Thursday, 15 October 2015

Morocco: Chapter 3 - Mountains, Mules, and Musicians

Wednesday - Ait Benhaddou to the Atlas Mountains

The view that came with breakfast
So not feeling great after my night of very little sleep I went down to breakfast and while food didn't make me feel better, the view was amazing! The balcony overlooked one of the oldest settlements and it really was beautiful. 

We went across to explore it and had to cross a river using sandbags which was a little difficult given how wobbly and lightheaded I was feeling but it seemed to make me less anxious and I made it to the other side fine. We wandered round the snaking little alleys and climbed the winding staircases. While exploring there are mainly guesthouses with the original families having moved nearby into newer buildings. There were also a lot of artists selling paintings and drawings to passers by. One of the things that seemed popular was taking a seemingly plain painting and putting it over a flame which made another set of designs appear. They explained it was a mix of tea and sugar so that when it dried it was invisible but you could burn the sugar to leave the dark brown marks. It was a way to send secret messages which was cool. 
Walking through the crops

Halfway up climbing to the top I didn't feel so great so I sat down in the shade with a generously provided carb gel and waited for the others to come back down from the peak. However I think sitting in the shade and people watching was probably much more interesting than the view from the top. So many groups went past and you can almost instinctively tell where someone is from just by their dress and gait. There were Americans, French, German, and other English groups having tours at the same time and I heard the locals pick up on the nationalities too and flawlessly switch between languages to try to make sales. It's interesting how a job as seemingly basic as selling drawings to tourists can demand so many skills. It made me wonder why they would chose to do this if they are clearly capable of much more given by their language skills alone? My musings were interrupted when my group returned (thankfully) and we went back on the bus. 

My noble steed
We seemed to drive for ages along twisty mountain roads which was not helping my blood pressure so I had a sleep and when I woke up we were at the side of the road seemingly nowhere with 3 mules. Stay with me, this wasn't a dream. We all got out and our daypacks were loaded onto the mules and then we set off walking. If I was well I think this walk would have been really nice! We did a bit through the rocky area and then continued through the fruit tree groves. I did start to find it difficult after a while especially since a lot of others were stopping to take photos and then storming ahead. I don't like stopping and starting so I picked a couple of songs to sing in my head and kept a steady rhythm of plodding on. After about an hour maybe more we stopped and everyone asked how I was - I guess I looked rough. Therefore I was plonked on a mule and we carried on. I think the mule owner thought it was funny that I was riding while some of the ladies more advanced in age continued to walk. I did feel bad about that too but a little while later a taxi went past and they got into the taxi which made me feel better. I decided to stay on the mule rather than get into the taxi as I was enjoying the fresh air and the view. Walking past a guy with a lot of apples, one of our group bought one but I guess she overpaid as the guy then gave apples to all of us walking by. I was rather happy by this point with the view and my mule and now even an apple! It's the simple things in life.

The view from the balcony
Arriving at where we were staying was great and lunch was not tagine! I've never seen people more excited about pasta and tinned mackerel but I was glad for pasta and tinned mackerel too. Then most of our group went off to a Hammam which is a public steam room where you go to get scrubbed and all squeaky clean. I thought steam and my head wouldn't mix well so I stayed behind. I lay down for a 20 min nap and woke up an hour later but the others still weren't back. I had a shower and sat on the balcony with a couple of other girls who stayed behind. We drank tea and discussed life and watched the sun sink in the sky. 

3 hours later the others returned having had what they described as a "group bonding experience" as apparently bikini tops were not advised and therefore our group with an age range of over 40 years had got to know each other quite well! Feeling smug that I was one of the few who's boobs hadn't been seen by near a dozen people that day I had another nap and woke up in time for cous-cous and tagine then back to bed.

Thursday - Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh
Walking down the mountains
I woke up feeling much stronger and managed an ok amount of food at breakfast. The walk back down the mountain was really nice! Being mostly downhill it was easier though harder on the knees and I was able to appreciate the scenery much more than on our way up. The bus driver was waiting for us back at the random side of the road and drove us only a little way till we arrived at the Berber King's Palace. The tour guide was hilarious and took us round many ornately decorated rooms. Apparently the King had 4 wives and 75 concubines! 

More twisty roads followed and I think our bus driver must have been a rally car driver at some point because he seemed to know every curve and made the bus stick to them exactly! We had lunch at probably the only building for miles around as was everyone else on the road it seemed. It was such an unusual mix of tourists and locals all in one place because there wasn't anywhere else! I slept for the last 2 hours of driving, there's just something about car travel that makes me sleepy! Although thinking about it maybe it isn't just cars that make me sleepy as I have fallen asleep on boats and planes and all sorts of different types of transport! I'm pretty sure I nodded off briefly a couple of times on the mule too, maybe not on the camel though. 

The view from the newest King's palace on the older palace (left) and the oldest palace (middle)
We arrived in Marrakesh and it was very obvious we were now in a city. There were cars and scooters all over the roads as lanes and lights seemed like suggestions rather than rules. A quick shower later and we went out to see the big markets. We took the bus there and I don't mean our bus, I mean a real bus bus. The locals looked rather confused when 14 tourists got on and started being very loud. Nevermind. We got to the grand souk and there were hundreds of little market stalls, musicians, dancers, and even snake charmers! The snakes were a little creepy because they're just sitting on the floor chilling out. Their owners will pick them up and try to put them round your neck and charge you for a photograph, I decided I didn't need a snake round my neck. we did however stop and watch some of the musicians who very dramatically acted out a family argument to great amusement of the crowd, I guess it's funny in most cultures to watch a tiny old woman terrorise her sons.

We had dinner at one of the stalls that our guide said was good to eat at so all of us squished into a tiny stall's seats. While we were there another guide and his group appeared to eat there but he only had 6 people and so our guide sat at the head of his 14 strong group looking very popular in comparison! Afterwards we split into two groups as some wanted to walk back and some took the bus. As one of the walkers we set off past the mosque tower which is one of the tallest in the world and given how old it is, it's pretty impressive building! A pleasant walk back and I was tucked up in bed both excited and sad for tomorrow would be our last day in Morocco. 

I'll tell you all about it soon.