I wake up early in the morning. This whole thing of giving and receiving has been going round my head all night. I don’t think it’s very healthy for the people here, no matter how poor they are, to be asking and randomly receiving stuff from foreigners. We play a part in this as well, and I don’t want to be encouraging this kind of dynamic. Of course I’d love to give something, but not like this. Frank is still asleep and I’m hatching a plan…
I’d like us to inspire the kids to make their own balls from stuff that they have available to them. We could show them how to sew a ball, to fill it with grains or beans and then show them how to juggle. If we did this in a school, we might make it a little project in French or English, depending on what language they are studying, and use the time to communicate with each other and get to know each other.
Frank wakes up, and together we spin this idea a bit further. By the time the sun is up and it’s school time, we are ready.
The boy comes past, offering us some hand woven cushion covers, probably hand-made by his mother, however, we are more interested in meeting his teachers.
There are three teachers and they arrive together in a car from Khenifra, closely followed by a mini-bus full of children.
We start talking to the teachers, explaining our idea. The teacher stops us in our tracks. The problem is, you can’t just come into the school, you’ll have to found a charity, and then we need to ask for permission from the state, but yes, let’s stay in contact per email and we’ll see what we can do for next year. I see our idea belly-flopping, but Frank continues to talk, explaining that we are just passing by, not sure what will happen next year, we are here now to meet and exchange ideas.
He likes where our idea comes from, he also doesn’t think it a good thing if the children get in the habit of asking strangers for gifts. Eventually he says, come and have a look at the school, and for the second time in 4 days, we’ve managed to short-circuit the correct procedures for getting inside a school. We witness a lovely, lively Arabic lesson from a very passionate teacher (he is very proud to say that some of his students from this very remote community have gone on to University). We communicate with the children and Frank eases his way into drawing onto the blackboard the items needed to make a ball oneself. Using his clowning skills, he mimes throwing a ball to the children, getting them involved. The teacher is hooked too and we have free reign for a few minutes. We present our idea to the children, complete with where it came from, and we thank the young boy for having inspired us, by asking for a ball.
By the time we leave it is break time, and the teachers invite us to the staff room for tea, a cosily decorated space near the school (they leave the kids to their own devices during break time). Tea turns out to be a very tasty meal, prepared by the bus driver who doubles up as a more than competent cook. We check today’s route with him (a policeman had already described it as la misère, but we wanted a second opinion), and he convinces us to return to Khenifra rather than attempting the treacherous mountain route, which we had our sights on. Rather grudgingly we heed his advice and wend our way through the forest and beautiful valley all the way back to Khenifra.
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One valley further on, a young man is running across the fields to hitch a lift with us, leaving his sheep behind. He lives in the next village, and on the way he tells us (this conversation is by far the hardest one to understand yet, maybe he spoke Tamazirgh, the local Berber language) that the lake is beautiful, that it’s safe to stay there, and many other things too, which I don’t understand. We pass a few nomad encampments, wooden structures wrapped on the outside with plastic, often bits taken from large advertising hoardings. One such house is completely wrapped in a Maroc Telecom advert, another in a car safety advert. The road peters out and our passenger hops out and leaves us to our own devices, after having led us up a cul-de-sac. We get out and decide to have a cup of tea at the one of the outdoor cafés, leaving the problem of how to turn around til later.
Two cyclists pass by. They must have worked hard to get here, it’s quite high up in the mountains, so we call out in different languages to invite them for a cuppa and it turns out they’re English. We sit together for a while, sharing stories and admiring their energy to be crossing this country on bikes. They are heading for Merzougha, so quite possibly we’ll bump into them again.
There is a Berber village by the lake. We chat to several families and are invited into their homes. They may look pretty stark on the outside, but inside, these houses are warm (a stove is chucking out heat), clean and spacious, with kitchen utensils neatly hung away on the wall and the carpets all brushed. In one, a young woman is sitting by a loom, weaving and knot-tying a carpet, her young son hiding behind the threads.
The older son is sent to get water with the donkey. Rather than leading it, he decides to ride down to the well but the donkey won’t have any of it and chucks him and the empty canisters off and scarpers over the brow of the hill, leaving the boy to run after him. The husband/father stands by the entrance of the house, looking at his family proudly and fondly, and watching over our visit.
As the sun starts to set, we return from the lake back through the forest to a large clearing where we find the police station that we were told about, opposite a tiny school. There are no other houses right there, but we spot a number of scattered Tamazirgh encampments in the distance on the edge of the forest.
We arrive just in time for sunset. There are a number of people sitting by the road or further away, watching the sun go down. It is as if work stops for that moment. Eventually they rise and disappear. A young boy lingers by the van, leaning on his bicycle. We get talking and he is happy to practice his French. We chat for a few minutes, asking about his family and his school, and then he says good bye and is off home across the hill.
Night settles in with a beautiful starlit firmament. There is no light pollution up here and the night skies are to die for. We go out and search for all the constellations we know. It takes us a while to find the polar star as it’s quite a bit further down than I am used to. A slow shooting star makes a majestic arch across a quarter of the sky. It’s been a long day and we’re off to sleep by 8pm.
A loud knock pulls us both out of deep sleep. Frank answers the door to find the boy from the afternoon, wrapped tightly in jacket, scarf and hat. Wordlessly, he hands a basket to Frank, containing a little metal pot with chicken soup in it. We thank him and give him a jar of marmalade to give to his mother in return. Just as Frank is closing the door, the boy says donne-moi un ballon. We don’t want to give our only ball away, so Frank gives him a pen instead and he seems happy.
For more photos of this chapter, click here
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We leave the farm mid-afternoon, winding our way back up this beautiful valley. It often seems like the mountains in Morocco go down into the earth; you’re driving along on a plain, often quite arid, and then suddenly the road drops down into a lush valley and it’s quite mountainous (which makes me think that this landscape was carved out by huge rivers a long time ago). After half a dozen hairpin bends, we’re back up on the arid plain. A few hundred yards more and the valley is hidden from sight – our three days there slip away into memory like a dream that you try to hold onto upon waking.
Our next stop is Khenifra, some 70km further South. We stop on the outskirts and it’s my turn to lie down not feeling well, while Frank goes shopping. Maybe it wasn’t the figs after all…
Suddenly there’s a knock on the door. Two smiling policemen on motorbikes are outside. Do you want to stay here for the night? Don’t stay in this car park, come and park outside our station, you will be safer there. When we arrive, there isn’t a lot of space, but somehow they manouvre us into a tight spot. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be a quiet night here, but I really need to lie down, so I don’t care. We may well have caught Morocco belly somewhere – whatever it is, I’m feverishly tossing and turning all night and the outside noises mix and mingle with half waking dreams. A group of people wrapped in shawls and Djellabas stand outside our van for hours, talking loudly. Maybe one of their family is in police custody? At 4am there is a veritable concert of Muezzins calling the faithful to prayer. I seem to hear 8 separate voices in my fevered state. At 7am, however, I wake up feeling much better, in fact I feel like the fever has cleared not only my illness but some other stuff too. Somehow this morning, I feel more part of Morocco, part of my surroundings.
It is really cold this morning, we have to scrape the ice off the windscreen before we can get going! We have decided on a smallish road into the mountains to a lake called Aguelmame Azigza (the Green Lake), after consulting with the police on the state of the road. We leave Khenifra at school rush hour – there are children everywhere, school transport sometimes consisting of an open-backed pick-up truck, fenced high, sometimes ‘double deckers’ (the kind of structure they also use to transport sheep), ram-packed with children, other times, mothers on donkeys with a child in front and one on the back, or children running across the fields, mud flying all directions, towards school. The road leads us up a very nice looking valley, some big houses, lush vegetation and many waterways. Then we reach the forest. First, there are evergreen oaks, and then we are back in the cedar forests. They are amazing, magical. There is a hue of frost on the ground and as we get higher, little drifts of snow too.
For a number of kilometres we don’t see any other vehicles and then, as we turn a corner, we see a plume of smoke by the side of a truck. Getting closer, we see a guy who’s lit a fire and is attempting to jack up his vehicle (a beautiful old Bedford, says Frank).
We stop to see if we can help. I look at the road – a long metallic scratch is leading all the way to where the truck is now leaning, nose first into the muddy ditch, and scanning the hillside, we see the wheel lying some 50 metres ahead, the tyre in perfect condition.
This brings back a memory… about 25 years ago, driving from Plymouth to Totnes at 50 miles an hour, suddenly the left hand front of my car dropped down to the road and ground its way on for another 30metres, while my wheel overtook me and hopped up the bank. It’s a horrible feeling, I remember it well. This happens if a wheel gets too tightly fixed to the axle. You are lucky that it was the left hand side, not the right hand side, I say, pointing to the hill dropping away from the road to the right. No, I’m fine, Allah looks after me, he says.
Some other people stop by, tumble out of cars, giving advice and, taking some of his produce to deliver to wherever, fold themselves back into their vehicles and disappear. We stay to help, offering our jack (first ever use – touch wood) and our spade. The man, Hussein, tries to refuse our help, but eventually gladly accepts. Is there any help coming? Oh yes, a friend will be with me in 15 minutes. We hang around and there is no sign of any friends, just further phone calls and ill-sounding people on the other end giving excuses as to why they can’t come and rescue him. But he’s relaxed. We share some Tea and Tangerines and try to communicate with the help of our dictionary, then Frank and Hussein go in search of wood for our stove, which they take turns in sawing up.
It’s a gorgeous morning and I sit in the sunshine and enjoy the silence up here. Eventually we move on, Hussein insisting that we should (two days later we pass by the same spot once more and the truck is gone, so someone must have helped out in the end).
For more picture of this beautiful ( 😉 )old Bedford, click here
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Frank and I have ground to a halt. Just as well, because today it’s been pouring with rain for most of the day (the locals are deliriously happy – it’s been a long, long time since they had rain like this!). Frank’s got indigestion due to having eaten a few too many figs that we bought by the roadside and he’s sleeping it off, while I’ve got ‘blog indigestion’ – the last days have been so intense that I feel the need to write, to digest, to sort out photos etc., before we head off into more adventures.
We also managed to use the wrong tap, filling our tank with murky river water, so we have to empty it and clean it out, which involves removing the bed and our several layers of dance floor, before we can get to the tank. While we’re at it, we give all Emma’s nooks and crannies a good dusting and sort through our food stocks.
One of the nice things about living in such a small space is that you can actually do your whole house from top to bottom in the space of a few hours! In the evening, we treat ourselves to dinner at the camp site’s restaurant.
The next morning is taken up by more admin and sorting, but by early afternoon, the sun is out again and we go for a walk…
It seems impossible to even just go for a stroll without running into another adventure. Adjoining to the farm is the local school (Tanafnite high school), and we start chatting to the kids who are waiting outside for their afternoon lessons. We ask to meet the English or the French teacher, and the kids introduce us to them. Would it be ok to visit the school, maybe look in on a lesson? Oh, no, this is not easy, we need to ask permission from the government and the headmaster is not here, this needs to be authorised from above…
However, we hang around a bit, so a few phone calls are made and we are allowed in, for one hour only. The class we are visiting has about 25 teenagers, a quarter of whom are girls. The class room is bare and cold, I can’t see any form of heating anywhere and the door is left wide open. Everyone just keeps their coats on. There is a lively attention for the lesson, most children are really engaged and even those who aren’t actively speaking out are still paying attention. They’ve only had 2 months of English lessons but they are firing off sentences about where they live, how old they are, what their favourite subjects are etc. The teacher has a lovely, energetic way of accompanying his words with gestures, so that even new words become clear. Later we have a bit of time to talk to him about the school. It is in a very rural setting, many of the children’s homes are far away so they have to board. The English teacher thinks it is partly due to the fact that they offer boarding that this school is so successful, with a much lower drop-out rate than usual. He leaves us with a comment that if there is anything we think might be useful for the school, they would be glad to receive it. We take an address. It would be nice to send a parcel from home one day, filled with books, so if you have any books that you think might interest a teenager from the countryside, with very basic knowledge of English, do keep them and we’ll collect and send them next summer. We’re looking for things that would relate to their world, not just to life in a city.
For more photos on this chapter, including some lovely shots of the peacocks at the farm where we stayed, click here
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The monkeys are very obliging, they come to check if we have food as soon as we arrive. It’s a family group of 7, with one top male looking after two females, a teenager and a baby, plus a couple of lesser males hovering about on the fringe. We catch some lovely photos in the evening sun. A local carpenter comes by with beautiful bowls he’s made from Cedar wood but we don’t have space in our van to take more things, so we politely decline and instead give him one of our fleeces to take home with him for his son, as well as a jar of Frank’s lemon marmalade for his wife. Rather than increasing our load, we decrease it
Another van arrives with two young Frenchmen. We get chatting and end up inviting them into the warmth of our Emma and later for a hot meal. They are not just on a physical but also a spiritual journey, aided by a French shamanic teacher as well as heavy use of hashish, to find themselves and their inner happiness. It looks like they have a long journey in front of them, as one carries a lot of sadness in him. They laugh as they describe their mode of travelling: when he feels a wave of sadness welling up – another knot releasing in his body – he goes to the back of the van and lets the tears flow while the other one drives on with his friend crying his heart out in the back.
It seems to me a good idea to stop ingesting so much dope if you are emotionally fragile, but what do I know…?
We are neighbours for a night. The next morning, Frank digs a hole for our compost and finds some incredibly tough oak, for our fire-wood stash, while I walk around amongst the magnificent centenary Cedars, taking in the feel of the forest.
There’s something slightly eerie about the place this morning, possibly helped by the fact that it is a grey day with a bitter wind. It feels as if the forest is preparing for something, maybe there will be a snowstorm. It feels like the trees know something I sure don’t, and they are talking to each other… I come across a small herd of sheep which passes by noiselessly, furtively disappearing into the forest as quickly as they came, and Frank spots a mysterious woman amongst the trees, deep in prayer, clad in black with golden tassles on her headscarf. By the time he gets the binoculars out she seems to have evaporated.
(We politely declined sharing our neighbour’s pipe. We are crazy enough to have these experiences while straight! I mean, just look at the picture, how the stones are all arranged at the foot of this cedar, sitting in rapt attention)
Our sad French friend is in the woods, hugging and dancing around a tree that spoke to him. The other one is doing some maintenance work on their van. He shows us their little oven, which is a really neat design for a small vehicle:
Suddenly, I have an urge to get away from here as soon as possible, so we pack our things, say good-bye to the monkeys with a few handfuls of peanuts (Frank gets clouted and hissed at by the Alpha male when he stretches out his hand to try and touch the back of the mother with child!) and we set off, waving to two other campervans who pass us on the way out of the forest, people we met on the camp site in Fes. I have spotted an organic farm on the map, some 50km away, which offers spaces for campers, so that’s where we head for next.
From Azrou in the direction of Khenifra, the road passes through very poor arid, rocky landscape. In the countryside lonely houses duck down against the rock, sheltering from the wind and the villages look windswept and forlorn. There are large barren areas, sometimes punctuated by the colorful murals of a school building. Somewhere in the middle of the stony landscape, we pass one that looks to me like some kind of harsh military school. I would not like us to get snowed in here. Luckily it isn’t snowing yet, although the rain has started in earnest. This must be a blessing for the parched land.
After some time, the landscape changes again and opens up to a fertile plain with large fields, all tilled and ready for the next season’s planting/sowing. Somewhere, we turn off left and after about 6km suddenly the road drops in a number of tight s-bends into a valley, lush with vegetation. When we get to the bottom, we carry on along the river for another kilometre before turning into the farm. It’s really bucketing down now, so we get thoroughly wet trying to find someone who will let us into the compound. Rain is probably so rare here that everyone just goes into hiding when it happens.
Eventually we are settled in and hooked up to electricity so I can continue with writing the blog. The stove is on and we listen to the, by now, slightly unfamiliar sound of rain drumming on our roof.
For more monkey and forest photos, click here
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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):
We start our day with a spot of Yoga in the car park
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!
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!
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.
for a series of photos of Ifrane’s Souq, click here
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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.
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.
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.
For more photos of houses in Ifrane, click here
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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.
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.
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???
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.
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.
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.
For all photos of this chapter, click here
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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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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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