East of Marakesh...

Trip Start Sep 16, 2006
Trip End Sep 16, 2007

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

After a celebratory and last breakfast of avocado smoothies at the 'Universe Delicious', we said awkward good-byes to our nice hotel clerk friend, who was sad to see us go, and didn't just kiss each cheek too many times this time. He grabbed on, held tight, and smoochie wet-kissed each of our necks and ear lobes for a little bit too long to be normal. Imagine the stiff stance one adopts when this is happening.
...then we set off out of the maze of inner city Marakesh, heading East toward Demnate and Beni Melal.
For those of you aho haven't experienced it, riding in Marakesh's daytime traffic is really more like being on an out-of-control merry-go-around against your will while trying to read braille. You never know when traffic is letting you go or when you should stop. The traffic lights don't really work, and when they do- folks don't use them. People start, lurch, lunge and doors fly open. You wish you had 15 eyes! Donkeys mopeds bikers walking carts cars and huge trucks and edgy tour buses; they are all vying for the best spot on the road. You just pray. And try to breathe.
We made it out and headed east. Our nerves were on the egde. Poeple waved and cheered and jeered. The usual mixture along a long, dusty, congested road. We passed through many little towns, orange orchards galore, and finally made it to Sidi Rahal, which was supposed to have a little hotel as per the confident reassurances of our hotel clerk in Marakesh. Well, after realizing that Sidi Rahal is just a small Berber village in the middle of nowhere, and that there are absolutely no hotels and no chance of camping, we learned there is another Sidi Rahal that is a bigger town, albeit far far away.
We decided to stop in the neutral zone- a pharmacy. The Moroccan pharmacy is akin to a safe haven, where you can trust the advice of the person you speak with, and know they won't try to sell you something you don't need, swindle you or mislead you. It's also like Google, like a search engine for anything you need to know about the town or area you are in. Cool! Also, many ladies work in the pharmacies, which makes it very comfortable and in many ways, more trusting.
After the pharmacist, Talal, and his assistant Aziz explained that the nearest place to rest is 50kms away, and that the road is dangerous at night-- we were wholeheartedly invited to stay with them. Feeling like we were imposing, we hesitated and chatted a bit, setting off a barrage of 'what is the problem's. So............ we acepted. And hung out in the back room office of the pharmacy with a medical library, a fake skeleton and the two pharmacists and chatted about politics, the minimum wage, firewood, donkeys, berber dialects and anything we could think of and conjure up in present-tense French. It's hard. The communication.
As the night wore on and their shift ended, the pharmacists took us next door where they live... Talal's apartment house, which he shared with his other pharmacist brother Khalid, and pharmacist sister, Majdouline; was really comfortable and super awesome. They welcomed us as if we were old buddies. They had all the comforts you could want... or even more. Internet hookup- which is a rarity here, satellite TV, etc. The three siblings are from Marakesh but live and work in Sidi Rahal, serving the Berber population in alternating shifts 7 days a week. They work hard and seem to be close friends.
We hit it off great with these three siblings and Aziz, and stayed up all night, til 1am-- chatting and sharing excellently distorted and mispronounced stories in French. I told them about how Staphylococcus Aureus-MRSA almost killed me and told them about Oil Of Oregano's tocopherol powers to heal and work like morphine. They talked pharmaceuticals until Majdouline apologized embarrasedly and explained that 'shop talk' isn't always the case. They told us about the 'Smiig', or Moroccan minimum wage and about the division of working and lower classes here. They worried about us being vegetarians and our levels of protein during exercise. Between the 4 pharmacists, they spoke about 8 or 9 languages! Majdouline came home after a long day at work and driving from Marakesh, and jumped into the kitchen and cooked a huge home made meal of pasta and veggie tajine sauce, which we all ate around a big table in the living room. We shared recipes for couscous and she told us about the delicious and all-natural bread she takes pride in making. We talked about the dirrefences in tolerance among the Arab nations in Northern Africa, and about the terrible difference in pharmacy medicine in the US vs. here- they use the French system apparently. We learned a lot about the situation for ladies in this country and about keeping your nose to the grindstone. Really an amazing night!!! These people are terrific! Talal promised to wake us at 7am, but we woke up at 10am instead, to Majdouline's delicious home made breakfast bread and coffee! Yum! We haven't stayed up this late in so long. Our bedtime is sun-down these days.
In the morning we hung out at the busy pharmacy, behind the counter, watching Aziz, Majdouline, Talal and Khalid dispense medicine, diagnose people in dire need, check blood pressures and give out advice to ailing customers. The pharmacy was super busy, and it turns out it's because the nearby Souq-market was that day, bringing in hundreds of folks from all around. We took a lot of photos inside the pharmacy and posed outside with the family, and took off east toward Demnate...
Wow. We felt lucky and humble. Mental notes to send packages and presents and post cards with lots of hearts to our new friends in Sidi Rahal.

The route toward the old, historic, Jewish city of Demnate took us through beautiful mountainous barren desert landscapes, up and down hills, and into the mountains again toward the Ouzad Cascade- a natural waterfall in the area. Not many tourists on these roads... Mostly downhill, there were some nice challenging climbs before finally reaching the foothills... A man pulled over in his truck and warned us that people drive terribly in these parts and that they drink and drive too, which is something of an anomaly here since drinking in Morocco is a rarity.
The drivers were fine, but we did in fact notice a lot of broken glass beer bottles along the sides of the road-- a first in Morocco! Weird. Drinking of alcohol... a new thing to see here.
The route started to have a lot of olive orchards and fields, with people busy harvesting olives with long sticks, knocking them out of trees and sorting and collecting them down below. Also, along the sides of the road, guys selling piles of olives who had temporary shelters and tarp houses set up to guard the olive groves by night. Lots of rabid, mean, olive guarding dogs abound in these parts- and these ain't no lazy friendly dogs, these suckers go for the ankles so watch out! We also saw many many sheep flocks herded by shepherds as young as 4 years old, barely bigger than the smallest of sheep... It's always odd, and really shocking to see how much control a little child like this has over a flock of 30 sheep and goats!
We rode long and hard and were happy to make it to Demnate before night fall...
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