Sunday, March 20, 2011

Morocco - Day 3

This morning after breakfast in the hotel we started our trip to the Atlas Mountains, about an hour outside of Marrakesh, which were still snow capped and are the major source of water for the Marrakesh region.  At the foothills of the mountains we stopped at a Berber (native North African) household to learn how to make the Moroccan tea and have a Berber breakfast that consisted of tea and bread with butter, honey, or oil (all locally or home made…it was delicious).  As we were walking to and from the house, there were at least a dozen men following us and trying to sell jewelry, miniature camels, etc.  While my strategy of not making eye contact and ignoring any comments from the ever-present hagglers in Morocco, I couldn’t help but smile at one of them who tried to sell me a dagger using the line: “You want to buy a dagger to kill your boyfriend?”

Tea pots and mint.

Berber breakfast.

After tea we headed into the mountains and stopped to hike part way up a small valley/gorge and back down.  During the hike we had to cross a couple extremely rickety bridges and pretty much climbed the side of the mountain it was so steep in some places…but overall it was very fun and absolutely gorgeous.  I had a chance to talk with our guide for the day, Abdul, and learned that pretty much all houses in Morocco have a television since the King provides five free channels so all citizens can stay up to date on current events even in the mountains or desert.  I also found out that King Mohammed VI is very well liked in Morocco and a few days earlier had given a speech about some reforms that would be occurring (like in almost all Arab countries right now) and that in a few months there would be public elections for the Prime Minister, which has previously been a position appointed by the King.  For lunch we stopped at a quaint little restaurant and even though it was a little chilly we opted to eat outside to have a great view of the Atlas Mountains.  Our meal started off with a salad and bread, followed by chicken tajine and couscous with lamb, and for dessert we had orange slices with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top.

Climbing the mountain.

Delicious lunch.
I took a short nap when we got back to the hotel and then headed out to the market with two other girls to find some authentic Moroccan cuisine.  We ended up at a tent-restaurant in the market where they sat you down at long tables, one group next to another in order to fit as many people in as possible.  As we sat down the group next to us was just leaving and saw that we were completely confused by the menu and told us that the kebabs were especially good, so Amy and I shared an order of kebabs and lamb tajine with almonds and prunes.  We also got an order of olives and our friend got a dish with spinach.  After a little while, two Moroccan students from Rabat were seated next to us and offered us a bit of their food to try.  At first it sounded like they were saying “brie” and it was white so we went for it…and just as we were about to eat it we realized they were saying “brain” – sheep’s brain to be exact.  Since we already had it on our bread we decided we might as well just try it and since they were eating it, it might not agree with our stomach but it wouldn’t kill us.  We ended up talking with them for a while after we were done eating and discussed topics from politics to religion in Morocco.  When we asked if Moroccans like Americans they said yes and told us that during the Cold War, Morocco was the only Arab country to side with the U.S. versus the U.S.S.R.  We also asked how to say some phrases in Arabic, but based on their laughter whenever we repeated them we are pretty sure they taught us swear words or something dirty instead.  Before we got up to leave they asked to take a picture with us and one even gave us his red and green knit hat that resembles the Moroccan flag.

Tajine with prunes and almonds.

Amy eating kebabs.
Before heading back to the hotel (and after we had decided that the shopping area of the market was too sketchy for three American girls on a Sunday night), we washed down dinner with a glass of freshly squeezed orange, grapefruit, and lemon juice before finding a taxi.  It didn’t take long to find an open cab (it actually found us) and after confirming the price we jumped in and didn’t make it 20 meters before the driver pulled over and another man got in the front seat and even though the driver said this was his friend, we were a little creeped out.  The driver’s friend didn’t speak any English or Spanish, but we understood his Italian and he could make out our Spanish.  At first he just asked where we were from but when were a block away from the hotel he began to ask how old we were, if we liked music, etc. and we were so relived when the taxi stopped and we got out and paid as quickly as possible.

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