Saturday, January 29, 2005


Morocco, March 2001

Some preliminaries:

One can fly from New York to Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc, but, distrustful of them, especially their lax attitude about smoking on board, we flew from Washington DC to Paris and then on to Casablanca. We made these arrangements ourselves, but the rest of the trip fell into the capable hands of Heritage Tours, a New York outfit specializing in North African adventure travel. Neil at Heritage did a wonderful job. Deep in the Sahara, we ran into an American foursome (one of the few groups of Americans we encountered on the trip) and asked about how they made their arrangements. Neil at Heritage was the answer. And, we asked, did he find your guide? Why yes, he said that ours was the best of all the guides in Morocco who work with Heritage. Ah, we exclaimed, the exact words Neil used to describe our guide!

Our guide, Abdellatif el Kerchi, was superb. If you made your own arrangements for hotels and the like, you could contract directly with him, at As in other third-world places, you have a driver as well as a guide, but the driver is not expected to communicate.

Good idea we tried out for the first time in third-world travel—bring headlamps for reading and other activities in poorly lit hotel rooms. Particularly useful if you stay in a tent far from the bathroom, as we did on this trip.

Two other pieces of advice about travel in Morocco:

1. It’s Islamic and you can’t presume the availability of beer or wine. If this matters, check in advance and provision yourselves. The more charming and authentic your hotel, the less likely is it to sell wine. No problem drinking your own wine in such a place. The big international hotels always have it. You can buy wine in stores everywhere.

2. You are expected to dispense endless streams of 10-dirham coins to people who help you, but this coin is almost impossible to obtain in adequate quantities. You must be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to extract coins from your trading partners, but it is tough. Merchants will check your wallet for exact change if you try to pay with a larger bill in order to get essential coins. Even the largest hotel will refuse point blank if you ask for 10 10s in exchange for a 100. Morocco is not the least dollarized and don’t expect to get by with dollar bills instead of these coins, a strategy that works in many other countries.

The narrative

Day 1. Sunday, March 18, 2001
(Sooz writing) The first day, arriving in Casablanca, we are met by Abdellatif el Kerchi (the Kh is guttural, as in Qatar). We went off to visit the big Hassan II mosque, designed by a French architect and built by a French company, accompanied by the usual dialog about X,000 tons of marble, Y,000 tons of wood, Z,000 workers for N years, and so on. Nice, but not worth a journey. Or even much of a detour. While we were out, a helper fetched Zach and Sky Then we went to the beach and walked around with the middle class Cassies, then back to the airport to eat and fly to Ourzazate, over the Atlas mountains. Casablanca is a big modern city with little to see, utterly devoid of adventures.
The flight was scheduled to depart at 10:15, but did not go until midnight. Tired puppies.
The hotel in Ourz was just right—decorated, clean, but totally third world. Plenty of hot water.

Day 2. Monday, March 19
The next morning we drove to Merzouga (see map), taking the shortcut that goes by the ancient (11th century) aqueduct system, called rhetiras, wells dug every 20 feet or so and connected. What a public works! Discussion of these in the Michelin Guide Verte, but not in our other guide books.
We stopped in the Todghra Gorge and had a pretty good lunch of tagine. Sky had a donkey ride and chatted with anyone who would speak English with him.
We stopped at Tenighrir to see the weekly market, and I’m so glad we did (we nixed a proposed visit to see the rose water factory). The market had some entertaining spice merchants and best of all-one guy selling camel fat. Two grades, one was 12 dirhams ($1.15) per kilo, the other 14 dirhams. Looked the same to me. It had a very interesting smell and I would love to cook with it and taste it. It was heavily salted.
Otherwise, just a poor primitive market in the dirt, almost no shade. Tools, dry goods, greens for animals—alfalfa and green hay. Lots of oranges, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, peas, beans, eggplant. (Bob: The most active merchant was selling cell phones off a card table, surrounded by a big crowd.)
At the ancient aqueduct system, we stopped briefly to look in one of the holes. It was a battle to keep Sky from jumping into one. Like magic, two kids appeared selling fossils. We were dozens of miles from any habitation, on a road with zero traffic. Here—and in many other searing places in the desert—kids lurk for hours waiting for potential customers.
Then on to Erfoud, which looks more prosperous than 10 or 12 years ago on my previous trips here. Abdellatif says oh yes, the King visited three years ago and told the people that they must work, and build a palace here, and things are much improved!
Our destination for the day was an encampment near the sand dunes at Erg Chebbi, at the Algerian border. Arrived just as it is getting dark. I brushed my hair and the brush is nod dirty. The tents are tidy, but very dusty inside and out. _____ are proper, woven from the hair of black goats. Floors are all covered in coarse Berber carpets, beds heavy with Berber weavings with spangles. All dusty, dusty. I think it is not possible to get clean here (Bob interpolates: This dust experience was nothing for the wilderness campers among us. Shoulda seen Australia…). The tents must not be so dusty when they are moved and washed regularly.
We had a lamb tagine for dinner in the big dining tent.

(Andy) Day 3 Tuesday, March 20
My eyes struggled open as I attempted to rise at 5:30, well before sunrise. The wind rustled the tent and my head fell back onto the pillow. Once again I tried to pry my fatigued eyes open, and they finally adjusted to the seemingly bright light emitted from the small lamp in the tent. Sitting up, I looked around the “room” I had slept in. Colorful rugs covered the floor, and a deep blue comforter had kept me warm overnight. All around tiny metal circles attached to the various rugs and blankets shimmered in the light. I rolled off the soft bed and onto the floor of the tent. Standing up, my head brushed against the goat skin tarp that was the walls and ceiling of the cavernous habitation. Looking to the other end of it, I noticed that my companions had risen from their identically decorated beds. My bag, which was next to the large wooden pole, was passed to me by my father. Blinking to rid my eyes of the running sensation felt when one first wakes up, I got dressed. Soon after, the three of us—Daddy, Susan, and I, were standing next to the camels and guides who would take us to the dunes to watch the Saharan sun rise. Also by our side were our traveling partners, Zach and Sky, equally as tired and excited as we. The camels were large with lots of matted fur and crooked teeth. They bellowed several times before allowing us to sit down on them as they lay in the sand. Daddy and I mounted a black-furred one, and the guide to it to stand up. After a very wobbly assent which was uncomfortable yet humorous to both passengers, the camel was on his feet. The man with the dusty white djellaba, red turban, and ancient sandals grabbed the camel’s rope and led us towards our destination. The ride was bumpy but exciting, and eventually reached our parking spot below the brown wind-carved dunes. Dismounting, we followed the guides up the side of one of the smaller, less steep heaps of sun baked sand. Once at the top, we decided to carry on across several large dunes in order to have a good view of the sun as it rose. At first, the hiking seemed slightly easy, but soon our shoes filled with sand as the hills got steeper, each step made your foot sink deeper into the soft wand. While on the more gentle slopes, the sand had become hard-packed; on the steep ones it did not. We trekked along the very top ridge of the dunes, digging the sides of our shoes in, going ever up in search of a proper viewpoint. Finally, after we were all sufficiently winded, we found one. To the east, where the sun would rise (we hoped), nothing obstructed our view. Only endless stretches of sand and gravel met the eyes. To the left , or north, was a beautiful view of dunes of varying sizes and dried-out river beds. The same type of sight was found in the other direction as well. By the time we reached this point, the rosy fingertips of dawn were beginning to show. As the gold-pink patch of light grew brighter, we became expectant of the beautiful sun. Sure enough, the majestic golden disk soon showed itself. It was truly spectacular. The sun popped above the golden-brown sand and into the pink and gray sky. As well as admiring the sight, we snapped pictures as to be able to remember it years later and show it to others. Eventually, it as over and we hiked back to our patient camels who took us home to refreshments and a (not) hot shower.

(Sooz) The camel ride was not terribly comfortable. Dunes are beautiful, criss-crossed with the tiny tracks of all sorts of critters. Camels certainly are picturesque. Wonderful for silhouette and shadow.
Out at a high point we got off and walked, watching the sun rise. Back at the camels, the tenders looked to be making a picnic. But no! The table cloth/carpet was for the fossil-for-sale display!
Back to the ranch. Took showers in the group facility, then had breakfast in the big tent. Café au lait, canned orange juice, and a fried bread sort of like that Indian bread I like but whose name escapes us (later realized it was paratha).
In Erfoud, we had switched to a four-wheel drive for the desert pistes. We resumed that mode of travel, making our way to Stjilmasa to look at the remains of a crumbling palace. The rooms with high ceiling are cool still, though it is getting hot elsewhere.
We just finished a walk through the souk, which is about five times the size of 10 years ago. The usual fruits and vegetables, meats, sheep, donkeys, tools and small plastic household goods—a plastic and metal tea strainer is 30 cents. Most interesting thing is date flowers sold to pollinate date trees. Evidently you have to climb up and rub them.
There are lots more women in the market now than previously—maybe one person in 20. There were some pretty young women in veils but whose feet were hennaed in black. All ladies’ heads are covered, and most hold a veil over the lower part of the face.
We bought olives, almonds, and salted dried chick peas for a snack.
We are in Rissani, in the Internet café, sending email home. The only one in town (much less Internet in Morocco than in Bali). Service is 10 dirhams per hour. Keyboards are terrible—all yucked up with sand and configured for French. Connections are slow (6 PCs share one modem).
Next, back to the market to see the donkey parking lot and saddle check—not as crowed as 10 years ago, as there are many more cars. While we were among the donkeys, AL (Abdellatif)'s cell phone rang! Cell coverage in the Moroccan back country is vastly better than in the US. Better coverage on dirt road deep in the Sahara than on I-280.
Went to a café for lunch. Our driver, in his blue caftan, said his prayers on the floor of an adjoining room.
(Bob) We ate upstairs, in a ramshackle private dining room, recently converted from hotel rooms, with evidence of banged out walls. Excellent Berber salad—chopped tomatoes, green bells, onions, and vinegar. Followed by house specialty, “Berber pizza”—bread stuffed with gristly lamb, onions, herbs, and sauce. No beer, alas! (no beer available at lunch anytime on this trip in fact). Just “Berber whisky”—mint tea. First sign of impending trouble—M. le proprieteur gave Sky a toy camel. Too rich a gift for a low-margin restaurant.
The window was an excellent vantage point for surreptitious photography of camera-shy locals. Got the water man—carries a tank of water and spurts a cupful for clients. Puzzle—we never saw anyone pay.
Sooz wrote a testimonial for the restaurant on a page from our writing-in book (the document of original entry for this narrative). We went down to pay and to deliver the testimonial and received a bill for 600 dirhams! Out of the question—pure opportunism. We had the impression that the proprietor was a pal of AL’s but not so—the proprietor had met AL on the street and sold him on the meal.
The proprietor had two choices—please Al to get his permanent business, or screw his customers once. Sadly, he chose the second. Sooz took a hard line and finally we paid Dr 200 and AL contributed Dr 100. Sky had to leave the camel, which he did bravely but not happily.
Lesson: we have to know the deal. Some of our meals are prepaid so we don’t need to think. When they are not, we must actively find out the price before agreeing to dine.
Lunches are proving rather less cheap than in other adventure travel—our lunch at the gorge on the second day, at menu prices, was Dr 600 without beer. In southeast Asia, good lunch and beer for $3 per person.

I saw the ugliest flower ever—looks like what one would see in a magnified photo of a yeast infection or a seaweed in a really badly tended aquarium. Just a stick with live flowers on top, dead flowers below, 12 to 18 inches high. Dead flowers ratty and rotting, dark brown.

Day 4, Wednesday, March 21
This morning, we are off to Erfoud to hook back up with AL, who left us last afternoon. We stayed the night at a place out in the desert, the Auberge de Kasbah Derkaoua, which was really lovely. Rooms were basic (simple bed, Dacron pillows) but had bathrooms very luxurious—2 sinks, a flash heater for hot water, 2 towels plus a linen towel per person. Very clean. But the best feature was the garden, which was lovely and so welcome. Olive and tamarisk trees, red hibiscus, palms. And the design was lovely—lots of cozy inviting corners and a layout that was asymmetric and appealing. Really pleasing. This was where we met the American foursome. The auberge is run by a Frenchman, Michel, and his frenchified Berber wife who has an infant and a 2 year old. It was the prettiest, most charming and altogether most comfortable place we stayed, despite being in an environment that made all this very difficult.
We stopped in a small village to take a photo of the proto-_____ on the hill, now abandoned. Instantly attracted 22 kids under 8 years old, peering into the van, begging for dollars. AL gave them a lecture about begging, being a bad ____ and _____ ____ go to school. We say three donkeys laden with greens for animals, piled so high as to seem impossible.
Today the program is to drive to Zagora. First to Erfoud to pick up AL (he stayed there rather than at the auberge), then south to Rissani and then west across the Sahara. We stopped at Alnif to buy trinkets, see the market (fruits and vegetables only, and poor) then to Tazarine, where we stopped to have a coke and stretch.
West from Tazarine, we passed through an area with many large oases of palm groves, with agriculture, mostly wheat and alfalfa.
(Bob) Wednesday was mostly long-haul driving. The new southern road from Rissani to Zagora is mostly fast driving. Long stretches of boring desert. Only a few places worth stopping for. Increasing density of palms as we approached the Draa Valley. Occasional remarkable villages build of bare adobe, exactly the same color as the dirt.
Zach had a bad bout of fever Tuesday night and felt poorly during the day Wednesday. He took the one-shot Cipro cure in the afternoon, went to bed as soon as we arrived at Zagora. He reappeared at breakfast, feeling as if he had been sick for a week but had started to recover. Sooz and I took care of Sky for the evening.
We reviewed our diet for the offending dish—Berber pizza? Berber salad? Orange juice diluted with tap water? Strange that Zach, traveler to the most microbial regions of the world, should be the only victim.
AL warned us that Zagora was full of hustlers. The walk that Sooz and I took before dinner confirmed his warning fully. The first hustler, in his early 20s, spoke good English in a good patter. He recommended a route off the road through a village and was sincerely offended by my suggestion that the route led to the carpet store. Finally, he got around to his pitch—his family runs a camel enterprise—did we want to sign up for an expedition? When it was clear that we weren’t likely customers, he departed politely. His replacement for the next mile spoke a mixture of English and French. His objective was less clear and his persistence bothersome. He wanted us to go to his shop, just for looking, and to fill out a card for publicity. We tried conversing with each other and ignoring him but he stuck with us almost to the end. Really needed in this situation: a language we speak to each other unknown to any hustler—Finnish? Basque? Navajo?
(Sooz) The Kasbah Aswaa in Zagora, while not as pretty as the Kasbah Derkaoua, was very nice. Good garden, nice views of the palmerie and kitchen garden. Adequate rooms. Food was very good—we had couscous for dinner.

Day 5. Thursday, March 22.
The ladies here are mostly swathed in black, with black lace covers over their skirts. The top covers are trimmed with gold glitter thread and spangles. Odd mixture of modesty and allure.
But after being here several days, these clothes make more sense—wrap up against dust and dryness. Especially keep the mouth covered. My lips get dry when I am out and lipstick does not help—I need to wash. A cloth over my face would keep some dust off. AL says that the covers are all one piece of cloth—evidently both very wide and very long, covering all but the heavily made up eyes and painted feet. And babies go under the cloth.
The Draa Valley is still a valley even down as far as Tamegrute—you can see the river edge on both sides.
At Tamegroute, we visited a rest home, with its looser _______ sitting around the shaded edge of a courtyard with tea-making and laundry happening in the center. Then a library with 4000 ancient volumes on paper or gazelle skin hand written in Arabic. AL says some are about astrology, though from the figures it looks more like astronomy.
Now we go back up the Draa to Ourzazate. Riding along, we see occasional groups of camels, or goats, or sheep. Lots of blue caftans, especially sleeveless ones, down here. Also, many caftans and djellabas have a big pocket for the right hand. A few ladies have covers that are rust colored or checked or striped instead of black. But 80 percent are black
(Bob) Actually, Sooz did a little survey from the van that showed 86 percent were black with a standard error of 3.8 percent (N = 84).
(Sooz) Lots of building in Zagora since 10 years ago.
In town here are lots of bicycles and motor bikes. On the edge of town people are on donkeys. We say the device that makes the enormous loads possible—a heavy wire framework that goes on like saddlebags. An illustration in the writing-in book shows a donkey piled high with alfalfa, plus some mysterious other bundle on top, ready to go to market.
After the library we bought a 6-pack of Sidi Ali bottled water (1.5 liters per bottle) and 3 tapes of local music for Dr 100. It would be a good idea to buy these 6-packs in markets rather than at hotels (where they are Dr 10 or 12 each) as water consumption is several liters per person per day in this climate.
We passed a house with newly decorated front walls with a festive crowd outside to welcome the inhabitants home from the Haj. February was Haj month. AL says there is lots of extra market activity from Haj returning. Their refrigerators are empty?
(Bob) A most satisfactory day of touring, with plenty of walking. Zach partially recovered and able to participate in activities other than eating.
Went a bit south down the Draa Valley, to the Refuge for Crazy People and the Library. Then backtracked north through Zagora. Stopped at a village opposite an abandoned kasbah against the mountains. Many friendly people greeted us. Little begging, as this is not a tourist stop. The kids go to school in Zagora, but this week and next are spring vacation (as they are for Andy). Even women said hello, an unknown event in town.
Drove north and passed the road we took from Erfoud. Stopped for a putative 20 minute rest, actually around 90 minutes. Had pommes frites and chicken on skewers, both delicious. AL and driver had tagines.
Just before lunch we stopped as at weekly market in full swing. AL remarked on Sooz’s good luck in visiting markets on the days they are open. We explain about her strong travel karma, which has held so far on this trip (and held for the rest of the trip too). Who knows what frictions lie ahead, though (this written by the superstitious Bob to ward off future trouble. It worked.) The most notable item on sale in the market was a tire turned inside out, with a rubber bottom added, to serve as a bucket or tray for farm inputs and outputs. Trinket sellers were very aggressive here. One guy offered to sell us stuff from another guy’s shop when we______ ______ his—he acts as agent.
After lunch we ascended the Tizi-n-Tinififft pass over the range that separates the Draa Valley from Ourzazate. Strict moonscape on the dry southern side. Elevation at the pass is 1600 m.
On to the Tiffeltoufe kasbah, near Ourzazate. Good value kasbah—plenty of decaying adobe. A nest with two huge storks—really big birds! AL assures us that they are not lovers, but mother and child.
One more kasbah? Sure. Ait-Benhaddou has been made over several times by Hollywood, in Lawrence of Arabia, and most recently, in Gladiator, whose immediate post-enslavement scenes were made here.
Backto the Farah al Janoub hotel in Ourzazate. Relaxed by the pool—balmy air but 11 degree water. Nobody swimming. Buffet dinner. Horror of horrors—no wine served! (most places do have wine, a legacy of the French protectorate). A waiter volunteered to forage, but came back empty-handed. Looked longingly at the tables of foresighted Frenchfolk, whose tables were littered with wine bottles.
(Sooz) We changed tables at dinner when a group of about 20 Japanese, many carrying lighted cigarettes, came in to sit next to us.
Trinket sellers are quite aggressive down here. Near the kasbahs, they told elaborate stories—Glaoui carpets have three kinds of weave—pile, flat weave and embroidery. Why? Three wives. Even in the shop here at the hotel, they begged us to come in. Little mirror like I got on the last trip was $20, small brass camel $20 (way too much). They said they would make a deal and implored us to return, sad to see us leave.
Walking in to Ait Benhaddou, we saw one shop with beautiful displays, merchandise artfully and precariously piled up. Sky was in there picking stuff up instantly, to the horror of the merchant. I told Andy we better get him out of there, so I pickup one end, and Andy got the feet and we hauled him out. He was only mildly insulted.
There was an enormous white camel at Ait Benhaddou. AL says white camels are highly prized, very special.
I finished Sheltering Sky. It is a fine novel.
9:30 pm—Zach just reported in and is felling much better. He had a 3-hour nap after arriving at the hotel, then awoke hungry and ran down and ate the remains of the buffet dinner.
We gotta get Bob some cute travel clothes like Zach has—the Peter Jennings esthetic (cargo pants, cargo shirts, in great colors—khaki, white, turquoise). Pockets have gussets and drainage
holes. Very cool.

Day 6. Friday, March 23.
Woke up at the right time, feeling great, as yesterday. Easiest time change ever, due to:
1. Out in the sun every day.
2. Pharmaceuticals to avoid sleep deprivation.
3. Somebody else drives.
4. Prescribed program, but one with little naps possible.
Here I understand the desire to eat outside—inside there’s smoke and the smell of former smoke, while the climate is lovely and the air is clean and fresh. And in the shade it is comfortable from 7:30 am to 8:30 pm (in March).
About 11 am we stopped at Taznakht and had tea and visited the souk. Zach brought a 3-pack of slightly-larger-than-travel size Pert shampoo, one for him, one for Bob, one for Andy. Now my shampoo is safe for the duration, enshallah. Price is Dr 10.
One merchant had double donkey baskets of both nylon and straw. Asking price was $20 for the nylon, $18 for the straw. Straw was much more appealing, but nylon stronger and lighter. Sigh.
The market had the usual onions, string beans, big _____ _____, turnips, big white radishes, carrots, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, lots of cilantro and parsley (perfuming the entire market), beef, and goat. Also small _____. All in great piles on straw mats on the ground.
We sat in a little café and had mint tea and soft drinks, total Dr 16 and 3 tip. A musician came by and extorted money to go away. Sky left our table to chat up a snake charmer and the guy wound his snake around Sky’s neck Big thrill. No money extorted.
In the market there was also the usual dry goods—plastic brooms, brushes, combs, buckets, tagines and gas burners for the tagines.
We passed a truck fill of _____ with 6 men on top, lounging.
The area from Ourzazate to Taliouine is mostly barren. It looks like there is nothing for goats or sheep, but evidently this is wrong

Day 7. Saturday, March 24.
Last night we stayed in Taliouine at the Auberge Souktana. A little too basic to be truly comfortable. The bathroom has a handle shower over the Asian toilet (standing or squatting only). It is not clear if it is intended for a shower—though there is a hanger for it, but it seems unseemly to shower over the toilet. (Bob interpolates: Actually, there is a wooden grate you can deploy over the Turkish toilet to make a shower. Did not try it for lack of hot water, but Zach used it successfully on the other side of the 4-room hotel).
But the public areas are very comfortable—pretty garden, pretty interior courtyard, and a room beside it. All things considered, more appealing than the hotel where we went to buy 6 beers (for $2 each) and a bottle of crummy red wine ($12), the only other place in town.
We are to depart at 8 am, but it is 7:20 and there’s no sign of life in the kitchen.
(Bob) But at 7:30the kitchen woke up, and produced café au lait, oranges, and bread for everyone.
Except for the dunes at Erg Chebbi, the Moroccan deserstscape is not terribly interesting. One wouldn’t linger here except for the people and their creations. Deserts of Sinai, Utah, and Australia, targets of earlier adventure travel, offer more beauty—multi-colored rock, sandstone pillars, gorges. Morocco is mostly dark gravel, arranged in mounds without variations in topography. We are anticipating this morning’s ascent of the Tizi N Test pass.
Zach is up and reports plenty of hot water in his room but complains that the shampoo we bought for $1 for the tripack is not Pert, but some much lesser fake. I had to see—and confirmed ours is not Pert either. But it does look like shampoo. Zach claims it did not get his hair clean. AL says he thought it might be a fake at the time, but for $1 did not intervene. A careful analysis of the label showed the name to be “Prêt” rather than Pert, but with a claim to a license from Procter & Gamble. And it was shrink-wrapped. The plastic bottle is crummy and falling apart already. Into the trash…
Yesterday we circumnavigated the Glaoui kasbah here in Taliouine. We couldn’t go in. Not much to see, but enough to determine it was once quite grand.
During the summer, but not in March, goats climb trees here to eat the fruit. Olives and Argons, a relative of the olive. They are used for oil for cosmetics and rheumatism.
We stopped to relocate a three-week old puppy who was out in the road. AL gave the order to halt. We found three more puppies, all bigger and fluffier than the one in the road, sleeping in the shade of a bush. AL declared this an unsafe place for puppies. Their mother was at work tending sheep a hundred yards away.
Close examination of an Aragon tree shows it to be like pyracantha—thorny, big curved switches, same leaf shape but fruit is very different—fruit all eaten below the goat line.
We stopped to take photos of a herd of 50 or so camels, including babies. There was a very insistent 6-year old demanding dirhams. I refused. But AL said he drove the camels here for us, and we should pay him. We gave him 5 dirhams. A brother then appeared and the 6-year old confessed he helped, so had to change the 5 dirham piece so they could share.
Made a nice stop at the Tinmal mosque, which really is a pretty mosque.
We stopped in Ijoukak for lunch against AL’s better judgment, seeking out the best place—run by Said. It was pretty good but not as I remember. Evidently they eat lamb in the mountains only in summer. No utensils, no paper napkins. A sink with water and soap in the dining room.
The weather on this trip has been perfect every day. 75 degree high, 50 overnight low, dry, slight breeze, sun. (Bob interpolates: I can’t persuade Sooz not to make jinxing statement like this. Sunday began with angry dark gray clouds, plainly the result of her incautious writing the night before.)
W have arrived at Sanglier Qui Fume on the Marrakech side of the Tizi N Test pass. It is really pretty in a funky third-world way. All of our rooms are little suites, heavily upholstered in bright garish fabrics, with smooth painted plaster and a sort of Gaudyesque bathtub. Lots of cushions and a divan around the sitting room. Working fireplace. But the hot water is erratic. I warned Bob but still heard gasps periodically when he showered.
SQF has beautiful gardens—especially the most spectacular wisteria, in full bloom, covering a thousand square feet. As we arrived and exclaimed over it, Andy said, what hysteria?
We met Omar, the guardian whose job is to shoo sway the locals soliciting guide jobs to lead people up to the Berber village above the hotel. But Omar is eager to take us himself.
It looks like Ojai here! Same climate, big mountains, same vegetation, geraniums, calla lilies, lovely roses, bougainvillea, verbena, oaks, conifers, pepper trees, bay laurels. A Stock just flew over! No storks in Ojai.
(Bob) Why no storks in Ojai?
For a fee of Dr 20,Omar took us on a long interesting hike through the reticulum of trails and dirt roads in the area. One would never know from the road how much life there is here. (Sooz adds: But ascending the next tizi as we leave Origasse, we can see these villages from the road). We ascended to a village directly above, then made our way back via a most roundabout route—could not possibly have done this without an expert. Omar go this fee plus Dr 10 bonus.
To pay his Dr 5 of the bonus, Zach first changed a Dr 200 note (the size generally given out in ATMs) into 2 100s at the hotel (which, like other hotels, pleads a complete lack of change to customers who absolutely require numerous coins for tips). Then a taxi driver changed one of the 100s into 2 50s. The gift shop—miracle of miracles—gave Zach 5 of the scarce Dr 10 coins for one of the 50s. Omar returned the 5 that Sooz have him to Zach in exchange for one of the 10s. The low levels of productivity in third-world countries are the compound effect of countless frictions like this one.
Morocco has a stable currency as part of the Francophone monetary bloc, now linked to the Euro. The system of coins and bills is totally rational—coins up to Dr 10 ($1), bills above that. ATMs give out wads of 200s. Then the problem begins. Tourists are expected to hand out dozens of 5s and 10s every day, but it’s almost impossible to get merchants, shopkeepers, or especially hotelkeepers to part with any. One aims to run up bills just over Dr 100 to capture some essential coins. At the auberge in Taliouine, I tried this strategy, and the proprietess very reluctantly found change in some secret hoard. She was outraged to se a 20 in my wallet when she gave me her precious coins. Obviously she did not see her hotelkeeping duties to extend to making change for her customers to tip her help. Coin management is a huge headache for the traveler. The Dad is generally the one expected to produce the steady stream of priceless coins. How simple life is in the US, where tips are always multiples of the readily available dollar bill.
Health report: Zach developed classic turista on our third night—episode of fever followed by a day of GI distress. Sky had mild turista on Saturday—emergency bathroom requirement on the hike. I had a mystery illness starting early in the week: fatigue, headache, mild GI problems, not enough to prevent enjoyment. Gone by Sunday morning. Andy, frequently the most serious victim of foreign microbes, and Sooz, generally immune (thanks to a low dose of antibiotics every other day), have been healthy. May they remain so in Marrakech and Casablanca, enshallah (they were).
(Sooz) I take 250 mg of tetracycline every other day and eat slightly more adventurously than the others, and has had no touch of turista, so far, inshallah. She finished the trip unscathed.

Day 8. Sunday, March 25.
The schedule granted AL a long visit with his family outside Marrakech. He dropped us at the SQF after lunch on Friday. He and the driver disappeared immediately if not sooner.
Le gout Marrocain
We see both plastic and ceramic “Imari” dishes everywhere—from the dining room of the Meridian to the ratty weekly souk in Rissani. Clearly they are liked very much. Even Bob (a man of little observational power) noticed them at dinner last night. Part of a 600-year old tradition of China providing dishes to the Moyen Orient.
About 90 percent of ladies wear djellabas in Marrakech, while 100 percent of them wear djellabas or those 6 x 12 veils wrapped all around outside of Marrakech in the bled (countryside) unless they are at home (lounging on the front step or working outside) when one seems their regular dress—scarf, blouse, leggings or pantaloons, skirt, overskirt. The djellaba goes over this.
The ladies’ djellabas are mostly solid colors, usually a light color—brown, cream, gray, pale green, and sometimes olive or black, though a few wear turquoise or purple or fuchsia.
Men weal djellabas in neutral colors, nearly always with a vertical stripe, even if it is a minstrel stripe. The stripes look great, and everyone should wear them. A few ladies do.
Then there is the catwear aesthetic. Andy and I are very tuned on to it. Yesterday we saw not fewer than 10 leopard print djellabas on ladies, always in some tacky velvety fabric. Black/brown, green/black, gold/black, and so on. We saw them in the bled too—they are popular everywhere, with both young women and old. Thought they attract my eye (despite being, in theory, camouflage) they don’t look nearly go graceful and artistic as the striped ones.
Distinction: a djellaba has a hood, a caftan does not.
Nearly all men wear baboosh—those soft leather slippers with no heel. Some ladies do but many wear high-heeled sandals, often in silver or gold tinsel.
At the SQF, more than half of the dishes on which food was served to us were chipped.
We had a leisurely morning at SQF in Ourgeve to accommodate AL’s visit home. AT 11 am we set out for Marrakech, a drive of 1 1/2 hours to go 60 km.
Arrived at the Meridien, a thoroughly western hotel, except for French plumbing (which gets water on the floor) and a Moroccan 2 inch ledge from the bathroom floor to the room floor, which would not pass code at home and is indeed dangerous.
We had lunch at a grill place in the new city. We ordered way too much food, and the service was really slow.
Then to a “gallery” nearby to see the very best of Moroccan tschatkas, They were excellent, but very very expensive. Some metal boxes I admired were $1200, and this down from $1,480. To get fair price, knock off a zero and divide by two.
The proprietor alleged they were more than 100 years old. But they were all clearly from the same fabricator and could not be old. I want some anyway and will search today. Some beautiful inlaid wood, great low-grade silver jewelry, ceramics, daggers, swords, and some painted furniture.
Then to the Saadian tombs. Seems to me that all Moroccan architecture is the same—mosques, houses, palaces, and mausoleums—most beautiful to me is the restrained color.
Then to the Bahia Palace, the palace of Bou’ Ahmed, who gets a long treatment in Walter Harris.
And then to the medina! This is what I like best, wandering through the narrow alleys, watching life. A sewing machine store. Tailor offers _____. Cheap jewelry, spice shops, trinkets.
(Bob) Payment for customer flow
We presume that AL gets a cut from our purchases at the places he takes us for shopping. (Query: Is it a fraction of expenditure or margin?). We think this is OK, and even if we disapproved, the practice is inevitable.
Analysis: Compensating guides for bringing suitable customers is obviously good business for the shops. Not only is it efficient promotion, but it shifts the function of screening customers to people who have the best information about the customers. Guides have the same role as agents in the publishing business. In fact, one could imagine a shop that only did business with customers recommended by guides, just as most publishers today will consider manuscripts only from authors with agents.
But wait—what about the customer?—Doesn’t this practice mean that the customer is steered to the shop that pays the biggest bribe to guides, rather than the shop offering the customer the best deal? No. The shop that gains the most from the purchased stream of customers is the one that generates the largest surplus from actual transactions with the customers. As long as the customers know something about the stuff they buy, they will buy more from the places that offer a lot of good stuff and accept reasonable prices.
Does payment for customer flow raise the income of guides? No. There is free entry to guiding, so extra income from payment for customer flow attracts more people into guiding and lowers the direct rate of pay.
Bottom line: payment for customer flow is fine. Economists following the in the footsteps of Candide, showing that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

(Sooz) Day 9, Monday, March 26.
Exhausting day of shopping!
AL met us at 9 am and we went to Dar si Said, a grand old house that belonged to a guy who was a military honcho at the same time Bou’ Ahmed was prime minister (early 20th century). It is a museum now. Charming house and charming stuff. A very livable scale.
Then AL took us to the Cost Plus of trinket shops—a vast horde of stuff. Too much to digest, so we just looked and got a few price quotes and said we would return.
(Bob) The Carpet Store Experience
The Lonely Planet guidebook has a box making fun of the ritual of the Moroccan carpet store, and our experience conformed precisely. Presentable salesman, Hassan, appears, speaking fluent English. General conversation about our visit. Andy pipes up: “This is where we are offered mint tea.” Exactly. Chat over tea, and then the core ritual begins. Two barefoot assistants bring in carpet after carpet, seeking Madame Customer’s most preferred. The carpets are stored folded in towering piles. To retrieve one at the bottom of the pile, the assistant tips the pile and spills the higher carpet into a heap. The target is spread at the feet of Madame. The area around Madame Customer becomes a foot high with carpets.
Madame Customer adds to her considerable aura of expertise by producing a tape measure from her purse to determine exact dimensions of candidates.
After an hour of this, we move to Phase II, winnowing the candidate pile to those most desired. Andy was an eager participant, making choices much approved by Madame. Assistants scooped up the hundreds of rejects, folded them, and started rebuilding towers.
Now begins the critical price finding Phase III. As for cars and many other items, the salesman wants the customer to make the opening offer. Preliminary question from Hassan: global or individual pricing? Madame Customer insists on individual for now, though we know that the final deal will b global—one price for a package. All prices in dollars cash (not Visa, which carries a 5 percent surcharge here and everywhere in Morocco). Hassan proposed:
$350 for Andy’s second favorite
*$400 for Andy’s favorite
*$350 for a small carpet intended for Zach’s wife Alex
*$550 for a carpet favored by Madame, destination to be determined later
$1200 for a garish Glaoui
Vigorous pricing debate ensued. At one point, Madame Customer expostulated, “Don’t try my patience—I subscribe to Sotheby’s” when Hassan claimed that one carpet alone would sell for $3000 in New York.
Madame proposed $700 for the package marked with *s above. She stuck to this price and Hassan finally agreed. Despite great tension during price finding, smiling and friendship post-deal.
An odd experience followed the deal: Hassan put a great deal of effort into trying to get Zach to trade his high-tech little cell phone (with service in Morocco) for the Glaoui carpet that we were unwilling to pay a realistic amount of cash for (when required to make a cash offer, Madame responded with $200 as a way of saying she was not interested. Drew a snort from Hassan.) We tried to explain the inefficiency of barter to Hassan, but he persisted vigorously.
(Sooz) Then to more places in the medina, shopping for gifts mainly.
I also stopped in two spice shops. First was a real local place. Second was very touristy, with chairs set up for the Claudia Roden lectures. The ras al harout was available loose to smell, then in prepackaged sachets to take away. The two were not the same color, so I asked for a custom-filled package and they accused me of being from New Jersey! I told them they had the wrong vampire and they were baffled.
After a good lunch that cost $12 for 5 people, we went Bob and Sky home in a taxi while Andy, Zach, and I carried on. Sky felt cheated. He thought Andy was going back to the hotel too. Alas! Zach felt he had to get him a good present.
After returning exhausted from shopping, we chatted and examined our treasures. Sky and I both did the kasbah puzzle bought for Zane. Sky declared it too hard for a 4-year old.
(Bob) For dinner, we ate on the English level of a restaurant near the Fna. AL had suggested we buy 2 dinners for 5, and that was plenty. Sky was the center of attention, when he performed with the musician, who played a Moroccan guitar-lute. A tipsy Brit said Sky was a prodigy, which he slurred as progeny. Just as we were leaving, a danseuse appeared and the staff was astonished at our lack of interest in North African bump and grind dance. (Sooz: she was a countryside (bled) dancer, but did not dance in time with the music.)

Day 10. Tuesday, March 27.
First, to the Jardin Marjorelle—wonderful grounds with ponds, plus a small museum of textiles and artifacts. Andy and I watched a turtle family cavort in the pond.
Then back to the souk for mop-up shopping. Sooz came up dry in a carpet store, where her known alternative price was well below the seller’s reservation price, both for carpets and a brass and silver jardinière.
Next stop the Cost Plus: 3 mirrors, 2 posters, 2 knives, and 2 cushion covers. Difficult price finding. Could not close on the original selection. Took out Andy’s mirror and offered $140 in response to a demand for best offer over $200. Rejected out of hand. We started out the door. Seller demanded a better offer—we said $142. He responded with $155, which we accepted. Then Andy bargained separately over his mirror. Initial ask $175. His offer $35. Out of the question! We all walked out and Andy waved two $20 bills. Seller grabbed them, which creates a deal under the laws of every jurisdiction in the world.
Lunch back at La Terasse, same as yesterday. Delicious grilled meat, Moroccan salad, and olives for $3 per person. More the way we are used to eating on adventure travel.
On the way to lunch, Sooz was hit by a badly driven mule cart trying to make its way down a crowded lane in the souk. No serious injury. Driver got a tongue lashing from AL.
Serious apprehension about how to get Sooz’s big mirror back home. It’s not packed to be checked. Tentative solution after much hand wringing—Zach will carry it on in biz class, having checked other bags to SF on Air France. We are in coach from Casablanca to Paris, with less chance of pulling that leg off. We took over custody of the mirror in Paris. Lugged it over to United’s outfield terminal. A flight attendant noticed it while we were waiting to get on the plane, and pre-boarded it. It flew in the first-class closet.
Driving from Marrakech to Casa
Scenes by the road:
Lots of agriculture—wheat, onions, various herbs, alfalfa, red poppies
Some people on donkeys, but only a few
Lots of small herds of goats or sheep, always with a shepherd
At one point, evidently near a lake, throe were men waving big fish (5 lb +) for sale. Also some selling chicken, both alive and killed, and even one with eggs. Also numerous trinket sellers who looked to have necklaces of some sort of seeds.
We stopped at a truckstop for the driver to have coffee and smoke. Zach used the restroom and thought he should he should buy something. He inquired as to the prices of bakery items and called for 2 croissants for 8 dirhams. You take dollars? He offered as U.S. $1 bill. No—two dollars. Zach replied, no, you said 8 dirhams, this is 10 dirhams. He said no, 22 dirhams. Zach said that’s too much and made as to leave, and they guy finally said OK he’d take the dollar. Third-world transaction friction.
I passed on the bathroom here—I can deal with a standup toilet but not a dirty bowl with no seat.
(Bob) The flap at the Meridien in Casablanca
When we checked in to the Meridien at Casablanca, I sought change for a 100 to pay the myriad of claimants for Dr 10 coins. They offered me 4 of the 10s and the rest in unusable bills. Please, please, more change. Can’t the mighty Meridien find a source for change, even paying a premium? After screaming, I got my 4 10s and 12 5s. Seems like the market value of a10 dirham coin is around 12 dirhams.
Then up to our rooms. Supposed to be 1 double and 1 triple. Initial offer: one room with double bed and one with two twins, for a total of 4 bed positions. Three can sleep in double bed, says the porter. I call the desk to demand a real triple. On hold indefinitely. Manager appears in person. Can add rollaway to twin bed room. No good—you promised a triple. No triples in hotel—impossible. We say, then to honor your promise, you must give us another room. Impossible! Wait, we will set up a different room. Shown after 10 minutes. Standard double. But, we can use one bed in the adjoining room. All this done in the most negative, disparaging way. A new low in customer service. And this Meridien is remarkably shabby.
Fortunately, we had a delightful meal in the hotel’s Moroccan restaurant. Two meals for five people is just right. Superb music.
Day 11. Wednesday, March 28

Got up at 4:30. Van was waiting. To Paris without incident, waited 6 hours, and on to DC.

(Sooz) Guide v. no guide
1. Guides vastly reduce travel friction. With virtually all transportation and literally all lodging pre-arranged, there are lots of decisions from which the traveler is unburdened. This reduces the sense of adventure, but it allows us to see a lot more stuff in a given period of time.
2. Guides and their agents know useful stuff—two big ones were
a. The new road from Erfoud to the Draa Valley
b. Kasbah Der Kaoua.
3. Guide cannot better than AL—helpful and instructive without being intrusive.
4. I value having a driver more than having a guide. But Bobhall doesn’t mind the driving. If we had done the driving ourselves, the trip would have had to be much longer than it was to be comfortable.


Map of the relevant part of Morocco Posted by Hello


Tagine, the standard fare of Morocco. Delicious. Posted by Hello


Sooz in our tent Posted by Hello


The snake charmer. We had to pay a dollar for taking this picture--immediately after taking, the charge collector appeared. Posted by Hello


Isolated casbah Posted by Hello


A heavy load Posted by Hello


Village life Posted by Hello


Droopy horse Posted by Hello


Kitty in the souq Posted by Hello


Casbah on the skyline Posted by Hello


Mega casbah development Posted by Hello


More casbahs Posted by Hello


Your average casbah Posted by Hello


Sea of dunes Posted by Hello


Dunes just before sunrise Posted by Hello


Dunes at sunrise Posted by Hello


The donkey parking lot Posted by Hello


Hard working donkey Posted by Hello


In the Draa valley Posted by Hello


Djellabahs in Marrakesh Posted by Hello


Satellite dish in the souq Posted by Hello


Early morning camel ride into the dunes Posted by Hello


Camels everywhere Posted by Hello


Camel fat on offer in the souq Posted by Hello


Classic Morocco--casbah and camel Posted by Hello

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