Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Beasts of burden

As we continue our journey out towards the far eastern border of Morocco and the much romanticised golden rolling seas of the Merzouga dunes, our lips begin to dry. The roads are beginning to get dustier and rougher and by the time we reach Rissani, one of the last towns before the endless sands of the Sahara, we can only pronounce half the letters in the alphabet (slight exaggeration).

I don't want to paint a cliched picture of this country, you really can find modern cities, beautiful architecture, thriving businesses and all the modern accessories you'll ever need but man when you drive into a place like Rissani you know you're in Morocco. It's arid, rugged, grubby and raw. The streets are disorganised and noisy, motorbikes and bicycles duck in and out of the people, the animals and the old vans and trucks that have made the journey into town from the smaller villages scattered near by and deeper into the desert. Sophia and I can't stop smiling, this place is real!

Apart from being your last stop to buy a chapstick, Rissani is also famous for its animal markets. In usual Sophia fashion, within 5 minutes of getting out of the car she has made a friend. In we go to the fresh produce markets first. If you've ever been amazed by the colours of piled spices in a Moroccan city souk, they're even more impressive set amongst the monochromatic backgrounds of the dusty desert markets. Trying to not be even bigger tourists than we already look like we made a conscious effort to not walk around with cameras glued to our eyes, instead waiting for the right moments which usually followed some sort of spontaneous and unpredictable exchange.

I could hear Sophia and our new mate deep in a conversation I couldn't understand until Sophia turned to me and said that we were off to see the animals. As we wandered through and she patted, kissed and talked to every animal in the market, even I could see that Sophia had obviously missed a bit of  the last conversation, to her it was heaven, she was in a giant pet shop. 

In Morocco animals are beasts of burden, they are necessary for transport, for farming, for eating and most importantly for survival but it's still hard to look tonight's tagine straight in the eye instead of through the tight thin plastic wrapping of a supermarket. So that's what it's like round here and the meat is fresh, as fresh as you can get.


Soph tries a new spice mix.

Look at those colours!

The neutral palette.

Our new mate and local legend.

Couscous or tagine?

The blow-ins.

Tweaking it.

Patting it.

Parking it.

Chopping it.

Pin It

Sunday, 9 September 2012


There are no shortcuts to the deserts that run down eastern Morocco along the Algerian border. I believe there is a small airport in a remote town called Errachidia but you certainly aren't going to find a low-cost airline that flies there which basically leaves you with two options, a full days drive from Fez or an even longer drive from Marrakech.

We felt that a driver/guide was the right way to go on our desert trip so that we could make best possible use of our time and see the most during our visit but it wasn't too far into our journey that we realised that, as that map had shown, there really was only one road all the way out there, pretty hard to get lost!

While our driver cranked out a selection of music from different regions of Morocco (and continually turned the air conditioning off each time he though we weren't looking) we passed through beautiful ever changing landscapes and towns. Ifrane was a town that caught our eye a few hours out of Fez. Also known as Little Switzerland, Ifrane is a summer resort/winter ski town filled with red-roofed, Swiss-style chalets laid out amongst gardens and tree lined streets, not a common sight in this country.

 A few more hours down the (same) road and it was the scatter of dark nomadic tents that captured our attention. Sophia was determined to go in for a closer inspection but I must admit that as we strolled out across the grassy plain I was a bit nervous, apart from the fact that neither one of us could speak Berber, how were we going to explain what we were doing knocking on their tent flaps?

Halfway out with 200 metres to go we were spotted, my pace slowed. I could now see the other family members beginning to gather out the front of the tent, I could feel my speed slowing again. A line of waving hands quickly went up, a spring was instantly injected back into my step. 

What an amazing family. Being there wasn't at all awkward or uncomfortable. We spent an hour with them simply hanging out and trading smiles before they walked us back to the road and we were again on our way desert bound.

The Nomadic plains.

Sophia with her new friends.

Smiles all round.
And Soph met a monkey...

Pin It