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Saturday, 24 May 2008

Marrakesh (Morocco) -V. Travel Destinations

Summer 1967

Late that evening, after we had a delicious dinner of CousCous and lamb curry, hummus and kebabs, Nan bread with Harisa (chilli paste), olives and Dates, drank many glasses of hot fresh mint tea, we met a Veterinary doctor and a man called Moussa. I do not remember if his name was Ahmed or Mohamed, every body called him Moussa. He was a Tuareg, originally from Mali but was settled in Morocco and knew everything about camels and their transportation. He was a tall and thin man, with a narrow pointed nose, deep set eyes and a cruel mouth, I remember it well. With his white robe and a long blue tunic on top, with a white turban on his head, he looked clumsy.

When I was young, I had read many books about adventures of soldiers of fortune, convicts and con men, who had joined the Foreign Legions to seek fame and fortune. When I went to live in the Canary Islands, I gave myself the nom de plume Tuareg. I was very fascinated about the stories of Tuareg warriors fighting the French colonial masters and French Foreign Legion which was garrisoned in Algeria. And their caravans journeying from Morocco to the legendary and mysterious town of Timbuktu.We always read about world's tourist attractions, but cities like Marrakesh, Casablanca, Tangier have their old world charm, still have the desert mystique which every traveller enjoys.
This meeting was arranged by my friend Hugo who knew many people in Marrakesh. After a long talk, much of it in Arabic which I could not understand, it was settled that Moussa will, on the next day, travel with us to a settlement on the outskirts of Marrakesh, where he had arranged for the Vet to examine the camels which were to be bought and brought to Casablanca. I promised to arrange for the payment with my businessman in the Canary Islands.

Early on the morning of the next day, we started towards the town settlement to view the camels. We were on the outskirts of the city, outside the city walls and going back towards Casablanca. The Tuareg Moussa took us to a place called Palmeraie, which we had seen while coming in to Marrakesh. Moussa told us that this place was the original settlement of the city, where there were more than 140,000 Date Palm trees and with a large Oasis. He told us that there was a legend that at night, Yusef Ben Tashfin, the founder of Marrakesh and his warriors, used to rest in this Oasis which was not populated with many palm trees. But the warriors used to eat the dates which they brought from other oasis's and they would dig holes in the earth with their spears and bury the date bones, which after a time germinated in Date Palm trees, thus creating the settlement with thousands of Palm trees.

Every village, town and city needs a legend, in Pune (India) there used to be a Temple of Hanuman (The Monkey God) and in its courtyard there was an ancient Banyan tree with a large girth. This tree was hundreds of years old and from its base to the top, there were literally millions of iron nails hammered in its trunk. And the tree was alive, green. The popular legend was that every night, Hanuman patrolled the city, and nailed the evil spirits to the tree trunk, which would otherwise scare the devotees of the temple. India is a country full of cultural and spiritual mystique, beautiful monuments and religious cities, teaming with a hectic but mind absorbing street life.

As we neared the village, a languor settled over me, I was sweating a lot and my stomach was bothering me. Soon we reached the house of the man whom we had come to see, and before Hugo had switched off the motor, the wide metal door in the mud wall of the house opened and a swarthy Arab stepped outside, shook hands with everybody and invited us in. We entered a large cool room, more like a covered veranda, and settled down on thick carpets and pillow-cushions. Soon two young girls brought us hot mint tea, goat cheese, dates and fresh baked Nan bread.

By now I was not feeling well at all and would have declined to eat anything except to drink tea, but the Arab customs of hospitality obliged me to partake of food. The cheese was so smelly that I felt sick and ran outside in the courtyard and vomited. Our host immediately called some one and from behind the house, from another quarter, his wife and young daughter emerged, took me by the arm and led me to a tap in the corner of the yard. I wet my head and washed my face and arms, but the sweat just poured down my body and I was extremely hot, feeling feverish and uncomfortable.

Presently we left this place and after walking ten minutes, came to another large mud house. The stench of camels hovered over the place and the air was full of foul smell, which the camels emit while chewing their cud. I felt terrible and refused to enter the house. Every body else entered, and later when the Vet had inspected the camels which were for sale, the deal was struck, they came back and we started for Casablanca. The return journey was a torture and when we reached our hotel, I fell totally sick. The doctor who came to examine me told me that I had some virus in my stomach which could have been caused by drinking bad water or some bad food.

I sent a telegram to the businessman in the Canary Islands, told him to send details for finalizing the sale, and by next day had a reply in which he detailed about the shipment from Casablanca harbor. He also instructed me to buy 600 water jars to be sent to El Aaiun. I was flabbergasted. Now I told my friend Eric to take charge and with the help of Hugo to arrange for the completion of job at hand. I was feeling retched and wanted to go back to the Canary Islands.

Some time later, I learnt that camels arrived safely at their destination but all 600clay water jars were broken on the way.
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