Morocco - part 1: Marrakech, Essaouira, & Agadir
27.01.2012 - 09.02.2012 18 °C
Our introduction of Marrakech started with lunch on a terrace café overlooking the controlled chaos that is Djemaa el Fna - the amazing open square in the centre of the medina. Max tasted his first of many delicious vegetable tagines and we all hung over the railing watching the hawkers, acrobats, snake charmers, monkeys, henna women, and costumed roving water sellers. The square is fun to watch during the day but there is definitely the sense that much of the activity is for tourists. At night, it becomes a place for Marrakshis to meet and eat. There are fires going where locals tell stories and sing songs and it isn't put on for tourists...it is the real thing.
We darted through an endless run of mopeds, taxis, donkey carts and bicycles over a couple of roads to walk back and forth from our Riad to Djemaa el Fna. We were well-trained for this after our street-crossing practice in Naples. Our Riad was a lovely urban oasis with an inner courtyard, three terraces and a small swimming pool. Angus went out to buy candy at a small store just around the corner, met up with some neighbourhood kids and played soccer with them for an hour...his French coming in handy here. The next morning, the owner of the Riad knocked on our room door to say that the kids wanted Angus to come out and play again. After that, every time we walked back down the alley to our place it was like being with the King of Kensington with kids from all corners yelling "Angus" and coming up to give him a high-five.
It was fantastic to meet up with our friends from Whitehorse Pam Muir, Al Jones, and Lesley Cabott who chose Marrakech to tackle their first marathon (Pam and I ran the semi-marathon). The semi started at 8:30 am so it was nice and cool while we were running. The route ran along large boulevards lined with palm trees with great views of the snow-covered Atlas mountains. The roads were lined with many spectators, including large groups of school children waving and cheering. At one point, there was a group of men in robes playing traditional Moroccan music and clapping. There were more men than women running around me so I had lots of people yelling "Bravo Madame" which was certainly a boost when I felt myself lagging.
I was happy with my time: 1:38:45. I was the 34th woman out of 603 and the 1st North American! The race organization was definitely more relaxed than Vancouver or other North American races ie. traffic wasn't stopped in some areas so Pam was dodging cars to get through intersections and at the end, people were milling around in front of the runners trying to reach the finish line but in general it all seemed to work.
Soon after I finished 21 kms, the top marathoners were just coming in after running 42 km...each one with legs the size of my wrists and running so fast across the finish line! The top time was two hours 8 minutes...wow!
We came home to our Riad and I treated myself to a hammam and scrub. It began in a very steamy room and then a woman came in a rubbed me with soap and oil. This was followed by brisk rubbing with a glove. Dry skin came rolling off me like spagetti...it was invigorating and felt amazing. This wonderful experience finished off with a heavenly massage! Nils opted just for the hammam and scrub, and we both have never felt cleaner.
We travelled with Lesley, Pam and Al by bus to Essaouira. Essaouira is a lively port town with many large, wood fishing boats which resemble mini-Arks. There is a real bustle of activity with all manner of sea creatures on display. There is a massive beach here with many full-size provisional soccer pitches carved out of the beach. Nils and Max were the only people with baseballs and gloves....go figure.
Max and Angus took a beach dromedary ride on Max and Rastafarian and had a great time with guide Mustafa.
One afternoon after a yummy lunch of fresh, grilled fish at the port, Lesley, Angus and I went to the Spice Souk in search of Argan oil. This oil has a nutty, toasty flavour and is sweeping the kitchens of the top chefs of Europe (and Whitehorse!). The trees that the oil comes from are only found in a triangular belt along Morocco's Atlantic coast. We were lucky and found a young spice seller who entertained us in the back of his shop, humouring us while Lesley bargained hard for our purchases, and teaching us the proper way to buy saffron.
We provided him with his day's entertainment when he asked if it was our first time in Morocco. I said yes and that Lesley had just run her "première marathon". He stared in disbelief, thinking that we had said that she was first in the race. As he called more people to come and meet the "winner", we caught on to the mistake. He said that he did wonder how this middle-aged white woman, albeit in marathon shape, had managed to put an end to the African domination of marathon running.
We loved our Riad, "les Matins Bleus" and even helped with cooking dinner one night learning all of Myriam's secret for a perfect chicken tagine.
We are further down the coast now in Agadir and have two more nights before heading off on a four night tour of the Anti-Atlas and Souss Valley. Agadir is an all-inclusive resort destination for Brits and our hotel is rather tired but the beach is great and the boys had a great session of bodysurfing yesterday and today.
The African Cup of Nations is going on so we are heading out this evening to watch the semi-final game between Mali and Cotê d'Ivoire. The other semi is between Ghana and Zambia. On other important tournament fronts: Janet and Angus are tied in the "Clarke Wizard OK Liga" with seven points. Nils and Max each have three. Stay tuned...the points come fast and furious.