A couple shots I pulled off the digital. It'll be awhile before I develop the film and get any real shots together from Morocco.
Es Salaam alaykum
The call to prayer wakes me every morning at 530, the birds in constant flight over the port town of tangier keep me awake until 630 with their song. I manage another hour of sleep until 730 and then we get up. Tangier is a port town and the gate to Africa. I can see Spain as I sip my tea and boats of tourist arrive daily. Because of the nature of the bustling town, Tangier is considered pretty liberal with throngs of people coming from Europe across the strait. Still, only men sit in coffee shops and alcohol is difficult to find unless you’re on the search. When found you usually end up in a dark smoke filled bar with locals over indulging to the point of inebriation and the women are often prostitutes.
Although you'll see girls in shorts and the occasional tank top your immediately aware that your an anomaly, and Annalisa felt quite uncomfortable at first under the stare of Moroccan men, women and children. The city visually could be one of many and if it wasn't for the attire Annalisa and I could probably pass for locals, but even modestly clothed we are no match for the men and women clad in jilbab and head-dress.
A storm rolls over the Rif Mountains thundering and clapping. Lightning illuminates the sky and the crackling pierces the ears. The wooden doors of our pension squeak in the wind as we gaze out over the rooftops from our terrace. Pension Gabriel is situated on the highest point in the medina and we have a view over the entire city. Kif is grown in these hills and every child, man, and grandmother will ask you if you want to buy. In the medina the streets are narrow and all the houses are painted a baby blue with dark blue doors stemming from the city's Jewish history. At night we do what we've done every night since our arrival, drink coca cola for hours in coffee shops where Annalisa is the only girl and watch the street go by. Later we head back to our place to drink the bottle of brandy we brought with us. We eat liver, fried fish and rice.
We left early in the morning for our drive to fez, the cultural heart of morocco. Our car has Moroccan air conditioning (open windows blasting 95 degree air) and makes funny sounds. We drive through the Rif where we get pulled over three times by cops on foot with speed guns. All three times I manage to talk my way out of a ticket. This is the only country that truly loves Germans and a reference to the world cup is an easy way out. It’s very refreshing. We stop along the way to swim in a river under a bridge with truck drivers bathing, kids playing and family’s washing clothes. Again Anna is the only girl in sight. Then we pull over to take some pictures in the field, hear music and end up at a Moroccan wedding in a farm in the middle of nowhere. We dance, we sing, and we move on.
Fes to Marrakesh:
What was meant to be an 8 hour trip turned into 12, and hot and dusty redefined itself. The entire "highway" is two lanes; the only proper highway runs along the coast. Fes to Azroud was simple enough but in Azroud they decided to close the "highway" without providing a detour. By the time we figured out the directions everyone on the streets were trying to explain to us (tout le droit…a gauche..signe.. a gouche, ) the donkey trail of a road didn’t seem so daunting and we were ready to jet without thinking to hard about what we are doing. Winding along the side of a cliff on a road barely wide enough for two bicycles, miles from any other road or even the littlest town marked on our atlas, we zoomed away only to be slow downed by the occasional boulder or herd of sheep. Winding, shacking, rattling, tilting, turning, reversing our way along. Finally another road, left or right?!? We hail down a truck, “Parlez vous francais?…which way to Marrakesh amigo?” After two hours we arrived like the dukes of hazard on the scene jetting out from a small dusty road onto the main highway. At last! A sign. Marrakesh, 349km, doh!..
We pass one outpost town after another, the countryside varies from jutting peaks and purple colored cliffs to barren dry plains. We stop for coffee and food, animals hang by hooks in their entirety in front of restaurants serving them and Berber men in their distinctive dress smoke cigarettes and stare. It’s all pretty magical and a bit too hot. We keep passing towns that are mid-construction. Middle of nowhere they are building giant promenades and wide main roads lined with palm trees for a town the population less than Paris, Illinois. The streets are deserted except for the coffee shops where the men sit movie theater style facing the street overlooking the action on the street as if chaperoning a gathering in their own living room.
We enter Marrakesh at sunset with the orange glow of the sun diffused by the haze, the soft light illuminates the terra cota colored city making it appear like a fairytale. We pass the Kings Palace lost and feeling beaten trying to get to our hotel, La Bergerie before darkness sets in. We drive out of Marrakesh towards the hills, speeding by now in a race against time, darkness sets into the valley and here there are no street lights and cars lack headlights. Unsure where we are or where we are going we lay faith in the fact that we couldn't possibly be driving the wrong way because by now that would mean a night in the car on her birthday, that’s right we’re at the 11th hour in the car on her birthday. More winding roads, this time at night, a moped with a family of four and no lights just barely avoided, a bus squeezes by, its pitch black now and I can't see a dam thing. Dunes and rolling hills turn into mountains and cliffs and then everything slowly blends into one in the darkness. Pressing my chest against the steering wheel in concentration I shift gears into the turn, my eyes burn and my ass is soar from sitting for so long. Then.. lights, sounds... A town, Azi, 15km from our destination! At 930 we arrive at our oasis, La Bergierie in all its splendor, 12 hours and nothing left.
This I must say, Moroccan people are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. They always greet you with a smile and are willing to go out of their way to help you find yours. I've been impressed on multiple occasions at someone's effort to help us along be it in the search for a place, an item or a city. Imagine: your walking along 14th street near union square and a perplexed couple in a dusty little car sounding like a 70's mercedes benz squeakes to a stop and says: es salaam alayqum, eh exquse moi senior, eh which way to chicago? Yeah right, exactly. Well that was us.
Marrakesh night market:
Smoke billowing into the night sky, music mixed with kids screaming, people talking, women laughing and lights everywhere. Snake charmers, fire spitting, gypsy kids with their hands in you pocket, midget dancers, musicians, lights and countless rows of food stalls serving fish, meat, vegetables, fruits nuts, lamb brain, snails, pizza, etc. The night market of Marrakesh has without a question been the most impressive market I have seen to date.
Fast forward: 12 hours southeast, The sahara desert. I'll skip the part where I use too many adjectives to describe a very hot and long drive. We saw a couple of the most spectacular views I have seen; The Dades Gorges, the High Atlas and the sand dunes of the Sahara. Not much I can say about the Dades, they're a sight to be seen. Driving the high atlas was beautiful. The mountains are very similar to Arizona or the Grand Canyon in their color: Incredible reds and purples, slightly dry with areas of low brush or trees, beautiful formations. The mountains are separated by narrow river valleys, which, like I imagine an oasis is the most fertile land I have ever seen. These areas supply the Berber villages with their farmland and water. Fig trees trees, almond trees, lavender, corn, flowers, birds and waterfalls. It’s incredible to see these dramatic peaks accent by such narrow green lush valleys. Its the stuff of fantasy.. Camels into the desert. its dry and hot. We eat and sleep in a berber camp. The orange dunes of the Sahara are incredible. We drag our sleeping bag away from the camp a ways up the dunes in the hopes of getting a bit of a breez but also exposing us to the sandstorm and the unbelievable amount of life crawling around. We wake to diamonds in the sky, stars larger than any I have ever seen.