Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Trip to the country

On the local bus for two hours watching the scenery fly past on a cold wet wintry day was lovely. The journey to Khouribga went so fast but it got colder and colder as we neared the Middle Atlas Mountains. This was Fouzia’s home town or city … it was a huge place. Her parents live in a two story home with a terrace. From the moment we walked in the door we felt the warmth of family. Fouzia has two brothers and one sister. She is the eldest like me. Her mum and dad are very modern parents and don’t seem to have a lot of restrictions on their children. There is no pressure for them to marry or stay home. The furnishings in a typical Moroccan home are comfy long sofas all the way around the room except the door way and the TV. Lots of cushions as well. A throw back to Berber days I think but more up market. Off course ceramic tiles everywhere which makes for a colorful home. The main living area had the usual hexagonal wooden table at above knee height. This table is also the dining table so is covered with a cloth usually plastic. Just like at home it is where all the talking, laughing etc occurs. There was plenty of that especially as Fouzias sister Awatif is a bit of joker. She has a great sense of humour…they all did, but she was the funny one. The kids all speak and understand varying degrees of English which made it easy for us. Arabic was the language spoke in the home. The parents don’t speak French either. Their son Yosef is studying and was also practicing his English. With a lot of sign language and body language and facial expressions her mum and I were on the same wave length about all things to do with mothering. We really clicked and had a lot in common in fact she told Fouzia that night if we could speak the same language we would talk all night. She was right. We both want the same things for our kids and share the joys and sorrows equally. There is a lot of love and respect for each other in that home just like ours. We were treated to an afternoon tea that was like a high tea. All the women are great cooks so we had little patisserie type biscuits and sweets and the most delicious bread she had just made along with the delicious cake. I later discovered the bread is cooked in a huge communal oven that we had the good fortune to go and see the next morning. That was the start of two days of doing nothing but eating and drinking the mint tea. It was a hard two days but someone had to do it. For dinner we had brochettes …diced beef marinated in onion and spices and threaded on skewers which I helped to do then grilled. I hate sitting around while someone else is working. I think it was hard for her mum to let me do it but by lunch time the next day she realized I wanted to learn the way she cooks and prepares her food. We stayed the night and slept like babies…fresh country air I think. It rained all night so in the morning the huge souq that occurs right outside their door every Sunday was slow to get started. It is the largest weekly souq around for fresh food…I mean fresh. Sorry vegetarians reading this…stop now. Live hens were bought, taken to a different area and for a few dirham they were beheaded, plucked, and cleaned and then dressed whole or however you wanted .Pork, beef and lamb all find their way onto Moroccan plates as fresh as… The fruit and vegetable barrows are laden with excellent quality as well. The ground was sodden and fun was had picking our way around the mud in the big Souq. As I mentioned before we visited the town bakery...well the oven., the communal oven. It was narrow and very deep and needed long paddles to reach in to place the large loaves of bread. The woman of that area make the dough, let it rise then flatten then place on a wooden tray with their tea towel on top then one of the family run it to the oven. We were able to watch him put a load in which consisted of 2 per tray and about 10 trays all with their own cloth so he would know whose bread was whose. Great system. Their own kitchens are not large so no room for personal ovens. It is environmentally friendly as it has one heat source that is maintained at a low cost to the environment and one fuel source making the charcoal. The guy stacking the oven gets paid by the tray or loaf. Very interesting morning.
Next on the agenda was the couscous. I asked for lots of vegetables and boy be careful what you ask for. I helped a little to prepare the vegetables and her mum was surprised we had all the same vegetables as they do. Meanwhile as is normal in a Moroccan house the men were sitting in the living area while the woman were cooking .Nick and I decided to teach them how to play 2 handed patience. That created loads of laughs as they were learning then came the next bit of wanting to do a little cheating in a good humoured way. I watched how couscous was made from scratch and believe me it did not involve adding hot water to instant couscous in a packet and then hoping it would be light and fluffy. The work and time involved was well worth the effort as we sat down to the largest quantity of couscous we have seen. My mouth is salivating as I am writing this. The meat and veg was cooked to perfection as well…I think she has done that many times. Traditionally the men eat with a spoon and the women with their right hand. All the time we have been in Morocco when eating tagine etc with our hands I have been eating with my left as I am a leftie. It meant it was a sign of the devil. From now on right handed it is. We left after lunch to tears from the mums hoping to see each other again but both knowing for a moment our lives and cultures touched and that was enough. Fouzia’s dad drove us the two hours back to Casablanca which was great as Awatif came and we were able to find out more about her and wish her well for the future. It was weird coming back to Fouzias home as it felt like ours as well. They gave their beds up for us for the nights we slept there and we really appreciate that girls. It is not the first time. The Moroccans are so thoughtful and accommodating. Thank you girls for your hospitality and the information you gave us about your beliefs and for answering all of our question and we hope you learnt a little about our culture as well. Our greatest wish is that you could visit us in our country.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Traditional Moroccan Cooking

After finding a taxi driver that sort of understood the address we were going to and after being yelled at as to why we did not know where we were going. We finally met up with Fouzia and were welcomed warmly into the fold. She lives with her Aunt Soed ..I think that is how it is spelt, she is the same age as Fouzia. My first cooking lesson occurred after Fouzia finished work. She is studying as well as working and speaks excellent English so I was able to find out a lot of information about life in Morocco from a woman’s point of view. She made Harira the Moroccan soup made from lentils and chickpeas. It took ages with a lot of chopping and cooking but the end result was wonderful. I can’t wait to go home and cook it for the family. The next day we headed off to the huge Souq that sold everything you could imagine and we had another lesson about marriage and weddings and birth and celebrations. The trappings of our weddings are miniscule compared to theirs. It is a three day event to start with, with 9 changes of clothes .The clothing is elaborately decorated. It is really a sight to behold in this section of the Souq where all of this is sold. It would be great to see it all in action at a real wedding. Maybe if Fouzia finds her rich, travelling man. It was an entertaining few hours.

Searching for Mr. Bogart and the hill of beans

El Jadida was a short stop over on the way to Casablanca. Many people told us to skip Casablanca but we are glad we did not miss it. We would have not met some wonderful people who crossed our path. We decided to have the day to discover the medina and the old city before contacting our couch surfing host. It is one of the smallest Medinas in Morocco ... at least in a large city. The walk in the Medina was very peaceful as we watched everyday Moroccan life unfold before our eyes…including the beautiful voices of children singing in the class room. Casablanca is the centre of commerce so as such it had a lot of high rise buildings housing the big corporations. The hotels in the city centre were very ordinary to say the least but it was clean enough and a cheap roof over our heads. It had a lot of French colonial architecture and was sorely in need of a good lick of paint but that is the beauty of the place. It certainly did not have the feel of what one would imagine. We discovered the Mosque to beat all mosques…well actually it was the third largest mosque but was the tallest building in Morocco. It was awesome to see it. It was started in 1980 by King Hussan the current Kings father and cost half a billion to build. All the money was ‘donated’ at the cost of 10 dirhams per head..just over $1.00 per person. It is indeed a spectacle even from the outside. It has carved stone, marble and mosaic tiles around the minaret. It has a laser beam that beams to Mecca. Inside it can take 25,000 to pray and 80,000 in the courtyards. It is built over reclaimed land and so the prayer room has central heated floors and glass floors to look down upon the Atlantic. It also had a retractable roof. Inside the prayer hall you could fit Rome’s St.Peters or the Paris Notre Dame. The plaza and surrounding colonnades and buildings all had different ceramics over the wall. It is starting to disintegrate a bit due to the proximity to the sea. Restoration work was going on around and inside the Mosque. We sat waiting for the call to prayer which we have enjoyed listening to 5 times a day. It was inspiring to listen to the reciting of the Koran even if we did not understand it. Men and women came from all over the city most with their prayer mats. They pray separately.
Next, off to Ricks Café the remade scene of the setting for the movie Casablanca. I thought we would walk into some tacky remake and a very touristy place but not so. It was remarkably serene and so we decided to have lunch there sitting next to “the Piano” It was a classy joint run by Americans. It was the most beautiful interior to dine in and was silver service all the way. If we ate like that in Australia it would have cost a fortune. The staff were gracious and funny so it was a great experience. Upstairs the setting of the bar and everything that went with it. They even have the movie running continously with sub titles. Humphrey, Ingrid ,Sam were nowhere in sight. Back out to reality. It was weird to go back out to the noise and traffic after that. The next morning we were to meet Fouzia at her home.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Atlantic Coast

Upon arrival in Oualidia we were shown a home that had rooms to rent for quite a cheap price because it was not by the sea. Why do we always choose somewhere 3 stories high? My knee is getting a work out again. This village of 4,000 at this time of the year is developing at a sharp rate and at the moment is unspoilt. It has a crescent shaped lagoon and has the Atlantic Ocean trying to break through. It is so idyllic and worthy of a destination in itself. The dunes and the beach are very reminiscent of Waitpinga and Venus Bay back home. Clean, pristine yellow sand. Plenty of surf fisherman and off the rocks as well. We were sitting on a ridge of sand just happily watching the waves crashing over the rocks when a fisherman come over to us with his catch and asked us if we wanted some for lunch. There was a portable charcoal cooker there on the beach along with tables and chairs. We chose a large whole fish from a myriad of sea life. He cleaned it, split it open then grilled it. He then made us a salad of tomatoes and onion..someone else ran and bought the local flat bread which he grilled as well. Then with a ‘ bon appetit’ we were presented with a meal that was so fresh, so cheap and in such a great location. Love this travelling. Cannot imagine that being allowed to happen on a beach in Australia..too many rules to protect us.

Sardine Safi

Two reasons we called this blog this name. This rather large city catches and processes 30,000 tonnes of sardines a year. So the fishing industry is huge here as well. The large vessels are worth over one million and are owned by Europeans who hire Moroccans to do the work. We met a local when we were wandering around Safi who is an “unofficial “guide. He is a fisherman off one of these boats but is disenchanted with the way things are run. He wants to buy a smaller vessel for $8,000 to work for himself. Meanwhile he scouts around for the odd tourist to show them around and has taught himself English. Most of the sights were closed due to off season but he took us through the old medina. The alleys looked a little daunting to us earlier when we saw them. But entering everyone was so friendly especially the kids. We heard some children singing in the class room for after school singing lessons and being curious our new friend showed us in and introduced us to the children and they sang a song to us in French. What a lovely moment. The room was so tiny, dark, no decoration just old wooden desks. The kids were about 6 years old I think. Onwards we went, this medina was on a hill so the alleys went up at a fast rate. No pretty decorations or tiles here in this part as in other towns. Not the place tourists went in to very often so it was a la natural. Dogs, cats, food scraps and very damp. We climbed up steeper and steeper until we reached the Sultans Palace at the top of the city. The views were fantastic. The palace is a museum now but closed for renovations…after parting with a little tip we were let in by the security person. All the artifacts had been removed but the decorations, frescoes and artwork on the ceilings were quite beautiful and the stonework etched like lace. We saw the rooms that people were imprisoned in. Outside we saw two trees from Mexico over 350 years old. Interesting to have someone find this for us and then know all about it. He then took us up on to someone’s walls on to a precarious terrace to see all over Safi. Marvellous. The city is also famous for its pottery but we chose not to get involved in the processes as we were tired of the bartering etc that goes on in the very competitive world of the Souqs. When we arrived in the city we found a dodgy small hotel. It was 90 Dirhams a night the cheapest accom yet, that’s $13 a double. The room was very Spartan but very clean and it was at the edge of the medina. The only toilet was on our floor and was a squat. It was an insight into a true Moroccan city without the trappings of tourism. OK now part two of the sardines. There are two types of taxis in Morocco the ‘petit’ that takes you around the internal part of the city and out to the fringes to the ‘grand’ taxi stand. Then you take them to the next town or village or you can take the local bus which is always unreliable. Upon arriving at the grand taxi stand which is a dusty paddock we were assigned one of the Mercedes going to Oualidia to us. The mercs are about 30 years old or more. Door handles are rope, there is no such thing as a speedometer or any dials that are working. We loaded our packs in the back and we knew we would have to wait until the taxi filled up. It was the standard 5 seater sedan that should hold 5. We got in the back and two more squeezed in. Then two sat in the passenger seat next to the driver. Don’t ask me how he changed the gears because I could not see squashed in with 3 others in the back. We start to drive the 70 kms then pulled into the service station and fill up with oil not fuel. It was all very funny. No -one uttered a sound or spoke to us or each other. Next thing he stops and picks up another customer on the side of the road. He shared the driver’s seat, how he even turned the wheel I don’t that was the sardine bit. Next thing the guy next to Nick starts talking to us in English…he is a French teacher. He thought it was all a little crazy too. People got in and out then a friend of the teacher gets in and said hello not just from him but welcome from all Moroccans to his country. Great drive and nearly rivalled our Chicken buses in Central America.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Essaouira (Essa weera)

Our second Riad for a couple of nights seems to be in order as we have not been able to contact our couch surfer in this town as the internet always seems to be down. First impressions. White-washed buildings with blue window shutters and blue doors. Sunny blue skies and crashing waves sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Well it is. This place has fantastic surfing beaches and with it a community of surfers as anywhere in the world. It is amusing to sit in a café drinking that wonderful mint tea watching Bob Marley look- a -likes from all different nationalities. It was a hang out for Jimi Hendrix in the good old days. From the age of the hippies that live there I don’t think they left when he left. Bit of a drug culture happening there..could have bought a bit of hashish there. Nick was offered it several times not me. Must be the grey beard, long grey hair plaited, balding on top carrying a raffia bag. The mix of people promenading was interesting from devout muslim women to men wearing jellibabs, to tourists in skimpy clothing, to torn jeans on dropouts and all nationalities. The intrigue of it all. We climbed the parapets of the walls surrounding the old medina for a bird’seye glimpse of the happenings in the port as we imagine have happened for centuries. We saw another magnificent sunset shared with the many gulls. The best fun we had for the two days here, have been at the port. The activity there was incredible. From 3.00 pm until 5.00pm the flotilla of fishing boats returns with its catch for the day. The boats are all blue, wooden and very old. The same ritual occurs every day. On return there is a flurry of activity as they unload the fish which consists of huge eels , scampi, seabass , prawns ,sea urchins, calamari and all sorts of sea life. The whole boat is cleared of the motor, all gear and stored in a locker for tomorrow. The fish is auctioned at the market first to the restaurants and the remainder on the pier to the locals. Men clean and fillet the fish. The seagulls have a great time of it all. We had never seen anything like it. The gulls are huge and plentiful. The cats also hover for the leftovers. The place smells like fish guts to some but to us it is wonderful. We could have watched that scene forever actually we came back the next night to do it all again. As we wandered around we saw they fished with the long line which consisted of hundreds of salted pilchards baited onto large hooks onto a long line. This was being done with incredible speed for the next day’s fishing. It made us realise how much tourism plays a part in the economy. If another terrorism attack occurs in Morocco as did in 2003 and 2007 and tourists and travelers stop coming. These and related industries come to a halt. No wonder countries struggle in bad times. The economic crisis is already affecting the numbers coming to Morocco. It was relaxing in this town and one can understand people coming here year after year as they do.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Here's to all that is Argan

We had heard about the Argan tree and its attributes from Hakim on our journey back to Ouarzazate. He showed us a solitary tree high up on a mountain that was the only Argan tree that side of the mountain so was revered and worshipped by the local people as it was so rare to see it there 100s of kms away from the only region that it grows in the world. We had never heard of this oil before but had tried it mixed with ground almonds and honey. The oil is of similar taste to hazelnut so the mixture tasted like nutella…nice on crepes for breakfast at Joy and Hakims. The interesting thing about this oil is how it is harvested. The tree itself is very woody and is also prized for its firewood. The tree produces berries about the size of large olives. Traditionally the goat herders bring their flock to the tree then let them climb the tree to eat the berries. What a sight that was. We were lucky to see this several times on the bus trip to Essaouria. There are 1000s of those trees in this area only. Nowadays women also harvest them to cut out the middle man or actually goat. The seed is harvested from the dung of the goat and the husk is removed easily because the digestive juices from the goat have broken down the hard shell. The kernel is then crushed, pulped then the oil is extracted. 30 kgs of the nuts yields 1litre of oil for 15 hours of manual labour . They have made special grinding stones from larger stones for this process. It is quite incredible. The oil is made into soap, face cream for anti wrinkles.. vitamin E and is great for fighting high cholesterol. It is used in cooking and for dressings for salads. It is delicious .The Moroccans buy it in empty water bottles etc so cuts down packaging. We can buy it but it is expensive. I bought the shampoo and will buy some soap. It is environmentally safe and completely organic. It was fun spotting the goats. The terrain was quite hilly and we crossed over some very steep river valleys with huge banana plantations…very fertile area. The farmers were ploughing the paddocks with donkeys and camels. Never seen that before but yes two camels attached to the yoke pulling the wooden plough. Lots of walls made from the stone to divide the fields. Another great journey to another wonderful destination.

A change of pace

Agidir, our first city in a while was a little shock to the system. We could not believe the traffic coming into the city. It was one huge traffic jam with not a donkey in sight. With the huge volume in traffic came the air pollution. It was a huge change from the desert. It made us miss Joy and Hakim even more. Agidir now has a population of 700,000 but on February 29 1960 it was totally destroyed by an earthquake. 17,000 people lost their lives .There was a museum dedicated to pre 1960 and earthquake destroyed buildings and then post 1960.The only remains from that day were the walls of the Kasbah way up on the hill. We decided to take a little stroll in the morning up the hill to see them. It was very humid and was quite a hike up and down, it actually took us an hour, uphill all the way. Great view and was a good achievement for me. The city is being developed at an extraordinary rate… lots of concrete. Europeans love coming here to holiday and invest. It has great surfing beaches as it is on the Atlantic Ocean. Nice place with some parks and hidden cafes in secluded spots and the most awesome patisserie. Actually glad to leave the city even though our Hotel was nice. It was a 60s type building and had the furnishings of the same era. Sweet. Nice people too. We took a bus out to Essaouria. Looking forward to a slower pace.

Erg Chebbi

Day2 found us early at the carpet seller’s place. Hakim had asked if we would like to see a carpet being made in a village cooperative and as I wanted to buy a carpet some time in Morocco now was a good as time as ever to see. After being shown how long a carpet takes to weave we had a greater appreciation of the value of just one rug. The different women from the area work on their rugs for a few hours a day taking months to finish one. The rugs are then sold through the cooperative with the money going back to the village. This seemed to be the way to go so after some bartering we have a carpet that is now travelling with us for the next 4 weeks as it would cost $100 to send it home. Again we set off for an interesting drive until lunch time in a very busy town. We sat in a “pizza” restaurant that sold “berber pizzas” and had tagine omelets and salad. It is amazing what they can rustle up at a minute’s notice. As we sat out the front with the locals and watched the scenes unfold I imagined that was what life was like in Marrakesh before tourism took hold. It was commerce at its best and seemed to be the meeting place for all sorts of deals and donkeys passing through the lot. It was dusty and so exciting. We won’t forget that lunch in a hurry. As we neared the desert we could see the pink sand dunes in the distance, they were very large and could be seen from a long way away. Off road again on our own road across grey stones when all of a sudden in front of us near the dunes was a building that looked like a kasbah. We stopped right at the dunes. I was gob smacked to say the least that this was where we staying for the night. The Auberge du Sud. It is not a hotel as hotels are not allowed to be built at the dunes only “hostels” mmm. It was first class accommodation with hardly anyone staying there. We had decided not to ride the camels as we had in Egypt as we still remembered clearly the chafing Camel bum gives you. As we were playing a game of Ludo, Moroccan style with our berber coach Hussan and Hakim and Joy we changed our mind and decided to go out to the dunes to see the sunset. As I was getting on the camel I remembered why I did not want to repeat the experience again. This time it was better as Hussan was a great camel leader and we both felt at ease. No running camels.. thank god for that. We climbed to the top of the dunes by camel then by foot. There was no one else out there with us so to see the sun set on what had been an extraordinary few days in peace and at one with all that is natural was wonderful. I even got to sit on the berber rug and slid down the dune being pulled by Hussan. Another great night of food, and entertainment by the lads who worked there. They were all fantastic drummers so we had a performance by the fire. In the morning I got up to see the sunrise it was perfect and was funny to see 27 Japanese tourists come from the city in 4wds get on the camels see the sunrise get back in the cars and go back to the city. That was the desert and the end of a perfect 2 nights with two new friends Joy and this couch surfing. On the drive back to their place we were told it is 10 days walking the camel to get there and one of the waiters was from Timbuktu in Mali takes him 62 days walking the camel when he goes home. Thank goodness we had a car. The scenery was even more spectacular driving back than the drive up. The mountains were made from green stone, then black marble, pink marble, browns all sorts of colours and rock structures. We passed the fossil villages. The whole of Morocco used to be under water so the fossils were plentiful particularly in the black marble, but did not stop as we had purchased some from Hussan on the sand dunes before breakfast. We really want to thank Joy and Hakim for their giving spirit. They shared themselves and information with us for 5 nights . We had lots of laughs and lots of Tagines. Love to the both of you. It was with regret we left Ouarzazate but armed with so much knowledge of the first hand experience of living with them in their home. Thank you, thank you xx

3 days in the desert

After another night with Hakim’s parents we set off on the next part of our odyssey. We took the slow way to our destination with many stops to see interesting architecture, animals, people and best of all, the scenery. Our first stop was off road through a small village to a Kasbah that was deserted but if you knew the owner as Hakim did then you could have a look through. It was like a museum. It was as if time stood still and the people had moved out. They even had a solar hot water system. I hope the pictures do it justice. We learnt so much that day about all things Moroccan from Hakim. Day one we travelled to the Dades Gorge and the Todra Gorge. Both were immense in their structure but were both very different. Dades gorge was made from red or more like burgundy stones with huge finger -like rocks standing like sentinels along the gorge walls. They looked like monkey’s fingers or King Kong’s hand. It is quite incredible to see what erosion does and the upheaval of the mountains. We have never seen structures like it. I don’t know how many photos we took but we flattened the battery on the camera. The scenes you see along the way like camels running free, herds of sheep that look like goats with the lone herder in the middle of no -where, donkeys ridden on or laden with all sorts of fodder or bags of stuff. People walking long distances, men and children cycling….women don’t seem to cycle they just walk. Schools are also in the middle of no-where so it seems but they are usually between villages so kids have access. I can never sleep in the car..might miss something. The mountains and the landscape change so rapidly. The roads on this part of the journey are great but a little narrow for my liking. Hakim is a great driver. Very careful. We decided to have an Aussie style picnic along the way. I had bought a few provisions and just needed bread. We stopped in a very small village to enquire if the local hole in the wall “bakery” had some bread for us. He produced 3 of the most delicious warm flat breads we have ever eaten. Hakim found a little bridge leading into a village and there we sat eating our sandwiches we had made from that bread. Great meal to be had watched by some of the local kids. Onto our accommodation in the next gorge. We stayed in a small guest house with only a few rooms. Ours was facing the gorge wall with a little creek running along in front as well. It was so restful except for that noisy creek .Only joking. We drank copious amounts of their delicious mint tea up on the terrace until it was too cold then more tea in the sitting room. All the furnishings were berber style and berber fabrics. It was so cosy. A walk into the Todra gorge before dinner was so special as the light was fading and made the steep cliffs even more steep. Again we stood and marvelled at mother nature. It made us hungry and we were fed Moroccan food with a tagine and accompaniments. Along with the bottle of wine we had purchased along the way from the back door of a “supermarket”. It was a great night. We found out a lot about Joy and Hakim and they about us. It was so dark and so quiet as we were in a small village. Sleep came easily at 9.00pm and awake at 7.00am for an early morning walk through the palms and the very old vegetable gardens with well worn paths into the gorge again for more photos with the different light before breakfast of crepes and Moroccan style breakfast

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


It is a city of around 80,000 inhabitants and a very laid back town it is after the craziness of Marrakech. They have a lot of very wide boulevards so walking around was easy and as it was Sunday I think it was fairly quiet. There are a huge amount of cafes and infrastructure for travellers but as this is the off season we had the place to ourselves. Lucky us. We were invited to Hakims parents home to share lunch with them and was it good. Starting with lentil soup made by his Mother with absolutely delicious bread that was made and baked in a oven in the back area of their home shared by the neighbours. The oven was made with traditional mud and straw and charcoal and looked a little like the backyard pizza ovens that are becoming popular in our country. The soup was followed by a tagine and we were shown to eat the Moroccan way eating one handed with the bread and picking up the vegetables and meat a little at a time…maybe by the time we leave here we will master it. The orange juice we had with the meal was freshly squeezed from the tree growing inside the courtyard in the house. It was one of those meals that make travelling the joy that it is. After lunch we walked. The weather since the first day has been cool but not as cold as England. The city is renowned worldwide for the movies that have been filmed here like Rules of Engagement and Black Hawk Down. Hakim had some stories to tell of the helicopters and sand scenes that occurred in front of the Casbah. Very interesting. We walked around the city with Hakim and Joy who is a young American girl who arrived in Morocco 6 months ago and fell in love with her tour guide Hakim and decided to stay. They are now engaged to be married soon and the rest is history so they say. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome but they seem to be overcoming them. They are a very giving couple and have only recently started hosting people but I feel it will be great for Joy as she does not have friends yet in Morocco. We did not see any stars in the cafes and restaurants only in the sky. Hakim is a guide and is going to take us in to the desert and gorges for three days. We will hire a 4wd and he will drive us where we want to go and Joy is coming along for the ride. Morocco has a lot of things in place to protect its tourists and one of those is to make sure there are no unscrupulous local people taking advantage of us. We saw this first hand as we were walking around the city with them Hakim was stopped by the police to find out if he was authorized to show us around. He was not in the capacity then as a guide but as a friend showing us around. The tourist policeman did not believe they were engaged and that we were friends so the police came and took him to the station but they knew him and he was released. It was funny but not funny and caused few anxious moments for Joy.

What a ride

After leaving to traverse the High Atlas Mountains by local bus one hour late little did we know what the next 7 hours would bring us. The bus to Ourzazate from Marrakech normally would take 5 hours. The journey through orange groves and olive trees and palm trees was wonderful especially with brief views of the snow caps of the mountains.

The contrast between the desert we were travelling through the palm trees and the traditional berber housing against the mountain back drop was very unusual. As we neared the we realized why the buildings in Morocco are rendered in pink mud and straw as that is the colour of the foothills we passed through. The bus was nearly full of travellers and locals with a few small children and was interesting listening to conversations in many languages. The scenery and the grandeur of the mountains were incredible. We have never travelled through such high mountain passes before at around 3000m high. The roads had a little snow to start with on the side and there was a lot of excited people including some young Moroccan nationals who had never seen the snow before. Of course the higher we went the thicker and deeper the snow but the roads seemed fine. We stopped along the way at a tiny village for a “wee” stop and some delicious mint tea then onwards and upwards to more and more stunning scenery.

peaks were craggy and the ravines were very steep to say the least. Some parts of the road started to be a little icy when all of a sudden we came to a stop because in front of us was the longest trail of cars and trucks we have ever seen bumper to bumper with no-one moving and there we stayed for 2 hours. I forgot to mention on the way up a little earlier we had seen a petrol tanker hanging off the edge of the ravine as it had jack knifed and was stopped from falling down by the safety rail. It was entertaining to start with as we watched trucks trying to negotiate the bend in front of us as there was only room really for one as the snow was piled up on the sides and was very slippery. As time went on we did not move and thought we would never get out of there and did not know what the problem was as we first thought maybe there was another accident. The tension started to build as we realized we were going to negotiate the same bend and how tricky it was for the driver of the bus. Anyway after trying to concentrate on the awesome beauty of this magnificent mountain range we were relieved when we started to descend from the top. It was amazing and we would not have missed that bus ride for anything but could have been spared the drama. We think it was an avalanche of snow that caused the problem and they had closed the mountain pass and stopped all traffic from both sides which eventually helped the situation. We arrived at our destination tired and with a contact number of a couch surfer host who had contacted us only that morning to say they could host us or find us a home. We were met and taken back to the apartment of Joy and Hakim to find they already had 3 more CSers .Two from Italy and one from Germany. The Italian couple made all of us dinner of pasta and tortilla and very much appreciated by us and after some great conversation over a couple of good reds from Morocco. We were taken to Hakims parents home where we had our own room. How fantastic that was of them to put us up in their home at very short notice and again for tonight as I write this and we awoke to breakfast as well. Hakims’ mother and father live in a very traditional Moroccan home and have wonderful furniture. His father could also speak quite good English so we found out a little more about the Moroccan way of life.