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.

Long Day to Essaouira

We had a long transit day today from Taroudant to Essaouira.  So unfortunately that largely means being stuck in the bus.  We had a bit of a drive through Taroudant before we left, which was eye-opening – it’s not a tourist town and looked very poor, and absolutely the most filthy place we have been to. It survives primarily on agriculture and the rural people here don’t have the sort of facilities and amenities we have seen in other places.  There were far more beggars laying around in the streets, and lots of dirty faces and hands… I saw one person eating from a rubbish bin, which always makes you both sad and aware of your own incredible privilege.  I’m not at all into ‘slum tourism’ so I didn’t take any photographs out of the bus.

We continued on, only stopping in Agadir to collect some grocery items to go have a picnic lunch at the beach.  Once at the beach, we found ourselves on a lovely strip of sand with camels, very friendly healthy-looking wandering dogs, and some scantily clad foreigners sunbathing… obviously not locals! Maybe Australian needs more camels on their beaches… Our next stop to break up the drive north was at a women’s co-operative that makes argan oil products from the nuts of the argan tree. This very professional and (deliberately) clinical looking lady showed us how the ladies broke apart the stones from the fruti of the argan trees to get the kernels out to grind into a thick brown paste.  From these kernels, they make various edible products – a cooking/dipping oil, a argain oil paste (which tastes something liek a cross between peanut butter and nutella; as well as a large range of cosmetics. The argan oil comes only from Morocco and is said to have amazing anti-ageing properties, as well as being fantastic for your hair and nails and cracked heels and all of it. Weirdly, at home, you see lots of Moroccan coconut oil shampoos and conditions lining the shelves of supermarkets. This appears to be a totally fabricated thing.  Morocco is not known for its coconut industry – their palms are predominantly date palms and their primary cosmetic oil is argan – which tends towards being very expensive back home.  Oh well, consumers are always suckers for a good marketing campaign. I picked up a small bottle of leave in conditioning hair treatment, and I’m kinda hoping I don’t love it, because buying more is going to be a real bitch! Eventually, we reached our destination for the next two nights- Essaouira, which on the Atlantic on Morocco’s west coast.  It’s a very popular tourist destination with Europeans, who largely come here for the beaches, fishing, kitesurfing, and other summer holiday stuff.  Until the 1960s, Essaouira was generally known by its Portuguese name, Mogador, which we have seen written all over the places still. The ramparts of the medina were built in the 1700s. There was a Roman settlement here, this area is where the Tyrian purple dye used to come from that was used to dye the robes of Roman senators.  It has been inhabited ever since and was occupied by the Portuguese in the middle ages. The medina is wide and airy compared to Fez or Marrakech – and is largely for pedestrian traffic only which is nice after the hectic and chaotic environments there.  Mostly, the medina is filled with Riads (we are staying right in the medina), restaurants, art galleries and handicraft shops… it feels like the Montville or Leura of Morocco!. We checked into our lovely Riad with a gorgeous little courtyard in the centre and then headed straight to the rooftop terrace to have a few beers – this was a complete necessity at this point.. For you see, we had had the most fortuitous miscommunication with Mohammed, the driver of our minibus who has been with us since we left Marrakech.  Samirr had arranged for Mohammed to go buy us some alcohol to take to the desert camp, and each person wrote down what they wanted and we were to pay him when he came back.  And, being all Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians and Americans we wrote things down like ‘one six-pack’ and ‘one bottle of red wine’ (with a price range).  We didn’t have high hopes on Mohammed’s ability to choose a nice red – but we didn’t expect him to some how mistake a ‘six-pack’ with a slab… so somehow instead of five six packs turning up to have a few quiet ones at the Sahara camp, we had five cartons turn up!

Which led to the dreadful situation of everyone having to try and consume 120 beers instead of the expected 30.  Turns out the only challenging bit of this was keeping the beer cold enough.  In typical Aussie fashion, Mr K and one of the other Aussie contingent hacked open a big water bottle and filled it with ice to make a makeshift esky, which worked a treat.  So there we were up on the rooftop terrace after a long drive enjoying our surplus of beer and having some very ordinary Moroccan red!
After a few drinks and a bit of a wind-down, we went for a short stroll into the medina to find some dinner.   We all tended towards different fare for the evening and Mr K and I ended up in a very quiet and secluded seafood restaurant enjoying a really nice predominantly European menu with local fresh fish – avocado, shrimp and crab entree, some weird goat cheese spring roll which was absolutely delicious, some grilled john dory fillets and an extremely rich lemon creme brulee (probably the richest thing I’ve eaten in three weeks… only managed about half).

Then back to the Riad, a hot shower and crashed.  So tired from a couple of long days on the bus!  We have all day in town tomorrow to have a really good look around, I’m currently trying to decide whether to go get a massage or find the local museum to see if they have any interesting Roman objects in their collection.

 

Goats in trees! Taroudant

Woke up early to have breakfast so we could relax and watch the sunrise over our desert camp in the Sahara.  Yesterday was completely cloudless, but this morning we were treated with a beautiful sky as the sun peeped over the dunes.
The early morning light was lovely in the camp, and I was honestly quite surprised that it was nowhere near as cold as I was anticipating.  It was about 2C o’night and very low humidity so it didn’t seem that cold at all… or perhaps my barometer for ‘cold’ is off as I am still comparing most things favourably with last years ‘OMFG my hands feel like they’re burning from the car AC set to 16C in Iceland?!?’, type cold?  Who knows?  Either way, I had a warm night’s sleep in the desert camp and was not too bothered when we got up. Mr K playing silly buggers while some of our group were watching the sunrise from a nearby hillock.
For any who are unfamiliar with the geography, this is where Google Maps placed us at the desert came – right close to the Algerian border… and those land mines.

Our drive out of the desert saw us contine south west for about 3 hours by 4WD.  The landscape was largely rocky, then sandy, then rocky again.

Cutting through the really fine sand was like driving through bulldust in central Australia, though not quite so red. At one point we popped out on the dry, Lake Merzouga.  The drivers actually got over 50kmph once they hit the dry lake bed prior to this we were plodding along, still going quite fast for conditions but largely in low range and 2nd or 3rd gear tops. Another hour or so down the desert, we came to a place covered in rocks where the tourists had, naturally, been building cairns, but where Samirr had us pull up to look at the fossils in nearly every rock you flipped over. Tess and I kicked over this cairn only to discover the enormous flat rock at the base was covered in fossils.  Nearly every rock in this area, no matter how large or small had something fossilised into it. Quite literally, we are in the middle of nowhere and there was a woman herding her goats.  We stopped and gave her a jug of water and said a quick ‘hello’ before jumping back in the jeeps to carry on. Not 100m from where this patch of vegetation was, we were back to sand and nothing for her animals to eat. We followed this enormous rock ridge for what seemed like about two hours.  Every time we thought we were going to pass it, we just turned the corner to be greeted with another rocky face. The last hour in the 4WDs was about as rocky and bumpy as I’ve ever encountered.  I spent many months camping and driving in the outback with Mum and Dad as a kid, but never were we thrown around like this – my Dad was usually driving and he was always super careful of the car, slowing down for bad conditions.  Our driver Mohammed was super proficient, but they definitely seemed in a hurry, so we were jostled around a LOT.  By the time we got off the 4WD, I felt like I’d spent the last hour in a washing machine.

We stopped and had a completely forgettable lunch at a cafe in the town of Iriki… meat skewers, kefta (some a bit sus on whether they were cooked properly) and salad and chips.  It seemed a whole pile of us popped out of the desert all at once and the restaurant was somewhat overwhelmed, so much so, Samirr was spotted on the grill more than once trying to hurry food up.

After lunch, we bundled back into our minibus and hit the road towards Taroudant.  We knew it was going to be a long transit day, but I failed to account for just how I would feel after three hours of being tossed around … I felt like a bobblehead on a dashboard!

About an hour down the road, Samirr made a stop for us to buy some saffron.  I had mentioned back in Marrakech that I wanted to take some home, but Samirr warned me against buying from the colour piles of ‘spices’ in the medina.  It seems quite often these spices are cut with dust.  No shit, some unscrupulous merchants will buy spice, and then find very fine dirt, grind it to dust and mix it with the spice to make a greater profit.  The lady at our cooking class also warned me against buying at the ‘tourist spice’ shops in the medina also.

So we stopped at a little nothing store and marched up a flight of stairs to find a guy selling threads of saffron, rather than the ground stuff. Saffron comes from the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus).  It has bright red stigma and styles, which are called threads, that get collected and dried.  They are then used as a seasoning in a lot of cooking, and I’m hoping to get in amongst some Moroccan cooking when we get home.  Saffron has long been considered to be the world’s most expensive spice (by weight) and Samirr picked up this enormous bundle, which was 5 gms in weight, and said it would last his family for up to a year. Needless to say, I didn’t need anywhere near that much.

A bit further down the road and we entered an area famous for argan trees (argania spinosa).  The argan trees are famous for producing argan oil.  The tree is a flowering plant that grows in the semi-desert areas of the Sous valley of south-western Morocco.  They grow to be about 8-10m in height, they have thorns and gnarly looking trucks, and broad leafy branches. They also grow an inedible fruit, which is discarded, but which contains a stone that is pressed to gain argan oil.

However, all that being said, what they are most known for are the goats in the region that tend to live in the trees and eat the leaves! During periods of drought, the goats will abandon foraging on the ground and instead climb the trees to eat the leaves.  The goat herders don’t have a problem with this, extra sustenance for their goats, and the farmers who own the trees also don’t have a problem with this, as the goats don’t eat the fruit. The tourists, well they just love the goats in the argan trees, as it is something so typically associated with Morocco. Samirr made a point of telling us that we were very lucky to see the goats in the trees, at this time of year, they’ve usually had more rain which would mean plenty of easy foraging for the goats and no need to climb trees. However, this summer was pretty dry, so – goats in trees. He claimed about 1 in 5 times he comes through here, they are actually in the trees.  Most of the time they are on the ground.  So we got lucky.  They’re super cute but you have to keep your distance when they jump down, they damn near fly and seem to leap about 3-4m from the branch they’re standing on.  Moroccan Drop Goats, we were calling them. Eventually, we reached our destination of Oulad Berhil which is a tiny town that has barely one taco stand! Much to The Boys’ dismay.  It is actually about 45kms from the town of Taroudant, which we will be having a look around tomorrow morning.  We were staying overnight in a restored palace which has now been converted to a classy Riad.  The palace has owned for the last thirty years by a Danish millionaire who allegedly was overwhelmed by the beauty of the palace and its magnificent gardens.  Coming to the Riad Hida is like stepping into another era and still bears the name of the Pasha who built it in the 19thC. The hotel is filled with lounges, furnishings and elegant rooms with gorgeous carved and painted ceilings and an immaculately maintained garden, full of orange trees, swimming pools and peacocks strutting about. The place is lovely and we had an enormous big suite with a huge bed. The door to our suite. Dinner was in a lavish restaurant filled with antiques and elegantly decorated.  Tagines all round! Our favourite kefta tagine was on the menu, though sadly lacking in eggs.

After such a long travel day, we decided to turn in early.  The riad is so quiet I am hopeful of a good night’s sleep.  Fingers crossed!