Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Travelogue 11 From Marrakech
Dear Friends and family,
We are still in a place where there are many internet places with decent prices (about 75 cents an hour), so here is another report.

The area of the Todra Gorge is on everyone’s itinerary and we were very happy to arrive at our hotel near there in a small town called Tinghir. We all needed a shower and some clothes washing after our time at the Sahara. Our hotel was on a small river, with a swimming pool even, and was in a beautifully green valley full of date palms and other crops. The situation with the local Berber population was also interesting because they had all relocated to the side of the river where the road and electricity were installed . This left their old family compounds, called kasbahs to deteriorate on the other side of the river, up in the hills. The next day we had a local guide who walked with us for 8 kms through the palmery and up to see the old kasbahs. We used the small walking paths that the locals used to get to their small plots to tend and harvest the crops. We were able to see them harvesting the wheat by hand , using small curved knives, and either carrying it along the paths back to their family compounds themselves, or loading it on their donkeys for transport. There were many other crops as well, such as veggies for their table. The women working in the fields were very friendly but wary of us when they saw our cameras. We all were careful not to photograph them. Generally the men did the harder work of plowing or turning over the soil by hand. The old ruined kasbahs were made of packed earth, straw, and lime and were usually designed so that the quarters for the animals were on the ground floor, then the family quarters, then the cooking area on the top on a terrace. The inside parts were sometimes whitewashed with some simple decorations.

After the hike, we drove to a restaurant that Jesse knew down near the gorge itself and we ordered lunch. While waiting for it out on the verandah, it started to rain. Then another van drove up with another small tour group and when the people got out of it, we realized that two of them were Gordon and Shirley Reyer, some friends of ours from Australia that were in our tour group in Vietnam in 2003 . What
a coincidence to run into them here. We had a happy reunion and caught up on their news, although we have also been in touch with them by e-mail. There was a break in the rain and we walked up to the gorge area to see what all the rainfall had done there. Many, perhaps 100, 4 wheel drive vehicles full of tourists had been coming out of the gorge and now they had to plow through all the water and mud that was pouring down the road. It was like a flash flood. Then more vehicles came up to enter the gorge and there was a big traffic jam with everyone honking . It was so
stupid. Finally some of them backed up and let the others through. By the time we were done with lunch, it had rained so much that there were several large waterfalls coming off the steep cliffs near the gorge. We gave up on the plan to see the gorge in the afternoon and went to town for a tour of the old quarter and a trip to the internet.

The next day, June 4, we drove directly to the gorge and not only was it a beautiful sunny day, but there were hardly any tourists around. The gorge is not really that long, just a few kms, but it has tall cliffs only about 300 feet wide and is a very
beautiful and dramatic place.

We left Tinghir and drove through another beautiful valley with palms and crops called the Dades Valley. This is part of the route they call the road of 1000 kasbahs. There was also dramatic mountain scenery with unique rock formations. Then we would drive for long stretches through very arid areas which looked a lot like Nevada. Towards the end of our drive we went through a town called Oazazate, which is where lots of movies have been filmed, such as Gladiator, and where there are several movie studios now. Finally we arrived at Ait Ben Haddou where we
stayed at an elegant old hotel looking across at the huge old Ksor (which is a collection of old kasbahs) across the river. After walking around the village a
bit, we had a very nice group dinner on the terrace overlooking the pool. The next morning, we met at 6 AM and hiked across the river and up the hill through all the kasbahs to the very top of the hill where there was the agadir, or grainery. A hot air balloon was being inflated to take a load of tourists floating over this whole magical scene.

Then we drove over the High Atlas mountains, passing many more lush river valleys where there were small villages, and up into the barren high mountains. The highest pass was 2260 meters, and it was really windy up there. By 1 PM we were in Marrakech, and it was blisteringly hot when we arrived. Luckily our hotel here is air conditioned and has a pool. Jesse took us by taxi to the main square near the Medina and showed us around. Then she left us to eat lunch, shop and explore on our own. The lunch was delicious because we finally had a break from Moroccan food and
had pizza. The souks, or stalls where all the goods are sold, are in the Medina and when we walked there, it was annoying because of the hassle to buy. We didn’t want anything anyway, so we went back to the main square. Here there were snake charmers, guys with captive monkeys wanting you to pay for a picture, women fortune tellers, men who pull teeth for people, about a zillion carts of orange juice sellers, etc. It is a real zoo, which completely changes starting at about 5 PM when people start showing up with carts and an entire night market of food stalls and seating areas is set up. Our group met and went to a local hotel for a drink, then went to the night market for dinner. First Jesse took us to the area where about 10 carts sell snails. You get them in a small bowl and eat them with a toothpick. At first I was not eager to try them but after tasting them, I ate the
whole bowl. They are cooked in a spicy broth and are delicious and cheap. Then we went to another area where we tried the local soup, which is served with dates and a type of honey sweetened doughnutty thing. This was OK. Then we went to another area where we sat at picnic tables and ordered from a menu and had salads, brochetes, calamari, and french fries.

Of course, after eating there has to be entertainment, so we went to the part of the square where there were groups singing, dancing, drumming, male belly dancers, a guy singing with a dancing chicken on his head, and a game where we tried to put a round weight over the neck of a coke bottle using a long bamboo fishing pole. Much more was happening but we were all tired so we went back to the hotel.

Today we got up early and took a taxi down to the old palace area where we toured a mausoleum, an old palace that had been stripped for parts when a new ruler built another palace in Meknes, and an elegant palace formerly used by the Grand Vizer. One bad thing that happened was that Joann went into a shop and knocked over a stack of decorated bowls, breaking one. So, of course, the price for that one was quite
high and she only got out of it by purchasing 2 necklaces at an elevated price.

I know this is long so I will close for now and put the rest of our thoughts and observations in a future communication. Tomorrow we leave for a small town on the Atlantic coast so there should be relief from the heat. Sending the usual big hugs.

Love, Mary and Elaine

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