Time to set off again and get this part of our journey on the go! We’re heading for the desert and we are both so looking forward to this. We had fallen in love with the sand dunes of the Western Desert in Egypt when we were there in 2009 and our visit to the Namib Desert only fired this up even more. As we headed ever further south we started to glimpse the landscape that we now associate with Morocco and our hearts soared!
We had chatted with Andrea & Paul about stopping in Rissani for a bit of a shop but when we arrived and entered the souk, the “bit of a shop” became “a lot of a shop”.
The Rissani souk is impressively large and non-touristy. So although they try to get you to pay higher prices, they do it a bit half-heartedly and are easily haggled downwards. Getting lost in a souk, and especially this one, just that little bit extra special, is a must! As we wandered up and down higgeldy-piggeldy rows, round corners and in undercover labyrinths of everything for sale. Anything obscure can be found here, alongside piles of everyday things. Butchers, bakers, dry good grocers, green grocers, fishmongers, carpet merchants, pottery sellers, tailors & cobblers cheek by jowl. And I thought Harry Potter was magical!
We had collectively (but separately) been looking for some Morrocan matting for a while now. In the UK the prices are astronomical – about £60 for an edged 4m x 2m mat. We’re talking about plastic mats here, good folks! You can knock pegs through them to secure them and they are pretty hard wearing, breathable, UV resistant, comfortable underfoot and reduces sand and mud getting dragged into the motorhome, which is why they are so popular with motorhomers/caravanners – and hence why we wanted one. At the souk, after a little battering with Paul & Andrea, they knocked the price down to MAD125 each (having started at double that). Translated, we paid £10 each for a 4mx2m mat. We were just talking about the fact they were not edged like the ones at home (not worth an extra £50 anyway!!!) and how the gorgeous Mr T and Paul would sort this out with a combination of fire and ingenuity when the stall owner and his side-kick, after cutting the mats to size, started to strip the edges and knotting the cotton! Wow, who needs the extra edging anyway? Although I could see that the boys were a tiny bit disappointed not to be able to take to it with a naked flame!!!
A tagine and brazier was next on the list for Andrea. It would soon be Friday and time for a lamb tagine for Andrea to break her new purchases in and for me to make couscous.
All we needed now were some veggies and meat. I think I may have mentioned previously, that butchers in Morocco in no way (not a single one!), resemble those at home…..oh, except for the fact that they sell meat. Buying meat in Morocco is more along the lines with finding a fairly clean establishment (or one that you are happy with anyway), one with the freshest meat (and this is a rather debatable and is a totally subjective decision as well!) and one with good pricing or that you can barter with. Most butchers have a pretty standard cost of meat and normally if you scout around, you’ll usually find a price list displayed somewhere on their stall. In Morocco at the moment (December 2019), lamb is going for between MAD70 and MAD80 per kilo and this is regardless of whether you buy from the forequarter or the hindquarter.
We chose a stall after passing a few heads that were destined for the pot (steamed sheep’s or goat’s heads are a delicacy that you can often find bubbling away in giant vats like the ones we saw in Fez). Unfortunately the butcher couldn’t speak either French or English (and we couldn’t speak Moroccan Arabic!) so he sent someone off running to fetch an interpreter. I have great reservations about this, because normally as soon as someone comes over to interpret, they want their cut of the profit and the price cranks upwards. This time, however, we were in luck, as the chap that came over from another stall was a really friendly fellow who could speak all three languages (and about 4 more!), so we chose English and away we went. What I thought was goat turned out to be a very small lamb, but nonetheless was lovely and fresh, having been kept out of the sun and in the cool of the souk. Back leg for us to braai and share at a later date and the front shoulder for Andrea for us to share for Andrea’s tagine and my couscous in a few days time on Friday.
Staggering under our loads of fruit, veggies, meat, tagine & brazier and rolls of Moroccan matting, it seemed fitting to take a rest at a tea shop for a glass of nous-nous and mint tea to revive us (any old excuse!).
Just along the way, I spotted a wizened old man selling dates, his face splitting into a huge, toothless smile as I approached him. It being date season, he had in front of him, about 30 different varieties ranging from the king of dates, Medjool to dried blocks of dates of a much inferior quality better for baking & cooking with. After a friendly chat in mixed French and charades, with a lot of smiles and laughter and encouragement to taste his wares, we shook hands on MAD20 for a kilo of deliciously soft, sweet dates. Then back to finish our tea accompanied by a handful of dates.
We bid Rissani a fond farewell as we needed to get back on the road to get to Merzouga. The desert proper started to appear before our eyes as scrubland gave way to rolling hillocks of sand (not quite dunes yet!). Some decorated with deposits of lime creating fields of white sand and some with crushed volcanic rock creating fields of black sand so redolent of the White and Black Deserts of the Western Sahara in Egypt.
With a few camels here and there to make sure we hadn’t forgotten that we were in Morocco.
La Gazelle Bleue appeared as we slipped and skidded our way along the gravel road (and I managed to give myself a humungous bruise on my upper arm, heroically sacrificing it to wrench the side mirror in as we elegantly slid towards a lamp post, just missing it, thank goodness!) that turned into unpaved road for the last couple of hundred metres.
And the dunes of Erg Chebbi appeared in front of us, with Grande Dune taking centre stage. We managed to contain ourselves just long enough to get the motorhomes settled in, ourselves registered at reception and grabbing our cameras, we made a dash for the terrace to take pictures of the Grande Dune in the last of the afternoon light.
We’d have to leave a sunset walk into the dunes for tomorrow. How to contain ourselves?
Maybe a little cooking and a fire then.