Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Gardens and Galleries

Today is our last full day in Morocco :-(

We'd heard that Jardin Majorelle, a botanical garden in the new town sculpted as a work of art by the late Majorelle. More recently the gardens were restored by Yves Saint Lauren.

We planned to take a taxi there and had asked at our Riad what a sensible price was. At the corner a host of taxis were waiting for passing trade. We asked how much and he said 2.5 times what we were told the price should be. We asked for a more appropriate price, he declined and we walked on. Once we reached the square we flagged down a taxi, not really wanting to walk along the busy road to the new town - you can taste the fumes after a while. Yuk! Fortunately this taxi driver was more reasonable and immediately offered a fair price, no haggling required!

The garden features plants from around the world, albeit mostly consisting of various types of palm trees and cacti from hotter climes. The building and pots were made to stand out, having been painted a beautiful and brilliant cobalt blue or sunflower yellow.

The garden was mostly in shade, making it an ideal retreat in the summer months but quite cold in the winter. In one slightly sunny spot we found our first piece of wildlife, a baby gecko sunning itself.

Inside the gardens was the Berber museum. A small three room museum housing a personal collection of Berber artifacts from across the Atlas mountains. Just outside the museum was a gallery showing some of YSL's collages he did fir family and friends as A New Year's greeting, the last being in 2007 with YSL dieing in 2008.

The gardens were actually quite small but not quite ready to leave we had an early lunch and enjoyed the surroundings some more. I had a rather unhealthy lunch of Moroccan pancakes with chocolate sauce and banana. Yum! :-D

After lunch we had planned to find some galleries display modern Moroccan art. We had little luck finding the first one but stumbled on the second one to find out it was closed. On closer inspection we found that all 5 of the galleries were closed between 1 and 3pm. With it being 1.30pm now we decided not to hang around and caught a cab back to the Riad.

We spent the afternoon relaxing then packing and then went out to the souks for afternoon coffee and traditional Moroccan pastries.

We had booked an early dinner that evening so didn't hang out in the souks for long. Most restaurants didn't open until 9pm tonight and were a 5 course extravaganza with champagne and a high price attached (mostly around £90 per head!). Given neither of us has managed to finish a single course in the last week we took the easy option of eating in at the Riad. This turned out to be a good choice as at 9pm, almost on the dot the power went out across the whole of the old town and everywhere was plunged into darkness!

As a result instead of welcoming in the new year awake we both fell asleep!

In the morning we were told everyone was honking their horns in the streets and the were masses of fireworks which we both slept soundly through! Normally the quiet call to prayer wakes us up. However the power didn't go back on until after 1am, likely ruining the plans of all the fancy restaurants!

Anyway that brought our holiday to a close and we're both looking forward to sleeping in our own bed again. The beds out here are all rock hard!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Back into the Souks

Today, both of us were feeing a little worse for wear after yesterday's walk, Stu's stomach bug had set back in with a vengeance :-(

After breakfast we set out for a local architectural site,  Ben Youssaf Messina, an old Islamic school. But first we went to find a pharmacy!

We walked through the souks with determination in approximately the right direction. Unfortunately we had slightly too much determination and overshot the school by quite a way, but we had headed on an eastward path the whole time which was our aim, a minor victory perhaps ;-)

By chance we had come out the souks next to another beautiful mosque and a pharmacy! Now able to reorient ourselves and stocked up with meds we re-entered the souks. The smells in this part of the district were especially pungent. We passed through the leather tanning district, the most pungent of them all, and butchers with whole bull heads dangling - fully intact with nose ring and tongue hanging out! In the cold open air, surrounded by colourful fruit and veg stalls we finally found Ben Youssaf Messina and mosque (or what's left of it as it has been destroyed during various invasions).

It was absolutely packed inside the Messina but after a while it cleared a little. The main courtyard had intricate carvings around all the windows and doorways.

Upstairs were the student rooms. Each quite small, cold and plain. Most but not all had a tiny window letting in a meager amount of light. As we walked up the corridor there was a definately change; the rooms became slightly bigger and some even had a small 'attic' space.

Having seen all the was to see at the Messina we made our way to our lunch stop, Le Jardin, a converted Riad with the central courtyard full of plants.

After lunch, with Stu still not feeling well, we decided to head back to our Riad for a lazy afternoon in the sun.

Monday, 29 December 2014

To Dizzying Heights

Both of us were feeling much better today so we agreed to do a longer, harder walk to the mountain pass joining the two neighbouring valleys.

A mule with our lunch set off ahead of us and stormed up the mountain whist Stu and I dragged ourselves up, me quickly realising I still wasn't in peak physical condition!

The path we took followed the river, frequently crossing it or walking right along side it. Every now and then we crossed the mountain road and saw the occasional vehicle. It seems most guides drive to the top and only walk the last bit near the summit then walk down - a much easier hike (but less rewarding)!

I found the climb particularly knackering, at some points feeling really dizzy and wondered if I would even make it to the top, but we pushed on. And it was worth it! :-)

We made the 600m ascent from 1700m to 2300m over the scree paths and river beds in just under 2 hours (our guide had predicted 2.5-3 hours!).

Once we finally reached the top we saw a couple of thin mattresses laid out either side of a rug. This was where we were to have lunch, with beautiful mountains surrounding us on all sides. Our guide's companion who had accompanied the mule up was preparing our lunch. A bowl of finely and freshly chopped salad appeared topped with tuna.

For our main course we had traditional fresh Moroccan bread and a Kefta tanjine (lamb meat balls). As usual the amount of food was way too much for just the two of us.

We spent over an hour at the top, eating, relaxing and taking in the view around us. We then started our descent, which was much quicker now we were going down! About two thirds of the way down our guide took us a slightly different route,  skirting the edge of the village.

Berber's use tiered planting areas which, due to the recent rains, we're a lush green and looked like the paddy fields we saw in Bali.

This path was much more difficult to walk along due to the very loose gravel under foot. I found that I was frequently slipping  and therefore at a particularly difficult bit I crouched right down and held onto a rock to ensure I made it safely down the slope. Stu however took a slightly less risk adverse attitude, having not slipped as much as me, and would have landed flat on his back if Rashid hadn't caught him! We all took things much more carefully after that!

We made good time going back down, getting back to the main street only just behind the mule who had taken a slightly easier route back down, albeit he did leave a little after us.

By mid afternoon we were back at our Riad, collected our few remaining things then set of back for Marrakech.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Berber Villages with a Rooftop View

Both Stu and I still aren't feeling well this morning :-(

The guide was concerned and asked if we'd brushed our teeth with the water in the desert as that can cause upset tummies. He apologised for forgetting to tell us but judging by all the other guests who were doing the same,  he wasn't the only guide to forget.

Hoping the bug would pass we both ate some breakfast. This made me feel much better and the nausea completely stopped. Stu on the other hand didn't feel much better :-(

Leaving a little later than planned and Stu now feeling well enough to go on the walk we headed up through several of the neighbouring villages, ascending to around 2100m.

The first thing we encountered on our walk was a misbehaving mule; it didn't want to go anywhere. It stubbornly stood there resisting all encouragement to move forward, frequently taking a few steps backward instead. Our guide assisted by making noise behind the mule with some grass, but not actually hitting it. It didn't work. The local shop keeper then came over with a long thin, hard hose and started hitting the mule. It still refused to move but now had marks on it's legs from the shattered tube :-( We then moved on and a few minutes later the mule came trotting by us. We asked why it wasn't moving (wondering if it was tired) but our guide confidently told us it had just had 20 days rest.

The mules and donkeys here seem in much better condition than in Marrakech. We were told the life of a mile is around 30 years. They spend the first 15-16 years doing hard work then they are sold to farmers where they do lighter work and if they're lucky they end up in a sanctuary for their few last remaining years. However most are worked until they drop.

The first mountain village we walked through was different to all the others we've seen so far in all of Morocco. It's built on a rocky part of the mountain so all their houses are made of rocks instead of mud bricks (or cement). As it was Sunday all the kids were out playing in the streets although there seemed to be a distinct lack of girls.

About halfway through the village, nature called and the locals were kind enough to let me use the toilet in the public steam baths. Luckily from 10am to 5pm each day it's open to women, before/after then it's open for men only! As I went inside I could hear the chatter of kids and women. So this is where all the girls were!

As we continued to ascend upwards we could see the valley down below clearly. It was completely full of the silvered walnut trees. Each family marks their trees with a specific number and colour so that ownership doesn't get confused. An issue since sometimes one family owns the land and another owns the tree.

We continued around the valley to a road where we encountered a few cars. There was an odd looking red car with a couple of visitors. The man's wife is "spiritually ill" and every year they make a pilgrimage to the local shrine which is meant to help matters. The couple don't actually live in the mountains as is obvious by their choice of car!

Having been walking for a couple of hours we entered our third and final village; this was our lunch stop.

We were invited into a little local house. A cow and some chickens lived on the ground floor. The family on the first floor and the roof hosted the odd passing tourist. Our host put out some mattresses, cushions and two little tables (with tableclothes!) on the rooftop facing the mountains then made us some traditional fresh mint and green tea. Up until now I've found the tea too bitter or sweet, however this time I was able to ask for it without sugar and to taste it freshly brewed. To my surprise, without sugar it was lovely!

For lunch they made us couscous. The bowl they brought out was enough to generously serve at least six people but we were to share it between just three of us!

The couscous was absolutely delicious - the best couscous I've ever tasted! Rashid told us that to prepare couscous properly it had to be gently cooked for over two hours, nothing like the 'just add water' stuff we get in the supermarkets in the UK. During lunch the call to prayer started, echoing through the valley. One call particularly stood out; it was being sung by young boy, probably a student of of the mosque.

After lunch we moved into a more sheltered area of the roof as a chilly wind had started to blow. Our guide promptly took a nap whilst Stu and I enjoyed our surroundings and were serenaded by the mooing of the ground floor cow and it's neighbour.

Now feeling well rested and ready to continue our walk we took a different route back to our Riad through fields and over scree paths.

Our final challenge of the day was to cross a river using a precarious looking bridge. With my legs aching from all the uphill climbing in the morning and the scree paths in the afternoon it was difficult to balance on the the round logs. all at slightly different heights. Fortunately our guide was there to provide a helping hand and Stu and I made it across safely!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

From the Desert to the Mountains

Last night was very cold. My three blankets and thermal pajamas weren't enough meaning I didn't get much sleep :-( 

The plan today was to climb to the top of the sand dune just outside camp to watch the sunrise. Thus meant another early start!

About halfway up the sand dune I started to regret not eating anything yet and felt as though I wouldn't make it to the top. Stu took my bag and we slowly ascended the remaining, steepest part of the sand dune. Just before 7am we were at the top!

We walked a little further along away from the gathered crowd and settled down to wait fit the sun to appear over the mountains. About 10 minutes later it appeared, rapidly rising into the sky sending it's golden light over the desert, dunes and occasional plants.

In the other direction we could see the sun's rays slowly lighting up the towns, hitting the mosques minarets first, making them appear to glow. No matter how small the town or village is, every single one has a mosque.

Having made it to the top and enjoyed the sunrise we started to make our way back down to camp. As we looked at the noisy camels we saw Hitash attempting to run around. This was quite a feat as the night before the guides had tied their front and back legs together to stop them wandering away. With his legs still tied Hitash proudly galloped around the other camels, stopped in a green area and started to munch.

My stomach was also rumbling by now so we quickly made our way back down, filling our shoes with sand as we went.

After breakfast we packed up our bags and asked if we could take a 4x4 back as we were both still quite tender from our camel ride the night before.

We took the same road back through the mountains. By mid morning Stu was feeling quite sick again, but much worse than yesterday :-( Our driver for a while drove more carefully but then quickly forgot and was back to his old tricks. By mid morning Stu was green!

Our first stop this morning was the Draa Valley, the largest oasis in the Sahara. Palm trees extend for miles in all directions with little towns scattered around the edge. Not what you'd expect to see in the desert!

We stopped at the same cafe as yesterday with two resident camels that supposedly like coke. The pen was only just big enough to do a single pace before reaching the other side.  Given that the gate between the two pens looked broken and had a pile of rocks up against it, it doesn't look like they got out of their pens very often :-(

All along the main road were police road blocks. Rashid said it was normal at this time of year (new year) as there is an increased threat. At one of the road blocks Salid came to a tentative halt and called out the window. Rashid then joined in. We were told afterwards that the signs were confusing. Nothing was telling them to stop or slow down and the main sign was upsidedown! Looking out the back window we could see one of the officers quickly running towards the sign and turning it the right way up.

From driving through these road blocks the past two days it seems that they were mostly stopping the small flat bed trucks.

For lunch we stopped in Ouarzazte, the largest Berber town in the Atlas mountains. Here there are several film studios which cater for Hollywood films such as the new Misson Impossible film. From the road we could see one of the huge sets for Kingdom of Heaven in the middle of the desert, behind one of the studios.

We stopped a few more times on our way to the mountains. At one view point Stu bought a trilobite. Interestingly the people up here are far more easy going and don't push for a sale. They also don't haggle as much, offering a fairer starting price. At one point when we were pushing for a lower price the guy helpfully suggested we could trade something, and then pointed at Stu's (wedding) watch!

Rashid later explained that the pushy nature of people in Marrakech is because they have descended from Arabs whereas the Berber culture is quite different. He also said that in the Berber villages, children learn to speak Berber first, then when they go to school they learn Arabic so they can communicate with the teachers. Then they learn French!

School isn't compulsory here and to attend college (age 12 upwards) kids often have to travel 10s of kilometres each day. If they're lucky they'll manage to hitch a lift. As a result many drop out at the age of 12 and few girls attend college.

As we drove over the top of the mountain pass there was a distinct difference in fauna. Palm trees were replaced with birch trees and the odd olive tree and everything looked much greener.

For what seemed like hours of driving (10 hours including stops) we arrived in the Toubkal National Park. By this point it was dark and even I was feeling queasy from the irratic driving on the mountain roads too.

Our Riad hosts were lovely, with dinner already prepared for us, although neither of us could eat much, or keep much down :-( On the plus side a lovely warm fire was burning and our large room was properly heated - a real treat after last night!

We got to bed early and won't start our walk tomorrow until 10am giving us plenty of time to catch up on some sleep.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Off to the Desert

It was an early start today with the alarm going at 6.15am. Our guide was meeting us at 8am and we hadn't finished packing yet!
At 8am precisely our guide, Rashid, arrived. We grabbed our things and off we went.
The first task was to get out of Marrakech. Not far from the main square we saw one of the tourist horse and carts in trouble, collapsing onto the horse reined up next to it. Two men were trying to push it back to standing but the horse looked very skinny and I think it was in serous trouble. I'm not sure they will have managed to get it upright again :-(
By the time we reached the boundaries of the city things were immediately a much calmer albeit odd sight. The edge of the city was a perfect line with what looked like wasteland stretching from the edge of the city to the main and only road out of Marrakech towards the desert town of Zagora, with the highest point racing up to 2260m. Anything that needs transporting (including baby donkeys!) uses this road.
The narrow, windey road goes through the Atlas mountains, along which our driver Salid drove very fast and what felt slightly irraticly, although he did assure us that he knows the roads very well! This unfortunately didn't help Stu's car sickness :-(
Last month many parts of the road were swept away in the floods, yet it only took them 4 days to get it operational again, albeit some repairs and improvements were ongoing when we drove past.
The mountains gradually changed colour as we went further along the road. Near Marrakech they are very orange, then they became gold, then gray, then black and back to orange again. Most houses are made of mud bricks and blend in with the mountains surrounding them, changing colour with the mountain earth.
After several hours we turned off the main road towards the famous Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah. Films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and the Game of Thrones series have been filmed here.
The road to the kasbah was much narrower than the main road and there was a distinct difference in who rules the road here. In Marrakech it's the mopeds. Here it's the taxis! When there's oncoming traffic they just sit in the middle of the road and wait for the other cars, trucks and mopeds to move out of their way, onto the dirt either side of the road. Mopeds and cyclists out here seem to have the lowest priority with our driver honking the horn each time he saw one instructing them to get out of the way. Those that didn't almost got run off the road!
In the newer town next to the kasbah we stopped briefly to order lunch then continued into the old town to look around. Only around 10 families still live in the old town, most have moved across the river to the new town.
We walked up to the highest point in the kasbah giving beautiful views of the surrounding city and the Atlas mountains.
In the kasbah we saw lots of pictures in muted colours. Admiring these a shy teenager showed us how they were done. They paint with green tea on the paper then 'burn' it to make the muted colours suddenly burst into life. Given its like painting with invisible ink is amazing the amount of detail they put into the pictures.
For lunch we had to cross over the river to the new town. The locals had helpfully laid sacks of rocks across the river so you can hop over, hopefully without getting wet feet. The bags were often uneven and a bit of a stretch between them (at least for me!). However, both of us made our way across safe and dry. Phew!
After lunch we set off back to the main road to continue our journey into the desert. On the way we saw several traditional nomad tents, with their owners tending to their goats a few kilometres further down the road. Every few weeks they move their camp to a new 'green' area for their livestock to feed, ensuring nowhere becomes too barren. At the moment they are spoilt for choice as most of the desert seems green due to the unusual heavy rain fall last month.
By the time we drove through Zagora it was late afternoon. Families, always men and women separate, were sitting outside their front doors catching the last rays of the sun making the town a very colourful place to drive through.
Finally at about 5.30pm, with the sun setting, we arrived at our final destination. Well almost. We were still a 30 minute camel ride away! We each got on our camels which we immediately named Tim and Geoffrey. Stu had a very noisy baby camel that moaned most of the way and I had a very tranquil adult. During the ride we found out they were actually called Hoffhoff and Hitash (baby), so our names were pretty close!
The camel ride, although uncomfortable was quite an experience with the camels gently plodding towards the camp under the beautiful night sky. Thousands of stars were visible making the constellations hard to distinguish from the rest of the night sky.
Tonight we were staying in a traditional nomadic tent. On arrival we were given Berber whisky, basically strong green tea, mint and lots of sugar. I found it too sweet for my taste but Stu loved it, drinking 4 (small) cups.
After dinner there was a camp fire and traditional (drum) music which was surprisingly enjoyable. Before they started they had to warm up the drums by the fire.
At first the fire was small, but with the addition of some palm leaves the fire leapt to three times its height, with the palm burning hot and fast.
After admiring the night sky one last time at the edge of the camp, we found our tent and settled down for the night.
[photos to follow when we get a better internet connection]

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas in Morocco

It's Christmas!

We woke up at our normal time this morning to be greeted with beautiful sunshine and warmer air than the last few days.

We took our presents up to the rooftop where we eagerly opened then all. I got lots of games :-)

After breakfast we made our way confidently through the souks, not getting lost once!

On our way through with noticed an interesting looking house that we were invited into. Inside we were greeted with line upon line of beautiful antiquities, all in rows. The house didn't seem to end and just went on and on. Our guide in the house explained that the treasures were being housed in an old and rather large Riad which even had a Roman bath!

The further you went in the deeper we seemed to go. There were no external references inside and the air was quite chilly, with the main room being below street level. The ceilings and door ways of the main rooms were all intricately decorated with carvings and beautiful colour paints.

One of the main things in the 'shop' (gallery) was lots of large old, beautiful wooden doors (they are frequently made into coffee tables). When we ask we were told these were from derelict Berber villages in the Sahara. Later in the afternoon we saw a small truck packed full of old doors and we wondered how long it would be until all these lovely old doors had been collected and sold.

After working our way through the old Riad we were whisked off to a carpet shop where we took no nonsense as I wasn't feeling to well :-(

I decided lunch should make me feel better and we ended up in the same place we did the first day, with Fluffy :-)

Feeling much better having eaten lunch, we continued our wander through the souks. We noticed that most of the goods being sold in the souks are seconds with the more up market shops selling the proper stuff, at significantly higher prices.

Eventually we ended up back in the main square with the locals displaying their snakes (pythons and cobras), monkeys and hedgehogs! There was even a party bus blaring out music into the square with everyone walking by ignoring it!

After having drinks in the square we headed back to the Riad for an afternoon nap as Stu was feeling ill. I, on the other hand was now feeling much better!).

We had dinner in our now favourite restaurant Cafe Arabe. Unfortunately next to us were sitting 4 chain smokers. It's strange to see people smoking inside and this was the first time we have had the misfortune of having to sit next to them. Although the smoke smell is unpleasant is not quite as bad as the cigarette smoke in the UK as it has a more fragrant smell.

Fortunately the chain smokers were only there for drinks and soon left allowing us to enjoy our dinner (no turkey in sight!) to the background of the call to prayer. It gradually grows in both intensity and volume and to ensure you can hear it fully they turn the music off in the restaurant.

On our way back to our Riad we saw our one and only real Christmas tree in the foyer of one of the larger, more colonial appearing Riads. It was a lonely looking tree that was definately feeling sorry for itself. Awww.

Happy Christmas everyone :-)

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Spice Souk

This morning I woke up with a sore left hip. Feeling slightly confused and wondering if I'd got my left and right muddled up Stu reminded me that a moped had bashed into me yesterday in the souks. Lo and behold a nice big bruise was visible on my leg :-( The souks are a dangerous place to be!

After breakfast we set off for the spice souk.  We weren't exactly sure where it was so opted to get, our first, taxi there.

As we were now used to doing, we negotiated the price. This included having to walk away at one point towards the second taxi which had pulled up hopefully behind it, but it was at this point the first taxi driver accepted our price. 5 minutes later we were at the spice souk, it was much closer than we realised!

The spice souk was tiny with just a handful of stalls. Above the souk was a huge sign proudly announcing the regeneration of the area which explains the lack of stalls. Things also don't seem to get started here until around 12pm so we were a little early!

We headed for one of the spice stalls and purchased a year's supply of paprika. Yum! And some eucalyptus crystals to help clear Stu's sinuses; is hugely powerful stuff - one sniff and your nose (and head) is completely clear!

We then found a small shopping complex full of gold (a gold souk?). Each of the tiny little shop windows were packed with intricate but extravagant gold and diamond rings.

A little further around the corner was a renovated Palais. Part of it is still lived in but the majority of it is open to the public (and cats sunning themselves in the entrance gardens).

The Palais had beautiful doors, ceilings and floors. The rooms just seemed to go on and on, separated by outdoor courtyards (and no cats!).

Once we'd finished admiring the doors in the Palais we headed back to the main square for some lunch.

After wandering through some souks we hadn't been through yet we found the Henna Cafe down a tiny side street. It's here that both local people and tourist volunteer to give language lessons and do henna art. For lunch we tried preserved lamb mixed with egg in their traditional bread which was gorgeous. We then made our way back to our Riad for a lazy afternoon, relaxing and reading on the roof.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The New Town

Our original plan today was to stay at the Riad in the morning then make our way out to New Town Marrakech for lunch. Afew breakfast our plan quickly changed as the air was much cooler this morning.

Once our feast of a breakfast had been reduced to crumbs we set off for New Town. We decided to follow the main roads rather than the backstreets to minimise our chance of getting lost again.
Around the half way point we stopped for drinks and watched people attempt to cross the busy main road and gaggles of brightly dressed women chatting in the streets.

Crossing the road in Morocco is similar to London: you have to just step out and hope for the best. Cars will generally stop if you force them to but the mopeds and bicycles are the real dangers: they stop for no-one, not even lorries or buses! They travel at speed, swerving into any space that will get them to their destination a few seconds quicker.

Around an hour later we arrived at 'Ville Nouveau', our throats slightly sore from the fumes but at least we didn't get lost!

There is a stark wealth difference between the new and old towns. For starters the pavements were mostly complete compared to the mostly missing ones in the old town. The steets are lined with modern shops like Zara, Adidas and McDonald's and when we tried to cross the road cars actually stopped to let us cross rather than us having to walk out in front of them!

For lunch we found a rooftop cafe down a side street away from the hustle and bustle of the streets down below. We had a long leisurely lunch, enjoying sitting in the sun, reading (and writing yesterday's blog!).

After lunch we had a leisurely walk back, taking the long route through the 'cyberp@rk'. This well kept park of orange groves is WiFi enabled!

The rest of our afternoon was pretty much the same as yesterday; sitting in a cafe overlooking the main square, people watching (it seemed much busier today), then a quick wander through some of the souks we didn't visit yesterday.

With our tired feet at made our way back to the Riad for a relaxing evening.

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Souk Maze

This morning we woke up to the rather soothing, but barely audible sound of the morning prayer. We made our way to the roof to be greeted with a feast for breakfast: traditional pancakes, omelette, fresh bread, fresh orange juice and Moroccan pastries. Yum! The sun was shining and the air warm, like a perfect warm spring day (in December!). What better way to start our holiday?

After breakfast we entered the souks. They are a jumble of crowded, narrow,  cobbled streets with mopeds flying past, donkeys with their carts plodding and cats nonchalantly meandering between the crowds. The hustle and bustle of stalls and people coming and going in all directions makes the souks very disorientating.

With the steets covered over and because no map manages to name all the streets they are an impenetrable maze.

We soon learned that it was okay that we had no idea where we were or what direction we were going. We just decided to walk and take in the surroundings, stopping for strong coffee and the gorgeous fresh orange juice whenever our feet felt tired. With intuition (or sheer luck) we managed to find the main square with the tallest mosque in Marrakech. On the top stood, what looked like a gallows. In Morocco it is forbidden for a non-Muslim to enter a mosque so we were unable to look inside these magnificent buildings.

The garden surrounding the mosque was not much of a garden. It consisted of paved paths with a few bushes that looked desperate for water scattered around.

As we approached the main square we could see the same chaos as in the souks but with the addition of cars driving and horses trotting around.

In the square there were line upon line of stalls selling fresh orange juice and dried fruits such as dates, figs and apricots. I couldn't resist and bought a bag of dates and they are absolutely delicious!

Having walked around for several hours we decided to find somewhere to eat for lunch. We found a Riad in the heart of the souk. Up on the roof there was a wonderful view of the Atlas mountains and a sweet little fluffy ginger cat that just wanted a fuss. I named him "Fluffy"! :)

On the roof you'd never have known you were in the centre of the souk as the noise and the hustle and bustle of the streets was barely audible.

After lunch we decided to put our bartering skills to the test. Having spotted some things in the morning we sought them out in the souks. I decided to start ridicously low offering no more than 10% of the asking price. To my surprise they weren't offended and dropped their prices significantly. In general we found we paid no more than 20% of the original asking price.

Our feet were now tired so we tried to make our way back to our Riad. Unfortunately being okay about not knowing where you are is more of a problem when you are trying to specifically get somewhere.

At first we started confidently back into the souks but soon we became hopelessly lost. As we walked past youngsters they kept shouting "the square is the other way, there's nothing of interest that way" (in French). Given that we wanted to head in the opposite direction of the square this made us stride on more confidently in the direction we had chosen. Eventually we came to a road which was definitely not designed for tourists to go wandering down. There were metal workshops, wood workshops and other heavy noisy, industrial establishments lining the road. In amongst all this noise was an old man having a nap in the cart attached to his donkey! 

After walking along this for 5 mins or so we decided to turn back and head back towards the square to reorient ourselves. 

Our second attempt was more successful, working our way halfway back through the souks. We stopped for a drink in a little cafe on the edge of a square selling spices , herbs and baby reptiles. 

The cages were so tiny that the lizards had to lie on top of each other to fit and baby tortoises the size of golf balls clambered over each other with the hot afternoon sun blazing down on them.

Now knowing exactly where we were, the route back looked simple. We headed back into the souk but were immediately confronted with dividing paths. We took the first one with confidence but after a few more we grew more and more lost ending up in the north west corner of the souk, having started in the central south, and heading for the north east exit. 

Having now had enough of wandering for the day we found a guide who limped quickly in the direction of our Riad. Finally we were back to somewhere we recognised and made the remainder of the trip back to our Riad.

Finally back at the Riad we could put our feet up for an hour or so before entering the souks again, this time for dinner. When we got back in our room, all our tastefully scattered Christmas presents on the shelf had been neatly tidied and sorted according to wrapping paper colour and then size!

The route to our chosen restaurant looked simple: straight on from the main road. However as we had previously found nothing is simple in the souks, especially when the map is wrong. An hour later we gave up and using another guide we finally found the restaurant and sat on the rooftop overlooking the souks and mosques.

At 6.55 exactly the visible mosques started their evening call to prayer. They sounded amazing bombarding our ears with the chanting from all directions. 

Getting back to the Riad was much simpler, taking us less than 10 minutes! 

Tomorrow we've decided to go to the new town; less chance of getting lost!