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The Big O.E An epic adventure across the world, backpacker style :)

The Morocco Express

MOROCCO | Wednesday, 9 April 2008 | Views [1283]

Sunrise at Ait Benhaddou

Sunrise at Ait Benhaddou

Marrakech had the same frenzied and laid back vibe that I felt in India. Stall holders followed us through the souk trying to close a deal on stuff we'd only glanced at. Bright colours eminated from everywhere: the amazing range of lamps, hand woven silk cloths, the huge bunches of fresh mint and walls of glazed tagines. The beggars seemed to be doing better than in India. At least they all had reasonable clothes and were not stick thin. Then there were the 3 dirham (55 kiwi cents) ice-cold, freshly-squeezed orange juices... seriously good!

From Marrakech we headed into the nearby snow capped High Atlas for a night in the mountain village of Imlil. After 30 degrees in Marrakech, the cool wind and light rain in the mountains was a refreshing change. The valley approaching the village was a blaze of apple blossom, and the walk to the village from the end of the road worked up a good appetite for our first couscous of the trip. Unfortunately, this was the first of many bland and watery couscous experiences.

Catherine and Lyn headed off to the local hammam for an authentic Moroccan bathing experience, appearing an hour later VERY thoroughly scrubbed and rinsed.

From Imlil we embarked on the first of our epic minibus rides with Captain Slow at the wheel. We headed over the High Atlas to the ancient clay kasbah (fortified town) of Ait Benhaddou. It is no wonder this town has been made a Unesco world heritage site and was used as the set for Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia. It made an amazing view for enjoying a fresh orange juice and pain au chocolat just after sunrise for breakfast. Don't ask me how many photos I took :)

Next stop was supposed to be the dunes of Erg Chigaga at the edge of the Sahara for a night under the stars. Unfortunately the Sirocco wind was busy relocating those dunes and reducing our visibility to the point where getting to our destination was impossible. But we still checked out the pottery cooperative in the 'underground' kasbah at Tamagroute. Here the locals here have built their houses over the road and walkways to avoid the scorching summer heat. The result is a maze of shadowy passageways throughout the town with shafts of sunlight cutting through every so often like an Indiana Jones film.

Another long dusty day on the road led us to our next stop and the 'grandmother of Marrakech', Taroudant. Known for its leather goods, we checked out one of the local cooperative tanneries. Luckily we visited in the early morning so the heady aroma of urine and pigeon poo, vital components of the tanning process we were told, weren't too overpowering.

From Taroudant, we headed for the Atlanic Coast. On the way, I kid you not (excuse the really bad pun) we saw goats in trees, and not just a few either. In some places there were up to a dozen clambering around and munching on a single tree. In places the shepherds had even given them a hand to get up into the branches by building rock staircases against the trunks. It certainly was a bizarre sight.

Once on the coast we headed through Agadir and onto the old fortified Portugese town of Essaouira. The hippies arrived here in the 60's and many never left, giving the place a very chilled vibe. After being on the go constantly for the last 6 days, it made great place to unwind for a few days. Lyn made the most of the un-pushy salesmen to sort out her present shopping, while Alan made good use of his bilingual daughter to bargain on his behalf for a very nice traditional Berber knife.

Catherine and Lyn again headed off for a bit of pampering Moroccan style at the local hammam (this one was a bit more luxurious though), while Alan enjoyed relaxing on the beach with a book, and I admired the speckled grain and intricate inlay work of the local Thuja wood products.

It was here in Essaouira and when we returned to Marrakech that we started to hit some consistently better Moroccan food. Essaouira served up some great fish dishes, although Alan missed out as he was a bit off colour and was sticking to the BRAT diet and Coca Cola. Back in Marrakech, for our last night in Morocco we joined the locals in the night market at Djemma el Fna for some really tasty one dollar egg and potato sandwiches followed by some of that fantastic fresh orange juice. 

Before we embarked on our Moroccan trip, I was a bit apprehensive about what the state of my relationship with my in-laws would be like after almost two weeks in a developing country. However, I am pleased to say that we are still on speaking terms. In fact I can honestly say that I had a great time travelling with them. How about Peru next time Lyn and Alan?


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