This holiday is starting to surprise me a bit. In Peru and a few previous holidays that involved touring around a country, you had to accept a certain inconvenience. The infamous early start...
To fit something like the amount of places you’d want to see into a one or two week holiday necessitates an ingrown acceptance that you’ll be travelling a lot and that the only way to get somewhere early enough to see anything is to head off at an ungodly hour.
Peru was wonderful but it was physically demanding and involved a lot of early starts. I mean can something be called a holiday if you're getting up earlier than you would be if you were at home?
Morocco is a massively pleasant contrast to this. Each day we are in a new place but each day we pretty much get to wake up in our own good time.
Take today as an example. It’s a beautiful day. The sun shines in a blue sky. We go up to the terrace of the restaurant next door and are served croissants, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee whilst we have a view that could literally take your breath away. We can see the snow-capped Atlas mountains in the distance whilst in the foreground is the impressive looking and picturesque hill all over which the clay kasbahs of Ait Benhaddou are built.
After breakfast we have a bit of spare time, so head off to conquer the kasbahs and climb to the top of the hill to take a few pictures. It looks a long way up and could be an arduous climb. My fleece is off in no time as the sun starts to take it toll. But then we find ourselves in the cooler narrow streets between the crumbling clay buildings, zigzagging our way up the hill. It turns out not to be as hard as it looked at all and we are up to the top in less than twenty minutes.
Once again it’s an amazing view. I fiddle around switching from wide for the landscapes to my telephoto lens to take a picture of some storks nesting at the top of one of the ruined towers.
Did I mention? It’s a wonderful morning!
We stroll back down in plenty of time to grab our bags and get back on the bus to head off to the Kasbah of Telouet. It’s a half renovated, half crumbling to bits mini labyrinth of rooms. To be honest, I’m a bit under whelmed. The only bits we get to walk around are the renovated parts which don’t really have that much history. Perhaps I should have read the Lonely Planet to get a bit more of a background so that I could truly appreciate the kasbah’s past but I find myself just enjoying the holiday and not really getting much beyond skimming through my guide book during the week at all.
We have a little rest in a café by the Kasbah where a boy tries to persuade me to buy everything in his shop in return for him trying to scare some local storks that I am patiently waiting to photo.
The café also has the largest radio that I have ever seen (the size of a desk) and seems to be tuned in to a station playing old eighties hits which is a bit surreal.
A short bus trip after this rest has us being told to leave our bags behind to be carried by donkeys whilst we take a one hour stroll away from the main road into the foothills to find our accommodation for the night. A gite! A gite, we’re told is a series of rooms in which you both eat and sleep arranged around a courtyard. Unfortunately it also happens to be an alcohol-free zone. No!!!!!
Everyone had visions of the group climbing a winding trail with mules coming up the rear carrying all of our day packs. In reality it turned out that the mules had long since been retired and a mule of the petrol driven variety was used instead.
The walk into the foothills was pleasant and very picturesque. Our only moment of hesitation came when we had to cross a stream by jumping from stone to stone. Thinking back it was all a bit silly as it was more about keeping our shoes dry than anything else. It's not as if we were in a rush anyway and we could have easily taken our shoes off and walked through the stream barefoot.
We passed a few small villages on the way. We hear the local children uttering their now familiar cries of either "stylo" or "bonbon" towards us rich westerners and then hiding away if we tried to take any pictures of them without the obligatory gratuity.
After about an hour we made it to the gite. It's a two floor concrete construct with a series of rooms that can accommodate a number of groups at any one time. A group of French travellers is milling about when we arrive and there is already another Exodus group there too. A few of us spot a stash of chocolate goodies and a fridge with water and various fizzy drinks in the main entrance. Apparently you can take as what you like, write your name on a piece of paper with what you took and pay for it before you leave.
We're shown upstairs to the simple, unadorned rooms. They all connect off from a central corridor and some are large enough to for six to eight people whilst others just three. I'm the first up the stairs and claim one of the three person rooms. A long communal sink lines one of the ends of the corridor and Paul finds the hot shower, with a French girl still inside using it (!) along with the toilets, one of which is an "Asian" style (yahoo!) just around the corner from our room.
It's pretty chilly due to the thick walls and it looks like our sleeping bags will definitely be needed here. I just about remember to pull out my sleeping bag outside of the room and give it a good shake to discover a small pile of sand still hiding within. Unfortunately it also still smells a bit of camel! It’s with great relief that I realise that tonight is the last night that I'll need to be using it!
We all head out to the balcony on our floor overlooking the entrance and watch the sun set over the mountains. Life feels just great when you have a view like this!
After sunset the temperature noticeably drops and I start wishing that I'd packed my ever trusty woolly hat! We head down to dinner wondering what delights are in store for us. The dining room is pretty cold so Mohammed and I hunt around and find some blankets upstairs which we bring down for everyone to huddle under. Paul’s is a lovely pink one!
We’re all slightly surprised when Mohammed presents dinner to us. Spag Bol, Moroccan style! It’s actually rather tasty and though I do like Moroccan food, it’s still a nice change for the day.
After dinner the local guides attempt to liven up proceedings by merging the two tour groups together and entertaining us with song and dance. The songs sound just like the ones we heard in the desert mainly because we have no idea what they are singing about, though, sadly, no songs about Bob Marley this time.
I start to get itchy feet after Mohammed tries to get me to get up in front of everyone and dance or sing or play the drums. Okay, so I had no idea what he wanted but after seeing how badly one of the guys in the other group had danced (something that reminded me of Trevor & Simon’s “swing your pants” technique mixed in with inappropriate and uncoordinated hip thrusts.)
I start to realise why the UK has a “drink problem”, if this is what goes for entertainment when there is no alcohol available! Perhaps we can’t let our hair down without having something messing about with our internal chemistry. All I know is that we could really have done with some here tonight!
So some of us less brave souls scarper back to our rooms (rather abruptly) and I retrieve my Playstation Portable from the bottom of my rucksack and stick some 80’s music on for the escapees to listen to and we all have a good chat. A few of us make use of the shower whilst the shower is free.
I realise, with great dismay that I’ve forgotten to bring a towel and have only a flannel. I don’t relish running out of the shower with just a flannel covering my modesty. Besides it wouldn’t have been big enough! ;-) My shower will have to wait until we get back to civilisation tomorrow.
It turns out that whilst we get ready for bed, some of those that stayed behind are getting high downstairs! So weirdly, no booze but other substances are fine?! Oh well!