Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Journey to a different land

So as hinted at in the last post, Hank and I hopped continents last week and headed to Morocco. We left very, very (painfully) early on Thursday morning, but arrived in Marrakesh and had most of the day to spend walking around. We stayed at the Riad Houdou in the Medina, the oldest part of the city. The streets there are completely mind-boggling: tiny alley ways criss-crossing and turning into larger streets packed with people, bikes, donkey carts and mopeds, lined with stalls selling everything under the sun. There were stalls with live chickens in back and fresh chicken meat in the front, bread, lamps, metal work, furniture, carpets, silks, clothes... you name it, it can probably be found here. It's completely impossible for tourists to find their way without street signs, so some of the locals take the opportunity to show you the way, and then ask for a return favor of anywhere between 20 dirhams to 70 dirhams. (What you give, if anything, is up to you.) I think we both thought Morocco would smell like spices and cooking food, but this first impression jut sort of smelled like wet donkey.

In Marrakesh there's a main market square called the Jeema El Fna. During the day there are dried fruit, orange juice carts (they have the most AMAZING oj there... I could have drank gallons!) and snake charmers out and about. At night, folks pull in carts and start cooking - it becomes a massive outdoor restaurant serving skewers of chicken and lamb, vegetable couscous, french fries, spiced olives, and bowls of snail soup. Mmmm. We also tried a cinnamon ginger tea and some chocolatey-cinnamon dessert. The tea was great - my mouth was absolutely on fire from how gingery and spicy it was. The dessert thing was hard to describe - sort of like dry paste. Neither of us really liked it, but both of us eating dessert cost about $.50!

On Friday morning we met our wonderful tour guide, Rachid. (Here's his email if you're interested in booking a trip.) We drove out of Marrakesh and approached the Atlas mountains. The changing terrain over just two or three hours of driving was amazing - we went from pretty flat, arid landscape to chilly mountain air with lots of wildflowers, and then mountains that were pretty barren deserts where you could see every layer of earth which the primordial oceans had worn down.

We stopped and took photos of a couple of kasbahs (protected castles) on the way. They ones we saw were 300-400 years old, but several of them had been refurbished and are commonly used as movie backdrops.

That evening, we arrived outside of a city called Zagora on the edge of the Sahara. We hopped on a couple of camels, who were surprisingly calm, didn't spit or bite at all, and our intrepid guide led us about 4-5 miles into the desert. We ate dinner in a lovely Bedouin tent amongst the stars and sand dunes, which I think was truly the highlight of the trip for both Hank and me. (We did, however, opt to drive back into the city the following morning for expediency, but I would really have enjoyed riding the camels back in the morning sun.)

Saturday was mainly driving back into Marrakesh, and then spending a bit more time in the Medina doing a bit of shopping. Morocco is renowned for carpets as well as minerals... happily we brought back a couple of both!

Hank and I were both stunned how completely different Morocco was, and that it's such a short flight from London (just over 3 hours). Marrakesh is definitely aggressive towards tourism, but out in the smaller cities people were less interested in selling us things, henna-ing my hand without my permission, or in general trying to get a couple bucks out of us. The scenery is absolutely picture-book, and changes every moment. In a heart beat I'd go back for a week or two and work my way around different areas of the country!

1 comment:

Molly said...

Wow. Between your description and the photos, I have a much better feel for Morocco now. I wish I could have been there with you, it looks like an amazing journey.