It’s Sahara Time!
I am writing this on my favourite (or one of my many favourite) sand dunes, having just enjoyed the most scrumptious array of salads and spiced coffee at Youssef’s Café Sahara Time – a tasteful collection of colourful cushions and wicker lamps amongst the pinky-orange dunes near Merzouga. This marks almost the end of another spectacular trip to Morocco – the first with my parents, masterfully crafted by Linda from So Morocco, and this solo adventure fully taking advantage of her expertise and kindness (thank you, Linda).
Oxford in October
Hurrying home through the frosty streets of Oxford one Monday morning last October was a rude awakening from two dream-like weeks exploring the marvels of Morocco, and sitting at my desk later that morning, even ruder (much as I love my job). But as I enthused to anyone who would listen about the highlights of our trip – the infectiously joyous Amal Centre, our fantastically knowledgeable Fes guide Farida, the majestic and imposing desert dunes, Arabic starting to make sense after months of struggling to retain random vocabulary from a free app – it crossed my mind that this dream was one I could return to, unlike most.
A Cunning Plan
Speaking to Linda later that week, the sparks of a cunning plan began to ignite. I stoked myself through the winter devising my next adventure, which would take me, with the help of So Morocco, back to this country whose fusion of cultures had so inspired me in my first trip. My aims specifically were to get my teeth into Arabic and more tajines, but a more excitingly elaborate plan emerged when Linda offered to facilitate some culinary detective work… So not only would I attend a language course and volunteer at the Amal Centre, but I’d also have the chance to expand my culinary skills and spend some more time basking in Farida’s enriching company.
Three Cooking Classes
After the success of October’s cookery day at the Amal Centre in which my parents and I learned how to make a chicken tajine with preserved lemons and olives, I started this stay in Marrakech enjoying two more cookery courses, at La Maison Arabe and Ourika Organic Kitchen & Gardens. I couldn’t have begun what has been a truly mouth-watering trip better.
Along with living with Burcin in her cosy Riad Yuki (another spot-on recommendation for which I thank Linda), this welcomed me back into the Marrakchi way of life and came in handy as I started editing Amal’s cookbook, which very pleasantly occupied my afternoons for the next couple of weeks. Stepping back into the Amal Centre confirmed my initial feelings – it’s a very special place, making a valuable difference to the lives of less fortunate women, and making everyone happy with its mouth-watering Molten Chocolate Cake.
The mornings were spent learning Arabic (Modern Standard, not Derija, although I’ve mastered some key expressions, “It’s delicious!” being the one I use most regularly) with my patient teacher Khouloud – extraordinarily so when it came to my child-like reading of a few words a minute, constantly confusing ‘n’ with ‘b’… But I learned a huge amount in these weeks, and have been able, however clumsily, to communicate a little with Moroccans who don’t speak French or English; thus allowing me a deeper insight into their mindset and way of life.
Public Transport v Private Tour
On finishing my course and having made good headway on the cookbook, I had my first experience of Moroccan trains. 10 hours of sitting in a cramped compartment smelling of musty smoke, with the initially conspicuous air-conditioning of the foggy morning switched off as soon as the sun put in an appearance, made me appreciate even more the calm, flexible ease of travelling by car with a friendly driver (I missed you, Adil!). And in hindsight, it would have been impossible during our first tour to see the extraordinary wealth of sights we managed to pack in (Marrakech, Ouzoud, Casablanca, Rabat, Chefchaouen, Volubilis, Meknes, Fes, the desert, the Dades valley, Ait Ben Haddou, Imlil and back to Marrakech without being remotely tired), had we tried to do it on public transport.
Fes Food Tour
Anyway eventually, I arrived in fabulous Fes and was soon being welcomed to my riad with tea and the prospect of another day’s tour with Farida. My mum was ever so envious that I had this opportunity – she talks with great fondness of Farida to anyone who asks about our So Morocco tour. Continuing my culinary investigation for Linda, I walked the streets this time looking less at the architecture (although still quite a lot – it’s incredible) and more at the everyday life of the community oven, smiley ladies making trid crêpes for rfissa and the packed bessra stalls. So Morocco are working with their guide in Fes to create a Food Tour and my role was to trial, time and taste it. The perfect way to round off my food-themed trip!
Until Next Time
And after an overnight bus ride (eurgh) from Fes to Merzouga, here I am being marvellously well looked after at Takojt, sad to have reached the end of this particular adventure but ever so glad that it was made possible, and thankful to all the people who made it such a pleasure. Until next time, inshallah!
When Isabel told me her background, I knew that she would be the perfect person to work with us on a food project, so I was thrilled when she told me that she wanted to come back to Morocco to learn Arabic and to volunteer. Her passion for Moroccan food, way with people and writing style are a winning combination and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration. All you foodies, stay tuned for Isabel’s next blog, comparing and describing her three cooking classes – Linda @ So Morocco
Check out our hugely popular Morocco Cooking Tour and ask us to incorporate a cooking lesson on any of our tours.