A Travellerspoint blog

Into the Desert With No Dessert

I'll pass on the "camel pie." Thanks.

sunny 80 °F

Toward the end of our trip to Morocco, Phil and I asked ourselves what was one thing you have to do when you're in Morocco. Avoid contracting tetanus. Then we asked ourselves what the second thing you have to do is. Ride a camel into the middle of a desert and sleep there. We decided to do both.

Just as we were leaving Erfoud to head for the sand dune Erg Chebbi, we mentioned to a Moroccan man at reception that we were planning to find a camel ride, and what do you know, just like every Moroccan in the country, he had a cousin who ran a company of the activity we were looking to spend money on! We used the opportunity to snag a low price (we just threatened to find something "when we got there") and began the drive.

At least 15 miles from our destination we could see the dunes rise above the horizon. We pulled up to our desert tour (one of many) and Pepper immediately began inspecting the funny looking horses. Our gaze was pulled toward the dunes and we could see tire tracks everywhere. For the hundredth time since we entered Morocco we thought to ourselves, why the hell weren't we on motorcycles?

After an hour or so we joined up with the other half of our group (making 4 en totale) and saddled up. Mounting a camel was an experience in itself. It was awkward, extreme, surprising, and delicately unstable. There were no stirrups, nothing to balance your feet on. Your ass is your feet. It's the only point of contact and balance besides a t-bar handle that moves as much as the camel and always in the opposite direction. First you huck your leg over the seated camel and try to balance on a stiff blanket wrapped around the camel's hump (presumably to protect the hump from you...or maybe you from the hump). Then the camel stands up and it's like a friggin roller coaster. First it gets up on its wrist joints (lean back), then to its knees (almost pitching you off the front), then to its front feet (back again) and finally its back legs fully extend. You're level, but now balancing delicately ten feet in the air on a strange animal.

Now try that with a beer in your hand.

We were led off into the desert, very slowly, by a boy of 17 and his little brother aged 9. This was a family business. Pepper came with us into the dunes but spooked the camels, got kicked, and so had to be led by the teenage boy while the little boy led our camel caravan. The Moroccan boys walked with sandals, the fine sand going everywhere. The camels were easy for them to direct, as they were led by a little string tied to a ring in their nostril. Each of the camels were tied nose to tail, literally.

Since we got a late start we saw the sun set in the desert and stopped to run up and jump off the dunes. We reached the Berber tents just as dark set in and the stars came out. I had decided my ass couldn't take any more swaying on a crappy makeshift saddle when we turned a corner and our Berber tents appeared. They looked like woolen blankets stitched together, and pretty much were. There were two sleeping tents, a kitchen and "staff" tent, and our dining tent. After exploring the area around the tents and finding more sand, we retired to the dinner tent.

There was a snag in the traditional tagine dinner (veggies, meat and spices cooked/steamed in a special ceramic dish over coals) -- they ran out of gas for their steel pressure cooker. Apparently the tagine is cooked western-style and served in the tagine dish just for show. So three hours later, we ate our traditional LOOKING meal, had Moroccan whiskey (tea), and shared a bottle of wine between us four which we brought with us. After dinner the boys played music on drums and a two-stringed (ie. broken) banjo. It was amazing! They sounded great.

It was cold and after we dumped a long stream of sand out of our shoes we literally crawled into our tents through the foot-high entrance. Once inside we could stand up inside them. Inside was simply a rug set on top of the sand with a mattress and lots of itchy blankets. Sleep was over quick and before long it was time to get up and get on the roller coaster again.

One hour later we were back - not a minute too soon. The camels seemed to march with lazy and sloppy steps, taking no care to make the ride more comfortable for their passengers. I don't really blame them. I'd had enough of their jarring steps and I'm sure they'd had enough of me. But in the end, I got the crazy experience I wanted and they got to poop in their natural environment. Win win.

Posted by meesh123 02:19 Archived in Morocco Tagged animal Comments (0)

Pop Rocks

Tafraoute's Blue Rocks definitely pop

When we arrived in Tafraoute the landscape suddenly changed. The scrub brush and flat desert collected itself into round red rocks and slowly piled itself higher and higher. It was Red Rocks meets Castle Hill (New Zealand) - just red boulders strewn everywhere. After exploring the small town (4,000 residents or so) we came across a bicycle rental shop and knew what we'd be doing the next day.

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DSCN9828


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DSCN9826


Tafraoute rocks

Tafraoute rocks


cacti

cacti


Moroccan men

Moroccan men

With a feebly drawn map and Phil's innate sense of direction we headed out on bike into the desert. The scenery was unbeatable, massive rocks so delicately balanced it was as if they had been placed on top of each other by (avoiding the obvious large-hand analogy) a massive Jenga champion?

village under rocks

village under rocks


bicycling under a mosque

bicycling under a mosque


Phil next to wild camel

Phil next to wild camel


wild camel

wild camel

Not twenty minutes into our ride we came across the strangest thing. We turned the corner into an open boulder field and I couldn't help but stare confusedly, awestruck. Imagine our confusion when out of nowhere popped a collection of car-sized to hotel-sized boulders painted electric blue. Massive rocks painted so completely in ANY color would be a shock, but the bright pop of the blue against the deep red of the rocks just made my jaw drop. The whole area was scattered with these blue rocks with no discernible rhyme or reason.

painted rocks

painted rocks


more blue and pink

more blue and pink


blue rocks

blue rocks


splatter

splatter


blues and pinks

blues and pinks


camper at blue rocks

camper at blue rocks


golfing with pepper

golfing with pepper


camper

camper

The "art installation" did not exactly inspire awe or beauty, but amazement and confusion. It was so unusual and bizzare - why blue? why that rock? why some pink ones? why were some faded? how? just, why?

So I googled it. Apparently a Belgian man Jean Verame began his project "Les Pierres Bleues" in 1984 as an art installation. Initially he used 18 tons of blue, red, violet & white (on the original rocks) and hired a team of Moroccan firemen to spray the granite. You can see the old ones in some of the photos but the new rocks really pop. Three men were up there painting, and while I'm not sure who the men are I'd have to assume no one else would have the passion to continue but Verame.

painters

painters


blue rocks

blue rocks


(notice Phil and Pepper in the bottom left corner for scale)

painters' den

painters' den


paint can lids

paint can lids

Posted by meesh123 04.23.2010 10:30 Archived in Morocco Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Tagine Cuisine

Cooking in Morocco has been an enjoyable experience, mostly because Phil does all the cooking. We've got a routine of stopping in any village, picking up fruit and vegetables from the various stands along the road and mostly buying meat from the large supermarkets that you only find in large cities. When we arrived in the small surf town of Imsouane we decided to cook a tagine for ourselves.

view of Imsouane & The Bay from above

view of Imsouane & The Bay from above


surfers at The Bay

surfers at The Bay


The Bay

The Bay


imsouane

imsouane

The tagine is a cookery dish that looks like a ceramic tepee. Shove a ton of veggies, cumin, and some kind of meat inside, stick it over some coals & it's done in 45 min. It's something I can do! But Phil still did most of it. We went to a hole-in-the-wall store to get some veggies and meat. The vegetables for sale would never reach Western store shelves due to the fact that 90% of them were soft and just beginning to fur. However, when you've got no other choice, you lower your standards a little and pick through to find the least putrid produce.

Through a small 'hallway' in the store, we found the butchery 'section'. We asked a man in a dark room standing behind a makeshift counter (not particularly clean, not abhorrently dirty) what he had available, he said "poulet" (chicken) and we said "ok." He opened up the large stainless steel box beside him which may have once been a fridge, but now, being room temperature inside an not having a sealed door, lacked every necessary characteristic of being one - and pulled out an entire raw chicken.

I think our large eyes and shaking heads gave it away that we didn’t want a full fowl, so he asked if we’d like half. Half would do. After a deep “Ok” from the man, he placed the chicken on a slab of wood and reached for something at his knee. It was a knife. It was the size of a car door. No joke, one drop of this battle axe and the chicken was halved, bones & all. It’s not as if it was a clean cut either – the weapon was rusty (and from the way the carcass split, dull as well) but just so heavy the chicken never stood a chance.

He glanced up to see if we were satisfied with the portion. I think our large eyes and surprised expressions gave it away that we were. He asked if we wanted the half chicken filleted and cut up and we said that’d be great – easier to fit into the tagine and I love a nice chicken breast. WHACK, WHACK, WHACK. In 4 seconds it was mashed into 3 or 4 unrecognizable chunks. "Merci."

We returned to the camper, chopped up the veggies and hucked in the chicken chunks and in an hour had a most delectable delicious moist steamy pile of goodness.
finished tagine

finished tagine


tagine & phil

tagine & phil


community meal

community meal


Pepper taunting dogs from above

Pepper taunting dogs from above


mosque of imsouane

mosque of imsouane


me with puppy

me with puppy

Posted by meesh123 04.23.2010 03:07 Archived in Morocco Tagged food Comments (0)

Moroccan' Roll

In a desperate attempt to satisfy 'the bug' (once again) this broad goes abroad. This time to Morocco.

sunny 75 °F

I just got quite a shock, looking at my last post it was exactly a year ago today (more now...). Can't have been that long!

Well much has happened since my last entry -- I ended up staying in Chamonix until October 2009, in which time I became Women's Club Champion of Chamonix Golf Club and for my 24th birthday rode a mountainbike around Mont Blanc, Europe's tallest mountain.

After what seemed an adequate bout in Europe (and Pittsburgh, and back to Europe), I decided to return home after a year and a half to see my family and spend the winter in warmth. Maui was lovely as ever - sunshine, rainbows, waterfalls, the whole lot. The job market was eerily quiet yet somehow I managed to snag 3 part-timers.

While it may have been wiser to stick with work in such a struggling economy, I decided to do just the opposite. Off to Morocco to spend all my hard-earned money. In my defense, however, I did do a favor for 3 struggling Mauians by opening my positions. Also, what little money I have is bound to last longer unemployed in Morocco in a camper van than on Maui.

Home for the next 2 months
campingcar

campingcar

Woke my first morning, opened the door & saw this
1st morning

1st morning

I've been in Morocco for two weeks now. The culture shock has subsided as has the jetlag (14 hour difference) and things are fantastic. Upon first entering the country, seeing women wrapped up from head to toe in near-80 degree weather was a bit shocking but has now become an everyday norm. Entire carcasses of meat hanging from open-air butcher stands complete with dancing flies are "ok" though I've yet to buy meat from them. Stray dogs and cats are EVERYWHERE and I still find them adorable. Come to think of it I'm not entirely convinced some of those meat carcasses aren't dog, but I'm not eatin from there, so its none of my concern. Meats like sausage and bacon are never actually made of pork as Arabs are not allowed; instead the packages have sub-headings under Bacon! reading "de boeuf" meaning, Bacon!...of beef.

Meat for sale
meat

meat

French is everyone's secondary language here, meaning that I am still screwed but have found more reasons to try speaking it than when I was in Chamonix, France. Everything seems to be cheaper here except booze and anything in western packaging. A loaf of fresh-made Moroccan bread costs 1 dirham, the equivalent of about 10cents. A campsite for the night with facilities, water, and security costs around five dollars a night. Three BAG-FULLS of oranges, bananas, and vegetables costs about two dollars, and hand-made leather Moroccan slippers cost anywhere from 4-9 dollars. I bought 2 pairs and I don't even like shoes. I love Morocco.

Cheaper than a taxi?
hitching

hitching

Moroccan girl & ma
girl

girl

A bottle of wine, however, is cheap by US standards (25 dirham, 3 bucks) but expensive when you think about all the fruit you can buy with the same amount. Consumption of alcohol is frowned upon by Moroccans (as a Moroccan, not as a Westerner) and so grocery stores that sell alcohol (if you can find them) have a separate check out line for Moroccans with black bags and an exit that leads out the back so the aren't embarrassed. It's a bit like buying pornography. Or so I'm told.

We started in Casablanca and are now much further south in Tafraoute, a beautiful bouldery oasis in the hilly region we're in. It's getting deserty as we head inland. We travel south and I become more and more comfortable. As time passes, climes warm and the coastline drifts out of sight. The more we travel the more I can see Morocco as a kind of wonderland (easier seen if I were on a 250cc KTM). It is a place where travelers in their camper vans come together for a meal between surfing sessions and every walk into town is like a trip to the pet store where I ooh and aah over puppies and kittens.

Maybe it's something in the water but after two weeks I can look past the fact that the path to the ocean is littered with plastic and glass shards, the puppies and kittens are covered in ticks, and my sweater smells of goat shit. But I don't care because the puppies are still cute, the people friendly, and the scenery beautiful - wouldn't change a thing.

Posted by meesh123 03.18.2010 04:56 Archived in Morocco Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Peas on the Knees

sunny 71 °F
View Living a "Cham" Life on meesh123's travel map.

They say that a packet of frozen peas makes the best ice pack. I concur. Because whilst skiing a few weeks ago I fell prey to a nasty snow-gremlin that pushed me over on a dead flat pisted run and as a result, twisted my knee. Thank goodness for peas, or rather 'pois.'

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I've since made 99% of a full recovery, however it did put a hold on my skiing in what everyone has called the "best skiing in Chamonix for 18 years." Nonetheless I feel like I'm now skiing better than ever and of course just as I really feel like I know what I'm doing - just as I feel moguls are my best friends, the season has come to its end. Almost.

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(not me)
top_of_brev.jpg
(me)

Three weeks remain before the last lifts grind to a halt and even though I want to make the most of it, I find it hard to want to ski in the increasingly temperate weather. Of course "the best skiing in 18 years" means the most snow in 18 years, which means the longest run of cold desperate weather in 18 years. As much as I have come to love snow sport, my first passion is always the sun and its drug-like effect it holds over everyone. I can't wait for the barbecues and climbing, golf and biking. I say Spring has sprung, now let Summer come...-er.

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The lovely weather has brought quite a few avalanche. All seen from a safe distance, but the sound alone is shocking. It is amazing to see chunks of a glacier fall and scatter down a gully, and even more impressive to hear such thunder from something that looks so minuscule from such a distance. What I find most interesting and telling of our culture though are photos on Facebook of friends digging their mate out of an avalanche -- who's taking photos and why aren't they helping to dig?!? The album title was, fittingly, "What you never want to happen to you." Amen.

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On a lighter note, I have decided to stay in Chamonix for the summer and along with perhaps picking up mountain biking, I'll be getting back on my golf game. I'm working toward getting a membership here, and when I'm not smacking little white balls I'll be shining big white bowls. Toilet bowls, that is. And climbing. So wish me luck and I miss you all! Come visit if you dare, but be warned you may never leave! We would all be so lucky...

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Posted by meesh123 03.10.2009 09:14 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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