Morocco/Spain diary: Day 6

Thursday, 18 September, 2014. 16:11

We are sitting in the courtyard of our riad and having a mint tea to relax on our afternoon off. Leanne is here writing postcards and Jill is doing something on her tablet.

We had breakfast at 08:00 again, with the same set of yoghurt, boiled eggs, bread, and pastries. This time I had a second egg and stirred some honey into the plain yoghurt to sweeten it up a little. We then assembled at 09:00 for today’s excursion. This was a bus trip to Sefrou, a small town about an hour and a half away on the bus, and famed for its cherries. The harvest is in May, however, so we didn’t get to see any fresh cherries there. The first stop was a bank and water stop for people who needed money and bottled water. I withdrew a bunch of cash to refill our wallets. Then it was a drive through mostly flattish country planted thickly with olive trees in neat rows. We didn’t see any cherry trees, but Karen and Heather said they were lurking a few rows back behind the olives. On the way out of Fes we saw our first camels of the trip, a half dozen or so in a small fenced field on the outskirts of town.

Streets of Sefrou
Streets of Sefrou.

We stopped just outside the old souk of Sefrou and met a local man named Hamid who was going to help Lahcen keep an eye on everyone in the crowded and twisting alleys of the market. He didn’t speak English and wasn’t actually there to tell us anything, but just to make sure nobody got lost. He and Lahcen took us through the bustling and crowded market. It had fruit and vegetables, consumer goods, food, the usual sort of stuff. But we stopped at a blacksmith shop, where an old man was hammering a rod of iron into something with the help of a hot forge, sending showers of red hot sparks flying. Lahcen said the smith was over 90 years old! He chatted with him and gave him some of the money from the group kitty, and the smith posed for photos for us. I actually wanted him to work and hammer the iron for a dynamic shot, but he kept stopping and grinning for the camera!

90 year old blacksmith
The 90-year-old blacksmith in Sefrou.

We passed through a section of gold and jewellery shops, many of which were shuttered up with metal shutters and locked with padlocks. Lots of padlocks – one had seven locks on it! Further on we went into an old caravanserai building, which was an open courtyard surrounded by two storeys. The lower level was originally for stabling camels of the roving caravan, while the upper level was all bedrooms. The building had been converted into a furniture workshop, and men were hammering bits of wood and making tables and chairs and cupboards and stuff. Back outside we passed a row of tailors, each with an antique sewing machine in a small shop stall. There were dresses and other clothes hanging outside their shops on dummies, but Lahcen explained that they were not for sale. The display of completed clothing was only to indicate the sort of thing they could make for you. You went and ordered a piece of clothing, they would measure you and then sew it to fit. We also stopped at an alley full of men selling thread, which was silk. Lahcen explained that besides cherries, Sefrou is famous for silk buttons – buttons made of tight knots of silk thread. We saw a lot of them and they looked colourful and beautiful. The market was very crowded and we had to be careful of pickpockets again. Near the end of the market we saw a huge stall selling school textbooks, and Lahcen explained they were there because the school year had just started recently after summer holidays.

Sefrou market
Market in the souk of Sefrou.

After walking through the market and some alleys of the medina, we ended up at an area where men were grilling kefta and selling them. The charcoal fires were making lots of smoke and the guy kept spraying water on it to make the fire smoke even more. It smelled good and looked tempting. Lahcen led us to the nearby synagogue to see it, but we didn’t go inside. Sefrou had a large Jewish population a hundred or so years ago, but most have now left. Then we walked a short distance to a coffee shop where there were plenty of tables under a shady awning. Lahcen said we could organise our own lunches and then come eat them here and buy drinks from the coffee shop. The coffee shops don’t sell food, only drinks, so they seem happy to let you bring your own food as long as you order drinks to go with it. We walked with Ben back down to the kefta sellers, stopping on the way to buy some dried apricots and cashews and some cheese from a stall which had a huge selection of goodies. That cost 34 dirhams. Then we went to a kefta stall and ordered two of them, which the man cooked fresh for us, in metal grill cages containing about eight of the small meat cigars. He then unloaded all of the kefta from a cage into a halved and split loaf of the local bread, giving them to another man to wrap in foil for us to take away. These cost 10 dirhams each.

Cooking smoke from the kefta vendors.

We took our food back up the coffee shop and ate a leisurely lunch overlooking the market below. Ben let M. have the baguette he had bought, since he now also had the kefta and bread, and she put cheese on it and then had some of the apricots. The kefta I had were delicious. M. ordered a coffee from the shop and I got an orange juice. The orange juice here is really good, all freshly squeezed and with a little bit of pulpiness to it. Lahcen had bought a huge pile of fresh figs, and got the coffee shop staff to wash them and pile them on a big plate for everyone to share. They were delicious and sweet, much more so than any fresh figs I’ve had in Australia. They were easily the best figs I’ve ever had, and I ate several of them, since there were so many.

Fresh figs
Delicious figs!

After lunch we drove back to Fes and our riad. We have the afternoon free and can do whatever we want for dinner. We took the chance to take a short walk around our riad to see what was in the immediate area, and check out the restaurants in the fancy hotels nearby to see what sort of menus they have. We wandered down a few alleys and turned a corner or two to see what was down there, before turning back. We made sure we didn’t wander far enough to get lost. Several men tried to give us directions to the medina, which was exactly where we didn’t want to go. We checked out the second fancy hotel near the entrance to the medina, the Palais Ommeyad, which was pretty fancy, with a pool and marble floors. They had an international menu and Moroccan menu. The international one was very French, with a selection of fish and meat dishes, but nothing vegetarian. Then we tried the Sofitel Palais Jamais, which was a definite five star place, with a brilliant blue swimming pool overlooking the old medina, which made an interesting and ironic contrast. Their restaurant also had an international menu. Which was also depressingly French and meat-laden.

Rich versus poor
The luxurious Sofitel Palais Jamais, full of rich tourists, overlooks the cramped medina.

We walked out of the medina gate for a look at the view down the hillside and across the valley in the opposite direction to the medina. We snapped a few photos here and then walked back to our riad to rest for the afternoon. We’ve just spent some time chatting with Leanne and Ben and then Maria and Michelle who arrived a bit later. Now we’ve returned to our room for a bit of rest before dinner.


We have finished dinner and showered and are nearly ready for bed. We went up to our room to relax for a while before dinner. M. read some of this diary to check for accuracy and suggest additional things which I might have missed recording. At one point I looked at the time and it was just after 19:00, about the time that sunset would make the medina look beautiful for a photo. I raced upstairs to the roof terrace with my camera, only for Terry and Ben to tell me I’d just missed it. I decided to take a shot anyway, and discovered I’d left my camera battery down in the room, charging! Ben lent me his battery and I snapped a couple of shots and gave it back. Oh well.

We went down for dinner just after 19:30. Our laundry had been done and M. went through everyone’s laundry, which had been left on a bench in the courtyard for us to claim. The waiter added up the number of pieces we claimed, and charged us 140 dirhams in total.

We sat at the dinner table and were joined by Jay, Leanne, and Terry, making just the five of us tonight. The menu was back to the vegetable soup of the first night, plus various pastillas and tajines again. M. ordered the vegetable pastilla and I ordered a lamb tajine with almonds. This turned out to be delicious, with a huge chunk of fork tender lamb on the bone, prunes, and incredibly crunchy roasted almonds. I’m glad I ordered it. Jay also got the vege pastilla, while Leanne and Terry got the soup. We talked about a lot of things over the meal, including horror stories about camels and camping in the desert, the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, the economic recovery of Christchurch (Jay’s home town) after the 2011 earthquake, ending with Terry’s stories about his father serving in the Second World War.

After dinner we returned to our room to shower and drop off to bed early. Tomorrow morning we need to pack before breakfast to be ready to leave the riad at 08:45 for the drive to Midelt.

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