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.


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