Monday, April 16, 2012

"Kiedy się wypełniły dni..."

09-16.02 - Dakhla - Tan-Tan - Tiznit - Tafroaute - Agadir - Essaouira - Marrakech, 1694 km, thirty-four rides.

On the way north we change our itinerary multiple times again...

We go to Sidi Ifni, situated on the Atlantic Coast. Such verdant area I haven't seen probably since my first day in Morocco on the way from Tanger to Marrakech.

Sidi Ifni, the cutest village of blue and white.

I discover it on my own. Guido got a message from his work, so from now he has 10 days to be back in Italy. His traveling on borrowed time is finished and now instead of seeing the village he has to take care of travel arrangements.

At first it's a strange feeling to walk on my own after two weeks of always having at least one person by my side.

Fortunately it vanishes quickly. Walking my own way and interacting with local kids reminds me how pleasant it is to travel without companionship that is bigger than just myself.

Mirleft. These women and kids exhort us to join them for the picnic. While they share cakes  I think how we could reciprocate their generosity. Fortunately we still have candies that here are worth their weight in gold. I patiently displaye them among these new friends of ours and each young woman or child replies "shukran" or "merci" but the oldest lady who is the last one to receive her candy surprises me the most when she utters "thank you very much. Welcome to Morocco."

In Tiznit, where we mainly focus on planning what's going to happen to us when we split - for Guido it's connected with booking his flight back to Italy and choosing his preferred workplace, for me - sending more couchrequests and trying to team up with other travelers. Despite this hassle we still have good time with our host Driss and his family.

On the way to Tafraoute. We get picked up by French tourists coming from even further than we were - they reached Mauretania and followed the footsteps of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Tafraoute, tiny village in Anti-Atlas.

Our host Mohamed couldn't reach his hometown because of a dented tire of the bus he took. In spite of this, his family kindly welcomed us at home.

Mohamed's brother and cousin took us for a short hike in the vicinity.

Muslim cemetery

Have a close look at this contrast.

"Shall we get some of this shit?" As usual, we can't resist the temptation.

Heading towards the coast we take less frequented road instead of passing through Tiznit.

The region around Tafraoute is renown for its almond production. The almond harvest is usually in February/March.

"Are Ewelina and Nutella with you?" Back in Agadir with Hasnaa and her kin. I have to boast off a little - here I mastered making of all kinds of Moroccan crêpes and prepared meat for the first time since long long time ago.

And finally, with a delay so big that we lost the count of days, here we are, the last town that stupid Italian and stupid Pole will see together during this trip.

Essaouira from the very beginning seems like a perfect alternative to the heat and intensity of Marrakech. Its walled medina is the first place where striking difference stands out a mile. The street layout doesn't resemble the labyrinth of tiny passages in Marrakech where getting lost was a matter of seconds. Here two main axes are wide and straight and cross entire medina, which makes them excellent points to look for if you lose your way.

Such logical layout of the city that lives up to the meaning of its name ("Essaouira" means "well designed") was inspired by European architecture and is the result of the project of a French architect Théodore Cornut. On the request of the Alawite Sultan Sidi Mohamed ben Abdellah in 1765 he built a new town in the place where medieval Mogadur once stood. Today's medina bears traits of the coexistence of various nations and religions in this place - Portuguese, French, Berbers, Arabs, Jews, Gnawa (descendants of slaves) - light-brown medina walls, white houses with blue doors and shutters, richly decorated entrances with Arabic inscriptions carved above them.

The Old Town is free from motorbikes and taxis and thus more quiet, with things happening at more laid-back pace. Also people seem to be more relaxed, on the contrary to excited locals and tourists in Marrakech. There also less hustlers, barely anybody tries to attract your attention and push to buy something unless you show your interest. The tiny streets are lined with artisan workshops, small art galleries, stalls with street food (mainly cactus figs, snail soup, ceci beans and mouth-watering sweet delights) and shops with Berber vendors smiling at passers-by, regardless of whether they buy something or not. People are different, they seems to soak up Essaouira's laid-back vibes and forget about hurrying. This friendly attitude towards newcomers is what attracted hippies in 60' and 70', including Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Cat Stevens, to flock to Essaouira. We pass many people that look like modern copies of these famous stars. It's also the first place where I hear people offer some drugs. "Marijuana? Hashish? Opium?" "The hell, what's you next offer," I laugh.

For our host Youness, who spontaneously agreed to host us after a guy we were supposed to stay with out of the blue said he's having other couchsurfers (despite his prior assurance that we were welcome to his house), the medina is like home where he hangs out from dawn to dusk. No wonder. Every passage we take when we discover it with him, there are always some friend of him to chat up, some street musicians improvising on instruments totally unknown in Europe, some friendly faces and crazy characters. Life thrives on the streets, but cozy bars and restaurants are also worth checking out. One of such places where Youness takes us is Café des Arts, where he plays music with his friends. There he introduces us to his friends and intriguing Moroccan instruments, like djembe, guimbiri or karkabat, primary instruments in Gnawa music, for which Essaouira is a cradle. In Café des Arts the atmosphere resembles a blend of nations, there are more foreigners than locals and at some point everybody starts chatting with each other. I talk mainly with a Polish/German couple - Iza from Poland and her husband Jens with superb language skills (German, Polish, Italian, French, Spanish, Russian, Croatian) from Germany, living in Berlin, bubbly Karima from Casablanca, who gives me some recommendations about Chaefchaouen, a town I'm really excited about visiting soon. She gives me multiple hugs and invites me to go for some African party in another club but my fatigue at two o'clock in the morning prevents me from enjoying anything else but sleeping.


We spend our second day in The Windy City mainly in the port. Designed as well by Cornut, it was the first Moroccan seaport. In XVII century it was one of North Africa's main destinations for tradesmen bringing gold, spices ivory ad slaves. Today it's one of the main focuses of the town, stirred with life at any time of the day. Cobalt blue boats make an ideal foreground for brown fortifications. Fishmongers repair and empty their equipment, repaint their boats, clean and sell what they've just caught, occasionally throwing small fish at stray cats. Poor things, they have to fight for these treats with screeching seagulls which fly over the pier and are usually more brazen to hastily snatch a meal. Everything that surrounds us smells like fish. Nearby stalls and restaurants can cook up any seafood you buy from the fishermen, but both Guido and I, being not very big fans of seafood, give it a miss.

You can catch a nice view of this bustle from a nearby impressive Portuguese bastion called Saala du Port. Before its main purpose was to protect the port from enemy ships. The remainder of these times are Portugese, Spanish and Dutch cannons that line the walkway and point at the ocean. This place was recommended to us as a good spot to watch the sunset by an Italian couple we met in one shop. Overviewing the medina on one side and wide beach with waves hitting the rock formations and pulling back to ocean on the other, the views are sweeping but still the port seems to be a better place to see the Sun go down.

Had we known before that Essaouira would be a destination that would captivate us with its authenticity and unhurried feeling, we would have skipped some stops on our way there and headed straight to The Windy City. More harsh, yet more authentic than Marrakech, a place to hang out with instead of going monument-spotting, a place to sip instead of gulping it down.

Next day the way to Marrakech doesn't spare us emotions. Last encounter with the police. When our Swiss driver doesn't notice the post signifying that we have to stop for the control, the reaction follows immediately. Not only did the Swiss sped, but Guido and I weren't buckled up. Frankly speaking, we always brushed this issue off, just like our drivers did. Moreover, many locals told us that they're not obligatory in the backseats. Here we're proved wrong, The gendarme is merciless in the beginning, points to specific paragraphs that back up our offense and shows other fines of the same kind given to other reckless drivers. The regular fine is 300 dirham per person but he's quite accommodating with us and suggests that we pay 300 dirham together. Fortunately Guido saves the day: "Money... I have no money. I'm leaving Morocco tomorrow and I only have 150 dirham to pay for my hotel and bus to the airport." Surprisingly the policeman doesn't want to hear any explanations from me. The negotiations skills made us get off lightly from a tough situation again. This incident lapses the car into silence. I interrupt it and say to Guido: "that's your last ride in this trip." "And maybe the last one in my life. Because when I have a good job, I'll have money, my own car and not so much time to go on long and spontaneous trips." No more "you're so stupid," "you bastard!" or "we're so crazy." And I sob all the more for this part of the adventure comes to an end.

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