From the blue city to the Sahara

My second day in Chefchaouen was very chilled. I hiked up to the mosque and was treated to a panoramic blue-tastic view of the Pearl of the North, such a beautiful city. Then I wandered about town, browsing the shops when it was lovely and quiet. I bought a ticket for the Kasbah for 60 dirham (15 dirham for the locals, usual tourist tax). It was lovely and cool inside, turns out their holey walled ventilation system really does wonders. I relaxed there for a while and then got some more lovely city views from the tower. Afterwards I eventually found some safety pins, they are like gold dust around here, haha. Had a mixed juice and chicken skewers for lunch.

After a little siesta I had a mint tea and then met the rest of the group and we wandered past colourful powdered paint shops and had another sugary donut before we went for dinner in a rooftop bar. I chose the goats cheese salad for started, the goats cheese is freshly made in Chefchaouen, they’re known for it. Now I’m not a huge goats cheese fan but this was delicious, the salad also had red onions, lettuce, raisins and walnuts, drizzled with a balsamic dressing. I had the chicken pastilla for mains which had an extra cinnamon layer underneath the crispy filo pastry, delish. And for dessert I had their homemade yoghurt with nuts and honey, we waffles out of their. All for about 120 dir, great value once again. We had an early night as we had to leave the hotel for 8.

Volubolis

So I tried the nous-nous coffee on our stop off, it was like a really milky flat white, need to find out where the name came from.

We had a great guide bringing us around the ruins of the old Roman city. He showed us the carob tree and we got to taste some, nice and chocolatey. We wandered around for an hour imagining the extravagant villas, the meetings taking place in the forum and horse drawn carriages arriving down the main avenue. The ruins are very well preserved because there wasn’t anything else built on top of them.

On our way to lunch we stopped off at a dam and took in the gorgeous turquoise waters surrounded by beautiful mountains.

We stopped off for a home cooked lunch, prepared by the local women who are given opportunities to support their families through education, healthcare etc from the lunch programme. We had delicious olives, harissa and bread for nibbles, a lovely light pepper and tomato salad and lentil soup for starters, the most delicious chicken tagine with lemons and olives that I’ve ever tasted and tea with fruit and biscuits, yum. We hopped onto the bus in a food coma and after 10 minutes I could see the wide expanse of Fes, unbelievable.

Fes

We arrived at our hotel, Hotel Mounia and checked in. It’s a lovely hotel, two huge twin beds, great air con etc. We had a few hours free so I went in search of some mint tea. I found a local Salon de the which was full of local men watching the soccer match. I ordered some mint tea, thankfully with sugar on the side for once and had to adjust to speaking very bad French again, haha.

Later that evening we went for some burgers and chips in a local restaurant filled with university students. Whilst the waitress was handing out the drinks a fruit filled avocado salad tumbled off the tray and landed all down my hair, arm and clothes. It was quite the sight and quite the fuss. I think the waitress got more of a fright than I did, the poor thing. The running jokes for the rest of the night were the fact that I’d have lovely soft skin after the avocado and at least I was wearing a green top, haha. Once we were back at the hotel I cleaned up again, washed my clothes and had a well deserved drink of the Moroccan red wine for 65 dirham for half a bottle. We relaxed at the hotel bar listening to some local pop music.

The Medina

I had a lovely breakfast of pancakes, fruit, yoghurt, a croissant, fresh orange juice and very tasty coffee, yum. We were driven into the city with a Fes tour guide showing us the highlights of the city for the day. Our first stop, of many, was the palace entrance, which was decorated with beautifully ornate doors. The public are only allowed into the palace by invitation, usually for a special occasion. We also strolled down to the Jewish section where we saw the different architecture, a kasbah and the oil soap that they was themselves with before the Hamman. I had seen it outside a few shops in Chefchaouen and was curious as to what it was. We also passed some food stalls top selling nuts, grains and dates.

Our next stop was a pottery factory which I was really looking forward to seeing and it did not disappoint. We met a lovely guide there who showed us the process, he told us they used rocks from high up the Atlas mountains to create the clay. We saw one man create a tagine dish with such ease using a pottery wheel controlled by his foot running along a wheel underneath. He made a perfect lid to fit the dish without any measurements, just fascinating to see. They left the dishes outside to dry in the heat, they were then individually decorated by hand and the last step was the kiln. I would have loved to try my hand at the pottery wheel and the painting, I could have happily stayed there for the whole day. 😆

The last section we were shown was the mosaics where the stones are once again designed painstakingly by hand and only the best of the best designed the mosaic as it was quite a lot of pressure. They were created with the pattern upside down so they have to remember the pattern from memory and then chisel them down to the same level and fill with cement. Only when they’ve turned it over can they see if they have done it right, some amount of work goes into it. 😅 I of course couldn’t resist buying a plate and two tiles also, there was a 20% discount so it was way too tempting. It came to around 500 dirham so great value.

Our next stop was the tanneries which we got to by walking through lots of little alleyways of various heights and widths, we stopped off to buy a few sprigs of mint leaves which of course cams in handy to disguise the smell from the tanneries. We met another guide there who showed us the different leathers, sheep is cheap, so he kept saying 😆. The camel was so soft and could nearly be worn as a scarf, it was also the lightest. After we were shown the process we walked around browsing many floors of leather bags, purses, jackets, boots, poufs etc. None of the bags jumped out at me, they were quite heavy or too plain, although there were some nice small colourful purses. I ended up buying a leather pouf of all things, it’s wrapped up right now along with the plate so I’ll put photos of those up in my last blog post for Morocco when I’m back home. They were charging 1500 dirham to begin with, then I hummed and hawed, he said 1000 dirham, I said 800 and we agreed on 900. So my first haggling experience turned out quite well although I had absolutely no intentions of buying a pouf mind, haha.

The next stop was the old university which dates back to the 9th century and it was so pretty and peaceful. We walked around taking lots of photos and listening to the history of the university too. I took so many photos here, there were a few floors with tiny little rooms filled with cedar wood designs. The ceilings downstairs were decorated with cedar wood and beautiful stucco patterns also.

Next we walked along the windy streets passed copper vendors selling copper teapots, saucepans and lanterns. We passed loads of food stalls selling olives, sugary treats, dates, filo pastry pancakes that are cooked on top of a round hot stone.

All the time I was absolutely famished (although the butchers wouldn’t exactly tempt you with the goats heads on show 🙈) and wanted to stop and try everything around me, there were so many smells and sights. But I also didn’t want to get lost as the Medina has so many little streets and I would never have found my way on my own. We also passed plenty of mules as they’re the main mode of transport inside the Medina, no cars are allowed, not they’d fit mind. So up and down the streets people shouted at you to move as they were carrying a heavy cartload or a donkey gently shoved you out of the way with their cartload on their back.

We walked down a random little alleyway and ended up at our restaurant which was like an oasis from all the Medina madness. For lunch we got to choose from lots of different set menus. I was craving pastilla as I hadn’t had one in a couple of days so I ordered from that set menu. Out came an impressive selection of nibbles, carrots, two types of marinated potato cubes, a beetroot salad, aubergine dip, olives, homemade beans and courgettes. My chicken pastilla was delicious as always and our dessert was a selection of fruit, the tastiest coconut, buttery biscuits served with mint tea. I had to be rolled out of the restaurant, it was delicious. All for 120 dirham.

We ended our walking tour with a trip to a scarf and blanket workshop where we got to see them making the scarves with a loom. They showed us the process from gathering the strands from the cactus to the loom. We were also shown how to wear a turban and of course I bought one while I was there for 50 dirham. Our final pitstop was to take in a panoramic view of the Medina. We got back to the hotel late afternoon, after stocking up on snacks for the long bus journey tomorrow and just relaxed, I was absolutely wrecked after the day of walking. I really enjoyed Fes and I would have loved another day to wander around the Medina and try all the tasty food too.

The Sahara

So today was very much a bus day, it took us about 11 hours to drive to Merzouga and to our lovely hotel Dune d’Or. We made a couple of stops, one to see a lion statue, another to see the Barbary monkeys on the side of the road. The scenery was incredible and it was so nice to pass by the forest mountainous areas into the oasis areas and then the barren desert areas. I had the local whole trout dish for lunch with creme caramel for dessert, yummy.

We arrived at our hotel just before 7, it was a gorgeous hotel, it reminded me of all the Kasbahs we have seen so far. It really was like a little desert palace, my room reminded me of the sunset with all the lovely orange and red tones and we all had patio doors leading out to the desert, on top of that there was also a pool, just amazing. We got straight into the pool and chilled for an hour or so. We had dinner around 8, salad, chicken tagine and fruit. We listened to some local music and took a walk amongst the dunes, all with the partial lunar eclipse over the dunes, so peaceful.

Day 2 in the Sahara

Today began with sitting on the dunes and watching the sunrise, although it was too cloudy unfortunately but still really pretty. There was a nice selection of food for breakfast and it was lovely to sit outside and eat it too.

I did the 4×4 excursion with most of the group today (600 dirham), we left at 8 and headed first to see some fossils on rocks around the area, I really enjoyed this. Next we had some tea in the sheltered tent at a nomad camp, it was pleasantly cool underneath the camel fur tent. We went to the kohl mine next and we passed a military town on the way. Our last stop was at a village where we got to hear and dance to some music from other African countries. It was a lovely morning and great to see more of the area too. Back at the hotel I had the Berber omelette which was served in a tagine, it was delicious.

I spent the afternoon relaxing in the pool and at half 7 we did a camel trek into the desert. It was great fun and we took some photos up on the dunes as well. I opted to walk back over the dunes, I enjoyed the camel ride but it’s not my first time and I’m just not a huge fan of when the camel stands up and down, especially the down part, you feel like you’re being flung off the camel. Maybe I just need even more practice, ha, it was nice to walk back anyways.

Although I was roasting when I got back but thankfully I felt much better after two Hawai fizzy drinks, they cooled me right down. We had harira soup, pasta salad, meatball tagine and fruit for our dinner. We took advantage of the pool once more, I’m definitely gonna miss that when we leave.

Leaving the desert for the oasis

I woke up just in time to catch the tail-end of a much better sunrise this morning. After breakfast we drove towards Todra Gorge. Our air-con refused to work so it was a delightfully sticky and stuffy drive. We stopped at the fossils factory where we were shown the process from the rough stone, cutting it using a diamond grinder, washing it, using sandstone to sand it down and finally buffering it to polish it up nicely. I bought two fossils for the classroom like the big nerd I am, 200 dirham altogether and I know exactly where they came from which is pretty cool.

Next we stopped off at shop where we were dressed up in the traditional dress of the local women. This was great fun and surprisingly cool even though we had extra layers on. We arrived at our hotel, Royal Palmas, by 2 and had our lunch. I had the Moroccan salad, the Berber omelette and fruit along with a massive bottle of water to cool myself down after the sauna drive in 40 odd degrees heat.

A room with a spectacular view

It’s amazing how different this area is to where we were only this morning. We were given a few hours to just chill this afternoon and at 7 we’re heading for an hour’s walk up the Todra, I can’t wait.

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