Ifrane’s Souq

We’re awake early again, in fact early enough not to be woken by the melismatic sound of the muezzin broadcasting at high volume at 5.40am. This happens a lot wherever you stay in Morocco, but thankfully, this one is a really good singer, and we lie in bed listening with rapt attention. We had a good night, in spite of sleeping directly underneath the ubiquitous ‘palm tree’ (or in this case a ‘pine tree’, since we are in a mountainous area):

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We start our day with a spot of Yoga in the car park :-)

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The internet tells me that Ifrane has its weekly market on Sundays, so we hop on our bikes and cycle into the part of town where we think it may be. We ask for directions to the Souq and get sent with great clarity in one direction. After 500 metres, we ask again and get sent, with equal clarity, in the opposite direction. And so it goes on for a good hour or so, while we discover everything but the Souq. Finally the mystery is partially solved: there are several markets – one is an established building, housing the daily municipal market, the other is a more ephemeral Souk that happens once a week in a dusty and stony valley on the outskirts of the town. There are also several totally different ways to get there. We go shopping in the municipal market as it’s so close to our van, where we meet a friendly American who lives here and is fluent in Arabic, thus can explain to us the meaning of some of the signs which we unsuccessfully tried to Google translate. It is still hard for me to properly read handwritten signs, so something that comes out as ‘The mystery of softness’ (and leads me to believe that what we are trying to translate maybe a quote from the Q’uran) actually turns out to be an advert for Tender Goat Meat!

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We ask the American, a university professor, how he feels since the awful unmentionable number one person of America has made those divisive statements about Jerusalem. Does he feel anxious about his and his young family’s security? He shakes his head. They usually can differentiate pretty well here, between a person and what their government does. I lived in Morocco during 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq and never have I felt unsafe. But this is a small town, it may be different in the larger cities.

 

We bring our shopping home to Emma and set off once again on our bikes to find the other Souq and it’s well worth the hunt! This one is the real thing, cheap good quality fresh local veg and everything else you may or may not need is on offer. It’s a true a feast for the eyes, ears and nose!

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The weather forecast predicts several days of heavy snow in the direction we are travelling, so we stock up with food in case we get snowed in and then we drive another 60 km to a Cedar Forest near Azrou where we have been told we can see monkeys in the wild, apparently the only free-roaming colony in the whole of north Africa.

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for a series of photos of Ifrane’s Souq, click here

 


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Fes to Ifrane

A few kilometres on, we join a bigger national road. We stop at one of the roadside market stalls to buy fruit and veg but everything seems to be quite dear. We walk from one trader to another to compare prices but they are each as expensive as the other. We try to haggle but the traders, with friendly smiles, hold tight against us. We don’t know when we’ll get to another market, so we buy just a few items for at least the same price as they would be in Spain and drive off. We still need to learn a thing or two about haggling. Number one is probably that as foreigners, you will never get a good price in a hurry.

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The moment we enter the outskirts of Fes, we get tailed by a motorbike. You are looking for international camping? Follow me. And he scuttles off. We follow google maps on our phone and for a while this coincides with where he wants to lead us. But then we turn off. A minute later he’s again at our side. You are going the wrong way, come with me! But for once we have our mind set on a particular spot for the night, where we can have electricity for the computer, a washing machine and a hot shower. Maybe we should have followed him because the Diamant Vert Campsite is nothing to write home about – not particularly welcoming reception, intermittently working showers and a broken down washing machine! There are some workers on site, cutting trees and doing general repair work and they seem to be the only friendly people around. We depart again the next day, having managed, for the princely extra sum of 60 Dirhams, to squeeze our washing into the daily workload of the laundry that deals with the sheets etc. from the many bungalows on the site.

We leave around lunchtime in the direction of Ifrane, along a well-built national road that feels like a motorway after our three days in the middle of nowhere. But here too are roadside stalls with the produce having changed to apples, nuts, figs and dates, or occasionally a bumper crop of Pomegranates.

Entering Ifrane is like entering a European alpine town. . The houses here are totally different to anywhere else in Morocco – they have very steep gables and look more like the houses of an east German village or maybe Alsatian, than of African style.

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There are xmas decoration of sorts, except they’re not: a blue smurf with a Santa Claus costume and festive lighting but with the five pointed Moroccan star instead of the star of Bethlehem. We find our parking spot by a Mosque and have another early night.

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For more photos of houses in Ifrane, click here


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Ourtzargh to Fes

At 8am the next morning, we’re on the road again, winding our way up and down a few hills on rickety roads, mostly in first or second gear and always with the reservoir to our right. Finally we leave the reservoir and turn southwards. The landscape changes to more and more brown-tones. We climb up one long hill and when we turn a corner, suddenly there is a moment of magic in the landscape that stops us in our tracks. We park Emma by the side of the road and for the next two hours we delve into the grand silence of these mountains that look just like giant sand dunes but are more like stone or maybe clay, to the touch.

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We climb up one long hill and when we turn a corner, suddenly there is a moment of magic in the landscape that stops us in our tracks. We park Emma by the side of the road and for the next two hours we delve into the grand silence of these mountains that look just like giant sand dunes but are more like stone or maybe clay, to the touch.

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I take the opportunity of a sunny, quiet morning to do a whole lot of admin regarding the Bandoneon Days I’m organizing in Germany next April, as well as the Tango Mango next August (for which the booking lines aren’t yet open though the programme is shaping up nicely). What a spectacular ‘office’! An older guy in a brown Djellaba joins me at the top of the hill and sits down some 20m from me, remaining in one position for over an hour while I’m on the phone to various people and moving about – sitting down, getting up, walking around and sitting down again. How can he sit still for so long, and in such an awkward position???

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Note the shape of the random piece of plastic (don’t get me going on plastic here, it’s another whole chapter in its own right!), also in the Moroccan reclining position!

Eventually, two little kids appear over the brow of the hill and he gets up and walks away with them. Maybe he’s their grandfather and he was waiting for them to come out of Kindergarten. They can only have been 4 and 6 years old at the most.

The air in Morocco is special in general (except in the cities of course), but up here in particular. Somehow, it goes deeper into the lungs… it’s hard to describe.

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After our sunny stop on what feels like the top of the world, we descend into a large plain. We are passing a field where a family has stopped their work of ploughing and sowing to share a big tagine between them. They wave at us and motion us to stop and join them, so we do. We grab a few fruits, oranges, tomatoes etc. and join them. They are so friendly, everyone smiling and welcoming us to their meal and to Morocco in general. The food is most delicious, a large plate of couscous and a chicken on top. Then that gets pushed aside and out comes another dish, equally delicious, artichoke stems and beef. Of course it’s Friday, which is their Sunday, hence the special nature of the meal and possibly also the very open invitation for others to join. We’re not the only ones who get invited. Any passing car gets flagged down, everyone stops to share food or just for a chat. We speak with each other in a mixture of french, arabic, hands and feet. The mother of the family, the cook, stands a little off to one side, having brought the meal, laughing and joking. She oozes joy. It can’t be an easy life, but the people look content.

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An hour later, they pack the food away, the men return to the plough and the sacks full of beans to sow, the matriarch takes her granddaughter by the hand and walks off down a long straight field path back to the house in the distance and we drive on, full of food and good feelings.

For those who wonder which road we’ve been following during the last few days, it was the R419, and as we come up to where it joins the National road to Fes, we feel like we are leaving a magical world, like waking from a dream.

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For all photos of this chapter, click here


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Olive Harvest

We may have thought that we are on our way to Fes, but life intervenes. About 1km out of the village, at the top of a hill, we look down into an olive grove and see a family harvesting. We stop and I venture out with a camera, hoping to be allowed to take photos. They are very friendly and agree. It is such a beautiful morning and there is such a nice atmosphere among the people here that I ask if Frank and I can join them. They laugh and gently accept my offer of help. I go to get Frank, and for the next two hours, we bash the olive trees with canes or pick up beautiful, ripe, shiny fruit by the bucketful from the rich earth.

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Every single fruit gets picked up. There is a lot of light-hearted banter going on, much laughter and we manage to make quite a bit of conversation with them too, all in Arabic of course! We ask for a song but are given a phone to listen to a harvest song instead. We try to encourage them to sing for us, but to no avail, even when we try to tempt them by doing a bit of singing ourselves. The songs exist, but for some reason they don’t want to oblige.

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Harvesting olives is Yoga of the best kind. Forward folds or deep lunges facing uphill, one foot forwards, hands free to gather the fallen fruit, taking deep breaths in the clear morning air. After two hours we move on, not without an exchange of gifts – we leave a jar of lemon marmalade and receive a pot of freshly pickled olives. They also invite us for dinner that night but we want to move on…

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Everywhere people wave to us and smile, and there are many, many children walking along the road, the little ones in one direction, the big ones in the other. Probably they share a school building. We wonder just how far the little ones walk along this road on their own… most of the children look really happy and are well dressed. Just occasionally we see a tired, thirsty or forlorn face…

We drive uphill for a long time and when we come across the top, we are regaled with our first sight of the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains in the far distance, and in the valley below us, there is a big reservoir.

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We are in the middle of a farming community, with many people walking along the road, driving donkeys laden with olive sacks. An old woman is bent over double, carrying a huge bunch of olive branches back home, probably for her goats, while another woman is heaving a heavy sack of olives. We stop to offer her a lift but she declines. We pass some pretty rough looking places and some that are immaculately clean and well tended. They don’t seem to be any richer, but just more loved. People stand by the side of the road with big piles of olives on plastic sheets, presumably having just picked them that morning and now waiting for someone to come and buy them. Slowly the landscape is changing from a lush green towards different shades of brown.

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We see many farmers ploughing their land with two animals, either donkeys, mules, cows or horses. They seem stuck against the steep hillsides, like two-dimensional paintings or like pictures woven into a tapestry of varying shades of brown. There is a peaceful silence over everything, and a deep blue sky.

As the sun is setting, we descend into the valley until at last we reach the town of Ourtzargh. We stop by the police station to ask where it is safe to park and are offered a parking spot just outside their headquarters. Again, they want to take all our details, and they are very polite and helpful as well as cracking a few jokes while doing the job. They assign a guardian to us who proceeds to park his car in front of Emma, sitting in it and watching.

We ask where we can get our internet data recharged and are taken to the local phone shop by a guy who looks like a police informer in his mafia type car with blackened windows.

The phone shop is run by the local maths teacher in his spare time. He’s in a bit of a rush because he has to go to prayers, but all goes very smoothly with the help of his 13 year old son, probably more qualified than all of us together to deal with the vagaries of the internet and who quickly recharges both our phones. The police guy is waiting around for us but we tell him we are fine to walk back and after some hesitation he leaves us to our fate. We stroll back to Emma through a pretty rough town, concrete buildings several storeys high, unfinished but lived in. This seems to be the norm in the poorer areas. We get a lot of looks – I think about how weird it must be to see the two of us strolling along arm in arm in our jellabas, me with my hair short and uncovered, both of us obviously foreigners. I don’t think they see many foreigners here anyway, let alone people like us.

When we come back to Emma, our guardian seems to have disappeared. He probably didn’t think it worth guarding our vehicle once we’d gone out.

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For a series of photos of this day, click here and enjoy!

Ps.: Did you know that flikr has a slide show function? Make a cup of coffee and enjoy the photos full size with leisure!


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Rural Life in the morning

We wake up to a cockerel concert and another frosty morning. I hop out of bed to light the fire and then I venture out to find some eggs. We don’t have any small change, so I take a couple of things to barter; a beer, some candles plus one stray Euro I found in my pocket.

I have a little conversation in Arabic with a guy who I ask where to buy eggs. He scratches his head, he doesn’t know. I say there must be eggs around here, this place is full of chickens. Indeed, they are running all over the road. He laughs and points up the hill, there’s a shop up there where you may be able to buy some.

It’s the direction we want to travel anyway, so we take Emma up the hill and stop outside the shop/café by the mosque. The proprietor is sweeping the road in the early morning sunshine. He beckons us in. He has no trouble changing a 100 dirham note for us and sells us his last 5 eggs. Then he invites us for tea and breakfast, as a friendly gesture, at no charge he insists. Welcome to Morocco we hear again, and every time we hear it, it is so heartfelt and often accompanied by some kind of gesture, in this case a proud presentation of two freshly baked, round semolina cakes, accompanied by a saucer-full of fresh olive oil to dip them in, and two pancakes, to be washed down with cups of Moroccan tea. His wife is in the back room doing the cooking; the delicious smell reaches the street and soon attracts other customers. We bask in the sunshine, enjoy the tasty food, chat with the locals and watch life pass by; children going to school, donkeys being taken to the olive groves and chickens fluttering about underneath people’s feet.

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After heartfelt thanks, we leave a secret tip on the plate and go to drive off with Emma, but just as I am about to switch on the motor, someone is knocking on my window. A well-dressed, smiley and quietly spoken man politely asks me in perfect French for our passports. He is surrounded by a group of men and they all look on expectantly. We tell them that we’d already had our papers checked by the police the day before. He says he’s from the local authority, it’s just a formality, just the passports. I smile back to him sweetly and say how do I know that you are who you say you are? In the end I agree to accompany him, passport in hand, to the official building across the street. The smiles never stop when he offers me a chair in his little office, with just a desk and a computer, a filing cabinet and by now about 5 other men. I trust him now and want to hand over our passports, but he won’t have any of it and says, no you keep hold of your passport and fill in the details on this sheet of paper. I think he actually appreciates that I’m not too trusting of just anyone. Everyone is super-polite and smiley, and asking questions about our next destination, which I give as Fes. Just when I’m finished filling in the data, an older man in a beautiful Jellaba comes in and introduces himself as the top authority of the region. He welcomes me to Morocco, once again repeating with emphasis his position as head of the region.

Then we all walk back to Emma together, where Frank also gets welcomed and greeted and we are then waved off with their best wishes and hopes that we enjoy the beauty and richness that Morocco has to offer.


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Meeting people

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Early nights make for early mornings, and so we’re up at dawn, Frank is cooking a Moroccan Lamb stew and I go foraging for wood and picking a few berries from the wild strawberry trees that are in the woods around us.

After a stint of Yoga in the sunshine we’re ready to hit the road once more.

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The road winds through lush olive groves and forests, up and down hills until it meanders along a river for a while. By the side of the road, we spot a fountain with two taps, from which a number of school children seem to be drinking. We need to refill our water tank, so we turn around and park up by the fountain. Immediately, we are surrounded by about 100 kids (the school is nearby), all wanting to speak to us in French or English. Talking Arabic backfires, they roll around laughing and crack jokes at our cost. So we stick to English and French. They are friendly, but the boys are quite cocky, and there is a sense that with this amount of kids, things could also quickly turn into something else. Anyway, we go about getting our water while they chat to us.

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The girls are more shy and in the background to start with, but soon they come forward too. At some point, they all crowd onto the road to catch a glimpse of the inside of our van, stopping all traffic for a few minutes and Frank resorting to crowd control measures. As soon as they see our stuff in the van, they start to engage in merchandising. They want our bikes, our clothes, anything really. It seems a lighthearted banter, but with an edge of the serious about it. It’s almost as if they are practising for adulthood – or is it a way of expressing an appreciation for someone else’s possessions?

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By the end, they all want to take selfies with us in them. Quite a few have mobile phones.

We drive on a few more kilometres and then stop off to have Frank’s lamb stew and a lunch-time nap. Around 4pm, we journey on, and the road deteriorates rapidly. We come across a very ramshackle but busy town called Tlata Beni Hmed, where we stop off to buy some bread and fruit. The police comes over to check our passports, then we’re rumbling down steep hills on dusty roads, only occasionally meeting or being overtaken by other cars. While Frank concentrates on the potholes in the road, I see Berber women with donkeys and sheep, carrying children in cloths on their backs, riding side-saddle on donkeys that are laden with olive sacks.

We see several olive presses, where many people sit on sacks full of olives, waiting their turn, and the aroma of freshly pressed olives reaches us as we drive by.

The houses have earthen walls and corrugated tin roofs, or are wholly constructed from corrugated iron. This must be so hot in the summer and so cold in the winter.

It’s getting dark, so we are looking for a place for the night. We stop by the side of a café where a group of men are watching football, drinking tea and smoking Kif. Some play cards, using lumps of dope for cash. The owner is friendly and allows us to park up by the side of the bar. We think we’re going to be fine for the night, but after dark, a guy knocks on the door and expresses his worry about safety. After a quick phone call, he leads us 2km further up the hill to the local commune in the middle of a little town. A quick handshake and a good-bye, no money has changed hands for this service, he just helped us out of a genuine concern for our safety. We don’t know his position in the community, but he was a local and obviously concerned that they don’t want trouble for tourists in this community. We feel very safe and looked after.

Around 8pm, our fire is going, I’m settled in writing the blog and Frank is whittling a piece of olive wood to make a pan handle. It’s been another very rich day!


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Chefchaouen

After a hearty breakfast, we are off to Chefchaouen. We are lucky to find a parking spot just below the old Medina (city). We are on a mission to find the post office, for Eva’s weekly post-card (Frank’s grand-daughter). Children are on their way back home from school and many of them are keen to practise a bit of French or English, calling out to us: hello, how are you? welcome to Morocco! A young boy kindly becomes our guide for 10 minutes, leading us up some sets of steps and round the back of houses to the post office. Then we walk into the Medina, instantly fascinated by the beautiful woven garments that this town is famous for. The colour and the feel of the different cloths on the background of the blue walls is a feast for the senses.

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We stop at various shops to try Djellaba, eventually settling for a couple handmade by the guy in the photo below.

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Taking photos of people is not so easy. I wish we could capture some of the welcoming smiles that greet us everywhere, but there definitely is a reticence about wanting to be photographed which may well have a deeper cultural or religious reason. The Djellaba maker refuses to be photographed when we first meet him behind his loom, but once we have bought the Djellabas, he agrees to one, standing between us.

This is our first step in trying to understand the dress code from inside out, so to speak. They are soooo warm and comfortable, I’ll never want to get out of mine again :-)

Interestingly, while people have looked at me a lot before (not in a bad way, just curious) the Djellaba seems to act as an invisibility cloak. People still notice us but in a different way. They come up and touch the material appreciatively, giving compliments as well as trying to lure us into their shop next: Nice Djellaba. Now you need some shoes to go with it, and a hat. Come into my shop. How much did you pay for these?

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As we walk through town, up to the Ras-el-Ma (source of the water), to the wash house and back down through a maze of old houses and a mill, we get a number of such compliments. We pass by the market to pick up some lamb. Our snippets of Arabic are appreciated everywhere and everyone is so friendly!

When the sun goes down, it gets dark very quickly. We get caught out and end up driving quite a while through the dark before finding a quiet place to sleep, partially because of avoiding guys in cars who overtake and offer Kif. Finally we find a spot where we have a beautiful, star-lit, quiet night with no trouble at all.

For a serious of beautifully coloured photos, click hereall natural, no photoshop!


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Landscapes

When we return to Emma, it is about 4pm and we are ready to leave the noisy, dusty city behind us in search of a quiet spot for the night, so after a hearty farewell with Khalid, we drive off into the sunset. Just 10km out of Tetouan, we find a quiet spot on a side road, overlooking a reservoir. There is a sharp wind and the air is beautifully clear. The sun is just setting and a huge moon is climbing over the hills in the distance.

It’s been a couple of days of rich experiences and we are tired and ready for bed, but within five minutes of stopping, two guys in a shiny black car pull up. They welcome us with friendly handshakes and then proceed to offer us ‘Kif’, Hashish, the growing of which this region is famous for. We politely decline, so they offer us Whiskey instead. Too bad for them that we don’t drink or take drugs… Frank raises the possibility that they might have been undercover police, but it turns out they are just the first in a long string of offers we receive in the following two weeks while travelling through the Rif valleys. Somehow it doesn’t compute that we drive in a van like Emma and are here for reasons other than to get stoned out of our heads. Even little kids wave packets of the stuff at us as we pass!

At 4am, we get up to bury the contents of our compost toilet somewhere discreet and under cover of darkness (well, actually it’s quite bright under a full moon), then we go back to bed and catch a few more hours’ sleep before waking up to a cold but beautifully sparkling sunny morning.

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I busy myself with preserving the olives I collected some weeks back (it feels like years!) in Southern Spain, while Frank goes out on a photo shoot.

 

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The hill behind where we are parked offers a fantastic 360 degree view of the valley and there is a man ploughing his field with a couple of cows who wear the most ingenious headgear to protect them from the impact of the plough:

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For more photos of this chapter, including a whole series on the ploughing cows, click here


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Tetouan

Through a friend of a friend in Cardiff, we have contact with a family in Tetouan.

We don’t have a Moroccan SIM yet and our European phone deal doesn’t include Morocco, so communications are a bit difficult. We have instructions to meet at a Total garage at the entrance of the city, but I think we enter the city on a different road, in any case, by the time we find a Total Garage, we are already late and it’s the wrong one. We get re-directed and after circumnavigating the city during rush hour, we find our proper destination about 45minutes later than expected. An added complication is that my computer has been damaged by a faulty inverter in Emma, so now it doesn’t switch on without being plugged in (and then it does so of its own accord!) Eventually, somehow we manage to get in touch with Khalid and he comes once more to the Garage where he’d been waiting for us an hour previously and together we drive to the outskirts of Tetouan to visit his family.

 

You see these suburbs a lot in Morocco, they look like a lot of one, two or three-storey concrete and breeze block buildings, half finished as if a company has suddenly gone bust in the middle of a project. People move into the concrete shell of a building and continue to finish it off, each to their own financial ability. Today, we have a chance for deeper insight into one of these estates. All eyes are on us as we walk through the streets, many children playing in the dusty road, men standing on the corners and women in the doorways. We feel safe in the company of Khalid, who talks with people right and left, probably explaining that we are visitors from Europe. We walk down a few streets until we get to a large garage door in one of the houses. Khalid opens it and we are in what might have been designed as a car mechanic’s garage – a room of about 8x10mtrs, the ceiling at least 5 mtrs high, concrete walls and pillars. A living area is arranged in the midst of piled up furniture and television sets (someone in the family is obviously dealing with furniture). It is as cold outside as it is inside, there is no sign of any heating other than a gas cooker on which a Tagine is quietly bubbling away. We spend the evening with Khalid, his mother and brother, none of whom speak any of the languages we are more fluent in, so it’s our first real exposure to Arabic. We use Google translate and hands and feet to communicate, plus a lot of just speaking to each other through the eyes, from heart to heart. They insist that we stay for dinner, a delicious Tagine with Chicken (probably the one chicken they will have this week). Despite the cold in the room, there is such warmth of feeling.

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The next day, Khalid takes us on a tour of the old Souk (the Moroccan word for Market) of Tetuan, a maze of small streets and alleyways, with different trade quarters, food, carpentry, leather, knick-knacks, metal work, hardware etc. Check out our photos (and we took a lot in this colourful Souk), it is a very charming city.

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It seems to me that people try to dull their beauty by wrapping themselves in things. I have a conversation about this with my daughter who thinks I should be more open-minded and less Eurocentric about it and that there might be a different perspective on beauty. She is right, I should try and put myself into the shoes (or rather clothes) of the people here before coming to any quick conclusions…

On our way back from the Souk, we find a Maroc Telecom office where a very friendly man, switching effortlessly between French and English, spends near on two hours setting us up with Moroccan SIMs.

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On our way out of Tetouan into the Olive groves, I reflect on the visit to Khalid’s family. Five sons, two daughters, not sure if the father is in the picture… the sons, one a builder, one in a car wash, a third ina  textile factory, a fourth a mechanic, another one far away, while the mother looks after the home. Some of the sons have moved far away in search of a livelihood but are nevertheless very much involved in keeping the family afloat. The oldest son seems to have taken on a father figure for the family; although physically absent during our visit, he is very present, constantly sending messages and phoning his brothers to see how our visit is progressing, giving instructions to his brothers and probably to see if everybody is safe and well. It must be a highly unusual occurrence in this estate to have visitors from Europe.

The sons talk of the hardship in their lives, but also tell us with pride that they have not got involved in dodgy dealings, drug trafficking, stealing etc, no matter how difficult life is. I have a great respect for this. The hash trade is rife in this area and must be a huge temptation for the younger generation. I wonder what part religion plays in this country to give people a moral sense of those boundaries. Of course, while social circumstances can deprive you of many things, honesty and your own personal sense of honour, dignity etc. are treasures that no-one can take away from you.

 

 

For more photos of this chapter (Tetouan’s Souq is described as one of the most beautiful in the whole of Morocco!), click here


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La Ferma

For those who don’t know about it, there is an App called Park4Night, an online hub for travelling folks which, with the help of google maps, indicates spots where it is nice/safe to park for a night.

As always, these apps have their drawbacks… one being that putting a nice spot on the map may mean that it will be completely swamped with campers from then on, possibly resulting in the authorities stepping in and forbidding overnight stays. It may also  mean that you drive past another spot you may have discovered yourself, had your mind not been trained on finding the one on the App.

But in general, Park4night has been good for us. It has taken some of the stress out of travelling. If you know you have to find a spot by 6pm or you’ll be searching in the dark, it’s good to know that if you don’t find something yourself, there’s always the one on the App.

This is how we find La Ferma, a campsite at Cabo Negro, an easy drive from Tangier Med eastwards along the coast. Surrounded by newly built holiday complexes lie six hectares of land, owned by an idiosyncratic Frenchman, an artist with a penchant for nature and horse riding. He’s called Frank, so for the duration of our stay there, our Frank gets renamed François. Frank leans over the counter, talking to you, meanwhile drawing a picture upside down for him (right way up for you), incorporating something you have told him about yourself. So ‘François’ gets a picture of a clown and for me he draws a moroccan-style pair of Tango dancers. I’m going to post this photo in the way he drew it for me, so you’ll see it from his point of view. What contortion is going on in this man’s mind while he draws upside down???

I wonder what it must feel like, having started this farm a few decades ago in the middle of nowhere and now slowly being engulfed by apartment complexes, to the extent that they cut off the view to the sea and the mountains, with precious little space in between to go for rides etc. But Frank has other worries. His wife is very ill with Alzheimers. Really, he is on the point of selling up to spend more time with her. If he sold to the apartment complex brigade, he’d probably get a lot of money for his piece of land…

La Ferma is a good first stop in Morocco, a bit of time to gradually acclimatise, some nature around you and very friendly, helpful people. It also has a very good restaurant offering genuine Moroccan dishes, and you can go for horse rides:

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On the morning of our departure we get talking to four young people who arrived in two smaller campervans late last night. They are on their way back to the ferry, having had a month in Morocco, surfing and exploring the desert. We spend a while chatting. I like the interior design of one of the vans, hand made by the owners, ex-Steiner pupils on their gap year:

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They are a bit sad that their time in Morocco has come to an end, but looking forward to returning to their families for Christmas.

It is great to see young people taking initiative, kitting out a campervan and organising a trip. These two are off backpacking in South America next before heading into their respective studies. Everything you learn in University will have a different meaning having first acquired a wider horizon through travelling.

For a couple more photos of the Young Ones, click this link

 


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