Barbary Apes In the Middle Atlas Mountains

Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
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Trip End Dec 20, 2010


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Where I stayed
Salam

Flag of Morocco  ,
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

This morning started slowly with a sleep in on our rooftop and numerous coffees at the restaurant next door. We traded cigarette lighters with our friendly waiter who had a collection of 149 lighters from all over the world. Nadine and i did a deal on two pairs of leather genie shoes that are well made and have turned up ends at the front. We trekked with our packs through the produce market where amongst other things there were cow legs with hoof on being sold as a set of four. We hit up the local bus company for buses to Azrou and ended up sitting on a stationary bus guarding our seats for an hour and a half until the bus filled up and it left. During this waiting time vendors and beggars got on te bus looking for money. Kids were selling tissues because toilet paper in Morocoo is a rarity. There was a guy selling watches and one with brass scales and yet another with hand held fans. The fans looked tempting in te heat. The fan guy wanted 20 dirham for a fan which is a bit steep so by the next time he came around, Merete had made us each one using paper from her journal. There was no air-con and the ride was uncomfortable.

 We travelled South from Fes and deeper into the Middle Atlas Mountain range to the town of Azrou where the people were friendlier and the air cleaner and cooler. Us three ladies checked into Hotel Salame owned by a French guy and situated around the square. From the rooftop here we could see over the muslim-favoured-green coloured tile rooftops and the mosque and had good views of the surrounding mountains.


The cooler climates in Azrou support plentiful pine and cedar forests through which we did a short trek. We met a guy named, you guessed it, Mohammed who sat down and chatted over coffee with us. Mohammed was a genuinely friendly Morrocan aho was visiting his family from the US where he now lives. Mohammed hooked us up with a mountain guide named Eunice who turned out to be a very sweet guy. Mohammed had his friend drive us up to the mountains where we could walk through the cedar forest for a couple of hours and make it back into town before it was dark. It happened to be raining and Mohammed and his friend drove back to see if we would like to drive back down. We decided to walk anyway and enjoy the forest. The walk was easy through cleared trees but was spoiled by the amount of garbage strewn around the natural space. I bought some beautiful fossil stones and crystals from a local whose Beverly Hillbilly looking shop was in front of a muslim-green kombi in its grave. 

At the start of the walk we saw some Barbary Apes that are relatives to the Japanese macaque apes you see pictures of sitting in what looks like hot springs. These hairy little fellows are actually monkeys not apes but have no tails and babboon bottoms. They were fairly staunch looking creatures and there were two babies who looked alot like Mono Loco. Whilst there we witnessed the horrendous act of some local men trying to knock the apes out of the trees by throwing rocks at them in an attempt to steal the babies to sell to tourists. Shocking. Once common throughout northern Africa and southern Europe, there are estimated to be just 1,200 to 2,000 Barbary Macaques left.

When we returned to the town we were invited into the mountain guides home wich doubled as a hostel rooftop sleeping gig. He sat us down at his table and told us to wait while he got soup. Before we knew it we were breaking the daily Ramadan fast with the tour guy. We were tired and really just wanted to pay the guy a tip and get out of there. Turns out the food was to be very tasty soup, fresh and juicy dates, boiled eggs and some cookies. The cookies are a dessert only eaten during Ramadan and are called Halwa shebakia,  it is honey cake, which is essentially pretzel-shaped pieces of dough deep-fried and dipped into a hot pot of honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Then the tea ritual again.Traditionally, making good mint tea in Morocco is considered an art form and the drinking of it with friends and family members is one of the important rituals of the day. The technique of pouring the tea is as crucial as the quality of the tea. Moroccan tea pots have long, curved pouring spouts and this allows the tea to be poured evenly into tiny glasses from a height. To acquire the optimum taste, glasses are filled in two stages. The Moroccans traditionally like tea with bubbles, so while pouring they hold the teapot high above the glasses. Nobody drinks coffee and we can only get it from tourist restaurants. Then a guy arrives with a second Ramadan meal containing a different soup which we have to eat because it would have been rude to reject it. We watch a boring slideshow featuring photos of other people tey have taken on treks before excusing ourselves out of there.  

The Moroccans dont really eat with you but wait until you finish, they sit at the table with you though and it annoys me to eat in front of people. Especially considering we are still learning to not use our left hand when eating and they all look starving. There is protocol for everything in the way they deal with each other and i am finding it difficult. Nothing is black and white and i feel people are lying all the time. They kind of justify this by adding an  Inshallah which means god willing to the end of sentences. For example: The bus leaves in ten minutes- inshallah (if god wills it). It doesnt leave because they sold you tickets for a later one or you have to wait for the bus to fill up. They knew that in the first place, they should have just said that.

Azrou hosts one of the regions largest weekly souqs (markets) and it happened to be held on the Tuesday we were there. We went earlier this morning. Berber women from all the surrounding villages were haggling with vendors over a whole lot of different things for sale. Fresh, organic produce was abundant making for a colourful site and when we went to buy some bits and pieces of fruit and vegetables, we were given the produce as gifts and made a nice lunch out of it. We snuck it up into our room where we ate it in peace, away from hungry eyes waiting for the Ramadan fast to end. We spotted a shoe repair guy in the market and Nadine got him to fix the sole on her broken Birkenstock sandal by hammering four nails in. The job cost 5 dirham (70 Australian cents). We still have not found any kaftans that suit us.

At night time we all shared what turned out to be an expensive tourist price tajine (stew cooked in clay pot). We are surprised that the Moroccan cuisine is not as spicy as we expected it to be and there is not so much variety. So far we have basically eaten couscous, tajines, omelettes and soup. We got the urge for ice-cream and so the mission was on to locate some Magnum ice creams. It was wonderful luck that we happened to find some fake Magnums that turned out to be good imposters. I also ate some kaab el ghzal  which means gazelle's horns and is a pastry stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar. We also bought a bag of fancy little decorated cookies from a guy on the street. Next stop, we berber up in the Sahara Desert.
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