Category Archives: Morocco

Feeling blue in Chefchaouen

“Hey, you India? Japanese? Korea?”

“No, Malaiseeea.” (That’s the correct pronounciation here)

“Good, Malaiseeea. Nice country.”

“Yes.”

“You want some good hashish?”

“No thanks.”

“But it is very good, you come see first..”

We can tell you two things about Chefchaouen: 1) There is a lot of hashish here; and 2) the entire medina is blue. We’re not sure if there’s a link between the two.

Bird's eye view of Chaouen

Rest assured dear parents, we did not indulge in any illicit activities here (or anywhere else too).

Although we must point out here that the Malaysians who were caught planting ganja in Melbourne did not do their research – they should have come here instead. Apparently the number 1 crop around Chaouen is ganja. The main tourist attraction is visiting ganja processing plants. Being scaredy cats, we did not follow any of these (unofficial) tours but one morning tried to locate the farms ourselves. Being lazy cats, we did not go very far (and it started raining again) so we were not successful in locating these farms. We did however, see many sheep along the way, and a very nice mosque on top of a hill near the Tallasematane National Park.

Mosque on the hill, about 20 minutes walk from the medina

No ganja plantations, lots of flowers on the hills

Sara pointing at Aida the sheep

Dylan the giant

Can you spot the wildlife?

One of the pretty little riads

Our little room with a little door

Feeling blue in Chaouen

Plaza Uta el-Hammam, the main square in the medina

Having breakfast on the terrace of our own pretty little riad, Dar Terrae

We are writing this while waiting for our ferry to Algeciras, Spain. More updates when we get there.

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Dar Tamo Riad

Front door. Never judge a riad by its entrance.

 

Signage made from Fes' famous tiles

 

Lounge / breakfast area. Did we tell you the breakfast here was fantastic?

 

A sun roof over the lounge

 

Second floor balcony

 

Our room!

 

And we have a seating area too. Bathroom is behind the mirror.

 

As requested by Johan, here are more photos of the riad. If you’re looking for more information, check out www.riadtamo.com

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UFO sighted over Fes

After a long journey, which included a three hour bus ride from Tinghir to Errachidia, a six hour stopover, then another six hour bus ride, we arrived at Fes at the ridiculous hour of 4.30am. Not wanting to venture out until daylight, we sat at the bus station’s coffee shop watching a strange 1980s Tamil movie till 6am.

Unfortunately, this was not the transport we were looking for

At six, we caught a cab to the entrance of the old medina and tried our luck at finding somewhere to stay. We followed a promising sign that read “Riad Dar Tamo”, which lead us through a maze of alleys, knocked on a small but stately door and woke up the caretaker who was kind enough to let us in. And it turned out to be a really nice little riad too 🙂 Later that morning, we recorded the way out of  the riad to the main alley, just to show you what we’re talking about. Check it out here.

Lounge area of the riad Dar Tamo

The 1,400 year old medina is the largest living medieval Islamic city in the world, and the world’s largest car-free urban environment (the main mode of transport is donkey). Anyway, we thought it was a-w-e-s-o-m-e: Way cooler and prettier than the Marrakech medina, with even more winding alleys to get lost in, less tourists, more souks and stalls selling everyday items for locals. Why, even the touts are nicer here.

145 degree view of the old medina from rooftop of riad Dar Tamo (pardon the poor Photoshop skills)

The roof: a great place to watch the sunset

The roof: also a useful place to hang one's laundry

 

Due to sight-seeing overload, we didn’t feel compelled to visit the “must see” tourist attractions in the medina, but were happy to just amble along its alleyways, sample stall food or watch the world go by while we sip on mint tea.

A shop in the souk selling birds, which was, strangely enough, manned by birds

Senyum, kau di Fez!

We also walked around the new part of Fes for a bit, in search of a shopping mall someone told us about but we could not find. Still, it was a nice walk through a very cosmopolitan town. Sara thought it was just like Bukit Bintang, with many Middle eastern eateries and Middle easterns.

The main boulevard of new Fes. Looks like it could be in Miami

Tired of tagines, shish kebabs (Sara has stopped saying ‘sheesh kebab’ in Morocco, as it actually means something here!) and all that, we decided to treat ourselves to McDonalds. And it is a treat indeed, as McDonalds is quite a luxury here – a chocolate sundae, for instance costs 14 dirham (RM5) and there’s even a security guard stationed at the entrance. Anyway, we are happy to report that McDonalds burgers and fries taste exactly in Morocco as they do back home.

McFondue: We gave it a miss but the croquettes au fromage was good

Our first seafood in Morocco: udang and ikan goreng tepung

Oh and by the way, we saw a UFO from the rooftop of our riad one evening. Here’s the video.

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Habishah the little nomad girl

Todra Gorge is quite grand and obviously a haven for rock climbing, but once you’ve seen it, there’s nothing much else to do, unless you’re a rock climber, or really really like gorges.

Todra gorge

According to the Lonely Planet, the Todra gorge region is excellent hiking country. So we decided to take a hike. Hassan recommended we do the loop trail around the mountain west of the gorge. “No need for a guide,” he said.  “Just go up the steps on the left after  the gorge, keep to the left of the valley, take the left fork after you pass the nomad camp, and follow the trail of donkey and sheep droppings. Should take 3 hours, or 4 hours if you stop a lot.”

View of Todra gorge and part of the loop trail from our riad

So we did that. Started to rain barely 15 minutes into the hike. Sara cursed the unpredictable weather, while Dylan was adamant it was a passing cloud. Turned back after it started getting heavy and cold, then suddenly the rain stopped and we turned around again.

After the rain, looking back to the start of the trail

We stuck to the left of the valley as Hassan advised, but there was no sign of a Berber camp nor a left fork. After two hours, as we were almost at the ridge top, we  came across a barely discernible trail that branched to the left. The trail petered out after around 500 metres, and we were left scrambling over loose rock and goat droppings on a steep slope, with civilisation nowhere in sight.

"Follow the donkey crap", said Hassan

An hour into the hike, the start of the trail is still in sight

Lost. Dylan waiting for a sign

Realising this wasn’t getting us anywhere, we sat down. That was when we spotted a nomad camp on the next hill. We decided to make our way there, and this turned out to be an excellent decision as we met Habishah and her family who live in a cave on the mountainside. When we got there, her mum was spinning wool and her grandfather was patching up an old pair of pants. We were invited for a spot of tea and bread. Luckily, we had packed some sandwiches and dates which we shared with them.

The Berber nomad camp

Cutie pie Habishah

Habishah's grandfather shared tea and bread with us

Habishah with her toy rocks

Watch videos of Habishah here and here.

It looked like it was about to rain again, so we made our way down the mountain after getting some directions (in Berber) from Habishah’s grandfather.

It's still a long way down

Civilisation! If you squint hard enough, you can see our riad

Farms and village along Todra river. Todra gorge is in the background

In all, we took around 4.5 hours to complete the loop, which includes 45 minutes spent being lost.

The Cabutlaris go hiking

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Todra Gorge

We arrived at Todra Gorge yesterday. Staying at a pleasant little riad called Maison LaBelle Etoile, which has nice views overlooking the Todra valley as well as wifi (pronounced “Wee-fee” here). We met the owner, Hassan by chance as we were waiting for a taxi at Tinghir yesterday, and what bit of luck it was – this place seems to be the nicest in the valley and is also affordable at 150 Moroccan dirhams (around RM50 per night).

The valley is quite a pretty place with kasbahs on the hill slopes overlooking small farms and olive and almond trees along the river. Yesterday, we met an old lady in the kasbah who inquired if we had any children and all of a sudden we were having tea at her house. We couldn’t understand her as people here speak only Berber, Arabic or French, but she talked non-stop anyway (reminded us of someone back in KL).

There are a number of trails around the valley, and we’re hoping to do some in the next few days. We started out early this morning, but just as we passed through the gorge it started to rain again – the first time it has rained in the valley this year! (what’s the deal with us and rain). So we’re back in our room out of the cold, updating our blog (and it’s been drizzling for the past 4 hours).

Pottering about in the garden

Testing out a bridge

Checking out an abandoned kasbah

The main street leading to Todra gorge

Following Hajar back to her place for a cup of tea

Almonds! Unripe ones can be eaten with the skins attached but are extremely sour!

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Agog and Le Music

Agog and Le Music are Dromedary camels (Bactrian camels have two humps, Dromedaries have one, and llamas none) that belong to Mohamed, the owner of the campsite at Erg Chigaga where we stayed.

From the time we first saw the camels, we could sense that they were not to be messed with. They kept giving us the ‘stare down’ and made scary sounds like the tauntaun in Star Wars Episode 5: Empire Strikes Back.

Luke Skywalker on a tauntaun

Dylan Ong on a camel

Agog, Le Music and Mohamed took us to one of the bigger dunes in the morning and we lepak-ed there for a bit.

Mohamed and his camels lepaking

Heading back, Sara commented how Agog’s saliva was disgustingly dripping out of its mouth. Agog clearly was not pleased with this and went a few steps closer to Sara, who was riding Le Music. Agog then proceeded to wipe its mouth on her sleeve.

Agog contemplating Sara's sleeve

I take it back! I take it back!

Agog then gave Sara a look to say, “Is this okay with you now?”

Hrrrmmpph.

Washing camel saliva off her sleeve with hot water back at the campsite

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Bright ideas by Mustafa and Sara

One thing was apparent throughout the journey to Erg Chigaga – there is certainly a lot of sand in the desert. To make conversation, Dylan informed Mustafa (our Berber guide) that we do not have enough sand in our country. Back in Malaysia, river sand is an expensive raw material that is in high demand in the construction industry, and many a crooked businessman and shady politician have profited handsomely from the illicit trade in this scarce commodity.

Mustafa was noticeably perplexed at the notion of there not being enough sand, and understandably so, what with having spent all his life living on the edge of the Sahara. He mulled over this for a bit. Then in a stroke of brilliance, he suggested, “let’s export sand to Malaysia!”

Dylan (and Sara too, probably) was stunned at Mustafa’s deft application of lateral thinking. Why, this boy was bright like the desert sun! Surely the Moroccan government would be only too glad to get rid of all this excess sand, what with the problem of desertification and all. Our friend Mustafa and us would become very rich indeed if we could work something out.

Mustafa adjusting his headgear in the middle of a mild sandstorm as we were parked in front of Mt.Tagine

We fell into a contemplative silence once more, observing kasbahs, date palms, the occasional flock of Barbary sheep, and more sand as our vehicle zoomed across the desert.

Observing a flock of sheep

Then Sara had a bright idea of her own. “We have a lot of excess water in Malaysia”, she said (this is true: it always seems to be flooding in some part of the country; many Malaysians bathe twice a day and have their maids wash their cars once a day; and one state government is even providing potable water to households free of charge).

On the other hand, there is an apparent shortage of water in Morocco.. at least in the desert regions (this is also true: deserts by nature experience moisture deficit, i.e.  they lose more moisture than they receive; and by Mustafa’s estimation, it rains 3-4 times a year in Zagora, with each rain event lasting around 5-10 minutes).

“Let’s export water to Morocco!” Sara exclaimed, beaming like the desert sky.

Distribution of non-polar arid land (Source: USGS website)

So when we arrived at Erg Chigaga, we immediately set about conducting preliminary tests on the engineering properties of desert sand in view of its potential application to the Malaysian construction industry.

Conducting a mass particle velocity test

The test results showed that the desert sand at Erg Chigaga consists of clayley particles, likely derived from sedimentary rock of Pleistocene origin. As such, while there is a fair chance of finding the odd fossil or two here, the chances that desert sand will be of any value in Malaysia are not all that rosy. The Malaysian construction industry relies on hard silica sand to make concrete that is suitable for multi-storey apartment blocks and other sorts of skyscrapers. Clayley desert sand, on the other hand will not make great concrete, although it would make good mudbricks when combined with a bit of water and straw.

There sure is a lot of sand at Erg Chigaga

But we are not perturbed. With a bit of imagination and a good marketing strategy, kampung kasbah houses could become the rage. “Cool in the day, cool at night”. “Biodegradable, reusable and environmentally friendly”. “Cheap and good”.

Artist's impression of a kampung kasbah house

Now, what is the best way to transport Moroccan sand to Malaysia, and Malaysian water to Morocco?

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Rain

The guys at Le Petit Kasbah say that they get only a little rain in the desert, three to four times a year, for around 10 minutes each time. Our guide at the desert, Mustafa, commented that it needed to rain because the animals need the water; Agog and Le Music need their water.

Yesterday on our way to Tinehir, it rained for at least three hours.

View from the backseat of our shared La Grand taxi from Zagora to Quarzazate (3.5 hours, seats six passengers). The driver had to stop for repairs along the way. We're not sure what was wrong, but the repairs involved putting more empty bottles into the bonnet.

 

Rain over Dades Gorge

Boumalne du Dades after the rain

We’d like to think that Malaysians carry a little bit of rain (and sunshine) everywhere they go.

Find out who Agog and Le Music are in the next post.

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Zagora

The 8 hour bus ride across the High Atlas mountains was scenic. While Sara felt a bit gayat at some points, Dylan was feeling car sick. Nevertheless, we reached Zagora in one piece.

Up and down the mountains for eight hours

Zagora is a town in the fertile Draa Valley on the edge of the Western Sahara. We stayed the night at Le Petit Kasbaha, a charming little riad at the edge of town.

Lounge area of the La Petit Kasbah

After a scrumptious breakfast of bread with homemade jam (orange, carrot and lemon) and cheese, we started our journey into the desert.

A hand-drawn map at the riad showing the route to Erg Chigaga

After a few hours passing through the Draa valley and stony desert, we reached Mt Hamid, the final outpost town before the big desert. From here, we had two options to get to our intended destination, the sand dunes of Erg Chigaga: 1) in three days on camel; or 2) in three hours by 4×4. We chose the 4×4.

It's only 52 days to Timbuktu by camel!

We stopped at a wadi for lunch. This wadi is inhabited by a nomad family, who have built rest facilities for passing tourists (covered resting place, kitchen, but for toilets you need to walk as far as you want away from the wadi). Mustafa, our guide, cook and caretaker made our lunch of Moroccan salad and grilled chicken kebab and it was g-o-o-d.

Lunch by Mustafa

Mustafa said it was a good day to go into the desert as it was not that sunny, with lots of cloud cover. However this same cloud cover also prevented us from seeing the sun set (and sun rise the next morning.)

Mohamed, our driver suddenly leaps out of the car to chase some camels. We never found out why.

We arrived at our campsite, a sparse area among the sand dunes, around 5pm. Mustafa whipped up a mean tagine for dinner, the best we’ve had so far.

The campsite

Malaysian man and Berber tent

Sara’s encounter with a camel and other stories in our next update.

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More Jawas uncovered

Apparently, Jawas don't only sell droids these days. Could be due to the current economic crisis.

A Jawa trying to outrun us. This one got away.

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