Would you like some couscous with that couscous?

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
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Trip End Jul 17, 2010


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Flag of Morocco  ,
Thursday, July 8, 2010

Often, people take my lack of preparation and knowledge about a place we're visiting as me being lazy. There’s some truth to that, in fact there’s a lot of truth to that. When I’m on holidays, I don’t want to be organised like I am at work. But there is also another reason. I like to go somewhere with as few preconceptions as possible. Unfortunately for Morocco, I went there expecting one thing and getting something very different.

When we landed in Morocco, I was expecting a smorgasboard of exotic foods, intoxicating spices and culinary delights. Instead all I got were the same 3 dishes everywhere we went. We’d have a tagine for one meal, couscous for another and keftas for the third option. A tagine is a meat dish that is slow cooked in a special tagine bowl with vegetables. The couscous is semolina wheat that is moistened and rolled into fine grains. The grains are usually steamed and served with a stew. Keftas are basically sish kebabs, meat skewered and cooked over a grill. All of those dishes are tasty and wonderful, but that was all we seemed to get, everywhere we went. At first, I devoured the meals like a man possessed but soon, even I was getting a little tired of the same dish choices every meal. It’s important to note that having 45-50 degree ambient temperatures really makes eating a meal out of a hot tagine dish a tough ask. So there you go, that ought to teach me to have expectations about a place. I have had high expectations about other places and other things and all of them have come through so I can’t really complain about a few repetitive meals.

Food choices aside, Morocco is a pretty cool place. The landscape is very different to what we’ve seen and the heat here is insane.

Casablanca is apparently home to the fifth largest mosque in the world, which apparently has the largest minaret. Why I chose to mention that I’ll never know, it’s not like I’m counting down the 10 largest mosques in the world and working my way to number 1. But seeing as I’m talking about silly facts, the inside can fit about 25000 worshippers and the outside grounds can fit another 100,000 people. If you are in Casablanca check out Hasan II Mosque, besides the fact that there's not a whole lot else to do in Casablanca, it is a beautiful building built right on the Atlantic Ocean, so it also has some great views. 

There’s little doubt that the people of Morocco love their monarch. What’s not to love. His father was loved as one of Morocco’s best kings and his son has taken on the mantle. Young and modern, he seems like he’s got his house in order. He’s put through a law that only allows polygamy if the first wife says it’s cool and he’s pledged to sort out human rights problems in his country. He’s also married to a lady who was an IT professional before she took her seat beside the big guy. As you would expect, everywhere you go, there are pictures of King Mohammed VI. Most are of him doing the usual stoic pose, sitting in some expensive chair. The variations are what get me. There’s Mohammed with his son, Mohammed in tradition dress, Mohammed in military garb, but my favourite has to be Mohammed skiing. Yup, if I was to have a Moroccan business, that would be the picture I’d have. Everyone was asked (forced) to donate some cash to build the 5th largest mosque in the world and for their donation, they were rewarded with a picture of the king. All we get at home is a receipt and a tax deduction but I’m cool with that. I’m not sure where we’d hang a picture of Queen Lizzy putting some tracks into some fresh powder.

The rest of our trip was spent doing the usual touristy thing. Eating camel burgers (I was hungry and had a second helping), visting bazaars, spending a night in the Sahara, seeing some of the most amazing oases in our drives and climbing the rockfaces of Todra gorge. Walking through the bazaars was amazing if not a little intense. It’s a buzz to the all senses, the sight of the little shops jam packed to with all manner of goods, the smells (and there were plenty of smells, not all of them good) and the feeling of pressing human flesh once in a while. What’s even more amazing are the houses that are just off the bazaar. You could walk down an alley and see a few windows that are closed up, but go into one of these houses and there are more rooms and courtyards than you could ever imagine. In old times, the women never left the house and were not allowed in public so the houses were the only worlds they knew once they were married. Even the shopping was done by male servants.

If you’re a tea lover, then Morocco is the place for you. They love their tea hot, sweet and full of mint. The first time I was offered tea, I wasn’t really convinced. I mean I like tea but when it’s 50 degrees outside, the thought of holding a stinking hot cup of tea then emptying the contents of said hot cup down my throat doesn’t sound sane. Drink I did and the mint does cool you down. But a cold can of Pepsi Max does the job just as well.

Our final stop was in the town of Marrakech and it was there that my faith in Moroccan food was finally restored. The main square around sunset is a throng of activity, with snake charmers, monkey handlers and fortune tellers clamouring for your cash. Once the sun drops, the night food markets open up and it is an amazing sight. The food and variety is simply amazing. It’s a pity that at that exact moment, my one and only lens (the Sigma 24-70mm 2.8f lens) started to make a crunching sound and decided to give up the ghost. Nic and I resolved to come back to Marrakesh and spend some time just coming to these markets every night to sample the various dishes on offer. Morocco, you took your time but you’ve got me wanting to come back.

In our next blog, we catch up with your dear friends Steve and Bernie in London, find out that free can also be good and sample the best that Gordon Ramsay has to offer. 
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