A Travellerspoint blog

Morocco

Ourika Valley and Setti Fatma

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After a rest day, we were ready to tackle a day trip to the mountains. We made our way to Bob er Bab on the outskirts of Marrakesh. Bob means door in Arabic, and apparently at some point there was a door in the old city not far from this point We were hoping to get a share-taxi with other people, but it quickly became evident that no one was headed to Ourika and so after some negotiation we agreed to a price of 400 Dirhams, about $50 US there and back. Not terrible, but then the middle man demanded another 50. It took about an hour to ge there through lovely foothills and villages to Setti Fatma, at the head of the valley.



Baby Camel and Ourika Valley Pots
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The road continues another five to ten Kilometers, but it becomes a four wheel drive dirt track. Imlil, jumping off point for Toubkal, 4167 Meters (almost 14,000 feet), is three days walk through the High Atlas.




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We considered trekking there, but it was still early in the year and there was too much snow. Setti Fatma is a touristy town, full of mostly empty tagine places serving mediocre and expensive food. It would have been better to stop at one of the many restaurants along the way. The surrounding countryside is quite impressive with soaring rocky and snowy peaks, small villages clinging to the sides of the steep mountains. A stream runs through the center of the valley creating good farmland . There are apple, cherry and walnut trees growing nearby. Various faux guides approached us wanting to take us to the cascades, about an hour's walk. Instead we continued on the dirt road out of town where small boys demanded, "d'argent," or "oro." There are few tourists here now. Although the sun was quite hot, it was enjoyable to walk along the narrow road with green pastures next to the river.



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Ibrahim, 17, soon showed up and advised us that one way continued up a trail to another village several hours away, and he then offered to take us to his village by the river and have tea, or he could also take us the the falls. Of course, he too was a faux guide, but less intrusive, and he spoke a bit of English. We asked him what was higher up on the road. "Nothing." "That's good," Nanette answered, and we continued walking up the steepening track. After a bit it became apparent that Ibrahim was still following us, though at a respectful distance. He caught up with us at a bend in the road after taking a short cut straight up. We were at a rocky outcrop with a view overlooking the entire valley.



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By now it was obvious that we weren't going to get rid of him so easily, but as he was informative and interesting, we decided not to try. He told us he was the oldest son and was off to school in a village several kilometers down the road. He was studying to be a teacher whereas the rest of his family were all farmers and lived in a village above the river. We started back down and followed him to the other side of the stream through some villages with high stone and adobe walls. Most people smiled and said "Bonjour." We then headed up to his village to meet his family. In the small cement house, he introduced us to his great grandmother who he said was 110 years old. Possible, but unlikely. We took pictures which they all wanted to see, possibly grannies first pic of herself. They offered us the ubiquitous mint tea which we declined due to time constraints, as we had promised our driver to be back by three. Just as well since the water might not have been boiled.



Great Grandma,Sister, Mother and Brothers,
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We headed back down to the river and across to Setti Fatma. These old villages are a world away despite the satellite tv's and cell phones, although no computers, at least not yet. We eventually caught up with our driver who drove us back in his grand taxi, a beat up old Mercedes. He dropped us off at the Koutoubia, the tall mosque in the center of town, and then demanded an extra 40 Dh for the privilege. An agreement about a price here, doesn't seem to mean all that much as people seem to find a way to add on another 10 or 20% on top of what you had settled on. I would probably opt to refuse, but Nanette doesn't like the tension so I went along despite feeling somewhat cheated. On the ride up, she stopped to purchase some argon, from what we were told was a woman's coop. Argon grows in the south of Morocco and is practically a magic tree. You can make cream, oil, and what has to be the world's most expensive peanut butter, from its fruit and seeds. We later heard from our trekking guide that most of these "cooperatives" are scams that exploit the women working there, but are good at luring in tourists.

We stopped for another tagine in Djamaa El Fna and watched the parade of humanity once again. Around eight, we met our driver who brought us back to Villa Akbar, a long but satisfying day.

The following morning we went back into the kasbah to cash some money. We were able to get some from an ATM machine, no problem, but then we noticed a bank around the corner and decided to cash another $500 worth of travelers checks. The exchange rate was 8.37 dh to the dollar and the female clerk handed Nanette a print out saying 4,137 dh, which was the right amount. She then counted the money in a very big hurry, and then we counted it and realized we were short a few hundred durhams. She then handed us some more money with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. We counted it again, still short 100. She counted it once more, and it was obvious that she was trying to confuse us by counting different denominations at the same time. We counted it a third time and were still short 100. With the greatest reluctance she handed it over with a sneer, as if to say, there, are you happy now. What incredible chutspah. I've ben taken in a number of places in different parts of the world, but never deliberately in a bank, and with no apology. As the Lonely Planet mentions, they must think we are all stupid, certainly fair game to try and cheat us. After all, what's a 100dh to us. About $12 US to be exact, but that's not the point. The Moroccan mentality, at least in Marrakesh, tourist capital of North Africa, seems to be to get what they can, any way they can. They are clearly used to foreigners here, and while they want our money, there is obvious resentment. I will not be sorry to leave the city and hope that Taroudant, our jumping off point for trekking, has a different vibe.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:40 Archived in Morocco Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Marrakesh

After a short flight from Oporto, we are now in Michael and EJ's villa outside of Marrakesh. It is a very posh and gated community about 40 minutes from town. We were met by the maid and then later the cook, speaking only French and Arabic, neither of which is our strong suit. It is quite a place, with three big bedrooms, red concrete and tile floors and walls, and even our own swimming pool and backyard. The sun is quite strong, but the water is still too cold, for us at least, to swim. This is definitely a place to relax and do nothing. Extremely private, there seems to be almost no one else around. Although there is a free shuttle service back a forth to the city a few times a day, it takes a while and is not something you want to do more than once a day.


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Out here you could be anywhere, although there are distant views to the snow capped Atlas mountains from other parts of the development.



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We spent a couple of days walking around the old walled city and its enormous medina. Full of narrow streets and alleys with bicycles, horses,motorbikes, and people, lots of people. You can get anything you want at this restaurant, and not just food. There are carpet and cosmetics shops, clothing and material shops, spices, kitchen utensils. You name it.


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The shopkeepers aggressively try and pull you in. "Good price, good price," they cry. Some seem prepared to bargain a great deal, others not at all. In a carpet place, "morning price velly good," which is exactly what they said in India. In the P.M. it would be "good afternoon price." In fact Marrakesh feels a bit like India, full of touts and locals hitting on you to buy stuff. Eventually, Nanette did buy some ground minerals to make natural colors for artwork and kohl for makeup. You take your life in your hands in this medina though. Traffic from all directions, you have to have eyes in the back of your head to avoid being mowed down by something or someone, motorized or not.

In Djamaa El Fna, the main square, there are snake charmers, story tellers, street musicians, even break dancers, as well as some good, if expensive, (relatively so) tagine restaurants.

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In the evening, we hear the place is really hopping, but we never made it much past sunset. It was plenty lively when we were there. It is an interesting scene, a more or less constant parade of tourists and locals, some dressed in head scarves, others completely covered in djellabas, often in bright colors. There are horses and buggys, and men balancing plates or other goods piled high on their heads as they zoom around on motorbikes Although some of the women are almost completely covered, many of the young seem to wear stiletto heels and a lot of makeup. Its a mix of traditional dress and high French fashion.

At one point we went to look for an old Jewish cemetery, which we managed to find after going in circles for a while.


Castle Wall Near Cemetary
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It was nothing special, but Jews have apparently lived among the Berbers here for 1700 years, though there are few of them now. We got lost on the way back to meet our ride to Villa Akbar. Luckily we managed to find an upscale hotel and someone at the desk spoke some English and was able to call our driver. Somehow my own phone, complete with a new sim card, did not work. French is the lingua franca here, along with Moroccan arabic and various Berber dialects in the mountains. English is not widely spoken and so it is a bit difficult to find our way around with our minimal French and the maze like streets in the old town.In some ways Marrakesh still seems like a French colony. There are lots of French tourists and a number of the more upscale shops and hotels seemed to be French owned and managed, especially in Gueliz, the new part of town. Gueliz is confusing enough in its own right, and it took us a while to locate a few well hidden art galleries that we had set as our destination.

I went off to inquire about renting a car to explore some of the surrounding areas, but managed to walk right into a closed glass door banging my noggin hard. Shortly afterwords I twisted my ankle on an uneven patch of sidewalk and then once again banged my head after leaving the WC. I felt like I had been in a street fight with myself. Yet another reminder that the old bod and my perceptual skills ain't what they used to be.

We made our way to the Majorelle gardens and house, former home of Yves St. Laurent who lived here for years.



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The garden was quite elaborate, but chock full of French tourists. Instead we preferred a room in the museum full of Berber artifacts, but set up with lights and mirrors to look like a clear night in the mountains. A lot like a planetarium. On this day we did manage to find our way back to the driver, but not before Nanette lost a book in an internet cafe. It is easy to lose things simply by setting them down and then moving on. Perhaps another, gasp, symptom of aging. We lose things at home of course, but usually they show up somewhere in the house. But, no worries, with the help of our driver, we were able to retrieve the book and all was well, other than the bump on my head and ankle. I think today qualifies as a "hard travel day," despite the fact that all we did was tour the city. Tomorrow we have declared a rest day, and we will simply hang out at our villa by the pool.



Koutoubia Mosque at Night
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Posted by jonshapiro 06:05 Archived in Morocco Tagged cities_postcards Comments (0)

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