After a few days of meandering through Morocco, we arrived to a small town of Chefchaouen, tucked away up in a Rif Mountains, not too far from Tangier. I think Chefchaouen is one of my favorite places in Morocco. Between its striking blue medina, laid-back attitude of the locals and gorgeous backdrop of the surrounding mountains it’s very hard not to fall in love. I wish we had a little bit more time, but I felt like everyone was getting tired of Morocco and especially endless tajines, so we made plans to fly out to Thailand.
On our last morning, I got up a little bit earlier and went out to explore Chefchauen on my own. It was early, so the streets were pretty empty, except for a few little children being taken to school by their mothers and some shopkeepers setting up their shops. And, of course, several groups of ubiquitous Chinese tourists with their giant cameras and rooster-like clothing.
I walked up and down the streets, taking pictures, enjoying a perfect morning in a perfect little town. Every street, every corner was absolutely picture perfect and I shot hundreds of photos and had a hardest time picking my favorites.
Later I found out that the reason behind Chefchaouen’s blue buildings. According to Lonely Planet, there is a religious reason behind it: Jewish teachings suggest that by dyeing thread with tekhelel (an ancient natural dye) and weaving it into prayer shawls, people would be reminded of God’s power. The memory of this tradition lives on in the regularly repainted blue buildings.
Exhausted after our Sahara adventures, but utterly satisfied and happy, we left our Caravan-de-Rev crew and drove to meet our long missed ‘little Mr. Sunshine’ Mohammed in M’Hamid to head to our next destination. On the way we hit a bit of a sandstorm, which was kind of cool.
We stopped at the riad called Sahara Sky, not too far from Tamegrout. Tamegrout is a village not too far from M’Hamid, in the valley of the Draa River. It has a history as an important center of learning and religion through its famous Sufi zawiya, historical center of the Nasiriyya Sufi order, one of the most influential – and at one time one of the largest – Sufi orders. Tamegroute library still contains many ancient manuscripts, some as old as 1063, with most being written between 11-15th century. There is a 14th-century Quran with beautiful calligraphy in Kufic script, writings of Avicenna (Ibn Sina), a translation of Pythagoras, treatises on theology, astronomy, geography and pharmacology. All books are handwritten and some are written on skins of gazelle. The library comes with an ancient man in a wheelchair, who speaks just enough English to explain you what books are all about, that’s about it. It’s such an amazing treasure for such tiny little town in the middle of nowhere… Now they have built a koranic school, adjoined to the library, where kids spent many years studying koran and becoming religious scholars.
Tamegrout is also famous for the type of pottery, particularly its greed glaze, which has infinite variations, thanks to the ancient techniques. The founders of the religious brotherhood Nasiriyya wanted to raise the status of the village of Tamegroute to that of a ‘Medina’, or a city. They assembled the merchants and craftsmen that they had brought from Fes. But even though Tamegrout is a small village again, there are still a lot of potters whose families has been doing pottery for many generations and it’s exported all over Morocco and the world.
But the main reason we stayed in that particular hotel, is because of the stars. The hotel is built by a quirky German dude, who used to be an entrepreneur in the US and then advised king of Morocco on economic and business development, and now retired. He told us that he was always interested in astronomy and decided to build his own observatory as a hobby. And since he is a born entrepreneur, he also built a riad, so he can share his passion with others. The riad is literally in the middle on nowhere, in order to avoid light pollution. He has few serious telescopes and a professional astrologer on staff to educate those like us, who have never seen a telescope up close before (OK, we did. Once).
We were worried about not being able to see anything, because the sky was clouded for an entire week which is very unusual for October in this area. Plus the moon was almost full and bright, so if we wanted to see anything, we had to catch it before the moonrise. So, right after dinner we went upstairs to the roof, where the astronomer, who is originally from Belgium, showed us some pretty cool things. We got to see Andromeda, the galaxy closest to ours, couple of nebulas — ring and dumbbell — and Mars, which was pretty far and it appeared as a tiny orange dot. But the coolest thing was the moon. By that time the clouds started to move in and hang pretty low, but there was a small gap between the clouds and the horizon. We could see the moon in that gap, and it was so amazingly clear and beautiful, you could see every crater, every line. And partially hidden by the clouds it even looked even more intriguing and demure. As it was rising it was moving so fast, you could literally see it rolling higher and higher behind the clouds with the speed of a mad roadster. It was magical.
In the morning we got to see the sun through the telescope too, which was pretty cool. Having a professional astronomer was an icing on a cake – it’s always so much fun to talk to someone who is so passionate about their job.
In the morning we woke up to a delicious smell of the freshly backed bread. The El Quazemy women get up at 5:30 in the morning to bake bread for the guests and make sure that the breakfast is ready. We didn’t get up till 9AM and moseyed over downstair for breakfast, which was a typical Moroccan fare: bread with a couple of different jams, mint tea, kids had some yogurt and cheese. The man who came up to the house with our donkey and Ahmed all sat down and ate breakfast with us. Women didn’t join us, we were told they are in the kitchen, working. Berber women generally tend to be shy and not horribly sociable.
It rained last night and the sky was still covered with the clouds. It was cold and windy, but the view was just as beautiful in the morning, as it was the night before. We were worried about the river getting too high, so we took off as soon as we were done with breakfast.
We packed and were ready for our mule ride down. We thought that we were going to have a cart, but instead we had a donkey fixed with two sidebag for our luggage. Kids wanted to ride him, so the mule man heaved them on top of it, they didn’t even have a chance to vote on it. Moroccans are like that – they just assume that kids want to do something and they just get them to do it. Whether is riding donkeys, holding snakes, petting rabbits or trying clothes on. And sometimes it’s fun, but sometimes it’s very annoying. On the way down we met Andy, who was coming back from his morning walk/run after looking at the source of the water which his charity was going to help fix. They were staying in Kasbah Oliver, which is run by Caroline and her husband Mohammed and is named after their 6 year old son.
We walked down for about 15 minutes, the wind ripping our hats off and an occasional sprinkle coming down. I wouldn’t say it was a pleasant walk, even with all the gorgeous mountain scenery around, and kids were cold, so they were happy when our driver, Mohammed, showed up about 15 minutes down the road, ready to load up and take us all the way down in our nice, warm car.
After another near-death, hair-raising mountain road nightmare, we finally made it to Animetr and I don’t think I was ever more excited to see a dusty little town anywhere else on Earth. The road from Animetr to Ait Benhaddou is absolutely gorgeous. It goes on the side of the Ourika Valley, the little red casbahs hanging of the cliff, lush green valley on the bottom. The red walls contrasting against green grass carpet collapse against each other not in unappealing way. Sometimes the valley looks like a giant crack in the ground, green life-giving vein in an otherwise dead dry stony mountains.
It took us over an hour to drive to Ain Benhaddou. When we made it there, we were starving, so we decided to have lunch first. Ait Benhaddou is somewhat of a tourist trap, many people want to see it because of all the movies being made there. Gladiator, Babel, Lawrence Of Arabia, Sodom And Gomorrah, Jesus of Nazareth, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Sheltering Sky, Kundun, The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven and also some parts of Game of Thrones, just to name a few. Ait Benhaddou Kasbah is a fortified city, or ksar. It is made up of six Kasbahs and nearly fifty ksars which are individual Kasbahs. Even though most people moved across the river to the modern accommodations, there are still few families still living within the walls of the ancient city. The river separating it from the civilization floods every year, so the citizens were cut off from the world for weeks at a time until the small pedestrian bridge was built few years ago. All the dwellings are made out of red clay, dirt and straw, in a traditional Moroccan architectural style.
Quarzazate has couple of big movie studios and it is only about 50 minutes away. The restaurant we went to obviously set up for large groups of tourists, but our meal came out fast and it was pretty decent. There were several busses parked on the street and several different tour groups were wandering in and out of the restaurant.
But even without all the movies it’s still quite charming. It’s built in traditional berber style of mud and straw and even though most citizens now live in more modern dwellings in a nearby village, 4 families are still living in the ancient city, still doing the same things they were doing hundreds years ago. Of course a lot of shops selling various sentiments of berber life, such as berber locks, weapons, jewelry and clothes. Scarfs are very popular and a lot of tourists leave the town with a newly purchased scarf. They built a new bridge across the river 5 years ago and apparently before the bridge, people used to cross the river using the donkey. And when the river flooded, then there was that, you had to wait till the end of a flood to get to the other side.
We hired a guide, who claimed to speak English, but that was a very optimistic of him to claim that. We could have easily have done it without guide – it’s pretty hard to get lost there, but we figured the guy can use some money. We are awful tourists – we don’t buy anything except for lodging and food, so we are not really helping local economies like most tourists do. We went through the ksar, climbed all the way to the top to see the agadir, the fortified agricultural building.
From there we headed to Skoura. We passed Quarzazate on the way, but didn’t stop because Bobby wasn’t feeling well and we decided to do all the excursions next time on the way to Zagora. Skoura historically has been a place, where all the dessert traders brought their goods after grueling two month journey through the Sahara. Skoura’s palm groves are protected by the UNESCO and it also called “Oasis of 1000 palms”. The watering system “khettara,” which is a 15 mile long network of canals, has been in place for hundreds of years and it’s still working just fine. The palms are very important part of the oasis, providing dates, shade and fronds to be used as a roofing materials. We didn’t stop at the small town of Skoura and headed directly to our next place of stay, Sawadi, a 9 hectare organic farm in the palmeraie. Described as “an oasis within an oasis.”
Sawadi is my dream come true – a peaceful organic garden/orchard/farm, full of fruit and olive trees, vegetable patches throughout, chicken, sheep, donkey, rabbits, pigeons, turkey and a couple of pheasants, all working together as one cycle of nature. They are growing alfalfa to feed the animals and fertilize the fields with the compost made from their poop. Most of the food served in the restaurant is fresh from the garden. Kadir, the manager, took us around the property, helped us pick the right pomegranates, pears and apples from the tree, perfectly ripe and so sweet, you would think they are injected with an extra dose of sugar, introduced us to donkey, baby lambs, chicken and rabbits. All the bungalows built in the traditional berber style of mud and straw.
Apparently October is not the best month to come visit. The winds are very high and it’s not awfully warm. It’s a lot less cold than in the mountains, but the winds are very strong.
Kids of course found all the toys they had on the property – children playhouse, swings, batchi ball, shuffleboard, board games and even Moroccan babouches (slippers) and hats they had in the common room. We’ve spent the rest of the day playing Monopoly and reminiscing about all the places we’ve traveled in the last year or two.
After the two weeks of Marrakesh fun, we are taking off on our big journey across Morocco. We said long tearful good byes to our sweet Moroccan “family,” Badja and Samad and walked down our last walk through the medina to the taxi stand. It never stops to amaze me how your perception of a place changes just after a few short days. I remember arriving in Marrakesh the first night and seeing nothing but chaos and dust, but now Marrakesh feels so homey and peaceful. We pass by souk owners who say hello not because they want to sell us something, but because they know us by now, the streets look clean and sunlit, even the motorbikes seem mellow and agreeable.
Our driver, Mohammed, a young guy with forever sunny attitude and impeccable professional manners, was waiting for us at the taxi stand. We loaded up and took off to the mountains on Highway 9, towards Quarzazate. The mountains up from Marrakesh to the summit are gorgeous clay red, with specks of trees and bushes and an occasional farm or a nomadic goat herder. I was surprised how green some of the spots were – I always pictured Morocco as a giant desert with nothing but rocks and sand dunes. They have plenty of that too, but there is also no shortage of luscious greenery, orchards, palmearies and plantations. Most of the rains come in the winter and the snow melts, rivers swell up and sometimes get out of control, creating floods and devastation. We drove past several places destroyed by floods, including one as recent as the one this summer. Rains here can be quite severe, especially the torrential rains that come and dump buckets of water in just few minutes, creating violent mountain water run-offs, not unlike the one in the Hollywood studios, except deadly.
On the way we passed many Berber villages, still built out of mud and rocks, just like in the olden days. One was particularly picturesque, in its own stark, stone-like way.
After the summit at 2260 meters, the road changes and turns gray and stony through Tizi N’Tichka path. Not too long ago the road was in horrible conditions and it took several hours of heart-stopping driving to get over to the other side, but now government is putting a lot of money in road renovations to improve infrastructure and attract tourism. It is considered a highest major mountain pass of North Africa and November-March it occasionally gets snowed in, but the snow melts quickly.
Right after Tizi N’Tichka path we took a turn off to the road to Telouet – small dusty village in the Zig river valley. The road to Telouet follows the path of the river, which also sweeps up and destroys everything on its way, including the roads. We’ve spent a couple of hours creeping alongside the river, keeping our fingers crossed that the road ahead is not washed off. That area can get pretty dangerous during the rain and we’ve met a couple in Marrakesh who got stranded few days earlier in a little village in the mountains because of the rain. Thankfully it wasn’t raining that day and they weren’t expecting the rain anytime soon.
Telouet is located along the former route of the caravans from the Sahara over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. We stopped at the Telouet Kasbah, a castle for the T’hami El Glaoui or Lord of the Atlas, the Pasha of Marrakech from 1912 to 1956. Kasbah, in a typical Moroccan tradition of building something beautiful and then either destroying it or abandoning it to turn into ruin, is slowly collapsing, but there are few rooms that are still full of old age glory. Thankfully the government is putting an effort into preservation and restoration of old castles and historical buildings, as it attracts tourism and brings in a lot of money.
After Telouet, the road had gotten a little bit better, but little did we know that the worst part is yet to come. We drove 11 km to Ameter, where we took a turn off to Tighza. Well let me tell you – I probably have a lot more gray hairs after that trip, than even after Stalheimsklevia road in Norway. The road was super steep, unpaved and of course didn’t have any borders whatsoever. We were lucky to have met only 3 or 4 cars on the way and only in the places where we could pass each other, because in most places the road is wide enough to barely squeeze by in one car. What do you do when you meet another car? You just back up for another mile or two until there is enough room to pass. Hopefully you don’t back up off a cliff. When I was making a reservation, the lady asked me if we wanted to take a mule cart, but I figured that I will let the driver decide if he wants to drive up this road or not. On the way back, I’m definitely taking a mule cart for the luggage and walking all the way down!!!
Tighza is a tiny little village all the way up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. Literally. It’s at the end of the road, there is nothing past it. But, boy, it’s gorgeous! Beautiful red clay mountains surrounded by lush bright green olive groves and farmlands, red clay kasbahs perched on the cliffs. And giant rocks and quiet…
We stayed with the family at El Quazemy house. Ahmet, his wife and mother live there, and his brother Mohammed, who is married to Caroline, run Kasbah Oliver next door. At the Ahmet’s house we met a family from the UK: Andy, Jenny and Poppy. Andy runs the Baraka Partnership Charity, which does a lot of good deeds for the village and many other places. We had a long talk about Morocco, charities and travel and general. I have so much admiration and respect for people like that, who just pick up and start doing things to help others: singlehandedly run the entire organization, finding projects he wants to help with, finding volunteers to help with building schools and organizing learning centers, providing medical help and helping with the constructions work.
Ahmet’s wife and mother cooked a delicious meal of harira (traditional Moroccan soup) and couscous with vegetables and a side of chicken. We had tea and fruit for dessert. Our bedroom was pretty basic and the water wasn’t running that day, but that’s what you would expect in a place like that. We didn’t complain. Well, Bobby did, but he didn’t feel that good that day.
After sunny and chaotic couple of weeks in Marrakesh, we decided to take a road trip to the small coastal town of Essaouira. Of course, no trip to Essaouira is complete without a stop at the argan forest, where the world famous tree goats can be seen sitting on the trees.
Yes, they are just as adorable and quirky in person as they are on a photo. At the first glance they almost look fake. I suspected that someone maybe have tied them down with a rope to the tree branches. But they seem to be perfectly content to be sitting there, chewing on the thorns. There was a couple of goat herders nearby and they let kids play with the baby goats.
But the goats are not there to simply entertain tourists, they have work to do. Traditionally, the goats were a part of a production cycle of an argan oil, world’s most valuable edible oil, according to some sources. Argan fruits were eaten by the goats and then pooped out to be cracked open and the oil sqeezed out of the seeds used in cosmetics or food. Now, in most places, the goats have been replaced by the local women, who (thankfully!) instead of eating and pooping them out, just crack the shell and take the seed out by hand.
Argan forest is a pretty special place. The argan trees are endemic to the south-west of Morocco and known as “Trees of Life” to the Berbers. Argan oil has been used by the Berbers as a part of the women’s beauty rituals for ages and they pride themselves on their youthful appearance, thanks to the magical oil. The oil is used as a protection from the harsh climatic conditions – burning sun and gushing winds, healing over chicken pox spots, treating eczema and acne, preventing stretch marks and treating arthritis and many other things, including cooking. All the parts of the oil production process are done by hand, exactly the same way it was done for hundreds of years.The process is very labor-intensive and hadn’t been mechanized yet, but it does create a lot of jobs for women in the area, which is great for the economy in general. According to Wikipedia, argan oil production supports 2.2 million people.
Of course we had to stop at one of the cooperatives to see how the oil is made and buy some too. You can buy it in Marrakesh and other places in Morocco, but most of the time it’s diluted with other oils of unknown quality. Edible oil has to be fresh and locals usually recommend buying it at the cooperatives. We pulled over to one of the cooperatives on the way to Essaouria and were welcomed by the nice young lady, who lead us through the whole process, explaining all the details.
The fruit is mainly harvested in July and August, and then dried for several weeks.
We were lead to the production area, where we got to meet the ladies, seated in a large room, separated into production groups. The first group was cracking the hard outer husks (the ones originally digested by the goats) buy crashing them with a stone. Every woman has her own personal stone, and apparently, they are very particular about those. Nothing is wasted in the production, the husks and the shells are later ground and fed to the animals.
Kids got to participate in the oil production also. The ladies were very sweet and they quickly rounded kids up and started showing them how to crack the shell.
Next group was cracking the inner shell and taking out the kernel, which slightly resembles pumpkin seed kernel without a green skin.
After that some amount of kernels is taken out and roasted to be ground into an edible oil. The unroasted oil is used for cosmetic purposes. All the kernels are hand ground in a stone grinder and after that the water is added to the paste to be squeezed by hand to extract the oil. The leftovers are used in the production of Moroccan black soap, that is used in all the hammams and spas throughout the country.
Apparently it takes about 100 kg of ripe fruit to become 30 kg of dried fruit to become 3 kg of kernelsto be made into 1 liter of oil after cold pressing. The process from fruit to oil takes about 15 hours.
After that we were taken to the tasting room, where we got to taste freshly squeezed edible argan oil. OMG, the oil tastes incredible. It has a very nutty, rich taste, slightly reminding roasted sunflower kernels, making you just want to chug the whole bottle of it.
We also tried an amlou – mixture of almond butter with honey and the argan oil, with a little bit of cinnamon, used in cooking many Moroccan dishes, including delicious pastilla, the pigeon pie. We also tried the multitude of cosmetic products they made at the coop. We left loaded with two giant bags of stuff we just absolutely had to have, including 2 jars of amlou. Yum!
If you are willing to go beyond your regular restaurants catering to tourists, Marrakesh has some absolutely fascinating foods to offer. Not to say that the restaurants are bad, we’ve had plenty of interesting meals at the regular restaurants. We tried the infamous camel burger at the Cafe Clock, which is served with their homemade Taza ketchup and is absolutely delicious.
We really enjoyed incredibly fresh (and untolerably bony) grilled sardines at El Jardin.
And we’ve had the best ever chicken with lemon preserve at the Bouganvillia Cafe. I wish I can just buy a giant bucket of that particular preserve and put it on every single dish I eat.
But to really find interesting foods in Morocco, you have to go out and explore the streets. So, of course we had to do the street food tour. We started out at the Jamaal El Fnaa plaza, where we met with our group and the tour guide. Our guide’s name was Mohamed and he was a city tour guide in Marrakesh for a long time before he started doing food tours. There was a middle aged couple from the UK and a young girl from Estonia in our group. We started out by taking a long walk down to the very obscure part of the medina, to the tiny food stall at the “second hand” market where only locals go, partially because it’s well hidden from most tourist traffic, but mostly because tourists don’t usually buy second hand stuff in Morocco. But locals love this particular place, because they serve the best couscous, which is rolled by hand by the ladies who work there. Traditionally, couscous was rolled by hand, but nowadays the process have been mainly mechanized, so it’s rare to find proper couscous that is still rolled by hand. Couscous is a staple food in Morocco and many other African countries and, apparently, there are many kinds of couscous, including barley and corn. The proper couscous is light and fluffy, and it can be soaked with the vegetable or meat broth and spices. We were served couscous with a hefty helping of vegetables and vegetable broth, topped up with the tfaya: mixture of caramelized onions, golden raisins and chickpeas (yum!).
We also had a small side of an eggplant salad and freshly baked bread to mop up the juices. Of course, we couldn’t get away from the Moroccan mint tea, which is made with the mixture of green tea and fresh mint or other herbs, depending on the season, and enough sugar to keep your wired till the end of the year. Mohamed said that the proper tea is made by pouring some out in a glass, and pouring it back in, so it’s properly mixed.
After that we continued to the next place. Mohamed, being a former tour guide of Marrakesh, was a wealth of knowledge about all things Morocco. He showed us all the little secret places: local bakeries, where locals go to buy bread,
real estate offices, barber shops, warehouses, fish mongers, best butchers in town, spice sellers, healers, woodoo shops, full of dried animal carcasses, potion makers and many more.
We tried some things on the way: prickly pear cactus fruit, which tastes sweet, somewhat resembling juicy really sweet apple or even a watermelon, with the texture similar to kiwi, but the seeds are giant and hard and evenly distributed throughout the whole fruit
local doughnuts, sold hanging on a piece of a tied grass and eaten by dipping in sugar or honey.
Then we made it to a place famous for its sardine kefta sandwiches. Kefta (or kofta) usually means ground meat. You would never think that ground sardines would be anything appealing, but when properly barbecued, mixed with the right mixture of olives, onions and tomatoes, on a freshly baked bread… Yuuummm… It was a real treat (even though it doesn’t look it…)
As we were sitting at the sardine sandwich shop, we were watching a smoothie place across the street. It was closed at the moment, because the guy went to the prayer service, like a lot of muslims do, but there was a crowd of about 20 locals patiently waiting next to the window. The guy showed up, opened the shop and the crowd suddenly grew to over 100 people, all waiting patiently for their smoothies. There are hundreds of smoothie places in half a mile radius, but none has a line. What kind of crack is this guy putting in his smoothies?
On a way to the next place, Mohammed pointed out something interesting: a camel spleen sandwich. There was a guy on the street who had this giant spleen stuffed with spices and ground meat, with a little bit of a hump fat which he had slowly cooking in spiced ghee. After being cooked, the spleen is minced, mixed with ghee and served inside a bread, topped up with the spicy sauce. The brave ones in our group (not Bobby) tried it and found it surprisingly delicious. It had a nice creamy texture and a hint of something like a liver or kidneys, which wasn’t overpowering, but gave it a nice interesting flavor. I later found myself wanting to go back and have some more…
After a spleen sandwich we went to try the lamb tangier (nothing to do with the city of Tangier). For the longest time I couldn’t figure out the difference between the tangier and a tajine (or tagine), but turns out, the difference is all in the type of dishware they are cooked in. Tajine is cooked on the large, relatively flat plate, covered by a conically shaped top like this:
And tangier meat is made in a tangier pot, which is more of a traditionally shaped clay pot, sealed tightly and cooked slowly in the heat of the hammam or bakery stove. It’s usually made with Moroccan lemon preserves and lots of spices. Some of the butchers offer tangier preparations, where they prepare the meat for you and take it to hammam. Those butcher shops usually have tangier pots hanging at the front.
The shop that we went to try the tangier also does Moroccan goat barbecue. Moroccan barbecue is done in a stone pit that is dug in the earth under a shop and covered by a stone cover. I believe it’s called tandir, and it’s somewhat related to tandoor (South East Asian grill). The barbecue pit looks more like a well (pretty hot well at that) and usually several goat or sheep carcasses are put inside to be done in 2 hours.
There is usually no seasoning or spices used during barbecuing and the lamb is eaten by hand, tearing piecesof meat out and dipping them in the mixture of salt and cumin. Of course, the crescendo of the meal was the half of the sheep’s head, sliced through the center and served in the same manner as the lamb – with just a little bit of salt mixed with cumin.
The skin was cleared, so we could try the cheek meat and the tongue. The cheek meat is very tender, fatty and almost gelatinous in consistency. I’m personally not a big fan of sheep meat, and I found the smell a bit overpowering. No one in our group dared to eat an eyeball.
Then we continued onto the olive market, where houondreds of kinds of olives are sold together with lemon and other preserves and meat preserved in ghee, which is cut with scissors into small pieces and used as a seasoning. I found it interesting to see 20 vendors side by side, and one or two would have a long line and some have absolutely no customers.
We visited the date market, filled with hundreds of varieties of dates. Dates are often used in Morocco as wedding favors, they are beautifully packaged and ready to be picked up from vendors the night before.
And of course, for dessert we had a big pile of Moroccan treats, which are ridiculously sweet, but deliscious nontheless.
We have been traveling for a while now and spent decent amount of time in third world countries. We know the rules: dress modestly, don’t show off your fancy clothes, electronics or jewelry, have non-discrete luggage, don’t brag about fancy things you have at home an so on. And most of the time we play by the rules – we wear local cheap clothes, I carry $3 purse bought at the balinese market and our whole wardrobe probably cost $100 for all of 4 us. We don’t have any jewelry or fancy watches. Overall we are relatively nondescript. The only luxury we are allowing ourselves is the electronics. The smart phone is essential for many different tasks: GPS, camera, video camera, notes, booking and many more other tools that make traveler’s life easier. But when you come to think of it, an average iPhone costs $500-1000, which is 2 year’s salary for someone living in the poorer part of the world. It’s like dangling a golden carrot in front of someone who would never be able to afford it. And generally we don’t. We keep the phones hidden and generally not try to shove it in people’s faces, but sometimes we do make stupid mistakes. So, here is the story…
The other day we decided to have an early dinner at El Jardin restaurant, really close to our riad. We didn’t feel like running around crowded souks and wanted to just lay low and have a mellow night. Little did we know… El Jardin is a very peaceful place, with a nice terrace filled with orange, olive and pomegranate trees and million birds flying around, we had a vey nice, relaxing dinner and after we were done, we headed back home.
On the way, we stopped for a minute to enjoy the beautiful light created by the setting sun reflecting off the medina walls. Bobby was taking picture of me and the kids.
The alley was mostly empty, except for one guy walking by. We decided to wait before we take a photo, so he doesn’t ruin our nice shot. The guy was walking by, then he slowed down a bit, and suddenly he snatched the phone out Bobby’s hands and started running. Bobby started chasing after him. Kids and I didn’t really understand what happen, but we started running after Bobby. For some reason at that moment I decided to start screaming “Help! Help” in the most obnoxious, squeaky voice. I knew that El Jardin is nearby and there was a guard in front of it. I was hoping he would hear me and catch the guy. And he did! The guard heard me screaming, saw Bobby chasing the guy, he caught the guy and started slapping him on the face. He got the phone away from him and gave it back to Bobby. In about a moment, a ginormous crowd of locals gathered around us, with everyone clamoring about going to the police. We weren’t really inclined to go to the police, we just wanted to have the phone back, but everyone was really insistent that we go. The policemen, wearing civilian clothes, came by, put handcuffs on the guy and asked us to come with them to the police office. We were hoping that they didn’t need me and the kids and Bobby could deal with them by himself, but for some reason they understood that it was my phone that got stolen, so they wanted all of us to go. We were taken to the police office, surrounded by a crowd of volunteers, who kept telling us how stupid the guy was and how they want to make sure that we are OK. Everyone was really concerned about our well-being. They were also really proud of the fact that they caught a thief. Bobby and I felt kind of sad for the guy. He is obviously a giant dumbass. What kind of idiot does one has to be to snatch a phone and run towards the place that usually has a person on guard? Did he think we were just going to stand there and wait for him to run away? If he would have run in an opposite direction, we would have never caught him, but he was stupid enough to run towards the guard. But even if there was no one on guard, there were a lot more people down the street, who probably would have caught him anyway. What was he thinking, I don’t know. So, we walked all the way down to the police office, to be asked by an investigator (or whoever that guy was) whose phone that was (Bobby’s) and he let me and the kids go. As I was walking home, several people recognized me and the kids and were asking me how it went. So, now we are like local celebrities, a.k.a the dummies who dangled their shiny new phone in front of a poor person. Oh, the price of fame! Bobby had to spend some time in the police office filling out the report and he came out feeling very guilty. He was ready to call the police back and tell them to let the guy go, but we figured that locals would never forgive us. They were so proud of themselves! I guess it’s a part of the Moroccan hospitality to make sure your guests are comfortable and nothing goes wrong with them. Plus, if everyone is robbed on the street, then no one would come, and here goes their livelihood. Most of the local merchants depend on tourist traffic to make their living, so it’s in their highest interest to keep tourists happy. But it didn’t make us feel any less guilty…