Thursday, 29 May 2008

10 "not so great" things about Morocco

After doing the 10 great things about Morocco, it is time to look at the other side - 10 "not so great" things about Morocco. So here we go!

1. Crazy drivers - almost any bizarre action you can think of happens here in Morocco. Not just going through red lights and not using indicators. I've seen them reversing the wrong direction in one-way streets, turning left from the far right lane, stopping in the middle of the street to talk and swerving to avoid pedestrians who never look. Why there are pedestrian crossings painted on the streets I will never know? Is it any wonder (other than they drive on the wrong side) that I don't drive here!

2. Continual attention from Moroccan males, everywhere you go. I may not be young any longer but I still get whistled at, comments from passers-by (3 at least this afternoon), car horns tooted at me and the continually getting looked at. At least with dark sunglasses you can avoid the eye contact.

3. Language - With French and Arabic being the main languages spoken here, it is hard for an English speaker. OK I should have made a greater effort to become fluent in one of these languages, but that is hard when you spend all day working in English. having said that, more and more people are speaking English. All the English languages schools in Agdal are evidence of this.

4. Bookshops - few large bookshops but the have few books in English. Oh, I love going to London to browse

5. Honesty - Bribing and lying seem to be a traditional part of life here. It becomes very annoying when it impacts on your job, particularly when students think cheating and lying are the way to pass! Even my maid was sacked because of subtle stealing.

6. I think I will have to stop at 5 for now. Isn't that sad, or happy in another way, that I can only think of 5 "not so great" things about Morocco. So obviously the good outweighs the bad! So why am I leaving???

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Mawazine at the Chellah

Mawazine is a 9-day long music festival held here in Rabat with musicians from all over the world playing. Some concerts are free , while others cost money. Even thought there was a number of people I would have like to have seen, most of the performances are late at night hence I couldn't go and then manage to get up at 6 and be in a good frame of mind for work.

Anyway yesterday evening I finally made it to a performance at the Chellah, a great outdoor venue with views of the hills and the white town of Sale behind while trees were along the sides and storks soared overhead.

For about one and a half hours I watched Omar Bashir, an extraordinary player of the Oud, and hid fellow musicians play Iraqi and Anduludian music. The Oud is a traditional Arab stringed instrument like a guitar but has six pairs of strings.

Bashir has been playing the Oud since a young child as his father introduced the instrument the west and popularised it as a solo instrument. Although born in Hungary he has spent time teaching in Baghdad as well as Hungary.

He is an incredible musician and starting with a solo, he made the Oud "talk" then combined his playing with two guitarists and a drummer then later a keyboard, a bass guitar and a percussionist. There was an incredible range of music, from the distinctive eastern rhythms to Spanish flamenco. It was well worth the entrance fee.

Maybe I'll make it back to Jazz in the Chellah festival in June, the 12th to the 16th! Here's the festival website.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

10 great things about Morocco

Time to list what things are great about Morocco.

1. There is a huge variety of places to visit on weekends and holidays.

2. The fresh fruit and vegetables are tasty, fresh and cheap. I'm really enjoying the cherries, nectarines, peaches and cherries at the moment.

3. It is safe to walk around on your own and at night, in most places but not everywhere.

4. It is a photographer's delight - I have thousands from my time here!

5. The weather is pleasant, most of the time. Although I did find Winter rather cold when I first arrived - not surprising considering I came from the tropics!

6. It is close to Europe. A 40 minutes ferry trip to Spain.

7. Yummy cakes and pastries, although I try not to indulge too often.

8. It is a great place for walking - Hilton Park or from Agdal to the medina here in Rabat, or up in the mountains.

9. Turkey - Not the country, the food. I have never eaten so much as I have here. Rarely do I buy chicken, instead I buy half a turkey breast.

10. The rail system runs regularly and almost on time between the major cities - Rabat, Casa, Fes, Marrakesh . . . And it is cheap and safe. I have not heard of a train crash while I have been here. The same can't be said about the buses.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Out to the farm

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day at a friends farm outside Rabat. Even though it is only about 20 kilometres in a direct line, it takes an our to get there as you have to drive a big loop to get to the other side of the lake. It was such a relaxing day in such a quiet place - just the sounds of the animals and birds while being surrounded by a lovely orchard with trees loaded with fruit - apricots, nectarines (neither of which were quite ripe), figs, grapes, pears . . .
So I got to spend time sitting in the garden reading a book while surrounded by the colour of the cascading bougainvillea, pots of red and pink geranium and even a fuchsia plant. Such a change from my Agdal apartment. Then their were the dogs running around, following me to the end of the block. The puppies were so cute, especially the roly-poly brown one.
Then to spend time with friends sitting and chatting in the garden, admiring the location, admiring the and admiring the house. All were a little envious I think. It really brings back memories of growing up on a farm, as I did in Australia. What a relaxing day. I'm just sorry you didn't make it Regina.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Kite Runner - the movie

I have been wanting to watch this movie for a while as friends had told me that the movie is very true to the book. I must concur with this. As the movie progressed I would then remember what happened next in the book, and it did also in the movie.
There was some lovely landscapes and cinematography especially of the Afghanistan and Pakistan mountains, Kabul and particularly the kite flying. It was good to see the emphasis on the kite flying was retained. I found the movie much sadder than the book though, maybe because it was much more "in your face", whereas in the book you had to imagine what those scenes looked like.
The other facet of the movie I found interesting was the portrayal of the Muslims: their accepting of fate, the commitment to prayer, the non-acceptance of drinking alcohol; especially since I presently live in a Muslim country. Much of it was spoken in Arabic, and I could even recognise some of the words. Scary ! This also meant that for the majority of the movie you had to read the subtitles so you had to keep focused or some important moment would pass on by.
Kite Runner is a movie I would recommend anyone to watch given the chance, as it really does portray what life in Afghanistan used to be like and is like now. Well at last I think it does.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Tazzeka National Park Day Hike

After a pleasant hike from the Auberge on Friday, it was time for the day hike on Saturday. Still with a lack of confidence about having a guide organised, we decided to take Aziz with us again. Even though he spoke no English, we had a couple of Arabic/French speakers with us who could translate. We started from the forestry office at the south western edge of Tazzeka National Park, from we we did a circuit - along the valley gradually climbing up on the way in and high up looking down on the valley as we returned.
It was amazing - one of the few places in Morocco where you can go hiking and not see people for a few hours, no plastic bags lying around and I think we saw a grand total of ten houses in 7 hours of walking (excluding the village from where we started). Beautiful scenery as we wandered along under shady trees including the oak-cork tree while listening the bubbling of the stream in the valley floor. As we climbed higher we past patches of lime green bracken fern above which were two brown cows.
Then we hit the "flowers". Next to an earthen house nested in to the mountain slope was a barley crop bordered by yellow daisies, white daisies, red poppies and other yellow flowers. Lots of photographs were taken as it was so pretty.
Then as we walked through the next crop it was lots of red poppies (plus thistles) leading a traditional rose bush covered in pale pink flowers. All this with a backdrop of the towering, mostly forest-clad mountains.
After lunch we headed back along the other side of the valley. The most amazing sight for me (and there were many) was a rocky mountain slope entirely covered in lavender with its purple spikes. Picking a flower I could smell the invigorating scent so placed it behind my ear. Then in between the patches of lavender were other flowers, including lots of golden daisies. The floral display went on and on.
A haven for wildlife, it was not only flowers we saw, but also a large frog and lots of lizards including one with an orange and yellow striped t-shirt below its jade green head. A bouboris said Aziz, but I have no idea how to spell the name. I can't find it on the internet but will have to try and find a book to find out what it is.
Even members of our group who have lived in Morocco for years, and done much hiking in this country, all said it was one of the best, if not the best hike they've done in Morocco.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Taza - Short Hike

After dramas with the guide, more precisely the lack of one, for the planned day walk around the Tazzeka National Park, we returned to the auberge to instead do a shorter walk from there. Aziz, a guy who worked at the auburge became our impromptu guide for the walk around the mountain that forms the red cliff backdrop to the auberge.
Heading up the track behind the auberge, which is popular in the mornings and evenings with the local people taking herds of goats and sheep up for grazing, it was quiet during the middle of the day. We passed through a grove of olive trees covering the barley crops below in a shower of cream petals from their star-shaped flowers. Patches of red poppies and yellow daisies provided even more colour contrast, while down in the valley was a patchwork of green and yellow - the villagers crops. We followed the track as it wound around the side of the mountain, until we reached the saddle. It was like stepping into a different world. What a difference rain makes - the lucky side could grow crops and olive trees while the dry side was lots of white rocks scattered amid stunted palms about 40 cm high. In between were a few scrubby trees, with spiky leaves resembling holly. It was a dry barren area where we all had to be careful where we put our feet as it was easy to trip over a rock or a stick.
Meandering along, admiring the view I spotted what looked like a sheep sheltering in the shade of one of the scrubby trees. On approach it was revealed to be a nanny goat who had just given birth to two kids - one white and one black and white. one was so new that it was still wobbly on its feed and was having trouble finding her teats for the first important drink. Some of the group were totally enthralled by them - me - I must have seen too many calves being born when I was growing up so my excitement was limited.
Heading back down again we found a shady fig tree in the middle of a barley crop that made an ideal lunch stop. Ursula found the tree branches an ideal seat while some of us found a comfortable rock and others turned their coat into a picnic rug. It was a shady and relaxing place to eat our tuna and tomato sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs and oranges. Nearby while looking at the wildflowers: white and yellow daisies, gold daisies, tiny mauve stars and a herbaceous white spike of flowers, we spotted a black blister beetle with three horizontal red stripes across its back. So heavy was it that when it attempted take-off, it resembled a helicopter. (Unfortunately my photo didn't come out well so I've included Catherines.)
After Aziz gave a wandering donkey a drink of water at a nearby well, we took a slight detour to watch the local shearing. With the mob of sheep sheltering in the shade of a nearby tree, the stubble-faced shearer had a sheep on the track (soon to be a short-cut road to Fes) with its four feet tied together. Back bent, he was carefully cutting the wool from the sheep using a pair of big, metal hand clippers. I actually remember us having a pair on the farm as a kid, but I am not sure what we actually did with them. Once the fleece was removed, he just added it to the pile on the side of the road while the sheep was finally free to head back and join its mates.
Past so stick-covered, earthen piles where charcoal smoldered, through a scrubby forest, across another stone and palm covered plateau, it was then time to head down, back into the valley that was home to the auberge. Soon we were back home, back on the terrace enjoying the view, the local wines, each other's company and a few nibbles. Tough!!!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Taza Accomodation - Auberge Ain Sahla

We drove in between red cliffs, ochre hillsides with olive trees covering their slopes in geometric designs, past sheep tied beside the road grazing, through villages of earthen, flat-roofed houses and friendly waving children walking along the side of the road. These were the highlights of the 15 km drive from the Fes - Taza road to Auberge Ain Sahla, our home for the weekend.
Driving along the rough track, past fields of barley and broad beans dotted with red poppies, while being directed by crudely painted "Auberge Ain Sahla" signs, there was no evidence of our destination. Instead a spectacular cliff face in reds and browns towering over the olive trees. finally our destination appears amid the olive trees, well camouflaged with its terracotta earthen walls and flat roofs, high enough on the mountainside to provide spectacular views. Below a patchwork of fields in shades of green and gold are dotted with the white of women working in the fields.

The auberge itself meanders over the hill side with the swimming pool and surrounding terraces at the bottom with shade provided by the booming olive trees and colour by the roses in red, pink salmon and yellow. Then there was the bright pink bougainvillea next to the lime green-leaved grape vine. We shared the so-called "apartment", that was really four rooms that share a bathroom. The luxury it gave was our own personal terrace with view behind to the cliff and down through the trees to the valley below. We also had dinner on the terrace one night. which was lovely.
It was some a quiet place, the staff were very helpful and it has a location to rave about.

Fes Cooking Class article

To view an article I've just had published in the Weekend Australian on doing a Moroccan Cooking Class in Fes, click on this link. Hope it makes your mouth water!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

A Relaxed Start to the Day

Its Thursday and I am still at home at 9 am instead of being hard at work. Not the usually getting up at 6 and leaving for work at 7, instead I've been for a relaxed walk around the park in the early morning sunshine. Me and lots of others. It is interesting see what the Moroccan women wear when walking or jogging in the park - besides seeing many in an often thick djellebah, the others are still very well covered. Even on hot days many will be wearing wind proof/ rain jackets, which only make me think that they must be drowning in the sweat being produced. Men often wear the same. I 'm not sure that the people here have got the message that losing water from the body does not produce weight loss in the long term. Then there will be other women with a scarf covering their hair topped by a peaked cap. Although men are often seen wearing shorts, the only women seen in shorts are the rare expat who will be stared at and probably on the receiving end of passing comments. For me, this is one advantage of not speaking the language - Moroccan Arabic that is - I don't understand what they are saying to me so it is easy to ignore the comments. Even dressing conservatively and being over 40, I still get comments directed at me on a regular basis.

Today is a Moroccan Public holiday - International Labor Day and apparently this is one day that all the shops in Morocco are closed. This does not happen often. It is a holiday set aside to commemorate the historic struggle of working people throughout the world.

Since not only today is a holiday, but also tomorrow, it is a 4-day weekend so I am off to Taza for the break, which is 1 hour further on past Fez. Hopefully to do some hiking tomorrow and some R&R too. As I haven't been to that area of Morocco, it shall be interesting to see. I'll put up some photos on my return.