Two and half hours drive from Marrakesh are the Ozoud Waterfalls at a height of 110m
Two and half hours drive from Marrakesh are the Ozoud Waterfalls at a height of 110m
With a swollen ankle, after my attempted sprint down from Mount Toubkal, I was trudging through the old bazaar sipping some fresh orange juice when I saw an arched opening in between two fruit-seller carts. Needing a rest, I figured it might be a masjid and a good place to regain some strength before continuing the walk back to the hostel. Time was also running out for the zuhr (noon) prayer.
As I took my shoes off to enter, one of the fruit sellers waved at me saying ‘no tourists!’. I told him I was going inside to pray at which he retorted that it wasn’t a mosque but a Zawiya and I shouldn’t pray there. Over the course of the few days I’d been in Morocco I had been warned at numerous occasions of Zawiya’s and the people who pray there. Their response was always along the same lines whenever I inquired why, ‘people commit shirk (ascribing partners with God) there as they make dua’a (supplicate) to the dead’.
These warning had made me all the more adamant to visit each and every Zawiya I came across to find out if there was any truth in those accusations. As I walked in I saw a few people sitting together. I inquired in my rudimentary Arabic where I could perform the ablution. One of them, Bin Asad a young man, replied in perfect American accent that there was a masjid one block down and that I should do wudu (ablution) there and come back to offer the asr (afternoon) prayer with them. He escorted me to the masjid where I did my ablution and offered my zuhr prayer as well. With my ankle in agony, I wasn’t very keen on going all the way back to the Zawiya but for the fact that I had already agreed to join them for the asr prayer, not to mention my freshly-pressed orange juice was waiting there as I had forgotten it by the shoe stand in the Zawiya (in the summer heat that alone was enough of an incentive to make the walk back)
After the asr prayer Bin Ali invited me for tea in the upper section of the Zawiya and I posed the same question to them as to why some people who visit Zawiyas supplicate to the wali (saint) who has passed away instead of supplicating to God directly to fulfill there needs. The main objection of the common folk being that they set up intermediaries between themselves and God by asking the dead wali to supplicate to God on their behalf. Bin Asad’s reply was,
“When most people have a difficulty for example an exam or a job interview they ask their parents and near ones to make dua’a (supplicate to Allah) for their success, similarly people come here and ask the saint to supplicate on their behalf, the only difference being that the saint by virtue of his higher degree of attainment and dedication to God has more efficacy in his supplication. Saints die a bodily death but not a spiritual death and therefore it is no different, only better to ask them rather than asking the common folk i.e one’s parents or relatives for dua’a”
One of the interesting things that Ben Asad’s father mentioned while we were seated there was that a man never visit these places by his own volition, “One is always invited”, he said. All of a sudden I remembered that Moncef, whom I met in Tangier, and I had felt the same way a few days earlier. On one of our strolls in Tangier we reached the dead end of a narrow street in the old city and were standing there admiring the massive doorway, when it suddenly opened and an old man peered through it and ushered us in.
A little surprised and curious we both followed him inside only to find that it was a masjid and it was time for maghrib prayer. Later on we realized that it was in fact a Zawiya as well. We had both remarked, when we came out, that it felt as if someone had asked that old man to invite us inside. A few weeks after leaving Marrakesh I would meet Sean, an Irish man, in Cairo who was disillusioned by all the religions. He would return to the hostel the following day with a copy of the Quran after a visit to a mosque. Upon my inquiry as to how this sudden change of heart transpired, he would reply to my astonishment “I felt like I was invited there”, having never intended to visit the mosque..
Bin Ali visits Marrakesh every year with his American father for a few months. And it was on one of their usual visit at the Zawiya of Sidi Nadhifi where I met them. He and his father are among the few westerners who come to Marrakesh not for its bazaars, or its proximity to the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains but for the spiritual heritage of this city and to benefit from all that other worldliness that exudes due to the presence of over two hundred saints (awliya – plural of wali) who are buried here. Some people refer to Marrakesh as the city of Sabatou Rijal (the seven men), who were the guiding lights during their times. I was only able to visit the shrines of four of the saints, however those interested in visiting or finding more about them may find this post on Sacred Footsteps helpful.
After a bumpy and sweltering 45 min ride we arrived at the kasbah in Merzougha, Western Sahara around 5pm. The intensity of the sun was now beginning to wane, but it took me a good 30mins to gather the motivation to make the 2 min walk to the nearby pool in the kasbah – if a pool is needed anywhere, it is this place!
Two hours before sunset we set out on the camels for the 1.5 hr journey to the desert camp where we were to spend the night. I mounted Al-Jabal (the Mountain), named so for being the tallest one in the caravan. Camels are amazing beasts but are very lazy; after a lot of moans and groans Al-Jabal finally got up. On the initial stretch every step Al-Jabal took on the hard dirt road sent me tossing right and left until we hit the sand where he proved his agility and superiroty. The ride was swift and smooth from thereon and one couldnt help but wonder how perfectly crafted this beast was for that terrain. We arrived at the camp just before sunset; and I climbed the nearest dune to watch it, a sight we overlook in our daily lives, but is truly a spectacle in these surroundings untainted by man.
After a hearty meal, some top quality bedouin tea, shesha and music most of the people in the camp retired while me and two sisters I had met in the camp, Anna and Elenya, decided to take up Mstaphas (our guides) offer for a hike to the highest dune around midnight. Having read the account of snakes in the Sahara in Ibn Battutahs travels I was not particularly thrilled about the idea of navigating in the sand barefooted under the moon light:
There are also many snakes in this desert. There was in the caravan a merchant from Tlemcen who had a habit of taking hold of these snakes and playing about with them..One day he put his hand into a lizard’s hole to pull it out and found a snake there instead. He grasped it..but it bit on the index finger of his right hand, giving him severe pain. It was cauterized, but in the evening the pain grew worse, so he cut the throat of a camel and put his hand in its stomach and left it there for the night. The flesh of his finger dropped off and he cut off his finger at the base.
Thinking as a last resort if anything happened there were plenty of camels in our caravan I followed Mstaphas lead. What if the camels were all needed for transportation or one couldn’t slaughter them for some reason, you ask ? Apparently the warm stomach of a chicken does the trick too! If anyone happens to fall victim to a snake bite (God forbid) and try this remedy, do tell.
The view of the desert from the top in the moonlit night was as mesmerizing as it was in the punishing heat of the sun. The only difference was that the hellish heat had subsided and a cool breeze was blowing. The sky was alit showering its light on the dunes below, transforming the desert into a truly heavenly setting.
Back at the camp, I pulled my mattress out in the open and stargazed to sleep.. In the morning we hopped back on the camels to make our way to the kasbah. After two days I’d had enough of the desert heat and spending my last night in the kasbah I headed to Rissani for the 12 hour bus ride to Marrakech.
By my fifth day in Morocco I had already gotten used to the Moroccan shop keepers ‘Nationality Guessing Game’. Every once in a while a shop keeper sitting outside his shop upon seeing me (or for that matter perhaps any other tourist) would uninvited try and guess my Nationality out aloud. ‘India!’, the shop keeper would call out, the most common first guess I would hear as I’d stroll through the streets of the medina. Continuing in my stride I’ll wave my head sideways at each incorrect guess. ‘Spain!’..’Italy!!’..”Brazil!!!” each with a higher pitch and a sense of urgency as the distance between me and their shop grew. Nine out of ten times they would guess Pakistan while I’d be still within earshot; at which I would raise my arm with a thumbs up..
On my last day in Chefchaouen Abdul, a carpet shop owner, sitting outside his shop guessed Pakistan in his first attempt as I passed by his shop on my way to the hostel; I did my customary thumbs up and kept walking. Abdul called out behind me asking if I had a quick minute to translate a message someone had written to him in Urdu. A little curious and surprised as to what he wanted translating I followed him into his shop. He sat me down and told me how he had befriended many people across the globe and that a few of them stayed at his home and some even invited him to stay over with them.
I didn’t have any reason suspect that Abdul may slowly be unfurling his sales net around me. So far he had not mentioned anything about carpets at all. I told him politely that I did not have time as I had a bus to catch in 1.5 hrs so if he wanted me to translate something from Urdu to English then he needed to proceed quickly. Going to the back of his shop he came back with a thick register and started showing me messages that numerous people from around the globe had written thanking him for the great deals he had offered them on the carpets they had purchased from him..
Noticing that I was somewhat impressed by the volume of appreciative messages from buyers who all seemed to think they got a brilliant bargain from Abdul, he quickly turned a few more pages over until he came to the message written by a Pakistani couple – Farah and Nabeel visiting from NewYork. They had written a message in English followed by another one in Urdu which was not altogether different from its English counterpart about the carpet they had bought from Abdul at a good price.
Abdul sensing that I was feeling a little unamused that he had just called me in to show something for which he virtually already had a translation, called his son over to start unrolling some carpets to show me. I told him I wasn’t interested besides I was back packing and I didn’t have any space to carry even a small rug let alone a carpet. Naturally he had heard this tale from many people whom he had coaxed into buying his rugs and carpets; So he went on telling me about the significance of buying a carpet – from its life long durability, to quoting vague religious references on the importance of buying a gift for one’s mother, to suggesting that I didn’t have to carry it with me as I could post it from the post office (much later I was to find out that posting even a tiny rug the size of a doormat would cost more than the price paid for the rug itself!).
Realising that I would be travelling for four months and anything bigger than a doormat would be a hard-sell he pulled out a few small rugs made of cactus thread. Demonstrating their fire proof quality by trying to light them up with his lighter, the tiny mat size rug looked impressive. He asked me to pick a color that I liked (with no obligation to buy, ofcourse!). Upon telling him that I liked the yellow one he said it was 600 Dhs. I thanked him politely saying that it was outside my budget. Abdul quick to capitalize on yet another novice error asked the price I’d be willing to pay for it. Having no idea how much a rug like that would cost I decided to go for a ridiculously low price, less than half what Abdul had quoted. “250 Dhs”, I said hoping Abdul would realize that I really was not serious about the rug at all and leave me to make my way to the bus station.
Abdul declined saying it was too low. At that point I felt that at least I had established that the value of the rug was higher than 250 Dhs, having done this over and over he knew I’d think that too. Abdul went on about how a dinner out in London would cost more than that and offered 350 only because he did not want to bring bad luck to his shop by turning someone away especially not a ‘Muslim brother’, otherwise he would never sell a rug this expensive at such a low price. I rejected his offer hoping that he wont budge and I could take my leave, but Abdul realising that I had fallen for his sales trap hook line and sinker offered 300 Dhs. At that point I was already running too late for my bus, and felt too ashamed to turn a reasonable compromise, to the 250 Dhs I had unwittingly quoted, down. Besides I felt there was no other way to leave his shop with my dignity intact; so I paid him 300 and rolled the tiny mat up.
Just as I was leaving Abdul brought his big fat guest book out again and sat me down to write a short message in English and Urdu. I quickly scribbled a thank you note in both English and Urdu for the amazing bargain Abdul had offered me !?!
A little dazzled as to how a leisurely stroll in the medina ended up costing me 300 Dhs! It was only a few seconds after I had stepped out of his shop that the whole episode flashed across my mind..
Soon there will be another unsuspecting Pakistani walking the streets of Chefchaouen who will be asked by Abdul to translate a message from Urdu, this time it would be my hand writing that would serve as a bait for Abdul’s next desi catch!
The Spanish mosque sits atop a hill, next to Ras el’Ma river which is used by the local women as a carpet laundry. It is about a 30-40 minutes trek from the medina. The mosque itself is abandoned and not used for prayers, but it serves as a very good vantage point to admire the views of the city and its surroundings.
Just before sun set on my way back from the Spanish masjid to the medina I stopped near an unmarked trail head, that veered off betwteen two adjacent ridges, with a steep ascent leading into Talassemtane National Park. Waiting there and thinking whether it would be a suitable hike in my joggers, I noticed a flurry of local men who would follow that trail and disappear for 10/15 minutes high up into a bushy patch only to reemerge a few mins later to head back to the city.
Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to follow the same track. Soon I heard a shout from further up ahead as a man emerged from the thicket, waved at me and screamed something in Arabic. With my exceptionally primitive vocabulary I couldn’t make out what he was saying and decided to continue. A few minutes later another guy who was making his way behind me caught up and asked where I was headed in a mix of English and Arabic.
He wanted to know if I was interested in buying hashish, cocaine or heroine ? I told him I was only here for a hike and wasn’t interested in either. In our combined English/Arabic we exchanged a few more sentences and he asked me where I was from. I told him Pakistan, at which his grin turned into a big smile and said that the heroine the guy up top was selling was from Pakistan! Not feeling particularly proud about it, I told him it must be Afghanistan that he is confusing it with, but he sounded adamant that it came from Pakistan. Not wanting to curb his excitement any further, I let it rest with the thought that it’s probably smuggled from Afghanistan into Pakistan from where it makes its way to North Africa, and decided to steer clear of the busy patch for which one had to veer off the trail.
Continuing ahead the view got better and better as I climbed higher. Another 15 mins into the hike I ran into a group of teenagers with their tshirt tied around their heads sitting inside a mini cave heating up something. They weren’t very pleased at seeing me either and shouted something in Arabic at which I responded with a salam and continued my ascent to find a good spot to sit and admire the view.
After a while when I came down, a guy sitting close to the start of the trail who spoke perfect English, noticing that I wasn’t a local asked me what I was doing up there and that it wasn’t a good place to venture into. According to him everyone knew about the drug dealing but as long as the activity was outside the city the authorities turned a blind eye to it; And that if I had ventured further on I would have come to big hashish plantations..a part of the National Park to explore on my next trip perhaps..
On Moncefs recommendation we decided to try out Resturant Populaire in Tangier. Not a big fan of sea food I was a little reluctant at first.
For me the benchmark of a good resturant is that it has to be frequented by locals (and not just ‘tourons’). And this place was teeming with locals! After a 30 mins wait we finally got a seat.
They had a set menu (i.e the menu did not exist) which was great as I didn’t have the chance to annoy the waiters with my endless barrage of questions about things on the menu. The minute we got seated the chef started delivering his goodness, and I realised why it was so popular (Populaire!)
For 200 Dhs (~£14) it might have been slightly expensive by average Moroccan standards (!?) but every bit worth the delicious seven course meal! Easily one of the best sea food restaurants I have ever been to in my life. Everything was tasty from the fresh juice (I have no idea what combination of fruits they used but I must have downed 5-6 glasses of that amazingly refreshing cocktail of some magical fruits!), to the variety of different fish cooked in different styles, leading to the dessert consisting of a combo of local honey dried fruits, nuts and variety of berries to finish it all off with the second most delicious fruit known to man – Cherimoya!! (a Pakistani mango being the most delicious ofcourse!)
Highly recommended for anyone who goes to Tangier. The pictures don’t do justice to what was served. Patience is not my virtue on a hungry stomach, so the table does look like it was hit by a tornado, even though I tried to arrange things a little before taking a few shots (including the picture of a half eaten Cherimoya)..
I landed in Tangier on the 1st of May and after dropping my backpack at the hostel, I went about to find the tomb of Ibn Battutah.
Of all the travellers I met during my travels in Morocco only two had heard the name Ibn Battutah, and neither of them knew who he was! It was a sad fact especially since each traveller I met knew very well who Marco Polo was.
Even more disappointingly neither of the three guys who worked at the hostel I stayed at in Tangier (Ibn Battutah’s hometown) knew the way to Ibn Battutah’s tomb, arguably the most important site in all of Tangier, even though it was hardly a 3-5 mins walk from the hostel..
Armed with a very primtive vocabulary of Arabic I set out to locate the tomb by asking around. Barely a few steps from the hostel door I ran into a bunch of young guys trying to sell me Hashish (after a few days in Tangier, I realised selling hashish was no big deal, in fact smoking it was very common and even socially acceptable in the cafes). Hamza who was standing with the group said he knew a good local eating place as well as the location of the tomb and said he could show me both, not realizing that everything in Morocco comes at a cost especially over eager locals and touts giving you directions.
Inevitably after a very long stroll circumambulating around the medina we reached the tomb. All the while I stayed inside the small approximately 8 * 12 feet mazaar (mausoleum) Hamza waited outside, even though I had thanked and bid farewell to him. Eventually he walked with me back to the hostel and I realised why we took the longest possible route to Ibn Battutahs tomb when he asked me for massive tip for showing me ‘such a difficult to find way’ and for hanging around all that time (uninvited)
After getting ripped off on the first day of my journey, I worked out a successful tout avoiding strategy for the rest of my trip – only ask the shop keepers for directions if you get lost in the winding, never ending streets of the medinas, they will guide but won’t leave their stalls to come along and show you the way .
On the way to Cafe Hafa, famous for its views across the Strait of Gibraltar, Moncef and I walked past a graveyard. He remembered that his grandfather was burried there so we decided to make a quick stop to offer a prayer by his grave.
The last time Moncef had visited his grandfathers grave was as a small child. All he remembered was that he was buried somewhere in the old graveyard, obscured from view, located at the back of the new graveyard and accessible only by a small dirt footpath that connected the two.
As we reached the tiny gate at the end of the footpath which led to the old graveyard I peered through entrance. Standing in the doorway one couldn’t help but admire the amazing view! The graveyard was located right at the edge of a precipice overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar – A sea of the dead overlooking an ocean full of life!
Mocef told me that his father had already purchased a small tract for himself in this graveyard so he could be buried close to his father and to admire the amazing view. There was no more space to burry anyone there, barring those who already had procured land for allocation of their grave.
Moncef, didn’t quite agree with his father’s idea of buying a grave with a nice view. After all once in the soil you wouldn’t really be able to admire the beautiful view !?
Perhaps the beautiful view serves as an added incentive for one’s near and dear to visit the graveyard more often and make a prayer for the departed..
For 550 Dhs (roughly £40) per person the 2 nights 2 day trek (including breakfast, dinner and guide fees) to summit mount Toubkal sounded too good to be true. Asking around from other agents who could organise the same trek, the lowest quote in the market I found was 800 Dhs per person for a minimum of two ppl. Nevertheless, getting multiple assurance from Ibrahim (agent 1) I felt I had struck the perfect deal. Having booked an excursion to Ozoud waterfalls with him already, on which I was to depart a day before my trek to Mount Toubkal, I felt no reason to suspect him – not realizing that he could be quoting a ridiculously low quote just so that I paid the full price for the ride to the waterfalls. Feeling content with my bargaining skills I left his office to give the good news to three others who were interested to summit the highest mountain in North Africa..
All packed and ready for the road journey to Imlil from where we were to start our trek the next morning I decided to pay one final visit to Ibrahim (agent1) to confirm the time we should be meeting the guide who was coming over from Imlil to Marrakech to pick us up that night.
On seeing me the agent non challantly remarked that the guide was watching a football match and that we wont be departing tonight!! For a second I thought he was joking, searching his face carefully for a subtle grin, I saw none. I was furious, two other people who were to join us had moved there bookings around completely on my suggestion so we could all go together and bring the cost of hiring the guide and the trip down. On top of that Ibrahim said we could still go tomorrow, however the price for the trip had gone up as well. Angry, frustrated and feeling swindled by this con artist of an agent I decided not to fall for his nonsense anymore and pay a visit to Abdessamad (agent 2), who had offered us 800 Dhs for the same trip two days earlier. Fortunately he still stuck to his quote and called the guide right away to confirm that we could still depart for Imlil the next morning. Having been conned once by an agent, I made sure he wrote everything down on a paper and signed his name on it and gave us a receipt.
The next morning the guide was there to pick us up; however he took us to the agent 1’s office who had swindled us the night before…
Turns out there were two Canadians who had booked the same trek with agent1 a day after we had confirmed our trip, but had settled on a higher price 1100 Dhs per person (with an additional night stay) instead of 550 Dhs p/p that we had agreed with the same agent! That explained it all. Agent1, thinking that the two Canadians would never pay the same money if they found out that four other ppl going on the same trek through the same agent had paid half the price they were paying, cancelled our trip (coming up with a cock and bull excuse that the guide was busy watching a football game!!!).
Idmansour, the guide, however was working for both agent1 and agent2 and took us to agent 1’s office to collect the two Canadians who were to join us for the trek.
A brief summary of the trek to the summit of Mount Toubkal, which thankfully was uneventful and without any hiccups.
Day 1: Drive from Marrakech to Imlil 1.5 hrs. Trek from Imlil to Toubkal Nature Refuge 5-6 hrs. Ascent 1467m.
Day 2: Early morning start at 6am to summit mount Toubkal. 3 hrs to the summit. 2 hrs to trek down from the summit back to the Toubkal nature refuge. Ascent and Descent 960m. After lunch we set out again to trek back to Imlil (3-4hrs). From Imlil we took a public bus back to Marrakech that took us 2.5 hrs.
Cost: 800 Dhs per person. One night two days trek. Includes lunch dinner breakfast, night stay and guide fees. Does not include drinks.
Guide: Muhammad Idmansour. Can be contacted directly to organize the trek. +212 671735905