As we sat in the taxi looking back at our motorhome sitting on the docks, I felt quite an empty feeling come over me. It’s unbelievable to think that our time is up here in Europe. It feels like a lifetime and then – no time at all.
We are heading to Morocco which makes me feel excited and nervous all at once. I feel that it will be such a different world to what we have ever seen and all that I have read makes me wonder what we are getting ourselves into.
We arrived in Marrekech just after midnight to an oasis of calm. The Menara Airport is lovely and really belies what lays beyond it’s walls. Even the streets are calm and so so pretty at this time of year because all the Xmas decorations are up. The Medina however is a completely different kettle of fish. I look nervously at Doug wondering what have we done. Will we like this country so different to anything we have ever seen before?
We are driven to our Riad, which is a traditional house in Morocco, by a driver from the Riad itself. This was the recommendation for safety reasons as the Medina is a maze of streets and it was late at night. The driver deposits us in the alleyway where another man, we think from the accommodation, arrives to take our bags from the taxi to the door, a few steps away. The door opens, we are greeted by another boy and shown to our room. So far so good.
That’s when the “bag carrier” demands money from us for carrying our bags. We are confused.
He tells us, “It is for the driver”.
We say ok – we didn’t know we would have to pay the driver instead of the Riad. We say we have no local money yet.
He says he will come back tomorrow and he leaves. That’s when we discover he is nobody, just a scammer from the streets!!!
Thinking that was the end of him, we set off the next day to enjoy a day in Marrekech. We took it very cautiously because it’s very busy inside the Medina with motorbikes scootering through the alleyways past donkeys pulling carts of bricks and planks, children walking to school and shopkeepers setting up for the days trade. We make it to the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa Square where basically all roads lead – still in one piece and I can feel a smile plastered across my face. We love it.
The smells are of bread cooking in the streets on grills, men frying donuts in oil, and of donkeys as they act as worktrucks through the streets. There are cats everywhere, in every alley, doorstep and street corner. We take the alleyways slowly, weaving back and forth so as not to get lost and so far the technique works for us and again we smile. Sellers hackle for a sale, “Please buy my shoes” before being politely dismissed by a nod of our heads.
We are told we must be from Scotland because “The English buy – the Scottish just look”.
They sniff at us, “Maybe tomorrow – maybe another lifetime”.
It’s all quite easy just a little monotonous although I do wonder if it would so easy if we were two woman travellers instead. Still I have seen female travellers wander through the sellers hassle free.
We meet a couple who are getting a bag made from leather that they chose and hand dyed and are now getting their design sewn by a local leather tailor. Everyone speaks French or Arabic except for us it seems. English is not the universal language.
There are bowls and tagines, carpets, dates, spices, soaps, bags, belts, shoes, clothes, hats, bags, chickens and on and on it goes and it’s fabulous.
Not keen on a dose of diarrhea on our first night, we opt for a lovely looking cafe to eat our first tagine in and sample our first mint tea. Both are absolutely delicious.
We end our first night in the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square which is simply bursting with noise and life. Snake charmers charming the snakes and the crowds with their flutes and tambourines, African drums beating, monkeys being hauled around by their handlers. Food stalls have appeared from nowhere and it’s hard to walk past without being pulled this way and that by someone wanting to sell you some delicacy. There are sheep’s heads and snails and tagines and probably many “other” specialty foods that I’m not keen to investigate. It’s crazy and yet it’s amazing and we head back to our Riad still with smiles on our faces.
We head off to sleep, we are exhausted and it’s an easy sleep.
That’s when the trouble started. We are awoken by a knock at our bedroom door. By the voices outside I know that it is the scammer so we wait thinking the staff will get rid of him. Wrong. After some intense arguing outside our door the knocking gets louder and Doug gets up.
The scammer asks for 200 MAD which is 30 NZD for “the driver”.
We say “You are nothing to do with the driver”.
He says, “For carrying our bags”.
Doug refuses saying he carried them only 10 metres and hands him 20 MAD to get rid of him. Well that really set him off but Doug stuck to his guns and returned to the room. However the arguing continued between the scammer and the young boy who was in charge of the Riad so Doug gets up and pays him 100 MAD on the condition that he leaves. It appears to work however we discover the next day that he took the young boy’s phone from him as well before eventually the police were called.
For me, it was quite unsettling having a rogue like that literally outside our bedroom door and I have to say I expected better protection from our accommodation. He should never been allowed to take our bags from the taxi originally and certainly not let inside the front door.
Anyway what can you do but get over it – which we did and continued our discovering Marrekech. We decided to head for the mountains the next day and took a day tour with Mohammed to discover life in The Berger villages.
We rode our first camel on the way to the mountains. It was a bit corny but still when do you ever get to ride a camel so we embraced the whole experience.
Life in the villages is simple. The land is vast and sparce. It’s very dry even in winter and rocky. What I just can’t get enough of are the Shepard’s and their sheep randomly roaming the land. The sheep are all kinds of ugly but obviously precious as each herd is fiercely protected by a Shephard. It may only be a child of 8 or 9, sometimes an elderly woman, sometimes a man and they sit all day long tending their flock.
Some of the fields are ploughed mostly by a donkey pulling a harrow. It’s all hand labour around here; this morning we watched men cutting the grass on the roundabout with a hand scythe.
The houses in the villages are simple too most without electricity or running water and yet everyone has an iPhone. It’s a crazy crazy world out there.
Our tour into the mountains is fascinating. Walnuts and apples appear to be the main crops in The Atlas Mountains. The roads are in fantastic condition however the main mode of transport are donkeys. The children run to greet us , their teeth in need of a good dose of toothpaste. They greet us in French. “Bonjour” they say.
We enquire their age and they reply “17”. We look at them with doubt in our eyes. We feel they are more like 10 or 11. Our guide tells us they are small in the villages because of their diet of barley and grain.
Our tour includes a fabulous lunch which we eat in the village of Imlil, a village known for hiking. We are served lentil soup, tagines of chicken and vegetables and fresh pomegranate for desert. Oh and olives. Every meal in Morocco comes with bread and olives so Doug has certainly eaten his share of olives and I have eaten my fair share of bread so I’m definately off the g string diet. It’s a feast fit for a King.
The highlight of the trip though was drinking mint tea in Mohammed’s home in the mountains. With no roads to access the village, we walked through pathways and rocky tracks to reach his family home where he lived with eleven of his family members. You certainly felt the community spirit here where a baby had just been born so the woman were out plucking chickens for a communal feast later that night.
The day ended overlooking The Argafay Desert as the sun went down and whilst it wasn’t the sandy Sahara, it was still a very special time before being deposited back into the chaos of Marrekech.
For our final Marrekech dinner we headed straight for the street stalls that had beckoned the night before. It was all very nice until the very last prawn…..
Luckily for us we survived it because next up is a 4 hour bus trip to the coastal town of Essaouira.