Day Trip Out of the City

Trip Start Jan 16, 2008
Trip End Jan 19, 2008

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Today we are getting out of the city.  Zachariah from our riad arranged a driver to take us up into the mountains to Ourika Valley.  The driver met us at the riad and we piled into his minivan.  We left the city and drove toward the mountains.  We stopped at a shop selling Berber goods at the base of the mountains.  The Berbers are the native tribe in Morocco and still live in the mountains today.  As it turns out this is a stop most private drivers and tour buses make.  We were invited to go up to the roof for fantastic views for 360°.  Then back down to the shop.  We decided to buy a few things and Steve haggled with the best of them.  He managed to get a great price plus two cigarettes.  Even if you don't smoke it may be worth it to bring them just as a bargaining tool.  Walking around the city you would see men rattling change in their hand.  It took a while to sort out what this was all about but as it turns out they were selling individual cigarettes. 
From the Berber shop we proceeded into the mountains.  The views were amazing.  The road followed the Ourika River.  Small groups of houses hugged the sides of the mountains.  We stopped in a small Berber village where we were given a tour of a traditional Berber house.  They showed us the water driven mill that would grind grain for bread, the kitchen and other rooms.  The guide of course was looking for money after giving the tour.  So far this was becoming an expensive trip into the mountains.  From the Berber house we went across the street where we were shown how the women used stones to break open almonds.  The almonds were then used to make foods and cosmetics.  There was a shop were you could sample the food and purchase the products.  Steve and I didn't plan to spend so much money and were quickly running out.  As you can imagine there are not any ATMs in these towns. 
Next we drove up to a town called Setti Fatma.  This is a larger Berber town with lots of cafes along the river.  We picked up a young man named Mohammad that turned out to be our guide for the hiking portion of the trip.  Yep, hiking.  No one told us to be prepared for hiking.  I was not wearing appropriate hiking shoes.  Mohammad led us up a path that was not too bad.  We walked around several cafes higher up that had outdoor seating with great views of the river below.  The terrain slowly became more challenging.  Mohammad was like a goat jumping from one rock to the next.  It was obvious that he had grown up here.  He was very attentive and helped each of us across the rocks.  He was so much like a goat he could handle Beth on one hand and me on the other.  And he was a little tiny guy.  We just kept going up and up.  Eventually we reached our stopping point where there was a small café with seating along the falls.  To my surprise Mohammad lit up a cigarette while we took pictures and had a rest.  It really was beautiful.  I guess we could have gone further but again I really wasn't dressed for a hike.  After coming down Mohammad lead us to a small shop loaded with rugs.  He introduced us to Mustafa who invited us to sit down and offered us mint tea.  By the way, the mint tea is excellent.  Warm and sweet.  He then proceeded to unfold umpteen carpets showing us different colors, designs and sizes.  He broke out with some rugs that were thirty plus years old.  They were all amazing.  He then called in a young boy who took over unfolding rugs.  It got to the point I felt obligated to buy something.  As the young boy unfolded, Mustafa told us that he had two brothers in the States.  One in Boston and one in Florida.  He was waiting on his visa then he was going to visit.  All I could think was what a shock he was in store for, coming from here to any city in the States would be overwhelming.  By this time the rugs were now more than a foot deep so we asked the boy to stop.  It would take him all day just to fold them all back up again.  He then went through them one at a time so we could decide if we were interested.  We narrowed it down to two.  Then the negotiations began.  I informed Mustafa that he needed to deal directly with Steve.  Mustafa called him the Minister of Finance....  This has kind of stuck.  Mustafa wrote down a number...  somewhere in the 4,000Dh range.  This was way too much.  Beth, practicing her French blurted, 'deux mille'  (two thousand).  Mustafa was not interested in this number.  Steve offered him 1500Dh for both which he refused.  Steve then offered 1000Dh for one....  Mustafa maybe thinking we only had 1500Dh said how about 1500Dh for both....  Steve agreed.  Mustafa instructed that they should shake on it so they did.  As it turns out he took credit cards.....  we got a great deal!!  And two authentic Berber rugs.  What a great experience.
From the rug shop Mohammad walked us down the road for quite a distance to a café where we had a late lunch.  We were all starving.  We sat outside along the river.  It was really nice to relax. 
After lunch our driver was waiting for us outside and we loaded back into the van.  We were all a bit tired so it was a quiet ride home. 
That evening we were desperate for beer.  We deserved it.  So back to the Sofitel we went.  The place was really nice.  When our thirst was replaced with hunger we decided to catch a cab to Pizza Hut.  Yep, you read right....  Pizza Hut.  We had seen it on our hunt for beer the previous day.  The cabbies chuckled when we stated our destination but were happy to give us a ride.  Our cabbie even offered to come back in an hour to pick us up.  Brilliant!!  Best money spent. 
Upon return to the riad we discovered the power was out yet again.  And there was a huge group of children gather outside our riad yelling and banging on their drums.  Have they all gone mad?  Do they want more toys?  We had to push our way through the crowd.  We asked Zachariah what was going on and he told us they were celebrating Ashura, a Muslim holiday.  Again we thought this can't go on all night long.  It think it did but we were just too tired to care. 
My suggestion is that if you ever go to Marrakech; definitely take a day trip out of the city.  There is more to Morocco than just the cities.  The mountains were great and I am so glad we went. 
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