Thursday, 29 November 2007

Everyone but Alayna made it up to see the sun rise over the dunes. Clouds began to grow in the sky, and we took the time to watch them stretch up and out. I never knew clouds could grow that fast! After a simple breakfast we were off again in the 4x4 to meet up again with Mustafa in Erfoud. On the way into town we noticed a large group of people crowding a sidewalk and spilling into the street. It was a sheep market, and as we drove by we ogled the men who were checking out the sheep and bidding for them. A few had already made their purchases, their new merchandise loaded into small carts. I’ve never seen a sheep market before, it was pretty cool. I was tempted to ask Mustafa to pull over so we could have a closer look, but thought better of it. We’d probably be shipping home a sheep!

Once we met Mustafa we settled into the van for another long travel day. We were headed for Ouarzazate, but on the way we’d pass through a big gorge and some cool towns. Mustafa pointed out some ruined kasbahs, and for lunch he dropped us off in a gorge that we walked through to the restaurant, not far away. There were men climbing the face of the huge cliffs, they looked so precarious way up high. A man with a donkey really wanted us to take a ride to the restaurant, and when we refused he suggested a picture. We declined, and made a vow to start carrying some smaller change for times like these. It’s not that we mind giving them a little, but when all we had were 100 dirham notes, we just couldn’t.

My dog bite has turned into four rather large bruises. Clay checks them daily and shares with me the statistics of rabies survival. Only one person has ever survived who shows the symptoms of rabies, and the way she did it was by being put in a coma for over two months until her brain stopped swelling.

We stopped to see some really deep holes that had been dug by ancient people to send water far away from an oasis, each hole was dug successively deeper, drawing the water farther and farther away. We saw a huge lake where expensive homes were built, including one for Prince Charles. We saw some beautiful views, herds of camels, sheep, or goats being prodded along, and ruined kasbahs right next to modern homes. We saw tons of children, women washing their rugs, and miles of empty, barren landscapes between the mountain ranges.

We were all a little dazed and tired after the four and a half hour drive to the hotel. I can’t remember why I wanted to stay in Ouarzazate for two nights, there was some compelling reason that I can’t seem to recall. We have a Moroccan Rough Guide book and the only sight that looks very interesting is a film studio just outside town. This city is known for being used by film companies, and many movies have been shot here. Our hotel is full of old props from movies, and though we haven’t seen any of the films it’s kind of fun to think the giant throne and monkey cage were actually in a movie. Our brush with greatness! The town is also a nice stopping place on the way to Marrakesh, our next destination.

We had Mustafa show us where a local Laundromat is, then bid him farewell for a day. We’ll be on our own tomorrow, and plan to visit the film studio on the way out of town the next day. For dinner we wimped out and ordered room service instead of heading into town to find a place to eat. It was nice to gather around the coffee table and eat, instead of in a restaurant where some manners have to be observed. After the kids were in bed I sat on the couch to type up some journal entries (we have two great rooms, each has its own little sitting area) and Clay flipped on a movie. We discovered this great channel while in Southern Spain, that shows movies in English with Arabic sub-titles.

It was a dumb movie, but it felt good to veg out a bit. We didn’t read guide books or plan what we would do the next day. We just let the brains shut down for a while. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:34) It’s one of my favorites, I wish I could apply it more often.


Friday, 30 November 2007

Today was a very disappointing day if you want to read about high adventure. We took the clothes to the Laundromat. It’s one of those places where you drop it off and it’s ready that afternoon, so we’d been told. When we brought it in the man counted every single piece and made an itemized list, which made me a little worried. This could be expensive! My cheeks burned as he picked up each pair of underwear and counted it (the women outside were covered in cloth from top to toe, and I just handed this man my underwear!). They told us it wouldn’t be ready until tomorrow afternoon, but we leave tomorrow morning. I hated to leave after counting all that stuff, it was like another haggling session, and we finally got him down until 9 tomorrow morning. We’ll see if it really happens! The price wasn’t too bad, and it meant we didn’t have to wash all that stuff in the sink.

We decided to go explore the town a little, but it really wasn’t terribly interesting. The main road was lined with several shops, but we never wanted to get too close for fear of being dragged in. Two men stopped us, one asking if we wanted to “trade” anything, another gave us his card and told us he’d have tea for us when we came back. A restaurant owner shouted “Bonjour” and opened his arms in a welcoming gesture, but we weren’t really hungry and just greeted him and kept walking. We avoided a narrow street where the shops spilled into each other, figuring it would take forever to get through there.

We stopped at a supermarket and grabbed some lunch before heading back to the hotel. Clay remarked that we may be the only people who walked out of the Berber Palace (the fancy hotel we’re staying in) with two bags full of laundry, and walked back in carrying groceries to make our own lunch. We snacked around and the kids tried out the pool. We told them it was too cold, but they didn’t believe us until they had on their suits and tried it for themselves. It was, indeed, too cold! We borrowed some tennis rackets from the hotel and the kids and Clay played around while I typed up this journal.

Part of me is embarrassed that we spent this day in Morocco doing such typically American things, but then I know this is what the family needed today. Some down time. At one point, when we were all a little too on top of each other for comfort, I threw the kids out, telling them to go make some paper airplanes and throw them in a square just down the sidewalk from our room. Our hotel is actually a series of little buildings connected by winding paths. Clay and I went out later to check on them, and Nate met us on the sidewalk.

“Mom, have you seen Benji?” Apparently, he had left Alayna and Nate without telling them and they looked up and he was gone. Ack! Panic immediately set in and I sent Clay one way as I went the other. Clay came up just minute later holding Benji’s hand. He said he had been calling Benji’s name and Benji just walked out from a building, he had been knocking on someone else’s door thinking it was our door. He said he couldn’t figure out why we weren’t opening the door! He also informed us that he had gone upstairs and used the bathroom, thinking it was his room. He said the door was open so he went right on in.

So, Benji peed in a stranger’s toilet. We all got a hoot out of that! This day was not so exciting, but we continue to make memories that we will pull out and dust off for years to come.


Saturday, 1 December 2007

It’s hard to believe I just typed December for the date! We got up this morning and had our bags ready for the next leg of our trip, to Marrakesh. On the way out of town, we stopped at a nearby kasbah. Kasbahs can either be fortified houses, or fortified cities. This one was a fortified house, a palace actually, and we hired a local guide who took us around to explore the various rooms and skinny passageways. The doors leading to the main reception room were intentionally built short, so you had to duck your head to get through them. The governor who lived there liked to be bowed to and he wanted his guests to be used to bowing before they entered the reception room.

There were many rooms meant for the women in the harem, the windows had intricate metalwork scrolling across them, so the women could look out but nobody could see them. I can’t imagine what that would have been like, it is so foreign to me. To never leave your house, to share your husband with many other women. For that to be accepted as normal. It’s a little sticky to try and explain what a harem is to the boys. Of course they don’t ask for more details on what a dynasty is, or the style of architecture. But when they hear the word “harem” it’s as if they know this is something mom and dad are bothered by, so they want to know all about it. “It’s kind of like if daddy has a wife but he also has a bunch of girlfriends who also live with him. It’s really bad. They don’t do that here anymore.”

The guide led us up a dark staircase to the roof of this huge palace, and we got a great view of a stork nest, the guide said it was twenty-four years old. It was huge, really tall, because the storks return each year from Europe during the winter and add some more to their home. We also had a great view of the city of Ouarzazate, distant mountains and dry, dusty plains.

After touring the kasbah, we were ready to head out. We drove past a film studio, with huge Egyptian statues outside of it and remnants of other movie sets within their walls. Our next stop would be another kasbah, this time a fortified city with only a few families still living within its walls. It’s been declared a UNESCO site, and has been used to film many movies, including Gladiator. When we got near, we stopped at a lookout point to get a picture from a distance.

As we clambered out of the car with the camera, a man approached in shiny blue robes, his tiny shop displayed plates and jewelry and all the sorts of things we’ve seen as we’ve traveled throughout Morocco. We weren’t really interested in anything, but it was hard to ignore the snake. Benji noticed it first, “Mom, that’s a snake, isn’t it?” Yes, it was a snake wrapped around the man’s neck. Of course had to see this a little closer up, and soon they each had a picture with the man in the shiny blue jellaba with a snake wrapped around their neck. Not your usual roadside stop!

We carried on to the kasbah, which was built up the side of a hill. It’s amazing to think people still live here. There were a few art galleries (the first time we’ve seen paintings being sold since in the country, since Islam forbids drawing or painting people or animals), more stores selling pots and rugs and jellabas, and a few tourists wandering around. We climbed all the way to the top, where there was a fort built for both protection and storage of wheat and other food. It is in ruins now, and the kids had fun jumping over the crumbling walls. The view was magnificent, of mountains and the city, a distant herd of goats, and plots of land turned up for farming.

Nate found a rock and thought it might have a fossil in it, so he gave it to Benji, the fossil expert. Benji verified it was indeed a fossil, a fossil of a sea creature, and started asking how much he thought he could sell it for. Some of that Moroccan business is already rubbing off on him! There are many people selling fossils in Morocco, trilobites and other pre-historic sea creatures seem to be easy to find, so I told Benji he might wait and sell it in a place that doesn’t have as many fossils. He might be able to get more money for it that way. Benji also found a sharp rock which he decided was either a megalodon tooth (a pre-historic shark), or an arrowhead. Maybe we’ll bring that one home for GG and Gramps, they’ve collected hundreds of arrowheads in West Texas and could verify it for us.

After this kasbah we got back in the car for the twisty, windy drive through the High Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh. These mountains are known for their really amazing colors. They can be red from the iron, green from the copper, and also white and orange and the colors in between. Mustafa is not a timid driver, we whipped around hairpin turns and passed trucks and motorcycles like crazy. The road dropped off on one side, and I gripped the side of the seat with white knuckles.

We passed so many interesting things on our drive. A herd of girls herding a herd of goats. Trucks packed precariously high with goods, one time it was packed two stories tall with cattle. The second level had about ten to twelve cows riding on top of the lower level, with just a low fence to keep them from falling off. I’m sure they must have been terrified, riding so high at such speeds, I know I would have been! People laid their clothes to dry on rock walls or hillsides, and from a distance they looked like little paper doll clothes.

Mustafa lives in Marrakesh so he stopped in a little mountain village to buy some fresh goat meat for his family, and we watched the activity all around us from the car as we waited for him to return. A truck was loaded with goats and goods and men, five sat up front in the cab, and many more clung to the sides or rode on top. Men laughed together as they loaded their donkeys, someone herded their goats across the hillside nearby, everywhere was noise and activity. It was what real life was like for these people, so different from ours back home.

After a really late lunch stop (3:30) at a questionable place, Clay began feeling a little crummy, and moved up front to sit by Mustafa and breathe some fresh air from the open window. He hung in there, and we finally arrived at our riad, after about a four and a half hour drive. A riad is a home within the walled medina, generally a square shape surrounding a courtyard. Many have been changed into hotels, ours is actually four riads that have been joined together. Mustafa stopped the car in the middle of a busy road in the medina, where motorcycles, bicycles, taxis, and people passed by in a loud, bright, crazy mess of humanity. Stores on both sides, I didn’t see anything that looked like a hotel.

He led us across the narrow street, and down a quiet alley, to a pair of huge wooden doors covered in intricately carved gold. Our riad is a beautiful place. I imagine it’s what it must have been like to live in a palace within the city medina, there are no windows to see outside, but inside there are lush courtyards and the sound of trickling water. Comfortable couches, chairs and cushions line the halls, just inviting you to stop and sit a while. It’s amazing the difference between the busy street outside, and the peaceful, dark, cool rooms inside.

Our rooms have Moroccan lamps with colored glass that cast pretty patterns on the wall, mosaics and carved plasterwork abound, and the cokes and water in the mini-bar are free! There were rose petals scattered all over the floor and countertops, and even floating in the potty! Benji informed me that he was going to use the petals for boats in the bathtub.

The kids are in a room across the courtyard from Clay and me, and they immediately claimed their spots. Alayna cuddled up in a little cushion-encrusted niche that faces the courtyard with her sketchbook and pencils. The boys curled up on the floor with their legos. Clay figured out how to use the internet, and I unpacked a few things, reveling in the clean laundry we had picked up that morning.

After reading a book that night, we tucked the kids in and had them lock their door. Each room has windows and two glass French doors that look into the courtyard, and then heavy wooden doors that shut over these windows for privacy at night. As we whispered goodnight, the kids slid their large golden lock shut on their big wooden door, and climbed into their well-tucked bed. The way they tuck the covers brings a new meaning to the words, “sleep tight”. Clay and I turned in early as well, looking forward to exploring the city in the morning.