6. Morocco – Tattooing to La Source bleu
Luckily by breakfast time, altitude sickness had subsided and after a quick look at the lovely village pre-school that our neighbours in Biarritz had built, we said our goodbyes. The night before Barbara, the wonderful nursing nun had told us about a little boy who kept turning up at school soaked with diarreah and that she thought he was gluten intolerant. Barbora was very frustrated as his mother did not get it and just grinned when she told her not to feed him wheat. When we returned from the mine, we bought two big bags of maise flour to give to the boy’s family and before we left, Hector went with Barbora to give it to them. We groan when anyone is wheat intolerant in the West but we do not realise how easy it is, when we have other things to eat except bread!
We headed south towards Merzouga and the start of the Sahara desert. As the temperature guage started rising, we noticed the architecture changing. Ruined Ksars (fortified villages) and kasbahs (fortified houses) littered the roadside and it felt suitably deserty and romantic. Like the nomads, these wonderful edifices will have been washed away in 20 years time as they are built of mud bricks smeared with mud and straw adobe and need constant upkeep. As the villagers move out to new, fired brick Ksars, the old romantic ones just sink back into the mud from which they came.
We decided to stop at the ‘source bleu’ a legendary spring at the start of a palmery. We had been expecting a wonderful pool with grassy green banks we could camp on in the shade of the palms. Alas grass and deserts rarely go together and the campsite was very local and dusty. The sides of the peeling pool had been taken over by the local male youth who were dive bombing every available space so we decided to take our chances with a clear weed bottomed pool which our guide book said was probably contaminated with Bilhazia. We were so hot, that we collectively decided to risk it but may well come to regret that decision over the next few months the parasites take over!
A young man who worked at the campsite attached himself to us and became more and more irritating as the day wore on. As he tried to ingratiate himself with us, he began to end every sentence with ‘lovely jubbly’ and a peel of fake snorting laughter. Even the kids were getting sick of him so before Tom had time to push the guy in the bilharzia pool, I steered everyone into the Palmery for a gorgeous walk. Its often very difficult to filter out the people with ill intentions from the vast majority of delightful people. This bloke was the former.
The Palmeries were the lifeblood of the pre-desert region. They are essentially a forest of palms, under which almonds, pomegranates and a plethora of other things are grown. Each family has about 30 trees from which they harvest and sell the dates, and the whole place is often watered by and ingenious system of underground channels which bring water from the mountains miles away in the middle Atlas. Apparently slaves bought the technology with them from Persia (where we saw similar water channels last year) and taught the Moroccan tribes how to build them, each tribe constructing it’s own channel in parallel 45km long from the mountains. Today the palmeries have been devastated by the palm equivalent of Dutch Elm disease. There is no cure for the disease, which dries the palms out and kills them, except to pour boiling water into the heart of the palm. Apparently if you catch the disease quick enough and are very lucky, it can save the tree. Our walk through the palmery and their wonderful earthen watering system reminiscent of paddy-fields was gorgeous and we explored the crumbling Ksar which presided over the area as the sun went down.
Our irritating friend was there to greet us on our return and gave us a vast loaf of bread that he said his wife had made. He refused to accept payment for it and later we realised why……….he had poisoned us!
I was awoken at 01.30 am by Hector squirming about next to me. He was asleep but clearly uncomfortable. I started squirming about too and realised that both Hector and were in trouble. Half and hour later, we were stumbling down the tent ladders and running in the dusty darkness to the very grim loo. An hour of violent explosions was most grim but worse for Tom who was running between the two of us checking neither of us has slipped down the long-drop in our impaired state. We finally made it back to the tent and to slept for an hour or two before we were awoken again by Hector vomiting out of the tent door onto the ladder. He was soon joined by his sister vomiting on the other ladder and me running to the loo. Tom felt it was not long till he was hit so an executive decision was made at 05.00 am to abandon the campsite! Dater roaming and google soon directed us to the best hotel in the area and it was hot with the credit card.
Salvation came in the form of the Tinit Auberge, run by a lovely squeekey clean Austrian (sadly no dirndl) who graciously welcomed us at 06.30 in the morning. As Tom carried the limp and groaning Hector into our shiny white bedroom, he too was struck down by the Lovely Jubbly Poisioned Bread Bug and we all marvelled that heaven was in fact the Tinit hotel.
The moment a large male Barbary Macaque spots his reflection in our windscreen!