Sunday, 8 September 2013

A glimpse of the African continent in Morocco

I made it to another continent!! 
Cue music:  "da da  da . dada hey hey!  ....... so this is Africa!" - supposed to be shakira. Anyway...

So it isn't exactly real Africa by any stretch. It seems more like the Middle East to me... But it's there in the continent :) one store owner seemed to be a bit offended when my friend and I mentioned that we were in Africa in a conversation, that he had roped us into to try and sell us something. Whoops! Interesting though. But even if it isn't stereotypical Africa-Africa it is still a whole world away from Europe. And absolutely incredible. I really love culture shock, it's kind of what I look for when travelling ;) and trying to navigate your way to a riad (traditional style building for lots of people to live in with a central courtyard that everything looks onto) in the the narrowing maze of backstreets in Marrakech definitely counts as that. 
Don't shake the hands if the shopkeepers. If you do... they will (ever so nicely) pull you in to offer you a good deal and some tea, and to show you everything they have as well as all their brothers stuff next door and their uncles things round the corner. Seriously. It can take a while and it's difficult to leave empty handed! Hahaha 

My journey to that hostel in a riad in marrakech was hectic. Amazing hostel though, totally worth it. They offered me breakfast and tea when I arrived! Nyaww! Traditional Moroccan stuff too!! 
It lasted about 20 hours door to door. Walk, bus, walk, bus, walk, ferry, taxi, train, petit taxi, walk.  The highlights? I got a photo (all sweaty with my backpack) with Miss Gibraltar who was raising awareness for Alzheimer's disease as I passed through town to start with. They sold fresh coconut on the streets in Tarifa where the ferry left Spain for Morocco. The ferry stopped halfway across because we had spotted a little dingy with three men waving their arms stranded and had to call a rescue boat for them (!!!)  illegal immigrants? Waiting for my overnight train their was a fair on next to the station, typical sort of fair with dodgems and fairy floss but they also had chickpeas with chilli spices served in a little ceramic bowl (eaten at the stall). so cool. Had to have some of that! Yum! The train was booked out for the sleeper class so I went second instead of going fancier... I sat up all night with so many people around that some had to stand. Wow. And some guys were illegally smoking a weird tabacco that smelt really really bizarre at the end of the carriage... They had to hide from guards in the toilets and behind seats! It worked for a while but then at about 3am there was an argument with some guards. (!!) I had a little boy sitting next to me though, he didn't smell or take up much space and he offered me some of his sandwich :) nyawwww!! I think I slept 4 hours in hour chunks over the 10 hour trip. Not too bad considering. I got to see a giant red african sun over the dessert sunrise from the window too - absolutely magical!! 
But yeah, breakfast and tea at a friendly hostel was just what I needed by the time I made it. Phew. And since it was so not and they have a small rooftop terrace we slept up there under the stars... !!!!!

Marrakech is insane too, after recovering a bit I went out to explore the souks (markets) for a couple of hours. Literally couldn't do more than that because it was sooooo hot! And somehow there wasn't much shade around. I wanted to buy everything, but couldn't be bothered fighting with shopkeepers to get a decent price... haggling sucks. That's one way of saving money I guess! Haha 
I met a really cool Aussie guy called Ollie at the hostel too, he arrived on the same train as me but had a sleeper. We went out to jemaa el fna (which is the main square and my favourite place in Marrakech - especially at night) for dinner. It is just hypnotic! That's the best word! There are snake charmers and  people with monkeys and we even saw a guy with a giant vulture in his bag... That he just whipped out randomly in clear spot. Though those are difficult to find. The square is HUGE and gets packed like its New Years or something every single night! wasn't even high season, the hostel was pretty much empty. So the animal people make money by donations for photos, then there are your beggars and street performers (most of whom don't really do anything... Hahaha), musicians who set up chairs around a wonderful carpet (carpets are to die for here) as a makeshift stage to play their banjo-like instruments, pipes and awesome drums. Then there are also Moroccan fair games and all the food and drink stalls. Soooo many!!! And there's only a limited number of different types too which is funny. For drinks there are about a hundred fresh orange juice places, then incredible spiced tea (also with really strongly spiced cake). Then food is a mix of various meats (including brain and tongue) or couscous and tajins. Ollie had brains twice. It was fun to watch. Hahaha they also have a spice soup as a starter, no idea what's in it. Tastes good! Desert is local ice creams or deliciously sweet and sickly nut/fig based pastries. Hmmm... Or just get  bag of dates for a dollar. They have stalls just for dates. 
Yeah. I love jemaa el fna!! In the day time it's more about henna (the ladies actually grab your hand and start before you pull it away!), weird potion sellers, sheeshas/hookas and all your market brick-a-brack. Still awesome but not as magical ;) 

I had another day in Marrakech before I left early for a dessert tour to Fez (!). So I wandered around exploring and visited a few things... palaces and monuments, as well as temples and some tombs. The architecture is soooo cool! Extremely intricate and beautifully coloured with tiles and the white washed sandstone. I got some henna too, that way I can wave it at all the people who ask me if I'd like more ;) 

Then I was off! I did a 3 day - 2 night tour to the desert and some small towns and sights along the way. It was incredible, a great way to see the country in such a short time too! did mean a lot of driving though. But I had a front seat in the mini van which meant great views at least :) 
We drove up through the Atlas Mountains which was stunning... stopping only for photos until we reached Hait Ben Haddou, a small and very old heritage listed town. It is made of sand bricks and piled onto a hillside with a castle/fort at the top. They have filmed heaps of blockbuster movies there apparently! Haha and you can see why, definitely the perfect Arabian nights/Aladdin sort of setting. We found out later that a big archway leading into the town, which was really impressive, was actually fake. Just part of a film set that they didn't want to take down. Everything else was real though!! ...they said. After having a tour of a traditional house and the village we went to a cinema museum full of more sets nearby. Cool! 
From there we drive past heaps more beautiful look out points and changing landscapes to our hotel in a valley. So fancy. I was in a suite, sharing with two Japanese girls who were super nice. I'm not used to this sort of luxury!! Haha though the AC didn't actually work as promised. Typical morocco. 

The next day was the best though, we went to an amazing gorge, full of picnicking locals avoiding the heat, and then a carpet weaving place surrounded by date palms. At one stop my friend and I went to try and pick some dates and a little local boy saw what we were doing (obviously we stood out a bit, and were doing it all wrong) so he took us to another tree and picked a couple of handfuls for us each!! So sweet!! And I ate fresh picked dates from the dessert!!!! and I love dates. Mmmmmm... 
Then in the evening we had really reached the Sahara (means desert in Arabic... Haha). We could see rolling red sand dunes stretched out ahead of us. This is where we got out of the van and onto camels!!! It was almost 2 hours on the camels both at sunset and sunrise, because we camped in a traditional Berber (local people) camp under the stars. Not that we could see that many because there was a blue moon (!!!!) which was absolutely gorgeous but also very very bright. 
Don't really know what to say about that night. It was amazing. We rode in, had traditional tajin for dinner, then the guides got out drums and played incredible music (and taught us the camel dance - we were such noobs, it was great). The keen ones climbed to the top of the highest dune, the camp was under it's shelter, for the breathtaking view. And it was breathtaking in more than one way. That was one serious climb!! But completely worth it. 
Then we were back on the caravan of camels at 6am. We had breakfast at the camel farm where the van dropped us and there was water ;) 

The group split from here. The Japanese girls and I went to Fez via public chicken bus.... Which was supposed to be an AC group taxi. Hem hem. But anyway, priceless experience that's for sure! 10 hours on a windowless bus (designed for AC) without AC packed to the brim with locals besides us. And it stank of sweat before anyone was even on. And it was 50 degrees outside in the shade. I'm not even kidding, this is the Sahara. We all bought 2L frozen water bottles and hugged them for as long as they lasted to stay sane. I think I sweated a lot more than that too....  But the locals were very friendly and took care of us as much as they could! I think they thought we were mad. We saw some cool corners of morocco though, I like to think it was a bit of real morocco ;)  we were all pretty happy to arrive and find our respective hostels/hotels though!! 

Fez was really cool, I would have really liked to stay longer but I had a flight to catch to Barcelona to me ALLY!!! The next day at 15:20. I did manage to catch up on a few things Internet wise, before joining a walking tour of the old medina (town) that morning before flying out. It was a great tour actually! Saw a lot of the main sights in a couple of hours; a beautiful mosque and koran school in one, the blue gate in the city walls (very pretty and famous), some of the backstreets and markets, the water clock (one of two in the world!), the town centre... And we had a tour of one of the tanneries! That was my favourite bit. It really really stank. They gave us all sprigs of mint to hold against our noses to help. Thankfully! They use bird poo and naturally materials to cure and colour the hides. But it smells mighty lethal. After the tour we had the obligatory tour of the shop and we told I great detail about the amazing deals they could give us. Lol! 
At about this point of the tour I realised I had to move FAST to get my flight. So then it was a race against the clock to find the hostel, get my backpack, taxi to the train station to share cab to the airport (via an Internet cafe to print my ticket) and then check in and security etc etc... I made it. Just. Lucky I was alone because even I got a bit worried at one point when we were stuck in traffic. And I don't worry about these things unless its really seriously likely I'm going to miss it. Plus, I didn't get flight insurance. Duh. ;) hahaha

But I made it to the hostel Ally had booked us in Barcelona and she was right there wondering where the hell I was! :) :) :) :) :) 
So suddenly Africa was over and I was no longer travelling solo, now that's a change! ...but dear Africa. I will be back!!

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