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?|