Salaam ali-khum, my good friends!
It's been over a week since my last communication - and in that time I have traversed much of the Moroccan landscape. I was planning to post from Chefchaouen (hash capital of the Rif Mountains - "I got good stuff for you to smoke, yes?") last Tuesday, but I was overcome at the keyboard with a reoccurence of my sore throat. Damn and blast! I have only just now recovered from that nagging twinge somewhere behind my tonsils, to be ready to enthrall and delight you with tales of my exotic adventures. That's exotic, not erotic - I described the hammam in the last post!
As already mentioned, we found ourselves last Monday in the charming hillside town of Chefchaouen, which means "Look at the Peaks". It was founded by Arabs and Jews fleeing the Reconquista in Spain in the late 1400s, and was isolated from Westerners for some centuries. To be brutally honest, you can kinda tell that there's been a fair bit of inbreeding over the years. The locals were lovely, but all had a certain 'look' about them that I hadn't previously seen in other Moroccan cities. And boy do they want to get you high! Most of Europe's supply of marijuana is grown in the surrounding Rif Mountains, and the government has to turn a blind eye to much of it because it provides employment for so many people. But it does get frustrating being asked every five minutes as you wander along your merry way, 'Do you want to get high?". Men get asked more than women - in fact I was lucky enough to be left alone when I wasn't walking with Greg.
Chefchaouen has a very pretty blue and white-washed medina, and we spent tzo pleasant days (apart from that sore throat) wandering the hilly streets. Weaving is the skill particular to the region, and I wound up buying a beautiful red-and-black throw for my new flat. We got it from a lovely man who didn't haggle much or pressure us at all. He was definitely the guy who made the throa too, as his loom was right there in the shop and he had to stop to serve us. He was also resolute about not going too low in price - a sure sign the final price is a good one. Many merchants demand, for example, 150 dirhams for an item they claim is incredibly valuable - but when you leave the shop will quickly agree to your price of 40 or 50 dirhams!
We proceeded via local bus from Chefchaouen to Tangier, the most northern city in Morocco, and Africa's gateway to Europe. You can look out over the water and see the southern-most tip of Spain just 13km away. We did that on our second day there, as on our first, it absolutely pissed down with rain! Tangier has been extensively renovated in recent years - the boardwalk has a bit of a Gold Coast tourist strip feel to it - but in the pouring rain it was a bit grim. When the sun came out though, so too did the atmosphere - street vendors, food markets, sheep and goats popping up in public gardens... it's a very eclectic toan, a leftover from its time as a base for many European powers.
On Friday night we took the overnight train from Tangier to Marrakech - and encountered another bizarre coincedence. We ran into two people we know from Brisbane!!! Evan and Carly, to be precise. They're friends from the librarian/medieval re-enacters sphere, and are travelling through Morocco and Spain for six weeks. We were luckily in the same sleeper carriage, and stayed up half the night catching up - which thankfully took our minds off the vile French woman who was sharing Greg and I's cabin. We said adieu at Marrakech train station, and hope to catch up again, if and when Dame Fortune decides!
We spent the weekend at the little town of Imlil, in the High Atlas Mountains. It's gorgeous scenery there - with snow now capping the high mountains behind the village. I must admit to getting a bit grumpy with the challenge of hiking up hills - as you all know, I hate exercise, and walking up hills is the worst. I was also too worried about what the rest of the group thought of me - they were all keen for walking while I just wanted to crash out with some chips and a book.
In the end I did a two hour walk uphill to see the next valley over. I managed to hitch part of the way on mule, but the rest was all my own effort. I was happy xith what I did, and not jealous at all of Greg, who joined a few of the other blokes for a further five-hour hike around a whole mountain!
Tonight I sit in Essouraira, a coastal town about 3 hours south of Marrakech. I was quite distressed on arrival to find ther are only SQUAT TOILETS in our hotel!!! The absolute grossness of squats is something I'll dwell on another time. But I have done some recon and found a nearby cafe with a seat toilet, and coupled with the delightful seaside atmos and delectable shopping, am in a much better frame of mind.
And so I leave you now, to talk again soon. Inshallah.