Lot 1 Channel Highway, Gardners Bay.

OMG – what a trial.  :/

So, Mr K and I have been looking for a property in Tasmania to semi-retire on… you know the sort of place we can keep working here and there but can live in for most of the year to basically get away from the Queensland heat.  We’ve put in offers on a few places over the last twelve months even though the market was going through one helluva crazy uptick of interest from Mainlanders wanting to avoid Covid lockdowns, so prices have gone up since I first started pondering this idea about six or seven years ago.  Anyway, we are hunting in the Huon Valley and found a few places that we loved.. there was one 30 acre lot up on Sky Farm Road in Deep Bay with beautiful views down the Huon and a wonderful guy named Jeff selling the place (Jeff lived next door); he already had a contract on it but the purchasers were just having trouble getting finance, so we made a back-up offer in case it fell through.  Seems our backup offer was the leverage Jeff needed to put some pressure on his purchasers and somehow they managed to pull it off at the last minute, so we missed out on that one.  Then there was another gorgeous 30-acre property on Rocky Bay Road (which for ‘reasons’, I kept mistakenly calling the Rocky Road Property, rolls eyes) with a large flat building envelope and views over the Huon that were to die for.  That property sold for $70K over the asking price within four days of being put on the market!  So we were outbid almost immediately.
And then there was this other place we recently found at Lot 1 Channel Highway, Gardners Bay Tasmania… it is listed as 20 acres (8.33ha) of Residential Land for sale on offers over $275,000.  Which I have to admit sounds a bit cheap for the area and the current state of the market, but we realized pretty quickly that the access needed some serious upgrading before you could get into the place without a 4WD.  So we contacted the agent to do some investigating on our last day in TAS on our most recent trip. The agent didn’t show us the place, just told us how to access it, so we put on some walking shoes and hiked up to check it out… about 1.km from the road and mostly ‘UP’.
This property too, has water views over the Huon – or at least it would once you built the road in and did some clearing, and was a really cool bush block with some fern-filled gullies and a large enough flat-ish area that could serve as a good-sized building envelope. Beautiful spot and so quiet compared to living barely ten clicks from Brisbane’s CBD, next to the noisiest neighbours this side of … well, probably only this side of the Gateway, because let’s face it, city living is full of noisy neighbour problems.

lot one gardeners bay channel highway

So we made an offer on this property.  Which was initially rejected because we had put a 21 day due diligence clause.  It took the vendors over a week to get back to us to say it was rejected, by which time I had well and truly started the due diligence (inasmuch as I am able considering I am not a lawyer and wasn’t in TAS at the time!) by having several conversations with representatives from the Huon Valley Council, the Tasmanian Dept of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment and I even started a dialogue with a local consulting engineer. From what we could find ourselves, the access to the property did look challenging.  Because the property is accessible from a State-controlled Highway, you needed to have an Access License – the existing owner has one such license and we couldn’t obtain a copy without requesting it from the current owner or until we were the current owner.  I got conflicting information as to whether this Access License could be transferred to new owners – the State Government representatives I spoke to indicated that it could be transferred (and pointed me to a form and a $99 application fee) but a conveyancing lawyer later told me that you couldn’t and that the existing Access License would expire and we’d have to apply for a new one at a $299.00 fee… which is neither here nor there and would be a bridge to cross when it came to settlement (We would have aimed to fill out the transfer form and if it didn’t transfer you’d apply for a new one.  Given it’s the only possible access to the property – the Govt would be unlikely to deny granting a new license).
The other challenge the property presented was a small segment of ‘Reserve Road’ which chopped through the property at a rather annoying spot which could reduce the building envelope significantly.  Bushfire planning insists that any building must have a 25m clearance around the house, and none of that clearance may consist of Crown Owned land.  So in the interest of gaining the best and largest possible building envelope, any buyer would likely have to go through a State Govt application process to have the ‘Reserve Road’ valued and request to purchase it.  I had a few conversations with people from Crown Land Sales that indicated a very high probability of this being doable – especially if you applied for a ‘Small Adhesion’ to the Folio Plan rather than requesting a Reserve Road acquisition.  I don’t have a clear legislative picture as to why this would make it easier or have a greater opportunity of approval, but it seems a ‘reserve road’ that goes nowhere is not really considered ‘reserve road’ anymore, so may require less surveying etc if it’s considered a Minor Adhesion. Either way, this would have taken about 9-12 months and a nearly $700 application fee for them to value it and hopefully approve the sale before they calculate exactly how much it would cost to buy.  There is no official appeals process for this application should it get refused, but there’s often more than one way to skin a cat when you’re dealing with Government. So this didn’t overly deter us either.
So this is roughly where I’d gotten to when we sent in a counteroffer, we upped our price a little but dropped our due diligence clause to just 7 days – mostly because I had spent the last seven doing a LOT of it myself.  That offer was accepted and we thought we were off to the races!  We then hired a local conveyancing lawyer in Huonville and jumped into the formalities.  Things were progressing pretty much as expected with the conveyancer turning up exactly the things I had discovered (okay, almost as much information as I had discovered but I largely had covered off far more detail in my discussions that he found in his searches.  UNTIL last Friday when we discovered that the ListMAP for this particular property at Lot 1, Channel Highway, Gardeners Bay, Tasmania, property ID 5858700 was WRONG.
The property is NOT zoned RESIDENTIAL it is zoned RURAL RESOURCE.  Which is a massive pain in the arse!  Several years ago, the Huon Valley Council (and it seems many other regional councils in Tasmania) re-zoned huge swathes of undeveloped land from being ‘residential’ to being ‘rural resource’.  This change was ostensibly done to keep the agricultural importance of the area and stop it from being ‘gentrified’ by part-time mainland owners.  At the time, people who owned properties impacted by these changes could apply to have it zoned back to Residential for a period or time without penalty… or so I was told by one real estate agent last year. Once the period had elapsed, people can still apply to have their properties rezoned back to being ‘residential’ but it now came with a hefty application fee (several thousand) and no guarantee of success. The more cynical (or pragmatic as I like to call it) may say this was a quick and dirty council cash grab, aimed at absent owners who weren’t paying attention, and they’re probably not wrong.  Either way, this changed this considerably.  No doubt… NO DOUBT… both the vendor and the real estate agent in this transaction were aware that the zoning of the property was not RESIDENTIAL as advertised, and the push to get a low or no due diligence clause into the contract is a hail Mary attempt to dupe some unwitting buyer.
But worse than this re-zoning application that would be required is the real deal-breaker… the property is roughly 290m x 290m… which is a goodly size.  HOWEVER, the property next door is zoned ‘SIGNIFICANT AGRICULTURE’.  So what?  Well, zoning requirements require that any building under the Rural Resources Zoning provisions require a 200m setback from any ‘Significant Agriculture Land’ even if that’s got nothing on it but some cows. So this would mean that the building envelope goes from being at the highest flattest point of the ridge to a narrowish strip of undulating gully.  Not at all ideal and would certainly have presented so creative architecture solutions.    So, we asked for an extension on the due diligence to see what the council might be able to offer by way of remedy (not that we were hopeful that there is any remedy because we are totally unable to exert control over how the neighbouring property is zoned or managed), but the vendor refused the extension which negated the contract – presumably because they knew the jig was up, that we had discovered the block is not just challenging to build on, but damn near impossible with so many restrictions you’ll never be able to optimize use of the land, and you’ll certainly never be able to build to get any views over the valley.
So, that’s been the last three weeks of my life and $1000 of legal fees down the drain… now I just imagine the exciting things I could have been doing instead.

Well… fuck.

I am a mess.  But you all know me, ever the optimist *rolls eyes* I can say ‘at least it’s not a stroke or a brain tumour’.  😐

Last Sunday (it’s Friday morning now), I noticed some tingling in my tongue and around my lips and it felt like the allergy reaction that I get if I’ve been exposed to, or ingested, sulphites.  It’s normally something that I have only experienced from drinking certain ciders or wines (which I tend to avoid because I’m not fond of the sweeter stuff anyway), but because this sensation had persisted for a few days and because of my family history, I was fairly convinced something else was going on.  I spoke with BigSal and she had me do a bit of winky-blink test and asked if I could swoosh water around in my mouth, and it was fine – both tasks doable.

The following morning, Monday, woke up and – nope.  Couldn’t wink my right eye at all, and failed the swoosh test while brushing my teeth most spectacularly.  So off to the doctor I went – something I was trying to avoid since I have been effectively going nowhere except for groceries and to my mum’s or my sister’s homes since Feb 23rd.  Get to the doctor, tell him I have been experiencing dreadful headaches (with hideous light and noise sensitivity for over four weeks now), and that I have woken up with severe facial paralysis with considerable pain, numbness and tingling, primarily down the right side of my face.  He asked me if I was experiencing any other referred nerve pain or weakness, particularly on the right side of my body to which I replied: “Is this a trick question?”  Because of course, I do. I always have nerve pain in my extremities.  He did a double-take and seemed to remember who he was talking to, and said, “Well, I think you have… ” – “Bells Palsy,” we ended the statement in unison.

Him:  How did you know?  Me:  My father had it when I was a teenager and my sister had it perinatally, so I guess the dodgy nervous system and bullshit immune responses kinda run in the family.

If you don’t know what Bell’s Palsy is – you can google it.  Doctor’s are not convinced they know what causes it.  Some say it is the immune system having a meltdown response to exposure to a virus (Great… I’ve been isolated since late Feb, and gee lemme think, what crazy arse virus is globally running amok atm?).  Others say it is caused by prolonged periods of stress which causes the immune system to go haywire.  Either way, the thing is effectively inflammation that causes all the facial muscles and nerves on one side of your face to go ‘Oh ferfucksake’. No idea, why it only occurs on one side..?!

For reference and comic relief… I provide this almost photo-realistic artistic representation of my face right now with Bell’s Palsy:

Anyway, because of the horrific never-ending battle with chronic neuropathic pain that has taken over my entire adult life, the doctor decides I should go have an MRI of my brain to double-check there are no signs of a stroke or brain tumour lurking about that we might miss because my relationship with pain is somewhat NOT NORMAL.  Had the scan on Tuesday night which in itself was not fun. The technician had said that we may need to add contrast if they see something that needs further investigation or can’t get a clear scan, but that it often wasn’t needed.  So I’m in the scanner for about 40 mins when she comes over and says that she called the radiologist and we are going to need to use the contrast (not exactly comforting given her earlier statement).  Then about another 20 mins in the scanner before I can go – but of course they won’t tell you anything about the scans, ‘Your doctor will have the results by midday tomorrow.’

Which wasn’t overly helpful given my doctor doesn’t work Wednesday afternoons (he opens Saturdays instead) and that meant I didn’t get the results until Thursday morning (yesterday).  No signs of stroke and no signs of brain tumours… which was weirdly both a relief and a disappointment.  Yeah, disappointment – my ‘interesting’ relationship with chronic nerve pain actually had me half hoping they’d find some bizarre (but operable) brain tumour that has been causing my shitty pain condition these last 30 years.  Perhaps that kinda unusual thinking is something I need to spend some time on down the track…

When I did finally call and find out that I have the all-clear, and it is *just* Bell’s Palsy as we suspected. Which means a few days of prednisone – if it helps, take it, if not, don’t… though how you are supposed to tell if it’s helping when I’m feeling so completely shit, is fucking beyond me – and then I just have to wait it out.  The paralysis and pain symptoms should abate in two to three weeks with a bit of luck, and then facial massage and physio-type facial exercises to rehabilitate any muscle atrophy for the next three months or so.  Most people will recover entirely and have no noticeable long term effects – and given I recognised this for what it was really early (due to familiarity with the condition), we jumped on it really quickly.  My dad was not so lucky as he probably ignored his symptoms too long, and had a facial droop/weakness for the rest of his life that left him with a lopsided smile for the rest of his life.

These last few weeks of self-imposed social distancing/isolation have not been fun. Our work has dried up almost completely, and while it has been wonderful having Mr K home so much, it has also been stressful trying to navigate the potential financial implications, cancelling all our travel plans for the entire year and the exhaustive hard work to avoid people – all the people who seem so unconcerned about this pandemic!  I’ve been watching many of my friends struggle with the adjustment of working from home and trying to help school their children (oh my god, my heart is daily going out to my teacher friends – they have been under such inordinate strain in such extraordinary circumstances.  We have been spending our days sharing health information and news articles on Facebook and seriously dark memes on Twitter, while watching America’s dumpster fire of a response to the pandemic scare the hell out of all us (and so it should – this is what happens when an apathetic constituency elects an uneducated, mouth breathing bigoted, misogynistic, narcissist to high political office), making us ever so pleased to be Australian.

Given I have no other symptoms related to viruses we are chalking this up to a genetic predisposition to stupid nervous system and immune system responses and well… stress.  Which is why I decided to write something about this and share it with my friends. We are ALL under weird stress right now, drawn-out and low-grade for some, intense and ever-increasing for others, and of inordinately long duration and with an unknown point of cessation!  I am not great at the self-care thing.  I have never mastered it, futilely seeming to prefer to ignore rather than coddle the various infirmities my traitorous body throws at me… and look what has become of that. So, I implore you all to look after yourselves and look out for each other in your isolation bubbles, and if you suddenly start to feel like you’ve just been to the dentist and the anaesthetic hasn’t worn off when you haven’t been near one for months – off to the doctor, pronto!

Updates:

When Your Inner Germaphobe Becomes Your Outer Germaphobe.

Okay, hang onto your hats, wash your fucking hands, and welcome to (one of) my major psychological malfunctions.

Confession time: Hello, my name is Borys and I am a lifelong germaphobe.

Always have been, probably always will be. Part of this stems from obsessive personality traits, diagnosed some time back in the early 90s… and part of it results from spending way too much time on the Internet and researching the fuck out of “things that can, and probably will, go wrong”. Yes, I dare say germaphobia and innate pessimism go hand in hand.  I have always been careful to make a distinction between me and my diagnosed ‘obsessive personality traits’ (germaphobic, huge equal helpings of being overly meticulous, finickity, and fastidious about way too many things), and that of people who really suffer from full-on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, who experience debilitating and controlling compulsions because I think a lot of people are too flippant with the ‘OCD’ tag. I don’t suffer from compulsions…  Or at least I have not in the past.

When I was really little I used to hate the feeling of mud squishing up between my toes when we went pumping yabbies on the mudflats at Straddie – it turned my stomach because it felt like stepping in dog shit… something which happened semi-regularly when you spent your childhood roaming the neighbourhood barefoot and people weren’t required by local laws to pick up after their pets back then.  I’m fairly confident it got much worse when I was about 15 and I contracted glandular fever.  Either picked up from sharing a drink with some random or (more likely) from snogging Alan Medland at a Blue Light Disco, seeing he came down with it several days before I did.  Anyhoo… it laid me up for about six weeks.  I was really really sick, fever, aches, coughing and spluttering and spitting up gunk. Multiple blood tests later, I found out I have shit veins. Secondary infection meant I lost my voice and an entire term of school work. It was pretty miserable.  My capacity for solving simultaneous equations never recovered but, ‘meh’, I survived.

About four months later my sister, BigSal, got chickenpox – and I was determined to do everything in my power not to get sick again!  I disinfected everything. Repeatedly. I refused to use the phone if she’d been on it.  I wouldn’t be in the same room with her. I wouldn’t touch things that she had touched, I wouldn’t eat my meals near her and insisted she shouldn’t be allowed near the kitchen – basically forced everyone to treat her like a complete leper.  Anyway, I was successful and managed to avoid getting chickenpox even while living in the same house as an infected/contagious individual for about a month. As it turns out my fastidiousness in avoiding it was a bit of a mistake – spending your entire adult life worrying about getting a dose of chickenpox as an adult is not fun  😐   Yes, I’ve been vaccinated of course – but still.

Ever since then, I’ve been somewhat, err… hypervigilant in the hygiene department?  How hypervigilant?  Well pernickety enough that when I was in Turkey and stuck in the tight confines of a double-decker bus with 23 people – when more than half of them got sick with a really aggressive case of gastro – I didn’t get it.  And again when on a cruise ship with a whole bunch of people down with norovirus – I didn’t get it.  My mum used to say I have a cast-iron gut when people all around me were getting sick and I wasn’t. But truth is, I have always just been really really anal retentive about my hand/face hygiene habits my entire life, and no more so than when travelling.

I got even more germophobic in 2003 after I picked up a very serious (read: potentially fatal) staph infection in my abdomen after a laparoscopic surgery that landed me back in a different hospital from the one that gave it to me, with a burning abdomen, high fevers, delirium, two infectious diseases specialists, some ‘let’s nuke this fucker from space’ IV antibiotics that they hold back especially for these types of infections, and a newfound hatred for hospitals. :/

My particular brand of germaphobia is usually somewhat like a subterranean aquifer – it’s well hidden but it runs pretty consistently unless diverted.  Long before this coronavirus outbreak, I had a hundred and one little hygiene little habits. I can’t sleep if I haven’t showered, the idea of getting into bed ‘dirty’ (yeah, dirty from sitting around on a computer in the air-con all day) feels completely ‘ick’.  I’ve always washed my hands so often and aggressively that the fingerprint reader on both my previous iPhones never worked (god bless facial recognition!). I make mental notes of who’s drinking what and to never drink from someone else’s cup. It angers me to try and make even something simple like toast in my kitchen if there are any dirty dishes lying around from the night before.  People double-dipping at social gatherings makes me want to scream at them, and yes, I am judging you fuckers (unless it’s someone you’re snogging, don’t double-dip with them!).  I can’t use moisturisers on my hands or face (or massage oil on my back) without feeling like my skin it is ‘suffocating’. The idea of a dog sleeping on my bed literally makes my skin crawl.  I can’t/won’t use someone else’s iPad or device if I can see it’s got greasy fingerprint marks on the screen. I hate hate hate pimples and can’t stand those ‘popping’ videos full of pus. Even the suggestion of using someone else’s toothbrush when desperate, is enough to make me gag.  Catching a whiff of someone’s bad breath literally makes me want to throw up, and up until now, one of the worst times of my life was when my son was in nappies. Urgggh… *shudders from something akin to PTSD*.

It’s mostly something that I’ve just been quietly but acutely aware of my whole life, but that I’ve been largely able to keep to myself. No one really notices or cares when you politely refuse to share a cup with them, or choose to wait out in your car instead of in a doctor’s waiting room, or if you go out of your way not to sit near someone coughing in a cinema…  At the moment, however, we are being bombarded with ‘Coronavirus this’, ‘Corvid-19 that’ and it’s getting harder and harder to maintain some semblance (pretence?) of equilibrium.

Mr K was in Sydney last week for work, and even though I know logically that given his movements there, he’s at minimal risk of having been exposed – I’ve relegated him to the back of the house to his bedroom and his office, banned him from the living room or from touching ANYTHING in the kitchen or refrigerator until I’m comfortable that he’s still asymptomatic by the time the median incubation period has passed.  In the last week, he came into the living room and sat down out of habit – just once.  It took only a few minutes before I felt my heart starting to race, my chest started to tighten with a feeling of wanting to scream but can’t (probably can but, you know, shouldn’t). I was mentally assessing when/if I should just get up and leave, and knowing all this was totally irrational but feeling it anyway and feeling powerless to control it, meant that I very rapidly felt the prick of oncoming tears.  My idiotic brain is causing my body to react with alarm/panic in the absence of genuine danger. It’s not fun.

Given the low probability of contagions in my own home, I KNOW I’m overreacting and I’m well aware of it.. but I can’t seem to help it. And I’ve been over-reacting for weeks now.  I haven’t left the house for anything social (with the exception of one dinner out on the 12th of March at a totally empty restaurant), since Feb 22nd.  Nooooo, I’m not paranoid at all… but I did just quietly locked myself in over a month ago.

Grocery trips have been done, but nothing else.  I’ve never been glad for self-checkouts before, but at the moment ain’t nobody needs other people handling their groceries more than necessary. It’s bad enough that we have no idea if the people on minimum income stocking the shelves are healthy. So, it’s been out with the hand sanitizer after touching trolleys, or bags or well, fucking anything at all. And again before getting back in the car and then scrubbing hands again at home with soap and water, before *and* after unpacking groceries.  More hand scrubbing before, during and after prepping meals.  Using cloths to open the dishwasher or touch the kettle (one for me – one for him). These are the sorts of precautions I normally only exercise when travelling in third world countries and I’ve taken to deploying them in my own house since the number of confirmed cases in my state was a grand total of TWO.   😐  This virus, how contagious it is, and the progression of the disease on the body scares the living shit out of me.

But apparently, it doesn’t scare everyone. Watching my Boomer and Gen Z friends, family and colleagues not taking this seriously is honestly doing my head in – Aunt (currently partway through breast cancer treatments) and Uncle (over 70, long time smoker, had a heart valve replaced a few months ago) spent last weekend traipsing about visiting friends and going out to the pub for lunch!  Fav 20-year-old niece recently returned from Sydney was out at a party last Saturday night… WHAT-THE-EVER-LOVING-FUCK!?!  Some households with both parents working from home are still dropping their kid to DAYCARE!  I’ve seen the pictures of people at Bondi Beach, people lining up at Centrelink (it’s so shit that that has become necessary), friends still reporting plenty of foot traffic in retail apparel stores because people are ‘bored’, and so many others still trying to find ‘loopholes’ to keep getting out and keep doing things over the last week or so?  WTF people!

Pretending I’m not freaking out that everything I touch, or anyone I come in contact with, could be infected is exhausting.  For me, over the last month, leaving the house has felt like steeling yourself to go for a supply run in an episode of The Walking Dead.  Watching our government with their incompetent mixed messaging on what is allowed and what is not, and what’s considered ‘essential work’ and what’s not – all the while leaving schools open and risking the lives of all our friends and family who work in education or healthcare is equally angering and terrifying to every fibre of my being… especially in light of the fact that our PM has had his own kids safely ensconced at home for over a week?  The mongrel fucking bastard.

EVERYONE, PLEASE JUST STAY THE FUCK AT HOME – STAY AWAY FROM OTHER PEOPLE… AND WASH YOUR GODDAMN HANDS. THEN WASH THEM AGAIN, AND KEEP WASHING THEM UNTIL YOUR DAMN FINGERPRINTS ARE DISAPPEARING!!!

For the first time ever, we don’t want to be like Italy.  :'(

PS: If you see me wearing this on a t-shirt… in my defence, I did buy it before this thing started to spiral out of control. It’s now very relevant content – you can buy your own at Teeturtle.

PPS: If you have any weird friends who get miffed when you don’t put their DVDs back in the ‘right spot’, or they sort their books by genre then by author or by height, or who keep their sewing pins in clumps by pinhead colour, or who may sort their wardrobe by colour, or who have meticulously got everything in their pantry in Tupperware containers, or who stand around tidying dump bins at JB HiFi while you’re actually shopping, or who … well, you know the people I mean.  Go check on them – they’re probably not doing great.

Back to Marrakech

We had a lovely relaxed morning in Essaouira yesterday before making our way back to Marrakech by public bus.  I knew that this trip had some public transport in it – and initially, I was thinking, ‘Well, that could really suck’.  But turns out I was concerned for no reason… this is not Turkey c.2007 apparently – the bus driver is not allowed to smoke, use his phone and drive in the middle of the road here – so me and Moroccoan ONCF bus services can remain friends. The transit was the best type of transit. Uneventful.

Our group checked into our various hotels – most of us at the Moroccan House Hotel in Marrakech, and we checked into the Trois Palmieres, some four doors up from the rest of the group.  There was something about the very noisy electrical box in Room 45 that made us feel like the hotel might burst into flames or electrocute one of us when plugging in a phone that made us not want to stay there again.  We had informed Intrepid, but they didn’t seem to share our safety concern, so we just ended up repaying for the booking.  It was a good move; worrying about spontaneous combustion is rarely conducive to sleep (all that watching the bushfires unfold on the news back home was probably not helping).

Tonight was the last night of our tour and a farewell dinner with the group.  Across the two back to back groups, we have been fortunate to be travelling with simply wonderful groups of people, from London, New Zealand, Brisbane, California, Melbourne, South Africa, Quebec, Ukraine, Greece and Victoria, BC.  And of course, our Intrepid leader, Samirr who is originally from the High Atlas Mountains, but now lives in Marrakech.  We don’t usually do group tours like this, so were pleasantly surprised to have met such a lovely bunch of people – we have been duly warned by others who have travelled with Intrepid, G-Adventures and Peregrine a lot, that this is not always the case!  Most of them were seriously happy to have been with such a harmonious group too. We had a lovely dinner, shared contact details and there were hugs all around.  It’s weird how you can get to know people so quickly – I’m going to miss my morning hug from Chris.

Anyway, we had some work today do while in Marrakech, and then it was one last foray into the medina for some last-minute shopping. I have to admit that after our madhouse experience here just before New Years, I wasn’t really looking forward to it.  I mean, we were told that town is busy on the weekends, and it would be much quieter when we came back on a Tuesday… but even I hadn’t anticipated this quiet: Gone was the soundstage with the makeshift concert venue set up for 40,000 people, gone were most of the snake charmers, monkey handlers, watermen, spruikers, and the heaving tide of humanity that we pushed through when we were here last.  The place was just eeriely quiet.  This is 10am on a Tuesday in Marrakech’s main square!

Even once we dove into the medina, it was predominantly empty!  Which was both great – no crowds of locals and tourist to push through, and also not great – we were the lone target for the few pushy shopkeeps we did encounter.
Literally, shop after shop, empty. Guess what Dr Nick?  I have made it through three weeks in Morocco surrounded by gorgeous pashmina and haven’t bought a single one!  Not even under the pretence that it’s a gift for someone else… who would have thought such a thing could ever happen!  🙂 
After our rather quiet (and I have to admit, pleasant) trip into the medina, we went to pick up some laundry and do a few errands before it was back to the hotel to play Tetris with the luggage – that’s always my job.  Making it all fit in.  We normally make sure we don’t buy things that need to be declared when coming back into Australia – it always just reeks of too much effort when you’re shattered from the long haul, but the handicrafts here have defeated us and we have several things that need to be declared, so I have carefully packed those for easy access at customs.

Saw this sign and remembered that I have failed to mention that Morocco still has barber-surgeons… you go to the barber for your haircuts, shaves and basic dentistry etc.  Yeah… you first. Spent the afternoon getting some work underway and packing.  After that, though, we were too stuffed to go out to hunt and gather for food.  So this is what we ordered from room service at our hotel – a Scillian pizza (with way too much capsicum and missing the requested anchovies), a kefta tagine (which was very tasty) and some Moroccan goats cheese and herb briouats (little filo pastry pies).  It was extremely tasty.

I’ve found a nice looking recipe for a kefta tagine that I’m going to have to try out when I get home.  https://tasteofmaroc.com/moroccan-meatball-tagine-tomato-sauce/
After this, we managed to find a movie on the TV, (‘Man on a Ledge’, in English) and aimed for an early night.  So much for that!  Woke up at 04:17 and haven’t been able to get back to sleep which seriously sucks when I am facing a 24hr+ transit starting around 11:00.  :/

Essaouira Walking Tour

This morning we had a walking tour around Essaouira with a woman named Rashida, who was quite literally the first Moroccan woman we have really interacted with.  Generally speaking, while there are women cooking in the guesthouses we have stayed in or cleaning etc in the hotels, we have not really been able to interact with women in Morocco.  In most places all the shop keeps are men, all the guides, drivers and hosts are men, and the women are largely unseen. Rashida is also a bit of an oddity as she is a Gen X lady who has a university education and worked as a teacher for many years, so we were very hopeful of a lot of information from her. Our first port of call on our walking tour (pun intended) was the harbour where much of the local fishing industry is carried out. Local fishermen will bring in their catch here and a bustling and busy wholesale fish auction occur every morning – except this morning, which is Sunday.  Historically, Essaouira has been occupied since prehistoric times as the bay is fairly adequately protected by Mogador Island, which makes it a very peaceful and protected harbour from the strong Atlantic winds.
Essaouira has long been one of the best anchorages on the entire Moroccan coast. A Carthaginian navigator named Hanno wrote of coming here in the 5thC BC to establish a trading post, which made it a strategically important location over the following 2500 years..Boats here, like in many other countries, are female – and will have a name painted on them.  Many of the names are Spanish, Portuguese, or even English, so we could see the Christina or the Maria nearby.  The fishermen here are required to paint their boats blue, as they believed that flies are not able to see the blue colour..?

While we were at the dock, a small boat pulled in a 14′ shark, Rashida called it a ‘clown shark’ but with it’s very long tail fin, it looked like an endangered thresher shark to most of the divers in our group.  This shark is destined for the fish markets and will be eaten.
In the 16thC, Essaouira was occupied by Portugal, ad the King at the time, Manuel I ordered a fortress to be built here – it was called the Castelo Real de Mogador – Essaouira was known as Mogador up until the 1960s.  By that time, the Portuguese had control of six Moroccan coastal towns and had built a stand-alone fortress in each town from the start of their occupation in the mid 15thC  Most of them were short-lived, being only held for between 5-25 years… by 1541, the fortress at Agadir had fallen to the Saardians (that was the Arab-Moroccan dynasty that ruled Morocco from 1549-1659) and the Portuguese had to abandon all the settlements they had occupied managing only to hold onto Tangier, Cuta and Mazagan.

During the following century, several European powers including Spain, England, the Netherlands and France all tried to conquer the region without success and Essaouira remained a haven for the sugar exports of sugar and molasses, and as favourite anchorage for pirates.  Yarrrr. Various parts of the fortifications were built and extended on from that time onwards. The present fortifications were built in the 1700s by various French architects – Rashida tells us Moroccans know how to build things, but are not very good at maintaining them.  The triumphal arch that joins the harbour to the fortifications represents several different religions that coexisted in the town at that time – the pilgrim’s Shell of Santiago was for the Christians, particularly Spanish Catholics, below it is a Koranic verse along with an Islamic date of 1184, and further below that are crescents for the ‘fertile moon’ which lies between the Tigress and the Euphrates, and if you look closely there are some small stars of David in the flowers on the lozenge motifs.  Essaouira had a large Jewish population here, and they were never persecuted like they were in Europe.  It was the only safe haven the Jewish had ever known – however on the formation of Israel after WWII 98% of Essaouira’s Jewish population moved to Israel, leaving only about 40-50 Jewish families here now. There is an enormous number of cats in this town – they are all very well fed and very well looked after as they keep down the rat population.  Essaouira never suffered from the plague due to their harmonious relationship with cats. Here, they collect the cats and desex them, give them shots and keep them healthy – they then dock the cat’s ear. so the community knows they should feed and look after that cat.  Cats without their ear docked are to be avoided as they might be diseased.  With the rabies. The town’s cats don’t really belong to anyone, so the town is dotted with cute little cat houses where the cats can go to curl up out of the wind or the summer heat..  The old arsenal under the fortifications is now filled with shops. Looking up towards the battlements.  The design of the fortress was such that the sounds would echo through the rounded battlements so that one or two cannon could be fired and it would sound like a dozen or more.  It was a fairly effective deterrent from invaders arriving from the sea, however, if they did round the corner… invaders would be greeted by ‘real Moroccan hospitality’, according to Rashida. More fat cats – it’s hard to take photos around this area without them. Some of the canon along the battlement were made/ordered by Carlos III of Spain, others are Danish in origin The medina is much like other towns we have visited, though much more relaxed and laid back.  This has become a holiday town for Europeans and has a very European influence in the food, the shopping and the general atmosphere. The next place we stopped into was the Centre Artisanal known for its extremely fine handicrafts made from the Thuya timber. Thuya wood (pronounced two-ya) comes from the Thuya tree (Tetraclinis articulata) which is native only to Morocco…the lovely burled part of the timber is created from a tumour like grown that appears in the tree’s roots. The local master craftsman make extremely intricate pieces which have mother of peal, lemonwood, abalone shell and charred timber (to mimic ebony) in ever-increasingly complex patterns and designs.  The results are gorgeous. This round table is made of three occasional tables which can be laid out in many different ways to create a zigzag long table or a round table or lotus shape or whatever.  It goes for around 16000DH ((AUD$2700).  Needless to say, we admired them greatly and left them in the shop! The various sellers of Thuya wood tend to claim that their industry is sustainable and they are supposed to plant two trees for every one that is cut down, but according to Rashida, the reality is somewhat different and the trees are heading towards being endangered.  They take about 30 years to grow to maturity, and they live in a symbiotic relationship with the argan trees… both grow better if planted together. It’s gorgeous timber, but most of the pieces are just not things I would use or need.  Puzzle boxes, jewellery boxes, trays, bowls, desk accessories, chess sets, domino games and all sorts of beautiful things everywhere.. Outside again, we were headed through the medina towards the fish markets which we expected would be relatively quiet on a Sunday. Here, I encountered a man selling lots of traditional pigments,.. the white container with the red lid contains the royal ‘Tyrian purple’ favoured by Romans that comes from crushed sea snails – murex. Around the end of the 1stC BC, the Berber king Juba II established a Tyrian purple factory here in Essaouira, where they processed murex and purpura shells found in the rock pools in the harbour and the Iles Purpuraires. This dye was used to colour the purple stripes in the togas worn by the Senators of Imperial Rome until Caligula decreed that only Roman royalty could wear the royal purple.  The ground murex is a dark dirty green colour until mixed with water – you can see the purple colour on the edge of the container where it has come into contact with moisture from the sea air. Fish markety goodness… could be any fishmarket in any country anywhere. Next stop was to a workshop for silversmithing – this particular workshop helped deaf people get gainful employment by teaching them to do the fine silver filigree work favoured by the region’s jewellery trade. We were shown with a touchstone how real silver reacts to acid, and learned a little about traditional Berger designs – most of which seem to be about courtship rituals and symbols of fertility. This Celtic inspired fibular brooch has a large decorative triangular shape attached which is supposed to represent a uterus.  It also indicates that a woman is ‘available’… to successfully woo the wearer, her paramour needs to find/have made a matching brooch and hook them together with a heavy silver chain. Bangles:
Pendants… oh so many pendants. After we checked out the lovely silverwork, we had some quiet time to talk to Rashida about the life of women in Morocco.  We had been asking Samirr, ‘Why do we only see men in the shops?  How come our hosts in the guesthouses are always men?  Where are the women, and can we talk to them?’  A few of us really wanted to talk to an educated woman (someone with good English) who might be prepared to have a frank discussion with us about what it’s like being a woman in an (admittedly fairly progressive) Islamic state.

The dot points of that conversation went somewhat as follows:
– Morocco has 38% illiteracy, but if you count just the women, that nearly doubles to 65%+
– Most women don’t get an opportunity for education at all, even now, so Rashida being born in the early 70s and university-educated is quite the anomaly – she was sent to school to learn ‘not to be a tomboy’ because she had five older brothers (only three surviving).
– Girls and women are usually ‘kept inside’ from the time of menstruation, so as not to attract the attention of men.
– Arranged marriages are still common, but now women need to appear in court and demonstrate they consent to the marriage (which may or may not be genuine consent).
– The legal age for marriage for girls was increased from 16 to 18 only in 2004, but child marriage still remains quite a problem, especially in rural areas.
– Women have only recently been given the right to divorce their husbands, but men have been able to cast off unwanted wives forever.
– A man can still have three or four wives, but he needs written consent from his existing wives before marrying again… there is literally no mechanism to stop this consent being coerced from the existing wives.
– A widow may remarry but no one would want her as she has been ‘taken and used’ by another man.  A man prefers a virginal woman only, so widows tend to remain alone.
– If a woman is raped, her family is likely to offer her as a bride to her rapist.  Once ‘used’ she is effectively damaged goods, and no ‘proper family or proper man’ would want her after that.  So the only options are to charge the rapist and try to see him sent to jail, or to marry the victim to her rapist so that he might ‘make her respectable’ in the eyes of the village. (Rashida told us a story of an incidence of this occurring to a young 16-year-old victim only 3 years ago, the young girl involved was forced to marry her attacker and unsurprisingly about three or four months later, she committed suicide rather than stay with her ‘husband’ who now had state sanction to keep raping her.
– Children born out of wedlock used to bear their mother’s name either, so the children grew up with the stain of the mother’s sin (or attack) forever. Now they are required to bear the father’s name regardless of the circumstance surrounding their conception, and they have rights to inheritance and upkeep.
– Children automatically stay with their mothers until the age of 12 in the case of a divorce, but the fathers have as much access to their children as they desire – there are no custody battles, the father’s rights supersede the mother’s wishes.
– Domestic abuse is rife, and rarely, if ever, reported.
– Likewise, child abuse and child sexual abuse is never reported – partly because of the stigma and partly because education is so poor, most children are not aware of what is ‘proper’ behaviour from adults, so cases won’t come to light until an abused child has grown up.
– All male children here are circumcised for religious (Jewish) or hygiene reasons, but Morocco never practised female circumcision, ‘that is an African practise, not an Islamic one’.
– Honour killings are rare but unfortunately do still happen in Moroccan Islamic communities.

All up, our half-hour chat with Rashida was very interesting.  She was open and frank about her culture as well as her own personal experiences – she is married to a man who had four children from a previous marriage, but was unable to have any children of her own.  She is pretty much my age, but already has a handful of step-grandchildren.  We were very grateful to have an opportunity to have a talk with her and gain an understanding of the challenges that women face in Morocco… her general feeling is that things are improving, but it’s taking time, and that education and healthcare are the keys to speeding up that process of improvement.

After our chat with Rashida, I met back up with Mr K and we found ourselves a little rooftop terrace for a light lunch. We spent the afternoon doing a bit of shopping and exploring the medina.  It wasn’t as busy as we thought the area might be on a Sunday, and we had a much more laid back and friendly shopping experience than we did in Marrakech or Fez. Back at the riad, we ended up having drinks on the rooftop to finally try and get rid of the excess beers that Mohammed had bought for us, and then it was off for a slightly tipsy stumble into the medina to find a restaurant for a light dinner.  We have most of the day here tomorrow too, but other than a few last souvenir type errands, we don’t have any plans other than to finally spend a few hours of this vacation chilling (or catching up on backlog of work that is creeping up on us!).  Tomorrow, we transit back to Marrakech for the last two days of our trip.