Sunday, 11 December 2011

Well as our tour of Morocco comes to an end it has been an amazing experience.  My experiences in Morocco are none of the things I was expecting so it has overwritten my views on the place and the people. Overall Morocco is a fun place to be and the people are friendly and helpful.

Mosque at La Plage, Rabat
We started and ended our tour in Rabat the capital of Morocco. Our first visit here was to obtain visas as most of the Consultates are conveniently located in a square mile making it painless enough to drop off and pick up for each visa applications.

Medina at Rabat

View of rooftops and skyline in Marrakech with snow capped Atlas mountains in background
Fez City


Rabat is a good start for the uninitiated into Moroccan lifestyle and far less daunting than say Marrakech.  I personally would not recommend planning a visit for more than two or three days to Marrakech as it is so draining.  Marrakech is vast and  you are being encouraged to buy, eat or whatever every step of the way.  It's cheap enough but after a day doing the Souks you feel completely drained.  Afterall how many stores can you buy freshly squeezed orange juice from?  You would think they would be spread out but no they are all clustered together which is a bit odd really.  The Medina is a maze of thousands of streets and all too easily you can get lost or turn down a dead end as we did on a couple of occasions.  Bizzarely mixed in amongst the pedestrians are bicycles, electric bicycles, mopeds and motorbikes dodging around you as they go...mix in the donkey's and people pulling carts and it makes it a surreal place to navigate.  At night Marrakech is jumping with snake charmers and all sorts of other types of entertainment, it can be a blur of activity and makes you need to solice in a cafe or restaurant for respite from the craziness.  Rabat on the other hand is more laid back but still with the various vehicles mingling in but at least you can wander the Medina without being hassled the same as you are in Marrakech by vendors and you can walk the streets without hassle.  There are plenty of eateries in the Medina and Cafe does not mean food.  In the absence of bars Cafe's are really places to sit and drink coffee or mint tea and catch up and are frequented by males.  Females are allowed but it seems to be the preserve of the males, no doubt the females are too busy shopping and looking after the family to spend precious time drinking tea.

As Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country mosques are everywhere and stand tall against the skyline. However, non-muslims are not allowed entry.  Calls for prayers five times per day starting at 5am.  Each mosque makes their calls so it's an echo of chanting across the towns and cities.  Hammams are a way of life in Morocco and for a small fee you can partake of the ritual cleansing enjoyed by muslims all over.  Hammams are basically steam baths, which is a fun and relaxing experience, although it does have its own rules of etiquette.  Hubby and I managed to take a private Hammam so we were able to do ours together but most Hammams have separate times for men and women.  However, we found it not only to be a cleansing experience but healing for the body and soul as you come out feeling completely refreshed, de-stressed and relaxed.

Fez was a nice place to visit but the Medina is massive and quite overwhelming, I did have an uneasy sense of feeling watched  here but thankfully we had a guide and that helped to reduce the hassle somewhat.  That said we tended to get hassled less in any event as hubby was often taken for being Moroccan.

Surfers on Essouira beach
After all the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, Essouira is a welcome respite. Being a beach resort the temperatures are somewhat cooler than Marrakech but the change of pace was welcome. Here you can partake of surfing, kite surfing, windsurfing, horse riding, camel riding and quad biking. There is a medina but it's much smaller and easier to negotiate and without the hassle of Marrakech.

We struggled with the food in Morocco in that whilst meat is plentiful beef is cooked rare even when well done.  Chicken was a better option, however, you never saw pork on the menu and oh boy I dooo miss my bacon in the mornings.  All foods come with riz or frites (rice or chips).  If vegetables are mentioned then you need to ensure you mention these when you order as you will receive exactly what you ordered.  There were a few places we had amazing meals but in the main unless you were eating couscous some may struggle.  Most menus are carbon copies so when you move to the coast you have the added option of fresh seafood.

Todra Gorge
Todra Gorge was beautiful but as it was winter and in the high Atlas mountains tended to be cold when the sun disappeared.  We soon learnt to plan our day around where the sun would disappeared at one end of the gorge hours before the other end.  However, the village seemed to be in sun for much longer.   I did manage to do a bit of washing in the river, hubby and I with our buckets and washing we walked the length of the gorge.  On the sandy beach the inevitable happened as I was collecting our things together...I slipped in the wet sandy soil wearing flip flops.    Although I tried to get a grip anyone who has ever worn flip flops knows practical they may be but in the wet they don't have much grip so sploosh into the river I went.  Covered in sand and wet...the locals watching us thought this was funny.  Later when walking along the gorge a local cycled by and shouted...'very good swimmer'! No doubt this was the talk of the village.  After I had dried off we went for a coffee and to try some local dishes.  We got talking to a local man and  he told us he was born in the caves where people still live. His parent's apparently still live in the caves.  He told us how cold they were to live in.  It was weird seeing little steps carved into the holes in in the rock face and to think that people still lived there.

The next day during a foray for postcards we found ourselves having mint tea with a local shop owner discussing politics and religion.  He was happy to answer questions about his faith.  We were invited to tea with his family but unfortunately as the light was fading we had to decline and head back to the gorge.

Bushcamp in the Desert
I have to say the most fun in Morocco was had taking a taxi.  These are ridiculously cheap to use and you never know what condition the cars will be in and each day's highlight is seeing just how bad they can get.  Unlike the UK they do stop and pick up other passengers if there is a spare seat up to a maximum of 3 passengers and they seem to stick religiously to this.  Watching the traffic it seems scary but funnily enough from the back of a taxi it makes more sense and is less frightening.

Road along the Atlantic through Western Sahara
After four weeks in Morocco we were all ready and pleased to be moving on to the Western Sahara which turned out  to be not what I expected but starkly beautiful.  I was delighted to be able to bushcamp amongst the  sand dunes and spend some time exploring the dunes.  My first surprise was the sheer size of these dunes, apparently they have a maximum height that they can achieve dependent on the size of the grains of sand.  

At night without light pollution of built up areas the milky way is crisp and clear above you, the stars look bigger and brighter.  I did attempt some night time photography but as I hadn't prepared for this I wasn't successful. 

Vegetation in Sahara
In the morning we were packing up I  wandered off and had it not been for the big yellow truck acting as a marker I would not have found my way back.  The tents blended into the landscape and when I looked around there was definitely no  point of reference and the vastness was eerie.  I could see how people could become disorientated quickly and easily.  As we packed the tent away we were very careful to look for scorpions who could find their way under the tents at night....thankfully there were none.

Certainly the Western Sahara is something you will never forget and something that can only be experienced.  The heat, dust and vastness are overwhelming.  The vegetation is sparse and yet dromedaries wander wild and people live here.

With Morocco now behind us, we enter soon as we cross the border the change is immediate so now we start another adventure.

They really are huge and continually moving

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