08
Nov 12

Ouzoud

I was alone in Morocco, once again. Charlotte had gone back to Rabat, and I had three more days until my flight to Madrid. I read all the pamphlets and the tatty pages of a 2006 Le guide du routard, and the next morning at the crack of dawn I stowed my anxieties and backpack away in the hostel locker room and set off for fresh water with a day bag and a new dose of courage.

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I negotiated my way into one cramped taxicab after another – three transfers in small villages, plenty of hassling and jostling, incredible scenery, and by mid afternoon I had arrived in a place called les Cascades D’Ouzoud (the Ouzoud Waterfalls).

Les Cascades d'Ouzoud

I hiked myself down the side of the mighty falls, ducking from olive tree to olive tree away from the blaring sun. There were several places to camp along the way, and I wandered from each campground sussing out what felt right. After awhile I found myself under an apple tree, and then a fig tree, and then in a whole small field of mint plants and tomatoes.

There was a hut which I soon realized was the kitchen of a campground/cafe run by a young Moroccan fellow named Anwhal. It was situated in a beautiful spot just two levels down from the main falls and had its very own fresh water pool. He was a friendly man in his twenties who busied himself about the space, picking up others while serving tea. I took a breath and booked myself a single tent.

Mint was absolutely everywhere…

And Anwhal was constantly brewing pots of the sugary sweet dark tea.

And mugs of the sweet liquid seemed to appear before me as if by magic.

As the afternoon continued on, the fresh water pool was frequented by groups of European high school students who had come by the carload on a day trip. Aside from pleasantries in my simple French, I kept to myself – settling on a rock under a fig tree with my nose stuck in a tattered Michael Ondaatje novel. I stopping occasionally to pop into the water to cool off, content to dry off in the sun.

And just as my stomach began to grumble, I smelled something wafting out of the kitchen hut.

Little did I know it would be the best meal I’d have in Morocco – made in a hut by a waterfall in the middle of Morocco.

It was simple as simple goes – cooked on a two-burner camping stove, prepared with a handful of ingredients and just a few spices.

The base of it was hunks of boneless lamb, smothered in tumeric, ginger, black pepper, salt and cayenne…

It stewed in the tagine with tomato, onion, and parsley.

Later on, there was an additional of raisins, strips of potato and bean pods that looked a bit like fava.

It simmered for a couple of hours, and we all ate together, three guests, and a cousin too.

At dusk, I bid everyone thank you and goodnight and climbed into my tent, zipping it tightly behind me. I curled up into the layers of quilts and settled into sleep, my passport clutched against my chest. I fell asleep to the roar of the waterfall that I knew would never quiet, silently proud of myself for having said yes when saying no would have been far easier.


03
Nov 12

Morocco’s Atlas Mountains

I met my travel companion Charlotte on a bus traveling from Marrakesh to Essaouira. We spent just two days at the Gnaoua Music Festival before she asked if I wanted to rent a car with her and drive down the coast to Agadir, across through the Atlas Mountains and back to Marrakesh. I said yes without hesitation. I hadn’t even learned her last name, but we’d spent enough time together for me to know that we’d get along. She was from France, spending a semester in the capital city of Rabat in urban planning. I knew how to drive standard, and French was her native tongue. I knew we’d be a good fit.

Until then it had been a challenging adventure for me with some highly stressful situations, for no matter how invisible I tried to be or how covered from head to toe I remained, being a young lady traveling in Morocco without a male companion brought me a kind of uncomfortable attention I had never experienced, the kind that made me constantly on high alert and uneasy. I’d never been in an environment like that, one that was constant, that I couldn’t avoid, that I’d never considered until then. What did you expect? A little voice inside of my head scoffed, shaming me for being so naïve, so romantically optimistic about this trip.

Saying yes to Charlotte led me to a truly remarkable experience. It brought me so much joy to be with a female companion, for I desperately longed for the constant presence of my girlfriends back home. We chit chatted about love and loss and she looked at me knowingly when I described the stresses of my journey. And it was so liberating to be out on the open road – my headscarf hung carelessly off the nape of my neck and my long skirt hiked up around my thighs – I felt in control as I kicked into fifth gear along the open road.

We passed big towns and small towns and high walls along the roaring ocean, and the Atlas Mountain peaks forever loomed ahead of us.

We passed hundreds of argan trees and dozens of goats resting in their shade.

When we entered the mountain-scape I realized very quickly why buses didn’t travel these roads – the path was narrow and the cliff walls were steep as we climbed up and up and up for hours.

It was a knuckle-whitening drive – I swished around corners at what felt like maddening speeds and still we were honked at by locals who encountered the little van, driving double our speed. They passed us in a hurry on the momentary stretches of straight road before disappearing around the corner again.

Up and down, and up and down. I kept thinking we’d reached the top only to find myself pushing back into second gear for another climb.

And when we got there – got to the true top of the Atlas Mountains, there was no mistaking it. The sun was setting at that very moment, as if it had been patiently waiting for me to arrive.

We got out of the car and sat for a tea, realizing quickly that soon we’d be winding down to the bottom in the dark.

Everything that had gone wrong before that moment seemed to melt away. I felt as if the universe was finally giving me some small reward – whispering to the same romantic self that had brought me all this way:

You are here, and this is where you’re meant to be.


27
Oct 12

Postcards in Essaouira

In Morocco a café au lait is affectionately called a “nouss-nouss”, meaning half/half in Arabic. I ordered them everywhere I went. There was something fun and familiar about being on the inside, using the slang I’d picked up from new friends.


08
Sep 12

Brilliant Hues in Marrakesh

Where do colours on clothing come from?

Bright orange from saffron, brilliant blue from indigo, deep red from pomegranate and green from mint, that is where natural dyes come from…

My travel companion Charlotte and I spent hours wandering through the covered souks of Marrakesh off the main square La Place Jamaâ El Fna.  It was a colourful place, full of sounds and smells I’d never experienced before. One of our stops was in the “Dyers District”, which brought us to a dim concrete room with a roaring hot fire where sheaves of wool were dyed. That day, huge red pieces of cloth hung dripping in the hot afternoon sun after their bath. A multitude of colourful piles and pulls of string sat all over the place – on the roof, hanging on rods, draped over chairs, seemingly organized in a chaotic fashion. A craftsman jumped on the opportunity to tell us about his process, the different natural spices and sorts that create the colours and how the tints were boiled to prepare the wool for treatment.

I remember it was a beautiful place. I remember the hot afternoon sun.

And I remember the man’s hands, they were cracked all over and stained red.


03
Sep 12

Blue in Essaouira

Essaouira is a city on the west banks of Morocco by the Atlantic coast. I head there on my fourth day in Morocco, off to catch the last day of the Gnaoua Festival of World Music. The Berber name for the city means the “wall” – referencing the fortress that encloses the main area of the city, called the medina.

Whereas everything in Marrakesh was a dull terracotta-coloured hue, Essaouira is blue. And while the city is rough around the edges, the brightness that reflects its place by the ocean is startlingly friendly and cool compared to the sandy, windy, desperate heat I encountered in Marrakesh. I instantly feel calmer here as I always do by water.

The design and architecture of Essaouira has a distinct European feel to it – largely due to the fact that it was beautifully designed in the 18th century by a French architect. Standing in the centre of the streets my eye is drawn to the details – intricate stone etchings around doorways and beautifully coloured tiles. Nut trees line the streets and everywhere it smells of the salty ocean.

The medina is made up of a labyrinthine of narrow streets and alleyways. Colorful textiles, pottery, spice and mint tea shops line the way. I am jostled and hassled at every turn and step – Would I like to try? Would I like to buy? Come try! Just look. Just look. Japanese? My Canadian disposition has turned from apologetic and kind to distinctly snappy French.

I duck into a tea shop for a glass of dark minty liquid. I chit chat with the tea pourer, who asks me a string of curious questions I am now used to responding to.

Non, pas Japanoise.

Je suis Canadienne et Chinoise.

These are the questions I get most – Where are you from? Are you Japanese? I always seem to get surprising looks when I respond in rather polished French. I politely refuse another tea and leave my dihrams on the glass table.

There is a vibrancy to this city that is appealing – it was made for tourists and the 400,000 visitors who descend on the place during this annual festival. Somehow Marrakesh was more… real… grittier, I suppose. Essaouira is meant to attract westerners and hold their attention. I watch as a family of Australians in short shorts and sunhats cruise through the crowds, their dollar bills held out to buy the next colourful item. Vendors hoot and hollar for their attention left and right.

I feel more invisible here – I’m getting better at diverting curious glances as I disappear into the crowds, my scarf wrapped loosely around my head. The loud music from the main stage covers the uncomfortable silences.

Why am I here?

I keep asking myself this question, searching for my purpose, my intention, my mantra, all while trying to live in the moment. I wonder to myself what the challenges are with tourism like this – about the problematic nature of wanting to go somewhere just because you can, just because you want to know what it’s like, experience it. I look at all the colours that hide the real nature of this existence. I’ve learned in just a few days here and after a few chats with locals that Morocco is stable, that people are happy with their king, that there is a rich culture no doubt, but the economy is fueled by tourism and it’s not high season right now.

Me and my two female travel companions meet some locals, Karim and Hammoud – two young men from Casablanca. I stand in the crowd in front of the main stage in amongst thousands of Moroccans – generations of boys and girls and men and women are in the crowd, all swaying to the same beat, all singing the same words. Young boys clamour and climb up one each other’s backs for a momentarily heightened view. Hammoud turns to me, his dreadlocks swing and sway to the music. “This is music of my people.” He says in broken English. “This is Morocco.”

He grins and turns back to the stage just as everyone in the crowd, young and old and in between, breaks out into the unified chorus. They are singing the words of the song “La Marche Verte”, I later learn. It is about Moroccans on their march to fight for their king. They walk with the Koran in hand. No swords, Hammoud says, just their green book. I ask him if it’s a folk song, or an anthem, perhaps? He tells me no, it’s just a song… just a song that everyone’s been singing since before they were born. Everywhere boys are dancing, their black and shiny plastic bomber jackets hang around their elbows as they move. More friends come, they greet one another with kisses.

I close my eyes and let the smell of the ocean and the beat of the drums take me.

I won’t soon forget this.


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