Marrakesh Magic, Morocco September 2009

I am never quite sure how to describe the feeling when I am finally standing alone with just a backpack in the arrivals hall of another foreign airport – whether it’s fear or exhilaration for a moment!

Es salaam alaykum! from Morocco where I touched down just over a week ago.  I am currently in Marrakesh which is iconic Morocco – tall date palms line the hazy outskirts and the dusty pink plastered walls and ramparts around the medina seem to smoulder under never-ending sunsets that fade slowly to burnt oranges and purples each evening. You dive into the crazy winding alleyways of the souks where master artisans design and sell crafts from leatherwork, ceramics, filigree and silversmiths – meanwhile dodging the flow of donkeycarts, motor scooters, bicycles and foot traffic in laneways barely a few feet across.  To look up is to spy details of ornamental ironwork covering windows and balconies, solid carved wooden doors adorned with gleaming door knockers in the form of the protective “hand of fatima” and colourful mosaic tilework. It feels like there is an entry to yet another mosque and the shadow of a minaret every few hundred feet. Every evening the main square in the medina transforms into a large barbecue as stalls set up from nowhere cooking everything from seafood to snails and sheeps head and a crazy cacophony of street entertainment emerges. There are Touaregs from the western Sahara dancing to drums, snake charmers horns wailing endlessly at bored cobras and performing monkeys vying for your attention.   I have managed to keep up with the frenetic pace of the Marrakshi medina for only a few days – retreating to quiet rooftop terraces at sundown each night for a spicy tagine and mint tea.

As you would have guessed I have indulged my trekking habit and my itchy feet have taken me to the High Atlas mountains to traverse the M’Goun Massif – around a 60km hike from the Ait Bougoumez valley, over several mountain passes, to the summit of Jebel M’Goun at 4068m and then down the Tessaout valley through several Berber villages.  I hired a local Berber guide and 2 mules and drivers for a thoroughly amusing time travelling along trails used for centuries by the nomadic Berbers to graze their herds in the mountain pastures and valleys.  The scenery is arid but spectacular with steep sedimentary limestone and sandstone cliffs stabbing at the deep blue sky. Walking through remote Berber villages transports you to medieval times as locals garbed in hooded cloaks ride mules and donkeys through tiny winding streets. So tomorrow I plan to head east, towards the first dunes of the Sahara desert and I will write more as my month in Morocco unfolds.

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