! The main religion of Morocco is Muslim, 99 percent, and can be felt through the culture of boardwalks cafes serving exclusively coffee and "Berber Whiskey" (sugared spearmint tea), no alcohol in site anywhere (except for maybe The Sheraton, who where helpful in providing us with a map to get around) and inundated with men; all the women I suppose were either attending to children or to their kitchens back at home. We were lucky enough to stumble on a book store open on a Sunday and miraculously stocked the Lonely Planet guide in English. We bid farewell to all the notes we copied down and translated (French and Spanish) from the bookstores in Madrid airport the day before.
Marrakesh next and we checked into a hotel just south of it's famed Djemaa el-Fna square where you would see it all. Snake charmers, story tellers setting the seen with crowds of people huddled around listening to his tales, musicians entertaining, henna tattooists and watermen ringing their golden bells(traditionally dressed in red robes and assorted stuff offering cups of water served out of the stomach of a camel) in the bottom left side of the square. Towards the top of the square you are touted by one of a hundred, literally, street stalls lit up like a christmas tree with it's touts trying to lure you to their stall that is smoking with smells and aroma's coming from it's bbq sticks and Tajine pots.
A Ta-jine consists of a cerarmic pot with a conical lid filled with spcies, potatos, tomatos, onion and any type of meat....yummy! With our bellies filled with good food we recouperated some energy and searched for Saaidan's Tombs the following day only to come across Palais el-Baldi. The old palace of the great Al-Mansour took 20 years to build, has been stripped of all it's former glory (the pieces were plundered for 12 years and used in the construction of another palace by his successor Moulay Ismail) and is now occupied by a swarm of herrings who have set up camp on it's outer walls and turrets. Saaidan's tombs, around the corner, housed Al-Mansour tomb and some other 60 odd more Saaidan's and noblemen. The tombs escaped pillaging due to the successor's superstitions of robbing graves and gave an insight in the past grandeur of Palais el-Baldi. The Souq (market) tour was taken with a magnifying glass and we searched every knook and cranny of the streets which were sectioned up in trades. Carpets, leathers, taneries for the leather, ceramics, metalworks and even chicken shops all had their special streets in the labryinth and we often walked down some streets twice if not three times. The sounds of the souq was loud and in your face with shop owners shouting out "Monsier et Madame" to passing tourists but for us the chanting sounded more like "Conichiwa, Konbanwa, Japon! Japon!" as evidently we must have been Japanese. We relaxed the days end with bouts of Berber Whiskey and the mornings usually started with freshly squeezed orange juice (I'm almost certain it is illegal to squeeze them as they were so sweet and yummy) from the 30 different juice stands in the Djemaa el-Fna square, the record stands at 3 glasses of OJ in one day
A battle took place to get my partner in crime out of bed for our journey west toward the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi near the Algerian border which required a stop first in Er Rachidia after a 10 hour bus ride. Along the way we were scoped out by numerous touts who would board the bus at each stop, bombard us with questions and then offer us a tour to Erg Chebbi on camel backs(aka Sahara) or accomodation of some sort. The persistent touts did not cease virtually until the doorstep of our hotel, Chez Julia, the following afternoon. With time in mind we hoped on to camel by 4.45pm and were off into the Sahara lead by our friendly and personable guide, Ahmid. For 2 hours we rode the camels through surreal landscapes wrapped up and reached our campsite behind an impressive 250 metre high sand dune. Tired of having Amber's camel breathe on me and glad to get off the butt beating saddles we traversed some dunes to appreciate what little sunset we had left cowering behind some rain clouds. We had learnt of the flash flood that had struck Merzuoga only last friday and how Ahmid's house virtually crumbled as it was only made out of clay and mud. It had put a damper on the mood but he thanks God for his ability to work to rebuild things and for his health. A total of 200 families are displaced alongside 25 hotels where the walls have caved in. The families have help from the government such as temporary tents but the rebuilding will take up atleast 6 months. Imagine, 6 months in a tent in summer next to the desert and your belongings destroyed! On that sad note he brought us a wonderful and generous serving of Tajine and we slept under the starry skies in our sleeping bags only to wake up hours later and retire to the tents as it was getting cold and rain clouds were creeping around the corner. The sun was yet again covered by clouds in the morning and we set off back towards Merzouga and were hit by a light bout of rain. I could not bare the pain any longer between my buttocks and jumped off to walk back the remainding hour and a half.
Next stop..... Fes El-Bali.
Our flight from Quito to Casablanca (Morocco) was via Madrid. The connecting flight was in 8 hours so we did our best investigating the terminal. The good thing for Amber in Madrid airport was that it contained stores such as Mango and Zara but the bad thing was that they were not in our terminal. Anyhow after a long wait we flew into Casablanca and we were greeted by gale force winds and showers that wrecked havoc near the taxi stand. This did not help with the melee of taxi drivers working together to get exorbitant amounts of money out of us for the fare into the city. Arriving yet again into a different continent without a guidebook we wondered the following day successfully around the big city, small local markets and joined onto an impressive tour of the Hassan II Mosque. Built 1/3 over the sea, the Minaret (tower) is the largest in the world at 210 metres and the total project cost half a billion dollars (that's USD$500 000 000). Built of cedar wood, marble and titanium; it was built mainly from donations to commerate the kings 60th birthday and has a capacity of 25000 worshippers