Road Trippin’

My first interaction with police in Morocco came at a checkpoint on the road south the next day. The Royale Gemdarmes in their impressive white jackets, flagged us down, checked paperwork and busting Sana with a 300MAD fine for not wearing a seatbelt. After a half hour of negotiating, the cavalryman stood his ground, and Sana was forced to fork out the money. At least I know bartering is possible with everything in Morocco, even government fines. Everything is valid for negotiation here, but you learn to pick your battles and bargaining becomes a valuable skill, especially in the souks, where tourist prices are jacked up to 10 times the worth of the item. If you’re savvy, you’ll find your trinkets around the next corner or in the next hidden street for a fraction of what a touristic shop will be offering. Prices are instantly lower if you can speak French or Arabic, if not, you’ll have to be dropping the price by bargaining in English. Bargain hard and always be ready to walk – you’ll find the same items elsewhere and you’ll be able to bargain a better price.

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Waiting for the Royal Gendarmes to finish up with Sana’s fine… route to Sidi Ifni

I usually say this in my posts, but I am feeling lucky and grateful to be cruising through Morocco’s south coast mountains (practically hills really), in a car, with new friends on our way to Sidi Ifni. The flora is a suberb green, and the towns going south on the coast are surprisingly sprinkled with rastafarian surfers. The younger generation float by on longboards, dreads hanging down their backs, sipping away on a coke cans as they roll past. Surf schools number the coastlines, especially towards Tagazhout and Sidi Ifni. It’s like Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Marley combined their offspring with Catherine Zeta-Jones to turn out the local Moroccan surfing community of the south. Wetsuits on and boards at the ready, it’s a cruisey surfing mecca for those wanting to get their paws wet. The whole attitude of the southern towns are relaxed, and very laid back, a great change from the frantic larger cities of the North. 

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Keeping to ballerina themes at Legzira

A beautiful drive took us through twisting roads and low mountains after getting through Tiznit, abandoned villages strewn about the valleys from the previous heavy floods in Morocco, where bridges had been wiped out and washed away. Arriving at Sidi Ifni later then we bargained, we spent a rather fun hour visiting every accomodation and bargaining for a cheaper price, until we scored a seventies style room on the beach for four people – which cost a mere 200 MAD (5 euros a head). After several beers at the local beach bar (Morocco is a dry country) we began our search for some food, in the form of Moroccan style chicken with an olive dipping sauce, legume curry, lentils and fries. Bliss, especially when you top it off with Milka Oreo chocolate bars. I tackled a cow organ sandwich (because we weren’t sure whether it was balls, liver or kidneys) which was cooking on the grill, next to a boiling vat of cow stomach at a street stall at the top of the sleepy town. After our evening walk we retired to our retro 70’s suite, falling asleep to the sound of the waves kissing the sandy shoreline right outside our window.

Spending a day hiking cliffs is what my dreams are made of. Up, down and zigzag around. Up over the high cliffs on the west coast of morocco, I eyed off brown colour palette sandy beaches before trekking down to the soft sands littered with 1000 colour rocks washed up by the ocean. Zig-zagging between trails of the clifftops, we skipped past burrows and snake holes (or rat holes) past the short green cacti. It started off a grey discoloured morning but flipped into sapphire blue skies, strips of clouds dancing in with the wind. The babushkas grumpy face flipped into a beaming smile once the weather turned for the better. The stone arches of lezgira shone a rusty red in the glow of the bright sun, and as we walked underneath them, the shadows of the great dismissive arches cooled us in the heat of the southern sun. Fisherman a few steps away were fishing off the rocks, while spread along the coastline old folk were shucking mussels to sell in town, judging from the massive piles of mussel shells at their feet.

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There’s a ballerina inside of all us – midway to Legzira

Along the way I befriended a wild puppy (wild dogs and cats are all over Morocco, it’s rare to see them as pets) who wanted to have a play on the beach. So I obliged, and engaging my inner child we played tag all the way down the beach, zig zagging left and right to escape one another before collapsing in a heap and rumbling on the ground. It was a great feeling of freedom, playing around on the sandy beach with my new little attention seeking friend.  All this hiking and running around had worked up my appetite so can you guess what happened next? Straight to the beachfront cafe for a calamari tagine, olives and Moroccan salad. I downed a full plate of chilli ravenously with my mint tea, feeding the kitten resting on the step next to me while overlooking the sunset over Legzira beach. Managing to hitch a grand taxi as the sun finally set, both tired and well fed, we watched the remainder of the colourful sunset along the coast back to our humble beds on the beach of Sidi Ifni.

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Laundry day at Legzira Beach

Sidi Ifni is a place where I could stay cooped up for a few weeks. A blue and white town, nostalgia rings bells of the greek islands. Spanish architecture is not the only thing that remains in the moroccan surfing town. Look around for a street sign and they’ll be just as they are in spain – stuck high on the intersection walls with names like ‘Calle de Toledo’. Although there is a large visual reminder of the spanish occupation, the languages spoken here are moroccan arabic, berber or french. I find myself using Spanish, french, arabic and english just as I was in the north, but sparingly so, since my language skills aside from English are terrible as is. Locals happily float about the days business without a care in the world. The only time I’ve heard raised voices is when the La Liga is on across every cafe in town – something every part of the moroccan west coast I’ve visited has in common. Small tin pots of mint tea and macchiato sized glasses full of ‘the best drink in the world’ are spread out over the small tables, while the chairs have been shaped into a horseshoe around the live football broadcast.

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Last bit of sun, Legzira

Women of the south are dressed most colourfully, bright pinks, yellows and blues are abundant in their dress, different to the more mellow and subtle tones of the northern moroccans. It’s a useful way of confirming how far south you have come. I’ve gotta say, driving down the moroccan coastal road through small towns is quite a surreal experience, even after 2 weeks of travelling Morocco. Souks thrive in coastal towns, locals as well as tourists shop for local produce, arts and crafts. Basic makeshift tents, tarpaulins spread over hobbled timber frames or are hung from car roofs and are staked into the ground for the weekly souks. The market atmosphere is apparent in each coastal town we drive through. Souks to the left and souks to the right are mixed between the gorgeous sandy beaches and layers of the lower anti atlas.

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Roadtrippin’ – the Souf and Natalia

So in Agadir just as we (the Souf, Natalia, Sana and I) were about to depart, after a slight miscommunication we had to return the hired car and pick up another, which meant our trip north to Marrakech was delayed a day. All that meant was a trek into Paradise Valley which was both beautiful and saddening at the same time. Lovely palms were at every turn, but lost some of their lustre as dregs of rubbish were spread throughout the valley. Plastic bags hung off trees and empty water bottles littered the rocky trails. At high vantage points the trees hid the debris and plastic from past visitors to the area. The views throught the valley were both fantastic and horrible at the same time. Curving trails snaked around the mountains and water source as we delved deeper into the mysterious oasis. Argan and olive trees were dense, spread all throughout the mountains, complimenting the red and orange shades of rock. Palm stoodles tall in the shady oasis, some decked out like Christmas trees with plastic bags plastered to their trunks.

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Paradise Valley, pretty but marred by overbearing amounts of litter

Crossing a thin stream of water in Paradise Valley I slipped, camera in hand, flat on my backpack into the water. Getting up the same effect was induced and again, I was dunked into the waters of the valley. My pack was thoroughly soaked, my shoulder girdle felt like a lion had ripped it off and whatever dignity I had had been dunked into the depths of the smooth rock pool. Getting up the second time proved to be almost as hazardous as the first, but i managed to climb out, a little wetter, laughing with the Souf at my mishap in the water of the ‘paradise’. Opening my Kathmandu day pack, everything was dry, except for a tiny section where I hadn’t closed my zippers properly. The only thing that had been hurt was my aching shoulder girdle. I made a deal with Soufianne to cross back over the same place as I had the first time – shoes off and pack on. Success! A hop and a skip and a few photos later we hopped into our little ford focus and headed back to Agadir for a hot meal.

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After snacking on some expensive but highly delicious entrees at a restaurant on the beach of Agadir courtesy of the Souf, we wandered off to the fish market behind and sat down to a huge dish of tasty fish, calamari and prawns. Grilled, fried or deep fried, we got it however we wanted it we got it. Moroccan salads were laid all over the table along with huge baskets of fresh bread. Eating the moroccan way is something I’ve really become accustomed to – a big dish in the middle of the table and all parties involved eat from the same plate. I feel it involves everyone alot more in the meal and the camaraderie going on around the table. Everyone becomes part of the conversation, another classic example of food bringing people together. What would we do without food, food, glorious food? Washed down with glass bottles of Coca-Cola it was a tasty end to the meal, where we spent the remainder of the night at the Soufs hotel, chewing through olives with Abdel and Soufiane in tow.

The last leg of our journey took us from Agadir to see the boys before we headed for Taroudant, through the Tizi’n’Test mountain pass in the atlas mountains to Marrakech. After farewelling the boys in Agadir, we headed to the Argan production office for a tour of the small processing room. Argan was being mulched into pure argan oil, from where we all deftly picked up cheap half litre bottles (100MAD – 10euros). Feeling good about our purchases of the oily goodness, we pulled over for some tuna sandwiches and milka preoccupied chocolate before finally striking out for Taroudant, to make our way through the tizi’n’test pass.

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Anti-Atlas

An everchanging landscape, Morocco offers a diverse amount of land. The red brown of the anti-atlas rose out of the ground, gradually getting higher and higher on our drive through the pass. Narrow, snaking roads twist around the heights of the anti-atlas, and when nearing the top, graced us with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains, in varying shades of maroon. Stopping for a break, we sipped fresh mint tea from a local, who was resting by the side pf a small source of water peeking over the top of the range. On the edge of one of the countless mountains in the range we sat, gazing at the collection of rusty maroon mountains off in the hazy distance. The winding unsealed roads spread around the mountainous arena, acting like signatures on a finished painting.

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Heading up towards Tizi’n’Test

After making the Tizi’n’Test pass, where white snow was spread in odd patches around the summits and through the layers of trees adorning the mountsidefood was on the forefront of everyone’s mind. So, an hour later, we stopped in a small mountain village for a huge goat and vegetable tagine, varying types of smoky tasty meat skewers and moroccan salad. Delicious is an understatement, and although I may have been well past the couscous of Morocco,  I felt I would never get sick of chowing down these amazing tagines. On the down slope, and wanting to get out of the mountains before night fell (the roads are poor at best in the mountain ranges, there is no night lighting and the standard of driving in Morocco is low), we passed by old mud brick villages glued to the side of the mountain range, layers of green farming flats spread below to the small creeks at the bottom of the gorges. It was picturesque and stunningly beautiful to say the least.

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Mountain village, on the down slope from Tizi’n’Test

Driving into the kasbah of Marrakech at sundown, it was time to part ways with this legendary couple, the Souf and Natalia. We spent a great week together, from Agadir to Sidi Ifni and surrounds, through Taroudant and the mountain passes of the anti atlas into the mind blowing city of Marrakech. As always, it’s hard to part ways with such good friends, but also great in way, because I carry the mega memories we built together in that short time we spent creating a little more of our life story together . With hugs all round, they drove off towards Casa in their little ford fiesta and I ambled off to find my way through the lively, action packed kasbah, wandering past revving scooters and bicycles to locate a warm bed for the night…

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