25 November 2012

Azilal to Marrakesh

Travel day.  Not much interesting to write.  Walked through Azilal, had Coffee, watched prayers outside the Mosque, caught the bus.

That’s about it.  The photos are from the bus, as we made our way west, gently down the Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh.  It was a long trip, and bordering on dusk as we arrived.

Not knowing anything about Marrakesh, we were happy to be dropped at the walls of the Medina.  So we went inside looking for a hotel.  Shouldn’t be a problem you say.  Its the capital after all, and it is the most touristy area.

On walking in, we were confronted with a market.  We could go further into the market area, or along the walls.  We decided on the larger street along the wall.  This was a mistake.  We wandered for ages with our bags looking for a hotel, riad or anything.  Nothing was to be found.  Eventually we decided to wander further in and see what we could see.  Not much as it turns out.  We followed a few signs to riads, got lost, and couldn’t find them.  We did come across one, and knocked.  No answer, so we continued on.  We met a couple of backpackers and asked them.  On getting some vague descriptions, we thanked them and headed that way.  This took us through a narrow street that was quite lively.  Market stalls everywhere, people crowding the street while bikes pushed their way through going any which way.  (I still think that most people here on motorbikes cannot ride properly, and go way too fast for the streets)  Through all this we were dragging our bags…
In this way we made it back to where we started!  This time we went the other way along the wall.  There was a hotel less than 20 meters away!  Still, it was good exercise for us, although I wish we had chosen left rather than right at the start!



24 November 2012


The waterfall

Today is simple.  One Objective:  Find the waterfall.

Last night we found out we were in the right area.  We had been a little worried, especially after such a long bus ride from Beni Mellal, and did not want to return there and try again.  Now we just had to get out to it.
We made our way to the Mosque, picking up a few pastries along the way, and even being charged double for our morning coffee did not put a dampener on our spirits.  We do miss Arabic Coffee, but Anna has managed to learn how to drink normal coffee, and I no longer feel as guilty about it as I used to!

The reason for going to the mosque is simple.  All the buses and grand taxies leave from there.  Nice, central and convenient.  No going all over the town looking for different places.  It’s the one stop transport shop.

They have the same system here as we had found yesterday.  Pay up front.  17Dh each to get out there.  No problems.  Waiting as usual, Anna went to pick up some Bananananas for the Monkeys (also confirmed to be there).  Jumped in and off we went.  The one issue with the ride is that if you want to have four people in the back seat.  Don’t have bucket seats.  This was an uncomfortable one, but you do what you have to do.

Monkey on the prowl

The drive out was nice.  A different road than when we arrived, and we tried to snap a few photos.  The plateau we are now on runs roughly east west, and we were heading west.  It was very flat, and we were wondering if there is a waterfall, we were making our way gradually down hill, and as we got closer it was still flattish.  Dropped off just outside of the main tourist part (town is further on still) we saw a sign for waterfall conservation.  A good laugh.  Rules for tourists don’t apply to locals!  People asking to be your guide, and discreet (Hard to find) signs leading to the waterfall.  Following these, we entered the gauntlet of tourist shops, stalls, cafes and the like.  Not showing any interest got us past with minimal hassles.

A secret valley. Full of cafe’s.

The path split, one going up and steps down.  We went up first for the overview of the waterfall.  On reaching a viewing platform, it was worth it.  The waterfall is good.  With the recent snow and hot weather (above freezing anyway) there was plenty of water going over the edge.  The waterfall is in two sections.  The top section is a long drop to a small pool, and then it flows over more rocks and a smaller drop into the river.  From our platform, we could turn the other way and see it cascading down through the valley.  Very pretty, and well worth the effort to get there.

A man was sitting under the tree here, and another was sweeping.  It was fairly early, and there were hardly any tourists (another couple and they had gone a different way).  The man under the tree pointed out and said something.  Looking we saw nothing.

Yay, you have ticks!

Then a branch moved.  Our first Monkey.  He came over to check us out.  Not as inquisitive as the Thai monkeys, he kept his distance.  The main feature on him was his backside.  It was huge.  Massive.  I thought he needed to see the Monkey Doctor to get his Haemorrhoids checked out.  They were bigger than his head!  After seeing us he departed.  These guys are not good in trees though.  He fell out.  Hitting the ground hard he jumped up screaming.  Moved a little, and sat there trying to recover his dignity with everyone laughing at him.  We were warned by the sweeper that they can bite and not to get too close, he didn’t need to give us the warning though.  The man under the tree jumped up and was wary when the monkey had fallen out of the tree.  That was enough warning for us.  If the locals are worried, we should be too.

The Philosopher

The monkeys are called Barbary Apes.  In reality it is a Macaque monkey, very distinguishable from others by their backsides.  Apparently they were not haemorrhoids.

Walking down closer to the base of the waterfall we came across more monkeys.  There were two young males in the tree grooming themselves, and a mother and baby on the railing.  Anna fed the mother most of a Banana, and we were again surprised by how polite the monkeys were.  It delicately reached out for the food.  No grabbing, no begging, but would take what was offered.

Can I have a Bananana. Please?

The baby came up to investigate, and we saw how protective of it the mother was.  These are still mostly wild monkeys.  Although fed by tourists and locals, they are not running wild the way the Lop Buri ones were.  Thinking there would be more, we went further down the walls.  There are cafe’s everywhere.  The prices seemed reasonable, and we politely declined the offers for breakfast or lunch.  There is another platform closer to the waterfall, just above the rocks.  From here you can look up to the long drop, and down to the cascade.  It was great.  There was no wind here, so hardly any spray, and although a few more tourists had arrived, it is not overrun.  For some reason there is a horse here.  On snapping a photo of it, a boy appeared wanting to charge 100Dh for the photo.  Not wanting the hassle, we deleted one of the photos in front of him and walked off, with him yelling at us in the background.

It’s a bit gray today.

Making our way to the bottom, it got muddy, wet and very slippery.  A few pontoons are here with weird pink seats.  Well, the whole thing looks weird.  Not just the seats.  We assumed it was to get a personal feel of the waterfall, but realised later that it is a ferry to get you to the other side.  There was a bridge here, but it has long since washed away, and you can make more money ferrying people to the other side and back, than you can taking people under the waterfall in winter.

Don’t slip.

Back to the top, we walked around to where the water is rushing along for its big drop.  This is a pretty area.  There is a small floodplain here, and it is very green at the moment.  A few trees dotting the surrounds.  At the top of the waterfall itself there are two stone sheds.  Looking inside we saw everything covered in white.  A small round grindstone was going in circles.  This lead to the deduction that it was a flour mill.  Using the flowing water to automate the process.  Quite clever, and efficient.

A quick wander over to the other side of the drop before we wanted to head back.  This side had a path along the edge of the cliff.  There are no safety rails (Which I prefer, as long as there are no absent minded Belgians in the future) and you can look right down to the bottom of the valley.  All the way along until it goes around a hill in the distance.  Following the well trod path a little, we started seeing massive cables coming out of the ground.  These were power cables, and we are not sure if the planned future development includes stalls all the way along the top of the ridge, or if they are going to put lights in to illuminate the cliff and waterfall.  We did come across a sign saying they wanted to develop the local rural area with an eye for tourism.

After a final look down into the valley and at the waterfall, we headed back to the grand taxi station.  Praying that other tourists wanted to go back to Azilal.  No such luck.  We waited and waited.  It was a good thing we arrived early, as we could have been here all night if we left any later.  Eventually 3 other people wanted to go, so we, as the tourists, had to pay for the extra seat, and departed.  At least it was more comfortable than the trip out.

Back at the hotel, we discovered that there was no hot water, but there was internet.  However it didn’t work.  Still, we went back for dinner at the place from last night, and had another good feed.


23 November 2012

Liars, Cheats and scum-bags
Ranting about Morocco
Travelling 50km as the crow flies taking all day
Back in the mountains.  AGAIN.
Dinner in the back streets

This morning we had to get out of bed.  It was hard.  The room was cold, and the blankets toasty, but if we didn’t want to freeze to death we had to get back down out of the mountains.  Plus it was early!  Almost 8am at least.  Not a respectable hour at all for me.
During the night there had been a nice frost, and as we sat outside drinking coffee, the fog started rolling in.  The entire landscape was white.  Small plumes of white smoke were rising from the occasional chimney, pools of ice were reflecting white light, bricks had white crystals over them and the hills were as white as snow.

It was a cold start to the day. For everyone!

Looking down from the balcony, we could see the weekly market being set up.  There were people erecting tents, laying out shoes and clothing, stalls of all those small things you never knew you needed.  The big trucks started rolling in and unloading produce.  Heavy sacks were manhandled to the edge of the truck, and loaded onto the back of another man who took it over to their stall and dumped it.  Hard work by any standard.  We assume they were sacks of flour, corn or anything else, but a lot of work was involved.  It would have been easier to leave the trucks parked there and only unload ones that had been sold.

More trucks came loaded with livestock, and it was amazing to see how quiet the sheep are.  They were roughly picked up and dumped over the edge of the truck, one at a time.  None made a break for it, and all stood there looking cold and white.  Then the lead sheep was picked up by its two front legs and dragged off to a corner.  The others following timidly behind.  Goats were next, and got the same treatment, and didn’t like it one bit, but still there were no escaping animals.  We were both disappointed at this.  If Dad had been here, he would have been really annoyed.  There would be nothing to swear at!

We just wanted a photo of her, but the carpet is good too.

Finishing our coffee, we were asked if we wanted to see the local women weaving.  Not sure about this, as it means carpet shop, but we accepted.  Apparently there are twenty old women living in a house here that all weave, and we could go see them.  We accepted, and made our way down through the market to a small house.  A wizened old lady opened up for us and led us into the now familiar room.  Even though we had never been in here before.  She started unrolling some carpets, but quickly worked out we were not interested in buying one.  However she did let us take a photo of her holding a carpet.  She held up the carpet to her eyes, we were a bit disappointed at this, as she had a wonderful face, and the clothing was typical.  Our host led us away and dumped us back at the market before disappearing.  Someone had said there was time to look around before the bus left, so we thought we would enjoy the market.  Seriously, it was nothing special.  A functional market for the people of the region.  There were some interesting 20L drum furnaces that Anna took a photo of, but the man in the stall next door got upset.  Very friendly people these Berbers.  He wasn’t even in it.

We decided to go load our bags on the bus, and wait there.  Paying for our room was interesting.  He wanted to caharge us a lot more than it was.  He even got out pen and paper to work it out.  His total was what I was expecting (after the outrageous dinner and expensive coffee), but wouldn’t accept it, and still over charged us.  To top it off, he wouldn’t even give me my change, saying how good a deal we had (not) gotten.
A great start to our day.  After yesterday my temper(ature) started to rise again.

There are fish here, but too cold to go fishing!

I am developing a love hate relationship with Morocco.  On one hand, we are sick of being screwed, and on the other, when we went back to the bus, as it was ready to leave, there were two apples placed on the best seats.  They were meant as a present for us!
The bus trip down this side of the High Atlas was good.  One of the first things we passed heading out of town was a large lake.  We would have liked to be able to go down to it, as there was no wind, and the reflection was perfect.  There are meant to be fish in the lake.  The whole are is reminiscent of the European Alps.  Even some of the houses.  You can easily tell who has holiday shacks here, as they all have pointed roofs.  The landscape changed the further down we went.  At first there was just the snow line.  This gave way to dry red hills with patches of snow occasionally, The colours in the rocks and ground stood out vividly.  Trees started appearing as the landscape changed again.  Soon there was an almost complete coverage of the hills.  We didn’t pass any villages, and only a few isolated houses, so assume these trees have been a bit protected from logging.  The entire area was greener than we had seen south of the Atlas (excluding palmeries).  Finally it started looking just like the blue mountains.

The colours are stunning in the clear air.

Asking at Imilchil if the roads were ever cut off due to winter, we were told it was only for a day or so, before the snow plough came through and re-opened them.  Driving down, we are not too sure about this.  The road is fairly bad.  Although bitumen, there are sections of dirt, that have already started degrading.  The rivers and streams are running nicely from the snow melt, and have washed debris over the road in sections.  In other places the road has been partially washed out, and many of the crossings are at ground level, so if the water rises up much more, it would be impassable in a normal vehicle.  With the spring melt, these places would be flowing very quickly, and a challenge to cross.

The mini bus took us to another town in the middle of nowhere, and we had to take a taxi from there to El Ksiba.  No surprise there.  At El Ksiba we came across a new system for the taxis.  Pay up front at a stall.  Not bad, as you know the price before you start.  From here it was a long drive to Beni Mellal.  This is a large city on the edge of the mountains.  Here there are plains that stretch out as far as the eye can see.  Dotted with villages between the fields.  Beni Mellal, being a city was full of the usual garbage and smog (If I think this is bad, what will Marrakesh be like?).

Trees? WOW!

Dropped off at the Grand Taxi station, we asked how to get to Azilal.  Apparently there are some wonderful waterfalls here, and we would like to see them.  It was past midday by now, but we had been told it was only 30 or so kilometres from here.  The taxi driver sent us to a stand nearby.  On pushing our way to the front (the only way to get served) they said there were no taxis here to take us there.  Anna’s French has been improving (due to forced use) but here was apparently incomprehensible.  However we managed to work out there was another taxi stop about two kilometres down the road.  Trundling our bags behind us, we set off.  About half way we stopped for a cup of tea.  We double checked our directions here, and it seemed as if we were headed the right way.  We also managed to pick up some guy that wanted to follow/help us.  We finished our tea, and started off.  He followed.  I tried to tell him not to bother, and the man beside us also tried to get him to stop.  No luck.  A few times he wanted to take my bag, and I had to forcfully say no.

The road wasn’t that good.

When we arrived at the next taxi station, he immediately jumped in, trying to “organise a taxi for us.”  It was apparently going to cost 3000dh or AU$360.  Huh?  To go 30km?  But it would just be the two of us, and we needed to pay for the drivers trip back, as he wouldn’t be able to find a fair with all those people sitting on the side of the road waiting for a lift.  Telling him to butt out, we tried to work out what was going on.  They wanted to send us back to the first taxi station.  The guy was still interfering, and saying god knows what in Arabic (it was probably as incomprehensible as his English).  I lost my temper, and walked a little way from the chaos of people yelling.  Anna couldn’t work out what was going on.  Finally it seemed as if there may or may not be a third taxi station in the city, but we would have to take a taxi to reach the taxis.
Stuff that.  We had seen a supr@tours bus station on the walk, so we thought we would check with them.  Either to get to Azilal, or just to Marrakesh, as we couldn’t give a stuff any more.  Unfortunately it was back at the first taxi station.  Starting to walk back the guy came up again.  This time I was not so polite, and told him to go.  I restrained myself a bit, and didn’t swear, but he was not happy.  There goes his commission…  I am not sure if he was drunk, stoned, or mentally disabled.  A lot of the people we have met have been at least one of the three, if not all of them.
Getting back to where we started, we decided to ask a few more people.  We couldn’t get a straight answer, so went to the big bus stall.  Unfortunately, their only bus to Marrakesh left at 1am.  This was not an option for us.  Thinking we would give it one more try, we caught a petite taxi.  He understood what we wanted, and we were off.  However he was heading back to the second taxi station.  We gestured there were no taxis there for us, and he set off somewhere else.  At least we were getting to see a little of the city.  There were slums, markets, and expensive housing.  It could have been interesting if we had nothing else to do, and were in a better frame of mind.  If I had internet access in the taxi I would have booked our tickets out of Morocco then and there.
After a fair drive through the city, we came to another grand taxi station.  The driver asked people if he was at the right spot, and was apparently told yes.  Dropping us right outside the ticket stall.  Here someone spoke English.  Explaining what we wanted, we were quoted 40Dh for the two of us.  Done.  Then it tuned into 44Dh.  Okayyy, something fishy is going on here.  Now suddenly it was 44dh EACH?!?  No way.  Not for 30km.  The English speaker had the biggest grin on his face.  I assumed he was thinking he would score a massive commission.  Telling them to get stuffed as well, we walked off.  Now we had no idea what to do.  We stood there talking about it, and a policeman walked past.  He understood Anna’s French, and went to ask.  On returning, he said it was 40Dh each, but thought it was a tourist price (if we understood correctly).  Thanking him, and thinking we would just find a hotel for the night and go to Marrakesh in the morning, he gestured for us to follow him.  The main bus station was just around the corner, and he found us a bus for 50dh together.  Well, it wasn’t 80 so we thanked him, and followed this new man.  Yelling for us to hurry, someone else forcefully grabbed my bag, and we headed off. The walk/run took us to a larger road, and as we were waiting there, he said that it was now 60dh.  50 for us, and 10 for the bags.  Pulling it out, it still wasn’t enough.  I pulled out our coins, and he took all of them, completely cleaning me out of money.  Apparently I had to pay almost 20Dh to the man that had snatched my bag.  It would have been almost cheaper to take the taxi.  The bus turned up, and we were loaded on.  Our first piece of luck was that we got to sit together in the only double seats left.
As the trip started, the ticket man (same as before) started collecting money from others on the bus.  The rate was 20dh (we assume without luggage)  I am F*##ing sick of this!

The bus trip was an age and a half.  It got dark quickly, and the 30km journey we expected took over 80km.  Now we know why the taxis and bus cost so much!  The only interesting thing other than winding your way up through steep 1 1/2 lane roads with traffic and cliffs, was looking out over the plains and seeing all the lights of the towns and cities.  Interspaced with vast areas of darkness with only one or two lights.  Further up, there was something brightly lit coming straight down the mountain.  We were curious as to what it was.  Ski lift? Road?  No too steep for that.  Funicular? Its the waterfall all lit up at night?  We could only hope.  It turned out to be a massive pipe.  The guessing game continued (it was a long boring trip.) Gas pipe?  You need the lights to find out where that last explosion happened.  Water?  Plausible, as it is harder to find where it sprang a leak. Steam?  What’s the point of that?  As we passed it, we saw a massive building below the road that it went into.  From this, we deduced it was water for hydro-electricity.  This was confirmed when we got to the top and found a massive lake.

We had thought it the top, but we were wrong.  It kept going and going.  Every time there were a few lights we hoped we were there, but to no avail.  After we had given up caring, as both our legs were asleep already, and our hands numb from the now cold night air, we rounded a mountain side.  The amount of lights now visible suggested we were almost reaching our destination.  We were there!  Azilal.  The promised town of the bus, and we had made it.

No we just needed to find a place to stay and something to eat.  As we were walking along, our spirits returned.  No one hassled us for a hotel at the station (it was fairly late though), to take a tour, or even buy a carpet.  PERFECT!  Still, we did need to find somewhere, and there is a distinct lack of hotels.  Where are the hustlers when you need them?  Someone did ask if we were right, and directed us to his families hotel.  Promises of hot water and clean sheets.  He also talked a bit about the area.  Apparently in spring it is quite beautiful.  We just wanted to see it in daylight.  The hotel was OK.  a good price (80Dh) and fairly clean room, so we dumped our bags and went to find dinner.

Around the first corner there was a little dark alley way with something that resembled a food shop.  We wandered up for a closer look, and found the best thing to happen to us today. It was food.  It was open.  We asked what the man had.  No English, or French, but he knew what we wanted and opened all the dishes to show us what he had.  Dark brown stew, Bean soup (no thanks) and brochettes.  So we sat down and ate.  The stew was good wholesome food, and the brochettes done nicely.  Just no veggies!  The guy was fantastic.  Very friendly and helpful.  We all laughed at not understanding each other, and the complementary tea was made in front of us.  All in all, first impressions of Azilal are good.  It has cheered us up a lot, and we are keen to see the waterfalls tomorrow.


Warning:  RANT.
Why do Moroccans promise something and not deliver?  If you say you have hot water.  HAVE IT!
If we say we are not interested in something DO NOT follow us down the street for the next half an hour expecting money.
DO NOT EXPECT MONEY FOR NOTHING, and don’t swear at us when we don’t give you any.
If you want a cigarette, earn some money and buy them.  The same as we have to do.
What is with the begging mentality in Morocco.  Is there no pride.  Asia is as poor, or poorer than here, and apart from a few exceptions, there are hardly any beggars.  There are people that sell tissues for a living, or collect garbage for recycling.  They may be poor, and have nothing, but they do have PRIDE!
Why is it considered normal for kids to come running up asking for money, pens and lollies, harassing you when you do not give them anything?  I would be ashamed if I knew anyone that did this.
You can be holier-than-thou with how we have old persons homes, but have you seen the condition of some of the elderly in your country?  Why are they on the street holding their hands up, if you are so proud of how you look after them.
I am a tourist.  This does not mean I am made of money.
If we agree on a place to stay and a price.  Do not change your mind in the middle of the night and charge us double the next morning.
If we agree on a price for a taxi, stick to it.
85% of Morocco is Berber.  I am sure there are some good ones, but we have not met many of them.  Give me the Saharawi or Arabs any time.  This whole thing about Berber honesty and integrity?  Stop deluding yourself.  If anyone introduces themselves as Berber, we are now instantly on guard, and not interested in anything you have to say after that point.  (Although this now possibly means we will not meet those good Berbers, for which I am sorry)
Western women are not Prostitutes.  If you wouldn’t treat your own women this way, do not treat others this way either (Not just us).  If you are that sexually repressed, do something about it.  I am sure you have met Mrs Palmer.

I did wait a few days to write this, so it is not as bad as I originally intended.  Still, we needed to get it out of our system.

22 November 2012

Run into Samlal
Bus to Beni Mellal
Countryside with snow
End up in Imilchil

We decided not to go to breakfast with Mohammed, as it seemed to turn into a spice buying “opportunity”.
today we just wanted a simple breakfast and then leave town. We had asked around and apparently it was not so difficult to catch a bus over the Atlas mountains to Beni Mellal on the other side. This way do not have to go via Erichida and the long way around. As we have to be in Marrakesh on the 26th to meet friends, we did not have time to do that.
Breakfast to go and a quick coffee at the hotel. While sitting at the terrace we run into Samlal from Boulmalne again! Morocco is a very small country.. He does not have much time as he is doing business in town today and will head back to Portugal soon. Still nice to see him again.

It fits at least 18 and luggage!

At the buses there was a bit of confusion. We were told there is no direct bus to Beni Mellal. We can get the minibus to Imilchil and there change over. That sounds fine, but finding out when the bus leaves was a problem. We got anywhere between 13.00 and 19.00. Confusion all around until one guy starts yelling. A bus will leave soon, so we get on this one. Leaving soon turned out to be 1,5 hours later.  During the time we were standing outside waiting, Who should turn up?  Mohammed.  Going on about how we had promised to go to breakfast.  At the same time the guy that took us to the carpet shop also appeared, with him ranting at us about not buying a carpet.  I almost lost my cool, and wanted to say that we had forked out a small fortune for tinned sardines, and never wanted to buy a carpet in the first place, but managed to hold my temper.

Find the trees.

We had some friendly help then, as we were pulled away to load our bags on the bus, leaving the two of them to argue with each other.  Now we had to resort to hiding on the bus.  This was not the best of ideas, as we had forgotten that Moroccans will follow you anywhere, however they eventually left.  The bus did as well.  Eventually.  The first part of the drive was the bit we had already done.  Up the valley into the gorge.  Out the other side.  Onwards and upwards.  We just hadn’t realised how far upwards.  The drive took forever.  Zigzagging our way up the mountains.  Past the tree line, and the already denuded landscape got even more so.

Beautiful landscapes.

Now we were on a big plateau, dotted with hamlets.  Although the ground is barren, it is still beautiful with the different colours in the rocks, and the ridges or lines sticking out.  This was a large plateau, but not the top.  We drove through it, and went upwards again. At the top of the mountains we got to take a small break.  We had been seeing patches of snow dotting the landscape for some time now, and when we got out of the bus to stretch our legs (and pray as the case may be) there was still an icy snow on the side of the road.  Not much, as it has been warm the last few days (I know, I have been freezing, but it has still been in the positive during the day) and most has melted to feed the streams further down, but it was still good to see this patch.  We ruined it by standing in it.  Now we can say we have stood in snow in Morocco.  Not that special here, but it was for us.

Our first Moroccan snow!

Back on the bus and off again.  We were roughly half way.  Imilchil, we thought was at the top of the range, apparently not, it is in a small plateau between the higher peaks.  As we wound down the other side, we saw large swaths of cultivation.  Most of the land was now ploughed, and there was green everywhere.

Did not expect green fields all the way up here.

It looked a little like the rice paddies in Asia, flooded with water, yet the snow covered mountains rising up behind it.  On arriving in town, we got out of the bus.  Instantly I was assailed by people for taxies and hotels.  I was not happy about this.  Then we found out that there was no bus onwards to where we were going, and we would have to hire a taxi for just the two of us to continue.  I thought it was the taxi drivers lying to us so we would take the taxi instead, and finally lost my temper.  Storming off, I left Anna to find out if this was correct surrounded by people clamouring to take their hotel, or this taxi.  Anna finally caught up, and we walked through the town.  Low and behold, there was a tourist information here.  I do not understand this, as it is only the third we have seen in the entire country, and it is in the middle of nowhere!  Asking the person sitting out the front having tea what was possible for us, he said the same thing.  There would be a minibus in the morning, or we could pay the 300Dh for a private taxi.  During this time a shared taxi went past proving that we had been lied to at the bus station, as they had said there wasn’t even a shared taxi.  The person from Tourist info flagged down a passing truck, but it wasn’t going very far.  As it was so cold, and approaching sunset, we decided to stay in town for the night.  I was not happy about this, but thought the chances of hitch hiking at this hour were slim.

Daily life.

One of the people from the bus station had driven up to try and help.  He offered us a room at his hotel for 80dh including a hot shower.  So we decided to walk back into town.  Asking at one hotel, we found it was 120dh for the night including food.  However they had cold showers, and we really wanted a warm one.  A boy on a bike pulled up and offered his hotel for 100dh including dinner and a hot shower, so we decided to look at it.  On the way down we passed many places for accommodation, and the small town in the middle of nowhere was starting to look like a tourist trap.  We passed the hotel of the first guy, and he had a discussion with the boy.  The price of that hotel suddenly went to 100dh each with no food?  OK we will look at his hotel.  Anna waited with the bags, and I went if for a look.  The room was big,and had clean sheets.  He also promised to bring in a portable heater to take the chill off it.  I didn’t care about the size, but the heater was a plus.  He showed me one of the bathrooms (a squat) and was proud of how clean it was (It didn’t even smell) and gestured to a door at the end of the corridor saying the shower and other toilet was through there.  He hadn’t lied to me about the room, so I took it for granted and didn’t check.  My mistake.  Dropping our bags, we went back outside to look at the sunset over the hills.

The town is built on a slope, with fields below.  Behind this the snow covered mountains rise up.  The village is 2100m above sea level, and the mountains go up another 1000m easily (Mgoune is 4000m+)  From the balcony it is a very impressive view.  The temperature was dropping steadily, and we went back indoors.  He cranked up a small wood stove to give the room some heat.

Warmth, Glorious Warmth!!

This was a blessing, as we were already wrapped in blankets, and it was the first fire we have seen in Morocco.  It was great.  He offered us dinner, and although expensive, we accepted (What we saved on the room, we overpaid on dinner).  An omelet came out, and although nice, wasn’t worth what we paid for it.  Two Spanish men turned up, and we spent some time trying to talk to them.  They had been to the waterfall on the far side of the mountain, where we were planning to go tomorrow.  The lonely planet came out, and we saw that Imilchil is in the top ten places to see.  This explains all the hotels, and it would be fantastic hiking here in spring or summer.
Anna went for her hot shower, to find out that the water was heated by a wood fire, and he needed to get it going.  When the water was finally warm she went up.  Only now did we find out that you have to go outside for the shower!  While in, he came up to check, and tested the temperature on a tap in the next room, taking away all the hot water…  At the end, you have to go outside (as mentioned) to get back into the main building, taking away any benefit of the shower, as you are colder now than before you had it.  I decided to pass.
Still we had 4 big blankets,and the bed eventually warmed up enough to go to sleep.


21 November 2012


A simple day today.  More interesting than travel days, but less typing!

Beautiful colours..

We caught a taxi up to the start of Tougra Gorge.  This was at a different stand, but easy to find.  As a bonus we also got to leave fairly quickly.  The road up provided some good views out over the valley and city.  The Palmery is in the middle of the valley, and the city built up around it.  The green valley, brown buildings and red hills provided some good contrasts.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get a photo of it.  After a short drive we ended up at the start of the gorge.  There are a few hotels here, and the river comes up out of the ground on the bottom side of the gorge itself.  Huge rock walls climb up from the road, soaring a couple of hundred metres above us (so it seemed).

…but also beautiful in black and white.

Following the road in, we entered the yawning chasm before us.  Along the side of the road there are many stalls that were in the process of being set up.  Tie-dyed scarves, saharawi dresses and African masks were on offer.  We wondered why there were so many stalls.  It is meant to be touristy, but that much?  We were the only people here.  Walking through, this part of the gorge is only a few hundred meters long, and 20 meters wide.  The wind was blowing through, and made it bitterly cold, even so it was an impressive sight.

Red rocks..

On the far side of the chasm, the valley opens up a bit, all the tourist stalls ended, and the sun had come out making quite a pleasant day.  We continued walking along.  Along side the river a shepherd was out with his sheep and goats. Further along it got very quite.  No houses, no souvenirs, no tourists. Bliss!

…and rivers of grey.

We happily walked along the road.  It split in two, a dirt road going up a ridge line that would provide impressive views, and the other along the base of the valley.  Feeling lazy we continued along the main bitumen path.  The mountains had sheer walls here, but there was a nice grassy patch about half way down.  Further along the road we came to some rock climbers that were doing the lower section.  About 20m high.  Watching them for a while, we then continued on.  The valley curls around the mountains and there is never more than a few hundred meters in view.

Apparently they are delicious in a tangine.

After a few kilometres we saw a miniature castle in the distance, however we also saw some squirrels nearby.  We sat and had a bite to eat, watching the squirrels run up and down the almost vertical walls.  They are very cute, and a shame we couldn’t get close to them.  Through the camera you could see them going to the bushes, rising up on their long back feet and getting whatever it was they wanted out.  Then they would sit on the rocks grooming themselves.  Paying special attention to cleaning their tails.
Now it was time to check out the castle.  It tuned out not to be a miniture, it just looked that way from the distance, as the rock wall behind it is so massive.  It is a hotel/restaurant, and we were not surprised about this.  It is well made, and looks better up close.  They have also spent a lot of time putting out signs for walking tracks (Similar to the Pink Roadhouse,NT).  These would have been handy if we were staying there, but the loops ranged between 2 and 8 hours to complete.

From here we decided to call it a day.  As you don’t know when the next bus or taxi comes past we debated whether to turn back or keep going.  There was no point in walking back the way we had come, so we continued forward into the unknown.  Well, we did know there was a town about 10km further up.  No buses went past, but we did flag down a car.  There were two teachers inside, and they happily gave us a lift back down the valley.
As we passed the gorge, we were amazed at the amount of people there.  All the tour buses go there, spewing out the tourists to walk the gorge and buy the scarves.  It explained why there were so many shops set up.

After navigating our way through the mass of buses, it was smooth driving all the way back home.  Our guest drivers today were Geology and Arabic teachers in Tinghir, they dropped us off and continued happily on their way.  I know we have only hitch hiked twice, but both times we have had better results than grand taxis!

They will grill whatever you bring them.

When we got back we had a few hours until we were supposed to meet whoever it was for dinner.  We followed our noses and the smoke and came to a place that was cooking up meat.  Deciding on an Experimental Meal we asked what it was.  Apparently you buy the meat from the butchers next door, and for a small fee they cook it for you.  We were game to give it a try, so we bought some mince (Kofta) and took it over.  Finding a table we waited.  They cook it on hot coals in a big outdoor BBQ.  The smells were driving us nuts, as we were both fairly hungry by now.  Apparently we had still gotten it wrong, as when it was brought over, it had tomato and onion with it.  We had seen someone walking over with them, but thought it was for his meal, and not ours.  It was appreciated, as it made the dish a lot better.  Bread was brought over to use instead of knife and fork in the Moroccan way (Although they also brought us a knife and fork!) with tea to wash it down.  All in all this experiment worked out well, although at the end it cost more than a tangine split between the two of us!
We sat around for a while waiting for 6:30 to roll up.  We were meeting Whatshisname for dinner then.  At the pre-determined spot we sat and waited.  He eventually showed up saying he had been past a few times.  Must have just missed us.  The plan was to go back to his house for dinner.  It was close by and not a problem.  Now the plan had changed.  We were supposed to take a taxi 20km to his family’s house.  Explaining that our hotel had an eleven pm curfew, and we would like to stick to the original plan, we were basically told we were wrong about the hotel (It is a great excuse, and even better as it was true!) but he backed down from the taxi ride.

Mohammed’s house and our restaurant for tonight.

We walked to the Jewish quarter and up to what we thought was his house.  It turned out to be a family members (or friend) and we were escorted in.  Our host for this evening is Mohammed, a chef and teacher of cooking.  He proudly showed us his identity card and we had a pleasant conversation.  Whatshisname said he was off to buy ingredients for dinner, and wanted some money.  By now the alarm bells should have jangled themselves from the wall and been rattling all over the floor.  The plan had changed, we were dumped somewhere else, and now he was asking for money for a meal he had invited us to.  Naively we handed some over and off he went.
The first course arrived while he was gone: Barley Porridge with off-butter (it is supposed to be healthy!).  I managed to keep mine down, but Anna refused at the first whiff.  Whatshisname came back, and said he had to leave to close his shop (WTF?  If we had taken the taxi 20km, he wouldn’t have been able to close any shop from there…) and disappeared, never to be seen again (hopefully).  Expecting a brilliant dinner of fish tangine, imagine our surprise when we were served up a plate of battered sardines with old bread!  What happened to the ingredients for dinner?  A tin of sardines hardly costs anything.  We left fairly soon after dinner as the women in the house didn’t seem to like our presence.  On leaving, Mohammed made us promise to turn up for breakfast before taking us to buy spices.
Needless to say, we were home well before curfew, and glad of our experimental meal earlier.


20 November 2012

A travel day.  Soon we are just going to take a day off and say we sat at the bus stop all day waiting for a bus. Some times it feels the same, except more boring.
However on going to the Boumalne grand taxi stop, located conveniently less than 200m from our hotel (THAT HAD HOT WATER!) we found a taxi that only needed two more people.  We jumped in the deluxe station wagon and set out.  The person beside Anna spoke some English, and started talking about his organisation.  It tuned out to be the Peace Corps.  I was happy in the back just looking at the scenery going past.  The trip itself was uneventful.  We passed a mine in the distance and found out that this is one of the oldest silver mines in Africa.  Then there was nothing but a few hills and plains of rocks until we reached Tinghir.  This is where we will base ourselves for the last of the three gorges.  We had been told by some people to skip this one, but as it is so close, we decided to go.

Sheets are for on beds. Aren’t they?

Tinghir is a provincial capital, and has the largest palm grove in Morocco, stretching out over 50km.  The town itself is pretty spread out.  On driving in, we passed the largest open air souk we had seen, but it is only working on Mondays.  We had just missed it.
At the taxi stop, I realised that I still had the key from our last hotel in my pocket.  This was shameful, I had thought about leaving it in the door, but didn’t.  However the taxi driver came to the rescue, and after a group discussion on where the hotel was (as I can never remember the names of the hotels we stay at), he said he would return it for me when he went back.  Whoever you are, Thank you!

Tinghir, cleanest doorsteps in Morocco, pitty about the rest of the place

There are plenty of cheep hotels here, as it is a very touristy city, so we had no problem finding basic accommodation.  Ok, it is simple, the toilet hasn’t been cleaned (and a squat) and we found out later that the sheets still had the sand and hair of the last occupant in it.  We have found in Morocco that people spend more time cleaning their front step of the shop with buckets of water than they do the rooms! This isn’t a problem for us as we are travelling with our own sheet, as we expected as much from travelling Jordan.
After settling in we set out for a look around town.

Handmade crafts

There is a daily market just behind the hotel, with everyone setting out their tarpaulins, stools, and carts.  The offerings were mobile phones from small little boxes, or shops, fruit & veg, the butchers, bakers (no candlestick makers though) and many people selling second hand appliances and clothing.  While wandering through we were picked up by a young man that we couldn’t shake off.  On explaining we had no money for a guide,he said it was his day off.  He took us through the women’s market.  Apparently there are two markets here, one for men and the other for women.  The women’s market was clothing and jewellery.  From here you can go into the Jewish section of the city.  Again they all left in the 60’s.  After this was the compulsory carpet shop.  We are now thoroughly sick of these, and resolve to drink their tea, look at the carpets and go.

A carpet shop disguised as a normal house!

The people were nice though, and the carpets stunning.  We were tempted by a few of them.  Apparently the people selling them are nomads that come down from the mountains for a month or two in November December to sell the carpets before heading back up the mountain in January.  We didn’t quite believe this.  On extracting ourselves we headed back to the hotel.  Along the way we met someone with an unpronounceable name that we enjoyed talking to and organised to meet him for dinner the next evening.
Back at the hotel we grabbed the laptop to go to the internet cafe to update the blog.  As we were heading back out the man from the hotel warned us about people picking up tourists and taking them to carpet shops.  They work on commission, and are a nuisance in the city.  No surprise there.
We got to update a few days in the blog and turned in for the night.