Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Morocco: Marakesh, Azrou, Fez, Casablanca

I love North Africa. I know its not too fair on the 200 million people who live there to lump them all in to one, but the vibe I get when I go there is amazing, and I absolutely love it. Being in bustling markets, quiet mountain villages or arid landscapes in the generally dry and hot conditions of these places is probably the places I most want to be right now (ignoring the fact I am at work at the list of places I would rather be is very very long). Morocco was no exception. From the moment I hit the airport... no, from the moment I boarded the plane in Madrid to go to Casablanca with the Muslim folk and Arabic being spoken, I got excited. Enough talk:


Marrakech: After meeting my travelling companion (Fi from Cairo) we took a train straight to Marrakech, with a quick train transfer and cheese toasty on the way. Marrakesh is a pretty cool city, and I was pleased to find it was stilll very real and raw even though it is so touristy. We stayed in a nice (£8 a nice for a double room) hotel which a friendly tout introduced me too. I was lucky in that Fi had no time for touts, which nicely balances my naivety in following them all. They are still people, and local people at that, so it was good following this guy to the hotel. We spent a few days in here, did some exploring, eventually found some shisha and generally just relaxed. This was not going to be a stressful trip.

Our nut and date guy.

A few days later we took a bus to Khenifra then a Grand Taxi (That's French for Big Taxi.. I am so cultured) to Azrou. The bus ride took us past some really diverse scenery: deserts (almost), olive groves, wheat fields, sun sets on rolling hills with villages and scattered trees and sheep.. pretty much everything. In Khenifra we discovered a really good feed and a Taxi. The Taxi ride itself was an adventure... long story short: we stopped in the dark and the middle of nowhere and the driver demanded more cash, but it all ended nicely when we swapped hats and he asked to stay at our hotel. I love to travel.

View from the Middle Atlas mountains near 'Ain Leuh, near Azrou.

The Taxi took us to Azrou. Azrou is a small berber mountain town famous for its carpets (I actually almost bought one...). We had an amazing day here: starting at a massive local market, then a walk up some mountains for some stunning views (above), sifting through an village and seeing a real snake charmer entertaining a big crowd of locals, finished with a tasty Tangine (Lamb of course.. dads is still the best though). Best day ever.

Fez city wall with some people selling there wares.

From Azrou to Féz. Spent three nights in Fez drinking mint tea, exploring the crazy medina, enjoying sweet views over the city, sampling as much street meat as I could and generally enjoying the heat. Less words and more pictures this time as I actually have some photos (my camera broke in Marrakech, so I stole Fi's for a bit, Fez was my turn).

Some dude posing in front of the court yard leading to the Royal Palaces massive brass doors.

One of the best parts of any Moroccan city is the Medina. The narrow winding streets with local kids running around, food sold in every second shop, street meat vendors and elaborately carved doors at every turn. I love North African towns and Islamic Art, the mosaics and geometric patterns (even on the footpaths) and hard not to appreciate.

Fez Median by night.

From Fez to Casablanca (Casa to us locals). Just one night and one day here before flying home. We spent most of our time checking out the Grand Mosque, which is the 3rd largest in the world and holds 25,000 people (80,000 incl. outside standing). It was pretty big.

Me with my new favourite door.

Casablanca had a very colonial French vibe, but was still a very real city. With people sifting about and the usual tasty city smells (and street meat... kind of... not the kind where a dude just puts a BBQ on the side of the road and put meats in bread for you... but still, a kind of street meat).

Casa street market with the Grand Mosque.

So that was a quick run down on my little trip to Morocco. It was a little unsettling to learn we could get a visa for Mauritania and the border... had I not committed to working (and needed the money) I would have been very very very tempted to sneak on down there... and perhaps on to Senegal.. then... Oh how I love to dream. Mark my words: I will return to North Africa, and for far more than a week.

Next stop: Budapest for a long weekend... in 4 sleeps! Life is indeed sweet.