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Carpet trader Marrakesh

Morocco: Travels With Hansi - Part 5
by Cindy Thompson

Strange Goats
Young goat herder We had been forewarned about this strange sight, yet when it actually faced us, it was difficult to believe.  ‘Did you see that?’  I asked Alan, pointing to some Argon trees. ‘There was something jumping around up in those trees.  Really.  Look!’  We stopped to find a number of trees very busy with climbing goats.  Sure footed goats can jump around in the trees with ease, and eat the shoots and fruit of the Argon tree.  The trees grow very slowly and live an average 125 years.  The wood is extremely hard and is used to make charcoal.  The leaves and cover of the fruit make excellent cattle fodder, which the goats love. From the nut comes the famed Argon oil and Argon butter.  The yield however is very low, with an estimated 100 kilos of nuts to produce just 2 kilos of oil.  For this reason it is very expensive and has a reputation as an aphrodisiac.  The butter is delicious and tastes very similar to peanut butter, but with a runnier consistency. Both products are sold by the roadside and are expensive, but beware of watered down versions. An alcoholic drink is also made from the fruit.  

The Tiz’n Test Pass
From the south, one route to Marrakesh is via the Tiz’n Test Pass, the highest pass in Morocco at 2,100 metres.  We had been warned by other motorhomers who had not experienced it themselves, but had heard from others, that it was a very steep and difficult road, that should be approached from the south rather than from the north.  The road is narrow and vehicles in Morocco drive on the right, which when driving north up the Tiz’n Test you will be on the mountain side, rather than the sheer drop side.  The junction of the Tiz’n Test should have been an omen of what was in store.  Ahead lay a few hundred metres of visible road, and what should have been a clear view of the High Atlas Mountains at close range, was enveloped by a blanket of fog and mist.  It was also raining hard.  The drive sky-wards was indeed narrow, twisting and in places rough.  The drive up was uneventful and the views, nil.
We were greeted at the summit, by a vicious storm, of high winds, horizontal rain, hail and snow.  We took shelter behind a café for the night.  Outside was bitterly cold, wet and positively miserable.  The storm worryingly gathered speed, then came the deluge, which was so loud on Hansi’s roof, we could hardly hear ourselves think.  Hansi had three leaks from the roof, so cups had to be positioned to catch the invasion of rain.  It was a fretful night.
Road flooded The following morning, we were greeted by a 5 inch blanket of snow, which threatened to turn our decent into a bobsleigh terror ride.  Alan was cool and collected about it all, but underneath I was panicking.  Well, someone had to!  Alan told me to stop flapping.  Back on the road the torrential rain had caused boulders and rocks to slide down the mountain, in parts blocking our progress.  Alan was in the driving seat, whilst my job was to get out and lift or push the obstacles from our path!  Below the snow line, we were faced with other problems. Swollen rivers and flooding.  One raging torrent had forced its way across the road, with traffic unable to pass.  A large digger was working relentlessly in a futile attempt to clear the road of rocks washed down by the flood.  We had to cross.  The locals had gathered and watched intently as to what these crazy tourists would do next.  The alternative was to go back up the pass.  We were hooked up to the digger, but the chain broke twice.  Alan then took control.  ‘We shall drive across.’  He told me with an air of confidence not shared by me.  We didn’t have life jackets, or a lifeboat.  It was time to panic again.  
I don’t remember much of the crossing, but it was very rough and there was an awful sound of rushing water.  I was too scared to take any photos.  We did reach the other side amidst cheers and claps.  We had made it, though not without some flood damage.  The water was so deep that it flooded the steps, soaking the carpets, and flooded the bottom lockers.  Alan said that when he repaints Hansi this summer, an all important plimsoll line will be added.

Magical Marrakesh
Roof top café, Marrakesh ‘You’ll either love it or hate it.’ We were warned of our impending visit to Marrakesh in Morocco. The mythical red city of Marrakesh, is one of the great Islamic cities of North Africa and has been a trading post for centuries.  Berber tribes from the Atlas Mountains, Magrebis from the plains, Nomads from the Sahara and many others from Senegal, Sudan and Timbuktu, all came to Marrakesh to trade their wares, of spices, slaves and salt, and all manner of goods, to spend their money and find gossip and entertainment.
The highlight of any visit to Marrakesh, whether a thousand years ago or today, is the forever busy main square, Djemaa El Fna, which means “Assembly of the dead,” a name said to have come from its macabre past.  Until the 20th Century, criminals were executed in this square and their heads put out on display as a warning to others.  Another reason to visit Marrakesh, is to shop in Morocco’s largest souk attached to the square, which unlike the executions and gruesome displays of the past, has survived and grown.  The souk is a rabbit warren of covered alleyways, filled to capacity with all of manner of goods, with similar trades grouped together.  Many of the shops are tiny, yet the walls, ceilings and floors are crammed with what ever is being sold, or in some cases made.  Lanterns, pots, ornate mirrors, babouches (leather slippers), scarves, dresses, food, silver, gold, cooking pots, musical instruments, paintings, antiques, herbs, spices, medicine, whatever your desire, it can be found.  Items that are unable to be squeezed into the shop, spill out onto the alleyway floor, and hang from overhead coverings.  
Djemaa El Fna comes alive at night.  Food stalls had set up and aromas of soup, barbequed meat, boiled goats heads, snails, spicy tea and tarjines, filled the square.  Chefs beckoned us with morsels of their food to sit and eat at their tables, serving food for all tastes and pockets.  Bright lights powered by noisy generators or hissing gaslights, illuminated a scene, which has survived for millennia.  The 12th Century Koutubia mosque, lit up in the night sky, provided a fitting backdrop to this ancient, established square.  We squeezed our way through the large crowds to see storytellers, recounting fables of kings and maidens in classical Arabic, and comical boxers who spent more time talking than supplying any action. There were comedy acts that didn’t need to speak any language to understand their tomfoolery, and musicians played ancient instruments in mournful tones whilst a lone fire eater, stood beside an old plastic oil container full of some highly flammable liquid.  Ominously, the crowds kept their distance.  Lurking between the crowds were the smiling henna ladies, armed with syringes full of dark green goo, eager to squiggle intricate henna designs onto your hands or feet.  The fortune-tellers, and beggars surrounded an unusual stall, the tooth man with a large tray brimming with extracted human teeth and sets of false teeth, presumably to recycle.  I was impressed with this man’s resourcefulness, in a country with high unemployment.
Lanterns, Marrakesh The most entertaining of all were the dancing ladies.  They wore long dresses, with a sequined tie around their hips and a cover over their faces and heads, showing just their eyes.  As their accompanying four piece band, a motley crew of old men, with ancient instruments, started playing, the ladies wiggled suggestively into action, shaking and gyrating their hips to the belly dancing beat.  A few minutes into their act, one of them came up to Alan and asked in a false, but highly flirtatious tone, with a flutter of false eyelashes, for some coins.  Their secret was out.  They were men!  Cafes with roof top terraces surrounded the square, and provide an excellent place to sit and rest and watch a chaotic scene unfold over a glass of sweet mint tea.  
Most of the entertainment we realised, was not for the tourists, but was part of everyday life for the locals.  We were merely witnesses to a rich culture, which has stood the test of time.  Globalisation is ensuring that too many cities in the world have lost, and are losing their identity and are becoming boring and monotonous.  Magical Marrakesh is different.  We hope it never changes.  Locked away forever in my memories of travel, Marrakesh and her friendly people hold a special place.
We loved it, but of course you might hate it.


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