Morocco - The Potato Chick

Tetouan & Tangier, Morocco

In a sentence…some interesting and lesser visited destinations to end our time in Morocco.

Food we loved...handmade nougat and peanut brittle that we bought from a stall on the street in Tetouan. Again – how is this a viable business?

We finished our time in Morocco with two stops along the coast. Things up here were a little different with Spanish the dominant language being spoken, rather than French. It also felt as if the Muslim presence grew even stronger than it had been further South. I tended to be the only woman on the street not wearing a head scarf.

Tetouan

Tetouan is certainly not visited by many tourists. It was interesting to wander around the packed streets at night and get a bit of an insight into what “real” Moroccans get up to. We deduced that in the early evening the men meet up with friends for coffee while their wives stay at home making dinner. Nice. As I didn’t have any dinner-making duties I was able to join Nick in one of these “men only” coffee shops for a coffee or two.

We visited Tetouan’s contemporary art gallery which was surprisingly modern, light and spacious. After that, we hopped into one of Tetouan’s many many taxis (all old model Mercedes) and headed to the beach. The beach was lovely, and pretty much deserted.

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Tangier

Tangier is the gateway to Spain via ferry so it has a bit more of an international feel. You could even buy alcohol here.

We spent some time exploring the city’s very cute and colourful medina and sipped on mint tea at a fabulous spot overlooking the ocean. It was all very idyllic.

A recent development - Nick’s long hair is starting to attract crazies. As we sat in the main square eating our now traditional Moroccan sandwich lunch we were approached by an old man who thought, given the length of Nick’s hair, that we would be interested in hearing about his time in Essaouira “with Jimi Hendrix”.

There are numerous tall stories about Jimi Hendrix and the time he spent in Essaouira. For example – he lived there for a number of years; he owned a house there; he owned a hotel there; he wrote Castles of Sand there; all the locals were mates with him...the list goes on. According to Lonely Planet, however, the true story is much less interesting. Hendrix visited Essaouira once – for several days’ holiday with his girlfriend. He visited two years after writing Castles of Sand and did not even bring his guitar with him.

Thankfully, after about ten minutes of conversation the old man realised we were not, in fact, “hippies” and were not going to buy any hash from him and wandered off, leaving us to enjoy our final hours of Moroccan sunshine. See you soon Spain!

Next stop...Granada, Spain.

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Posted 25 October 2014

Chefchaouen, Morocco

In a sentence...a cute medina in beautiful natural surroundings.

Food we loved...a delicious variety of handmade biscuits purchased from a little shop that sold nothing else. I’m so intrigued that a business selling only biscuits could be viable.

By the time we got to Chefchaouen we had seen our fair share of medinas but Chefchaouen’s was something special. At some stage, someone in the town had the bright idea to paint it in various shades of blue and the result? Totally cute and a great point of difference.

We spent two luxurious nights here at Lina Riad and Spa courtesy of Nick’s lovely parents Carolyn and Geoff. We were provided with robes, slippers and our very own roof top terrace.

With our grotty backpacks and sneakers we definitely didn’t fit in at Lina but the staff were very kind and welcoming, especially the eager-to-please Ibrahim. When we returned from exploring on the first day he greeted us at the door and enquired as to how our day had been. We said it had been really good, to which he squealed over-excitedly “I’m so happy for you!”

We spent our time in Chefchaouen wandering the medina, exploring the Kasbah and hiking in the surrounding area enjoying gorgeous views of all the blue buildings. We also enjoyed another one of our recently discovered Moroccan sandwiches. We had been told there was a very impressive waterfall to visit but, unfortunately, we found it to be not much more than a trickle.

We brought our time in Chefchaouen to a fabulous conclusion with a rooftop dinner on our terrace. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Next stop...Tetouan, Morocco.

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Posted 23 October 2014

Fes, Morocco

In a sentence...it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Food we loved...several meals eaten at Ruined Garden cafe. The highlight was the lamb we ate on Eid ul-Adha – marinated with black olives, apricots, turmeric, cumin, lemon and garlic wrapped in banana leaves and slow cooked for 7 hours.

When we first arrived at our accommodation in Fes we thought the communal living area smelt a little strange. Turns out there was a cow being kept in a little nearby room. And this hapless bovine’s days were numbered.

We had unwittingly arrived in Fes just in time for Eid ul-Adha, the Islamic equivalent of Christmas (in terms of religious significance). This festival commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael in obedience from a command from God. Apparently this festival serves as a reminder to Muslims that they should submit to God and be prepared to sacrifice anything that God wishes.

Practically, it means that affluent Muslims sacrifice their best domestic animal, usually a cow but sometimes a sheep or goat. The meat from the sacrificed animal is usually divided into three parts – the family retains one third; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbours and the remaining third is given to the poor and needy. According to the very reliable source of Wikipedia this tradition accounts for the slaughter of more than 100 million animals in just two days.

Once we learnt about the festival everything started to make sense. The coal and animal feed being sold on every corner, the numerous sheep being (fairly unwillingly) lead around the streets and the fact that every single family seemed to be taking delivery of a brand new chest freezer.

We attempted to explore Fes’ famed souks but everything was shut; not because of Eid but because it was Friday! Luckily Fes’ gardens are beautiful and we discovered a delicious new lunch so the day was not a complete write off. For the equivalent of about 2 Aussie dollars we had a crusty roll filled with Moroccan spiced chicken, French fries and sauce – all freshly cooked by a fat Moroccan mama who invited us to sit in her kitchen to eat it.

The next day we visited nearby Meknes where we spent a few hours wandering the local markets as the locals frantically prepared for the next day. Stalls were set up selling garlic, onions and spices alongside hack saws, knives and fire lighters. It had a very similar feel to an Australian supermarket on Christmas Eve.

The day of the festival arrived. As we breakfasted on the roof top terrace we deduced that the surrounding terraces were the slaughter venue of choice although we struggled to get a proper view of anything. I heard some children yelling and turned round to see them proudly holding up a sheep’s head for my viewing pleasure. I was touched.

Knowing that everything was closed we spent most of the day holed up in our room bedding down plans for the rest of our trip. At about lunchtime we ventured out onto the streets. They were filled with sheep skins, piles of rubbish including sheep poo and unwanted body parts (kidneys etc), locals cleaning out intestines and small children wandering about carrying buckets filled with sheep heads. At this point I began to struggle to draw any more Christmas Day parallels...

Back at our accommodation it was soon 6pm and the cow remained locked away, giving a little pitiful moo every now and then. We were beginning to wonder when the slaughter would take place, and if it would occur in the living room. Suddenly there was a flurry of excitement as two men arrived at the front door. Arms and clothes covered in blood, it was pretty obvious what they were here for. A few minutes later our landlord appeared making the universal gesture for taking photos. I couldn’t believe we were being invited to witness the main event. We trudged upstairs being careful not to slip on the hay and cow poo that littered the staircase.

Whilst this promised to be an amazing cultural experience I couldn’t bring myself to actually watch the cow’s final moments. I busied myself chatting to a Russian couple who were unfortunate to have been drinking tea on the terrace at the moment the slaughterers arrived. Luckily it was all over very quickly. As we came back downstairs we peeked into the cow’s living quarters. For the last few days we had assumed it was a small storage room. No, no, it was the kitchen!

Our time in Fes was both good and bad. We were sorry that we couldn’t properly explore the city and its souks but instead we got to witness a very important celebration on the Islamic calendar and, all in all, Eid ul-Adha was an unforgettable experience.

Next stop...Chefchaouen, Morocco.

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Posted 22 October 2014

Trip from Marrakesh to Fes via the Sahara Desert, Morocco

In a sentence...I’ve already used the word “magical” but I have to use it again.

Food we loved...kefta tagine – meatballs cooked in a tagine in a delicious tomato sauce with an egg on top (also available in a vegetarian version). I didn’t love the egg but everyone else could not get enough of this dish.

If it was good enough for the Sex and the City girls it was good enough for us. And so that’s pretty much how we found ourselves on a three day/two night trip through the Sahara Desert, including a camel trek and one night camping.

We set off from Marrakesh on a Tuesday and almost immediately got stuck in a traffic jam at the local market. The streets were in a state of absolute chaos as people wandered every which way with sheep. It seemed there were several preferred methods of transportation – carrying the sheep over one’s shoulders, holding the sheep’s back legs and pushing it like a wheel barrow and, my personal favourite , popping the sheep in the back seat of your car.

Our driver Darek offered plenty of local insight including informing us that this was the “Tuesday market”. He popped on a soundtrack of 90s classics including Celine Dion, Dire Straits and Mariah Carey and we hit the open road. We enjoyed a day of driving through a stunning rocky and mountainous landscape. Remember my post about Cappadocia in Turkey where I wrote: “I’m certain we won’t see anything like it again”? Wrong!

We stopped off at the fortified city of Ait Benhaddou Kasbah. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city feels “frozen-in-time” thanks to some Hollywood-led restoration. The Kasbah has been the backdrop for movies such as The Mummy and Lawrence of Arabia. We were pretty disturbed to see some dead bodies lying around. Turns out they were just dummies being used in the movie being filmed there that day. Sadly we were not permitted entry into the catering tent and we continued on our journey.

We spent the first night in an absolutely spectacular location overlooking a mountainous valley. It was Katy’s birthday which meant more birthday cake. After three birthdays in four days this was starting to feel like an essential ritual.

Much of the second day was spent getting to the desert although we had a few stops at picturesque gorges along the way. After many hours in the minivan the moment we had all been waiting for finally arrived – the camel trek into the Sahara Desert. A feeling of anxious excitement filled the air. The girls were worried about bruising to their inner thighs, the boys were worried about their future fertility.

I think it’s fair to say we were all in a bit of pain within 5 minutes of being on our camels. But the hour and a half we spent heading into the desert was nothing short of spectacular, an absolutely magical moment of our travels and one I will never forget. The Sahara actually looks exactly like the picture-perfect postcards, it needed no assistance from Photoshop.

We were greeted at the camp site by drumming and singing. We were pleasantly surprised to find flushing toilets and really nice tents filled with warm blankets. We had dinner, more drumming and singing (this time with the addition of dancing for some) and then an eerie walk through the sand dunes in absolute darkness. I couldn’t believe how soft and cool the sand was. We drifted off to sleep to the sounds of...you guessed it – more drumming and singing!

The next day was a big day of driving filled with copious amounts of unhealthy snacks – nuts, Pringles, melted chocolate and lollies. When Darek popped on a new song which started with the lyrics “I see you bumping...grinding...up on that pole...” we thanked our lucky stars that we could see Fes in the distance.

Next stop...Fes, Morocco.

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Posted 19 October 2014

Marrakesh, Morocco

In a sentence...an assault to all the senses.

Food we loved...the Moroccan feast cooked for us by our Airbnb host.

After the relative calm of Essaouira, Marrakesh was a bit of a shock to the system. The medina is simply enormous and it is impossible not to get lost.

We arrived in the late afternoon and headed straight out to explore. After a few wrong turns we arrived at the central square which was an absolute hive of frenetic activity – hundreds of people, horse and carriage “taxis”, stalls selling nuts and dried fruit, orange juice stands, snake charmers and monkeys dressed up in dolls clothes. It was difficult to take all of this in at the same time as keeping track of our group of 11! Luckily we had arranged for dinner back at our riad so we were able to regroup over an amazing Moroccan feast which included mouth watering tagine and birthday cake for Celine.

We only had one full day in Marrakesh and we filled it with activities. Of course, this being Marrakesh, in between each activity there was about one hour of walking, encountering indescribable smells, fielding offers of “assistance” from locals, dodging cars and motor bikes and getting totally lost.

We started off at Bahia Palace which was just gorgeous, full of beautiful tiles and ornate stone carving. It was a lovely break from the hustle and bustle of the medina.

Our next stop was the tannery where animal skins are dried out, processed and dyed before being made into handbags, shoes and other leather items. This was an interesting sneak peak into the lives of some of the people of Marrakesh and I was quite surprised that it did not bother them at all to have tourists wandering through their workplace.

We finished the day off with a fabulous few hours wandering the souks (markets) while sipping freshly squeezed orange juice and munching on dates and cashews. The souks are a maze of winding alleys filled with crazy shop keepers selling colourful blankets, carpets, leatherwork, ceramics, spices, nuts, the list goes on...

We stumbled upon a shop selling hand crafted wooden items and Nick spent ages chatting to the man working on a hand driven lathe out the front. He had a very unusual method where he used his toes to guide the chisel. It was pretty unbelievable to watch and he whipped up a little necklace for me in about two minutes. This encounter was an unforgettable highlight of our time in Marrakesh.

Next stop...Trip from Marrakesh to Fes via the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

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Posted 18 October 2014

Essaouira, Morocco

In a sentence...a great introduction to Morocco.

Food we loved...chicken tagine – a traditional dish which is named after the earthenware pot it is cooked in. The meat is slow cooked for several hours with spices and veggies.

After freezing conditions in Munich we were beyond excited about the African leg of our trip. More Wintery time in Germany awaited us in November but, for now, we planned to extend our almost endless Summer for a few more weeks. Essaouira, a small town on the coast about 3 hours from Marrakesh, was the perfect place to start. London friends Siobhan, James and Celine flew in to meet us and, before we knew it, our little travelling group numbered 11!

Essaouira has a long beach, a bustling port and a cute medina (old town) filled with winding alleys and shops selling colourful handicrafts. It felt like there was a gorgeous tiled doorway around every corner. The medina was the perfect size to wander around aimlessly but not get too lost.

We really hit the jackpot with our Airbnb accommodation, Villa Fadati. For a bargain price we had a lounge room bigger than our flat in South Yarra, six bedrooms each with their own ensuite, a roof top terrace with a little plunge pool and breakfast cooked for us each morning. I think we could have happily moved in there and never left.

Essaouira was also a fabulous place for my birthday. We celebrated with a seafood feast near the port for lunch and a delicious dinner at a roof top restaurant where we could enjoy the balmy evening. Back at the house we squeezed in some duty free alcohol and a birthday cake which the girls had very thoughtfully surprised me with. This was definitely a birthday I won’t forget in the years to come.

Some of our group had an early start the next morning to watch the AFL Grand Final. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology the dulcet tones of Dennis Cometti filled the lounge room and by three quarter time it seemed safe to say that another Hawthorn premiership was in the bag. As the siren sounded Daz, perhaps the world’s biggest Hawthorn supporter, celebrated by sitting down to breakfast (it was only 9am by this stage).

The rest of the day was spent napping, lounging on the terrace and trying unsuccessfully to find a shop that was (a) open; and (b) sold beer. The perils of Grand Final day in Morocco...

Next stop...Marrakesh, Morocco.

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Posted 15 October 2014