Monday, July 11, 2011

05.07.11 Waterfall family and natural invasion

or what happens with a beautiful nature during a hot weekend...

The Ourika Valley is a unique place. About 60 km from Marrakesh noble mountains dominate the landscape and hide 7 waterfalls. The routes are not marked, so if you want to see all the waterfalls you need to ask random people for the way, follow your intuition or hire a guide. We used the first two methods and reached 5 waterfalls. The first, most easy to access, was full of Moroccans who came here to escape the heat of the city, singing, playing in the water or just watching. After a short time we decided to escape form the invaded nature and seek peace in higher parts of the mountains, discovering more waterfalls. The further we went, the less people we met, and the last waterfall was for us only. The winding path followed along a river and stones and lead us to a peaceful wonder of the nature Far away form noisy shops and cafe by the entrance to the valley.

The Ourika Valley is especially adored among young couples. It's one of few places in the area, where lovers can spend some time alone. They can't meet their partners at home (according to the tradition), nor show their feeling in public places. So they seek for distant places, far from people. And one a strangers approaches a kissing couple, both of them become red, shy and turn their eyer from newcomers.

06.07.11 Milk, dates and cookies

or few words about Moroccan hospitality..

During the last 3 weeks in Morocco I visited many Moroccan houses and every time I could witness how welcoming and hospitable Moroccan people are. In Marrakesh Yassine's parents prepare for us delicious breakfasts, lunch and dinners (omelettes, rice, salads, fish, toasts, pasta....), which are definitely to huge for me. When we visited Yassine's grandmother, ill and old, she welcomed us with milk, dates and fresh bread. A visit in a house of Yassine's friend ended up with fresh meal also. The friend's parents, who were also hosting a family from the UK and Ireland, prepared for everyone Moroccan pancakes, handmade cookies, hot milk, dates and other specialities. And when the newly-weds (Yassine's cousin and her Pakistani husband) were visiting the closest family after the marriage (that's the tradition here) and came to Yassine's parents, they were welcomed with the traditional meal for a married couple (milk and dates) and many colourful cookies.

About the cookies – they are really unique! Without chocolate, but always very sweet, in many shapes and colours, sometimes with honey, almonds, sesame or colourful additives.

Coming back to the meal – when eating with more people, you eat your meal usually from one plate,taking the main meal with a piece of bread. This way, you usually end up eating more bread that a salad/meat/fish but no one really seems to care. Sometimes you drink from one glass, also. There are of course meals that are served on separate plates and families or situations where you have to use cutlery instead of your fingers. But sooner or later, at some time during the meal, the traditional way of consuming a meal appears.

Moroccan hospitality is not limited to food only. Very often a host will offer you his best room, someone will take you for a ride around his city with a car, someone will let you stay in his house for many days and someone will give you many presents, when you already have to leave the country. We are leaving tomorrow and we'll have too much luggage for sure, because we got many presents from Yassine's family. I got a Moroccan shoes and dress from his mother and two European dresses from his father, and both of us received a huge bag full of Moroccan spices, olives, cookies and other sweets.

It is really sad to leave such a hospitable country...

04.07.11. Stretchy time and helpful hand

or few words about Moroccan mentality...

In Morocco I'm spending my time mainly with Moroccans, meeting new people every day: Yassine's family or friends or random people that travel to the same places as we do. The time for Moroccans has a different meaning and a day has more hours. 15 minutes does not mean „15 minutes”, but 30 or 45. „Now” sometimes refers to „maybe in next hour or few more” and „tomorrow” may actually be in few days. In the last minute you realise there's not enough time and something should have been planned before. But the problem is, it is not possible to plan anything, because your friend may call you to meet you right now or you have to help your family or the weather is bad (which means „too hot”) or someone has some other idea. The time becomes stretchy. Plans do not exist. And everyone is fine with it.
Fortunately, there are situations where the time really has the proper meaning: the best trains and buses usually come on time, visits at doctors or business meeting may also be punctual. It's just the everyday life, when the time suddenly seems to slow down and stretch endlessly.

Taxis also have another meaning. In cities there are so called „small taxis” for maximum 4 people, and in small towns and villages you can meet „grand taxis” where even 10 people can fit into a car for 5. The front seat is usually taken by 2 passengers and no one complains that it's too crowded. Motorcycles work similar – very often 4 people fit in one motorcycle and families really don't need a car to travel together.

About families – the family has for Moroccans the highest priority. The older members of the family have to be supported by the younger and family meetings are very important. Family picknicks are also organised quite often. When it's hot, the pickniks start late in the evening, along the streets in the center (parks are too dark) . The houses are too hot, so fresh meal (tajin, melon, Moroccan tea...) can be eaten outside.

The next common Moroccan characteristic is being ready to help any time and anyone. When you are looking for some coins in your pocket while buying tickets, someone will offer you his 5 dirhams, when in crowded bus you can't find a seat, a man will give you his seat (if you're a woman), when you need Internet connection and the only Internet Cafe in the village has no electricity, someone will lend you his mobile Internet, and so on and on. It's easy to make friends here and you know you can always count on your old and new friends. Being stingy is not common at all and those who have more share with the poorer.

Of course, there are exception from all these rules and you can notice different behaviour in cities and different in villages, different among the poor and the rich. But deviations form this rule are not that big and you can always meet a helpful hand and a person that will make you forget about the European meaning of the time.

24. 06 Camels, wild beach and dry landscape

or how we are discovering an empty and dry landscape.

Behind the new apartments in Essaouira El Jadida there's a wild and empty area. We followed an inconspicuous path, which took us through dry abandoned fields, deserted buildings and boarders between the properties made of stones. There were no people around, jut some goats, a lonely shepherd on a bike and a woman with her son that immediately covered her head by scarf when she saw us.
After a while we arrived to a very little village, with just few houses, where everyone stared at us.
We kept on following a narrow path and arrived to a bigger road, where we met some children that just finished their Saturday lessons in a school. When the children noticed us, the boys started to pose for pictures and shy girls run quickly away, smiling to us from time to time.
Then we discovered a well with a very tasty water, with a handmade leather bucket. When we already left the place, a man arrived there with his camels. So we turned back to take some photos of them. The man asked if we are going to a wild beach and then proposed that he could take us on his camels towards the beach. Soon we were sitting on top of an unruly camel, with a string attached to another camel where the owner was sitting. The trip was quite mundane, because the animals kept on nibbling plants along the path. The owner's comments didn't help and the trip became more tiring when many stones and little hills appeared on the way. After about 30 minutes the camels needed some rest, so we all sat down in a shade of a tree and the camels could finally eat peacefully. The man made a fire and prepared Moroccan tea for us in a little metal teapot. He revealed to us also some secrets from the animal's life: they live about 20 years and can lift up to 400 kilos, the females are much more expensive than males worth about 1000 Euro. After some rest we said goodbye to the nice man and his camels and kept on walking toward a wild beach in big heat.

The beach was also totally empty and because of the low tide many tiny animals were lying on the ground. We tried to put them back to the water, but one of them, huge jelly fish, was already dead.
The empty idyll finished when some tourists on quads and then special tents for the nearby golf field appeared by the coast. It was still peaceful though, with no typical tourist or commercial sites. However, we decided to come back home, walking through unknown path hidden between the trees behind the beach. We arrived to an asphalt road, where a colourful cafe, in which Jimi Hindrix used to spend a lot of time is situated. Walking along a hot and empty road, we approached to a modern and new hotel resort with many sport facilities. A paradise for rich tourist in the middle of nowhere. We tired to hitchhike back home, as we noticed we are to far away to walk, but none of the modern cars wanted to stop for us. Finally, a Moroccan couple saved us from the dehydration and heat and gave us a ride to Essaouira el Jadida, where our musicians and hot meal was already waiting for us.

02.07.11 Metamorphosis, five dresses and tones of cookies

or our 8 hours at a Moroccan-Pakistani wedding...

Moroccan weddings can last up to 2 or 3 days and tend to be very pompous. Luckily, the wedding of Yassine's cousin was only 8 hours long, which was a very loooong time indeed.

First preparations
As I mentioned before, Moroccan women want to look very attractive at any wedding and use this opportunity to show off their beauty and wealth. So, it is recommended to wear gold jewellery, visit a hairdresser and put on a lot of make-up. I had to take part in this makeover, too. First a hairdresser in the centre of Marrakesh took care of my hair and made me up. Then, at home, I had to wear a Moroccan outfit: pink trousers, long blue dress, long colourful dress, golden belt, golden shoes (and another, blue pair of shoes to wear them later, as I can't really walk on high-heels) and a black light cover that has to be taken off after entering to the wedding room. I felt quite weird in my new outfit, as I don't like gold and make-up, neither do I trust hairdressers and never wear high-heels... But after some time I got used to my new image and found it quite comfortable, especially while taking pictures (as I was one of the wedding photographers there).
All Moroccan wedding dresses are similar: long and colourful. When you walk, you have to take the dress in your hands to prevent stumbling over it.

The wedding
The wedding started theoretically at 8 p.m., but when we came after 10 p.m. we were one of the first guests. Every time when someone walks into the wedding room, live music is played by a group of traditional musicians. Near the entrance there's a table, where welcome milk and snacks are served and you can also leave some money for the couple.About 11 p.m. the room gets crowded, as a group of Pakistani comes by bus. They all came here few days before from the UK, together with the Pakistani groom. And all of them wear beautiful traditional Pakistani clothes.

The band in the middle of the room plays traditional Moroccan music and there's a special table for the couple and their family. In the other end of the room there's a huge green (later it becomes white) throne for the couple, where they spend most of the time, to be admired and taken photos with.

First, a bride walks in, wearing a green dress, covered with a green vale. A group of shouting women leads her to the throne, then they make her sit down and paint her hands and feet with henna. When henna painting is ready, the groom dressed in a traditional Pakistani outfit comes on a white horse. He approaches his wife and takes off the vale. Now, it's the time for the photographers and all the guests to enjoy the view of the beautiful young couple. And everything is filmed and shown directly on 3 big screens, so if you miss some details seating in the other end of the room, you can still catch it up on the TV.

The bride is then carried on a special „tray” by four strong men that lift her up and walk around the room to the rhythm of the music. Later, the similar scenario is repeated – the bride changes her dress five or four times, wearing richly decorated clothes and crones, the couple is carried around the room on special „trays” or sitting on the throne.

Food arrives about 2 p.m. and it's meat only. Nicely dressed waiters (men only) bring silver plates to every round table (there's about 20 of them) and put them on the middle.
Everyone eats from one plate, there's also one little plate for bread in front of every person. I'm waiting for some vegetarian meal, but there's just big bowl of fruit and sweets, which is actually fine for me.

Many music groups enter the room from time to time and play traditional Moroccan or Berber music. The only performing woman is a singer, who collects money after her show. The only dancers are Moroccan women too, Moroccan men and Pakistani group are mainly sitting at the tables and watching the women. When for a short time Pakistani music is played from a CD, only Pakistani men are dancing, making all the guest smile. The couple does not dance, and does not mix with the guest. They are there to be admired, carried around the room and eat.

The end
The show ends when the couple leaves the room dressed in white clothes. Pakistani guests come back to their hotels, some Moroccan guests stay for the last meal, a hot soup. We decide to come back home to get some rest after 8 intensive hours of colourful and joyful show.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

01.07.11. Fish, idyll and crazy cars

or how we are spending few days in a secret village...

The time in singing Essaouira passed by very quickly. We were delaying the day of our departure, but finally it had to come and we left the winding, white streets, where groups of young people used to play instruments, sing and dance. It was high time to leave the city full of nice hippies and rastas, where package tourists where just a minority.
One of our Moroccan friends living with us in Essaouira left to Marrakesh and the rest (8 Moroccans and me) left to a secret fishing village that is not mentioned in any guidebook. I won't reveal the name of the village to keep it secret and untouched by mass tourism. The village, let's call it MS, is situated by the ocean and any newcomer always attracts everyone's attention. The place is known only by few people, mainly by Moroccans, surfers and those who know how to listen carefully. Because you can discover the village only when you listen to the stories of those who visited it.

The way from Essaouira to MS leads through winding road around the mountains, along the argan fields (the plant grows only in Morocco, in this area, and argan oil is a magic cosmetic and a healthy spice), above a cannion and deep water. You can reach MS only by car or a big taxi from Essaouira.

MS is a fish kingdom. The local bars sell fish and seafood and the main source of income is fishery. The small harbour is a home of hundreds of blue boats that set off for fishing every evening. Someone is always working here, sorting out fish or preparing small fish as a bait for huge species. Next to the harbour there's a special fish market, where a lot of men come twice per week to buy the best species on auction. Some little shops, cafes and bars, internet cafe with old computers and small surfing resort – that's the centre of the village. People here are very nice, although the sellers always demand higher prices when they meet newcomers, even if they are from Morocco. The village highlight is also an empty sandy beach and... small electrical cars. A kind of fun fair attraction, merged into the village landscape. In the evening the area with the cars becomes the main attraction and the only illuminated place in the village (at night the streets are totally dark and all lanterns are switched off). The locals (mainly kids and men) keep on watching the little electrical cars for hours. Those who can afford it (5 dhm for 10 minutes) join the car madness and soon become addicted to it. From late afternoon to late night hours the car platform produces loud strange music and slightly destroys the peace in the village.

Somehow we also became a part of this madness. That's what happens if you travel with 8 young crazy Moroccans that can even convince the owner of the cars to open the attractions for us only in the middle of the night and switch on the highest speed...

In the village we could also watch how a tradition Berber bread is prepared. Walking along the village streets late in the evening (about 11 p.m. everyone notices that it is high time to cook and eat something, so the big hunt for food begins), we discovered a dark little street lighten by low light. It turned out that the light comes from a Berber oven, outside a house full of women preparing round pieces of bread. One of the women was sitting in front of the oven, baking bread in a very short time. My Moroccan friends started to sing and play guitar for the women, making them come out of the house and laugh. We bought 10 pieces of bread for our late supper and left to cook a hot meal.

The few days we spend in the village were enough for the locals to recognize us anywhere we went – whether we were driving crazy cars, or playing and singing, or photographing the village with huge lens or just talking to fishermen. We decided to visit the village every year and spend there definitely more time. Unfortunately, our group soon had to split – 2 guys were coming back to Marrakesh for their flight back to France and Germany, another one was coming back to his work in Marrkesh, Yassine and me had to attend a wedding next day in Marrakesh and the rest just stayed there to enjoy the peaceful paradise.

So now we're in hot Marrakesh again (on the way back we went to Agadir also, but just to see that there's nothing to see, just an annoying tourist resort, invaded by commercialism) and we are preparing to attend a Moroccan wedding. It's always very long and pompous. Before a wedding all the women are recommended to go to a hairdresser, even if they don't really need it. I was also sent to a hairdresser, even though I kept on repeating there's nothing you can do with my hair. Anyway, the tradition has to be respected, so soon we are leaving for a big makeover.

Monday, July 4, 2011

25.06.11. Colourful festival and salty wind

or how I'm discovering attractions of Essaouira...

As I mentioned before, the weather here is different, more bearable then in Marrakesh, thanks to the cool wind with salty taste. The architecture is also characteristic – white walls and blue windows everywhere. Among Moroccans, also some Jews and Senegalese live here. The latter are particularly visible in the centre, where they are selling colourful African clothes.

Old houses, narrow dark streets, cafes and never-ending rows of shops with Moroccan souvenirs – this is the old town. As you are approaching the harbour, the wind is getting stronger, flock of seagulls are hovering just above the ground, working fishermen and blue boats. This week the city has something more to offer – the Festival of Gnawa Music, originating from southern Morocco and northern Mauritania. Most of the festival audience comes from Morocco, but there are many tourists from around the world, too. The performing artists always wear colourful clothes, play exotic instruments, dance and wave with the national flag. And all spectators are moving with the rhythm of the music.
The festival lasts 4 days with concerts from 8 p.m. to 12 p.m. But during the day the centre is crowded as well: with tourists hanging around in cosy cafes, vendors trying to sell pieces of jewellery or clothes and groups of young people sitting on the ground and playing gnawa or traditional Moroccan music.

Music accompanies us also back at home in Essauira el Jadida. Yassine hosts his 5 Moroccan friends (soon more are expected) who brilliantly play guitars and sing some reggae and rock songs every day. One of them recorded his CD and is about to promote it soon. Artists surround us anywhere we go...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

23.06.2011 Marrakesh by night and burnt corn

or how we are discovering the dark charm of the city...

In the evening Marrakesh becomes a crowded, loud and colourful mix of tastes, sounds and images. The main square is full of small bars, snake whisperers, monkey trainers, women designing beautiful henna patterns and many vendors trying to sell anything to the crowds of tourists and locals. The best view on the night life offer cafe terraces (e.g. Cafe France), where the atmosphere is much peaceful and wonderful sunsets paint the city in orange to let it plunge in the darkness again. The city reveals its second face.

Outside the center and tourist attractions life looks quite different. The locals go out of their houses and spent time along the streets, where many benches are placed. Some vendors try to sell their snacks from wooden trolleys and this time their main customers are the locals. We bought some corn cobs from one of them and I could watch how it is prepared. The man put the cobs directly on the coal and was waving with a piece of cardboard just above it. When he decided that the corn is ready, he put it to the plastic bottle with salty water and placed it on corn leaves. Voila! Ready. The cobs where always at least half-burnt, but it doesn't really matter. It's not burnt it's just a dark colour – told me a local Moroccan man. But the dark colour was not tasty at all. At least the half was quite edible.

We left Marrakesh in the morning and came to Essauira. The climate here is different here, with lower temperatures and cool wind from the ocean. Gnawa music festival starts today and we are going to the center to see the concerts as soon as the lazy siesta is over. We are staying here in another house of Yassine's parents, which is actually in Essauira El Jadida, about 10 minutes by taxi form the old town of Essaouira.