Monday, June 05, 2006

Travelogue 10 From Marrakesh
Dear Friends and Family,
We are now in Marrakesh, and it is well over 100 degrees here. This is the first time on this trip that we have experienced extreme heat, so we do not dare complain. This has been a very wet year here, after 8 years of drought, and we have had very comfortable weather due to the cloud cover. This is our first chance to have an internet in a few days, so now we are even further behind in our travel

I last mentioned Fez, a place we stayed three nights because we did some day trips from there. One of them was to the Roman ruins at Volubilis. This was quite interesting to us because we had visited some Roman ruins in Portugal. These were a bit different, of course, but there were still some great mosaic floors similar to the ones we had seen in Portugal. The difference was that they are being protected in Portugal and here they are deteriorating rapidly due to no covering, even though this is a UNESCO world heritage site now. There is a very nice triumphal arch here and also a temple that was later changed into a basilica. The huge storks that were nesting all over Portugal and Spain are here too, and have nests on these ruins, so we got more good pictures. Later we went to Moulay Idriss, which is an important
pilgrimage city because his mausoleum is here. As we were walking through the town with our local guide, Elaine looked through the door of an internet place and saw some teenage boys on a porn site. When they saw her looking at them, she gave them the “shame on you” signal and they quickly exited the site. It was hilarious.

Leaving Fez, we drove south over the Atlas mountains and into Berber country. Morocco is mainly settled by Berber tribes and Arabs, with most of them also speaking French because of the French occupation between 1912 and 1956. This day was a long and hard travel day and it was also raining. As we drove through the various different areas the terrain changed rapidly, and we noticed that there was lots of agriculture, with a lot of wheat, corn and olives. They do a lot of the harvesting, such as wheat, by hand using scythes and piling the loads very high on
their donkeys. There were fields of colourful flowers, and also herders with sheep and goats, and sometimes cows. The area became more barren, with red dirt, and in the Ziz Valley area, there were green fields running the whole length of the river on both sides. These are called palmeries because the people plant date palms here where they can get enough water for them, and then plant other crops between the trees so as not to waste any space.

We finally drove out of the rain as we got closer to Erg Chebi, which was where we were going to be staying for our desert camp experience. The terrain was now very dry and looked like desert, but without dunes. Our driver turned off the main road right onto the desert and we were somewhat concerned because there really was not a road and the wind was strong enough that were were having a mild sand storm. The
desert is surprisingly firm there and within a short time we came to a place where there were signs for many auberges, which is French for small basis hotels. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at our auberge and it was almost completely surrounded by a lake. There had been a stupendous rainstorm the Friday before and all the water that was dumped on the desert had collected there, and also three or four rivers that are usually dry had filled up and run through there. About 20 of the auberges were heavily damaged and we were lucky ours was on a small hill. The
reason they sustain such damage is that most of the structures are made of mud mixed with straw and lime. Heavy rain like that causes them to collapse. In Mergouza, the next town, many people were living in tents because of all the collapsed houses, and several people had drowned.

When we arrived at our auberge, we had to walk across a makeshift bridge which was not much wider than a plank, carrying our bags. There was another group of tourists there, waiting to see whether the weather would ease up enough for them to take their
camel trip into the dunes to the Berber camp where they were supposed to spend the night. We were supposed to sleep in Berber tents near the auberge but they were now under the lake water, so we scattered all over the couches in the main salon. We had a group dinner there that we thought was good, but this is where Elaine got her food poisoning. The other group eventually left, even though it was still windy.

The next day we visited the village and went to the next village for a drumming and dancing demonstration by some Nubians, one of the minority groups who live in this area. Luckily, it was a sunny, quiet, and beautiful day. Then, at about 5PM, after the heat of the afternoon had abated, we were loaded onto camels for our night out in the Berber camp in the dunes. It was quite the experience just even being in the Sahara, let alone on a camel. The ride to the camp took about an hour, which was
certainly long enough for all of us, especially Elaine who was not feeling well. Once there, we climbed a dune, then sat around and drank beer and wine which we had brought along, while the Berber guys fixed our dinner. It was a beef tagine, one of the dishes we have been eating a lot, because you eat it using bread instead of silverware, and you all share a big dish of it. It is like roasted meat and veggies in a casserole and is pretty good. However, in the night two more of our people started getting sick. We slept on thin mattresses in the tents, with some of our
group outside until it started to rain again. One of the highlights is supposed to be having sunrise out there, but it was overcast the next day when we loaded up the camels and rode back. After cleaning up a bit, we packed up and left the auberge, only to have our van get stuck in the sand on our way out to the paved road. Luckily, we all pushed and it came out easily.

We drove to our hotel in a little town near the Todra Gorge and everyone was happy to have a shower or a swim and a rest because we now had regular hotel rooms with our own bathrooms. Hooray.
Of course, there were more adventures after that but they will have to wait for the next travelogue. Our friends will be waiting for us in the Medina for a cold drink on the terrace where we will all watch the setting up of the night market. Sending big hugs to you all.

Love, Mary and Elaine

1 comment:

Matthias Ripp said...

I am very interested in UNESCO World Heritage Sites! How was the state of conservation?