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I AM A BERBERMAN - OR: IN MOROCCO ON THE FOOTSTEPS OF GAMES OF THRONES

Andrea | 09.04.2022 | | Morocco

Morocco has been on our travel bucket list for a long time. And when we spontaneously decided at the beginning of 2021 to set up a multivision show on Africa (3 selected countries in the east, south and north-west), despite all the prophecies of doom about Corona, it was - in addition to Zambia and Tanzania - to the North African country happen. In October it should finally be ready. Only four weeks before the start of our journey does the Moroccan king open its airports to visitors from Europe, especially from Germany. We have a fantastic 3,000 km tour through the whole country ahead of us with the reliable and very nice Ali from Marrakech as our experienced and safe driver in his black Mercedes Vito space miracle, which is always polished inside and out. Again for a long time our travel blog post in chronological order so that you can follow the tour if you want to "drive it in reality later":

October 2nd: Drive from Meckenbeuren at Lake Constance to Erding in the immediate vicinity of Munich Airport with an overnight stay in a nice country house, but unfortunately with squeaky beds. Slept badly and woke up at 5am.

October 3rd: After some not always positive experiences with Corona health registrations for Morocco, we fly to Marrakech in a bulging LH plane. Midday landed at 29 C. Heat. That's still possible, we thought We spend the night in the middle of a maze of narrow, orange-yellow-lit streets in the Medina in the riad R.K. and do a first small city tour immediately after checking in. On foot of course.

4.10.: Leisurely breakfast in the riad, then a grand tour of the Medina and the local flea markets plus the Jewish part called Mellah. The souks of Marrakech: For some a labyrinth for others the ultimate shopping paradise. There is no road map for the maze of alleys. It would probably not help, because only a few streets are signposted. Here you are in the middle of the shopping Mecca and you will also find everything: spice dealers, nut sellers, dyers, tailors, booksellers, lamp manufacturers, soup sellers, creams for all kinds of ailments. The next stand sells rose water, ointments and other waters. Against what, we don't know. Water vendors ring bells to attract attention. Our walk is like going astray. We think in a moment we just have to make two right turns and 15 minutes later we realize that we have no idea where we are or which direction to go. Everyone tugs at us to sell something and talks to us. Almost only men. Andrea takes care of her camera as hell. The king's likeness must hang everywhere as a picture on the wall. It's all colorful here. A tangle of different languages: Arabic, French, English, many can speak snippets of German.

As a compensation later, however, a very tasty dinner in a cozy "rooftop" restaurant in the city, which there are very many in this city. Cool and airy. A respite from the overheated hustle and bustle of Marrakech. By the way, it's called "Café Arabe", highly recommended. Reasonable prices, clean with super friendly staff. And a cool, freshly tapped beer!

5.10.: This is followed by a full-day Atlas tour through three large valleys to experience the Atlas and the life of a Berber family in Tahannaout as well as a traditional Berber market, the "Souk Hebdomadaire Mardi" at the gates of Marrakech.

We climb up a rust-red dirt road on a small hill and then stand in front of the open front door of the Berber couple who live here. He (93 years old) smiles at us and says something we don't understand. She (86 years old) is a bit more withdrawn. The daughter-in-law with her husband and two children still live here with the two of them. The whole house is presented, all the walls are painted orange-rusty red, colored windows, the simplest of conditions. And then, of course, the obligatory hot and sweet mint tea - safely poured from above, flatbread, fresh olive oil, honey, butter. Ate everything with your fingers. Yummy! Very friendly people.

At the Berber market it is steaming everywhere and there is an intense smell. There is really everything to buy here. Taking photos and filming is a bit more difficult at this place, as many are obviously afraid of Andrea's big camera. It's a little better with a smartphone. Everywhere donkeys and mules. Suddenly Matthias holds a live chicken in his hand and is supposed to cut off its head with a large, long knife. But he can't do it!

6.10.: Drive over the high Atlas, short breakfast break in the country inn on the slope of the mountain, through the Telouet valley with a visit to the Kasbah Telouet and to a city built entirely of clay with overnight stay there in the inn "Bagdad Café".

But let's start at the beginning: The Atlas and the Ait Saoun mountains look partly like the Southwest of the USA. Erosion, canyons, sandstone, valleys, mesas. We don't see any water here. It can hardly get any drier. We end up in the middle of a small place called Telouet and there in a castle ruin - seen from the outside - but from the inside it is a former beautiful palace from the times of the Pasha dynasties. Really worth seeing. Great mosaics, rooms and archways.

Then we reach a very famous Game of Thrones filming location called Ait Ben Haddou with the famous entrance gate to the clay town. To get to the historic old town, you go down to the river and cross a bridge. Then it goes up in a short climb. At the top you have a wonderful 360° view of the city, the desert and the Atlas Mountains. This ksar (that's what this type of fortified village is actually called) was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987. The big gate consists (which you really don't look at) half of clay and straw and the other half of plastic. On the fictional continent of Essos in the world of Game of Thrones, Aït-Ben-Haddou is transformed into the city of Yunkai, the smallest of the three cities of Slaver's Bay, and Pentos, the largest of the free cities. With the help of Daenerys Targaryen's advisor, a small group of soldiers enter the city through a back door. They open the main gate and with the help of Daenerys army they take Yunkai within hours. The freed slaves now worship Daenerys as their "mother".
 
7.10.: We drive to Ouarzazate to visit the famous Atlas film studios and first cross the bone-dry, light brown mountains of Ait Saoun with its valleys, oases and mountains. Arrived in the studios, the first thing we can do is pet the snow-white original horse called "The Silver" of the beautiful long-blonde dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones and of course also take pictures. The Queen has many Game of Thrones names, by the way: Storm's Daughter, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi, Liberator of Seas, First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Mhysa. Much to our regret, she was not present when we were there. Some male employees of the film studio actually thought so too. But at least we got to know her horse. Otherwise we learn how real movie sets are built and look like. Totally real. An entire Arab-Moroccan city stands here. Incredible. An Egyptian film is currently being shot here, so some buildings were closed to us, but not the royal palace, where we then shot a few scenes. In Africa's Hollywood, famous movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Gladiator, James Bond 007 - The Living Daylights, The Mummy, Star Wars and many more were made here.

We continue with the drive through the Draa Valley with subsequent overnight stay in the inn "Baha Baha" in N'kob. The valley, of which we only drive a very small part, is over 1,200 km long and goes in a huge arc all the way to the Atlantic coast. In N'kob we actually want to look at a fresh, bright green date palm oasis. But: It hasn't rained there for months. Everything is completely dry, the cacti are completely flat, the palm trees are dying of thirst, not a trace of dates. In the small town it looks similar. Boys play football in the dust, there are many women in black veils and old people. It's difficult to photograph. Many women sit on the side of the road in the evening and talk. The children beg.

8/10: Drive to the Merzouga Desert, a small part of the Northern Sahara, visiting an ancient fossil site, ancient rock carvings on piping hot, crumbling slabs of rock in the middle of nowhere and a camel milk bar en route. On the way we also get hold of a delicious mesfouna, a traditional Saharan pizza. However, camel milk will not become our drink no. become 1 in this world.

On the way we observe a huge solar system called "Noor" from afar, which unfortunately cannot be visited. Tens of thousands of giant solar panels all pointing in the same direction. In any case, the total rays of the sun from the reflectors on the high solar tower power plant at a point in the middle of the sky are spooky. Very unreal and wondrous. Looks like something out of a science fiction movie! And really difficult to capture this point of light on the photographic plate. Morocco uses solar power to free itself from fossil fuels. In recent years, one of the largest solar complexes in the world has been built on an area of ​​3,000 hectares.

We spend the next two nights in the 4-star desert camp "Ali and Sara's Desert Palace" from the very likeable Sarah from England - situated between high red-orange sand dunes.

Of course we do some sand photo and film tours on foot to capture the dunes and the evening mood. Plus the Milky Way of course. Air pollution is zero here. There are also no disturbing lights. You can see the stars down to the edge of the horizon. It's really fantastic to sit there on the warm ground and enjoy everything. Andrea would like to ride a camel after all. It doesn't want to, or as it turns out a little later, can't get up at first because it sat down wrong. But then it does and Andrea staggers leisurely (camel)steps along the ridge of the dunes. Like in the movie "Lawrence of Arabia". Looks really funny. She doesn't fall down, but in the end she's probably happy to be able to stand or walk on her own two feet again. So: Such a desert is really something special! What a blessing the government has banned the unspeakable buggy frenzy through the dunes. So we are not disturbed by such machines. Otherwise we don't see any people. only sand.

October 9: Today we go on a jeep excursion to the nomads of the desert and experience how they live and live in the Sahara. We don't know whether to be sad about what we see and experience - or accept that they do what and how they want. Or to put it another way: simply accept the way it is. However, we do not find out whether they are satisfied and happy. We see three mud huts or tents, a heavily pregnant woman in black, who looks at least 45 (but only 27 years old) on an infinitely wide, dust-dry and extremely hot steppe plain without trees or other greenery (the Sahara obviously does not consist only of dunes!). is), a young girl and two children who are constantly coughing. Still here: 11 more children who are somehow invisible. The three associated men are on the way. They don't own much. We receive a very friendly welcome, they prepare a typical nomadic meal for us and Andrea even lets us photograph everything in detail. They tell us that they move regularly, always towards the regions where there is somehow water. The only thing we didn't see here today was water. A day in the middle of the vast Merzouga desert. Very thoughtfully we leave this place later.

Back in the desert camp there is a dinner on sandy soil in the evening with a campfire and exciting drum music. We don't want to go to bed because it's so beautiful. A deep black sky dotted with stars arches above us. Incidentally, the music in Morocco is shaped by numerous influences: from the Tuareg, the Berbers, from Andalusia, Arabia and Morocco itself. A wild mixture. The gambri is often used and is an unusual Moroccan guitar used to make so-called Gnawa music. Have a listen!

10.10: In order to spend even more time in the Sahara, we sleep the last night in a hotel with a pool called "Riad Azawad" on the edge of the dunes of the Sahara. The sun is hazy today with hazy skies. It is hot. Black camels drink plenty of water next to our hotel. The camel drivers don't walk, they use ancient, rusty bicycles. We take the car and drive again to the small nomadic town of Rissani. There is also a Berber market there. A single swarm of people and animals. The traders shout and advertise their wares. Hundreds of kilograms of different dates, all piled up nicely in the heat. They stick like crazy. By the way, the main dish of the Moroccans is "Tajine". Chicken, meat and meatballs cooked or roasted in round earthenware pots with lots of vegetables and sauce. In x versions. In addition, the obligatory flatbread and the ubiquitous sugar-sweet, hot mint tea. Plus so-called "nougat". Not nougat like we like it in Germany, but something solid, sticky, 99% sugary something that pulls out your last teeth. Colorful and available in various varieties. Horrible!!

10/11: Today is an eight-hour, 600 km long drive over the mountains where the wild Berber monkeys live in the forest towards Fez. Here we spend the next three nights in the riad "Dar Saida" in the middle of the oldest medina in Morocco with over 250 mosques. Regularly and more or less simultaneously, the imams call out five times a day from high up in the mosques via loudspeakers. Loud and shrill. 1.5 million people live in Fez.

10/12: We do a tour of this city and its surroundings. On foot of course. We have a genuine, original Moroccan as our well-known city guide: Nejib. He shows us what feels like hundreds of different handicraft businesses (from the mosaic factory to a large leather tanning and dyeing factory to a copper pottery), alleys, steep stairs with high steps and small pubs. It's constantly up and down like in Portuguese Lisbon. We're sweating. In the evening we know what and how we ran. Wrapped in a wide, white robe, Nejib walks through the medina in front of us like a kind of "Jesus". He always has a kind of mini-book with him, in which he probably writes down addresses and telephone numbers. Scribbled in Arabic in scrawled handwriting. "I'm a Berber man," he tells us, meaning where we should probably classify his Moroccan origins. In hindsight, we have to say that this city was the one that inspired the most with its medina. It's a bit quieter and somehow more orderly here. A little cleaner it seems, but there are just as many cats here as in Marrakech. There are people everywhere, mostly men.

13.10.: Today is Medina tour day again through the approximately 10,000 alleys (that's not an exaggeration!) of Fez. We have another opportunity to look at everything we didn't have time for the day before: Packed donkeys, heavily laden mules and rumbling, wobbly and overcrowded wooden carts everywhere you look. Cars or trucks don't fit in and through the very narrow streets, only smelly mopeds and bikes. There are almost no windows in the partly very old buildings with very low entrances. One of the highly talented craftsmen weaves brocade robes for weddings with so-called "cactus silk", which is said to be extremely expensive and rare. However, there is no such thing in the world. It's more like rayon, viscose threads. Incidentally, he also uses 3,200 threads for a woven wedding dress. We learn a lot about Berber carpets. The seller won't let us go anymore. Almost everything here is controlled by the Moroccan police. For example, residents need a separate permit to walk or sit at a table with a European. Wine and beer are officially not allowed to be served outside in the medina. We realize that not every host adheres to this.

10/14: We head north to the "blue city" of Chefchauoen through the country's green landscapes. There are stops at the ancient Roman site of Volubilis and the oldest (and most evil) prison in Meknes.

We didn't expect to meet the Romans here in Morocco. Volubilis is one of the best preserved in all of Africa and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. It was the capital and administrative center of the province of Mauretania Tingitana. Grain and olive oil were produced in the fertile region and exported to Rome. This brought great prosperity to the city. In addition, wild animals such as lions, leopards and elephants were captured to entertain spectators in the arenas of Rome. A total of four villas with stunningly beautiful mosaics have been found in Volubilis.

The mysterious underground prison of Meknes is probably the only prison that has no door to the outside world. Hundreds of people have entered and no one has been able to exit. It is said that the geometry of the prison is very complex in the form of corridors and labyrinths. Each hall has multiple corridors, with each corridor leading to a different hall. "There are those who say it's the size of the city of Meknes, and there are those who say it stretches tens of kilometers underground and is perhaps the only prison in the world that doesn't have a door. So how do prisoners enter it?" It contains several holes in the ceiling to the outside world into which prisoners were thrown and the food also came down this way. One of the attempts to explore this prison was made by a group of French explorers in the 1990s. The result was tragic. The team disappeared and their fate remains unknown to this day. The prison is sealed with cement and only a very small part is accessible to visitors and tourists. It's spooky here.

In Chefchauen we spend the night in the inn "Dar Zamra" and have dinner there.

October 15th: We leisurely stroll for hours through the romantic little town - located on a mountain slope - and thus have enough time to photograph the entire medina in its various shades of blue. That's a little experience. A little later we learn that the residents have decided to paint their city completely white. We don't think the tourists will find it that great in the future. This is how this mountain town loses what is special and extraordinary.

16.10.: Of course, a visit to Rabat, the capital of Morocco, is a must. However, we are very disappointed, because both the royal palace and the famous ruins of the Almohad Mosque with the so-called Hassan Tower are closed due to Corona. We enjoy an excellent dinner on the beach on an old sailing ship and then spend the night in the riad called "Merhaba".

October 17th to 19th: We spend the next two and a half days in Essaouira on the Atlantic in western Morocco, where we explore the medina, the harbor and the lonely beach for many impressions and photos. We stay the night here in the quiet riad "Baladin" in the very last winding alley in the old town.

We are back at a Game of Thrones film location: A small castle or something similar, a long castle wall with a lot of iron cannons (which are elegantly surrounded or covered in the film, however), a corridor in front of it that you can stroll along and then the not-so-small harbor quay in front of the dreamlike, romantic, square defense tower, along which the dragon queen and her male admirer and protector of the evening slowly strolled. What a setting that we naturally want to imitate (and we do). And the sunsets here have it all. It doesn't get any redder or more orange!

In general, we really like this seaside town. It exudes a certain calm and serenity. There's a lot of creative and artistic things to see, and it's also great to eat. The really big fishing port, swarmed by thousands of seabirds, is totally exciting, you can eat fantastically freshly caught, grilled fish. In the neighboring shipyard, a man proudly tells about the large wooden ship that he is currently building with his colleagues. He lives in what used to be a tiny, half-ruined wooden ship's cabin right next to the ship's building. In the evening you can sit on the large harbor square, listen to Moroccan music and drink a beer. Totally romantic and cosy. We could stay here longer.

October 20th: Today we shuffle through the medina one last time, explore the lonely beach and grab a snack at one of the street food shops. Return in the late afternoon back to Marrakech to the beautiful Riad R.K. With enough time to stroll through this endlessly interesting, colorful old town of Marrakech and the new town to see and take in everything properly again. In the evening, watch from above the large, central square called Djemaa el Fna, where there are hundreds of market stalls and everything looks incredibly colorful. The Hanged Man Square - also known as the Square of the Jugglers - is Marrakech's vibrant center and probably one of the most famous squares in all of Africa. This is where the heart of this city beats. Everybody knows him. A proverb says: "If you have a day in Morocco, spend it in Marrakech. If you only have an hour, spend it on the Djemmaa el Fna!". 10 a.m.: The hustle and bustle begins. While the mood is still subdued during the day in the midday heat and the pedestrians meander leisurely through the alleys of the souks, life picks up speed at sunset. The voices, drums and rhythmic sounds get louder. Then thousands of Marrakechis flock to the meeting point of the city. Hundreds of chefs have now set up their grills. Their plumes of smoke obscure the view. At the countless food stalls there is not only first-class food, but also unusual food for us: in addition to kebabs, fish, vegetables and grilled skewers, there are snails and grilled sheep's heads. The numerous fruit vendors offer freshly squeezed and super delicious juices from oranges, pomegranates, lemons and apples in oversized cups for very little money. My god how healthy!

On 10/21 but around noon suddenly Sense is in and with Morocco. The last three days in Marrakech are canceled for us. The great balloon ride over the roofs of this lively city is cancelled. What happened? Without prior notice, the Moroccan government announced, initially via obscure channels and later also officially, that flights to and from Germany in the direction of Morocco would no longer be permitted after midnight. And without any justification. Really great! That's it then. We were lucky that same day and booked a replacement flight via Brussels to Munich. A few hours later all possible flights to Europe were fully booked. At check-in in Marrakech, the computers were down for several hours, so that we just made it to our plane, but not the onward flight from Brussels to Germany. The result was a forced overnight stay with dinner at the airport hotel free of charge.

22.10. Finally: onward flight to Munich. Getting up time: 03.30 in the morning. This is not how we imagined the end of this wonderful photo tour to be. But never mind. We stayed healthy, we brought great experiences and impressions with us and Andrea has a lot of the best photo and film material in her luggage. Work on the new multivision show can begin. We are exhausted but happy. Europe has us again.


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