Atlas Mountains – 22/1/2019

Today our drive took us from Ait Ben Haddou to Marrakesh crossing through the Atlas Mountains.  The Atlas Mountain range stretches 2 500 km through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.  According to Waze (Morrocan equivalent to Google maps) the drive should have been 3 1/2 hours, however it seems the road is receiving a much needed major upgrade and added an hour or so to the trip.

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The drive through the mountain range is spectacular, each twist and turn brings more beautiful mountains-capes into view with varying colours from cream, green, beige, oranges and reds. 

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Ava had been hoping for snow for our entire 8 week trip and was very excited today when we reached the mountain peak to see a very small amount of icy snow on the ground.  Unfortunately she was so young when we lived in Colorado that she doesn’t remember the snow.  She did manage to scrap enough snow to throw at the car.

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During the drive we passed many shepherds with either goats, sheep or both on the mountains.  What we hadn’t seen before were people selling Geodes.  Geodes are basically rocks of differing colours that have a hollow space inside that is not completely filled with minerals. The minerals filled or partially filled the cavity with inward growth in various colours.  Geodes are collected from the land surface, dug from the soil and found in stream beds. 

We saw various roadside stalls selling these geodes split in two and it looked interesting but we didn’t stop.  Then as we passed a sheep herder he held up a rock and split it enough showing a brilliant reddish colour inside and I was then curious.  As we came down the otherside of the mountain we passed one guy with 8 – 10 rocks and we pulled over.  Max, Ava and I had a look and I eventually bought a amethyst geode, it looks amazing.  We no sooner turned another corner and there was another guy with larger ones, so we had a look and I bought a bright red/pink geode and Max a silver one. We passed a few more but didn’t stop.  I did that I kept opening mine for another look, I’m very happy with my purchase, now I just have to get it home in one piece.

We finally arrived in Marrakesh where Andrew dropped us near the riad, while he returned the car.  I think Andrew was very relieved to return the car, having driven        1 900 km in the past 12 days.  I’m certainly glad it was him driving through the streets of Marrakesh and Fez with people, bikes, motorbikes, tuk tuks and cars coming from every direction or over the mountain ranges overtaking trucks and cars with little visibility.  As always he did a great job.

Marrakesh – Souqs – 23/1/2019

The riad we are staying at is a bit away from the main tourist drag, about 2 km away, but it has its advantages in that you get to experience how the locals live.  On our way to the souqs we passed carts selling oranges, small butchers and fruit and vegetables shops all with a steady flow of local customers.

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We finally arrived at the medina which can be quite overwhelming as it is filled with a labyrinth of narrow streets, motorbikes,  donkey carts and wheelbarrows carrying products.  To add to that you also have vendors calling to those passing by and the general flow of other shoppers. In the past the medina area was divided into the various crafts, but today, although there are still specialised souqs, savvy vendors have moved further south to where tourists enter the medina, to get the best trading opportunities before they venture further in.  If you can get to the individual souqs you do have the opportunity to see the different crafts being carried out like the metalworkers, carpenters, tailors and leather workers.

I was keen to go to the Souk des Teinturiers to see the fabric dyeing, which turned out to be a little disappointing.  We were invited to see the dying process in one shop, but was told by another shop owner that we must pay the artistian which we agreed, the only problem was the artisian was cleaning the vats, but still wanted to be paid. One shop vendor did show us the colouring powders which works in magical ways, the green powder dyes fabric red, the yellow powder dyes things purple and the red powder dyes things blue.  He also tied a scarf around Ava’s head, she was volunteered for the process.  You need to look up through out the souq so you can see the yarn/wool hanging from the roof. 

On our return route from the Souq des Teinturiers we had motorbikes weaving around people as they wandered the narrow streets and one little boy right next to us was hit.  He was very lucky that the motorbike was going so slowly, he jumped up off the ground and was on his way. 

Wandering aimlessly through the souqs we passed streets selling olives and another selling lanterns and other metal work items.  While the vendors did encourage us to come in, they generally accepted a no thank you without any further hassle.

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We wandered back to the Djemaa el Fna, where there were lots of vendors selling juices and dried fruits before we stopped for lunch.  The square is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is known for the spot to view snake charmers, henna women and storytellers, I think lunch is probably not the time to see them, we saw a snake charmer and henna women, but that was about it. We stopped for a brief lunch of swarma sandwiches before Andrew went off for a Hamman, while the kids and I went shopping in the souq, which was a lot of fun and we go some touristy souveniers to take home. We did discover an interesting street filled with shop vendors selling an array of brightly coloured dried fruits.

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We met back up with Andrew and continued onto the Jewish medina.  I think the medina was a bit less touristy and filled with vendors selling all kinds of spices, herbs, berber teas, soaps and even geodes.

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Natural colour pigments used for dying of fabric.

A mixture of spices for sale including the indigo rocks.

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In this photo the little terracotta bowls are actually different lipsticks if you rub your finger on the inside the pigment comes off to put on your finger.  You can also see the geodes in the photo.

Of course you can’t go to the market without seeing a donkey, this little guy just got yelled at because he tried to eat one of the bags in the cart in front of him. We also passed one of the water guys who was a bit pre-occupied with his phone and another vendor which had a variety of herbs and spices, but also a cheetah skin, which you can see in the top right hand side of the photo.

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Horse and Carriage Tour Marrakesh – 24/1/2019

Happy Birthday Andrew! 

After a late start, we had a couple of hours to kill before our flight back to Madrid, so we decided to take the Horse and Carriage ride around Marrakesh.

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The horses and carriages can be found throughout Marrakesh, the one we went on was near the palace.  The price for the rides is negotiable and depends on how long you want to go for.  We opted for a half hour ride, so we would have enough time for lunch before our flight.

Our driver didn’t speak any English, but pointed out all of the 5 star hotels as we passed them by.  Although very touristy, it was actually quite relaxing and a nice way to see the city walls and gates, the locals going about their day to day routines and a few of the sights.

Poor Andrew, not only did he have to fly on his birthday. firstly to Madrid and then on to Quito, but he also had Burger King for dinner.