(This is just a brief outline of the trip to go with the pictures. Also an excuse to practice my prose so I can become a famous travel writer, make millions, and settle down somewhere suburbian. It's not even finished, but ho hum, eh? Many thanks to Emmanuelle who took all the decent photos here, and to Paul whose scanner I used and email I almost broke in trying to transfer them...).
Having been too busy to organise our own holiday, Sophie, Emmanuelle and I took a packaged tour of Morocco in October 1999, with Nouvelles Frontieres, some French tour company. As such, we flew from Paris, on the morning of Saturday the 17th...
Arrival and settling in went reasonably smoothly. Soon after landing in Marrakesh on Sunday afternoon, we were whisked away to our hotel in the north of the city where we met some of the other members of the tour, all French. Rather than mope around the hotel, the three of us had a look around the famous Souk. E was insulted by a (possibly) transvestite belly dancer with very hairy hands while I looked on with my usual gormless expression when other people are saying things I don't understand.
After pottering about the Souk our appetites took us for a meal at a very expensive traditional Moroccan restaurant. Tradition provided nomadic food - boiled lamb, boiled chicken and boiled vegetables - and the expense provided a grand, decorated stone room and floor shows.
...had all 25 of us herded into 5 Land Rovers; S, E & I in with Jacques and Jacquelines who had already spent a week in the country doing their own thing. We headed down to Taroudant; 100 miles of numb bum. On the way we popped in to Tin Mal Mosque, currently being restored and the only mosque normally open to non-believers.
We pottered around the fig trees and fields at Taroudant, and climbed the gentle slope to the Kasbah at the top, which is being converted into a tidy restaurant, with a lovely view over the surrounding oasis. Below us we could see fires being prepared for an evening of dancing and singing, but it was not for us, booo.
Back at the hotel we were served the remains of lunch, minced up and wrapped neatly in a samosa. No waste around here! Even more so as there seemed to be a large number of spare cakes going at the end, which just had to be eaten. Oh my poor tum...
Rough road today! Braced against window and seat, shifting occasionaly to avoid numb bum or other parts, we watched the scenery go by. Quite fascinating stuff; ancient mountains worn into rubble - a bit like Wadi Rum, but with less sand.
The slopes were all terraced. At first I took them to be made by particularly enthusiastic farmers, but on closer inspection the rock appeared to be layered in shades of rich brown, with the different layers wearing at different rates. This gave both a 'terraced look' when the layers were horizontal, and a wierd 'fingerprint whorl' look where they had been tipped up and folded by the stresses involved in whatever it is that make mountains move. Very beautiful if you like that still, barren look (and I do), and we pulled up at one stage to admire the moon showing between two peaks.
We also pulled up at an oasis to beat some dates out of trees, something Sophie was to regret very soon after...
Grinding through a non-descript village, the Land Rovers came to a halt and one by one manouvered through a plain gate in a high wall. We were secreted away into a patio, to have a 'traditional' style berber lunch, resting on cushions and carpet, and back to the original eating implements - fingers.
Good strong tea for afters, boiled three times, and thickened with sugar. Now I've heard that 'buying rounds' is a particularly British thing, but I was very surprised when afterwards everyone tried to make sure they'd paid for their own 3p cup of tea and 12p bottle of water!
On after lunch through and past major road works. I'm no road builder, but these looked properly made with drains and ditches to allow floods through. We arrived in Tata, a nice hotel with a small central pool. The room had separate loo et douche, but for some reason both had glass panels at the tops of the doors...
Dancing and drumming was provided over a pleasant dinner, and the sun gradually disappeared over the hills behind the palm tree-surrounded veranda. Very pretty.
After dinner I wandered into town, but nothing much seemed to be happening. The usual local cafes had a few people in, regulars perhaps for their evening coke on the way home ('a pint of the usual please Hassan, no, make that a diet coke today, my trousers feel a bit tight'). Had a chat with one young man on the usual conversation that binds any men between cultures - work and women! Tottered back home a little the worse for wear for several drinks (of caffeine), pleasantly surprised by a beautiful view of the ravine outside the town in the moonlight.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Sophie was suffering from the after effects of a bad batch of figs...
A visit to the dunes to the south of Morocco. Quite a way to go and we were only there for about half an hour!
There were probably more sites to see and mountains to cross and things. I forget.
I took a few days off the tour to meet up with some German friends who I knew from Kenya; they just happened to be over at the same time for a conference on 'The Young Camel' along with Lulu from Dubai who I had also met once before (it's a small camel world).
Brigitte was over from Deutschland, and was running one of the seminars. Christian had been winding down a project in Nigeria, and was finding it so cold in comparison (it was late 20's deg C) that he had to borrow a fleece! Lulu was working on breeding racing camels and a lama/dromedary cross. An article on her appeared in a Scientific American (I think) soon after, so yippee! A claim to fame! (ie, I know someone famous...)
The day before they arrived, I took a half day out to try some desert karting. This has to be the 'ultimate driving experience!' Basically a roll cage with four wheels and a 2CV engine mounted with easy access at the back, they are fast, manouverable, and seem to be the ideal vehicle to use to travel across rough terrain. I want one.
We only spent a morning out - down the road from Ourzazate, off onto a rough track, and when we stopped a few miles later, we were already into that silent, still desert atmosphere. We visited a village, had unleavened bread, honey and of course tea, carried out a token 'river crossing', and raced back at 100kph. How much fun is that!
The chap who organises it is Luc Jodor, who can be located at Avenue Moulay Rachid, which is just behind some very posh hotel that I can't remember the name of (in the Zone Hoteliere). His fax is +212 4 88 62 16, and you can call him on +212 4 88 63 74. I see he's got a website now.
He also does longer trips, up to 7 days and possibly more. They are all across the back roads, camping out or staying in villages, right off the beaten track. He is very pleasant, seems knowledgable, and tolerent of and helpful to non-french speakers!
On the last day I hired a car to catch up with the rest of the tour at their final day in Marrakesh. I raced over the mountains to try and get there before it got dark, and failed. I don't know if my passenger, who was there to bring the car back, was from his point of view either frightened at the risks I took, or frustrated by the lack of them. But we got there safely. Having dropped the car off, I raced around the main souke as it shut down, having quite a fun time arguing with a couple of merchants for various presents. Desperate for a shave, but not so desperate as to do it myself, I headed out the back of the souke to find a barber. Which was very spooky with most of the shops shut - the souke is quite large, and a large proportion of it is echoing, undercity alley ways...
By the time I got back, E & S were in bed, so I 'retired to the bar' to spend the last of my coins. After listening to the kareoke for almost several minutes, I sat outside for a couple of hours and watched the moon. It didn't do anything.
And in conclusion? Don't do it! Rather, don't do a package tour, unless you like travelling more than being somewhere. We spent most of the time slumped in a Land Rover, and never long enough anywhere to sit out under a palm tree and absorb. On the other hand, we saw a large variety of scenery, towns, villages, ruins, soukes and people. Just very briefly!
Particularly, don't go with a group that all speak one language which you don't! Multi-lingual groups can be very interesting, but when everyone else speaks one language, they will of course talk to each other at normal speed - imagine having to continuously stop and explain, slowly, to one member of a group everything you say! Unless you have a knack for picking up languages just by listening, it will leave you as an outsider to most conversations.
Next stop - Libya! Or, perhaps, skiing in Lebanon?
Hassan is that most dangerous of animals.... a clever goat.