We have dug our toes deeply into the silken Sahara sand…. quite a surreal experience, as only a few months ago we were scrubbing it from Almazul’s deck all the way up in Barcelona. The sand is so fine it is almost liquid; and I can well imagine it being carried for many miles on a stiff breeze.
We have sailed south from our first port of call in Africa, along the Moroccan coast – visiting some intriguing places along the way.
Some new experiences included:
- Visiting the Sahara Desert – the vastness and beauty of the wind sculpted ochre dunes provided an almost spiritual experience. “We are but a grain of sand….etc”
- Going on a real “tour” tour, like real tourists! On a mini bus and everything! (Magnus has taken to wearing a bum bag permanently, and me the occasional backpack, so we are definitely well qualified quintessential tourists!) We toured from Marrakech to The Sahara Desert and back, via the incredible Atlas Mountains, Todor Valley, Tingir, and Merzouga to mention a few.
- Riding a camel – I don’t know why but I was very keen on doing this – and was quite swept away by the whole thing! (I think it was the compulsory headscarf that did it! One of our fellow tourists did not take hers off!)
- Meeting a local young man in an unorthodox way, and learning about Moroccan life, and some of the inherent struggles.
- Trying shisha! The decorative pipe that burns the very mild blend of herbs (mint in our case) and tobacco is beautiful in form, but looks illicit to me! Apparently not, and the pipe seems to create a centre for a social circle. So I wondered if we needed one for the boat to welcome guests, like a cool sangria in Spain? But apparently we don’t. 😂
- Finally watching the film Casablanca. Of course we had to, prior to visiting its namesake city. Whilst there we tried to go to Rick’s bar – but missed opening hours. Maybe that was lucky, because I think the bum bag and backpack may have looked out of place…..🙄
- A mint tea ceremony in a carpet shop of sorts…. what a novelty! (not really of course..) BTW no carpet was purchased, despite expert persistent targeted encouragement.
- Turtles! Seeing a little turtle toddling around a hotel courtyard was pure delight.
- Sale market – a part of Rabat that appears untouched by tourists – and we could go about our business without attention. It gave us the chance to actually look at things in the souk instead of marching along, eyes ahead, mouth fixed in grim determination!
- Visiting Marrakech. In my youth, this was a destination of choice for adventurous backpackers, and I was looking forward to visiting. While we enjoyed the vibrant hubbub (snake charmers, hundreds of horses and carts, music, food, LIFE) we also were happy to retire to a cool tiled courtyard with some mint tea!
- Going to the Sahara Desert, hands down.
- Visiting Casablanca‘s Hassan II Mosque – stunning beauty on an enormous scale. It is the largest mosque in Africa, and can accommodate over 100,000 worshippers! The MCG has about the same capacity- for a different kind of worship.
- The first mate being seasick for a full 48 hour passage. 😟 I was functional, but almost completely non verbal…. This may in fact have been a relief for the Captain, but things did get messy for a moment! I guess it had to happen eventually…
- Not having a hammam. I was looking forward to this essential Moroccan bathing/scrubbing experience.(well kind of looking forward to it…. you know the kind of heady anticipation thickly laced with trepidation…) The trepidation crept in when some fellow boaters reported a very vigorous scrubbing, along with a very thorough rinsing with forcibly thrown buckets of water, often at face height. They came away several kilos of dead skin lighter, and with the feeling that they should avoid the sun and wear soft clothes for a few days! 😂
- Official whistling. We learned that if we heard a whistle being blown sharply and with purpose- it was not because we were near a basketball game, it was that we, or somebody else nearby was breaching an unwritten law, or broaching an invisible boundary, or generally unwittingly engaging in a mysterious misdemeanour. It was easy to clear up which particular misdemeanour you were accidentally performing by asking the guard, police officer etc. For us it was usually crossing an invisible boundary, say, on the way to a petrol station. (Stupidly we walked towards one when it was closed. Ensue furious whistling..) One day I was walking along the footpath, along with many other people. When I realised that the insistent whistling was in fact to me, I stopped. The police officer simply asked where I was going (the supermarche) and then helped me with directions. Oh good, no jail then!?
- Magnus playing chicken with a mad 10 year old on a bike in a crowded souk. This could have ended in tears, but in fact ended with much laughter from both Magnus and the boy.
We first met the crazy 10 year old as he skilfully slid through the humming crowd of bustling shoppers in a really busy street. It was difficult to squeeze through on foot, but he weaved his way through with confident precision- just almost brushing the Captain’s arm on his way past. A few minutes later we met the same boy in a less crowded street, and as he rode towards us, Magnus started to play chicken. (Oh God, really?!) The boy was right up for it – he accepted the challenge gleefully, and came like a bullet straight for Magnus, dodging him artfully at the last second. .. A happy ending all round, as smiling backward glances and chuckles were exchanged between the boys, young and old. (I however, was busy Pilates breathing… 😂)
- Near death by taxi. I have almost met an untimely end several times under the wheels of a careening Mercedes taxi of 1970s vintage. However if I have to meet an untimely end this may be quite a fitting way to do it. This is because firstly; it is a distinct possibility at any moment; (TBH I think it must happen several times a day on average if you live here) and secondly; it ties in quite nicely with an assertion I made when I was somewhere in the vicinity of 20 years old. I told myself that one day I would drive a red Mercedes sports car. Times change, but I do think it would be quite appropriate if I were to meet my end under the wheels of a classic old Mercedes. (However, for the time being I am seeking to avoid being in close proximity to Mercedes cabs at all times, just to be safe!)
- Being the only sailboat in a fishing harbour, and an authentic old fishing harbour used as a setting for Game of Thrones to be precise! We felt a little conspicuous, but the very friendly greeting and help from local people quickly made us feel at home. A second sailboat joined us the nest day, so we’re no longer “the only gay in the village.”
Food and Bevvy highlights:
- Receiving a Tagine as a very generous gift from our new Moroccan friend. I have been wishing for one – they are so beautiful and can produce such deliciously tender food, but of course not practical on a boat, so we could not buy one. However when one receives a gift….. serendipity at work 🧡
- Sharing a boat dinner of delectable Chinese spicy chicken cooked by a fellow boater… she kindly only put four chilies in for our comfort, but truly delicious.
- Getting through my list of Moroccan dishes to taste and cook while here. We have ticked off Zalouk, (eggplant dip/ratatouille), Harira (hearty lamb soup), Tagine and cous cous of course, pastilla…. nearly there!
- Auto pilot failure, and repair again…. Magnus really thinks he has fixed it this time. Fingers crossed. He is growing his hair long, so as to disguise how much of it he has torn out while fixing this temperamental beast!
- Batteries draining inexplicably – maybe one is faulty? Disconnected and trial in progress.
- Printer purchased and in situ.
Essaouria has reputedly been a setting for filming GOT and Pirates of the Caribbean, without much staging required.