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Winging it “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” - Martin Buber, Philosopher

Morocco

MOROCCO | Tuesday, 8 February 2011 | Views [660]

Casablanca

We had generated a high level of excitement prior to landing in Morocco as we were getting back on track however it was now my turn to feel seedy. Despite this, we decided to head out on the train to see the city and happily I made it all the way to Casa station before being overcome. I at least had the presence of mind to ask Paige if she had a spare hair lackey to avoid the awkward 'vomit in hair' scenario. The bathrooms at the station were reasonably clean and it only cost me one dirham as well so money well spent, I say. Maybe my ambivalence at Casablanca was attributed to not feeling 100% or maybe it was just a rough and shabby city, either way, it was difficult to generate a positive feeling. It was, however, quite pleasant to sit on the step in the market and bask in the sun for a few hours before jumping back on the train to the airport.

Marrakesh

Landing in Marrakesh buoyed my spirits somewhat and I was feeling almost reasonable. The taxi driver took us to the gate of the medina and indicated vaguely that our hotel was inside without elaborating. Thankfully there is a thriving industry for guiding lost tourists and some sweet lads jumped up mighty quick to help. We assembled quite a collection of people in the end all wanting to claim a tip for escorting us to the hotel. We were welcomed inside with divine cups of heavily sugared mint tea which began my addiction over the following week. Our room was so beauiful but all I could think of was getting showered and crawling into bed. I fought off the chills and sweats and had a brilliant sleep (eventually). The next morning I was much rejuvenated and we breakfasted on the rooftop terrace with a collection of friendly felines before heading out to explore the medina. It is a sensory overload with a riot of colours, people and noises all clamouring for your attention. Everyone wants to take you to the tannery or the wool dyers souk or the Centre square. Everywhere you turn there is something new. Slippers, silver, carpets, Julabas (hooded robes) and occasionally threads of silk nailed at head height and stretching down the street, round the corner and entering a shop where it is spun.

The people are so friendly and have a great sense of humour. As I was looking at something in a market stall, I called to Paige to have a look and it set off a chorus of cat calls from the stall owners: 'Paige, Paige, come and have a look at this'. It is difficult to resist going into the shops if you enter into a conversation with the stall holder and we have become adept at evading this. As we passed, one guy asked if we were sisters, we toss back over our shoulder 'no just friends' He cheekily said, 'oh, I know, you are lovers' which made us laugh. We linked arms exchanged the most chaste of kisses and kept walking. This poor guy nearly fell off his chair and was left to desperately call after us, 'ladies, can you repeat the kiss...please...ladieeeessssss' as we left him trying to regain some composure.

At about 6pm, a previously barren area in the Fna Market square erupts into a flurry of activity. Hundreds of tables, chairs, cooking pots and brightly lit stalls displaying an incredible array of fresh vegetables, seafood and meat appear. The charismatic waiters exert their charms on passers by in order to get them to sit down and as soon as one person looks like they are moving towards the stall, all the waiters stop and give a huge round of applause that has you startled, laughing and sitting with a menu in your hand before you know it.

After all the hard work of shopping and eating, we were looking forward to a bit of pampering and we went for a hammam and massage. We stripped down to robe and knickers and were escorted to a quiet, candle lit, humid washroom. Your robe is removed by one of the wash women and you are washed like you havent beeen washed since you were a baby. You are then coated with a thick gritty paste of savon noir, masaged, left to rest for half an hour before being buffed with a body mitt which was a bit like being exfoliated with a cheese grater. Happily my skin was intact after this and also incredibly soft and the ensuing oil massage was very relaxing and included a rather unexpected but nonetheless pleasant boob massage.

Fez

I think I was becoming accustomed to the crazy streets and where for the life of me I couldn't make sense of the direction in Marrakesh, we just couldn't seem to get lost in Fez. Fez is much more down tempo than Marrakesh, not as busy and WAY cheaper. (e.g. starting rates for tourist Fez hats in Marrakesh was 150 dirhams and in Fez just 20 dirhams).

As delightful as the thought of viewing the tanneries from the roof top restaurants was, the hypnotic sounds of metal hammers on copper had us wandering down side streets and we came across a little hole in the wall tea house with half a dozen men chatting. This tea house draws people from outside the medina as he is one of the few people who prepare tea from a copper 'cafeteria' using water from a mineral spring. He stuffs mint leaves and a sprig wormwood into a glass, adds a wicked amount of sugar then tops it with green tea. A glass holder is quickly fashioned from an empty cardboard tea box to insulate it from the heat and we are handed them with a flourish. There is a photograph of an Egyptian musician from the '20's on the wall, yellowed like the ceiling and is the only decoration aside from the mountain of mint leaves on the counter. People come and go as we sit, including a deaf-mute gentleman on a tea run for work. He is obviously well known and we are chatting through another customer who acts as an interpreter and he asks me to marry him. Sadly I was unable to do this, but I thought he was very sweet.

I have had my eye on a fabulous pair of yellow slippers I saw someone wearing in Marrakesh and of course I didn't buy them at the time (Moral of the story -buy it when you see it!), there didn't seem to be the same market for the slippers in Fez. I had almost put them out of my mind when we got caught in a ridiculously busy intersection in a market street. It was as if a bell went off somewhere and all of a sudden about 20 men holding giant stacks of yellow slippers descended on the intersection. I felt like Alice in Wonderland being bustled about by towers of yellow slippers. Just as suddenly we were out the other side with nary a slipper to be seen. I still didn't buy them, I think the experience was more than enough.

A cooking class was also on the agenda and we took ourselves to Cafe Clock. We chose our menu (soup, couscous with chicken and seven vegetables and chocolate coated date rolls for dessert) Our host Suhad took us into the markets and although I am not a big fan of the 'tour the markets' thing, Suhad gave us a really informative commentary of what everything was plus we actually used the ingredients purchased for our meal, including our freshly killed chicken. I am not a big 'meat for eating' fan but I appreciate the respect for the life of animals killed in the halal way. Although not as hands on as I would have liked, the class was fairly inclusive and I have to say that it was the best Moroccan food we have had as it was cooked to our taste , not too soggy which is the Moroccan way. I thought the course was very overpriced for Moroccan standards and certainly needs more (like maybe an apron or sample rose oil or decent recipe book) to make it good value but worth it for my interests.

I am saddened to leave Morocco but Spain calls as our alternative to Egypt which was crippled by civil unrest at the time.

Hotel Marrakesh: Riad Ta'achachqua. Absolutely luxurious, helpful staff. They provided a laundry service which was kind of expensive but they did iron our socks and underwear! Only con is that it is difficult to find. My suggestion would be to hire a 'medina taxi'- one of the guys with the wheelbarrows to take your luggage there and lead the way (pay maybe 20 dirhams or more if you like).

Hotel Fez : Dar Seffarine. Even more fantastic than Riad Ta'ach if that is possible. An absolutely stunning reno of an old house and the staff were so lovely you felt like you were home. Breakfast wsa also first class and one of the best we have had. Cons: leaving- we really wanted to stay for longer :(

I should note that neither of these are backpacker budget stays, but still amazing value for the sheer luxury and beauty of the surrounds.

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