Jun arrived back in the UK on the 3rd of December for a month, after we had been apart over 5 months and I nearly got the date wrong to pick her up at the railway station as she had flown in to Heathrow airport. I had been for a further Colonoscopy check up on the Friday morning and it was in my head that I had 24 hours to recover and be able to drive when it suddenly dawned on me that it was that night she was arriving which was confirmed by Jun a couple of hours later when she texted to say she was at Kings X, I was at the station nice and early and it also meant we could go up to Throssel Buddhist Abbey for the Festival Sunday which was nice as Jun was welcomed back by many Lay people and Monks.
The following week we went to Keilder Observatory up near the Scottish borders for an evening of star gazing, I had booked it a few weeks previous unfortunately it absolutely poured down the whole night so didn't get to see anything, however the staff gave some great talks and we did get to see cut slices of meteorites under a microscope, a small piece of rock from Mars and actually hold a piece of Moon rock.
The following Saturday we went up to Ministeracres retreat centre for the full day, we had a full weekend retreat but we could only make the Saturday as we were busy preparing for our trip to Morocco it was well attended by people from our local North East Meditation Groups and it's great that since Steve,Sue and I set it up quite a few years ago it is still going well.
We were up the following Tuesday at 5:30 am to drive to Manchester airport we left early in case of hold ups, which there was and I had to go a different route and we arrived there in very heavy rain but in plenty of time it was a 3.5 hour flight to Marrakech and we arrived at the Riad we had booked, early evening. After unpacking we walked the 20 minutes in to the main square "Place Jemma El Fna" which was very busy and noisy with all kinds of performers, groups playing traditional music, snake charmers, acrobats, food stalls and everyone hassling you to get money. My first encounter was when we were stood talking to a family that had been on the same flight when I felt something grab me just above my ankle I jumped and turned and saw a legless man on a wooden board with wheels looking up at me with his hand outstretched. The next one was a bit later when I spotted some local musicians and brought my camera up and took a photo and noticed there was a dwarf with them who started to shout at me and run towards me with his hands out demanding money, he was in his fifties and had a old fashioned suit on eventually we lost him in the crowd, but more about this man later.
The next morning after breakfast we set off walking and firstly visited the Jardin Majorella a park and museum which had been the home of the famous fashion guru Yves St Laurent, it was very beautiful with such lovely bold colours. we then began to explore the famous Souks Jun's use of a sat-nav on her phone came in very handy, later we visited the Palais Bahia and Palace Badi both filled with interesting history and lots of nesting storks that must have been there for many generations, we kept bumping in to a lovely Chinese Malayan couple in each place and later I surprised a group of young Chinese when I greeted them in Mandarin.
We found a local street food seller outside of a Mosque who served wonderful food and very cheap he did a great vegetarian tajine for me and on an evening excellent soup, I also watched him giving food free to beggars he was a lovely man,while we were having lunch we were sat next to a local woman with two little girls and a baby and Jun went up to a local fruit seller and asked about a particular fruit so he cut it open and gave some to both of us. It turned out to be from a particular cacti and it turned both our mouths and lips bright red the girls found it highly amusing especially when I started to stick my tongue out at them.
We set off the following day and walked for miles at first through the many souks then we started to look for the Mosque Maderson Ben Youseff but were very cleverly side lined by seasoned touts who tried to get us to the tanneries, the first one on a scooter started chatting and told us the mosque was closed but that the tanneries were close by and gave us directions before driving off. We set off in that direction "and just happened to bump in to another young man who said he was going to the tanneries" as his family was there having come down from the mountains for the special festival day, we walked with him for quite awhile and he took us to an entrance and shook hands with a man there before saying goodbye and leaving, the third man then tried to get us to take some sprigs of mint and go in to his tannery, we said no and walked off and he followed us obviously quite upset that we were not falling for it. We made our way back to the mosque which was of course open. Later we took a bus to see the art deco railway station, beautiful building but I caused a little upset by going through a no entrance door on to the platform to get a couple of photos.
We also walked to the Palais Royal but it was closed after which we visited the Tombeaux Saadiens and then on to the impressive Bab Agragi Gate which was very impressive, after this we stopped off at a local street stall selling large bread buns filled with meat sliced off in front of you from a sheep's head, Jun said it was delicious.
We were up very early the next morning to meet the mini bus that was taking 13 of us on a 3 day 2 night trip over the Atlas Mountains and in to the Sahara Desert the group comprised of one group of three Chinese a young man and two young women all living in the UK at Universities, another of a Chinese young man and a Korean young woman, two young women from the USA one of them was living in Morocco and working for the Peace Corp and finally two couples from Poland.
We drove the whole day across the mountains stopping off for photographs, tea, lunch and to visit some wonderful places the first being the Ait-Ben-Haddou located in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas in the Province of Ouarzazate. The Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou is a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture. The ksar is a mainly collective grouping of dwellings. Inside the defensive walls which are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, houses crowd together - some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick. It is now a UNESCO heritage site but has previously been used for many famous films... Gladiators, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, Prince of Persia, Jewel of the Nile,Sahara to name a few. After spending time there we continued driving arriving at a very cold Hotel in a valley in heavy rain in the dark, we stayed up talking with some of the others especially the three Chinese around a log fire trying to keep warm till after 11pm.
Up very early the next day and after breakfast we set off again next stopping at the Todra Gorge which we walked through then following the river past community gardens and Berber women doing there washing in the water and watched the villagers dying and making their famous carpets. We then continued on heading for Merzouga where we were met by the guides and our camels for a 2 hour trek to our tents to sleep overnight in the desert, we rode on the camels in the dark across the sand dunes in a very strong wind and the temp was -4 degrees but the sky was spectacular, Jun and I were prepared for the cold and well wrapped up unfortunately some of the others were not. The tents were a whole lot better than we expected decked out in carpets and with a good bed but we had to keep all our clothes on it was so cold, we all had dinner together after which the guides sang and played instruments around a campfire. We set off back at 6:30 am in a cloudy but warmer day stopping off to see the sunrise then back to Merzouga for breakfast leaving at 9:30 for the long drive back to Marrakech coming over the Atlas Mountains we drove in to a snowstorm/blizzard which was a bit scary considering all the steep drops and passed a lorry which had hit a car which caused a delay. We arrived back in Marrakech at 8:30pm and made our way to another Riad we had booked near the square.
On our last full day we went through the souks and after lunch Jun went off shopping and I set off to do some street photography and as I walked down this wide street full of people I was behind a group of tourists who suddenly moved to the left and right and in the gap in front of me stood the dwarf from the first night holding his hand out, what a surreal moment that was.
The next day was our last and it was a lovely sunny day we left for the airport late afternoon arriving back in Manchester that night in heavy rain, we stayed at a local airport hotel and the next day drove to Salford to see the L.S Lowry gallery which was very good, then drove up to Lancaster to visit the Castle and ex prison that was very interesting and we learnt a lot about the history of the courts and its infamous past. We then set off for home arriving back in Gainford late that night and very tired.