I Love Morocco

Our last day in Essaouira was a depressing one (only because I didn’t want to leave). We did the usual, breakfast and beach. Mikey was bribed into buying an ugly pair of sunglasses on the beach while a henna artist attacked me. She grabbed my hand and started painting on it while I said, “no, I don’t have any money, I don’t want one.” She said for me, no charge, so I thought I was humoring her, letting her paint, but then she hassled me for 200 dh! I said no fucking way and gave her 10 to piss off. She was the worst person we’d had to deal with in morocco and my henna looked like someone has taken a shit on my hand. Idiot.

Once the beach got too windy, we did some last minute Christmas shopping and had a veggi tangine with couscous in the square. I made a new friend and mikey got angry, because he thought i’d get rabies.

My kitten friend in Essaouira

We caught the 6:45pm bus to Marrakesh and stayed there for the night since our flight to Prague was at 11am the next morning. The hotel was the least comfortable one yet, but really cheap and right in the center of everything. We bought a pirated DVD for 10 dh and called it a night.

In the morning I felt horrible knowing we had to say goodbye to such an incredible country. The way Moroccans treat each other and visitors like us is incredible and I was really inspired by it. They make eye contact with each other on the streets rather than avoid talking to each other and rush on with their day. Everything is about relaxing and being content with yourself and your surroundings. It’s a mentality that I caught on to quickly and it made my entire stay in Morocco an experience that is hard to explain. I was in the right place in the right time and in the exact head space I needed to be in. I’d never felt so relaxed before.

Best day in Essaouira (even if the locals think im a floozy)

Day 3 started with another Moroccan breakfast and another rockin’ trip to the beach (I was determined to get a tan in the 4 days i had on the beach, ha, nope). We were a little late meeting with the guys (capouira ones, you remember frenchy) because I was being a brat and didn’t want to stop lounging in the sun.
We bought some cookies from an old guy who kept hassling us to try his “wife’s home baked cookies” (there are about 10 guys with the same tray of cookies trying to make money) so we gave in and bought a few for the guys since we made them wait. They brought us on a long walk to part of the beach we hadn’t explored yet and we collected shells on the way. It was the hottest day and we had perfect weather for our mission to “jimi hendrixs house”.

All of the locals seem to think that Jimi lived in this massive castle that is now in ruins. I think it must be a rumor that they’ve some how fallen for, or they thought we were complete idiots and would believe that in his short life time, and even shorter time of fame he bought a huge castle on the beach and lived like a Moroccan king. Its true he did visit the town and it gained some fame because he was living there for a while, but this was a bit stupid. There was a huge hollowed out drop that looked like a laundry shoot could have been there hundreds of years ago and i was expected to believe that it was jimi’s kitchen. Okay boys, i was stupid enough to fall for your “hey did i see you in marakesh?” line – it got me to have tea with you the previous day, but give me some credit. I also read here that the castle “was built in the 1700 by big sultan in the area. He was the ruler of Mogador and, at the time, the River Ksab actually flowed on the Diabet side of the Palace.” and that “Jimi Hendrix was inspired by the castle to write the song Castles made of sand. I think that sounds a bit more accurate.

After exploring the castle, beautiful regardless of what it is, we walked a bit further to a cafe that seemed run down, but in actuality was the “jimi hendrix” cafe. It had photos of him on the walls, but who knows if he ever went there. Apparently they only served fish tangine, so mikey and the boys shared and i patiently sipped mint tea and took photos of goats passing by.

On the way back to the median i realized i had forgotten my bag of shells about 10 min into our walk and capouira sprinted back to get them for me. Mikey and I laughed about how neither of us would have done that for each other. All Mikey said when i announced my forgetfulness was “we’ll get more on the way back.” While we waited we splashed around in the mud and skipped stones. My shell were back in no time and we were back on track. The boys showed us some of their break dancing moves once we were on softer sand. Quite impressive i must say. Then I decided to go for a swim which brought attention from one of the boys giving horse rides on the beach and he galloped over to see if i wanted a ride. We had already turned down a few offers earlier that day because it was a little expensive, but this kid said i could try it for free. This of course made mikey and i laugh since we knew it was all thanks to the bikini (that i didnt even look nice in due to my winter spare tire). I accepted the offer, it was my first horse ride ever and it was a little scary and i screamed the whole time because we were galloping so fast. So i got the free ride and every body was happy, well except for the capouira boys. Frency had said something to the horse kid before i got on and he seemed worried, and the other kid said to mikey “I hope you will speak with her about this, we will walk ahead”. Apparently riding a horse in your bikini is considered quite whorish, but mikey didnt care, he was psyched we didnt have to pay. I figured they boys would think i was a hussy or something since it is an Arabic country, but oh well, they got over it.

We said our good byes after a quick session of football at the end of our walk and thanked the boys for being such lovely tour guides and hosts. We decided to eat dinner at our hotel that night and Abdul promised his cook could make a mean vegan tangine. That was an understatement. We had veggie soup, moroccan salads,and stuffed pepper tangine with the most delicious sauce and spices. Desert was sliced oranges covered in cinnomen and even though I thought i might explode i ate my fruit and mikey’s (fat ass).

 

tomato salad oranges tangine

We listened to Abdul play us a bunch of songs he’s written on guitar and he saranaded us with his romantic lyrics, “I want to take her, to Ven-es-whale-ah, after Essaouir-ah.” Mikey and I have been singing that song ever since we heard it, not sure if thats good or bad.

Day 3 ended in full bellies and reluctant realization that day 4 was the last day i would have to lye on the peaceful beach of ‘Sah-where-ah.”

Chefchouen to Essaouria in one night (how to do it budget style)

Mikey and I have been in Essaouira for 3 days now. We said our goodbyes to the Rif family and the mountains on Saturday dec 1st and Rachid drove us to the Tangier train station.

It would have only been 60 dirham each to take a bus to Tangier, but we weren’t organized enough and missed all of the buses heading that way. It was about a 2 hour ride to the station and cost us 500dh. We thought it would only be 400 since the 4 hours to Chouen was 800dh (just doing the math), but whatever, it’s hard to argue with a man when we don’t have any languages in common.

Also, common sense is not universal, Moroccans common sense is often times much different to what we are used to in the US, UK and Australia, so it is hard to tell when we are being screwed over or if we are just misunderstanding the culture.

Once in Tangier we took the 9pm overnight train to Marrakesh. It was a 12 hour ride, but we slept for most of it so it wasn’t too painful. We chose the cheaper seats, 2nd class, instead of the sleeper cart with beds. Since we had the whole cart to ourselves it worked out fine and we both sprawled out on the couches. Since this isn’t the season for tourists we haven’t had to book tickets ahead of time or worry about sharing our carts on the train, but I imagine that during the high season it would be a good idea to book tickets before hand and maybe choose the beds (320dh) over 2nd class seats (90dh).

We arrived in Marrakech around 9am with plans to head straight to Essaouira (we only have until dec 6th before we fly to Prague so we decided to see the beach rather than the hectic city life). We found that the Supratours buses ran right from the train station.

This is one of the two main bus companies in Morocco and the other one is CTM.  We had planned to take the 11:15 CTM bus, because I had read that Supratours is more expensive, but it was easier to buy a bus ticket right away rather than search the city for the other company. Our tickets were 65dh each and it cost us 5 dh for each bag stored under the bus. The bus didn’t leave until 10:45 so we took a taxi to the centre (a few drivers offered us rides for 50dh, but we found one for 30. On the way back it was only 20dh, so it is possible to get a cheaper one if you shop around for a second).

Ten minutes later we were in the famous Marrakech square. The shops and stalls were all   setting up and the narrow roads were packed with donkeys, bicycles, and crazy scooters whizzing by –  we were almost run over a few times. There aren’t any road rules in morocco we’ve come to learn, you just have to be quick. We had some famous, fresh squeezed, 3dh orange juice (better to have them pour it into your own water bottle since they reuse the cups and don’t always wash them well) and Mikey ordered some Moroccan pancakes, his favorite treat so far. We were sick of carrying our backpacks around the square and caught a ride back to the station (about a 10 min drive).

Almost 3 hours later we arrived in Essaouira and were attacked by vulture hotel workers trying to take us to their hotel. We could hardly get off the bus, there were so many guys crowding the doors. We had to say “no its okay we have a place, thanks” about a hundred times, often to the same guy we had just said “no” to 5 seconds before. They don’t give up and they don’t care how much they annoy you, they want to make commission by bringing in business so they don’t stop at anything. It was certainly an experience, but we were pretty used to this Moroccan mentality at this point so we humored them and were polite but eventually got away.

We decided to hop in a 20dh taxi to Riad Dar Afram, our hotel. The driver didn’t speak English but was nodding that he knew Dar Afram and would take us there. He drove us to an old abandoned building and dropped us off. Asshole. We didn’t know the area and believed him that we were at the right place, but after a minute realized he’d taken our money and peeled off so we walked to a phone and called the riadto get directions. It turns out it was about a 3 minute walk from the bus stop and since its inside the medina we couldn’t take a cab, but had to walk. We decided to walk the whole way instead of cab it back – its a small town.

Tim, a nice Aussie guy working at the riad, met us at a café and brought us back to the hotel. Dar Afram is owned by a Australian/Moroccan guy, Abdul. His place is a beautifully decorated 3-story house with a roof terrace that over looks the ocean and rest of the media. We were instantly comfortable in our gigantic room and after a short walk around the beach and a horrendous dinner at a tourist trap cafe, and finally took a nap that turned into an early night sleep.

chefchouen

Our 2nd day in Chaouen we didn’t wake up as early as planned. We finally crept up to the roof terrace for breakfast around noon.   Suzanne and Danielle made cheese omelets and Scottish porridge. We dipped bread in strawberry jam, ate fresh olives and drank OJ until we could explode.

roof terrace

It was sports day for the kids in town and a few of us walked down to the race track to watch some of the local student run and cheer for their classmates. The view is mesmerizing from every angle of the mountain and we spent a lot of time just staring down at the village and up at the clouds.

sl370391.jpg

Liam, the younger son, made it his responsibility to show Mikey and I around the town and took us for a walk to the Medina. We stopped to look into a rug shop without realizing that we would have to spend an hour listening to the shop owner explain to us how strong and well crafted his rugs are. He poured the 3 of us mint tea and mainly spoke to Mikey about all the people from around the world who buy his rugs and give them as gifts or later sell them for more money. Mikey really didn’t want to barter with him and by the end of it was pretty annoyed. He refused to pay for or buy anything and the shop owner, Abdul (who the Scots call Mel Gibson), seemed insulted, but we couldn’t afford anything he had to sell. We finally got out of there and Liam apologized to us for not warning us of Mel Gibson’s intent sooner and explained that he brings a lot of guests to that shop to buy things so he though Mel might have been mistaken.

 

We needed a beer after that experience and we stopped in a small pub for a drink. We roamed the town for a few more hours, bought some vegetables and gifts for family and friends at one of Liam’s friend’s shops. Mohamad, the shop owner, gave us a few free souvenirs too. We paid 15dh for a cab back to the house (less than 1 pound) and made our way back onto the roof terrace.

Mikey found the music room and was happy to mess around with the acoustic for a while and Liam joined him and played drums. We made our own dinner and the Czech guys finally woke up (its about 9pm at this point) and we all hung out in the living room again. Eventually everyone was too high move so we had to call it an early night and now its 2pm on day three and we haven’t left the roof terrace yet! We are going on a hike up the mountains now, should be interesting considering its not quite my thing, hikes. My dad would be very proud.

(check out my photos from the hike on my flicker link)

morocco!

After almost 24 hours of traveling, we are finally in Chefchaouen, a small mountainous village in northern morocco. Our flight left from London at 7:30 on the morning of the 27th and flew to Frankfurt, Germany. After a 6-hour layover we got back on the plane and flew in to morocco, a city called Fes Sais. Once we landed, our taxi driver, Rachid met Mikey and I outside of customs. He didn’t speak any English, so he silently led us to his 1970s Mercedes Benz where we began our unexpectedly long and slightly hellish 4 hour drive here. Rachid also gave our travel pal, Joshua (a guy from texas who’s working in the peace corps just outside Fes) a free ride to a town a few miles out of the way of our hotel. It was really nice of him and nice for us since Joshua spoke Arabic and could explain to us everything we were driving by; the medinas, the new developments, and who the guy was on all the bill boards (the king, Mohamad VI). Joshua told us that his job is to come up with new designs for the guys who carve wood in the small village, but many of them don’t want to learn new ideas since they’ve been making the same crafts for so many years. He was full of helpful information and taught us to say please and thank you in Arabic.

Once we dropped Joshua off, Rachid drove about 100 mph the entire way to our B&B, Rif-For-Anyone. He would pass anyone driving under 70 and since we are staying at the top of the Rif mountains it was the windiest and rockiest drive making it hard to see if a car or 18 wheeler was coming straight for us. I wasn’t to worried since he does all of the driving for our hotel owners and I trusted that he knew what he was doing, but Mikey was squeezing my hand so hard the entire time it’s a miracle its still attached to my wrist. He kept muttering “holy shit” under his breath and “syd I don’t want to die in some crazy taxi in morocco! This is insane, were going to die!” His panic didn’t stop until we arrived, and he started freaking out even more when we hit a wild dog about 30 min away from Rif. A pack of 4 started crossing the narrow road right in front of us going about 80 around a hair-pin-turn (the only kind of turn on the trail). Two dogs ran across and 2 stopped when they saw our car, but we couldn’t slow down, it was too sudden, and one dog thought he could reach his other 2 friends before we got to him, but he tested fate and fate slaughtered him. I screamed and began crying instantly. My brain thought every guilty thought and I was so upset wishing that animals didn’t have to die at a humans expense, just so I could go on holiday. Rachid got out to check the car and have a smoke while mikey pissed himself with fear and I continued crying for the dog. A few minutes later we were back on the road, all of us in a more somber mood, all for different reasons because of the same incident.

The “Welcome to Chefchouen” sign wisped by us and we perked up in our seatbelt-less back seats to check out the scenery. I forgot to mention that there aren’t any seatbelts in the back seats of cars and no one uses the ones in the front anyways. Joshua told us that the driver is offended if you wear one. Our driver laughed when he said this, I think because he noticed that mikey and I both reached for ours and than looked a bit frightened/surprised after being told about their absence, he understood. So we hopped out of the car and Rachid lead the way up the muddy path into the Rif. As we entered the living room we were welcome with handshakes, hugs and European kisses from the Scottish family who live in the rif, and two of their Czech visitors. Susanne, the lady of the house showed us to our room and said she’d make us some soup while we got comfortable. We dumped our things on the sandy tiles, mikey crawled under the warm sheets and I jumped into a hot shower. There isn’t any heat and the whole house is made of cement, bricks and stone, so its pretty icy cold this time of year once the sun sets. After a while we went back upstairs and dipped round bread into a delicious vegetable soup. We aloud the music to do most of the talking while everyone smoked their own joint. Mikey and I listened to Terry tell us all about how him and Suzanne fell in love with Chefchoen, but when they decided to move here they never intended on opening a Bed & breakfast. It wasn’t until they found this house that they realized it would be the perfect place to accommodate guests and with the help of his two sons, wife and daughter in law, Terry taught himself to do all the needed construction. They have been here a little over a year and I am so incredibly inspired by their freedom and relaxed lifestyle. A little while later we decided to get some rest so we could get the most of our 1st full day. I fell asleep in our big warm bed with colorful dreams of a perfect world. It’s liberating to see people who live incredible lives with no need for the office 9-5 world. I’m always in such a rush to find my outlet, but learning from people like this family helps me find the patience I need to keep traveling until I find my purpose.

Rif Mountains