Friday, 24 October 2008

Rocking the kasbah

Despite the cold (me) and stomach bug (Lauren) that Morocco gave us as parting gifts, we absolutely loved our trip there. Europe's great, but it's the taste of the exotic you get from other cultures and landscapes that we're really enjoying at the moment.

As we've got a few weeks in India and Nepal at Christmas to save leave and money for, we made just a quick trip to Morocco. We landed in Marrakesh then did a three day tour over the Atlas Mountains, to the World Heritage site and frequent movie set (including for Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia and The Last Temptation of Christ) of Ait Benhaddou, the amazing Dades and Todra Gorges and then out on camels to sleep in the dunes of Erg Chebbi in the Sahara. We rounded things off with a day wandering the souks, palaces and markets of Marrakesh.

It's a place that gives you a lot of memories. Here's some of my strongest ones.

1) Brown. It's Morocco's national colour, from the bare earth and the buildings made out of it, to the tan taxis, to the golden brown sands. They call Edinburgh a symphony in grey - Morocco is the same for that other supposedly drab colour.

2) Clothes. Perhaps it's because the background's often beige, or because there's a lot more variety and brightness in the Moroccan wardrobe than in the other Islamic countries we've visited, but the colours of clothes really stand out there.

3) Kasbahs. They rock. Many of the buildings we saw are made out of mud and staw, including the many kasbahs (fortresses). Being mostly unfired clay, this makes them warm in winter and cool in summer, but they do suffer from the elements and have to be repaired about every six years. So the trip through the Atlas and out to the desert was littered with views of kasbhas both crumbling and brand new.

Ait Benhaddou

4) Islamic art. In Islam it's considered a sin to portray people and animals in art (the whole worshipping false idols thing), so they've gotten very, very good at using geometric patterns in decoration. Morocco excels in using them in architecture, such as archways. There are some exquisite examples in Marrakesh, such as the Bahia Palace.

5) Djemaa el Fna. The crowded, narrow streets and souks of Marrakesh's medina (old town), with the crafts, knock-off European football shirts, dates and endless other wares spilling out amongst the walkers, carts and scooters, are fabulous - as are the many mosques and palaces. But it's the main square - a World Heritage site - that's the biggest jewel in city's crown.

There's zillions of tourists drinking freshly squeezed orange juice, eating cousous or boiled goat's head at the food stalls, getting henna tattoos and soaking up the chaotic and amazingly vibrant atmosphere. But happily, we are outnumbered by the locals, crowded around a storyteller or musicians, or wandering about.

Crowds gather for a performance

6) Contrast. Out in the dry lands, the river valleys are filled with trees or date palms. And beyond - desolation.

Rich tourist who gave away half a packet of chips to a boy, who then ran off with it, with about ten boys chasing after him.

7) Atlas Mountains roads. And I thought highway around the East Cape of New Zealand was windy and steep.

8) Valleys and gorges.

Todra Gorge
Dades Valley

9) Camels and other critters. Wild camels by the side of the road. Flocks of black sheep chewing on the scrubby bushes in the desert. Storks nesting on the walls of a ruined palace. A cat sleeping in a royal graveyard.

10) The desert. It was overcast (and rained on the way out!) and the riding camels for over an hour gave us a lot of pain in private places, but trip into the Sahara, where we stayed the night in a Berber camp, was still stunning.

1 comment:

Kimberley said...

"As we've got a few weeks in India and Nepal at Christmas to save leave and money for, we made just a quick trip to Morocco."

Whatever ... pfft.