Monday, 31 October 2011

More Marrakech and Chaotic Casablanca ….. Oct 2011

back in Marrakech in the square 06 – 09 October 2011

Marrakech the 2nd time around was so much more enjoyable.  We had managed to reserve rooms by email at the Jnane Mogador Riad, we had had this riad recommended but it had been full on our previous visit.  This time we had been lucky to get enough rooms and it was an excellent choice in just the best location, under 5 minutes walk down a pedestrian stall lined lane to the main square.  On arrival back in Marrakech from our Sahara trip, Mohammed our driver had called the riad and they gave him directions to the closet road access and sent their “bell boy” (rather more like old chap pulling a cart!!) to meet us and take our bags.  We checked in to our beautifully appointed rooms, and hit the town.jars of pickled everything  

This time the madness of Marrakech didn’t seem so overwhelming, we wandered around the square which just buzzes at night. We took time to stop and watch the different street performers dancing – from all different parts of Morocco and Africa - showing off their local musical instruments and talents.  We didn’t get too close to the snake charmers though, I definitely didn’t want a snake dangling around my neck!!  We dined on a balcony overlooking the square from above, slightly removed from the hustle and bustle but still feeling very much part of Morocco.small outdoor market within the souk, Marrakech

Next morning we found a square side cafe for breakfast then I went walk-about and found the souq (covered market place), and what a find it was.  An absolute Aladdins Cave of wonderful shops and stalls selling some of Morocco's most beautiful wares. This was not a place where you could rush, so after a mini board meeting while supping on fresh mint tea we decided to stay another night and do Marrakech justice.  The skippers had checked the weather and we wouldn’t be able to leave Rabat before Friday so there was no need to hurry back to the boats.  Unfortunately the Jnane Mogador Riad was again full and couldn’t accommodate us the extra night but they arranged accommodation at the nearby Riad Bahia Salam, for the same room rate.  Their “bellboy” re-appeared, our packs went on the cart and off we went down yet another maze of alleys to our 3rd riah in Marrakech!!  colourful pot pourri in Marrakech

This is a new property and I imagine they are promoting it - it was the deal of the year.  The building has been entirely restored, and what was formally two adjoining properties with atriums has now become one large riad, with rooms and suites opening out onto one of the atriums and the dining rooms, sitting/lounging areas opening out on the other.  There was a spa/hammam and massage facility and a very pleasant roof top terrace.  It has been exquisitely refurbished with every attention to detail taken. Rooms had wi-fi and cable tv.  The location wasn’t as good at the Jnane Mogador, but if you are looking for something really special the Riad Bahia Salam would take a lot of beating.  one of the gates to the square in Marrakech  

We spent the afternoon and evening just strolling through  nooks and crannies and soaked up all Marrakech has to offer.  It is another city of contrasts, there are large divides between the old town, souq and medina areas and the Nouvelle town, with wide palm lined streets, handsome French colonial architecture, upmarket sidewalk cafes and restaurants – they are poles apart but live side by side in harmony.

The bonus for Tony and Mark in staying another night was that they now had cable TV and were able to watch the first 2 quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup, sadly England got knocked out but for the best really, now Mark can concentrate fully on supporting the All Blacks!! (not so sure he agrees with that line of thinking!!!)  PA080209 We had both Australia (Tony is Australian) and NZ playing the following morning so finding a hotel in Casablanca with cable TV was a priority, we chose one recommended in the Lonely Planet, the riah phoned them for us, confirmed they had the right sports channel, then booked us two rooms.  We checked out, taxied to the train station and headed to Casablanca.
Other cruiser friends had visited Casablanca and  had not spoken highly of it, but we wanted to go to legendary Ricks Cafe for dinner and it broke our journey back to Rabat.  Somehow Casablanca either didn’t have any wonderful old buildings to be converted into riahs or they just haven’t bothered, all the accommodation was in hotels and our choice of the Hotel Guynemer was one huge disappointment, if this had been the pick of the bunch for Lonely Planet I would not have even ventured in the front doors of the rest.  It was an absolute disgrace; old, smelly, cracked hand basin, toilet bowl that leaked, mould under the window, threadbare towels, not very clean, NO RUGBY coverage, no wi-fi in our room and all for the same price we had paid for the exceptional quality in Marrakech.  The only positives were that the bed linen was clean and we were only staying one night.PA080234

We checked with the helpful reception staff to see how long it would take us to walk to Ricks Cafe and were told around 3 hours or 30 mins by taxi, what???   Seriously doubting their answer we took to the filthy streets by foot, garbage lay rotting in piles everywhere, ‘fresh’ rubbish blew around in the wind,  potholes the size of small cars were a definite hazard for the inattentive, homeless people squatted in doorways, beggars were everywhere, pollution, dust and dirt filled the air – what a dreadful place.  We soldiered on and found Ricks Cafe after about 20 minutes of walking, but alas – it was closed!!!  It was due to open for dinner shortly so we milled around, took some photos, looked at the menu and decided it had gone rather more upmarket than what we expected, certainly no burgers or tacos on the menu any longer, but the Filet Mignon looked very good!   PA080207

Thankfully they let us in, even in our sandy Sahara clothes, and we secured one of the few unreserved tables that evening.  We sat and watched Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman on the big screen,  their Casablanca looked far more appealing and romantic than the one we had seen so far.  We had an excellent meal in company with Tony  in splendid surroundings, they have done a wonderful job of recreating the Ricks Cafe of the movie “Casablanca”, the pianist played in the background, the only thing that was missing was Humphrey himself.  We stayed in comfort as long as we could but eventually we faced reality and caught a cab back to the horrible hotel.  

Marks stomach started doing somersaults in the middle of the night, not a nice place to feel sick.  Tony and I tried our best to get the rugby in the morning, even the wi-fi in the lobby was so poor that radio coverage was flaky too, but we got updates and both our teams won, so a good result for both the All Blacks and the Wallabies.  We bunged up Mark with Imodium, cancelled any thoughts of visiting the 3rd largest Mosque in the world,  got a cab to the train station and got the hell out of there!! 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Shifting Sands and Sahara Storms ….. October 2011

IMG_056002 –06 October 2011

We could not come to Morocco without trekking into the Sahara Desert on camel back and staying the night in a tented village surrounded by sand dunes.  It had been on our “bucket lists” for quite some time and this was our chance to do it. 

We rounded up a few other interested parties in the marina, and set to organising 8 of us to travel to Marrakech, then do an organised 3 night tour through the Atlas Mountains and down into the Sahara.  I felt like I had returned to a previous life working for Thomas Cook Travel as tour operators were researched, emails fired off, quotes received,  comparisons made, itineraries chosen, hotels booked and train schedules investigated. 
So we left our boats safely tied up in Rabat Marina and travelled by train the 4 hours down to Marrakech, arriving early afternoon.  We piled into a minibus taxi, gave the driver the riahs (small Moroccan hotels) name and address and headed for our prebooked accommodation.  However after 2 phone calls the poor taxi driver still could not find the riah, hidden away down a tiny lane that was definitely not designed for cars!!  Eventually we were met by a riah staff member on the road and taken on a magical mystery tour the short distance to Riad Nouzha (see our next posting for other Marrakech options closer to the centre).  As we had been in Fes, we were immensely impressed by what can lie behind the doors in some of these ancient medinas.  An open courtyard alive with ferns was the centrepiece, our beautifully decorated rooms opened out onto the 1st floor balcony and open atrium,  2nd floor was home to the hamman (Moroccan bathhouse) and massage suite and the rooftop terrace was furnished with sun loungers and comfy seating and there was even a plunge pool.   Everything was going well so far!!!Mark with snake around his neck  

After mint tea and Moroccan cookies, swims or snoozes - or both -  we were revitalized enough to hit the maze and attempt to navigate our way to the centre.   The 20 minute walk was along a dusty, noisy, busy road, the footpath was an obstacle course littered with potential hazards for the unwary, but eventually we arrived unscathed at the entrance to Place Dejmáa el Fna, “the place” to visit in Marrakech by night. 

Coaches lined the road and there were tourists everywhere, the square was abuzz with life.  Street performers were setting up for evening performances, snake charmers approached the unsuspecting and placed snakes around there necks – yes, that really is a snake around Marks neck!!!  then they demanded the equivalent of €20 for the pleasure of getting up close and personal with a snake and getting a photo (no €20 from us!) – around a hundred small food vendors set up each evening and the smells of various meats cooking wafted through the air as the staff anxiously tried to get our business.  There were stalls selling almost everything, from freshly squeezed orange juice, to Moroccan teapots to Eritrean baskets and Nigerian beads - it was total sensory overload and a little overwhelming. Goat Crossing in  Morocco  After dinner from a street stall followed by a reasonable look around we decided to head back to the peace and tranquillity of our riah and enjoyed the night time vista from our peaceful rooftop terrace. 

Next morning we were collected on time by Sahara Services, the company we had booked our 4 day/3 night “Nomad Living” tour through.  We had 2 very comfortable Toyota Landcruisers, and 2 drivers called Mohammed (well it is the most popular name in the world), and we were off on an adventure of a lifetime. Draa Valley and Atlas Mountains We headed southeast, away from the sprawls of Marrakech and into rural Morocco.  The countryside was spectacular, changing each time we turned another corner.  The road wove along an almost dry riverbed for a while but then we were soon climbing, high up over the Tizi n’ Tichka switchback pass to the summit of this part of the High Atlas Mountains.on the road in the Draa Valley  Enroute we stopped at a roadside women's co-operative where oil was extracted from argan nuts, a somewhat labour intensive operation, and then processed into cosmetics or food products.  We even managed to sneak in a coffee break – Moroccan coffee is very good and a necessity after a 6am alarm!!

We started our descent down the other side, again the scenery changing all the time, sheer cliffs gave way to rolling hillsides of rubble and scree, then hardened volcanic mounds were followed by high peaks with almost vertical strata lines. The geology and landscapes were outstanding.  Around here somewhere the movie Babel was filmed, we were hoping we didn’t have the same experience they did.  There was always something different to look at, no chance at all for napping!!  We took a turning off the main road for a short detour to the village of Aít-Benhaddou.  This 11th century kasbah (walled village) is well preserved as it is a popular location for filming exotic movies, Lawrence of Arabia and more recently scenes from Gladiator to name just a couple.2011 Morocco1

Then came our first meal break, boy oh boy did they feed us well, all our meals were included and they were exceptional; excellent quality, quantity, service and in some stunning locations, all 8 of us were very impressed, and probably gained a few pounds too!! 

It was a long afternoon as we had many miles to cover.  We dropped down into the Dráa Valley, an oasis of green bordering the slow flowing Dráa River, the longest river in Morocco coming down from the High Atlas Mountains and meandering all the way to the Atlantic.  It is a beautiful area, the vibrant green dates palms weighed down with fruit ready for picking went for miles and miles, mud brick Berber villages lay hidden against the valley walls,  women were camouflaged under bundles of palm fronds, children fished at the rivers edge, goat herders watched their herds; we sat back and took it all in.Carrying home the greenery   

It was just after dark when we reached our overnight accommodation outside Zagora, no roughing it tonight – CNN and BBC satellite TV in the rooms, WIFI in the lobby and dinner served al fresco by candlelight adjacent to the swimming pool.  Day One had been absolutely superb and we hadn’t even got to the ‘good bits’ yet. 

A late 9am start on Day 2 was welcome. The skies were overcast and the BBC Weather was showing a band of cloud and thunder storms for the Sahara over the next couple of days – what!!!, didn’t they know this was a desert, and the reason it is a desert is that it doesn’t rain there?  The 2 Mohammeds arrived and it was off for another day of exploration.  First stop was the small town of Tamegroute.  PA040048 The town has been an important base for learning the Quran for centuries and houses a small, old and dusty Quranic library.  What it lacks in glamour is certainly made up for in authenticity – a collection of astrological guides, dictionaries and religious works bound with gazelle hides dating back to the 13th century lay displayed behind murky glass doors.   We had a long walk around the partly subterranean kasbah here, it was dark and closed in, with overhead beams going across the alleys, something we had not seen before.  A sneaky peak into a couple of open doors revealed few signs of the 21st or even 20th century having arrived, donkeys nudged past us, children played happily with a few broken twigs, women carried their trays of bread to the local baker for cooking, men squatted in doorways discussing the days events – time has stood still here.PA040047 

We visited a local pottery co-operative and followed the various steps undertaken to make Moroccan potteryThe pottery colour of the area was a vivid olive, almost lime green  and there were hundreds of beautiful pieces on display.  Our group did well in contributing to the local community and we purchased some lovely pieces.   It was time to leave the lush Dráa Valley and head for the desert.   We followed the road to the end of the line, M’Hamid about 40 miles from the Algerian boarder.  After another excellent meal all we felt like doing was snoozing in the Sahara but our camels awaited ….. it was time to trek off into the dunes.which one looks the friendliest  

And so began our trek on camel back, firstly we went through some cute little “mini dunes”, there were a couple of tented villages nestled amongst them and we all thought this was to be our home for the night, but no, on and on we went.  Through these sandy dunes, over dried river beds, up over ledges, down the other side across pebbly rubble and still we continued, not a tent in sight – for a while not even a sand dune.  Our Berber camel handlers seemed  happy enough, singing together as they lead us on, into fading light and strengthening winds.  At last we went over the final ridge and glimpsed “the dunes” just as the last light of day vanished. P1010729       
  2011 Morocco1-1

Lowering the camels and disembarking is a challenge in itself, especially after a long afternoon in the saddle, but as we watched fork lightening strike and thunder roar in the distance we were pleased to have arrived at our home for the night.  We all hobbled inside the comfortable Berber tent, collapsed onto cushions,  drunk tea and wondered if we would ever be able to walk again!!!  We were treated to another excellent meal, watched the lightening show in the distance then retired early to our cosy tents, it had been another excellent day.dawn before mornings camel trek

The skies had cleared by daybreak and dawn on top of the dunes was a magical sight, it was just beautiful and certainly worth 3 hours on a camel!  We had the option of returning by 4WD, but all 8 of us voted to retain the services of the camels, what a hardy bunch we were.  P1010755 So after an early breakfast it was back onboard our humpy friends and we headed for M’Hamid before the heat of the day.  It was a good trip back, its amazing how different landscapes can look from the other direction.  We were back before noon, said our farewells to our camels and camel drivers, had some tea, took showers then headed off on our next big adventure. 

We joined the old “Paris to Dakar” off road rally track and into the desert we went.  It soon became apparent that the spectacular lightening show we had witnessed the previous evening had dumped a lot of rain into the desert, IMG_0618it wasn’t long before we came across another 4WD well and truly sunk in the mud.  Despite all efforts to free them they remained stuck in the Sahara, back up was called for so we continued on our way.  Our drivers, both from local Berber villages, seemed very knowledgeable about where to go and areas to avoidoh no, stuck in the mud and did a great job of keeping us out of the sticky stuff. 
We stopped at a sacred oasis for lunch under the palm trees,.  You can understand why these places were sacred, barren landscapes for miles around and then this tiny pocket of greenery, a trickle of water bubbling up through the sand from an underground spring, sustaining life for centuries past and to come.  This had been an important stopover for camel trains across the desert from Africa to the main trading hub of Marrakech , amazing how they ever found it. 

Mark and Tony just before the sand storm Soon after, we completed our 60 km’s of off-roading for the day and arrived on the fringe of the Erg Chigaga dunes.   Our tented village lay hidden between dunes and first impressions were that it looked good.  Second and forever lasting impressions are that it was one of the most special places you could ever hope to visit.   Great tented accommodation even with ensuite bathroom tents, very impressive, but the highlight – just a short climb up the adjacent sand dune revealed a 40km stretch of Saharan sand dunes 300m high, as far as you could see – it was just magical.  The boys went off to explore distant dunes, the wind started picking up and it got dark prematurely, a quick look in the opposite direction showed why -a sand storm was heading our way and approaching fast.Tony and Mark returning through the sandstorm
Everyone managed to safely return to camp but it put a stop to any further exploration activities for the day. 

Eventually the sandstorm eased but then the rains came, along with thunder and lightening late into the night, not quite the picture we had pre-painted for our starry starry night in the Sahara, but how many people get storms in the Sahara – we were special !!  We had another tasty meal and even some local live music to keep spirits up, the tents kept us dry and eventually the storms passed us by.on top of the Sahara Desert

Mark and I were up before the sun, we had come all this way and we weren’t going to miss sunrise on these dunes.  The rains had cleared the air, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  We climbed to the top of the highest dune and sat in total peace as we watched the sun peak over the horizon and slowly turn the desert from shades of browns to beige, then as the sun rose higher the Sahara turned golden.   Wow!!  For miles and miles we could see towering dunes, shadows lay between them and formed folds and layers, it all looked totally untouched – not a sign of life, not a whisper of wind,  total silence…it was a magical vista, it was better than we could have hoped for. 

We walked off into the folds of the dunes away from our camp, it was an amazing feeling, they just drew us in, each one we climbed seemed to want to catapult us on towards the next, it really was quite an uncanny feeling and the others that ventured away from camp had the same sense, being pulled towards the heart of the Sahara.  Sadly we had to be practical, and reluctantly returned to camp in time for breakfast.2011 Morocco1-2

Because of the overnight heavy rains our itinerary for returning had to be changed.  Our drivers weren’t happy with taking us on our original route off road via Foum Zguid and Tazenakht back to Marrakech, there was no phone coverage out there so they were unable to check whether it would all be passable.  Not wanting to be stuck in the mud like the other 4WD we had passed the previous day we were more than happy to follow their guidance, go for Plan B and retrace our steps.  first river crossing

Instead we were off on the ride of our lives, Plan C kicked in when yesterdays dried out river beds turned into todays fast flowing rivers, what a difference some rain can make.  What ensued was a most entertaining and very bumpy totally off road ride across parts of Morocco that I suspect very few tourists ever get the  opportunity to see.  Just how they knew where they were going or if we would get through we are not sure, but we can not compliment the 2 Mohammeds highly enough for their excellent driving and navigational skills for several hours to get us back to civilisation (a paved road!!!).IMG_0714

But a paved road did not necessarily mean a passable road, several section of the road we had travelled south on just 2 days prior were now washed out, most cars could not get through but our trusty Toyota Landcruisers just climbed up the rubble and went down the other side, then came a bridge totally underwater and the swollen river flowing really quite fast over it.  We watched a couple of trucks go across, then a van, then another 4WD then the first of our 2, then it was our turn – exciting stuff I can tell you!!IMG_0720

It had been a very long morning and our lunch stop back in the Dráa Valley at Chez Yacob in Tamnougalte was an unexpected treat.  Tucked away down a maze of alleys in yet another spectacular setting was this restored restaurant and riah, we sat down to the best meal we experienced in Morocco and recapped on the fabulous 4 days we had just experienced.  We carried on all afternoon and into the evening: our drivers safely negotiated us past the never ending convoy of trucks which travel after dark, up and down the twisting narrow bends on the High Atlas Mountains and eventually the loom of the lights in Marrakech got closer and closer.   

Just after 9pm we were back in crazy, busy, noisy, dusty Marrakech  - read more on Marrakech and then Casablanca in our next update. 
Take me back to the desert!!!!!!!!!!!   Chigaga at dawn

Monday, 10 October 2011

Fascinating Ancient Fés ….. September 2011

22 – 23 September

Our first inland excursion from Rabat was to the ancient imperial city of Fés.  It sits just north west of the Middle Atlas mountains, around 3 1/2 hours by train from Rabat so we decided on an overnight trip, travelling in first class luxury by train with Australian cruisers Andrew and Clare off Eye Candy and Arnie and Jo off Just Jane. P9230096 
Fés is the oldest of Morocco’s Imperial Cities, the old town medina area was expanded around 800AD and fully walled, the wall still stands to this day with just a few parts missing.  It has been home to so many races, cultures and religions over the centuries, each leaving their mark on the city.

The main attraction for us was Fés el-Jdid (Old Fés), an absolute rabbit warren of dusty streets, tiny lanes, dead ends, overhanging buildings, tumbling ruins, hidden souqs and historical sites – what a challenging and interesting place to explore.   We had prebooked our accommodation at Dar Fes Medina, a beautifully restored riad (traditional house) with a handful of tastefully decorated rooms, surrounding a central courtyard and topped off by a pleasant roof terrace.  P9220030 We were made extremely welcome by the helpful staff, and enjoyed mint tea and Moroccan cookies before deciding to go explore the medina. 

We split into couples, with so many nooks and crannies to stop and explore, countless twists and turns, it was hard enough just the two of us not to lose each other.   We spent a few hours getting lost and found again as we made our way through the never ending maze of lanes.  

We discovered the produce market overflowing with freshly picked vegetables; smelt the live chicken market minutes before we were surrounded by feathers; got nudged out of the way by several donkey carts passing us in the impossibly narrow alleys; sampled dates, apricots and olives from an array of colourful stalls;P9220044  resisted the temptation to slip into a carpet shop or three; mused at cats, chickens, ducks, rabbits and donkeys sharing the same piece of real estate; and stopped for a break in a local ‘hole in the wall’ eatery to try b’sara, a butterbean and garlic soup – yummy. 

Getting lost on the way back to the riad was par for the course, but nothing a few dirham to some local lads couldn’t sort out, thought they were pushing it a bit when they wanted €10 for their efforts though – we weren’t THAT lost!!  Actually, while we were lost we found a parade, in honour of the King.  There were several groups of men in traditional regional dress, horses, bands, singing; then we spotted a sacrificial cow tethered to a post with a hood over it’s head – barbequed steak for dinner perhaps??P9220065  

We, on the other hand, had decided to go with a  recommendation from the riad to visit a traditional Moroccan home, with small adjoining restaurant for dinner, Restaurant Dar Hatim.  A family member came and collected us and escorted us deep within the bowels of the medina down countless dusty, dark lanes.  Just as we were starting to doubt our judgement on whether this was a good idea we reached a beautifully carved door and stepped into another world. It is truly hard to describe the difference between the dusty, dirty, noisy, chaotic life lived outside these doors, compared to the peace, serenity, cleanliness and often luxurious life on the ‘other side’ , you could never guess from the outside what may lie within. P9220092

We had a tour of their exquisitely renovated home, sat on the roof top terrace and sampled a vista of Fés by night, while sipping on an excellent Moroccan white wine, then enjoyed a wonderful meal in their “tented restaurant”.  What a finish to an excellent day.

Restaurant Collage-4
Inside the Restaurant/Home – work of dedicated craftsmen. 
Imagine living in here, wow.

With a mosque as our neighbour the familiar call to prayer woke us on Day 2 in Fés, however at 4.30am I think it is quite reasonable to roll over and try to snatch a couple more hours sleep!P9230119  After breakfast the 6 of us left on a walking tour with an official Tourist Office guide – he took us back into the medina and shared his local insiders knowledge. 

So it was another assault on our senses as we wove our way through even tinier lanes than we had dared to venture down the previous day.  Tucked away behind what could only be described as derelict looking buildings, we experienced firstly a weaving business, the looms, threads and finished products were located under the shaky, bowing eaves, while the centre courtyard was completely open to the elements – somewhat hard to heat in winter I expect.   P9230142

The next Aladdins Cave was the Carpet Co-operative, it seems even on a Tourist Office tour you can not escape being taken to a carpet shop.   But it was worth seeing, if only for the beauty of the building, 3 stories high, fully tiled and truly magnificent.  The 360 degrees view from the rooftop was excellent then looking down into the atrium from the top floor, with carpets cascading over the banisters, well, it was hard to beat. The carpets, well they were somewhat impressive too, and I confess, we did make a purchase and now own a small Moroccan Cactus Silk carpet - we probably would all still be there if we hadn’t!

Next up was the leather tannery, just how to describe it leaves me lost for words.  When you arrive (via a leathers products retail shop!) you are given a bunch of fresh mint, something to sniff on when the dreadful smells of the tannery processes just gets way overbearing.  You can see livestock lined up over to one side, unawares of their plight.  Luckily you don’t see what happens next, but then you can see all the skins hung around the place, drying out before going into the pits. P9230132 The tanning pits are in two sections, the white ones are full of lime and pigeon pooh (truly), the men working in them almost up to their thighs – they did however wear rubber gloves, hardly much protection.  The other pits have natural dyes in them like indigo, saffron and poppy - the men designated to these pits must go home looking like a rainbow each night.   The men are paid “by piece”, the faster they work the more they can earn, we understand the maximum daily wage to be around €30, I don’t know how many hours they work to achieve this.  Sons get the “opportunity” to learn from their fathers then take over his pit when the time comes.  When you next think you are having a bad day, not appreciated at work, need a pay rise etc P9230130….. spare a thought for these guys, it looked like hell down there, and I can’t even imagine how bad it would be in the middle of winter.

We moved on to some historical sites, took a look at a Water Clock  - an interesting piece of work with 12 windows and spouting that runs along, as the water fills up the window shutters move to indicate the time.  It no longer works and is in desperate need of restoration but is seems nobody actually can work out just quite how it worked so restoration plans are on hold!!!P9230101 

There were mosques, museums, markets and more – we saw it all – after nearly 4 hours it was time to call it a day before our brains went into total overload.  We relaxed in a square drinking coffee as hundreds of men passed us having just finished Friday prayers.  This is very much a lived in medina, 450,000 people live within it’s walls in buildings that have stood for centuries – most of them looking much the same as when they were built. 

However time has not quite stood still - power cables run on the outside of the external walls, pavement levels have been risen to allow for pipes to be laid and when you get to a roof top vantage point the skyline is dominated by cheap Chinese satellite dishes, cellphone towers peek over the high walls, all to remind you it is the 21st century..

But overall the ancient imperial city of Fés still has a mystical medieval feel to it, and it was great to get the opportunity to spend a couple of days exploring it.
2011 Morocco

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Roaming about in Rabat ….. September 2011

18 –30 September 2011P9230106
The days are slipping by here, tied up in the Bouregreg Marina in Rabat, Morocco’s capital.  We are finally back with the international cruising community, it is certainly the united nations here with the French outnumbering all of us, Australia flying four flags,  New Zealand and America represented with 3, then we have Canada, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Norway, Finland and Austria  – and we are all heading for the Canary Islands then on across the Atlantic in December, there have been a few dock parties already to get to know each other. P9280007

We have been exploring both Salé, where the marina is situated and across the river in Rabat.  It’s all very interesting - the medinas, souks, Kasbah,, the wail of the prayer call, it’s easy to remember that we have moved onto another continent.  The local medina just a couple of minutes up the road in Salé is still surrounded by the original city walls, in excellent condition hundreds of years on. Inside is a maze of tiny alleys, hardly a foreigner in sight (just the odd lost cruiser!!), the hustle and bustle of modern day life across the river in the capital city has hardly touched here – it is a world away. 2011 Morocco-Pottery
One day we ventured out of town and visited the local pottery co-operative.  It was a large group of buildings that you could wander through and watch all the processes take place, starting with them shovelling the clay into wheelbarrows, bringing it inside where it got mixed with a little water, divided into big slabs and then placed on various wheels and turned into all manner of shapes and sizes.  Different outbuildings housed the painters, glaziers, kilns, and rows and rows of pots and plates lay baking in the sun.  We are not talking modern industry here, not a conveyor belt in sight, just people power.  We watched several men load a truck (in the photo) with pots and plates, it was overflowing then they still added more – utilising even the space above the cab.  Then a net was thrown over to ‘secure’ it all, I imagine the percentage of breakages is very high. P9210017

Across the river in Rabat is a true blend of the old and new.  A modern motorway bridge spans the river and an excellent clean, regular and very cheap tram system is an easy way to get around.   The ville nouveau district has wide boulevards and classic French buildings are a reminder of the years of French rule here.  But then you walk downhill into the ancient walled medina and souk area and you are transported right back into the heart of Morocco.  There are literally thousands of little stalls selling everything you could ever need, the trick is in finding the right stall!! 

IMG_0064 As you move through the souk the produce, meat and fish markets display an interesting and often unrecognisable array of products.  There is a section selling gold, another with dozens of stalls just selling perfume, another lane is full of women's underwear, another with woolly blankets!  Finally you move through to the almost touristy end, much more orderly and clean it is overflowing with colourful Morocco carpets, artwork, jewellery, pottery and leather products.   But the best thing about the souks here in Rabat is the stall owners don’t hassle you at all.  Mark had such a look of horror on his face as I stopped to look at a carpet, then actually touched it – the Egyptians would have taken that to mean you wanted to buy it, the Turkish were a little better but we definitelyIMG_0057 would have been drawn into their shop for apple tea to start the buying process, but here- well the stall owner just ignored me, I admired the carpet and carried on my way, amazing.  It just makes wandering through the souk so much more enjoyable. 

Just outside the medina walls and guarding the river entrance on the southern side is the Kasbah.  Kasbah are fortresses, just like the small walled medieval towns we have seen throughout EuropeIMG_0061.  We have seen a few Kasbah now but they have all been empty so it was a real surprise to see that this one is still home to a large community.  We felt like we had been transported back to a cute Greek Island in the Aegean, all the buildings were white washed, with boarders of what we always called Med Blue, for now renamed Moroccan Blue.  The tiny lanes were swept clean, potted plants framed doorways and bougainvillea added a wonderful splash of colour.  

We are enjoying our stopover here in Rabat and will leave Balvenie in the marina here while we explore inland Morocco. 

More info on the services around the marina will be added as we explore on our Cruising Info blog - view by clicking here