Food is a huge part of the travel experience and Morocco hasn’t disappointed us! Traditional Moroccan delights that we’ve enjoyed include:
- Tanjine – this meal is named after the clay pot it’s cooked in, which looks like a birthday party hat but functions like a slow cooker. Typically the dish includes meat surrounded by a variety of vegetables and even fruit like dates or nectarines.
- Dates – they’re a popular and available choice. Sold most everywhere you’d expect and wouldn’t (eg. roadside on a mountain pass)
- Brochette (French for skewers) – available with various types of meats (ie. chicken, beef, mixed). This is a go-to item on any restaurant menu.
- Couscous -they know how to cook this right! We had a number of deliciously fluffy and light couscous dishes.
- Mint Tea – you wouldn’t be eating Moroccan without heavily sugared mint tea, poured into a small glass cup from a metal kettle at a height that gives it bubbles. Sometimes delicious, and sometimes all you taste is the sugar.
Lunch time while treking in the desert
Lamb Tajine with couscous
Fun cake … with pomegrante from the garden!
Breakfast with delicious breads
Laughing Cow … it’s a thing in Morocco
It’s late. Through the ornate window grate I am given visual few clues to the time. The sun sets by early evening and the dim lights keep the stuccoed wall its permanent colour – salmon pink. All I have is the intermittent sounds of Marrakesh.
On the first night here I made a futile attempt to drown out the noise with ear buds and music. It was clear this would be a losing battle. I resigned myself to reframe the situation and listen to the music of the city. The instruments include mopeds, voices and language of many, cats, garbage men, calls to prayer, the opening of doors and the occasional unknown. The undistinguishable murmur of the Jemaa el-Fnna square and nearby streets full of shops provide background into the night. But these aren’t late night activities and soon are removed from the orchestra.
Tonight we start the song with a handful of mopeds and an animated discussion among friends. Perhaps sorting out plans for the night or next day at work? That’s the fun part – I get to fill in the blanks. The sounds only tease my brain, push it down the creative path. Arabic sounds extreme to my ears, either animated or aggressive,with little context to place it correctly in a category. Mopeds zoom away and the chatter quiets. The screeching of fighting cats and clipping of heals on the roadway take turns breaking the silence of the night.
Another verse comes – the garbage man. Each night the road is spotted with small bags of garbage, and each day we awake to a spotless street. This amazes me as the noise made sounds like creating a mess, not cleaning one. Glass smashes, plastic bottles are crinkled and the garbage is sorted into a wagon that ungracefully moves down the street. The essential sweeping is too soft to hear.
It’s too late for a call to prayer, which are a clear reminder we’re not in Kansas anymore. The call is rarely the same and here in Marrakesh sounds overly animated like a boisterous play-by-play sports announcer.
Tonight my friends add to the music of the night as they cheer watching Game 7 baseball (spoiler alert: Cubs win the World Series). They sit on the roof top patio and their trips down the metal stairs to use the loo mix with the common street noise of someone fumbling with a key to open a squeaky and loud metal door. Although I can’t spatially place the metal noise I recgonize not everyone is coming in to join us.
Ultimately, the sounds of the city do as intended and send me to sleep.
Following our Sahara Desert adventure we headed northwest towards the Atlantic coast.
Taliouine is a small town (less than 6,000 residents) in the heart of saffron country. Saffron flowers (which are a crocus – similar to back home in Alberta) grow in the area with the help of irrigation. The purple flowers are picked as they bloom before sunrise. They are then taken and manually the three small piece of deliciousness are extracted. The saffron is air-dried and packaged for sale. Most saffron is sold through cooperatives. We visited the Museum of Saffron Cultivation and Souktana Cooperative to learn more about the product, buy some and enjoy some tea. Our attempt to see purple fields of saffron fields was unsuccessful (as it’s the season for picking), but we did enjoy the landscape and valley.
Our accommodations were in the town’s kasbah (fortress) which as been converted into an auberge (french word for inn). It was fabulous with an internal courtyard, tasteful rooms and traditionally cooked meals.
Taghazout is a smaller coastal town known for fishing and surfing. Upon arrival you get that bohemian feeling with a mash-up of locals and visitors (complete with stereotypical hippies living out of vans) and lots of restaurants and surf shops. Most shops offer package deals (surf and stay). We were blessed with an apartment overlooking the ocean – what a gift!
During the day – Taghazout
Surfing is a ton of fun and a lot of work. You quickly see how one gets a fit surfers body if you’re doing it everyday! Our instructor from Surf Berbere did a great job of getting us started. Not shockingly, the boys with their past board experience, took to surfing quickly. I enjoyed my day of basics – balancing on the board on my belly, catching the wave, and almost getting up. Certainly it peaked my interest and I’d give it a go in the future.
Driving into Taghazout it’s clear that the place is changing. Prior to the town there is a giant swath of obviously resort style development: manicured boulevards, paved parking lots with lights, new low rise dwellings, cranes and a Hyatt. Plus, the signs advertising untis for sale and the pending golf course. It would be interesting to come back in 5 years time to see the impact of this investment.
Think of a hot desert animal and you’re likely to think of camels. Prior to coming to Morocco, we’d been told they’re cranky animals that spit and bite. Thankfully that wasn’t our experience. We appreciated the efforts of our Arabian Camels (aka dromedary) treking through the Sahara.
We started our trek from Mhamid with a 2 hour camel ride. That’s about all you need to understand what it’s like. Their awkward gait makes for a bumpy and swaying ride. The key is to be loose and go with it. The more your fight, the more uncomfortable it is. There is a saddle of sorts – it provides a u-shaped cushion around the hump to sit on and a metal structure to hang onto (and strap loads to). Want to know how comfortable the saddle is? Ride a bike for a few hours straight after you haven’t done it in years – the bike seat hits thus same tender spots on your butt. You definiately want the handle when getting on/off the camel. They bend front legs first, thus lean back and hold on or you’d noise dive over them!
Due to what may have been a communication error, day one was the only time we rode. The next three days we walked along with the wonderful beasts carrying our baggage, water, food and camp set up. The camels are guided by a rope attached to either a nose ring (camel at the front of the line) or their mouth (rope located similar to the bit on a horse bridale). During that time we noticed:
- all the work camels are male (aljamal). The ladies (naqa) are left to make more baby camels
- they are trained to follow the instructions provided by the rope and camel dudes. One of the ropes came untied thus allowing a camel to be free from the set. He ended up stepping on the rope, and just patiently waited to be attended to.
- nylon rope are the camel dudes best friend. They use it to tie the camels together, afix the saddle to the camel, tie their legs when at camp, etc.
- to prevent the camels from wandering too far they tie their legs. Over night they tied their front legs together, about a foot apart. The camels can shuffle around. During our windy lunch break they tied the camels front feet to its upper leg. They could awkwardly get up and three-legged hop, however they tended to sit and stay put. Only one did the hop – to be able to eat from the tree
- camels eat most anything, including any food leftovers and fruit rinds.
Drive off the end of the road in M’hamid Morocco and your into to the top of the Sahara Desert (the world’s largest hot desert). A simply amazing places to spend 4 nights/5 days taking in the natural beauty and Moroccan way of life (aka lots of tea).
Sky – the horizon in the desert is vast. I’ve never seen so clearly the multitude of stars in the night sky as in the desert. Certainly the stars would be essential to aiding travel over long distances with very few visible landmarks on the ground. With almost 12 hour days and nights we’d see the moon high in the sky as the sun rose.
Camels walking along with our gear
Scarfs – we all learned how to tie our scarfs on day one. Besides being a local fashion accessory their functionally is exceptional. They’re great for sun and sand protection. The locals use much longer scarfs that could double as rope for all sorts of practical applications: strapping goods on a camel, putting a bucket into a well for water, etc.
Sand – yep, there’s a lot of sand in the desert! It’s so soft and fine (like flour) compared to the nicest beaches I’ve been too! When it blows it gets in every orifice you have and you just deal with it. Our guides were superb at managing to avoid getting sand in our omelettes (full props to them!).
Sun – our days were reasonable, at par with very hot summer days back home in Canada (a dry plus 30-35 celsius). A light breeze and scarf helped keep the temperate comfortable during our 2-3 hour desert treks. We walked; the camels carried our gear.
Stones – the compliment to all the sand are the many stones of all shapes and sizes. Like most things in the desert they served a purpose; piles were used as markers. On the highways piles serve as pylons or warning signs for road issues. Stones include fossils from days gone by!
Silence – the most striking thing about the desert was how quiet it was. Laying out on a sand dune to watch the stars you heard nothing but the beating of your own heart. It was amazing in a way I can’t capture in words! However, this also means that you hear every noise when it’s made.