An Idiot Abroad

Morrocan Roll  Xmas 2005

 

Marrakesh Markets

There is old and new Marrakesh. Like so many urban sprawls the new is globally hot-swappable with anywhere else. Shopping franchises all running off the same three-ring binder DNA like multiple growths in a Petri dish.  

This site is not about what is or is about to be. This is about what is or what was. This is about the old city. About a way of life crumbling under the impact of the new like a castle made of sand that has been there for thousands of years but now for whom the tide is coming in, relentless, and for the last time.

 

I want  to walk softly & not to judge but I see old people die slowly in the streets.

Charity suggestion:

A loaf costs ONE DIRHAM. That will be three to you you stupid tourist. So buy one, rip it in two. now jam one half in each of the giant "poacher" pockets on the obligitory olive "Berghaus" jacket.

On encountering a time-honoured citizen with a paw out give half a loaf. When number of loaves in coat = zero then scan for bakery.  Repeat process.

At the break of day they tend to squirrel it away fast. Later on it goes directly into face do not pass GO do not collect 200. Conclude that someone is not looking after Grandma. It is easy to take christian charity for  granted until it is not there. Whereas it is understood that the mores of the Moors were certainly ready for the stern disipline of Mohammed [may his name be praised] there might be scope for an upgrade pack.

 

 

Food & drink

"Dates, they look like cockroaches with the arms and legs pulled off."  Amy.  

With that qualifier the ones here are superb.

Then there are the Oranges. Fresh orange juice which is fab.

Tagine, which is a named meat like chicken or hopefully not donkey nor even "Towser" cooked in a conical clay pot with veg de jour  maybe a pickeld lemon or prunes & almonds. Served with excellent bread like a small discus.

Cous cous: as above only a load of semolina.  Hmmmm semolina.

Drink: mint tea with too much sugar. This is [after some research] a bunch of mint, some gunpowder tea, a lot of sugar. 

Almond milk should be tried.

Just a fresh loaf is fine for a couple of days.But that is just me. Resturants seem profligate somehow.

 

Lizards lounge

In the old slavers square. Well, it is not even a square more like a triangle. Within living memory a "pleasure slave" went for £140 whereas a labourer was considered worth a tenth of that. Everyone sympathises with the former no-one spares a thought for the latter.   These two are clearly Esher fans.

 

Tourist notes: 

Hotel Ali [£10] caters for packpackers & the roof overlooks the central plaza where it all kicks off in the evening. If you are here with a partner the Rials are tranquil  [£50] yet plush. The really good places are now out of town, but taxis are cheap.

Police in the streets. 

About 22:00 hrs at the edge of the main Plaza I saw some burly ununiformed gentlemen assist someone into the back of a Police Transit van. There then followed a number of noises that indictated that someone was repeatedly being punched & kicked and they were unhappy with this.  No-one around me reacted in any way. They did not see anything, they did not hear anything, even on the edge on the most significant Plaza in the city. 

Very early one morning while negotiating for dates a chap I shall call "Mr. Happy"  started hassling me for diram. The date vendor indictated this would be a bad plan. What made this Mr Happy memorable was that his cheek had been cut open from mouth to almost eyebrow obviously very recently.


 

  Language: French works fine.

 The Jawas are everywhere. George Lucas was clearly out for revenge here. 

Remember that few things look more dorky than a westerner in a Jellaba. 

After noticing the dentistry options I asked an American working here "What do you take when feeling ill?" "Plane to Gibraltar" came the instant reply. A good option if it is there.

Pleasure garden: A slightly less small version can be viewed by clicking on it. As so with every other image on this site. The original is some 10 screens wide, as is are most of the long shots on this page.  353K

 

  

Essaouira

Think Brighton goes to Africa. 

 

 

One long bus journey through the desert. Time to munch nuts & dates & learn about Balkan socio-economic history from my travelling companion, who is a naval architect & she has green eyes. Both factors being of  equal merit.

Not much grows apart from Scrub Thula trees. The locals make boxes from this in fairly intricate designs, the fragrance is built in.

There were eight large fishing boats under construction here. Maybe the plan is to scoop up fish from waters vacated by spanish fishermen who are busy stripping the North sea of all life with illegal nets?

Unlike Marrakesh this feels like a working port. Please note that the fish restaurants by the quay are excellent but you are expected to haggle.


Once this place traded with the Phoenicians. Then much later the Portugese had an interest here, hence the fortifications. Now awash with Tourist Shops but not so much in your face as elsewhere.

 The three fates,  the three furies, the three graces, the three grandmas, the three norns, the british "womens support group", some memes are common whatever the culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sahara 

Lots and lots of not very much. 

Which can be good. 

 

Togra Gorge 

 Like Cheddar gorge on steroids. 

Locals remove climbing pitons or leave them half in the  rockface, nice. Bear that in mind before gleefully going for that vertical burn.

The Gorge is long & high. Some wild dogs, a couple of Camels, scrub bushes & a few sheep. Other than that a desolate wilderness filled with the winds.

The Berber  ladies of this area go in for facial tattoos.  Vertical stripe or three  from lower lip down the chin, a dot on each cheek & a small cross between the eyebrows seems average.

 

Gathering  fodder for the sheep.

 

 

 

 

 36o  degree panoramic photos were taken here. Please refer to the footnotes at the end of this page. 

 

 

 

 

  

Ben Aït Benhaddou

Aït Benhaddou Province de Ouarzazate UNESCO site  N31 03 W7 08 One of the most exotic and best-preserved kasbahs in the entire Atlas region. 

The building at the top was  the granary. 

The ksar, a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. The houses crowd together within the defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers. Even today new money from europe is spent on houses that mimic this defensive perimeter design.

 A lot of Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" was shot here. Plus a few "Jesus" movies. Not a lot has changed in hundreds of years.

To get there, leave Ouarzazte [ you will feel no loss there, trust me ] on the P31 and ask the bus driver to drop you off at the junction to Ait Benhaddou, about  18km. There are regular shared taxis leaving from there to the Kasbahs. Sunrise or sunset supposedly spectacular. Do plan your exit however as the accomodation & night life could be something by which to measure other more uplifting expereinces.

A donkey ride across the river is available for wusses & French.  However  a walking pole & modern boots allow fording without issue.

Some people still live in this place, hence the picture of kids baking bread deep in the warren.  

There are a couple of chaps on the gate who "collect" a fee for entry. No reciepts but they did offer a truly leperous glass of tea & a pistachio nut or two over a cordial chat. 

36o  degree panoramic photos were taken here. Please refer to the footnotes at the end of this page.





Tangiers

First thing in the morning,  Blokes dreaming of Spain across a turbulent sea. The land of milk & honey.  Note the boat cartoon on  the left. 

Old city, new city. Spanish spoken here. Hassle from touts or would-be guides can be a problem if this is your first encounter with this country. A now familiar layout of the old walled city surrounded by a neon-lit new version. In all fairness I met a lot of interesting folks here before catching the overnight Marakesh Express.

MacDonalds have had the best the best view of the harbour in the whole place. However some muppet ordered light blue glass screens all around  which render photography impossible. Luckily the cafe next door was not so encumbered.  

Spies like us.

In the heart of Tangiers, THAT cafe: "Does the nightingale still sing sweetly in that Park off Oxford street?"  Well no, it coughs mostly. But boost a  Bluetooth there if you must ;-) 

Meanwhile useful conversations outside this most infamous of cafes still occour. 

Elsewhere over dinner with a charming  "security & investigation officer" I learn that the going rate for a corner of an ISO containier into Spain is 500 euros.


 

Please note that  the new "Le Pecheur"  restaurant is a pleasure. The french Chef is a fanatic. The Grand Fromage knows what he is about, having run a place in Gibraltar for 25 years. Even the bread is remarkable. That will be Rue Ahmed Chaouki. 039 332669 1 . A 36o  degree panoramic photowas taken here. Please refer to the footnotes at the finish. 

The Guns of Tangiers roar no more, only the big bores remain


 

High Atlas Mountains 

The key is that the remotness has slowed change. Even the brand of Islam is "adaptive." Up here there are caves showing animals of the Sahara before the trees walked. Taking photos is prehaps not good as the art is 1000's of years old.

What would be perfect would be a forgotten temple by the "Purple People", the traders that pre-dated the Romans. Somewhere in those hills... Only when nanobot swarms become feasible might such things come to light if at all.

Barter with Berbers, take their bulky handcast "silver" for pakamacs, t-shirts, freeby radios & petrol station Multi-tools. They speak Berber. The less English they know the nicer they seem to be.

Freaky event

Chased by the police for miles in a clapped out Mercedes with the fanbelt burning...long story.  

 

 

 

Quad biking

Over the High Atlas mountains. It is cold up there. Trust me on this. Quad bikes are like driving the lawnmower, truly wish I could report different.  There is scope for someone to sell GPS locations that comprise a cool adventure.

 

 

Fez

Took the overnight bus from the Sarhara to Fez with Hashna the muslim lass on Christmas eve. Arrived at Fez bus station shaking with cold & exhaustion. A couple of hours with hot drinks helped. As the sun rose over the ramparts I went on in, camera blazing. 

Fez El Bali, the oldest and largest medieval city in the world.   The major thoroughfares are two camels wide. the lesser routes are far less substantial. So grab a good map, stay visible, guard pockets, be cool, wary, polite yet firm and all will be well. Take delight  not rage in the scams & meld into history. Take an electric monk with you, the one the has the "I believe" settings to the maximum, as so many people want you to.

The traders in the Old City ar the sons of hagglers for thousands of years.  About a day should be enough. I stayed longer, loved it.

ITake digs in the new city. A bed offered in the old town looked like a camel had slept in it. Comfort is  good. These barrels are full of honey. The best quality is something remarkable. Note to the Waitrose buying department.

Taxis are cheap and plentiful in Fez.

Scam artists:

 

The "Mathematics lecturer". Mr."I specailise in Topology"  He just wants to lead you to a herbalist shop so he gets a percentage. Yet he did not even glance as we walked by the huge brazen portals  to the 14th century Merdrassa full ten cubits high with the most perfect representation of a tesseract ever, put there by those that care six centuries ago as a gate to a higher place. The Doors of Perception were wide open & a dazzling ethereal green light blazed forth yet he clearly held nary a key nor clue.

The "Guide" who helps you get lost then demands more money. Plan B is to stick to what might laughably be described as the main road & plan excursions off that with care.
 
While taking breakfast the chap next to me was a non -uniformed policeman who took a stream of bungs as I watched. 
 
Tell touts "Imshee." 

Tell small kids "Allez ecole." as in "Go to school" Illiteracy runs at about 50%.

Haggle: a carpet is 200D to a local, "special price to you offendi" 1000D. About 16 Dirham to the £1. 

The Dyers & Tanneries Souks are like the ones in Marrakesh.  People wade waist deep in "don't ask" all day. This is economic voyeurism at it's worst. Praise be to Allah it was not a hot day.



The Madrassas

The unit of commerce in old Fez was the courtyard. Several lodgings overlooking a central area where the haggling & discourse took place. This was where richer students and merchants intermingled. The poorer students lived in rooms overlooking the Madrassa itself as in  the picture below.  

 


 While just in front of the picture above an American woman suggested I read "Days of Rice and Salt" by Kim Stanley Robinson.  The story is an alternative history, one where Europe is wiped out by a plauge during the Dark Ages. As usual the author has done careful research from which to sketch a possible future.  So it could be said that these Madrassas still work.

Randomness

The 14th century Madrassas moved me. I caught the Sufi & sweep show earlier. 

To understand man study religion. To understand God, study Science. 

Insha'allah, alhamdulillah alhamdulillah, makaynesh mooshkil.

 

36o  degree panoramic photos were taken here. Please refer to the footnotes at the end of this page. 

This is in the heart of Old Fez, surrounded by alleys just wide enough so that two camels can pass. The lesser routes off these main artieries are just like old London, just wide enough for two people to pass. Easy to become lost in daytime today. An absolute laberynth after dark.


  • These people had a high level of culture at a time Europe was living in pits, discovering pain & boredom.

The Madrassas were built "regardless of cost", the output from which went almost directly into travelling trade convoys. 

A superb setup. All back in the 14th century. 

Then it ceased. Why?


 

 

 

 

 

Worst Case Scenario

The phrase that just reeks of Napalm Death.

Revolution

If bread remains at one dirham there will be no revolution. Change certainly, but gradually.

 There are a lot of very unhappy people. Businessmen who do not want thier children to grow up in  the land of their fathers,  qualified Engineers driving Taxis. Corruption/ fragrant grease/ Piskkesh call it what you will. Millions of people looking after NUMERO UNO with so very few considering the tale of the Messy Diners, or even the parable of the Selfish Martians. Latter story by Hans Moravec. book "mind children"

A massivly young population, always the case when WHO get in & fix the basic issues that cause childhood deaths. 

Half the population is under 30. 

Half cannot read.

Nevermind nationalism tribalism is prevalent.

Cry "Havoc" & let slip the dogs of war." The dog is there & hungry. 

 


"My mind has two wolves"

"One is fear anger rage hate war destruction terror grief, the other is love curiosity laughter and building."

 "Which one wins?"

"Whichever I feed"

 

 

Media War

Heart Sand Mines

If war was to come what are the forces at play? A squabble for resources: phosphates. The Rif valley supplied about 42% of the world's Hashish. A War would kill off tourism fast enough.

It will be a war run on the cheap. AK47's with RPG7's for support, again. French light mechanised.

However recon. rules are changing fast these days. Solar powered drones could make a strategic difference, updating Google Earth via kmz?

8500 Foreign Legion live nearby. The FL use silencers as standard. Is this a hangover from the Franco-Austrian war where Austrian snipers using compressed air rifles caused so much of a problem?

The Berbers formed an important part of the Spanish civil war.  The Riffian population in the north is around 80 000.

The terrian is very rough in parts.  

There are already separatist groups to the south. Pointless as the security walls there are cutting edge stuff.  

The standard home is amusingly walled as of old. The national conciousness has yet to take on board tactics such as vertical envelopment. in a similar vein: the Tuareg disposition to gutting losers so they bleed to death in the sand over a couple of hours. This might have been great for "shock and awe" in the past, but  what happens when a NATO Peacekeeper commander finds her squad so treated? Hopefully they will respond as  trained in a logical & calm manner. We live in times of uplinks & air-strikes. CBM has moved on a long way from 1991. The locals cannot be expected  to understand the implications.

 

There is business to be had designing twin fisheye lens-based point defence.

Open-source warfare might be there by then. That would be something.

There are a number of alternatives to conventional war available in the near future. Even Peace LOL

 

Best Case Scenario

Boomerang Immigrants

Not all those that go work in Europe stay. A lot send money home to buy that place in the Sun. 

Update the Oasis

I used that phrase first.

The basic socio-economic unit around here is the family date grove.  About 30 Palm trees give a ton of dates per year with in theory support a family. However the going rate for a ton of dates is about $500. Then factor in Bayoud disease that totally kills the date palm in one year no exeptions.  It is time to move on.

What the place does have is Sunshine, lots & lots of it. So arrange some tin foil on sturdy flat panels, or copper sheets or mirros if you are feeling posh.  Give a local the job of brushing the sand off in the morning then he can go back to the fine arab tradition of conserving energy all day.

 Arrange it so the Sun focuses on to a Sterling engine. This trusty Victorian design is sturdy & requires little looking after. It will do about 40 cycles a minute. Which is fine to function as a modern nodding donkey, pumping the water that has been underground for so long.  It can also generate enough power to run wi-fi. By placing these in a hexagonal grid up to 10km apart it would allow terraforming and crucially offer northern European workers a place to work from, with significant economic effects to the region.  

And that is how to transform Morocco

If the King wants a full consultancy, I am here but to serve.

 

 

 The interactive

In a number of places I took some 360 degree panoramic photographs. More interestingly was the fine collection of local music amassed. These have been put  together into an interactive. However the complied executable file takes up a broadband-blistering 122 Meg. If you are someone I know or have met email me & I would be happy to send a CD or arrange an FTP. 

Other development notes 

 Peanuts & Neem nuts are a useful crop. Shelling by low tech machine is possible . Peanut shelling machines
 

Method

Aim

Find better ways of recording events through modern data capture methods. 

Camera:

Panoramic rig: the lens, tripod & head are heavy & delicate. Nevertheless it works.  one day, one day

A walking pole that accepts a camera on the top makes a useful monopole. How might this be adapted to act as a tripod?  

Nikon 4500 digital camera. Bring back AA batteries. The sunshield should have been supplied as standard. The software has the "occasional" blip. SD memory might be an option in the future, given that 2 gig cards are now commonplace.

Forgot the Infrared filter: Bother bother bother.

Zoom & wide angle were worth having along.  The former needs a tripod.

Data backup: 

A 20 gig data block seemed like a good idea. However the "on" button is on the front & easily triggers. The charger weight is unfortunate. There is no easy way to check the contents in the field. In conclusion would not take this on a field trip again.

A n AXIM PDA was useful. 

  • The device accepted Flash cards from the camera.  
  • The add-on keyboard  allowed notes to be taken  in trains & cafes. This bypassed keeping a journal then attempting to read the handwriting later.  The plan was to send a swathe of emails back home, each dated and in order ready for cut & pasting. This would have worked however the automatic "send to" was not perfect & so a lot of notes vanished.
  • A GPS was too awkward to use. Even though being able to log locations of photographs would be perfect for linking into Google Earth via a KMZ file. One day.  
  • In theory the maps & pocket guides might have been useful. In practice they were not used. Spoken recordings in MP3s were used however. There is a lot of scope here.
  • One day a database of handy phrases will be on all phones and PDAs in many languages.  One day. 

The minidisk 

Is a wonderful method of recording music even background sounds.  The downside is that the Sony corporation do not see fit to allow the disks to be inserted into the Pc like a floppy disc. This is corporate stupidity at its worst. 

 

Links

Portugese folk from Hotel Ali

 

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