Monday, 15 October 2012

Morocco (October 2012)


Treasures of the Kasbahs

Land of medinas, souqs, carpets, Berbers, the Atlas mountains, glistening night skies, the mighty Sahara desert, mint tea, panoramic terraces, camels, tajines... I can't even list half of what's on offer! Morocco is full to the brim with delicious spices and scents. It's impossible to try and describe the atmosphere, because it is just so intoxicating, so alive and so unique.
This is a photo taken of Marrakesh's night market square.
A raucous din, smoky, crowded and breathtakingly alive.
We travelled around the country, visiting places like the mighty Marrakesh, crummy Casablanca, Agadir, Ifergane and the excellent Essaouria. I was interested to find out about the lives of the Berbers, Arabs and Saharwis and found that even the ancient techniques of the Berber carpet makers can still be found in the medinas - albeit with a few modern tweaks! Friendly locals were happy to offer us a free cup of mint tea, which is held in very high esteem as a symbol of hospitality and generosity. After drinking gallons of mint tea I ate tajine after tajine flavoured with saffron, cumin, turmeric and other fresh and exotic spices. Absolutely delicious!


This has been by far one of the most crowded places I have ever been to! It was full of traders, tourists and even a few locals. Although the ambiance, lights, sounds and tourist spectaculars were captivating, I was struck by the poverty that I saw there. Many of the people there would simply not be able to get by without tourism. It makes my heart sink to think of them walking round each night in the market madness trying to sell their wares, a photo with a flea-ridden monkey on their shoulder or simply begging for pennies.

I was astounded to watch the market-sellers in action. The rate at which they change between different languages was unbelievable. However, I guess some things really are too good to be true. Before long I realized that they knew next to nothing besides the regurgitated phrases such as: 'Asda Prices', 'This is not just a scarf, this is an M&S quality scarf', and they had the cockney-market seller impression to a tee. A huge variety of selling tactics in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese and many more. Just incredible really, wish I could do it!

An example of Moorish architecture in Marrakesh.


This is very reminiscent of the Moorish architecture found in Spain. Two Moroccan ports (called Melilla and Ceuta) are actually still owned by Spain to this day. Although relations are hostile because of the ownership of these ports, the two countries maintain cordial relationships - as seen in the Moroccan response to the Madrid bombings of 2004 when they sent their own troops to Spain. Learning about this relationship was really fascinating, as I was able to draw on the information I had learned from visiting the Alhambra Palace in Granada and apply it to a new context. The architecture is stunning and incomparable really.












     

On our way to Ifergane we crossed the Atlas Mountains. Credit must be given to the bus driver for getting us there safely, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't fear for my life on more than one occasion... There were no barriers to prevent us from falling off the narrow roads, and as you can see we were above the clouds. I'd never been anywhere quite like it, and it really fired up the spirit of adventure within the whole group of travellers. We were up so high that my ears had popped and when we looked down, all we could see was the narrow winding path descending amongst the clouds. An incredible experience, but maybe one that I wouldn't like to experience again for a while...


Essaouira - My very first camel ride

Going for a camel ride on the beach was so much fun. It's difficult to see here, but I actually didn't have the protective cushion that most other people tend to have, and so I ended up with
a very sore bum. Not a happy bunny.

Although it was great fun, I've come to the conclusion that camels stink and that they're one of the most uncomfortable forms of transport ever thought up. We were bumping around all over the place for the best part of fourty-five minutes. Bruises galore! Still, the views on the beach were breathtaking and it was really good fun for a short while at least...



The power of the word in Morocco belonged to men and to the authorities. No one asked the point of view of poor people or women. - Tahar Ben Jelloun 

This quote brings to mind one of the key observations that I made in Morocco. After a short time, I realised that when I was in a public place it was dominated by men. Women wouldn't even be allowed out into the social scene. Religious and political opinions aside, I was shocked to see the reality of the lives of women in Islamic countries. This was my first eye-opener as to how customs and religious law dominate culture, and to what extent women are still second-class citizens, powerless in their own countries. This is perhaps one of the more challenging sides to travel: you can't take back what you have seen, and sometimes it can really affect you because there's a huge issue you have to contend with, powerless to change anything.