09.10.2018 - 12.10.2018 28 °C
We enjoyed a relaxed morning before Kamal and Mohamed arrived at 10.00am to drive us to the Dadas gorge and valley where we will be staying with a Berber family in their Kasbah (in Morocco, a Kasbah is typically a sort of fortress/home of a local leader, with high walls and a tower at each of the four corners).
On the way we were scheduled to visit the house of a cousin of the owner of the tour company for a tagine cooking class and lunch.
We were warmly welcomed to the home by Fatima. Fatima is forty one and not married – still waiting for Mr Right. She lives in the house with her father, mother and brother (still at school and speaks good English).
Fatima looks after the house chores and does the cooking while her father and mother work on the ‘farm’ (a small area of land alongside the irrigation channel below the village). Fatima said a good clay tagine pot is the key to cooking a good tagine. Not sure we will have the space to bring one back, however they can apparently be bought online from Amazon. The cooking class took place in their kitchen. Fatima had already cut up the chicken and vegetable and was very organised.
Once the tagine had been prepared and was cooking we were invited to share tea together. (Driver) Mohamed went through the formality of making and serving the tea (with a great show of pouring from above the head into a very small glass). Our eyes nearly popped when we saw the chunk of sugar he put in the (relatively small) teapot.
Fatima’s parents came in from the farm to join us and her brother came home from college for his two hour lunch break. After tea we were to go for a walk through the farm, but suddenly Fatima whisked Glyn off and they returned ten minutes later with Glyn all dressed in Berber clothing for the walk. When we returned to the house the tagine was ready and it was delicious. The best we have had in Morocco.
In a courtyard attached to the house is a chicken/turkey run, a goat pen and a cow stall, and they have their own well in the courtyard. It was very special to have been able to share time with the family in their own home.
We crossed the central High Atlas Mountains and arrived at our Kasbah in Boutaghrare mid afternoon. Our accommodation was basic. however it was comfortable with a great view and we even had an en-suite with hot water. To generate an income the family has turned a few rooms into guest rooms. Not too many visitors come this far, however it is fairly popular with mountain bike tours and hikes - not for us!
A local guide arrived to take us for a walk around the area and then to the local village where the families have very little. The Berbers live in small clusters of houses made of mud, and villages are often only accessible by mule or foot. On the drive to Boutaghare our guide suggested we stop at a little shop to buy a few treats for the children as in biscuits, yoghurts, wafers and lollies. The children were really lovely – with two boys about six years of age latching onto us until our guide sent them home. When we were planning our trip to Morocco with the tour company we had specifically asked that a visit to a local area be included in our itinerary so we can share time with the local people where traditional values are an important part of their life.
After a shower we were a served dinner of vegetable soup, chicken tagine and fruit salad. Besides the family we were the only two staying, so after dinner we relaxed with a beautiful views of the mountains and time to catch up on email. We have been surprised by the excellent WiFi and Internet coverage as we have travelled around Morocco. Mobile phones are everywhere and judging by the amount of screen time being used, mobile data would appear to be pretty inexpensive.
Today was a 300 km drive to Marrakech over the High Atlas Mountains, via the Tichka Pass which is one of the most dangerous roads in Morocco. Needless to say we didn’t know this until our guide casually mentioned it. (Tichka meaning ‘difficult’ because old-time caravans had difficulty crossing the pass in winter snow) We climbed to a height of 2,260 metres (6,670 ft). Mohamed our driver just took it pretty casually, at times with one hand on the steering wheel while we were hanging on with white knuckles in the back seat. Glyn had the big drop on her side!
At the bottom of the pass we drove through the Valley of Roses. There are a number of Women’s Co-operatives who harvest the roses from which the locals make soap and creams.
Our lunch stop was Ouarzazate (nicknamed the Hollywood of Africa) as the movies Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy and Gladiator, just to name a few, were filmed here. The film sets are still standing and a Moroccan movies are still shot here and there is a 5 star hotel where the stars stay during filming.
We arrived in Marrakech early evening rather weary and as we had eaten a good lunch at Ouarzazate we opted for a light meal at our riad (hotel) close to the medina and in the heart of the Old City – where a very nondescript doorway off an unattractive alley leads into a lovely courtyard surrounded by high-ceilinged bedrooms.
Our driver and guide arrived promptly at 8.00 am to take us to Essaouira which is a seaside town on the Atlantic coast. At one time it was the major international trading port for Morocco however now it is a very busy fishing port. It is a very popular place for kite surfing and windsurfing as apparently the wind is always blowing. This explains the number of wind turbines we could see in the distance. It is quiet compared to many towns in Morocco so we could wander around the Medina without any concerns. We took a walk along the pier to where the fishing boats had come in and offloaded their catch for the day.
After a while the fish smell got us to and we took a walk along the beach. Lunch of grilled sole was at a restaurant on the beachfront. Apparently the temperature stays between 23C and 30C year round so it is popular with the Moroccan people during summer when the temperature can reach 45C at times. There are holiday apartments along the beachfront. We noticed as we drove into Essaouira people standing on the kerbside dangling keys. The reason being they are advertising that they have the key to an apartment which is available to rent.
On returning to Marrakech we made our way to the square for dinner where we found a restaurant with a terrace view and the weather was perfect. The square had been transformed into a sea of street-food stalls, fruit and spice stalls, people selling all sorts of stuff, and drummers and other musicians doing their thing. Quite a sight to see.
Our last day before we start our trip home. We took a walking tour of Marrakech with a guide, as it is very easy to get lost. Our first stop was Bahia Palace built in the late 19th century for the Vizier who was standing in as King because the heir was too young to take the throne. The Vizier had four wives and the palace is a marvel of beautifully decorated buildings.
Then on to the Saadian tombs which date back to 1578. The older mausoleum houses the remains of the Saad dynasty’s founder and Sultan Ahmed el Mansour’s parents. The main mausoleum, which contains the body of Sultan Ahmed el Mansour, is incredibly ornate.
There are 66 tombs between the two mausoleums, containing princes and other prominent figures.
The gardens have even more tombs in various states of beauty and detail. Many of these outer-lying tombs contain the remains of royal wives, advisers to the sultan, and other people who were important to the ruler. The gardens contain more than 100 tombs. The Tombs were only discovered in 1917 - having been covered over by a jealous successor - and were restored by the French Beaux-arts service.
After that - shopping in the Souk. We now have the challenge of packing our purchases into our suitcases and hope they survive the trip home. Fortunately our weight restriction of 15 kgs which we had on our Camino walk no longer applies.
There are tons of things we haven't been able to include in our rambling notes - we might publish a PS at some stage (more for our own benefit as a reminder) - and we do appreciate the comments, feedback, messages etc, over the past six weeks. Hope to see most of our friends and family soon.
Ivor & Glynis.