Beldi (not for the faint-hearted!)

Beldi is the word for free range. We’ve been on the look-out for a beldi chicken for some time, so when we come through Alnif, we stop at the souq to try our luck again.

We ask at the first chicken shop, but he only has the white variety. He leaves his shop to help us find a brown one with a happy past. Everywhere we ask, we get funny looks, as if it’s a really crazy idea to want a Beldi chicken. Finally, on the edge of the souq, by a dusty road, we find our man. On a tarpaulin, he has a whole lot of second hand clothes spread out (none of the things we gave the women yesterday are to be seen, thankfully), and by the side of his second hand store, there is a box full of live chickens, plus a cockerel and a fat hen ducking into the dust beside it. Our young guide haggles with him on our behalf for a while until we agree the price of 80dh for the fat hen, including getting her killed, plucked and otherwise made ready. I’m not quite sure how he’s going to do this, but he tells us it will take about 20 minutes. We agree and he goes off, so Frank follows him as we have already handed over the cash. Meanwhile, I watch his second hand stall.

Several people come by and I tell them to return in a little while. One woman stops and chats with me. Eventually, the men return, we take the chicken with us and as we say good-bye, I ask the guy for 20 dh for having watched over his stall. For one moment his face shows pure shock, but then he realises I’m just joking and he thinks it’s really funny.

We look forward to a Beldi chicken tajine. However, this chicken is the toughest thing we ever met. Two hours of cooking is not enough, so the next day it gets re-cooked in a stew, and the day after once more in a soup. We did eventually eat it, thinking about the fact that it lost its life specifically for us, so we just can’t not consume it, but maybe that’s the reason why everyone looked at us as if we were mad. Those white, fast-growing chickens are probably a whole lot more tender!

Generally the meat here is very good quality, and I think this is the reason for me needing to eat less and less of it.

The next part of the journey takes us through an impressive landscape of stony plateaux and black mountain ranges with rugged edges.

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As the sun goes down, Frank and I discuss where to stop for the night. We like wild camping, and there is absolutely no safety issue about this down here in the South of Morocco. We’ve rarely felt so safe anywhere else in Europe. But we are urgently in need of a really quiet time, somewhere we can be sure not to end up receiving another string of visitors, so we turn into a camp site. Besides, one of Emma’s windows seems to have lost a part in the winding mechanism and we cannot wind it back up again. The ‘camp site’ is just a graveled courtyard by the side of a hotel complex, but that suits us fine right now, it’s secure and quiet and we’re the only ones. They are happy for us to make our bbq outside the van, and so we sit there in the fading light, enjoying that for once, no-one, not even the hotel staff, is looking after our well-being.

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The next day, we stay holed up there while a Big Ralley is thundering past – huge lorries that are in a terrible rush to get somewhere, overtaking and cutting in. What a way not to experience this landscape!

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