A Travellerspoint blog

Twende - Let´s Go

sunny 25 °C

After having the day to rest my legs in Arusha, I set off on safari with Michiel and Roos (from Holland like everyone else travelling East Africa!), our driver Youssef, and Charles the cook.

Upon arrival at Twiga (Swahili for "giraffe") campsite, we set up our tents, and had some lunch before setting off on a game drive to Lake Manyara National Park. At the right time of the year, the alkaline Manyara Lake is purportedly aflutter with millions of flamingoes, though in the dry season (now!), the Lake largely disappears, as do the flamingoes......I guess when
there is no yummy algae in the lake, they migrate to find pond scum elsewhere....yum-my! Still, the parched saline basin provided a nice backdrop to the surrounding scrub and woodlands and the park was a good place to start our safari....we saw (skanky) baboons, giraffes, dikdiks (miniature antelopes) zebras, elephants, lions, and hippos - but no tree -climbing lions (which are sometimes spotted around Manyara).

The next day we set off for the long drive out to the Serengeti National Park, first skirting our way around the rim of the chilly, mist-laden Ngorongoro crater, before hitting the "rock-and-roll" roads into the Serengeti. We crossed the endless savannah plains for what seemed an eternity, before arriving out our rustic bush camp, next to a rocky hill, and entirely exposed to the surrounding wilderness. When we asked about the possibilities of animals coming into the campsite, our guide reassured us by saying that sometimes the lions will drop in overnight, and frequently hyenas drank from the water supply! Ah....the prospect of being Simba's (= "lion") midnight snack never fails to put ones sleepy mind at ease.

After a late afternoon game drive, where we spotted many Twigas, Tembos (elephants) and impalas (deer), as well as a lion resting atop a rocky hill (just like the one in our campsite!), we returned to our campsite for the night....didn't hear any simbas or hyenas, thankfully.

We started at the crack of dawn the next day for a long drive about the Serengeti, and spent the first hour or so cruising about in the jeep without much success....until we spotted some cheetahs in the distance and stumbled upon 2 leopards lounging on the lower branches of tress! Every Tom, Dick and Harry was stopped at a particular tree which supposedly had some "leopard kill" in it, though no matter how long we looked for it, it
eluded us. We did however manage to see a lion sitting smugly beside his catch - a fat (of course) hippo who must have been caught by the lion whilst on its daily jog through the park. Upon returning later in the day, the same hippo was being gruesomely devoured by 50 or so vultures, with revolting hyenas tucking in too. Hyenas, I must say, are the scummiest
animals I've ever seen...I guess because I'm NOT a dog person, it's only natural their scavenging, bottom-sniffing ways don't at all appeal.

In the afternoon we went for a drive to a hippo pool, where we saw what must have been around 40 hippos bathing in a squalid pool of water, and belching happily as they did so. I never really thought of hippos as being particularly grotesque before then, however the stench was inexpilicably repulsive and the muck in which they were bathing, more like a sewage works. We survived the night again in the wilds, though a dinner time visit by a nasty hyena, its evil orange eyes glaring wickedly at us, did little to calm the nerves.

Another early morning start the next day for a long drive in the Serengeti brought us to a large herd of elephants, seemingly on a migration to cause more "elephant damage" to the trees around the park - i.e. uproot them by charging them or scratching their backs. However we caught sight of the nasty Serengeti Balloon Safari folk (royally kitted in their spiffy new khakis with lots of pockets and armed with $5000 binoculars) who had shunned
us the previous day when we needed help with the "spare tyre pressure" (i.e. needed to use the loo), and figured the elephants were instead running away from the scary balloons and the khaki army inside of them. It seemed that whenever the balloon "engine" was fired up, the poor ellies became frightened and helplessly tried to charge the threatening UFOs whilst gathering around the young ones to protect them. We also spotted a running hippo (hilarious and suprisingly fast!), some hyenas taking a bath, a group of lions on the prowl, many
girraffes, zillions of zebras, a few topis (a type of deer), loads of buffaloes, and countless impalas/gazelles. Then we made a quick stop at the Serengeti Visitors Information Centre, for a quick conservation lesson, and saw dozens of hyrax (similar to large guinea pigs) pottering about the rocks.

After an impressive lunch of quiche (! cooked on hot coals) and
salad, we began rock-and-rolling across the savannah towards
Ngorongoro....we left the Serengeti without seeing a single wildebeest (not that I can remember anyway!) - they are all in the extreme north of the Serengeti at the moment, or else across the border in Kenya's Masai Mara...so hopefully I'll get there before they up and migrate back to Tanzania!! We set up camp on the edge of the crater rim, with the crater and its profusion of wildlife awaiting us below.

The Ngorongoro crater is essentially the remnants of a collapsed volcano in a chain of volcanoes and calderas which lie along the Great Rift Valley (which extends along a geological fault line all the way from Syria to Mozambique!). The nearby Olduvai Gorge is where the oldest-known human-like footprints were found by Mary Leakey in the 50s. Consequently, many believe that this area of Tanzania is the "cradle of man".

Again we started the day with an early drive into the chills of the vast, mist-laden crater, being met by some touting Maasai when we stopped to pop the roof ("Jambo. Photo?" Photos with Maasai go for no less than US$1 these days!), stopping at the zebra crossing (100s of them heading for their morning drink), and catching sight of herds of great wildebeest pounding their way through the grasslands. We also saw some mad wildebeest
(rolling about crazily like rabid dogs), fighting wildebeest and wildebeest taking a bath in a small stream.

After a lunch beside a hippo pool, where large birds took delight in swooping down to scavenge food off the tourists, we set off again for a few hours, finally catching sight of our first black rhino in the distance. The black rhino is extremely endangered and only 15 or so exist in Ngorongoro, so it was very cool that we finally saw one. We finished the day by driving up the "heavy metal" road to the crater rim, where we stopped for a drink at one of the lodges overlooking the crater. And whadda ya know, peering through the binoculars there, we saw two more rhino....mother and baby! So 3/15 isn't bad at all :) Back at the freeeeeezing cold camp that night, we tucked into our dinner before retiring to our luxurious tents...only to be awoken in the middle of the night by a snuffling warthog.....it was trying to dig its way under Michiel and Roos' tent!! Cheeky monkey!

Our last day of Safari was spent watching a large family of lions gawk at a pack of terrified zebras, before deciding they'd rather go sit in the ditch, seeing some more running hippos, getting virtually attacked by a vervet monkey (who boldly jumped on the front and then the back of our jeep), and seeing the usual packs of zebras and wildebeest pounding the
yellow grass of the crater floor.

After a day of befriending all the touts in Arusha (not!), I bussed for 10 hours to Dar Es Salaam (the economic capital, Dodoma is the political capital), before making my way to Zanzibar....the spice island....and my first ever visit to the Indian Ocean! (I know, it's disgraceful!)

Gotta go

Belinda

Posted by Backpasher 15:27 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Pole Pole

all seasons in one day

Jambo from Tanzania!

After a quick safari in Nairobi National Park and a wander about town (without getting mugged! :) ), I headed to Arusha for the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro.

At 5895m (above sea-level), Kili is the highest mountain in Africa, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. To put it in perspective, it is about 2.5 times the height of Mount Kosciuszko, Australia - our national molehill.

Day One:
Was surprised upon meeting my crew to learn that a) I was the only one booked on the trip and b) I had a support crew of 4 (!) accompanying me up the mountain - my guide Ben, a porter, a waiter and a cook. Wow! Found out that this is quite normal though, and many hikers, had far more than my humble 4. Still, it seemed a little OTT considering my backpack only
weighed 10.5kg! I guess they had to carry my bag, their bags, food, pots/pans/cutlery/shower/port-a-loo/TV/jacuzzi etc.

After a quick drive to Marangu gate, I began the 7km hike to Mandara Hut, passing through thick, lush, rainforest en route to Mandara Hut, seeing a few mongoose (mongeese?) and vervet monkeys on the way. The rainforest, with its tall canopy of trees provided some cool respite from the relative warmth of the mid-afternoon sunshine. As we neared to Mandara Hut (2740m
ASL), the trees, made way for shrubs, and heathland, and the temperature began to fall - to around +8 celcius overnight. From Mandara, a quick hike up to the Maundi crater, afforded a tiny glimpse of Mawenzi and Kibo peaks (Kibo being home to Uhuru, the highest point on Kili), before the clouds moved in, and with them, the cool night air.

Was exceptionally well fed in the "mess hall", where I got to meet all my fellow hikers (an international bratpack of professional backpackers it seemed), before being sent to bed at 8pm! My guide, Ben, informed me that at altitude, one requires loads of sleep - my suspicions that the guides/porters had cable TV/jacuzzi/bar in their hut, proved wrong, and by
8.30, I was fast asleep!

Day Two:
After an early rise, and a quick Wet-Ones "shower", we began the 11km walk to Horombo Hut (3800m). The temperate forests around Horombo, quickly changed into vast moorlands, and the vegetation became more sparse. I took my guide's advice to climb "pole pole" (slowly slowly) up the mountain and after about 4-5 hours of hiking, arrived at Horombo, hot and dusty, but feeling really good. No headaches, light-headedness, nausea etc - I thought, a good sign. After a quick snack on popcorn (the locals must think we travellers are addicted to it cause it came with practically every meal!) and Milo (!! it's as popular as coffee here!), I wandered a little further up from the campsite through the palm like trees covered in mist, and got my first proper view of the snow-topped Kibo peak and the alpine
desert which lay before it. Again, I was fed a huge meal of pasta (like 3x a normal portion) before heading to bed early 8pm! I was assured that a big appetite after a day of hiking at altitude was a good sign for the days to come, and slept well that night.

Day 3
Ah, got to sleep in today - til about 7.30am, and after a big breakfast (can anyone really eat 8 pieces of toast in addition to eggs, fruit and Milo?!!?!?!?!) we began our acclimitization walk to the aptly named Zebra rock. Yes, that's right, it's a cliff-face striped like a zebra (I think from salt which leaks out of the rocks and streaks down its side) is rather peculiar. We scrambled up around it and down the other side to an altitude
of approximately 4200m, where the views of Kibo and Mawenzi (a lunar-like dramatic mountain adjacent to Kibo) became clearer and the alpine desert and scree lay out ahead. Another ginormous meal was had, and I was delighted to be able to wash my hair in the afternoon warmth (probably no more than 14
degrees!) in a bowl of hot water - specially boiled by Dismis, my waiter (still seems weird to have had a waiter!) before chatting to fellow hikers about their journey thus far, having more food (pasta pasta pasta) and going to bed (of course early - but mostly cause it was so cold!!!). Still feeling good, legs with plenty of energy and optimistic of my chances.

Day 4
An early morning start today, with another big breakfast, before the hike to Kibo (4700m) began. Wandering from the moorlands towards the alpine desert, the landscape became more and more barren, and lunar, and jolly dusty - I think I ate more dust that day than popcorn! Unfortunately, it was also extremely windy today, so in addition to the powerful sun, I had to face the extreme cold of the mountain winds....Was glad that I had my Gore-tex jacket on and my beanie as it was bitter. The walk wasn't so hard today, much flatter than the previous day and I focused my attention the whole time on the peak, whilst heeding the "pole pole" advice of my guide
and fellow trekkers. It was positive as I was going up to meet friends I had made on the hike report that they had made it to the top, and was optimistic that my remaining strength, determination and encouragement from fellow hikers and guide (he told me he thought I would find it "easy" because a) I was a woman b) woman are brave and c) I was strong) would see
me through. At around 4500m, I started to feel a little light-headed, and breaked for a while to have some lunch - all the while not losing sight of the peak. Wondering whether I should have perhaps taken diamox, the altitude prophylactic after all. The jury seems to be split on its use - it apparently masks the symptoms of AMS, which means it can make you feel
better, but stop you from realizing you have pulmonary oedema before you're actually dead. So, yeah, I opted out. C'est la vie! (No pun intended).

From 4500m onwards, I progressed "pole pole", breaking frequently as my head went from being "light", to absolutely pounding, until at 4700m (at Kibo), I had to rest for 45mins or so, tortuously close to Kibo, and wanting to go on, but with a throbbing headache, dizziness and nausea setting in, knew I had no choice but to descend. Altitude sickness is serious stuff and I didn't want to mess with it. Frustrated and a tad upset, I began rapidly descending the 9km to Horombo, feeling horribly ill the whole way down, and technicolour yawning a few times too, passing others who had, like me, become ill and had to turn back. I had completely lost my appetite, and was now only focussed on getting down so the pain would go away.....(was also dreaming of hot showers!)

Thankfully it did, and by the time I reached Horombo, I was feeling great again, managed to eat my 10 course meal and got a good night's sleep!

Day 5
Kili is expensive to climb, so I was unable to pause a day and take a second, more gradual crack at the summit, so I descended all the way back down to Marangu gate, delighted to breathe real oxygen again and rapidly powering downhill for 19km in about 4.5 hours, before the drive back to Arusha and my first HOT shower in nearly 5 days....ah the simple things.....

Day 6
Back in Arusha, legs feel like 10 tonne trucks after the pounding downhill descent.....every step brings pain..... thinking about going back in a few weeks and trying again...not happy to let an oversized molehill beat me.

Kwaheri

Belinda
Sep 05

Posted by Backpasher 05:13 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Marrakesh-Malaga

sunny 20 °C

Continued...

After a couple of days ingesting Saharan dust, churned up from our "luxury" mini-bus, we stopped overnight in a Marrakchi riad, a beautifully designed house set around a courtyard with a fountain at its centrepiece. It was rather palatial after a night spent in the bitterly icy Sahara with putrid smelling camel blankets to keep us warm.

From here we caught a spiffy Supratours bus out to Essaouira, a charming coastal town, that is blindingly whitewashed in contrast to the warm ochre hues of Marrakesh. Its quaint surroundings have afforded it popularity amongst painters, writers, hippies, and package tourists sporting their knee-high socks with Birkenstocks, whilst the whipping Atlantic winds have brought it notoriety as a mecca for wind-surfing. Essaouira comes from the Arabic word for "walled", and its fortified ramparts, juxtaposed by the raging Atlantic waters, make for an immensely dramatic scene.

Unfortunately, our time here was short, and after a quick roam about the medina and fishing port, we made our way back to the bus stop, to return to Marrakesh.

As we hastened our pace toward the bus stop, I noted a sparkling Supratours bus accelerating toward us. Before we had a chance to even read the destination sign, the bus was gone, and we were faced with the inevitable horror that is catching a local bus.

Now I have done my fair share of dodgy local transport over the past couple of years: notably the marijuana fumed upstairs of Dublin's 77 bus; the overcrowded Laotian cargo boats plying the Mekong; and countless tuk tuks, pick-up trucks and motos across South East Asia. Really, it shouldn't bet that bad right?

Dear dear dear...our adventure began upon our arrival at the immaculate(ly grotty) city bus station where a cacophonic ranting of touts welcomed us by screaming out destinations at random (just for fun, try saying Agadir [Ah-guh-deer] in rapid succession for a couple of minutes), and following us around, with the hope that we may just follow them to their ticket booth
and they collect a few dirhams commission. Eventually we bought "comfortable" tickets on one of the local buses back to Marrakesh, and boarded for our journey.

We were welcomed onto the bus by an elderly gentleman who walked the length of the bus, initially ranting about "the price of eggs in China", before bursting into a disharmonious rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. It was a very hand-on-your-heart moment. Well, perhaps not. It is probable that he was praying to Allah for a safe journey. It is a lovely notion for one to
pray for a safe journey, though one must wonder if it is done out of thoughtfulness or dire necessity.

Aside from the repulsive odour of canine faeces wafting down the aisle, and the frequent honks of the bus driver's horn (a-la Vietnamese taxi drivers), the journey, though not particularly
"comfortable", was rather uneventful and we seemed to be chugging along just fine.

"Thud"

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH"

Quickly, the ticket attendant flicked on the light to confirm what we suspected

It immediately became apparent that a mother in the seat opposite ours had fallen asleep with her baby daughter resting peacefully in her arms. As the mother had dozed off, the baby must have slid from her grasp, and fallen to the ground... eeeeek....She seemed to be ok, though I spent the remainder
of the trip on the edge of my seat, in case the mother dozed off again.

Fortunately she didn't, and baby continued the journey sucking contentedly on her dummy/soother, apparently obvlivious of what had happened.

After some kip back in Marrakesh, we opted to take a train up the coast, to Casablanca, the economic capital and most populous city in Morocco. I had heard that Casa was akin to any other city in the developing world - overpopulated, rife with social problems and a tad polluted. Polluted would
be an understatement. The air in Casablanca is a national disgrace and sufficiently filthy to make one feel ill. Inhaling through the sleeve of my shirt dulled the intensity somewhat, but obnoxious it certainly was.

The main reason for our stop in Casablanca was to visit the Hassan II Mosque, the world's third-largest religious monument (I think Cambodia's Angkor temples are #1) capable of holding 25000 worshippers. Of course our last minute decision to stop here en route north meant that we happened to be passing through on a Friday, which as Muslim holy day, meant we were unable to visit the interior of the complex (d'oh) . So we settled for
parking our buttocks on a seat outside the mosque and watching the throngs of worshippers come and go from it. As the sun began to sink in the late afternoon, the seaside area became decidedly seedy, so we made for our dingy hotel back in town, missing the spectacle of the late night laser show that is projected from the top of the 210m high minaret each night.

Unable to suffocate on anymore Casa fumes, we journeyed onward to Fes, home to the largest living medieval city in the Arab world. For hours at a time we wound our way about the medina, admiring locally crafted artisanal goods, trying on shoes and peering into the entrances of the many medersas (theological seminaries) and mosques. We went in search of the tanneries
where the famous leathergoods of Morocco are crafted today in the same manner that they have been for several thousands of years using the same stinky ingredients to treat the leather.....pigeon poo, cow urine, fish oils, animal brains etc... (no wonder mum's beautiful fuschia handbag has been relegated to its position on the back verandah).

We wandered through the colourful fruit and vegetable markets to the heady odours of meat markets where you can opt for fresh goat's head, if you aren't in the mood for chicken wings. We met loads of 7 year old boys who wanted to make a few dirham by guiding us to the tanneries (or to their uncle's best friend's cousin's business partner's shop), as well as a man who touted himself initially as an "official guide", before correcting himself and proclaiming himself to be a "hustler". And of course we met lots of friendly local boys who thought I might be interested in marrying one of them! Can't blame these guys for trying though. In a society where the local women are barely seen, and the images of women from the west are predominantly of the likes of Britney Spears cavorting about in her leather gear, western women really must seem like fair game to these lads. Still....it is very bothersome.

After escaping Fes without a husband (apparently I requested too many camels), we headed to the chilled out city of Meknes, home to the old imperial city of Moulay Ismail, a 17th century sultan who was famed not only for bringing widespread unification to Morocco, but for his tendency to chop off the heads of anyone who displeased him. You gotta give the guy some credit though as he built a pretty amazing city filled with spectacular
gateways, medersas and palaces. He also built massive granaries to store vast quantities of food for the people as well as his 12 000 horses. As is the case with the kasbah of Ait Bennadhou, the granaries are popular with film-makers for their ancient atmosphere.

As much as Meknes was a delightful constrast to Casa and Fes, it was a nightmare to try and get a taxi here. Along with hundreds of locals, we waited at the Place el-Hedim to flag down a taxi. After watching the locals, it became pretty obvious what had to be done.

1. Spot a taxi
2. Sprint madly for it along with everyone else
3. Run along side the still moving taxi (preferably making contact with it the whole time)
4. Try and open the doors while it is still moving and climb in
5. Be assertive, even agressive - it is YOUR taxi
6. If you are foreign, sprint twice as fast
7. Push if necessary but not too hard
8. Be first into the taxi!

Exhausting? Absolutely! Took us half an hour to get a taxi back to the hotel! Yeah and I looked like a right eejit running after taxis too!

After a couple of hours wandering about the ancient ruins of Volubilis (settled by the Carthaginian trades around 3 BC), we returned to Tangier to board our ferry back to Spain...

No touts, no donkeys, no marriage proposals...... Just the joys of shopping, tapas, and churrerias...

Bel x

Posted by Backpasher 23:05 Archived in Morocco Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Conversation with a souq salesman

sunny 17 °C

Vendor: Bonjour mademoiselle/gazelle, ça va?
Me: ça va bien
Vendor: Français? Espanol? English, Belgique........Australian?
Me: Oui, je suis de Australien
Vendor: Ah le kangaroo, Welcome our country!
Me: Merçi
Vendor: What you want? Slipper? Bag? I make good price for you (interchangeable with "Prix democratique"). Very cheap.
Me: Just looking
Vendor: Ok only looking, looking free
Me: (nods, quick side-ways glance at a gorgeous handbag)
Vendor: (dexterous manoeuvre to remove it from its nail on the wall and opens it up to show me)
See, very nice, handmade, good quality. How much you pay?
Me: Only looking, looking free
Vendor: Ok ok, no problem my friend, I do you good price, today everything half price
Me: Everyday half price no?
Vendor: Special price today. Ok ok how much you pay?
Me: C'est combien?
Vendor: 370 dirham!
Me: Ooh la la!!! Trop cher! (turns away in disgust)
Vendor: Ok ok, how much you pay? How much maximum?
Me: hmmmm 50 dirham
Vendor: (looks away in disgust) ok no way miss, excuse-a me, serious price, how much you pay?....yadda yada yadda...until an agreeable price is decided...

Posted by Backpasher 22:03 Archived in Morocco Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Marrakesh to Merzouga

sunny 17 °C

Bonjour!

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 Comments (0)

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