Thursday, October 31, 2019

Snapshots Marocaine ♡

From The Pillion

Moroccan Sahara
Morocco is a fascinating country, combining its Berber, Jewish and Arab cultural heritage with Spanish and French influences. There are three different languages - Arabic, French and Berber - and three different alphabets - Arabic, Roman and Berber.

Two (of three) alphabets
When you encounter people and ask them where they are from, the answer might be 'I’m a Berber from the Rif' or 'I’m half-Arab half-French'. The most interesting reply came from Allal, who organised our trip to the Sahara. 'I’m from the desert' is all he said. And he is. A nomad turned entrepreneur.

Most of Morocco’s wealth is controlled by an affluent class and the rest of the population get by. And there’s the Royal family soaking up money. The population seem to regard them a bit like Marmite.

I swear I saw my 25-year-old Merc drive by the other day, working as a taxi in its retirement. There don’t seem to be many catalytic converters and you can smell it.

You are just as likely to see a donkey and cart steered by an old Berber as a group of youngsters huddled round a smartphone. If you travel through the more remote parts, carry toilet paper and soap, as they are not necessarily standard supply.

We rode through a town called Ifrane, dubbed the Switzerland of Morocco. It sits in the Middle Atlas, it’s clean and tidy, has red-tiled roofs, a ski lift and slope - and it’s expensive!

(Very) prickly pear
I fancied a prickly pear, like Baloo from the Jungle Book. So I bought some unpeeled ones in the market (following the usual stay-healthy travel advice) and spent the next half an hour dislodging very fine but very present cactus hair from my fingers! The fruit is a real thirst-quencher, somewhere between a melon and a cucumber.

This is a patriarchal, Muslim country. Men sit in the omnipresent street cafés, chairs facing the road, unless there’s footie on the telly, when the chairs face the screen. They sit and drink their favourite tipple, thé à la menthe (aka 'whiskey Berbère') and discuss all sorts, always an eye on the passers-by. Greetings and smiles are exchanged frequently. The women stay in the background. I was pleased to note that the two chief pharmacists we consulted were both female.

Fresh mint tea! Think of what this conjures up.

Our first encounter with this national beverage proved to be a concoction so strong it nearly blew our heads off. It also contained enough sugar to propel you into hyperglycaemic shock! Not a single mint leaf stewing about. Now, I’m no expert in la langue Française, but I can manage 'thé à la menthe', I thought. Must be my German accent!

What we’ve discovered since is this: the drink is much more than just a pot of tea. It’s the equivalent of “put the kettle on” and a welcoming gesture. To decline it is considered impolite.

My version
The tea itself is made with Chinese gunpowder green tea, brewed to put any builder’s tea to shame and then some fresh spearmint is added. Plus an obscene amount of sugar. And voilà - you have your thé à la menthe. Just not as we know it.

The serving of it is another matter. I’m sure they send toddlers to tea-pouring classes and by the time they are five years old they can pour a glass with the spout hovering some three feet above.

We have also discovered two other popular beverages - a milky coffee called ‘noss noss’ in Arabic and thé Luiza (lemon Verbena). The latter claims health benefits ranging from stimulating your digestive tract (not really an issue for travellers!) to having a positive effect on the nerves, joint pain, asthma and anything else that is troubling you.

We bought 10kg of the stuff which I now carry on my head! (Ha ha, only joking!)

The muezzin’s calls to prayer (five a day 🙂) has become a familiar soundscape to our days.

Travelling through the mountains we came upon little shacks in the middle of nowhere serving a hot beverage with the ubiquitous sugar that kept us going for a while. Someone in the next shack would rustle up a 'Berber omelette' and some strong coffee. We haven’t seen too many of those on our more recent rides.

Over the next few days we’ll be travelling through more barren desertscape which has its own charm. We’ll be stocked up with water, nuts, chocolate and a solar charger. 😊 Oh yes, and there are a few restaurants scattered along the route. Must be the fear of the unfamiliar and projections of worst case scenario!

There is a lot of litter, small bits, everywhere, even along the scenic mountain roads. 😞

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