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Marrakesh to Merzouga

sunny 17 °C


After a flight to Malaga, and an afternoon spent in the British settlement of Gibraltar chasing about the Barbary apes and devouring a some grand Pommie fodder (aka Fish and Chips), we made the long journey south to Marrakesh. This journey involved an early start to catch the 6am ferry from Algeciras to Tangier, a taxi ride to the Gare de Tangier Ville, a 5 hour train journey to Casablanca, and then another few hours on the train, sharing a carriage with Morocco's answer to Paris Hilton (sans coffieured chiuaiua), before finally arriving in Marrakesh at around 7pm and heading straight into the heart of the medina at the Djemaa el-Fna.

The Djemaa el-Fna is the pulsating heart of Marrakesh throughout the day, and even moreso in the evenings. From the haze of smoke swirling through the air, to the drones of the snake charmers; from the stench of donkeys pottering through the square to the richness of the tajines stewing from the dozens of food stalls that line the square. Everywhere you look, constant activity and abundance of colour: the mariachi brother water sellers; henna tattooists and tarot card readers calling out for custom from behind their veils; dishevelled felines scrounging for scraps of food and basking in the warm afternoon sunshine; the constant flow of ewok-attired men on foot, bicycle, motorbike or donkey-drawn carts; exotic dancers (who happen to be men) trying to woo other men; men fishing for coke bottles....oh yes, it is truly bizarre...no pun intended!....

And then in the evenings, the square lights up with 100 or so stalls selling kebabs, salads, deep fried eggplant, olives, tajines, couscous etc. If you are a little more adventurous you can feast on some boiled snails, before topping it all off with fresh orange or grapefruit juice, or a cup of mint tea.

Aside from the incessant activity of the Djemaa al-Fna, there are of course the labyrinthine souqs, which lie at the centre of the ochre hued medina. The souqs are as fascinating and envigorating as they are bothersome. Anything you want, you can probably find: pointy turned-up fuschia coloured shoes; amethyst jewels encrusted in suspiciously shiny "silver"; handmade handbags straight from the tanneries; kaftans in a multitude of colours; chickens, chameleons, tortoises; chinaware; traditional berber medicine (even "la viagra, pour la rumba bumba" as one fourteen year old boy shouted out)...and the list goes on. Yeah, so it's great, but oh so tiresome. Every single shop you pass, the deal is the same.... (see bottom of page)...... plenty of hassle, everyone has the best quality products, everyone is your best friend as long as they think you will buy.....oh fond, fond memories of all the best friends I made in the markets of Vietnam.

Besides the constant hassle from the vendors in the souq, is the peril beset upon one who dares work his/her way around a corner without first peering ahead. No, it's not a monobrow- infested hairy belly dancer.....nor is it likely to be a moto, though it is not entirely impossible.....it's probably a hobbling mule carrying stacks of coke bottles on its back; the driver side-saddling the beast as he shouts "attencione" to forewarn (usually morelike a postwarning) pedestrians of his wished passage.

In addition to the surplus of mules in Morocco, are the surplus of lecherous young men who vilely prey upon golden-haired western females. Roughly 75% of Morocco's population are under 30, and if you based your male to female ratio on the amount of attention a western female receives on an average days wander about the town....you'd be thinking oh 97:3. The salutations range from the unimaginative ("Bonjour gazelle", "Salut!" "ça va?") to the positively proposterous ("Wanna come to my place?", "I make you very happy", "Wanna see my ______", yes, just think of the last one as a cloze exercise). We had a few followers, and one young lad who tried the tack of encircling us several times while he fluttered his eyelashes . Oh dear dear dear....

Away from the hustle and hassle of the souqs are a few places of relative calm, including: the remains of the Palais el-Badi, with storks nesting atop its high walls; the Saadian Tombs, a beautifully designed mausoleum; and the Jardin Marjorelle, a lavishly set garden owned by Yves Saint Laurent, and set about a royal blue villa.

Heading out from Marrakesh, we left behind the vivacity/cacophony of the medina, and made our way over the snow-capped High Atlas to the kasbah of Ait Benhaddou, which tumbles as a red sandstone maze of houses down a hillside amidst a palmeraie. Name not familiar? It's the kasbah which provides the backdrop for several films, including Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator, and currently only accessible by donkey-back across a usually dried-up stream (to the ass-owners´ delight, it is now flowly vigorously).

Continuing on from here we wound our way past the lunar Anti- Atlas into the Dades gorge, which is rather spectacular, though ludicrously frosty when the sun goes down. Onwards we continued the next day to the Todra gorge, formed along a fault line, and then further onto the hammada (harsh stony desert). Save for the occasional berber shepherd tending his goat herd, or the life pouring from the intermittent kasbah, the journey from here out to the Sahara proper was relatively monotonous....

Until the rough stony plains turned into gentle sandy ripples, and eventually the ochre Saharan dunes of the late afternoon in Merzouga. As the sun set across the Erg Chebbi, we rode in caravan out to our bivouac for the night. As romantic as the notion of a camel-ride by caravan to a Saharan bivouac by sunset is, ooh it´s not very comfortable.......

Downright painful to be precise, but the luminous confetti of stars scattered delicately over the desert dunes was an astonishing sight to behold, and well worth the effort of getting there.

Upon rising early in the morning, we returned to the backs of the belching, bony camels, and made our way back to Merzouga, and then Marrakesh.

To be continued...

Belinda xo

Posted by Backpasher 21:56 Archived in Morocco Tagged backpacking

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