A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: tszeitli

....and, Relax!

Days 108, 109 110 Singapore

rain 30 °C

After 4 months of travelling we have booked 4 days at Marina Mandarin to relax and recuperate a little - a ploy to delay the inevitable reality of going home.

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We set ourselves no plans other than to linger over buffet breakfast, snooze, catch up on sleep and rest. This was the perfect place.

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It rained every day but we didn't mind. It was cool to see the storms roll in as we hadn't seen rain in months.

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We did venture out to explore a little, but 30 minutes later we decided it was all too much and quickly retreated to the safe haven of our room.

The hotel sent us a lovely surprise of some bubbles and choc covered strawberries which was a wonderful way to enjoy our first afternoon.

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We watched movies - Blazing Saddles was a great tribute to Gene Wilder, totally politically incorrect in today's times.

Lazed by the pool and reflected on what has been a magic 4 months.

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Now off to the airport, on last check in and we're home tomorrow.

Thanks everyone for coming on the ride with us - its been a blast!

Buen Viaje!

Posted by tszeitli 23:10 Archived in Singapore Tagged relax Comments (2)

Viva Le France

Days 103, 104, 105, 106, 107 Paris

sunny 30 °C

We caught our 2 km taxi for $20 are happy to be leaving Tanger.

Upon entering the Airport, through two security checks just to get in the front door (which was painless and not a bad idea) the check in process of this small, disorganised, ill planned, costly airport is crazy.

There was a queue to get to the queue for check in. After checking in you had to go back out the same gate, against the ever growing tide of passengers wanting to check in. Then you join another "queue" that isn't really a queue, more a group of people congregating at the gate before the door to the Passport Control hall. There no signs or explanation as to why you can't proceed through. A staff member seems to be allowing some people to proceed through, but there's no apparent system, and everyone looks at each other bewildered. Like all good lemmings, once a few people decide to kick off, the crowd follows and we're swept into Passport Control.

Its a small airport with only 3 gates. We hoped to use our remaining Dirhams on some water and breakfast. Normally croissant was 1 MAD and in the airport it was 11 MAD. 1.5 litres of water is normally 6 MAD but a 500ml bottle was 12 MAD. Sadly we only had enough for a small bottle of water and one croissant.

By this stage, we are getting most eager to get out of this place and our flight is called. As we board, what people were carrying onto the plane and shoving into overhead lockers had to be seen to be believed. It seems they think shopping bags don't count in the carry on limits and the lockers are full about halfway through boarding. Plus, just to make things more interesting, people travelling together aren't seated together. Jen and I are seated in same row but in the middle seat on either side. Families were spread out making for a chaotic dance as women tried to sort bags, husbands and kids up and down the crowded aisle.

Once in the air, it was an uneventful flight and we were glad to arrive in Paris. Having enjoyed about 6 weeks now of 35+ degree heat, we were looking forward to Paris being a bit milder. However, checking the weather the night before the forecast is 3 days of 36 deg C, no chance for a break from the heat.

We both feel like we've rounded the bend and are now enjoying a little culture treat before heading home.

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Jen was here last in 2011 and I was here in 2008, but very briefly. Jen knows the place pretty well and had tour responsibilities but it was a chance to see Paris together. We are still suffering from tummy troubles but we ventured out to pick up our museum tickets.

Next, Jen had an idea to buy a pretty dress in Paris as a treat. Our AirBnB was in Royal Village between Gucci, Prada and Dior. The staff at Dior warmly greeted us even though our outfits look like we've been travelling for 4 months. Telling them we're in the market for a pretty Summery dress, we are escorted upstairs to womenswear, offered a champagne and the assistant says "oh, I will get some things that will suit you". She shows Jen half a dozen classic French Dior cocktail dresses, all beautiful and stylish. I could see Jen trying to work out what they may cost and she raises the courage to ask the assistant before attempting to try anything on. The assistant looks at the price tag of one of the dresses and the number of around €2400 is all we heard. That squashed that idea quick smart. Jen was prepared to splurge but sadly not that much. Fortunately, Jen had found a little shop having a sale and found two little numbers very reasonably priced.

Whilst Jen didn't get a designer dress treat, we got a designer dessert treat!

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We also rediscovered how extremely expensive Paris is. Dinner consisted of a club sandwich, quiche and water for 50 Euros about $75.

We were able to catch up with Lisa, a friend of Jen's who used to live in Moscow but recently moved to Paris. It's a warm night and doing the Parisian thing of sitting on the side of the road out front of a cafe drinking Champagne and catching up was a lovely way to end our first night.

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As we're on our Honeymoon, Jen organised a photo shoot with a local photographer. It was a nice treat to get us photographed together in Paris at the end of our trip - especially as Selfies in Paris aren't quite enough. It was a fun morning and love that we have some great photos.

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Right, photos done, time to hit the best of the art galleries, Musee D'Orsay and Musee de L'Orangerie - a couple of Jen's favourites. We decide to skip the Louvre. We've both been before and we've had sufficient quantities of Renaissance art during this trip. Its now time for the Impressionists and beyond.

Musee D'Orsay is on the banks of the Seine almost opposite the Louvre. Its an old art deco train station beautifully converted into a museum and makes a great backdrop for displaying some of the best art work in particular impressionist work.

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The first salon features classic paintings from Morocco and the Sahara. We stand silent for a few moments, taking in the images and processing against images we've seen with our own eyes.

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Its a lovely feeling revisiting a place we both know, relaxing a bit, knowing that its okay to take our time, and not have to discover everything.

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Musee D'Orsay has been rearranged and expanded since Jen's last visit but her favourites are there - Degas' Little Dancer.

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All the Impressionists, Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Sisley, Renoir, Millet and numerous others. Being in Australia you do not get to see art work like this.

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The main attraction was the Gauguin and of course Van Gogh, Jen's other favourites Hay Stacks and of course, Starry Night.

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A room full of instantly recognisable master paintings. Having seen lots of Picasso on this trip and how prolific he was, painting until his death in his 90s, we ponder what the world would be like if Van Gogh hadn't been plagued by mental illness and his family kinder to him, helping him live longer than his late 30s. We may have an even greater body of work to admire.

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After Musee D'Orsay, we walk through the the most French gardens, Jardin des Tuileries and the Musee de L'Orangerie. This building was originally a glass house for the Royal Orange grove and has been converted into a gallery. Monet had specifically requested this space to house his gift to the People of France, who he decided needed some joy after WWI and a peaceful place to escape the bustle of Paris. The main attraction is Water Lilies in two oval shaped rooms, with filtered natural light, and you sit down and try and absorb the size of these paintings.

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Below Water Lilies is an excellent collection of 19th and 20th century art we enjoy very much.

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That night we had a lovely catch up and dinner with friends, Pauline and Jeremy. I worked with Pauline during my time on the Boyne Smelter Project. It's always to great to catch up with friends while travelling and Jen and I have been fortunate enjoy wonderful time with many friends during this trip. And after travelling for 4 months, nice to have someone else to talk to :-)

Pauline tells us some great stories of her time with Rio Tinto and having to work in Guinea, East Africa while the Ebola virus was rampant. She is amazing and hope she and Jeremy can come back out to Australia for a visit sometime soon.

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Our full second day in Paris as organised by Jen is to revisit one of her all time favourite places in Paris, the Musee Rodin. We've been lucky everywhere we go as there are no queues and Paris is actually quite quiet. Rodin is famous for his sculptures in bronze and the first thing you learn is the process to take a plaster sculpture and create a bronze one. I never realised how complex and time consuming the process is in particular to make the miniature plaster version of the full size version. We start walking through a beautiful and peaceful garden full of bronze statues all with an amazing story. Jen loves walking through them and telling me all the facts about them. I never realised Jen was such an art buff but this place is special for her.

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The favourite ones:

The Thinker

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Burghers of Calais

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The Gates of Hell representing Dante's Divine Comedy

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The Three Shades

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Inside the museum was the most famous piece the "The Kiss".

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It's next onto Palace de Invalides. The building used to be a hospital during the past wars but is now a museum for a history on the wars that France has been involved with starting in the late 1800s. This was going to be quick but we wanted to see the display on the first and second world wars. It did take far longer as the information and displays were very detailed and we could have spent a lot longer. The photos depicted very well how horrific it would have been in those wars.

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The final place to see was a visit to the famous short little fella called Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb located in the Chapel des Invalides. Jen was winding me up saying this is some thing special. I walked into the church and the look on my face says it all as I see this huge hole in the middle of the church and deep inside is a massive marble coffin that contains the ashes of Napoleon.

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It seems a little over the top, even for the first emperor of France after the revolution in the mid 1800's. I expected a small coffin and statue in the corner but it's massive. It dominates the hole and the church.

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We then take a walk and see the absolute musts of Paris, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Both are icons and no visit to Paris is complete without a visit.

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The queue up the Eiffel Tower is, as always, too long, and preferring the view of the Arc de Triomphe, we head over to the Arc and went to its top for the iconic photo shoot.

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We were not finished with our tourist activities and the last day was a trip to the Palace of Versailles located about 30 minutes south west of Paris. First time in Paris we had to queue up in line that went for about 300 metres and took 45 minutes to get through.
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It's a massive palace but tourists are well organised so we were able to get through in about 2 hours. The palace is very impressive and was the home of the royal family from the 1600's to the mid 1800's. Over that time it was continually expanded to its current glory and now the building and gardens are a main attraction.

The hall of mirrors is the most famous room and the most elaborate in the Palace.

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Through Louis XIV' bedroom and dining room where his every move was monitored by courtiers.

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Lunch is a selection of treats from a French Patisserie including an icon of days growing up in Melbourne, the Snot Block. It was delicious.

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We get back to Paris, do a mini walking tour along the Seine, past Notre Dame, stand in my footsteps from 30 years ago and finish off with a boat cruise.

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Love locks must be the bain of municipal bodies everywhere!

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Well that ends our travels and our Honeymoon Odyssey, wrapping up 4 months of adventures and a very special time Jen and I had together.

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Tomorrow we overnight to Singapore to be plain tourists hanging out in a fancy hotel - air conditioning and a comfy bed here we come!

Posted by tszeitli 20:33 Archived in France Tagged art honeymoon paris france le viva Comments (3)

Blue Morocco

Day 100, 101, 102 Chefchaouen to Tanger

sunny 28 °C

We recovered from yesterday's mountain climb up to the Medina of Chefchaouen.

It also was very hot so we were going to use time to plan out Paris, blog writing and quietly enjoy our last days of Morocco. Our Riad is lovely and a lot larger than the ones we had been in before and Chefchaouen's Medina is again very different to previous ones.

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All the houses are painted blue. We spend some time walking the narrow streets that have all the usual shops, e.g. Carpets, clothes, pottery, perfumes, bed throws, blankets, clothing, bronze stuff etc. etc. The main square is tiny compared to the one in Marrakesh, far more touristy and no snake charmers. This town is one that the Moroccan tourists seem to frequent. We spend the hottest part of the day just chilling out in the Riad and being very lazy which everyone else seems to do.

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The door to our Riad
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We do some simple exploring and head in the up direction towards the start of the river. The Medina is on the side of the hill and instantly it has a look and feel as if you are in the Greek Islands like Santorini without the ocean.

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We decide to take our days here easy with a one km walk up hill to the look out opposite the Medina. It starts from the river outlet and where they wash rugs in cold water.

The lookout is nice and away from the crowds so we just sit there and take in the moment. It's our 100th day so we reminisce of what we have done in that time and start to think about heading home and the things we want to do.

We then do a climb up to the back side of the town and get another lookout over the town and mountains. The area is strewn with rubbish and one thing we are getting tired of is how much rubbish there always is around the places we visit. If there is one thing that has disappointed us is how local people have disregard for trying to keep their area clean. Jen's big issue is the amount of stray cats that wander the street throughout Morocco.

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On our way down we get invited for coffee by a fellow, who claims he is travelling to Australia for 6 weeks and just wants to chat to us, offering us tea. As we were a little parched from our hike and welcomed a cool place to sit down, we accept. He just happens to have a carpet shop. He is one of the most sophisticated salesmen we've encountered. He assures us we don't have to buy anything and just wants to chat with us. His stop is adorned with Aussie souvenirs and a tube of Vegemite (it looks old and unopened). First, whilst his English is good, he only learned from the television so can't read it and asks Jen to read a thank you note in his book from a traveller who bought rugs, saying how wonderful he was. The book just happens to be his delivery book with records of rugs he's shipped around the world, flipping through asking us to see all the glowing stories written by shoppers. We explained that we'd already bought our rug and our suitcases were full. We asked more about his Aussie plans, but we are confident the trip to Australia was a rouse and his testimonials of tourists just like us buying at least 4 rugs were fabricated. He was determined though to convince us that need to buy more as gifts. Having only backpacks was not an excuse as he will ship to where ever in the world. We resist his persuasive powers and we leave after 45 minutes, refreshed, we extricated ourselves fortunately with all our money.

It's our last night in Chefchaouen and we dine on the roof top over looking the square and the kasbah feeling very satisfied of our adventures in Morocco. It is a funny site to see so many large Eucalyptus trees growing.

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Next day we planned to leave for Tanger in the afternoon so we did not need to rush. It gave me time to have a haircut Moroccan style and in the previous day had sussed out one that looked respectable. The guy is very funky and did a great job, very meticulous (even sterilising the blade by burning off alcohol) and all for the cost of $3.50.

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This time it's a down hill walk to the bus station but our bus is an hour late. We are further delayed as we had to change our bus for some reason we don't understand and arrive in Tanger around 7 pm. People have warned us that it is not the greatest place and just a big port town for people to try and get across to Europe. The bus station is also a place we don't feel comfortable and after 2 taxi rides (cost of 230 Dirhams = $40.....very expensive) of about 20 km we get to our hotel 2 km from the airport. We have a flight at 6.30am next morning and enquire about getting to the airport next morning. We are told there is no shuttle bus and at 4.30 am you have to get a taxi for the cost of 150 MAD and you can't walk as its too dangerous! What the! So basically to travel say 22 km it has cost us around $50. Travel tip, don't go to Tanger.

Posted by tszeitli 05:03 Archived in Morocco Tagged blue cats tourist gastro hill_town Comments (3)

The more you look, the more you see

Days 97, 98, 99 Fes

sunny 33 °C

The night we arrived in Fes was a whirl wind. Mohammed first dropped us at the bus station so we could pop in and buy our tickets for the remaining portions of our trip and then transported us to the the edge of the Medina.

We bid goodbye with heartfelt thanks and were immediately handed over to the custody our Riad host, also Mohammed, who met us at the car and guided us to our accommodation. Instantly, we are struck with how different Fes Medina is to Marrakesh.

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We walk a mere 150 m of narrow lanes 2 m wide, through a crowded lane of shops 4 m wide and finally down a darker lane to Riad Taryana. Once inside its like stepping through a portal to an alternate reality. We take a moment to absorb the beautiful mosaic tiled courtyard, with three floors and with internal facing balconies. It's so quiet and we hear absolutely no noise of the bustling turmoil outside on the streets of the Medina.

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Mohammed gave us the 10 minute briefing of all things Fes plus making arrangements for a one day walking tour with a guide from the Fes Tourist Board assuring us, because its endorsed by the Tourist Board, there's absolutely no obligation to buy anything...yeah right!

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The next day, after a delicious breakfast, our guide, Fouad takes us for a walk around the Medina. We booked the 3 hour option (rather than the whole day) but very quickly realised 3 hours was an illusion and we weren't getting home until the end of the day.

The Medina is built on a hill and we are staying near the top at the famous Blue Gate.

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Unlike Marrakesh, most of the restaurants are centred at the top of the Medina, near the Blue Gate. But, like Marrakesh, the spruckers are equally skilled at "encouraging" us to dine with them. One fellow feigned huge dishonour when we declined to dine with him, instead having tea at another restaurant, so we were "obliged" to dine with him on our final night.

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It's a couple of kms to get to the other end. As it is Friday so a significant amount of shops are closed and it is easier for us to walk around. Some of the laneways are only shoulder width and we wander the quiet streets chatting with Fouad.

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Whilst there are many wonderful things about Morocco, it is a developing nation, where poverty and social welfare are constant challenges. People with disabilities or those unable to work, are forced to beg, relying on Alms from good Muslims, as pensions or government help is minimal. What is most heartbreaking, especially for Jen, are the street cats. We know that they love cats and dogs, but unfortunately lack of desexing means there are way too many kittens and cats on the street. We regularly see dishes of water and food scraps left out, they are all too thin and likely need worming. Jen struggles to resist trying to feed them all as it only exacerbates the issue. We hope that, with time and development, the people will have enough for their own necessities and pet care should follow.

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Fouad gives us a quick history lesson of Morocco and in particular its French history.

In the 19th Century the region fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire. As the world became more mobile, the Ottomans struggled to manage the area from Istanbul. Pirates roamed the coastline and with various European states holding small regions, English in Tangier, Spanish elsewhere and the French wanting a bit too, based on the strategic location of the Mediterranean but the Berber and Bedouin tribes still independent. After a number of conflicts with France (based on French occupation of Algeria), Spain and Germany, the Treaty of Fes was signed in 1912 making Morocco a Protectorate of France. Dissent grew until World War II with nationalist movement gaining momentum. They believed an Allied victory would pave the way for Moroccan Independence. In January 1944, the Istiqlal (Independence) Party released a manifesto demanding full independence, national reunification, and a democratic constitution. Unfortunately, the French refused to accept the manifesto and continued colonial rule. Nearly 9 years later, in December 1952, riots brought a watershed to tensions between Morocco and France. France exiled the Sultan to Madagascar and outlawed the political party. Active opposition to French control escalated and the French were forced to negotiate their exit from Morocco. So, whilst full independence wasn't achieved until 1956, the Manifeste De L'Independence, is still celebrated.

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We walk to Al Quaraouiyino University, approximately a 1000 years old and the oldest continually operating University, the first to award educational degrees in the world. It was a university for the education of theology and philosophy (which in centuries past captured all doctrines of medicine, mathematics, astronomy etc). But now it is exclusively for the studies of Islamic religion. It is listed as a UNESCO site and currently being extensively restored. It also sits beside the main river to flow through the Medina.

The river retreated underground a long time ago, and is heavily polluted. As we learn throughout Morocco, there is considerable investment in infrastructure and improvements. The river has been reinstated above ground and the next step is to address the pollution to restore the glory of the river.

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We take a walk through Bou Inania Medersa one of the oldest theological colleges in all of Morocco.

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Like Ben Yousseff in Marrakesh, there is a quiet calmness and a respectful solitude to this place.

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Next stop nestled in amongst the riads and shops is the leather tannery. This place is where the raw hides of sheep, cow, camel and goat come to be cleaned, washed, coloured and dried and then ready to be made into everything leather. The conditions for the workers are pretty bad as most of the process is manual and they have to step inside vats of tanning chemicals and colours to soak the leather with their feet. Today the smell is tolerable but they still give us some fresh mint leaves to mask the smell.

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We are taken down from the roof top into 2 floors of leather goods ranging from jackets, bags, shoes, sandals, slippers, belts, all in numerous styles and colours. They do look beautiful but leather products are something we don't need to buy. We thank the guide there and we get away from the assistants very polite but still a sell job. Looking at an entire wall of every type of leather jacket imaginable, the guide assures us that if we can't find one we like, one can be custom made in three hours! As we have travelled now for about 8 days we have heard all the typical ways the locals try and entice you to buy something. It's very subtle and always starts off "Moroccans want to talk and just chat, please come in and have a mint tea...if you don't like then you don't buy....I will not pressure you!", "oh you are Australian, we love Australians". Its quite an art form.

We walk near the largest mosque in Fes, Kairouine, which holds about 22,000 people and has 14 exits. We take a peak inside the the beautiful archways, white and tiled walls, and rugs. The mosques are a haven for people to sit, wash and get out of the heat. As its Friday, 1 pm prayers are the main session of the week with the mosque filling almost to capacity.

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After, we get caught at an exit as hundreds leave after prayers and its like being in a Beijing subway human traffic jam. The lanes have specific sections that they make and sell local products, e.g. Copper, timber furniture.

This is Place Seffarine, named for its coppersmith shops, now closed following Friday prayers, for the rest of the day.

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Fountains are a lifeblood of the towns. The water is not safe for tourists but locals are accustomed to the mineral content. Many shops host a container of water out front for any local to pause and quench their thirst.

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This place was a historic trading post and hostel where caravans could dock, tether their camels and refresh.

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After managing to successfully evade buying leather goods earlier, we thought we had sussed out Moroccan shop keepers, but our next stop was the artisan co-op rug palace. The owner first takes us upstairs for a 360 degree view of the city, pointing out landmarks.

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He draws our attention to the University and its tower which was used by philosophy students centuries ago to gaze to the heavens to try to figure out the world, much like Galileo did and diligently carry out their studies in the rooms below the green roofs.

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We knew he was softening us up, but it was nice to talk to him about the history of Fes and also current issues - his sadness at the pain in the world wrongly committed in the name of Islam, experiencing the world through satellite dishes and modern day issues.

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Once back downstairs, the mint tea magically appears, we are invited to sit for a moment, and very quickly beautiful rugs are laid out, layer upon layer in front of us, we're happily caught in the Web. He is working on Jen and the "women always picks the colour" and " it's something for life", "she is a beautiful woman" "the woman is the head of the home, you can't be successful in the world if you don't have a happy home" . Quickly the carpets are being flung in front of us and Jen and I know we are in trouble. Fortunately the night before we agreed that we will buy a rug to complete our collection of rugs at home so we select two carpets and enter the game of bargaining. Fortunately these rugs are better quality than the ones in the Merzouga Coop.

The negotiations are fairly quick and we have our carpet rolled up, and money exchanged (including an escort to the ATM), and everyone is happy. The carpet we bought will go perfectly with the other Persian rugs we have at home and it's a great memory for us of our time in Morocco.

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Lunch is down a small laneway that we would have never found ourselves and we enter a beautiful Riad style courtyard made into a restaurant. The decor is stunning, the tiles vibrant and food delicious, and plentiful - this was just one entree (we shared).
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And every meal is followed with Moroccan Whiskey (Mint Tea) which is perfect.

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We agreed with our guide to grab a petit taxi and go to sites outside the Medina. First stop is on top of the hill, with ancient Kasbah ruins, adjacent to the Medina to get a full view of the vastness of the Medina. We get an appreciation of how packed in are the buildings and how far the old city wall goes.

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We drive to the Royal Palace and wander through the the main street of the Jewish quarter. Contrasting Moroccan Islamic architecture, the buildings here have the balcony on the outside. No Jewish people live here anymore, having moved to a new region of Fes. Unlike the Middle East and other parts of North Africa, Muslims, Jews and Christians are able to live in harmony and without conflict.

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One thing the Moroccans we meet are very quick to emphasise on how tolerant they are of other religions especially Jewish and Christianity. They want us to know the ISIS Muslims and the ones in Nice and Paris are not real Muslims, they are just crazy people. From what we have seen to date and heard we believe this is the case. Jen and I think it is definitely not extremist and the current King Mohammed VI has made significant changes to the rights of women, education, dress codes, empowering women to positions in parliament and professional life. He is well educated and enlightened about the future - subsidising solar panel farms and investment in irrigation and water reticulation, and has even forced the closure of the manufacture of plastic bags to address rubbish.

It's back into the taxi and we take a ride up the hill to the co-op ceramic and tile factory. This place was amazing. It is where they make all the Moroccan style plates, bowls, cups, tiles, fountains, table etc.

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First stop is the pottery wheel and Jen is asked to have a go. She jumps at the chance especially as a 6 ft young good looking Moroccan with strong hands was about to give her a lesson on how to use the wheel. I instantly think of Unchanged Melody, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost and roll my eyes. Jen is just grinning.....what!

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We are taken to the kilns and learn the interesting fact the ovens are actually fuelled by burning olive pits and hay and get to required 1200 degrees C.

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It's onto the painter who has numerous pieces in front of him. Everything is painted by hand with precision accuracy. We learn about the dyes and that this purple dye turns blue when fired.

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The painter grabs Jen's hand and paints a henna style design and her name in Arabic. This guy probably does this to very pretty girl that comes by but it still has Jen grinning from ear to ear with her signature smile.

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The assistant shows us where the workers chip all the tiles into pieces for all the mosaics for walls, fountains, tables and ponds.
These guys spend all day with a small pick and chip the tiles to various shapes and sizes, beside a guy assembling a mosaic fountain - all done in reverse and then grouted.

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Its now into the show rooms and see all the various products and the fountains capture our eyes. The colours are so vibrant and we think how good would that look mounted some how on the wall next to our pool at home. Quickly reality kicks back, there is no hope we get in our backpack. The assistant assures us they can deliver!

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We resist but take plenty of photos of the styles and make mental note of the idea for when we redo the tiles at home. We have to buy something - two little bowls carefully wrapped hopefully make it home in one piece.

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On our way back, at this fountain in the roundabout, amongst peak hour traffic, this darling fellow was gleefully splashing about enjoying the cool water in the heat.

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Well that was the a full day of great sites, loads of facts and something very unique. Jen and I loved the whole day, our guide Fouad was fantastic and we have fallen in love with Fes.

Unfortunately we've succumbed to gastro so we don't venture too far. We wandered nearby streets and look for some small souvenirs for home. My mate Mike has requested a Fes from Fes. We stroll down one of the two main lanes that have the general stuff you can buy but the thing that surprises us is that virtually nobody wears the fes and its hard to find a shop that even sells them. We find the things to buy and go have lunch to develop a shopping strategy. As most of you know I am the introvert and Jen is the extrovert but somehow I got to be the designated negotiator, even though Jen does this stuff for a living, go figure! We go back out for dinner and shopping and successfully mange to bargain on one set of gifts. However, we were up against a seasoned pro - a 12 year old boy and I knew I needed all my years of bargaining experience to say I got a good deal but he was highly accomplished and tried all his best tricks. I used the old method of leaving the shop as the price was too high. After about 30 minutes we beat him down from approximately $90 to a more realistic $28. Success!

We have finished with Fes and loved every minute of it. It is a fun place, few tourists, very traditional and again super friendly. Next morning we do some final photo shots from the roof of our Riad. Time to say goodbye.

The next day is a travel day by bus from Fes to Chefchaouen, a four hours trip. The trip was uneventful other than it was 45 minutes late leaving Fes and got later as we went due in part to a comfort stop right beside an open air BBQ. Tried as we could, we were bewildered as to how it worked. You buy a portion of mince or cuts of meat at the butcher, pay by weight, then hand it to the BBQ guys you press it into wire racks and cook it over hot coals, then proceeding to turn and shuffle through the cooking process, along with at least a dozen other racks, without tags or labels and then shoving them in loaves of bread and handing over to the owner. How on earth do they keep track of who's meat is whose. Minimal delays were encountered at the next comfort stop, again for reasons unknown, the bus driver refused to allow a grandmother board and ignoring her as she proceeded to follow the bus banging on the side as he eased out of the chaotic car park. We don't speak Arabic but it didn't take much to understand the abuse she was hurling at him.

As we come in the hot and windy bus station we realised the town is perched uphill and the Medina is straight up from the bus station and we need to walk up a road at 20% gradient.

Our Riad is above the square and we settle into our three days in Chefchaouen.

Posted by tszeitli 10:18 Archived in Morocco Tagged food culture history shopping friendly fes negotiations gastro Comments (1)

Thomas of Arabia

Days 93, 94, 95, 96 The Great Sahara, Gladiator, Game of Thrones and so much more

sunny 45 °C

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With our journey through Morocco largely uncharted, we have freedom to choose our adventure. We want to get to Fes from Marrakesh which is going to be tricky using public transport. When we find a private tour that efficiently gets us to Fes via Ouarzazate and Merzouga, deep into the Western Sahara and close to the Algerian border – places we’d be nervous to venture on our own.

I must say, Tommy Trip Planner outdid himself! Our 4-day tour in a 4WD was incredible and took us to places never contemplated in our wildest dreams and truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

We said farewell to the wonderful staff at our Riad and were collected by Mohammed, our tour leader and driver. We headed east towards Ouarzazate and quickly started to climb the magnificent Atlas Mountains, where centuries old Berber Villages are set into the rock, where not much changes – except for the advent of satellite dishes, which adorn the traditional mud and straw construction homes.

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We drive through mountain passes and Passo di Tizi n'Tichka with an altitude of 2260m.

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We continue through Villages, dry and dusty desert and stop off at look outs over vast canyons that open into brilliant green oases. We follow each oasis by road and pass numerous palm groves and farming. Our perception that the desert is devoid of water, but are astounded that rivers and water holes are bountiful. The rivers, a trickle now in late summer but in spring are raging torrents as the snow and ice in the Atlas melts, feeding the landscape and communities below.

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We stop off at a co-op for widowed and divorced Berber women who show us the step by step process to make argon oil and argan nut butter. It's supposed to be the premier oil - Jen takes a fancy to the oil and I hoe into the nut butter. We buy a small jar of the oil and Jen assures me it’s great for keeping skin soft and the money goes to a good cause.

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The roads are impressive and we pass many sections of roadworks, as part of a massive road project.

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As we continue on, we take a dramatic turn, off road for about 6 km, through what can only be described as barren rocky desert with a mountainous backdrop.

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It is a surreal and eerie experience, quiet and almost feels like a vacuum.

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We continue on through salt flats and huge expanses.

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We stop for lunch before heading up to the Kasbah "Ksar Ait Ben Haddou".

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Our lunch was simple Moroccan meal in a traditional restaurant. What was most outstanding was the Waiter. He greeted our Guide in Berber and Arabic, took our order from the French menu in English and seamlessly switched to Spanish for the group of young ladies from Barcelona panicking that they didn’t speak French. He let them squirm a little and then eloquently explained the menu for them. We chatted with him and he also speaks Italian and German.

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Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, Ksar meaning “Castle”, sits atop a hill overlooking a fertile valley and oasis. Kasbahs are traditionally a walled communal home occupied by a number of families as a cooperative in order to protect the inhabitants from invasion from other tribes.

In the famous lyrics of the Clash, this Kasbah most definitely rocked!

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The “Granary” is the highest point and was used to store grain and supplies, as well as the families’ treasures as this was the most protected place. Some Kasbahs only had one door – aiding security and often had lookout towers around the perimeter to protect the heart.

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So why does Ksar Ait Ben Haddou look familiar? It's famous for staging scenes in over 50 movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Jewel of the Nile and Kingdom of Heaven. Whilst the structures are gone, the Gladiator locale is still there.

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More recently Game of Thrones has shot many scenes here.

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Nobody puts Donkey in the corner...

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The town Ouarzazate, "the Hollywood of Morocco", is nearby which is a huge movie set that first sprung up with the movie "The Mummy". It feels like we’re driving through an Indiana Jones movie!

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We continue through a seemingly Martian Landscape.

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Next stop the Rose Valley,

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A rock formation Mohammed calls Monkey Fingers,
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Magnificent rock gorges and scenery

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and a valley oasis of over 200,000 palms creating a fertile green ribbon through the desert expanse.

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Best let the photos speak for themselves.

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We ended the night in the Dardes Gorge in a hotel built into the rock face. This was the view from our room.

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The next day we take in the look out at the top of the Dardes Gorge before continuing on "the Road of 1000 kasbahs". When Rockfalls occur they are devastating, taking the road with it. Here the team are repairing a recent fall.
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The scenery out the window is always changing and also hypnotic as the landscape of the Atlas Ranges is so vast and unending.

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Mohammed drops us off at start of Todra Gorge allowing us to walk along and have the magnitude of this Gorge reveal itself to us.

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The sheer walls rise up about 400m from a fresh water river fed by natural springs and water seeping down from winter snow.

The continual flow of cold water is a great way to cool drinks.

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It is a divine cool place where locals come to relax,
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have picnics,

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relax

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kids play in the water

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and the donkeys have a drink and a good ol’ dust bath!
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It's noticeably cooler in the Gorge, with temperatures out in the open now risen into the high 30's. There’s a wonderful atmosphere. The hotel at the base has been closed due to a rock land slide that took out the restaurant of the hotel. Thank fully no one was there at the time!

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Again, there is a local natural spring that the locals prefer to collect water from

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We drive for a few hours with the scenery always changing from the rocky Middle Atlas ranges to flat barren rocky expanse, broken up a village built around an oasis with palm groves and paddocks.

We stop for lunch and get our bearings

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As the rocky landscape gradually gives way to Sahara Sand, we notice a series of mounds in parallel rows at regular intervals along the highway. Mohammed obliges and drops us off at a solitary tent in the parched landscape.

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Stepping out of the car, the heat envelopes us, now in the low 40's. We are welcomed by a lovely fellow who lives out here and shows us the mounds. They are wells, since dried up but the past times, were wells connecting aquaducts conveying water from the oasis outwards to supply life giving water.

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We go underground and the temperature drops 20 degrees.

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It is like Coober Pedy. The Guide tells us we could walk all the way to the village underground, about 7 kms away. During Ramadan, locals often hang out in the tunnels to conserve energy and escape the heat during the day’s fasting.

The area we’ve been exploring is also ancient and was once under water as a great ocean existed. There are many diggings for trilobites, ammonites and other geode fossils. We are warned not to buy the brilliantly coloured geodes as they are artificially coloured by the locals who try to sell them at every lookout stop along the road. As is customary, we are offered and grateful accept mint tea and we rest awhile in his canvas tent. We enjoy the cool breeze under the canvas of the tent and the absence of noise, we could have sat for longer in the peace. We are amazed this man and his brother live out here in the desert and survive.

We continue on and catch our first glimpses of the golden colours of the Sahara desert and the Erg Chebbi dunes which are one of Morocco's two Saharan ergs – large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand. Locals have woven palm fronds into a grid as dune preservation measures to stop the sand blowing over the road and eroding.

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In the heat haze and barren landscape the desert towers above everything else. This is Dakar Rally country. The massive dunes rise up on the horizon and eventually we are driving along the edge of the Sahara, about 2 kms from the dunes arriving at Merzouga in the afternoon, on the western edge of the Sahara and a couple hundred kms west of the Algerian border.

It is now 5.30 pm and the heat of the day has gone, cooling to low 30's.

We dump our bags at the hotel, pack an overnight bag, ready to take a camel ride to camp a night in the dunes. Exiting a side access from our hotel, Jen and I are looking at each in amazement as we wait to climb on the camels to head into the Desert with the Sahara as far as our eyes can see.

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We both feel as far away from home as possible.

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Our camels take a slow meandering pace in an orderly procession.

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It takes over an hour going deeper into the dunes and go deeper into the desert, enjoying sunset along the way.

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We arrive at camp, about a dozen round tents, surrounding a collage of berber rugs on the sand, snuggled into a valley between the dunes.

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We have a full moon so Jen and I quickly climb up a nearby dune to look out easterly and gaze across the Sahara.

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We sit there in silence and all we hear is a soft wind and the occasional growl from a camel bedding down for the night.

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The atmosphere is great, with our fellow campers from all around the world – Spain, Argentina, Italy, UK, striking up conversations, sharing wonderful stories or just sitting with a wide eyed look of amazement.

After dinner, the crew take up traditional Berber instruments and encourage us all in a sing along and dancing.

We are given the option to sleep in our tents, or drag our mattresses out to sleep al fresco. As the night is so hot we don’t hesitate to have the crew haul our bed out on to the rugs on the sand. After dinner we climb up another dune taking in the silence and the knowledge that we’re sitting on a dune in the Sahara – so far away from our life at home. We don't get to bed until after midnight. A few hours later woken up by the brightness of the full moon, with gentle cloud cover gone, its like a torch shining directly over us. The wind has whipped up a little and blowing sand across our beds and filling open mouths with sand. We don't care, we are in the Sahara desert!

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We get up before sunrise and the whole camp climbs the nearest dune to get a complete view east and the sun rising.

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Jen and I sit on the edge of the dune for about an hour while the others just drift back to sleep. It is one of those scenes where you sit quietly and enjoy the moment and pinch yourself. No photo does any justice to the beauty and how the colours change as the sun rises.

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We ride our camels back to the hotel again taking photos and videos to make sure we don't miss anything.

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As soon as we disembark, the saddles are removed and the camels have a glorious roll in the sand and trot straight into the yard where their morning hay awaits.
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With bewildered looks on our faces, and bleary eyes, not quite believing what we actually experienced we are greeted by friendly smiling faces of the hotel staff and the glorious spread of breakfast!

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After breakfast and a very necessary shower – there is sand everywhere – it’s time for a snooze. A few hours later, Mohammed takes us to a few Merzouga attractions.

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This included the well where locals like to collect water. Whilst municipal water is available, they prefer the spring water that flows constantly, filtered through the sand into the well where women gather to fill plastic bottles. The women come from traditional families and are wary of tourists, especially prefer not to have their photo taken.

We then enter the oasis and learn about the organisation of the gardens.

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There is an aqueduct flowing through the centre with side channels branching off every 10 metres, but dammed with earth. Mohammed explains that each plot along the aqueduct has an entitlement to about 6 hours of water in order.

When a farmer’s turn comes, the earthen dam is unplugged and downstream blocked so the water flows along the irrigation branch, allowing the farmer to water crops of peppers, carrots, onions and other crops amongst the date palms. If the full allocation is not required, the farmer can sell the entitlement to another. There are no signs, no timetables, no officials moderating the arrangement but it works – an honour system that is likely unchanged for centuries.

We are in medjool country – where the finest dates are grown. There are thousands of date palms, seemingly randomly growing from the side of the road into the oasis but every one is owned by a family. Sometimes the land and the date palm is owned by different parties. Again, there are no signs or assertions of ownership but there is order and honour.

We are offered dates straight from the tree – a sweet sticky treat and not grainy, so much more amazing than what we get at home.

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We then visit local nomad co-op shop where we were enticed to buy some carpets but were able to resist. We also enjoyed a concert from Gideons des Sabre (Pigeons of the Desert). Originally slaves brought from Mali and Senegal, and then abandoned to a semi nomadic life in the Sahara. They sing and dance to celebrate their history and liberation. A statesman of the tribe is building a life for young men and saving the traditional music by recording the music and selling CDs.
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Being on the edge of the Sahara, Merzouga is a town at the centre of trading routes with caravans of Africans, Moroccans, Andalusians and the Middle East passing through for centuries.

Now, time for lunch at a local family restaurant, Cafe Nora, where there is only one menu item - Berber pizza.
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This pizza was OUT OF THIS WORLD! It has to be included in one of our top 10 meals of the trip.

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We tried to verify the ingredients with the waiter. Whilst he was happy to confirm eggs, beef, onion, carrot but would not reveal any of the spices. We later found out it contain a special mix of 44 spices that are a trade secret. We could barely walk out of the restaurant but couldn’t possibly leave one bite behind. Don't be surprised if this ends up on a dinner party menu at our house as Jen is determined to try to recreate the spice mix!

The afternoon comprised sleep and a welcome dip in the pool.

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The temperature has climbed to plus 45 degrees which instantly drains your energy and slows you to a lethargic pace. It is the hottest day of our travels and the locals tell us in peak summer it gets to 55 degrees plus.

Once the sun starts going down we again go back out to the dunes to take further photos. The dunes have a mesmerising hypnotic effect and we can’t get enough.

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Jen's Keens are on their last legs, having hiked her around the world many many times, its time to retire them when we get home.
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Experience everything and leave only footprints

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Our Riad is wonderfully Moroccan and, even though we're still digesting the Berber Pizza and request small portions, a sumptuous 4 course meal is unleashed upon us.

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After breakfast the next day we head out for a few more photos, to be sure we have enough.
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Today is a long haul to Fes, around 500 km's through the middle Atlas Mountains. First stop is a local traditional market in a town nearby Mohammed's home town.
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This market happens twice a week and many people come from nearby villages to buy and sell their wares. People come by donkey, push bike or a van and there are only 3 other foreign travellers in the market.

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Henna powder
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We are now amongst clothes shops, vegetables, spices, nuts, olives, dates, chemists shops, house wares, open air butchers with hanging meat, furniture being made, basket weaving, welding gates, shoes made from leather and tyre rubber for soles and repairs for bicycles.
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There is even a donkey parking lot. If it has a saddle it’s there for parking, if it's has no saddle it there to be sold!

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There is also sheep, cows and goats up for sale. I was told early in our travels that I could sell Jen in exchange for a few camels. Talking jokingly to hosts in our riads, they opined I could fetch a price of a few thousand camels. I resist, to me she is priceless!

We go through the middle Atlas Mountains and the scenery is forever changing and spectacular. We drive along a 100 km oasis valley that sits in a massive canyon.

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Again, we come to appreciate that water is not that scarce in the desert, with dams being built to supply a massive underground network. Everywhere we drive we can see the manhole/vent for the pipeline at intervals.

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Moroccans love Football (the round ball variety) and I have to tip my hat to them as this is their typical playing field, two goals and a whole lot of rock.
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We are reunited with the Atlas Mountains which are magnificent and massive.

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Crossing over to reveal rich pastures in the plains below.
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Many many thanks to our amazing driver and guide, Mohammed.
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We have lunch in a town where the main street is BBQ alley with smoke billowing out of every other shop. Most BBQ joints are a butcher and BBQ – select your cut of meat from that hanging out front and they’ll cook it then and there. We look down the street and the air is filled with BBQ smoke and the chaos of parking attendants wrangling cars in exchange for a few dirhams, vendors with carts and people going about their daily life.

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Note the guy photobombing our picture is the Providore of this fine establishment who happened to be missing all but thumb and pinkie on one hand - best he be the host than the butcher behind the counter.

We are grateful for Mohammed navigating the busy restaurant for us and we devour our plate of mixed meat cooked over hot coals.

As we drive out of the town we notice there are wild dogs at regular intervals sitting along the road. This goes on for about 10 km and our guide explains the locals throw scraps out of the car for the dogs to eat. It is hard to see these dogs trying to survive in this harsh environment surviving on scraps. There are very few true nomadic tribes left but there are still a number of families who live in tents, tending to livestock, moving on when new pastures are required. Donkeys are the main mode of transport and, like the dogs, it is hard to see some small donkeys seemingly overloaded and carrying their owners. Donkeys are also often tethered to the side of the road to graze.

There are also wild donkeys picking amongst the sparse rocky countryside.

We pass through the mountain ranges and the temperature starts to drop. We start passing through forests, colours reappear and a green haze materialises. We pass through Ilfrane, the Switzerland of Morocco. It’s a mountainous high altitude region with access to water, perfect for ski resorts. It is an affluent community. We then enter a forest with the same breed of monkeys as we saw in Gibraltar.

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Finally we drop down into the Apple Valley with orchards of apples and olives. The King of Morocco is subsiding farming and development in the desert, including solar panels to pump irrigation, enabling farmers to create huge plantings of fruit trees. Our tour is drawing to an end as we sight Fes.

It has been a special experience to see the Sahara desert along with the spectacular rugged Atlas mountain ranges, canyons, kasbahs, palm groves, many oases and traditional villages.

We have loved Morocco and would encourage everyone, if planning a trip to Europe, allow time for a visit to Morocco and this tour has to be on your "must do" list.

Posted by tszeitli 04:22 Archived in Morocco Tagged landscapes mountains scenery sahara outstanding opportunity_of_alifetime Comments (5)

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