A Travellerspoint blog

Morocco

Tafaroute

It was a beautiful drive through the mountains to get here, over high passes and then down to the Ameln Valley, surrounded by sculptural rocks with high crags behind, including Jebel Kest (2359M, roughly 7800 feet).



Drive Over the Mountain Roads
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The sun is hot and the air cool, and the place is full of working class French tourists in RV's. They are here in part to avoid paying French taxes, and to avoid the winter. It is a bit strange to see so many of them in a former colony, but they bring badly needed revenue to what would otherwise be a remote and isolated place. Though bigger than it looks at first, Tafaroute lacks the variety of restaurants and patisseries that we found in Sidi Ifni. There appear to be more tourists here, and though it was off season in Sidi, it seems to be prime time in Tafaroute. The town looks and feels like the American southwest, with a wide main street and what looks lot be a vaguely Native American motif on the concrete facade of the buildings. The dryness of the mountains and the landscape complete the picture.



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Tafaroute with Jebel Kest
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In the afternoon we clamored over some rocks at the edge of town. It looked remarkably like a set of rocks just outside South Lake Tahoe, California, except that is, for the palm trees and the man taking a shit in a nearby stream bed. Unfortunately, there is shit and garbage in various places. When we returned to our hotel, one of the more upscale places just off the main drag, the faint smell of rotting garbage from the dry riverbank below, wafted through the open window of our room. There are also plenty of well kept houses which, together with the stunning blue sky and mountain scenery, provide a stark contrast to the dirtier aspects of the town.

Amazingly, the 4 AM call to prayer did not wake me up, but the snarling dogs fighting for the garbage below did. No matter, today was a lovely day. We rented bikes from a German expat who lives here for six months of the year. We pedaled around some of the villages in the Ameln Valley, off of the main road. A number of houses are clearly old, made of adobe like materials they fit in naturally with the red granite surroundings. Others are newer and larger, but are made of cinderblock and concrete and painted in salmon earth tones with white windows. The bigger and more prosperous ones are brighter reds and orange.








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At one point we walked with our bikes up a dirt track overlooking a gorge and ancient villages. A few women waved through the windows of their houses, and then a boy of 8 ort 9 came by and spoke to us either in Arabic or Berber. He was quite communicative with pantomime when it became obvious that we didn't understand a word. Refreshingly, he didn't want money, only to make contact with us, but like so many others here, he didn't want me to take his picture. After a few hours of cycling, we headed back in the now hot afternoon sun. We ate lunch, and then enjoyed a cappuccino and pastry at one of the few patisseries. I guess that is one advantage of being an ex-French colony. The air has a clarity here, as in many mountains towns. The shadows are sharply drawn against the tawny buildings, and there are big temperature variations between sun and shade. Ideally, one sits with body in sun and face and arms in shade. Hard to maintain for long.




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The sunset was........





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Posted by jonshapiro 14:48 Archived in Morocco Comments (2)

Sidi Ifni

With Abdel's help, we rented a car for a reasonable 250Dh a day and headed off to to Sidi Ifni, an atmospheric town on the Atlantic that belonged to Spain until 1969. The first night we spent at L'Auberge Sable D'or, aka Faulty Towers, on Legzira beach, about 10 miles north. It was a spectacular coast of cliffs, crashing surf and mist, much like California, but we the next day we found a much more comfortable and reasonable place to stay in town. (The Safa Hotel.)



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Sidi Infi is a relaxing place, at least off season. No touts or other street vendors hassling you, it is a delight to stroll through the blue and white art deco buildings that comprised the old Spanish town. Our daughter Mia and her boyfriend Dan, on break from residency training, were able to find us at the hotel, and we all relished a cold beer at a bar overlooking the foggy sea.



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Today we took a long hour ride into the middle of nowhere, to a set of hot springs in the dry and dusty mountains to the East. Men and women had separate pools, relatively clean, and not too hot, which was a good thing since the desert air was toasty, in contrast to the misty cool of Sidi.


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When we returned, we ate a tasty fish tagine at Chez Mustapha, on the main square.



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Then we wandered around the large central fish market taking pics of the gaping, though dead, monsters of the sea, large and small. Taking pictures of the locals was more difficult as most were not keen on it, and it was hard to do on the sly.



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Mia tried on a full length tie dyed sari, which seem to be all the rage here in Sidi, where the fountain outside of our hotel has a hidden speaker that plays Bob Dylan and other 60's music. It required considerable help from the shopkeeper, similarly attired, for Mia to tie it properly, and so of couse we had to buy it for her. She got some strange looks, an Asian looking woman dressed in Muslim digs, accompanied by a white guy, Dan. It was quite a clash of cultures, but then Sidi Infi seems all about that. We were hoping to use our Spanish, but few people still spoke it.





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There are a good number of retirees, mostly French, who park their RV's not far from our hotel, near the beach They spend the winter here after taking the ferry over from Spain near Algiceras.

This is a place where one can spend some time. Nothing is really going on, but it is easy and comfortable, without the frantic medina action of the larger cities.

At the cafe with the Bob Dylan fountain, we met a couple of Brits in their 40's, Tina and Rich. They were on the road for a year, mostly in Eastern Europe and Turkey, on leave from their teaching jobs. They rented an apartment behind our hotel for a couple of weeks. We have enjoyed some good conversation with fellow English speakers, and went with them and our children back to Legzira. The sun came out and the wind died down, and we were able to walk through two enormous stone arches, and then lie on the sand soaking up some rays.



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On our return, we couldn't resist another great fish meal at Chez Mustapha. Mia and Dan went off for a walk, and we returned to Tina and Rich's apartment for coffee and Moroccan pastry. It was not quite on a par with Abdel's mother's sweets, but quite tasty nonetheless. We spent the rest of the afternoon Sari shopping in town, and returned to meet Mia and Dan at a seaside bar by their hotel. We polished off a few cold ones, and then drank the bottle of wine Mia had bought for us for our anniversary. It was nice that Sidi was not a dry town, despite the Muslim prohibition on alcohol. Perhaps it was the Spanish influence. Sitting on the outside terrace, we could see the waves rolling in as the sun set. After dark, shadows of grey-white mist rose from the beach, dimly illuminated by nearby street lights. I gazed up at the crescent moon and at an incredibly bright planet, Venus, shining next to it.



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After three days, Sidi Ifni will be hard to leave, but we depart tomorrow for Tafaroute, about a four hour drive through the mountains.

Posted by jonshapiro 17:09 Archived in Morocco Tagged people Comments (3)

In Abdel's House

Abdel's house was quite charming. Though obviously still a work in progress, it has an inner courtyard, colorful furniture, and original sculpture and pictures by, you guessed it, our fearless leader. It has been in the family for many years, and his mother still lives in the house for part of the time, when she is not staying with other family members.


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And it was quiet, except for the occasional rooster, kept by Abdel's uncle next door. In the morning Abdel brought us breakfast with homemade pastry, made by his 76 year old mother. Later some of his relatives from France and Belgium called to say they were coming over for lunch and Abdel asked if we wanted to join them. I could not say no to what was sure to be a feast, and then went out shopping with him in the labyrinthine streets of Taroudant. I watched as his mother and a woman next door prepared the meal, all cooked on a charcoal fire which they started inside and then brought up to the roof in charcoal braziers, and then placed large pottery tagine bowls on top, more or less like a hibachi. I'm sure they got a kick out of seeing me help shuck peas in the kitchen while they chatted away in Moroccan Arabic. They first sauteed the lamb in oil and spices inside, before putting it in a marinade, adding veggies, and then taking the mixture upstairs to the simmering tajine pots. When they do it like this, altogether, it is called Mifune, or Jewish Tajine. I guess its in our blood, because I tend to throw everything together when I cook, unlike the Chinese who are very particular about what goes with what.

It feels as though we have quickly become part of the family, thanks to Abdel's hospitality.






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In a few hours we sat down to eat the meal with Abdel's two brothers, along with one of his nieces, very sweet, who is a pharmacy students in Paris. She had brought a friend, a young woman who is a Paris bus driver. They would love to visit the US, although they had each been one time as children. We sat together, except for Abdel's mother, who ate separately in the kitchen with the woman who helped prepare the food. It was by far the best tagine I had in Morocco and I ate a lot, as did Katya. Nanette and Bjorn, still queasy from their stomach ills, had very little.





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In the afternoon, we went to visit a children's foundation which helps street kids and women in bad situations. Abdel is quite involved with this place, as are his brothers, particularly the one from France. Both of his brothers are also named Abdel, but all have a second name as well. Our guide Abdel, is actually Abdelatifa, which means servant of God. This is a loose segway into the ubiquitous phrase Inshallah, which follows practically any conversation here. For example, someone might say, I will meet you tomorrow, Inshallah, or God Willing. It reminds me of what the shop owner near Dharamsala India said to me while sewing plastic bags for our hike in the mountains. "You never know what will happen," he said. "Things are out of your control, and only God knows what will happen." They seem to know this instinctively in places like Morocco and India, but not in the developed Western world.

I have found it to be a very useful concept, both for myself and my patients. Surrender to what will be, and realize so many things are out of our control. Easy to say, but hard to do.

The following day Bjorn and Katya left to return to Germany. It took several days for Bjorn to recover, though Abdel and his family took wonderful care of him, and Nanette as well. After they left, we went out for tea, which is always very sweet mint tea, with his brother from Belgium, and a neighbor of his, Ibrahim. More political discussions followed, about how the US reacts to Muslim countries, about why our country always supports Israel, etc. We made it clear that we do not always agree with the policies of our government. We also discussed how euthanasia is legal in Belgium which this brother is quite opposed to because all life is precious. However, because he is a nurse, he is often the one who has to give someone a lethal injection. This creates a very difficult predicament for him, and yet he feels he has no choice because he needs the job and the money, which he couldn't make if he stayed in Morocco. He is obviously resentful about this.

His friend, Ibrahim, who acted as a translater for Abdel's brother, is a tourist guide, primarily for Brits, and so his English is quite good. He was convinced that there was a law in the United States that you had to be a Christian in order to be elected president. We disabused him of this notion, but it is easy to see why he might think this way. So far we have not mentioned our Jewish background, but I plan to do so with Abdel. It is curious that although his brothers live in Europe, he has never left Morocco. He later told me that he has been refused a visa to travel to the states and Europe many times. He is clearly the most open and liberal member of his family, perhaps because of his history of using drugs and living on the streets before he got his life together. Now he is in his 40's, never married and has no children, but he identifies and listens to the music of the 60's. In his own way, he is a most spiritual person who doesn't want to take on the encumbrances of his brothers, who felt forced to leave their country to support their families. He wants to continue guiding and trekking in the mountains where he feels most at home.

We returned to the house, where is I sat in the garden. Today is Friday, the Muslim holy day. The call to prayer is loud and insistant, AAAALAAAH, AAAALAAAH, AAAKBAAAR, God is Great. I can hear the roosters crowing, perhaps they agree that God is Great, but then again, maybe they don't. After the loudspeaker ends, softer, and more melodious chanting can be heard. It is more peaceful, a little like the Buddhist chants in Ladakh and Laos. Yesterday was very hot, but today is cooler as the sun is blocked by clouds at times, and there is a nice breeze with the sweet smell of orange blossoms. There is also the constant chirping of the birds.




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Posted by jonshapiro 09:56 Archived in Morocco Comments (2)

Trekking in the High Atlas Mountains

I am sitting on the earth-roof terrace of the house of our 2nd Berber hosts, roughly 50K from Taroudant.




The View looks like this
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We have spent the last two days hiking in the dry High Atlas. They are drier this year than most as the last rain/snow on this side of the mountains was October of 2011. On the first day of hiking we got started later than we hoped and it was very hot for the first few hours. The walking was not especially difficult as the mountains are round in places, rather than craggy. However, despite our intentions, we got a late start, and it was hot, very hot. We stopped for a much needed two hour lunch before continuing around and down.



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Bjorn and Katya
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The Author and Nanette
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During our break, I got a chance to talk to our guide Abdel, who is a most interesting man. A sculptor who has seen some hard times, he now makes money by taking visitors trekking in the mountains. He seeks out and finds out of the way places, and seems to understand that roads and so called progress are always a mixed bag. He is quite sophisticated and knowledgeable, and, as we were soon to find out, an absolutely doll. He took care of us in unbelievable ways.

He is, in my humble opinion, The Man to go trekking with in Morocco. And did I mention that he speaks English, as well as French, Arabic, and Berber. I guess this is an unsolicited commercial. Forget about Said, and contact Abdel directly at abdelroudana@gmail.com.

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At our first home stay, the family more or less left us alone and cooked us a simple dinner. The children, however, were most curious.


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The second day of hiking was more difficult, and we got up as high as 3000M, where the altitude slowed us down. It was a long day, and the way down was the hardest part, at least for me.




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We descended many switchbacks to the green oasis you see below. Lots of loose scree and some exposure and we didn't arrive until 6 PM. Our hosts immediately came out to meet us with tea, freshly squeezed warm milk from their cows, and homemade bread. They went out of their way to make us feel welcome to this idyllic spot.






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Mother of the Family
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Daughter in law and Baby Baking Bread
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Unfortunately, every silver lining has a dark cloud. Not long after we arrived, Bjorn got sick. Violently sick. Shitting and vomiting, everything coming out from both ends. Now, Bjorn is a big guy and he was laid low by a stomach bug, like a giant tree toppling over in the forest. To make matters worse, this was Katya's first real hike. She was a trooper on the trek itself, but this kind of thing threw her and she didn't know what to do. Luckily we did, having dealt with this on many occasions. Unfortunately there is not much you can do, other than to keep hydrated, not an easy task when everything wants to come out. And then, when things settle down a bit, pop a Cipro, if it seems like you are still quite ill. Our lovely Berber family was upset about all this, and they seemed to feel responsible, as did Abdel. We did our best to try and convince them otherwise, but I'm not sure it did any good. They kept bring out more food which we couldn't eat. After we went to bed, Nanette got sick. Not as badly as Bjorn, but bad enough. The night was not especially restful for obvious reasons, but the barking dogs, braying donkeys, sheep and goats, a real menagerie, didn't help. The 4 AM call to prayer was blissfully muted, but I still heard it nonetheless. The local mosque, smoke rising in the background, looked quite beautiful in the morning.





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Katya and I, who avoided getting sick, tried to figure out what the others ate that we didn't. Hard to know, but perhaps it was the dates they had for lunch. We both skipped them, not being date fans, but it really could have been anything.

Our original plan had been to hike for five days, but Bjorn and Nanette were both quite weak in the morning, and so going on didn't seem like an option. We spent the day with our Berber family, while the sick ones slept for part of it. They were really special people, making rice gruel and other easy to digest food, and then kissing and hugging us, the women anyway, trying to convince us to stay with them longer. It seems that many of the villagers are like this, and despite everything, it felt like a privilege to be so welcomed into their home. We could tell they still felt badly about the stomach problems, despite Abdel's saying to them that it wasn't their fault.




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I chatted with Abdel about politics, money, economics, Islam, and how it has been distorted almost everywhere. We were solving the world's problems together, and it seems we think very much alike.


When our ride didn't materialize at the end of the day, Abdel went in search of another, and managed to arrange for us to ride in the back of a truck. Along with a half a dozen other men, and a pile of scrap metal, we zoomed around the s curves in record time, holding on tightly to avoid being thrown from one side to the other.

Abdel invited us to stay in his house which he was in the process of fixing up as a guest house. It wasn't quite ready yet, but he had two bedrooms that were finished. After finding out that it was quiet, ie, far away from the mosque, I didn't hesitate, and we went straight there after arriving back in Taroudant.

Posted by jonshapiro 09:08 Archived in Morocco Tagged landscapes mountains backpacking Comments (1)

Taroudant, Morocco

It was a long, slow bus ride to get here, almost 7 hours, stopping first in Agidir. A share taxi would have been faster. The word Taroudant means, she who lost her children by the river. Because of the river, the Sousse Valley is very fertile, with many fruit trees and vegetables, including the famous argon tree. When we arrived at Chambres Les Amis, our guest house, our host was not here as his wife is in the hospital expecting a baby very soon. We went off in search of a tajine restaurant in the main square, accompanied by Katya and Bjorn a young German couple who will trek with us for a few days. We had no idea they would be joining us, but are happy to have their company. Said, who we thought would be our guide, and whose name we got from the Lonely Planet, will not go, but instead has arranged for Abdel, to take us. This came as a surprise. Said is apparently only a middle man who runs the guest house, and managed to get his name in The Book , because of his former French wife's connections. Hmmm.

We managed to find the restaurant after a while, and Said met us there to give us a brief tour of the souk. No doubt he took us to merchants where he would receive a cut if we bought anything. Our German friends bought a small carpet from some persuasive nomad shopkeepers, a bit of an oxymoron I realize. Taroudant is somewhat like Marrakesh, surrounded by old walls and darting bikes, both non-motorized and motorized, but it is smaller and more manageable.

In the afternoon Said brought us, for 375 dh, to a nearby palmareie, a palm oasis in the desert. Springs make the desert bloom, enough to support about 300 people here. The remains of an old fort stand on a hill overlooking the village, part of which has been turned into a restaurant. There were other tourists, but it was a peaceful and blissfully cool place in the shade of the palms.

There are many donkeys amid the red abobe walls of the village.



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We returned to the guest house where we relaxed on the roof top terrace, though we were again blasted by the call to prayer of the mosque right next door, and yes it did wake us up at 4 AM.

Tomorrow we will get up early to start our trek in order to avoid walking in the mid-day sun. Some clouds have gathered each day and perhaps we shall see some rain. Always hard to tell what mountain weather will bring. We are not sure exactly where will be trekking. It seems we will find out tomorrow when we meet up with Abdel. There are no good maps, though Taroudant is centrally located in between the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas Mountains.

Posted by jonshapiro 08:39 Archived in Morocco Tagged cities_postcards Comments (0)

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