Arrived Marrakech at dusk.  Small airport.  Katie was there to meet us, terrific.  Took a taxi to town.  The taxi crashed into another one as he backs out of the car park.  Lots of gesturing and yelling, but we drive away anyway.

What a fantastic city.  Katie has booked us into a hotel near the square.  One of the world’s great sights.  At dusk, all kinds of people gather; snake charmers, acrobats, fire breathers, story tellers, musicians, fortune tellers, water sellers with their water in used goats slung over their shoulders.  There are food stalls and fresh orange juice.  Can’t see that all this is a tourist show; more Moroccans wandering around.

Early next day we head off to Essaouria (pronounced Essa Weara).  But later we return to Marrakech for a few days.  The new part of the city has wide, clean, tree lined streets, side walk cafes.  The buildings are traditional red brick.  Charming.  The old medina is the maze of shops, eateries and milling people that is Morocco.



Takes 3 to 5 hours from Marrakech to Essaouria, depends on the goodness of the bus and the number of stops.  You can flag down the bus anywhere along the way.  Police checks every few kilometres on Moroccan roads.  What are they checking?  Seems like standing in the bus might be not be on, as the bus people make sitting down gestures to all those standing in the aisles. 

Most of the way stony desert.

Throw our bags into a hotel and off to where Katie is staying.  Take a local bus 8 kilometres south, walk 2 kilometres down a stony road, take a left, then another kilometre on a track, first palm tree you come to, blue gate.  Can’t miss it.

Katie and her Canadian friend Dale are staying with a Canadian lady, Moni, who they met in a café.  Dale’s Dutch girlfriend is there too for a few weeks.  Moni is quite extraordinary.  She is 53, came to visit Morocco and never went home.  She married a Moroccan, Usef.  Usef also has some other wives so isn’t always around.  He is 28.  Moni is a lovely lady who is very good to Katie.

A Moroccan friend of Kate’s makes us a Targine.  It is like a mostly vegetable stew made in a special pot.  No plates to wash here, we eat by grabbing bits of vegetable with chunks of bread.  Since there is no fridge, all the food is fresh.  This is the best meal we eat in Morocco.

Next day he offers to make cuscus.  Great.  Out to the surfing beach at 1200.  It is raining.  Lunch turns out to be at about 7 pm.  Hungry.  Cuscus is a real big deal, made on the holy day, Friday.  It takes hours.  The cuscus must be steamed in a special pot and the grains separated by hand 3 times.  Repeat, 3 times!

We spent a few days in Essaouria.  The town colours are white and blue.  It is pretty.  My favourite place.  Old Portuguese fort.  Fishing village.  Many foreigners, some resident.  Biggest, fattest seagulls you ever saw.


The Desert

Back to Marrakech to arrange a trip to the desert.  We go with two Poms in a mini bus.

Drive south through the Atlas Mountains.  Arrive Zagora at dusk for a two hour camel ride into the sunset.  It gets dark.  This is a bonus.  Very dramatic.  Stony desert.  Sore bums.  Eat and sleep in a Berber camp.

Next day we drive east to the edge of the Sahara.  Onto the camels, into the sand.  Sore bums.  Sleep out in the open on some rugs on the sand.  I like the desert.  Nothing to see but sand.

Pam and I climb the dune for dawn.  Big dune, hard work.  30 minutes climbing, 30 seconds descending.

We are now as close as 52 days (by camel) from Timbuktu.  Sign says so.



The Gorges

Between deserts are the gorges.  Oasis filled with palm trees.  Old mud brick villages, the colour of the land; sometime dark red, some yellow, blending in.  Always the mosques.

We spend a night in a hotel in a narrow gorge.  Sore bums. 

Low blood alcohol is affecting us now.  Not much available anywhere in Morocco.  The hotel offers send a taxi 50 kilometres to get us a beer.  We decline.  First hot shower, actually first shower, since we left home.

One old village looks like a movie set.  Expect to see Pharaohs, but only bodies hanging from scaffolds.  It is a movie, isn’t it?  They are only models, right?  Hot.  I throw up.  Felt a bit ill for a couple of days.  Better now.


The High Atlas

Back in Marrakech, we arrange a 6-day trek in the High Atlas.  “Start with an ascent of Mt Toubkal, then 3 valleys.  You’ll need a donkey, a guide, food, accommodation in villages, and a taxi to and from”.  Thus spake Mohammed, the arranger.  OK.

Toubkal is the highest place in North Africa – 4167 metres.  The French Alpine Club has a refuge at 3000 metres.  It is 4 hours, easy pace.  Donkey, Pedro, carries everything.  Overnight.  Cold.

We reach the summit in clear weather in 3 hours.  Steep, loose gravel.  I find it hard going.  All the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness, including the dreaded HAFE (High Altitude Fluctuance).  Never experienced AMS at this altitude before.  No sympathy from Pam, who reckons I’m a wimp.  Hang around for 20 minutes.  Descend.  Two hours.  Starting to snow.

We lunch at the refuge.  Descend into the valley.  Snow icy, biting our faces higher up, wet and soft lower.  5 hours.  No rest stops.  We have walked 8 hours today with two rests.  We are dry though.  Thanks Mr Gore and Mr Scarpa.

Overnight at Mohammed’s house down in the valley.

Next morning load up Pedro, and head over the Col, about 2600 metres, into the next valley.  Everything pretty from the snow.  Snow and cloud in the pass, clear in the valley. 

We won’t see any foreigners for two days.

Some villages are isolated.  No roads.  Donkey the only transport.  “If you hit a donkey hard enough, it will go anywhere” old Berber saying.  Doesn’t work for me.  I can’t make Pedro go.

The three-valley tour leads to a village that I cannot enter.  I’m wearing shorts.  Not proper dress in traditional Muslim places.

Back to Marrakech.  Crazy taxi driver.  No accidents.  We lash out and go for the $20 room.  It has a hot, hot, bath.  Find a beer.


The North

Arrive Tangier at night, get dropped in the medina.  Walk into the first hotel we see.   We feel out of place.  Noisy.  Good thing there is no alcohol.  Don’t sleep too good.

I figure that there is nothing wrong with Tangier that could not be fixed by a relatively low yielding nuclear airburst.  Pam likes it.

We head out to Tetuoan (Tet Wan).  This is a lovely place, only an hour from Tangier.  Different.  Mediterranean.  Houses whitewashed, more rounded, Spanish spoken here.  Turns out it’s a World Heritage city.  No tourists sighted in two days.  Where are they?  Nice room above a cobbled mall.  Learn that Pam is a “Femme de Foyer” – French for housewife.

Head south to a place I can’t spell.  Get off the bus and get right on the next one out of town.  Turns out we missed something.



What can you say about the biggest and oldest shopping centre in the world? 

We head in at dawn.  No crowds.  Good photo opportunities.  Don’t get lost.  Try the souqs again later.  Don’t get lost again. 

Walk back via the old Jewish quarter (They are all in Israel now).  Buildings are different; balconies face the street, instead of an internal courtyard, as is the Muslim way. 

Night arriving.  The crowd is unbelievable.  We are carried backwards at times.  Pam starts to panic.  I remain calm!  Walked 10 hours today. 




Katie stayed here for 2 months last year.  It is one of my top places.  A friendly little Berber town.  Green tile roofs.  In the mountains.  Cedar trees surround.  We stay in the best hotel in town - $10 US.  The room is heated, warm bath.  No tourists. 

We find a beer garden!  We have the best meal tonight, but overdo it by ordering two Targines.  Moroccans put out so much food.  We eat only one meal a day, generally sharing a dish.  I think it is their tradition to leave something on the plate.  Well we have to.

There isn’t actually anything at Azrou; maybe that is its charm.  But the next day is market day.  The market travels from village to village.  It is huge, probably bigger than an Australian shopping centre, but of course much more interesting. 

Everything fresh from the fields.  Remember when you could smell tomatoes?

We saw Joseph leading Mary on a donkey to the market.  Nothing changed in a thousand years.



We are now travelling in the morning, sight seeing in the afternoon.  Bed early.  Hit the next town.  I want to get back to Essaouria to see Katie.

Still, we’ve seen every wall, every carpet shop, every souq in the country.

We discover that wine is available!  Go to the central market area, find a “grocery store”, get wine.  Stock up.  Easy, except Fridays.  It’s made in Meknes.  Not bad at all.  Luckily a fellow Australian discovered their secret.

More medinas.  More souqs.  More walls.  Got lost.  Got lead out.



Rabat is the capital of Morocco.  More rushed.  More western, maybe. 

Yet to get to Salle, across the river, you are rowed over for a couple of cents. 

No hassles anywhere in Morocco.  There is a new law prohibiting Moroccans from talking to foreigners.  A night’s jail and a big fine if they do.  They can get a licence to talk to foreigners though.

Forget the old stories about the man-eating, would-be guides at all the medinas.  We didn’t experience that at all.



El Jadida

The Portuguese were here, built an underground cistern.

Nice place, on the coast.

Rows of upmarket seafood restaurants along the coast, all built to face the road, even the outdoors areas.

No beer.

Breakfast, as always, is Café Noir.  Strong black stuff.  We eat some corn bread.  Azrou has the best.  We are experts now.

English not spoken in Morocco.  Arabic or French.  Struggling at times.  Kate is good though.  Must get out the Pink Panther movies to brush up the French accent.


Back to Essaouria

Headed out to Moni’s place.  Found it!  OK a kid helped a bit. 

Dale has a part as an extra in a movie.  He has gotten very tanned and looks like a Moroccan.  He gets paid twice as much as the Moroccan extras.  This doesn’t sit well with him.  He gets $30 US a day, plus food.  The day is 12 hours, plus.  They didn’t want Katie.  I don’t think she can pass as an Arab.

Kate and Dale came in for lunch - pizza. 

They have a wedding to attend tonight.  Weddings down here are arranged.  When a man’s mother figures its time for him to marry, she negotiates with other women for one of their daughters.  The bride and groom meet for the first time on wedding day. 

Yet only a few hours north is Casablanca, a modern cosmopolitan city where young Muslims wander hand in hand, dressed in the latest western clothes.  We will leave from Casa.  Not like the movie.  No Rick’s café.  Airport miles from town.

The wedding is a massive feast that goes all night.  The men and women dance separately.  Katie gets given money for good dancing.  Yeah.  Right Kate.  There is no alcohol.

Dale and Kate come in for lunch – pizza.  Pizza is an indulgence here.  Cheese is expensive.  Wander around.  Beer time.  Katie takes us down some back alleys to a hidden bar for Moroccan men.

Night.  Go with Kate to her bus.