Friday, 5 August 2011

Morocco Adventure


I am back!!! Did you miss me?? Did you wonder whether I tossed away my police uniform for a ‘jellaba’ (long sleeved ankle length flowing dress) and rode off into the sunset on a camel with a Moroccan Donatello by my side?????  Not likely!!!  My thighs are still sore from the one hour 45 minute camel ride into the Sahara Desert almost 2 weeks ago!!! 
However, I had such a wonderful time in Morocco and feel so fortunate that I have experienced their unique culture; visited their cities, Mosques & Kasbah’s; delighted in the scenery of the mountains and small villages; and basked in the serenity of the desert (which fortunately had a real toilet set up in a tent…for Princess Joy).  Kumuka tours called it the “Magical Morocco Safari” and it really was!
Our tour took us from Casablanca – Essaouira – Marrakech – Ouarzazate – Todra Gorge – Merzouga sand dunes – Midelt – Fes – Chefchaouen – Tangier – Rabat – Casablanca (and many small villages in between - for 15 days.
We had a Moroccan tour guide who was extremely passionate about his country and was like a walking history book.  And our toothless bus driver was incredible.  He could navigate himself out of any traffic jam in between donkeys, pushbikes, motor bikes, horse & carts…just amazing.  Oh my God, the traffic was worse than Italy in some towns.  Each time we came up to a roundabout, two lanes turned into 4 lanes as everyone just merged onto the roundabout and sounded their horns demanding right of way.
In the larger cities, the family vehicle appeared to be either a motor bike or Van/Ute and the goal was to fit as many people onto it or into it as you could!!  

In the smaller villages, the most common form of transport was by donkey or horse & cart.  I just loved seeing the kids and old men on their donkeys!  By the end of the tour, everyone was pointing them out to me as they knew how excited I got when I saw them.

Walking across the road was like playing Russian roulette.  In the larger towns, the trick was to wait until a local crossed the road and then just shelter close beside them.  In the Markets, you had to continually dodge a donkey or motorbike or man pushing a cart.  It really was another world over there!!
As for the local souks (markets)!!  They were AMAZING!!!  Almost everything you could possibly think of was up for sale. They had Jeanie lamps, clothes & shoes (very impressive pointy shoes and those lovely jellabas), ceramic wares, tea sets, carpets, lamp shades, woodwork & leather goods, spices, every type of food stuff you could think of including a camel’s head (yes…camel head!!), jewellery and countless other crafts.  I marveled at their artistic ability to present their wares in such a colourful and creative way.  In the Medina’s (old city) of Marrakech & Fes (which housed the larger two markets we visited), it was like walking through endless rabbit warrens full of Moroccan treasures.  If I wasn’t with the others in the tour group, I am sure I would still be in there trying to found my way out. 

Oh, in the square in Marrakech they also had the snake charmers, where the cobra’s stand up to the sound of the music.  Wow, Wow, Wow.!!!  And in Fes we got to see the amazing leather dye-pits.  You really appreciate the job that you have when you see what these poor men do for a living!!

The tiring part were the Moroccan men who would follow you and continue to try and barter with you even though you had walked past their stall and said you weren’t interested. Hhmm, okay, maybe I didn’t quite run away from the nice Moroccan man at the jewellery shop J.  I mean, he was right when he said I couldn’t possibly leave Morocco without something to remind me of his amazing country.   I was easily convinced that his lovely wide silver bracelet would do the trick!!!  I am sure to fondly remember Morocco as I now glance down at my wrist.
And then of course I was absolutely forced to purchase two Guess T-shirts (with bling on the front) because I had to use up all my Moroccan money (Dirhams) before I flew out.  How fortunate for me that they had a few ‘normal’ clothing stalls at the Markets in Casablanca.  May have been a little warm to wear a ‘jellaba’ in Cairns??  And there may have been just a couple of other minor purchases along the way…….to have more Moroccan memories of course!!
As for the Moroccan food…just wonderful!!  Three course meals for lunch & dinner…full of spice & flavor.  Well, for the first week at least.  My overindulgence may have caused me to get a bout of diarrhea after that, so I held back somewhat in the second week.  Six out of the eight on the tour suffered the same fate towards the end of the tour, so the Imodium (medicine for the runs) and toilet paper (no guarantee of finding any in the Moroccan toilets) were readily being passed around!!!  My heart went out to poor Jill who got her bout of the runs at a point where the only available toilet was the squat one.  And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…she dropped her roll of toilet paper on the ground as she was about to use it! 

We stayed in nice hotels along the way, except for our one night out in the Sahara Desert, where we stayed in a desert camp. They had a huge tent which was sectioned off with two beds in each section and we had camp stretchers for beds.  Almost like a desert Hilton??  Our Camel ride out there was great!!!  Mind you, I hope never to have to ride one again (my poor thighs), but it was amazing to be sauntering over the sand dunes in a convoy of camels.   Taking photos while one is trying to hang on was a feat but I managed to get a few shots off that weren’t blurred. I didn’t quite get my dream camel shadow photo, but had fun trying.  

After reaching the desert camp, we stood on the sand dunes and watched the sunset.  Was just lovely!  We were again provided with a three course meal and entertainment. There was no shortage of food on this tour!!  Gosh it was so quiet and dark when all the lights went out and everyone went to bed.  But don’t you just hate it at times like this, when you have to go to the loo in the middle of the night!!!  Thank God I had a small torch because finding the toilet tent by star light was never going to happen without waking everyone in the desert and peeing in someone’s tent!  Did I mention a shower….no…we apparently didn’t need one because we all just looked lovely in the same clothes we had worn all day, on the camel, then to bed, and then the next morning until we made it back to civilization.  It’s these wonderful cultural experiences that make you appreciate the little things like a long hot shower and a flushing toilet!!
As part of our tour, we were also taken to a small village where we shared a meal with a local Berber family as another ‘cultural’ experience. They accepted us into their home and made us feel extremely welcome.  All was going wonderfully until they brought out a large dish of cus cus and chicken for the second course.  We had been seated in two groups and they handed out spoons to eat with, but at our table we were short one spoon.  I hadn’t been feeling well, so I handed my spoon to one of the others to use as I was opting out of the meal.  When the lady saw that we were one short, she went away and returned with a spoon, which I just placed on the table.  The lady then sat down beside me and used her hand to dip into the large dish of cus cus and proudly showed us how she could roll a handful of cus cus into a ball, all the while using the palm of one hand. Most ingenious!! She then popped the ball of cus cus into her mouth and ate it.  She repeated this several times as we sat watching ‘that hand’ continually being dipped into our meal.  We all thought, oh well, at least she is grabbing it from the same area…..until she decided to flick the remains of the cus cus from her hand back into the meal.  Oh but wait…she also had some cus cus stuck to her mouth, so she wiped that with the same hand and again flicked the bits of cus cus back into our dish.   After a few more mouth fulls, she then left the table.  The rest of us just stared at the cus cus meal not knowing what to do next.    I was thinking how fortunate I was that I hadn’t intended eating it anyway.  The others were grateful that they had eaten plenty during the first course.  It was maybe not a cultural trait that we wished to take back home with us.  Needless to say, there was quite a large amount of cus cus which remained uneaten! Oh, and about that spoon.  Apparently the ladies husband had been eating with it at the other groups table and she just grabbed it out of his hands and took it over to our table for me to use.  Obviously a very generous and caring family.  Happy to do without for the sake of their guests?? So again, it was fortunate I wasn’t eating cus cus that day!!
Of all the cities we went to ‘Chefchaouen’ (the white washed mountain village) was without question my favourite.  It was reported to be one of the prettiest towns in Morocco and it most definitely was.  I fell in love with the bright blue buildings and narrow lanes and the friendliness of all the locals.  We were only there for a day, but I could have easily stayed a week.  The amount of photos I took could indicate I stayed a week, but it is just remarkable how many photos one can take within a 2 hour period??

I found out quite early in the trip that the locals didn’t like their photos being taken.  After being yelled at a number of times, I very quickly learnt that if I wanted to photograph the people, I had to either pay for the privilege or do a sneaky sneaky one!  It was a little disappointing that I wasn’t able to photograph all the amazing characters that we saw walking around the villages & sitting at the markets, but still so wonderful to see. 

As for my tour group, I consider myself to be very fortunate.  We all got along great and spent most of the two weeks doing everything together.  The eighth person, Rosie (from Melbourne) ended up making it on the tour.  Can you believe she missed her plane in Paris on the way over!!!  It reminded me of how lucky I was that I actually made my flight to Morocco!! 
And once again I consider myself lucky to have made the flight back to Rome.  I decided to do that last minute pee before hopping on a plane and went to the public toilets at the Casablanca Airport.  There was a short line up, so two cleaners that were at the toilets indicated for me to use the disabled toilet.  All good until I tried to get back out of the cubicle.  The lock on the toilet door became stuck and no matter how much I wriggled, pulled, pushed, turned it…nope…I was locked in solid!!  So I prayed that the cleaners were still outside the door and started knocking on the door and calling out that the door wouldn’t open.  I figured that they couldn’t understand what I was saying, but the knocking may indicate some assistance was required???  So, after much effort on their behalf to bash at the door, they finally got me out!!!  Yes, for a few minutes there, I was a little concerned!!
And in a nutshell, that was my Moroccan experience!!  I saw heaps, ate heaps, photographed heaps, pooed heaps and um…bought heaps??

After Morocco, I returned to Rome for 3 nights and am currently in the middle of my 5 night stay back in Siena.  I’ll send another email soon to update you on the past week and the week ahead.  Sorry this email took some time in coming out but I caught the dreaded chest cold in Morocco and my poor head is still not thinking as clearly as I would like.  I have gone through a course of antibiotics, a bottle of cough medicine and three boxes of tissues and shortly I am about to go out and buy my 4th box of tissues!!!   Apparently, it is all part of the holiday experience…collecting other people’s germs (oh, and spreading them)!!
Hope all is great with you.  Yes, I miss you all!!
Love Joy xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

1 comment:

Merry said...

Hey there Joy, so great to see some photos and they are all amazing. Sounds like a wonderful experience. Are you trying to outdo me on the toilet fiasco? Hope you are feeling better soon.