Obviously, this shot falls into the latter category.
It has been a long, adventure-packed march from Casablanca to here, full of people, interesting nights, and - of course - great food.
Leaving Casablanca was a bit of a nightmare, as big cities tend to be for us. It was a whole day marching through outer urban wasteland, being openly ogled and incessantly harangued: "hey, Ali Baba! What you need all that stuff for? Why you don't take a taxi? I give you good price on taxi!"
Where are you going;
what are you doing;
where are you from.....
WHY ARE YOU WALKING?
The first hundred times those questions are asked, it's not so bad. By the time they have been asked five hundred times in the course of one day, it gets a little tiring, particularly when it is over thirty degrees and there is forty kilometres to go to get out of the city.
Eventually we reached the outer village of Tit Mellil, where there was (reportedly) a hotel. You guessed it, though - none to be seen. We hoisted the packs and kept on walking, past a garage where the lovely owners fed us wonderfully and refused to be paid, until we finally reached the small town of Berrechid, also reputed to have a hotel.
But - oh, yes, you've already guessed - no hotel there either. By this stage we had covered the longest distance we have ever done, over fifty kilometres, and any spare patch of ground was looking good for the tent. Unfortunately there really had been nothing but industrial wasteland up until then.
Finally we spotted a lush looking nursery, full of palms and flowers. We figured a nursery must have some land, so we plodded up the driveway and asked a woman who was working in the hothouse if we could camp.
Well. She swung into action, taking one look at the sorry state of us and ordering us into chairs, returning with a huge tray of mint tea and cake, and got on the telephone to her son who, she assured us, spoke French much better than she did. Ten minutes later Khalid duly rolled up, and we all sat and drank tea and ate lovely cake, and he wound up absolutely refusing to hear of us camping and ushering us instead into the house. This is Khalid and his mother (who we spoke to first) and some other family members.
And Gary, of course.
We were so exhausted we barely had time for a wash before we passed out on the wonderfully comfortable salon sofas. They were beside open windows, and when I woke during the night it was to feel a cool breeze and see the stars right outside; the nighttime air smelt of frangipani and orange blossom.
We had planned to leave early the next morning to beat the heat, but of course, it is impossible to escape the unbelievable hospitality of Moroccans - that is, if one was stupid enough to want to do so. Khalid's mother was up with the dawn and hurried us back into our chairs under a big old tree in the garden. She disappeared back inside and then the plates started to appear in a continual, wonderful, parade of gourmet delight: plump ripe tomatoes and sweet thinly sliced onion, preserved meat, fresh baked bread, a luscious, dripping cheese omelette, fresh cheese, homemade jam, honey, grapes, olives....and scads of coffee and glorious mint tea. You cannot even begin to imagine how good her mint tea was; Gary and I nearly had conniptions on the first sip. It is a whole different wonder to the cafe stuff.
Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou, to the family Rorchid. We will never forget you.
Eventually we made it to Settat, where there really was a hotel. We collapsed for a day there and got our breath back a little. It was bliss to be away from the noise, stink, and hassle of Casablanca.
We headed off from Settat knowing there was nothing in the way of hotels for at least three days. The landscape rapidly turned from coastal plains into the lunar scape of gravel covered mountains, where the farmers somehow graze sheep and grow olive trees. We walked a huge old day and it was coming into darkness when we decided we would have to approach a farm to camp for the night. It is a bit intimidating out in the hills, where most of the farmers speak Berber and Arabic but very little French, and we often struggle to make ourselves understood. But the lovely Mustafa saw us coming up the gravel path of his home from his rooftop, and welcomed us very kindly. We gave him and his wife the food we had, and a little money, and they made us a wonderful meal which we ate up on the rooftop. We slept up there too, and a more wonderful view of the stars would be difficult to find anywhere. Every time I woke up in the night they had wheeled on a little further, and every constellation was crystal clear and brilliant.
Mustafa's wife cooked us beautiful rghayef flaky crepes the following morning, and we drank some more of their sublime mint tea before heading off. Mustafa is building the house himself - he had a terrible fall at work on a building site some years ago and is only now beginning to recover; yet he has managed to build a two roomed home, plant a strong, healthy garden, and keep about a dozen sheep. Not to mention show two tired walkers unconditional hospitality.
We quickly launched from the sublime to the ridiculous though, that day. We trudged another very long day - we are doing consistently longer distances now, mainly because there is simply nothing in between a lot of places - and that was a forty kilometre one. As usual though, we stopped for the heat of the day. It is just lunacy to walk through the midday heat; we were fortunate that day tocome across a proper service station with a restaurant, where the owners kindly let us sit for a few hours.
On dusk we entered a small town (which had a really difficult to pronounce name, hence the lack of it here) and got a bit of a funny feeling. It might have had something to do with the three seperate offers of "something special from the mountains my friend" before we were even into the town proper; ever since Gary shaved his head again and trimmed the beard, every hustler for miles around seems convinced that we are mad kif smokers, offering us spliff at every available opportunity. A little concerned by their persistence, we turned straight into the police station and figured we would ask if they knew somewhere we could camp.
The very friendly policeman was a bit bemused by the request - I rather suspect it is the first time in living memory a traveller has stopped there for a night - but eventually his mate who ran the local Shell service station offered us a place on his floor, which we gratefully accepted. So, from the airy views of stars to the side of an oil trap we went.
But a safe place to sleep is never to be either underrated nor underappeciated, and we were extremely grateful for it, as we were to the kindly cafe owner next door who let us have a wash out the back and gave us a wonderful breakfast the next morning.
It was a couple more pretty long (yes, okay, and hot - I guess this is getting a little monotonous now, isn't it?) days before we finally got to Marrakech. We had one night in a hotel which was not worthy of the name - no shower is one thing, but a squat toilet with no door and a tap which ran only a trickle of brown water, is rather taking the piss, I thought - and another rooftop camp. And then below us, we saw the palm tops of the legendary oasis - and smelt the diabolical stench of the swamp they grow in.
Last time I was in Marrakech, I loved it. Absolutely, fabulously, thought it was the most exciting place on earth.
But I am going to go out on a limb here and say that this time - it has really left us both a bit cold.
For one thing, there are more tourists here than you could shake a stick at - I have seriously never seen so many Europeans in one place since we got to Morocco. There was nowhere near as many tourists last time I was here. They are, quite literally, everywhere. Now of course, I would be a sorry traveller if that was the only thing I had a problem with; but it is the hustle that results from their (or, should I say, our) presence that is difficult to handle. After weeks of being a curiosity, but shown far more kindness than any other type of attention, suddenly we are perceived as endlessly rich idiots ripe for the plucking. It really has been fairly unpleasant, to be honest.
Last time I ate in the bustle of the Djemaar el Fna at the street stalls, they were wonderfully cheap and tasty; this time the only other people I could see eating were all European, and the prices we were charged bore very little relation to those advertised, not to mention being approximately triple what we are accustomed to paying for the same thing. And the food was really ordinary.
The two lots of mint tea we have paid for have been diabolically bad; and we cannot move without being agressively confronted by a salesman of one sort or another. Fortunately we are pretty laid back with it all, and haven't been upset by it - particularly since we are very obviously not in the market to buy anything - but around us we have seen a lot of people getting pretty upset. I know that the tourist office has done a lot to crack down on hassle and hustling, but it just seems that there is a really unpleasant undertone to the atmosphere here now; the city is running on the tourist dollar and it is blatantly there to be exploited to the last dirham.
For us the cities in Morocco have just been an utterly other world to the smiling kindness and warmth of the rural areas. We may as well be in a different country. In some ways many travellers don't seem to help themselves much, with many of the women roaming around in tiny bikini tops and shorts, and sitting outside cafes smoking (I sound a bit like a preaching mullah, don't I? But it does seem to show a rather blatant disregard for local norms). Nonetheless, both of us are looking forward to ther relative peace and quiet of the Atlas mountains after this. I think it is a great pity that a country which has such an amazingly warm, generous national character, should be so badly misrepresented in it's tourist centres.
Anyway. The Fna remains a great carnival spectacular, and we have just switched to self catering for these few days!
The heat is suprisingly bearable. We have less than five hundred kilometres now until M'Hamid - something I get butterflies in the stomach just thinking about - and we can't wait to head into the beautiful country of the Atlas. So perhaps I shall go and indulge in an ice-cream - the one thing we can actually afford here - and rest my little feet for the tramp ahead.
Oh, stuff it, I might as well lash out and have a tagine as well... since I'm an idle rich European and all.
Marrakech the sequel
Yes, there are still too many tourists, hustlers, and high prices; but the Fna is as amazing as ever I remember it, and the orange juice just as wonderful. I'm never going to like performing monkeys or snakes with their mouths sewn shut so they don't bite their "charmers", but the mayhem and storytellers and cooking fires are as crazy and enchanting as ever.
I am also posting a sequel to say a massive THANKYOU to Hamid for his entirely unexpected comment on the site - we can't believe you got our web address and wrote to us! Thankyou so much for your kindness - we were amazed when you backed that huge truck up two hundred metres just to give us some water. The truck drivers along the Casa-Marrakech stretch were all incredibly kind to us and didn't blast us off the road but waved instead, and cheered us immensely with their big smiles. We really appreciate you getting in touch - please leave an email address so we can get back to you, or go to the "contact us" section.
You reckon you're struggling to sell your boat?