Day 102: June 22, 2018
I stayed up a bit too late reading then woke up around 3:30 am from a bad dream. We woke up at 7:30 am and went down for breakfast. We had boiled eggs, crepes, bread and fresh orange juice. The waiter always had a smile on his face and he had been nice enough to arrange to bring the food up to our room when Danny was sick. We all paid into a tipping kitty at the beginning of the trip, but we tipped him a bit more.
At 9:00 am we boarded the bus and drove through the desert passing small oasis towns. We drove passed the largest silver mine in Africa. It uses water from a local village which has caused drought for the residents. They come to the main road quite often to protest. The company was previously owned by the French, but is now owned by the royal family. The company’s representative claims they employ many villagers, who say this is not true.
The previous king had an absolute monarchy and ruled until 1999. There were two coup d’états, one in 1971 and one in 1972. Due to this, 39 military officials were placed in a secret prison with cells only 1 m x 1 m. They spent 18 years inside with only five surviving. An American woman married to one of the prisoners came looking for her husband. After 20 years she found a local who told her where she could see a guard tower. She saw it and was sure her husband was there. With the help of the American government, the prisoners were freed. The current king ordered reconciliation payments to the families. Moroccan prisons have change, but are still not a place you want to be due to overcrowding.
We stopped in the Valley of Roses where 800 tons of rose petals are harvested every April. They are used to make rose water and put in cosmetics. There were some vendors selling different jewellery. Moroccans are very superstitious, especially the women. Babies, pregnant women and brides are adorned with jewellery shaped like a hand which is the Hand of Fatima, who was the daughter of the prophet Mohammed. It is believed to defend against the evil eye. In small villages there are still witch doctors. People go to them for revenge mostly. The witch doctor will make odd requests like take a piece of glass from a car accident, bring me the underwear of the person you want to curse or collect the dead skin from the person you want revenge on.
We saw Cinema Studio Atlas, a film studio set up in the desert that has been operating since 1957. It has produced such films as Gladiator, The Mummy and Black Hawk Down were filmed there. We stopped for lunch nearby. Danny and I shared a very nice Moroccan soup (harira) and a Margherita pizza. We continued driving to our hotel right near Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We rested for a bit then met up at 6:30 pm to walk over to the kasbah or fortress. It held a community’s important goods and the chief lived inside. There were 35 tribes in Morocco before the French arrived. This kasbah was built in the 18th century and had a collective granary at the top. It was an important stop for caravans travelling from Sudan to Marrakech to trade. There are currently only 4 or 5 families living inside. Most have moved to more modern homes. A lady on our way up invited us inside her home. We saw how they lit the fireplace under the bath for heat. We also saw how they grind grains. We walked up to their terrace which had a very nice view.
We continued our walk to the top for a view of the houses below and the Atlas Mountains. Yassine said that not much money is put into preserving the site.
We visited a local artist who was making paintings of Ait Ben Haddou and the desert. He used sugar and tea for a dark colour, saffron for yellow and indigo for blue. It didn’t look that great until he burned it slightly and the colours popped out.
We walked back to the hotel and had a tajine cooking class. Everything was prepared and all we had to do was throw it in the tajine. Chicken with red onions was added first. Then 1/2 tsp each of garlic, pepper, salt, cumin, sweet paprika, turmeric, ginger and parsley. Then two dashes of olive oil were placed on top. It was cooked on low for 10 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through and adding a bit of water. Then we added the veggies: potatoes, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes and olives. We added five tablespoons of water around and then let it cook for 45 minutes more. Our tajines turned out pretty well and we very much enjoyed eating them.
Day 103: June 23, 2018
We woke up and had breakfast: crepes, bread and boiled eggs. Danny’s stomach wasn’t feeling very good again. We hopped on the bus and drove through the high Atlas Mountains. We went through the highest driveable mountains pass in Africa at 2,260 m.
We stopped at an argan oil cooperative where many women work. They are typically divorcees and single mothers. In society, they are looked down on. Families disown them as they have brought shame to the family. The child from a single mother is unable to get a birth certificate without the father there. A German association is helping to legally go after the fathers so the children can get documentation. Many of the children end up as street children or in child labour as they are unable to go to school. Child labour is illegal in Morocco.
Many babies are kidnaped for use by professional beggars or treasure hunters. There are over 300,000 professional beggars in Morocco. In the 10th-13th centuries people buried their treasures. It is believed they are protected by spirits. To protect you from the supernatural you need to bring a baby. You cut the hand of the baby to decode the spell to find the buried treasure. It is illegal in Morocco, but still done. Metal detectors are also illegal.
The argan tree is native to the Atlantic Ocean region of Morocco. At the cooperative, we saw the women cracking the nuts with rocks. We were able to taste the roasted nut which had a very odd after taste. Another woman was grinding the nuts into paste. We tasted the oil, nut butter and honey made from the argan.
We continued our drive into Marrakech and arrived at our hotel. We had lunch across the street. I had spinach ravioli. Mmm.
We then drove to the Marrakech kasbah. Our first stop was the Saadian tombs which hosts 170 tombs for the royal family. There are three rooms: one for the sultans, one for his wives and one for their children. People are placed in the tombs on their sides facing Mecca. The Saadian family ruled for three centuries. In 1659, the Alaouite dynasty took over of which the current king is a part.
We moved on to the Jewish quarter established in the 16th century. Jews originally settled in Fez, but when it became overcrowded a Jewish quarter was created in Marrakech.
We walked on to Palace Bahia which was built in 1894 by a grand vizier of the sultan, who named it after his favourite wife. His favourite wife had given him his first son. The palace is sometimes still used by relatives of the current king. We visited the administrative section first. The palace is of Moorish design: ceilings of painted cedar wood, stucco walls and tile floors. At that time, there were no chairs just mats and rugs. People would lounge so the roofs were very ornate.
Next was the family section with four rooms: one for each of his official wives. They would all have been of high birth and were married for life. A separate courtyard had eight rooms for the unofficial wives. They needed to be very beautiful: young (12-20 years old) and obese. They were for fun and pleasure. In Southern Morocco it is still believed a larger woman is more beautiful. Some families force feed their daughters for marriage. If they have money, they may send their daughter to a fattening farm. The daily diet would include two cups of butter, twenty litres of milk and two kilograms of couscous.
The next section was the private apartment, where there was food, belly dancing, music and sex with a different wife every night. Outside, five unichs would be waiting on a wooden platform. Four would sit and one would march, deliberately noisy, so the master would know they were awake and ready to serve him.
Our tour ended in the main square of Marrakech where there were many vendors, snake charmers and men with monkeys. It was a very large square with restaurants all around.
We were given free time so we walked into the medina. Danny and I walked in a straight line to ensure we didn’t get lost. It kept going forever. I bartered for some leather shoes. Some vendors didn’t like my low balling and just walked away. The prices went up to 380 Durhams. I paid 100 Durhams and I think I overpaid a bit. The market was much more chill than the ones in Egypt. In Egypt, the vendors would follow you and were just generally annoying. In Morocco, they mostly left you alone.
We met some others from our group and went on a horse carriage ride around town. It was nice, but we mostly just saw hotels. We took a taxi back to the hotel from the main square.
Danny wasn’t feeling well so he had a nap before we met everyone for supper at 8:00 pm. We walked about 10 minutes to a fancy restaurant. The food took a long time and we were getting very tired. Danny and I shared a pizza and salad although he didn’t eat much. We got back to the hotel and said our goodbyes. We weren’t as tight with this group as the one in Egypt, but we really enjoyed them. We went to bed right away to be ready for an early wake up.
Day 104: June 24, 2018
We woke up at 4:15 am for our taxi ride to the airport at 4:45 am. Yassine was nice enough to arrange the ride. It only took 15 minutes. We checked in then went through security. The domestic portion was very small.
There was only time for a 20 minute nap on the 45 minute flight from Marrakech to Casablanca. We had a two hour layover then boarded another 45 minute flight to Tanger. We were told to fill out a landing card even though we came domestically then the officers were confused.
We got through the airport and went outside. There was no one really hassling us for a cab as it seemed there was a set price to get to certain places. Our driver wasn’t sure where we were going, but others helped him figure it out based on our map. I had remembered to download an offline map and pin our Airbnb location in GoogleMaps.
We arrived at the location and the driver let us use his phone to call our host. The number didn’t seem to work so we told him he could leave us there. We went into a restaurant and used their wifi to message the host. We were freaking out a bit because the address only said the road name and the phone number wasn’t working. The host replied, but then we couldn’t find her. Finally we found the apartment and Danny got the keys.
We relaxed a bit then went walking to where GoogleMaps said there was a supermarket. It may have been closed or may not have existed. We did find a small store to buy water, yogurt and bananas.
Walking around as a minority is different. I’m not sure if we were looked at because I had no scarf on my head or if it was just because we were the only white people there. All the other places in Morocco I didn’t notice it that much, but we were usually with a group and in more touristy areas. I had also read not great things about the safety of Tanger so I think I was more on edge as well. Being glanced at does make you feel uncomfortable even when nothing is meant by it.
We went to a cafe for supper, but the waiter didn’t speak English and my French is not very good. We ordered orange juice, but they didn’t seem to have food. We walked back to the place we had used wifi to message our host and ordered pizzas which were all right. We went back to our Airbnb and I FaceTimed a friend before bed.
Our Airbnb host had recommended a cab driver to take us to the port in the morning. Danny sent him a message on WhatsApp and he sent voice recordings back which were cute. He said to speak instead. I guess his reading and writing of English weren’t too great, but his speaking and listening were better. He agreed to pick us up at at 6:00 am Moroccan time to drive us to the port to catch our ferry to Spain. Danny confirmed, “6:00 sharp.” And he replied, “Yes, 6:00 Moroccan time”. Danny got off the phone concerned that Moroccan time was similar to Nepali time. We will see what happens.
Day 105: June 25, 2018
We haven’t been feeling so great the last couple of days. Both of us are feeling homesick. Being somewhere different, then being on tour with only restaurant food is tiring. We are looking forward to cooking our own food and relaxing a bit. We knew this portion of the trip would be draining as the tours were fast paced and the cultures very different. It was all exciting, but I’m looking forward to being somewhere more familiar. We are starting to wonder how we will do in Asia and if we will get tired there.
We were up at 5:15 am to pack and eat a small breakfast. We were outside ten minutes early and our driver showed up five minutes early. When he arrived he said, “6:00 am” and we said, “Yes, 6:00 Moroccan time” and laughed.
He drove us along the coast and pointed out the fancy hotels and best places for coffee. He was quite chatty on the 50 minute drive to Tanger Med. He offered us a couple of items for free, but we just said no. He was very nice.
At the departures we were pointed in the right direction by random people which was very helpful. We had booked a 9:00 am ferry, but it wasn’t leaving until 9:30 am. It wasn’t busy at all at the port. We went through security and customs and were still two hours early. We sat in the waiting hall. A kitty came in and sat behind us. Danny played with her using his broken phone cord. Every time the cleaning lady appeared the kitty would run back outside. Obviously they had a history.
Around 9:00 am we boarded a bus and were driven to the ferry. We could see large ships being loaded with freight. We sat for a bit inside the ferry and had I napped until we left at 9:30 am. We went outside to say goodbye to Africa. The ferry only took euros so we weren’t able to use the rest of our durhams. We stood at the back of the ferry and I actually had to put my sweater on for the first time in a month.
It was very foggy over Tanger. We started to see Europe and were in the middle of the two continents which was pretty cool. It’s crazy how close they are at that point. There were lots of ships. We docked in Algeciras which was even busier than Tanger. My dad would have loved watching all the ships.
It took awhile to get through customs. We arrived at 11:30 am Moroccan time, but quickly realized that Spain is an hour ahead. This may have been why the taxi driver kept repeating, “6:00 am Moroccan time”. This also meant we might not make it to pick up our rental car before the place closed at 1:00 pm. We tried calling, but there was no answer. At 12:50 pm we started our 15 minute walk to the car rental place. Luckily, we got there and someone had delayed the lady from leaving. We were able to get our car and be on our way.
We followed GoogleMaps to a grocery store, but parked in front of a market. We bought meat and veggies there. I squeezed a fig at one of the booths and was scolded. I ended up buying two because I felt guilty. We messaged our Airbnb host, but weren’t able to check in until 4:30 pm. We drove out to the beach and walked for a bit toward Gibraltar then sat on the beach.
Our host’s daughter met us and we took our things to our room. We had major trouble booking a place near Gibraltar. We were cancelled on twice. We ended up booking a shared place in the Spanish town next to Gibraltar. We usually book the entire place to ourselves because we aren’t very social.
We drove to go into Gibraltar, but ended up in a parking lot. I wasn’t sure where to go and I knew Danny was going to ask so I threw the paper and said, “I can’t do this”. I was just overwhelmed and so overtired. We sat while I calmed down.
We drove to a place to eat, but nothing was open until 7:00 pm. We found one place opening at 6:30 pm so we waited outside for 15 minutes. The staff showed up and we were let in. They were super quick with our food which was awesome. It was delicious Indian food. We drove back to our Airbnb and booked the rest of the places to stay in Spain then went to sleep.
We loved learning about the good and bad of Morocco. The architecture was very beautiful and the food was spectacular. We are excited to be back in Europe to more familiarity. Danny has planned a road trip through Spain to Portugal and then back into Spain to end in Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls.