Ever-changing scenery and lots to learn and like
04.10.2018 - 08.10.2018 30 °C
Morocco – North and East
We were met at Tangier airport on Thursday by our guide Kamal who speaks Berber, Arabic, French and English and driver Mohamed, in a Landcruiser.
After a quick stop at the cave of Hercules (reputedly where the great man rested between a couple of his labours) we were on our way to Chefchaouen, a three hour drive away. On the way to Chefchaouen, Kamal filled us in on the people of Morocco. Population is 37.5 million of which it appears about 80% are of mixed Berber descent, the remainder are of Arab descent with a small number of Jews and West Africans. Driver Mohamed is Berber and Kamal is of mixed Berber descent. The King of Morocco is Arab (the line stretches back centuries) and we certainly get the feeling that the Berber people feel this is not as it should be. The South of Morocco is mainly Berber.
Our hotel in Chefchaouen is really lovely and hurrah! a swimming pool! We arrived early evening and have two nights in Chefchaouen giving us a full day to explore the town. Dinner was excellent, accompanied by Moroccan Champagne – a.k.a. sparkling mineral water! ;-) No alcohol is available in the hotel, however you’re allowed to bring your own wine providing you clear it first with the manager.
Chefchaouen is situated beneath the peaks of the Rif mountains and is one of the prettiest towns in Morocco. It is a mountain village with many buildings blue-washed and is referred to as “The Blue City”. There are numerous explanations as to why Chefchaouen is predominantly blue, and this depends on who you ask. Walking around the Medina (old city) was very pleasant and not too busy and we found the people very polite. One could browse in the tiny shops and there was no pressure to make a purchase.
En-route from Tangier we were impressed to see hundreds of wind turbines along the hilltops - the Tangier region being permanently windy. Kamal told us a large solar farm is currently under construction, and this will export power to Europe in 2024. Morocco’s main exports are fish, olive oil, dates, oranges, apples, a variety of other fruits, and tourism is big.
Kamal and Mohamed arrived promptly at 8.00 am as today we head to the city of Fez (Fes), stopping at the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Roman ruin site of Volubilis - the most important historical Roman site in Morocco. A guide took us around Volubilis and it certainly was well worth visiting. The Romans established a prosperous town, built some big homes and civic buildings, brought in many slaves and lived very well in the fertile area. Many of the foundations are still visible and we could get a very good indication of the way the city was laid out.
We arrived in in the Arab city of Fez early afternoon. We had been told Fez is the spiritual and cultural heart of Morocco. We checked into our hotel where Ahmed, our guide for the afternoon was waiting. Before going to the Medina we visited a ceramics factory where everything is handmade, using only the finest ‘grey volcanic’ clay – reputedly a very strong material. The potter and the artists are masters of their craft. It is also a school for potters and artists. They produce hand-painted ceramics and mosaic tables and other artworks. We were particularly impressed with the ceramics .
When we arrived at the Medina, Ahmed gave us our standing orders of “do’s and dont’s” and we followed him closely as we did not want to get lost in the Medina which resembles a rabbit warren. The circumference of the Medina is 30 km and apparently is the mother of all Medinas, with 420 mosques in the Medina alone. The Imams and Muzzeins are paid by the government and are well paid according to Kamal. There was just about anything and everything being sold.
The only way to transport goods inside the Medina is by donkey, mule or hand cart.
We found Fez far too busy and “scruffy”. One night was plenty for our liking despite lovely accommodation.
Today we knew it was going to be a long driving day as we were headed to Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara desert. It was an eight hour drive which included morning tea in Ifran (nicknamed as a little Switzerland as it is a ski resort in winter and has steeply sloping roofs to boot) and lunch somewhere along the road. It was a very scenic drive through parts of the Atlas Mountains and the date growing area; all very lovely.
We arrived at Merzouga at 4.30pm and boarded our next mode of transport – camels - as we were to spend a night in a desert camp.
The camel ride took about an hour and fifteen minutes. Our luggage was delivered to camp in a 4x4 and arrived shortly after us. Needless to say a shower was on the cards! Fortunately our Berber tent had an en-suite (so not quite the original Berber tent). The four course dinner was served outside, before we joined other folk, on a different tour, in an adjoining camp for Berber drumming around the fire, where Glyn joined in the dancing.
After breakfast we were back on our camels at 7.45 am for the return journey where Kamal and Mohamed were waiting. Our destination was Todgha (Todra) Gorges, but we were keen to stop at Erfoud, which is well known for fossil quarries which are a major industry in Erfoud. This comes about as 350 million years ago, when there was a single landmass – Pangea - the region around what is now Erfoud was part of the sea, and there are huge deposits of prehistoric sea creatures. Our visit to one of the fossil operations was very informative and we now have a little extra weight to pack in Ivor’s suitcase.
We arrived at Todgha Gorge early afternoon and walked through the canyons with walls towering 300 metres above us. The walls are so high that taking photographs from down below does not do justice.
Before arriving at the gorge we stopped at a shop in a small Berber village, and unbeknown to us, the stop was to dress us in Berber clothing for a photo with the Berber flag.
Again our hotel is excellent and we have been spoilt. We have had a few big days so dinner and a comfortable bed are most welcome.