After a week in Paris, we take a side trip to Morocco for 3 weeks

May 10, 2011 - Tangier to Chefchaouen to Fes

We are just loving Morocco! We are here for 3 weeks before we head back to Paris and the Loire valley for a month.

We flew over huge waves and wobbled into Tangier's airport in a wild wind storm and brilliant sunshine. Off we went through incredibly green countrysides in our Fiat rental car to the small village of Chefchaouen. This city is intricately carved into the hillside and is famous for it's many hues of the colour blue. The Medina is an absolutely fantastic little village with alley ways of turquoise, royal blue and the many shades in-between. Zillions of uneven steps… always seeming to be up, up and away!

The first day Glenn and I got lost in the maze so we hiked all the way up and then all the way down and up and down and up and (phew) down!!!! What a workout! Finally we found our way back up the uneven wide steps and blue corridors to our fantastic Riad, Casa La Palma. Our host Carlos from Spain made us feel so very welcome. Riads are usually restored ancient houses with 3-10 rooms surrounding an open to the sky courtyard, they are a little pricier than hotel rooms but are more hospitable as you get to know the family. Breakfast is usually included and you can often arrange wonderful dinners that the Moroccan women cook in their kitchens.

April's bombing in Marrakech has crashed tourism as you can imagine! We had booked a room for 3 persons but as there have been so many cancellations Glenn was offered a room of his own for no up charge. (same story here in Fes)

The food here is really mmmm good. I had expected that being vegetarian would be a problem but it's really out of this world.

We are finding Morocco to be like Arabian Nights, so fantastical and exotic! As we have wound our way through through the labyrinth of the Medina's paths, the locals are always welcoming us in French. As Bob is bald with two earrings the locals call him Ali Baba but I like to think it's Ali BOBa. :)

So after 2 fun filled days and nights in Chefchaouen, we drove about 4 hours to the medieval city of Fes. Our drive was through beautiful green hills with waterfalls and rivers everywhere. Groves of cork and olive trees. Spring is in the air. The meadows and hillsides are covered in spring flowers… layers of yellow, lavender, purple, bright yellow and a riot of gorgeous red poppies! Evidently red poppies are used in the dying process. Saffron is also used quite a bit as yellow dye... very popular for leather slippers. As we came down out of the mountains it became more arid but still quite green. The villages we passed were pretty and simple with women in burkas on mules or donkeys.

We are extremely happy to have our GPS, especially when we entered the labyrinth of Fes otherwise we might have driven in circles forever on the edge of the walled Medina Sure is nice to have a car with air conditioning.

Fes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its Medina is believed to be the world's largest contiguous CAR-FREE (imagine that) urban area. As you walk along the incredibly twisty narrow alleyways you have to watch out for the trusty mules and donkeys who constantly are being prodded along carrying everything under the sun. Of course, you have to watch where you walk as their droppings are everywhere too. The streets are all cobble stone, it's really amazing to be transported back to Medieval days. They have a sewer system now but wow... can't imagine what it was like in Medieval times! The men and women all wear Jalabas, long flowing robes with large pointed hoods. Families seem to have about 10 children or so and they are out and about playing soccer with torn and tattered soccer balls in these small corridors, so I get to pass the ball every once in awhile! The echoing laughter of the huge numbers of children is delightful. Unfortunately most children do not go to school as their parents cannot afford it. Most people are illiterate as this is such a poor country. When the police bring the kids home to the parents they just pay off the police (baksheesh). I was sitting in a cafe when all of a sudden I felt a stinging sensation on my hip and I sensed movement and at the last second saw a wee urchin of about 10 years old fly by and disappear around a corner. So I ran after him and he was certainly surprised to see my smiling face. He came back to the restaurant and I gave him a little finger puppet and he was so thrilled and said "merci".

Most places have roof top terraces which the women use to string up their laundry. We have been enjoying them for the views and listening to the melodic call to prayer. The call to prayer is so lovely to hear (not at 4am though) as their are so many singing at one time and the echoing sound is haunting (Muslims pray 5 times per day).

The views from our outstanding roof top terraces are simply surreal. We stayed in a 400 year old house, Riad Laayoun here in Fez was renovated by the french owner and the process took about a year but is one of the most luxurious places I've ever been in. Our room has a 30ft ceiling! The mosaic and wood carvings are beyond belief as you will see in the photographs. We just love it here! Last night we got tipsy on Tequila (we purchased in France), then we climbed our many mosaic tilled stairs to watch the sun set over the Medina and the myriad of buildings looking more like a honeycomb than a city. Life is exciting and we are so very fortunate the be able to experience this north African lifestyle. The owner told us because of the bombing he has had 25 cancellations for May alone.

Tonight we are off to a restaurant and the owner will come and collect us as it's so easy to get lost, we hope we can find our way home again! We do hire guides as its so confusing and it spreads the wealth. For two of the 3 days we were in Fez we just wandered everywhere and got lost… the journey is better than the destination.

Today we had mint tea and dates in a little cafe and most of the men there were happy to see foreigners and we practised a little French with them. I'm sure that I was the only woman they have ever served. Women and men are world's apart here! When world's collide. We had tea there 3 days running so we were sure welcomed even if there were no chairs.. the men quickly gave theirs to us!
Lucky for me to be born in Canada.

It's 32 degrees in Fes, but in the Medina it's so much cooler. Thick walls and cooling breezes are fine with me! The shops here are so incredible with amazing products, many handmade and of course the ones we like are either heavy, huge or fragile. The vendors (mostly men) really do prefer to deal with another man rather than a woman. It is thought that men who are bald, have lost their hair worrying over finances and that they are rich. So it's better for me to do the bargaining as Bob appears too bald and rich.

Yesterday we visited the world famous Fes tanneries. 150 families make their living there. What heavy work soaking the hides in pigeon shit and urine (ammonia). Then the dying process begins with vegetable dyes. The men actually immerse themselves in the vats! We were advised that the best leather is produced in Fez and I now own a red poof (hassock) and new black leather jacket. I guess you could say I am helping the economy.

My rolling backpack is much heavier now as I have also purchased a Jalaba and a gorgeous wool cape with a large hood in Navy Blue. I can't help it as the bargains are impressive.

May 15, 2011 - Fes to Merzouga

We got back to the parking lot after our final breakfast in Fes...3 days and nights and our rental car is still there (miracle) but of course we paid to have someone guard it! Our GPS has no idea where the hell Merzouga is or where we want to go from here. The only way we can use it is to figure out the navigation coordinates on Google Maps, then translate that Lat & Long into the GPS. So off we go on our trek across the northern end of the Atlas mountains and down onto the wasteland bordering the western Sahara...apparently it will take about 8.5 hours. It was a long day but he roads were great and luckily there was hardly any traffic and the other drivers were not too crazy. The scenery was spectacular and surprisingly green. Spring (May) is a perfect time to visit Morocco. We finally got to the end of the road. (literally at the end of the road) We pulled into the parking at the western edge of the Sahara desert just 50 km form the Algerian border...we had arrived at The Riad Mamouche, a family run rustic Riad with a surprisingly decent swimming pool.

When Sting sang about "tea in the Sahara" many years ago we decided that one day we would do just that and "Voila"!!! Tomorrow is camel riding and 4 wheel driving over sand dunes that tower 150 feet...yikes!

After breakfast we climbed into a desert equipped Land Rover piloted by a guy who until 10 years ago lived as a nomad Berber in the vicinity. He was in full Berber blue garb as we headed out for a 4 to 5 hour trek into the Sahara. Actually getting deep into the dunes is only do-able if you are all riding Quads or on a camel. (we'll do the ride on Clyde thingy at sunset) Our tour took us across vast stretches of sand and rock. Up hills to vantage points and down into dry riverbed oasis'. We saw Berber people living in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a few goats and if they were lucky, a burro for transport. We stopped at a village of Sudanese immigrants and ducked into a 10 x 12 adobe mud hut that is what passes for the school. This village has eked out a living is by entertaining tourists like us in the biggest mud hut where they play simple music and dance. How do you spell National Geographic?

At 6:30pm we got fortified and ready for our much anticipated Sunset Camel Ride out to the oasis. What a wild and exotic ride we had. Jo asked for a HAPPY camel, she had heard many anecdotes about their nasty disposition and long range spitting skills. Phetueee! Getting on a camel is somewhat of a balancing act as they lurch up from their knees. There are no stirrups… your legs just dangle as they plod along. They seem to be much, much taller when you are in the saddle. Yikes! Bob, I and Glenn were all tethered together with our guide walking ahead holding the cranky old lead camel's head. Our guide used to live in a Berber tent made/woven of Camel hair. We saw quite a few nomads living in the super harsh conditions and lots of little children running around. What a struggle it is to live in the middle of the Sahara with so little. The temperature in the summer hits 55 degrees! So, we plodded along up the dunes with small lizards running this way and that. Saw a very large eared Desert Fox, very strange. About this time we felt like desert nomads riding off into the sunset. In actuality we looked like 3 people out of their comfort zone and laughing with pleasure at the crazy new experience.

STOP...REWIND...The real story is somewhat we lurched up onto our camels and headed out for our ride into the Sahara it took less than 5 minutes before we all realized at exactly the same time...this is a crazy idea and we've only gone 100 meters. What the hell were we thinking? Hanging on a camel back is weird dynamic and it's like being on a bucking bronco without the stirrups or saddle...the only saving grace was the installation (for tourists) of a steel T-bar to hang onto. What have we done!!! Just then, out of nowhere came a huge sandstorm. Sand everywhere, stinging our eyes and covering everything, it was like a divine intervention. The guides did a quick consul and canceled the sunset cruse (camel ride). We turned around and went back to our Riad. The much anticipated but short experience was enjoyed anyway and laughed our faces off back in the room while continuing to fortify with more Tequila. Later, at dinner we were served an excellent fresh Moroccan salad (every vegetable you can imagine) with fantastic fresh olives and great Moroccan bread. The second course was a traditional Tajine with stewed vegetables with meat, chicken or egg. The Tajines are wonderful, hot and aromatic. The last course is always fresh fruit, how civilized!

The last thing I remember is Bob of Arabia scooping me up in his arms and carrying me away on his white horse towards a desert oasis.

May 15, 2011 - Merzouga to Skoura

More to come...

May 15, 2011 - Skoura to Marrakesh

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May 15, 2011 - Marrakesh to Essaouira

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May 15, 2011 - Essaouira to El Jadida

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May 15, 2011 - El Jadida to Asilah

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May 15, 2011 - Back to Paris

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May 15, 2011 - Fes to Merzouga, Morocco

More to come...