fly cheaply into Casablanca directly, where our tour started, and having read horrendous stories of the delays in passport control, we were doubtful a 2 hour connection was possible, so opted for the next available, 7 hours later.    Even after the drone and luggage dramas, we still had a loooong wait.  Our thinking was maybe we could get a standby on the earlier flight, which may have been possible, if the Air Maroc desk was in fact staffed.  After asking the disinterested information clerk, and then the car hire staff in the next booth, it was established that no-one actually sat in the very nice Air Maroc booth, ever.  Not since a few months back.    No sign indicated that this was a pseudo-booth, just in case anyone of importance happened by.  The time was filled in by purchasing a local sim card, thus giving us data and wifi coverage, as there is none to be had in Marrakech airport.  The airport itself is curiously devoid of any services, other than two tired looking cafes, where you must pay in euro, and they will calculate the exchange rate and give you change in Moroccan dirham.  A lose/lose situation – Seems a tad convoluted to me, not to mention the pastries were somewhat sad and expensive.   And don’t even think about going through security for the departure, as we were advised there was NOTHING on the “other side” no toilets, water , anything.    So we waited and watched the crowds all get searched for DRONES and sniggered quietly to ourselves.

Not to worry, on to the flight to Caza (as the locals call it)… a massive 20 folk were on the plane, including a kid who was in the cockpit for landing (not sure that that is allowed??) and a Dutch family who desperately tried not to touch any surfaces whilst exiting the plane, including the bus to the terminal, which was no mean feat, given the enthusiastic turning practices of the driver.  Can’t blame him, must be a boring job,  and taking his frustration out on foreigners at 5pm on Friday is completely understandable.

Thankfully retrieved our luggage, although the ingenious binding technique had come adrift, and the two bags were forlornly rotating independently.    Not so lucky for one traveler though, her bags had gone missing in the heaving throng of 20 people boarding.

Located the train and purchased our tickets into Caza…by this time 6.30 pm and dark.  Morocco seems to be quite energy conscious or possibly just stingy, to the point that the train ride, and the extremely dingy station we had to exit were in complete darkness, involving traversing yet another set of stairs and an underground bunker with two large backpacks and a wheelie each in pitch black conditions, along with hordes of people arguing around us.       It seems to be our luck to arrive in challenging places at peak hour on a Friday, just to add to the general ambiance and excitement our arrival heralds.  Add to  this mix, the fact that the station is being refurbished so piles of building rubble and hoardings further confuse the already bewildered and tired traveler.   Enter the taxi touts, coz they were there in force.   They will grab your arm and lead you off to their cabs like Uncle Leo in Seinfeld.  No meters in these babies. Morocco seems to be where all good Renaults go to die.  The Renault 4 is the taxi of choice.      Now, to find our accommodation…find a relatively peaceful spot of less rubbish and only a few cats, and, like the grail-shaped beacon in the Monty Python movies, we looked up to see our hotel directly opposite, with only one dodgy piazza to traverse.

Leaving a trail of devastated taxi touts, and followed by some hopeful cats, we entered the hotel, through the mandatory/optional metal detector, and we were home for the next 3 nights.    A phenomena we have experienced frequently is the hotel swipe card which NEVER WORKS, involving an extra trip to reception.  This was exacerbated in this case, by the timer switches turning off, leaving Rose and some random porter in an uncomfortable silent darkness, making unintelligible small talk in vastly different languages.  The timer switches seem to be programmed to turn on after you have passed through the sensor field, which is wonderful if you ever need to retrace your steps, but not so wonderful if proceeding in a forward manner, whereupon you must trust that the flooring is in fact level and the hallway straight.  This is not guaranteed.

Casablanca

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Casablanca is the financial hub of the country, and is experiencing a bit of a building boom.    This is at the expense of many traditional and disadvantaged locals, causing shanty cities to spring up.  It is by no means a pretty place, and lacks any cultural signature, with the exception of the Hassan II mosque, which is stunning.   Much work is being done on the foreshore area adjoining the mosque, which will be beautiful, but you wonder where the people are being forced to live as a result.  The national pastime is honking your car horn, which is done almost constantly and with great enthusiasm.  The car horn is used, not only as a warning, or expression of irritation, but as a query, as in ..”Do you need a taxi?”…”My sister is very attractive, would you like to meet her?”…

One positive is a new tram system, which you purchase a rechargeable ticket and validate it to enter the platform.  This recharge will only work sporadically.    Unfortunately, hotel staff gave us incorrect information on the system, which led to us travelling to the farthest end of the line, which, whilst it represented good value, took us about 5 kms too far.   So, we looked at the Corniche area, where the strange site of burkas on the beach greeted us.  As we could see the Mosque in the distance, we decided to try to walk it.    The mosque shaped mirage seemed to get further away through the heat haze as we walked over and through construction sites, mounds of rubbish, shanty towns and general dodginess, but eventually, we were met by an insurmountable roundabout to arrive at the Hassan II mosque.

After spending some time there, admiring its beautiful architecture and decoration, the next most pressing errand was BOOZE.  We really needed that shit by now.

If you cast your mind back to movies where the prohibition speakeasy was the place to buy your poison, this is a similar situation in Caza.  Shops selling alcohol are blacked out and you are encouraged not to flaunt your purchases upon leaving.   After another 5k trek to this outlet, we gave up and flagged a petit taxi…these beasts have seatbelts, but nowhere to fasten them, and doors that don’t open from the inside.    Price negotiation took place and we were eventually dropped at a tram station, next to a bloody alcohol outlet, we hadn’t seen the first time.  We filed that one away for the following day, as we wanted to be fully stocked up, and had by this time consumed quite a chunk of what we had bought..  These secret locations are on our file, should any needy traveler require same.

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Sunday was unusually rainy, requiring special care to be taken.  Such an unusual phenomena that no enterprising umbrella sellers were to be found.   We toured the non scenic areas of Casablanca, having asked the cab driver to take us to the “New Souk”, and subsequently being dropped off at his cousin’s carpet shop in the old souk.    Not to worry, we’ll just stock up our booze supplies, hop on the tram and get off at the booze shop, which is helpfully closed.  Evening was a “team meeting” for our tour which commenced the following day.  The optional (not) issue of a tipping kitty reared its ugly head, with an enforced amount being collected to shower upon the various bloodsuckers.  This really pissed both of us off, as tipping is not an Australian thing, just include it in the tour price for the love of god and be done with it.

Rabat

Tour commences by  taking a train to Rabat, where the rain turned to hail and our wheelie bag’s handle broke whilst negotiating yet more stairs exiting the station, which, not surprisingly,  was under construction.

Rabat is the political capital of Morocco – much smaller and neater.    We spent a few hours in the medina, striking out on our own instead of the lunch the tour wanted us to eat at their sanctioned restaurant.  We figure, if it is cooked, especially deep fried, it is reasonably safe to eat.   Picked up a shadow, in the Medina.  People love to talk to you, and Steve is pretty gregarious, so when a chap started to speak with us, yeah, no problem.  He asked if he could walk with us….yeeeahhh, starting to smell a bit of a rat here,  as he was then in full guide mode, talking about history, and other shit.   Its disappointing when you realise they only want your money.  When we told him we had to meet our group, he disappeared.   You need to be on guard for this type of stuff, which is sad as he may well have been genuine, but you just don’t know.        As we have found, the only way to interact with the locals is in such a situation, they will start by trying to sell you stuff, but after a while they realise you aren’t buying and actually talk to you.  Ask questions about them…they will open up or not, and if not, well move on.

We deviated from the suggested route given for our return to the group, when Rose’s spidey sense detected another speakeasy, which got our business again.

Met back at the restaurant, where our bus and the driver – who, for the duration of our two week trip, never uttered a word or changed his murderous expression once.  We were starting to wonder if a tour was the best option for us, and it probably was, given that the logistics would have been a nightmare to try and do it yourself, but, having to “eat here” , without any choice, was grating already.    Meeting a tour group puts me in mind of the TV show survivor, with everyone establishing their “alliances” etc.  However we were very lucky in having a great group, all very considerate and friendly.

Meknes

On to Meknes, with a walking tour of the Medina and grainary, and running man’s debut on the trip.  We had a visit to the souq, where a camel burger was for lunch.  Quite nice and only one of us threw up.    Interesting encounters within the souq involved the foulest smelling guy Steve had EVER smelt, whose presence preceded him by some 500 metres, even overpowering the mules, and a woman dressed like a witch, who heard the comment one of the tour members made and turned to curse him.

As we progressed on our tour, the womens’ dress became more and more conservative, but I can tell you where all last seasons’ velour dressing gowns end up.    We’ve seen all levels of dress, with burqa, abaya, hajib and niqab  along with western clothes all appearing.  Most girls are covered, but still with shapely clothes, most older ladies go the dressing gown with socks and slip on shoes.  Curiously, or maybe not, lingerie shops are plentiful and are doing a roaring trade, so there must be a LOT going on under that gear.    Men don the Djellaba, which acts as a coat over their normal clothes.  The pointed hood is usually up.    Steve has purchased his own Djellaba, and will use this ensemble after a dip in the pool at home, or when cooking a bbq.  Look forward to that.

Morocco has, ironically – as they don’t drink the stuff, a major wine industry, centered here in Meknes.  We have tried both the whites and reds, Steve gives the reds 7/10, and I would rate the white I tried as 8/10, but I have a leaden pallet and know bugger all about wine.

Volibulis

An archeological Roman town, in beautiful condition despite terrible weather.  A diagram shows the incredible reach of the roman empire.  The mosaics (original!!) all in situ.  The guide told us that the romans had slaves to warm the marble toilet seats for them, as you would.  It is nearby the city of  Moulay Idriss  where, if you make a pilgrimage 5 times in your life, it equates to one pilgrimage to Mecca, which would be quite a bit easier logistically I have to say.  It was a real privilege to see it.  On to Fez after stopping to take some pics of the lake (the name of which I don’t know), but there was a double rainbow and mud up to your knees which we then tramped right through the hotel, much to their disgust.

Fez

On to Fez – arrived at night and again they wanted us to have dinner at the sanctioned restaurant.  Steve and I are, for one, on a strict budget, and two – hate being told “we are eating here”.  So we struck out on our own and had Harira (that soup), potato fritters and a shawarma, all for 45 dirhams (7 bucks) at a local joint.  More fun.  The serenity of Fez, if there is such a thing, was broken for me at 3 am with the sound of a woman screaming, and male voices arguing.  Whilst I wasn’t in the least tempted to check what was happening, it did interrupt a fitful night’s sleep.    The call to prayer chimed in about 5 am, to ensure the guys beating on the woman stopped to say prayers.

A word on hotels in Morocco.  There is ONE remote control for all aircon/heating and, if you are extremely lucky – it works AND  has batteries.  There is also (sometimes)  ONE hairdryer, again if you are lucky.  These are not kept in the room but are jealously guarded by hotel reception, and must be returned under pain of death or donation of a kidney.        Breakfast is pretty bleak, with bread, jam and butter, maybe some juice and tea/coffee.  No fruit under any circumstances, although dessert in any restaurant usually arrives in the form of an unpeeled orange, so you can save it for breakfast.     We had porridge once, and everyone did a happy dance even though it was crap.

The next day we had a walking tour of the medina in Fez including the famous tanneries.   Yes, it is EXTREMELY narrow, with kids shadowing you wanting money.   You hear the call “balat!  Balat!” which basically means there is a mule, or a wagon behind you and you should flatten yourself against any available wall.   Steve by now had what he calls pneumonia, and we both had terrible coughs.   What are the odds, the vantage point for the tanneries is in a “sanctioned ” leather goods shop/maze.  Again, captive audience but not even tempted, thank you very much.

Steve endeared himself to everyone by coughing relentlessly and in particular to the murderous bus driver, by pointing out the bus needed washing and negotiating an amount with the local street mafia.    The hilarity must have gotten lost in translation however, as the driver’s scowl only deepened if anything.  I am sure I heard muttering at one point.

We felt that there was not enough time allowed in the souk, as we had to be mindful to stick together, and there was no chance to explore.  This was annoying, especially as the bus took everyone back to the hotel by about 2.30- 3.00 for the next mandatory dinner engagement.   We weren’t armed with any knowledge of how to get out own way back, and will suggest that they in future send the bus back to collect anyone who wants to spend time there.    Tours are terrified of losing you, and treat you a bit like children, which I guess suits some but was annoying for us.

A few of us asked to be dropped off to make our way back to the hotel independently, which gave Steve a perfect chance to buy more drugs to assist in the cure for his pneumonia, which they did not do.    Struck out again for an independent dinner, this time taking a fellow tour member with us, and we were greeted like long lost cousins by the host.    We had the same dinner which was delicious, and has the added benefit (not) of making our fellow team member sick the next day.    Perhaps we had acclimatized..? But we were fine, but she was very sick.  Not to worry, we had stocked up with the good drugs, so I “helped” by administering these to our fellow tourer, who perked up immediately.    Next morning, Steve persevered and negotiated an even better price with the local mafia for a bus wash, which did not have the desired effect on the murderous driver.    So mud and all, and one vomiter, off we went to the next destination.  Which was…

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere….

A roadside guesthouse was the next stop, chosen not for its rustic appeal but for the fact there was nothing else after it.  In a futile effort to make this place interesting, a group hike was arranged which took us to the more muddy and desolate spots in downtown shitsville, to look at a rubbish strewn river where some guy once swam with his cousin, all the while a howling gale ripped through our clothing – which helped those of us suffering from pneumonia no end.

This again forced us into a mandatory dinner, however Steve and I had already had the structured lunch stop and had packed cheese, biscuits, drugs and other supplies, not to mention our illicit booze, so we were happy to picnic in our room and snooze.

Next morning, we struck out to traverse the mountain pass of the Mid Atlas, enroute to the Sahara Desert and our Bedouin camp.   But disaster, the mountain pass is closed.    Forewarning of said closure was relayed by another tour group, so had a four hour layover at some roadside restauranty-thing -ushered into a back room away from the open fire like the poor cousins.  It was looking a bit grim at one stage, maybe having to turn around, and miss the camp, however the gods smiled upon us, and word had gotten through that the pass had been cleared, and we forged ahead.  We forged for about 30 minutes until we hit the van wyk, and a major traffic snarl ensued, which allowed us to walk alongside the bus having snowball fights, and in Steve’s case  periodic outdoor coughing fits.   To say the movement of traffic through the checkpoint  was orderly would be whimsical, as it was every man (vehicle) for itself.  This caused some issues when the call to prayer alarm went off, and most drivers had to vacate their vehicles to pray, thus allowing the lesser devout to overtake them.  Difficult to remain pious when watching thine enemies gain ground on you.      Our murderous driver was involved in some creative and somewhat aggressive overtaking measures with another bus reminiscent of the Cannonball run, resolved only when the other bus was distracted by a fully laden fodder truck, thus giving us clear air.   Much internal rejoicing ensued, but was shortlived, when 80k up the road a further snarl was encountered, which was the original source of the blockage – a petrol tanker having jackknifed into a snowbank.    Again, our driver accessed his pent up aggression and plowed through.

Whilst this was entertaining, it was impacting on our opportunity to make the Bedouin Camp and take the camel trek out into the desert, and we were duly informed by our guide that this would now, no longer be possible.    A few members of our tour party forcefully queried why we could not undertake the camel trek even though darkness had fallen.  After much debate, our guide made the calls, and it was arranged that we would trek out in the darkness.

We  had now been on the road for 7 hours, it had been a long day.  We were to leave the bulk of our bags with the bus, and take only an overnight bag with us to the camp.    The driver navigated through no roads, across to the camel team whereupon we were hastened onto the camels, who were not too impressed with being up at this ungodly hour, thank you very much.

The trials and tribulations of the day melted away, as we were led, by the camel team, through a beautiful, still, starlit night, with hints of red dunes either side.  There was no noise (after we had been told to keep quiet to calm the camels) except for the thud of their hooves. To say it was magical is a massive understatement, and we will never forget how wonderful that experience was.  We were told after the tour that we were the first ever to do this at night, but it was just so wonderful, I doubt we will be the last.  INCREDIBLE.

Arrival at camp, and after nabbing our tents, we were served mint tea (its not as good as it sounds) and a tajine was prepared for our dinner.  Steve and I slipped away and sat, with his wine, which he had been saving for this very moment, and my scotch, on the massive sand dune near our camp.  We watched the local team prepare our dinner, and saw the silhouette of one of the camels break loose from its tether, and poke a curious head into the kitchen, be promptly shusshed away and led back to the others.  The stars were crystal clear, and the best we have seen in the northern hemisphere, which, we have to say is not as good as at home, and drank in the beautiful, deep, silence.  Fate would have it that, as it required a trip to the drop toilet, I had to go a record three times that night, but only fell down a ditch once, and was rewarded by a sliver of a crescent moon over the desert.  I even returned to the correct tent – bonus.   Just wonderful.

Woke to the incredible sight of the Sahara Desert.  Mounted our trusty camels and trekked back to our rendezvous, about an hour in the saddle.  Let me tell you, riding a camel involves a fair bit of thudding impact on the groin, and I could see the discomfort of the guys, trying to protect the gentlemens’ region.  Upon dismounting, it takes a while to get those legs working together again.  A quick brekky, visit to the toilet and bang, we were out of there, leaving in flurry without my sunglasses.   I would like it on record that Steve told me, “I have everything”…..

***thank you to Ellie Mumford for the use of her photos, as our camera and phone conspired to make sure I had no evidence of this wonderful experience.  Thanks technology…

Todra gorge

A long drive took us to the Gorge, which was our home for the next two nights.    By that time I had succumbed to the “pneumonia” and was feeling decidedly crappy.  Why every hotel has a flight or two of stairs at the entrance is a mystery to me,  and this one had a bonus swing bridge over a ravine, but by the time I made it up there, my chest was ready to explode.    A quick allocation of rooms and (yes, another two flights of stairs) and we were there.  I lay down at 3.00 pm and woke up at 9 pm.  Went downstairs but couldn’t find anyone so went back to bed, and slept through the night.  Steve attempted a shower at 9.30 only to be told the hot water had been turned off.  Next morning there was some, but only if you were patient.

A 10k hike was on offer with “gently undulating” slopes, but neither of us felt up to it.  A bloody good thing too, it apparently was about a 60 degree incline up for 8 kms,  and nearly took one of the team out.  We opted for a gentle walk to the gorge, which was guided by some guy who worked at the hotel, and involved him muttering some bullshit about plants that only the first person in the hike could hear.  We traversed some pretty areas and some horrendous rubbish tips masquerading as villages, accompanied by youngsters trying to sell crap to us.   Morocco has a MASSIVE problem with rubbish, and one of the main culprits is plastic water bottles, they are bloody everywhere.   Our tour company is supposed to be sponsoring the refilling of water bottles, however I saw absolutely no evidence of that whatsoever.     We emerged at the gorge, and were then taken off for the mandatory lunch date, supposedly “Berber Pizza”…hilarious, it was a pita bread sandwich with an unidentified brown filling.  There was a nice soup though.      We think Pizza should be one of those names like “Champagne” – you shouldn’t be able to call anything a pizza.

There was a carpet co-operative nearby which we were coralled into for a carpet showing.  A couple of our team bought some carpets but alas, we are not able to buy stuff on our journey.

Back to the hotel for some welcome free time, albeit in quarantine, but nice anyway.  We snuck away to a sunny corner and Steve finished his wine, I did some sketching and admin.  It was good to have an almost bus free day.

Ben Ait Haddout

Another long bus day.  It is mandatory for the driver to stop every 90 minutes for  some stress relief and that coincides nicely with bladder issues.  His demeanor had not improved.

We stopped at Ouarzazate,  a major film making centre, and some of the party toured the studio, and others, like us, enjoyed a gin and tonic in the sunshine.  Lunch in that city provided a welcome break from the relentless tajines, and Steve had a hamburger, and I had spaghetti.  That’s how desperate for something different we were.

We finished at the sandcastle village of Ben Ait Haddout which was extremely pretty.  To access the village an ingenious river crossing on cement bags was involved, but I have to say the  reach of each step required was more than a smaller person can manage, Steve and I only just could make each step.    Many stray dogs were there and on the way back we armed ourselves with rocks as they were barking quite ferociously, luckily as it turned out, not at us.  Dinner that night was prepared by the owner, Mister Action, as he is known, as he works in the film industry and has been an extra in many movies.  He gave us a cooking demonstrated the fine art of cooking cous-cous, which only a lucky few could understand, however it had about 20 steps and involved 2 hours prep.  Although he had been in the movies, he was no Jamie Oliver, and we all agreed the packet instructions were faster, but we appreciated his efforts.  We had  a very nice room overlooking the river, very atmospheric, with a great roof terrace, overlooking the village.

Amound/Imril

A trek to the village of Imril and then a hike or mule ride up to the guesthouse in Amound.  We opted for the mules and I am so glad we did, I am usually anti animal rides, but seriously doubt I could have managed the treacherous terrain, it was very icy and slippery and steep.   Not to mention it was fun, as I was point, had the birdseye view, and everyone else had to deal with my mules’ flatulence.  Yes, it actually was the mule.   The ride was infinitely more comfortable and secure than a camel traversing sand dunes, I even managed to let go to take some photos.   We are in to two minds on the homestay, as it was billed as a chance to stay with a local family and interact with them, sharing accommodation and meals.  The house is at the base of Mount Toukbal, the highest peak in North Africa.

Upon arrival some of our group undertook another hike, others a trek into the neighboring village, but we couldn’t be bothered, so stayed at the house, whereupon the 4 year old attached herself to us,  her mother could not believe her serendipitous good luck, as her sisters were still at school.  The 4 year old, decided that we would be at her beck and call, commencing with pushing her around on her trike, followed by her beating us up with the fire poker, and burning a hole in Steve’s 200 Kathmandu fleece.  Charming. She then followed us upstairs and monopolized my pen to do some drawing.  Kissinger-like negotiations were required to retrieve control of the pen.       We eagerly awaited the return of the group.

When you are living in a village type setting, the neighbours lives play out in front of you, as yours do to them.  We watched as the neighbours bought in their herd of goats, and fed them wheat on the roof of their house.  We initially just thought the goats had made a break for the roof, but were told that they were being fed.  An extremely cute newborn kid bleated continuously, he was so little, but managed to get in and get his share of milk whilst his mum concentrated on the wheat.  They were then penned up a little further up the hill for the evening.

Dinner was cooked in tajines in the loungeroom and I must say they were fantastic.  The chickens were alive that afternoon, so sorry, but they were delicious.   Apart from that the interaction with the adults of the family was non existent, I wish they would have eaten with us, but did not.   Mum is expecting her fourth child, already a mum to three girls, so there is high hopes for a boy.  They do not know the sex, and apparently access to this type of test is rare in Morocco.  We wondered if she would have the baby at home as it would not be easy to reach a hospital in that remote area.      Hiked out along the icy 4wd track to return to the village and hook up with the bus. Disappointing to have no time at all in the lower village which seemed to be a hike/trekking centre, as there were many outdoorsy-types fully kitted up to hike in the mountains.  A lot going on that we had no chance to investigate.

Essaouira

As we were returning to Essaouira, we’ll cover that in another post.  We said goodbye to our murderous driver here for some strange reason, and took a “local” bus to Marrakech.  The local bus was nothing of the sort, only had tourists on board and apparently the driver, who was not murderous, spent much of the four hour drive texting.

On the way down to Essaouira we had the chance to visit an Argan Oil co-operative.  The Co-op was run for widowed or divorced women, who could come and stay there, work in the co-op, a little like a refuge.  This was great, as I imagine it would be a very tough gig for a woman on her own in Morocco.

The nuts are harvested, they used to use goats to eat the nuts, excrete them, which softened the shell, and then extract the nut.  They tend not to do this now, if they are serious producers, and crack the nuts themselves, before the nut kernel is given to a few ladies who are behind glass for hygiene purposes, who grind the nuts to produce the oil.  The oil is used for food (it has a lovely nutty smell) as well as in cosmetics.  We tasted a paste much like nutella, but I bought some soap, hoping at last to generate some lather.   Steve as usual chatted to the ladies, tried to break a nut in his teeth, then stomped on it, but it defied his efforts.  He then commiserated with one lady who obviously had misjudged her finger for a nut, as he could sympathize, having experienced the moment when you miss the paver and get your thumb with the mallet, when paving our pergola.  Its quite a labour intensive production, and many less than fastidious producers supplement the oil with other products, but not at this co-op.  I would have purchased more if we were coming home, they had lovely hair products as well as many other things.

Marrakech

Arrival in Marrakech.     Stay in a hotel that doubles as a dance club.  Final group dinner of trip, is at a stall in the Jemaa el-Fnaa square which, by day is the scene of snake charmers, henna tattooists and dancers, which, if you linger you are required to tip, and at 5 pm is transformed into a massive food court, complete with story tellers, henna tattooists and drummers, which, if you linger, you are required to tip, and believe me, if your mobile phone comes out, they are there with the basket ready for your tip.  The stalls largely sell one of two menus, a selection of fried vegetables and lovely kebab type foods, or steamed sheeps heads.  There is also snail soup.    Don’t discount the heads, as the meat is stripped off and presented on a plate, like pulled pork, only lamb (sheep).     Many nice juice stalls too, where a mixed juice will set you back 10 dirham (about $1.30).

Our free day here was spent largely at the souk,  looking at stuff and buying a few things (a bag for me and a Djellaba for Steve).  We exercised much restraint here, as the goods were gorgeous.   Lunch here then back to the hotel before heading out again for dinner.  Dinner was a repeat of the night  before, followed by a bus trip back to the hotel, on which Steve’s phone was stolen, so we spent much of the evening doing damage control with bank accounts etc.  Bit of a downer really,  we then had to meet the rest of the tour group for a final farewell, but found it hard to be upbeat given the phone incident.    They were a lovely group of fellow travellers, all enjoying the sights and sounds of Morocco.

After breakfasting and saying a final farewell to those still in the hotel, we set out for an independent day of travel, which went haywire, where a bus to some tomb, or memorial, involved taking the wrong bus and travelling to the Melbourne equivalent of Keilor, only to have to return, be harrassed to buy sunglasses and someone else’s stolen iphone7.    We gave up on Marrakech at that point, as you may have seen in my facebook post.    Steve’s cunning negotiating skills effectively doubling Rose’s proposed offer for the cab to get us to the bus station to GET US THE HELL OUT OF HERE.   On the bus to Essaouira- on which I have done a separate post.

Agadir.

After Essaouira, we had 5 days r & r in Agadir.  This proved to be about 4 days too long.  Agadir was flattened by an earthquake in 1960 where half the population perished.  As resources were scarce on the ground, the rubble and remains were bulldozed into a pile, sprayed with ddt, and lime to kill the flies and the subsequent rats, with the scavenging dogs, cats and people simply being shot and buried in the rubble  and this forms the hill you will see lit up today.  Agadir seems to us a tourist resort, modelled on a 1970s era Gold Coast, with casinos and hotels.  It really didn’t overly appeal to us, other than the souk, where we had the BEST calamari, and Steve had a fish tagine which was wonderful.   We spent most of our time just sitting by the pool apart from our roadtrip to the surf coast and listening to the daily protests outside.

We seem to have a knack for disasters on our last day any place.  Our last day here was no exception.  We headed off to the souk for a final shop and another serving of calamari only to find it CLOSED.  Even though the surrounding area was deserted,  and we surmised that the souk must be CLOSED,   a toothless guy approached us to confirm that the souk was CLOSED.  He advised us of this several times, and followed us up the road to the bus stop to ensure the fact that the souk was CLOSED did not slip our mind.  We headed off to the central market  only to find it CLOSED.  We gave up and went back to the hotel, only to find Steve’s bathers MISSING off the balcony where they were left to dry.  We checked the awning under our room and investigated whether they had blown away and been handed in.  No.  We pondered whether a seagull would have the strength to fly away with them (african or european swallow?).  Steve was in favour of packing our bags at that point, and after two hours of sitting by the pool in his trousers, we headed up to our room to do just that, only to find the bathers had magically re-appeared, on the bed.  WTF?

The hotel had offered a free transfer to the airport, and when we asked for the transfer, we queried whether it was free.  Yes, they said, it is free, as mentioned on the booking website.      This seemingly evaporated on the morning of our departure, where no-one knew anything about the free transfer, the agency website noting only that it was available, and the fact that we had requested it, and been told that it was available, was seemingly irrelevant, or at least it was to the staff.  A case of too bad, so sad.   Took care of the 200 dirham note I had expected to change at the airport, leaving us with 50 dirham to buy something for the plane.

At this point, we were well over Morocco, and I felt churlish when the security staff at the airport door, whilst xraying me and our luggage to ensure we did not have a DRONE, thanked me for visiting Morocco.   I felt less churlish on the fourth round of xrays, and when we went through passport control, and within 10 paces had to present our passports and paperwork, and have another round of xrays, I had abandoned any feeling of regret I may have felt.  Seriously….how, in the space of about a 5ft by 15 metre hallway, are you supposed to swap out with someone else?

Ezyjet cheerfully informed us that our hand luggage must also contain our bags, as we were only allowed one carry on item, so a frantic squeeze to get them into the bags ensued.  This involved me having to take my arctic coat out of said bag to fit my handbag in, and subsequently melting.  There is nothing better than standing in line to board a plane, in a wildly inappropriate down jacket on a 22 degree day.  I was then required on two separate occasions to insert my hand luggage into the gauge, luckily it went in and came out only with difficulty.

Nearly home free….let’s get something to eat on the 3hour flight back to the UK, sure..    Apparently we had passed the point of no return for dirhams.  Only euros, of which we had none.  I have subsequently found another 50 dirham note in my bag, taking the total of our useless dirhams to 100.    If anyone we know is heading to Morocco, the first shout is on us, as there is absolutely no way they were getting a donation of our dirham from us (except the coins, I did pitch them).

A Note on Group Travel – na – can’t recommend.  Sorry.  Do it yourself, spend the time researching, make the mistakes, enjoy the discoveries – it will be so much more rewarding than what we did.   This was only a 16 person trip (the maximum), and the people were fantastic.  Of course, you may be lucky or unlucky with your fellow travelers, so I am taking that out of the equation, and simply looking at the philosophy of a tour.  Na.   “Now we’ll have lunch, here…it will cost x”.  You will need to tip.     Arrive anywhere new,  immediately jump to- get your bags out blah, blah, and before you know it, you’re on to the next thing, without any chance to look around, or actually experience your surroundings.  Na.   This tour company bills itself as being more of a local experience, and I call bullshit.     Still got dragged to the preferred suppliers, and whilst they say up front that the commissions earned go to local causes, I don’t like the whole procedure.  Whilst we always seemed to be rushing to make time to reach destinations, quarantined from any locals, there was always time for the shopping expeditions.  Of course, these are our opinions – they may not be yours and that’s fine.  I won’t name the company but if you want to know privately let me know.

Some fun facts:

Morocco is a kingdom, and is largely Islamic.  It is a tolerant society, with Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions in place.

It has a large (80%) “Berber” population, however the term “Berber” derives from “barbarians” and as such is perceived as a derogatory term, the correct term is Amazigh  or “free man” which gives a nod to their nomadic existence.  They have their own flag and language, the written version thereof appears on the maps and signs, and looks to my uneducated eye, very similar to Greek.

“Kasbah” is a fortified dwelling.  “Souk” is a market.

The country is rich in natural resources, such as minerals, oil, copper, silver, salt.  Some of which have not been developed at this point.  The country’s petroleum is gifted to it by the Saudis, it is suggested, in return for their vote on the Arab Council.

There is a 10 metre wall which runs the perimeter of the border between Morocco and Algeria, the entire length, which is mostly located in the Sahara Desert.

fence

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Is it too late to have a gap year in your late 50s? To take back some time from our day to day working life to travel - unplanned, unescorted, unfettered? To take that leap? It was a defining year - liberating, challenging, humbling, scary. It was many things, but it wasn't a holiday.

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