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Week 8 in Morocco

MAP

Week 8 saw us driving over 400 kilometres from Ouzoud Falls, through Khenifra then on to Meknes before checking out Volubilis and starting out way back up north.  Click to enlarge map.

This week we enjoy the stunning scenery of Ouzoud Falls, a rare sight in Morocco, before enjoying the township of Meknes (a must see town) and then wander through the ancient Roman Ruins at Volubilis.

Day 50; Ouzoud, Monday 18 March 2019

After an uneventful trip from Marrakech, where we couldn’t wait to escape, we arrived into the peaceful tranquillity of Ouzoud that became home base for the next three days.

Before moving on, I would like to explain why we didn’t like Marrakech and why we wouldn’t return.

I was really looking forward to this city with its reputation for vibrancy, liveliness, and interesting culture.  I had even considered that we could hang out there for several days and soak up all Marrakech had to offer us until we felt good and ready to leave.  I really wanted this to be an awesome experience.

However, it wasn’t to be.

What we found instead was a dirty city, overrun with beggars, over-enthusiastic shop keepers who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and countless other touts who relentlessly hassled us, trying to squeeze money from us.

I was upset by the cruelty shown towards animals such as the monkeys and snakes being exploited to sell photo opportunities to the tourists.

I understand that people are simply just doing the best they can with what they have to make a living, and get a few dirhams selling whatever they have that someone might want to pay for.  But for this introverted traveller it was just too much and too overwhelming. 

For my pick of the cities in Morocco that we visited, I have my heart in Fantastic Fes.

This little fella was forever pulling on the chain around his neck

Souks – The Place for Fresh Fruit and Veggies

Day 51; Ouzoud, Tuesday 19 March 2019

Today we jump on our trusty electric bikes and headed towards the local souk.  This is the biggest and most authentic souk we have seen yet. 

Find out what delights we bought…

Dozens and dozens of donkeys, mules and some horses are parked up in the adjacent fields like we would park our cars outside a supermarket.  The souk itself is being hosted in a paddock underneath tents and tarpaulins with blue skies above and rolling mountains standing watch in the background.

Donkeys Waiting Patiently For Their Owners To Return

A wander through the makeshift paths has us mesmerised by the amazing variety on offer.  Almonds, walnuts, eggs, live chicks barely a day or two old, clothes, spices galore (some unidentifiable), herbs, bright coloured material, vegetables of all colours, shapes, textures and of varying quality, clay tagines, pots and pans, couscous cookers, crockery, broken electronics, plasticware, sweets, dried legumes, dates, meat (both dead, such as goats and sheep, and soon to be dead chickens) and grains for the animals are just some of the treasures and essentials on sale today.

The souk is not only an opportunity to buy food for the next week, but it is also the time to catch up with friends from neighbouring villages or chew the fat with fellow stall vendors.

Just walking around the souk is fascinating and a full shopping list enhances our visit.

Although we find that we are normally charged a fair price, it’s not a bad idea to do some price checking between vendors because it is not uncommon to be charged ‘tourist’ rather than ‘local’ prices.

Today our pleasure is heightened when I spy some fennel seeds, which are freshly ground for me.  Walnuts are also on my list and one seller has the best I’ve come across so far – unbroken, large and fresh.

Souks are easily the best place to buy vegetables, especially the ones in season.  Once you know what is going to be available, you then find tasty meals to hero those fresh ingredients. 

How To Buy Veggies In The Souk

The process of buying vegetables in a souk is totally different from what we are used to.  First, take one of the low sided plastic bowls lying around (the least cracked and broken one you can find) and then put everything you want together into the bowl. Nothing is priced so it’s not possible to know the cost until the end.   Next hand the bowl over to the vendor, who will remove any higher priced products before placing it on some old-fashioned scales.  Weights are stacked on the other side of the scales until the weights over-balance the bowl.  The vendor then adds a few more items of his choosing to your bowl until they more or less balance.  Sometimes he may seek approval for his additions, but oftentimes not.

The process is then repeated for the higher priced items before the goodies are poured into a bag, money exchanged and you’re all set.  Just be aware that some of the more exotic products (e.g. pineapples) could be quite expensive so it is best to ask before loading them into your bowl.

In our experience of souks, the vendors are usually generous and give you more than you pay for, and the prices are very reasonable.  So, don’t worry if you don’t quite understand how it works, they do, and that’s all that matters.

Here’s the process of purchasing veggies and fruit in a souk

TIP: When making a purchase at a souk, be sure you know the prices before engaging.  That way you won’t feel like you’re being ripped off or you can bargain the price down to what you’re willing to pay.  So how do you know the prices?  Ask someone unrelated to the seller who, hopefully, speaks good English, what they would pay for the item you are interested in purchasing.

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The Souks Are Set Up In A Paddock

Buying Chickens

In my many years on earth, I’ve never seen a chook being plucked, until now.

Alert, you may want to skip the next few paragraphs to the title ‘dates’ if you have a squeamish composition, are vegetarian, or just don’t fancy knowing the cold hard facts of where meat (in this case chicken) comes from.

The chickens arrive at the souks alive and are stuffed into cramped cages.  The customers either ask for a certain weight of chook or just choose one from the cage.  The live chook is placed on the scales and weighed.  This sets the price you pay at the end of the process.

If you are having a chook butchered for you then expect to pay between 13 to 18 dirhams (€1.20-1.66 or NZ$1.97-$2.73) per kilo for the live weight.  If you want to buy one that has already been prepared then you pay more per kilogram because they are missing a few vital bits (legs, head, insides, etc).

We experienced a lot of variation in the asking prices and felt that some vendors were charging tourist prices.  We went from stall to stall until we found a price we thought was reasonable.

The chicken’s throat is then quickly, silently and without fuss, slit and the still kicking chook placed head first down into a makeshift funnel (an upside down re-used plastic bottle) so it can bleed out.  Then it is transferred into a drum of near boiling water (or outside of the souks they are placed into a plucking machine) for a few minutes.  This loosens the feathers, making plucking a quick task.  The butcher runs both hands down the carcass of the bird and the wet feathers literally fall out and onto the ground.

Once plucked, the butcher removes the wingtips, feet, head and organs and places the still warm chook into a plastic bag for the customer.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to condemn a chook that we had chosen, so opted instead to purchase one of the recently departed chickens already available.  There are no such luxuries here as fridges or ice, and with the temperatures in the low twenties, getting this meat back into our fridge became a priority.

Dates

Wherever you go in Morocco, where food is being sold, there will be someone selling dates.  Sometimes they will have just one type on offer, in other places, there may be a dozen or more.  The price depends on the quality, the size and where you are.

I’d recently purchased some dates in Marrakech after being offered samples to try.  Alas, when we arrived back at our motorhome we found that we had been slipped small, dry dates instead of the soft ones we had paid for at 60 dirhams (€5.53 or NZ$9.23).  Another example of why we didn’t like Marrakech.

Imagine my delight when the date seller at the Ozoud souk was selling the most succulent, soft and tasty dates for just 25 dirhams per kilo (€2.31 or NZ$3.80).  We loaded up on 2kg of these juicy treats and Alan sorted through the bags later to remove the live bees that had stowed away.

A Large Variety Of Dates To Choose From

YUMMY RECIPES

Coming back to our motorhome, Betsy, laden with two kilos of fresh dates and some yummy walnuts, it was time to put my thinking cap on and come up with some worthy recipes.

The first was a Walnut and Date Tealoaf that has been a favourite of ours for years.  Next was a quick and easy batch of Walnut and Date Balls (made with argan oil if you have it, but any oil will do).  This recipe has no added sugar, which means it’s healthy, right?  And thirdly I made the delicious delicacy called Amlou (also known as Swassa), a very popular dish originating from the Berbers of the southern region of Morocco.  This dish showcases their (and now my) favourite way to eat the superfood, argan oil.

If you want to know why argan oil is good for eating check out this blog.

Walnut & Date Tealoaf

Walnut & Date Balls

Amlou

Ouzoud Falls

Day 52; Ouzoud Falls, Wednesday 20 March 2019

The falls are not far from our camping spot, Zebra Camping Ouzoud (GPS coordinates 32.00531, -6.71998).  Later in the afternoon, once the hordes of tourists had departed, we jumped on our bikes and rode out to see the falls. 

TIP:  When a local says you can’t ride your bike to the falls and that you must park up in their parking area (and pay), just ignore them!  We rode right up to the falls and only had about five or six stairs to easily navigate.

Click on the right side of the picture below to see the gallery of photos

Meknes

Days 54 & 55, Friday 22 March & Saturday 23 March 2019 

We stayed at the guarded parking right outside the Medina.  While it wasn’t quiet (the road works started up at 11pm directly behind us), it was perfect for easy access to the Medina by foot. (GPS coordinates 33.89093, -5.56408)

The term ‘street art’ has been growing on me and has become somewhat of a filter.  A bit like when you buy a red Mazda, then you suddenly see red Mazda’s everywhere.  Street art is having that same effect on me and the more I travel the more I seem to notice this.

Meknes was no exception.  You can look at these works of art and wonder who drew them, what the inspiration was, and start to imagine the story behind both the artist and the painting.  I will let you make up your own stories to go along with these masterpieces.

Click on the right side of the picture below to see the gallery

New Foods To Try In Morocco

It surprises me that after fifty-something days travelling around Morocco we are still finding new and exciting foods to sample.  One such food, that might look relatively simple, is something we would call a giant crumpet.  In Morocco they are called Baghrir.  Super tasty smothered with fresh Moroccan butter and honey, you will want to try these for yourself. 

The next new taste on our ‘to eat’ list was Maakouda which is a delicious deep-fried combination of mashed potato, garlic, and spices.  Otherwise known as Moroccon potato doughnuts.
And the third food we had for the first time in Meknes was a sweet thin-layered pancake cum bread treat with chocolate and dates in between the layers.  I don’t know the name of this but it was tasty enough for a street food snack.

Dessert Street Food

Nougat and toffee with nuts are also popular sweet treats, not just for the locals and tourists alike but the bees can’t seem to get enough of them.

The sweet pastries here are very sweet, often coated in sugar syrup and stuffed with nuts.  Here’s one that looks like the borek (Turkish pastry), but called M’Hanncha in Morocco.  It’s stuffed full with almonds, walnuts, peanuts and dates all crushed together and then wrapped in a thin pastry (like filo) and rolled into a snail shape.  Next, they are coated with liquid sugar just because there aren’t already enough calories.

Leaving Meknes with fond memories and a determination to return for a longer stay, we head to the nearby township of Moulay Idriss and stayed at the guarded parking (GPS 34.05769, -5.5172).    

Volubilis – Ancient Roman Ruins

Day 56, Sunday, 24 March 2019

Who would expect to see Roman ruins in Morocco?  Not me, but here they are.  In fact, I was rather surprised to see this map showing the extent of the Roman occupation throughout Europe and Africa.

The Red Colour Shows Where The Romans Invaded, Which Was Far and Wide

Situated just 32kms north on Meknes, Volubilis was originally the Berber city considered to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mauretania.  The city overlooks fertile rolling hills that don’t have a Moroccan feel at all, in fact, they strongly remind me of the French countryside.  The Romans took over in the first century AD building many significant structures and developing it in the typical Roman style of the day.

The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 badly damaged many of these buildings, after which significant amounts of marble and stone were removed to build Meknes.  This is another of Morocco’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, listed for being “an exceptionally well-preserved example of a large Roman colonial town.”

The site is well known for the many mosaics decorating the floors of what would have been the houses of the well-to-do Romans.  The colour of some are still surprisingly vibrant and I learnt this is due to the minerals in the stones which are said to not fade under the harsh elements of the African sun, wind, or rain.

The entrance fee is 70 dirhams and had we arrived earlier in the day, I would have considered hiring a local guide to glean more historical information.

That said, however, the well-appointed museum at the beginning of the site provided a reasonable explanation of the ruins.  It’s well worth a visit if you are in the region.

Roman Ruins of Volubilis

Costs for Weeks 1 – 8

A low cost week as we were on our own and had previously stocked up in the souk with fresh fruit and veggies.

Our running average cost of living for a week in Morocco dropped to just over €200 (NZ$333 or £172).  Compare this to living in Norway where our average spend was €405 and Morocco is a cheap destination to while away the winter months. Oh and the weather is great.

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Tune in next week for our final week in Morocco (at least for this trip).  

Please feel free to Pin and read later

Fantastic Fes

Week 4

Week 7

Week 1

Week 5

Week 8

Week 2

Week 6

Week 9

Week 3

Argan Oil

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Visit Morocco