moroccan hospitality

 Moroccan Hospitality

A moment lived in Morocco by Maxime, a traveler from France.

A few months ago, my girlfriend and I travelled for the first time to Essaouira, Morocco. After a few days spent there enjoying the beach and visiting the city, we decided to rent a motorbike to go around. The sun was shining, the road was deserted, we drove through the argan trees plantation, we stopped on the way to look at the landscape, the camels, and the goats. A perfect holiday day! A couple of hours later, we saw on the side of the road a wooden road sign saying “beach, 12 km”, and indicating a dirt road.

Excited by the adventure, we turned and followed the road.

Heading for a new adventure!

The way was bumpy, dusty and full of stones, driving the motorbike was more and more demanding, but the landscapes were amazing. Small villages, rivers, we had the impression to discover a part of Morocco unknown to most tourists.

With the poor condition of the road, driving started to be more complicated, and, after an hour, I didn’t manage to avoid to ride on a stone that almost made us fall down. I managed to avoid to fall, but my foot was injured.

Finally, after another 30 minutes riding, thirsty, dirty and with a foot bleeding, we arrive at the end of the road. We were now facing the Atlantic Ocean. The sun was high in the sky, downhill the beach was deserted and the big waves of the ocean were breaking noisily. Kind of picture perfect postcard.

In front of us, a very steep road going downhill to the beach, where a few houses were near some fishermen boats. Impossible to go down with the two of us on the motorbike.

We had to make a choice. Should we go back to the main road and find a place to eat before going back to Essaouira, or should we continue downhill and hope that one of the houses on the beach was a café. We decided to push our luck and start to go downhill. Being that I was the only one that could drive, I drove the bike downhill, trying not to fall, and my girlfriend walked down.

After some cold sweats, we managed to reach the beach and the houses. By chance one of them had the word café written on it. We came in. The house was quite basic, two tables, four seats facing the beach, and a barbecue in a corner. In another corner, a cat with her kittens seemed to be the only occupants. We were disappointed, we would now have to ride back and wouldn’t be able to eat or drink anything for a few more hours.

Tired by the drive, we decided to stay a bit to relax before going back. After a bit, while we were playing with the kittens, a man appeared.

The encounter that changed the day

His name was Hussain, and we started to talk. When we asked him if it was possible to eat something, he told us the café was closed today. It was a bank holiday; the fishermen didn’t go fishing and there’s nothing to cook… We then asked Hussain if by any chance a hidden restaurant was nearby, or an easier way to reach the main road.

He explained that his café was the only here and that there was no other option to reach the next big village than to go back to the main road, and then very spontaneously he said: “ but if you want, you could come to my house for lunch”.

Surprised by this gesture, we accepted and Hussain called his wife to let her know about our arrival. He offered us mint tea before we went back to his house.

Altogether, we took the direction of Hussain’s house, located in a village at 20 min by walk from the beach.

A dozen of houses, very close together, made the village. Some donkeys and dogs were going around the houses, and some kids were playing on the street.

Our arrival was not discreet: the dogs barking and the kids screaming drew the attention of the rest of the village and we saw more and more people taking a look outside of their houses.

We arrived at Hussain’s house and he introduced his wife and his 3 kids.

The house was quite simple and welcoming. Hussain offered us to sit in the living room, on of the 3 benches disposed in U. On the wall, some paintings done by the kids. The same kind of drawing that all the kids around the world do. A house, the sun, some flowers and some smiling persons :)

To be completely honest, while we were delighted by the perspective of finally eat something, we had a bit of apprehension. Is the food going to be too spicy for us, are we going to eat things that we normally don’t like? Our host kindly offered us to share his lunch and we really didn’t want to be rude.

Thrilling lunch

Before eating, our host brought a bowl and poured some water to allow us to wash our hands. The lunch started with some bread and olives, in the kitchen, his wife was finishing to prepare the main course.

She then came into the living room, bringing in her hands an old tajine pot. We were bit a stressed. Worried about being nice with our host, but afraid about the spicy or unusual food.

The moment of truth arrived: Hussain took off the hat of the tajine pot. Inside, there was some tagine mutton and… french fries! We were quite surprised! By having a lunch with a Moroccan family in the small village, far from any touristic area, I really didn’t expect to have french fries for lunch.

We asked Hussain if his wife cooked that for us. A bit surprised by our question, he explained that the kids and him love that, so his wife cooked some from time to time. Sit together, we ate our french fries. Laughing with my girlfriend about the cliché idea that we had.

For the dessert we shared some juicy pomegranate. We talked a bit, played with kids, then it was time for us to leave this small village and go back to Essaouira.

I heard a lot of stories about my traveling friends sharing lunch with local people, praising the taste of some exotic meals. I didn’t eat anything unusual, but I learned that some things are universal, as kids drawing or the french fries!

We will remember for long the hospitality of this family and this moment shared :)

credit photo: Maxime
trekking Kawa Ijen

Sokerman, my friend from the volcano

A moment lived in Indonesia by Maxime, a traveller from France

It took us a day to ride from the south of Bali to the south of Java. Whilst I lived in Bali, I had the impression to arrive in a new country. I felt like being home; but a different home.

After a short night, we took the road in the direction of the Kawa Ijen.The road went through the coffee plantations, then a dense rain forest with huge tree ferns. The road was more than bumpy, and the mud – gift from the previous tropical rain – didn’t simplify the ride. More than once we had to get out of our motorbike and push it uphill.Parked at the entrance of the National Park, the walk starts.

After an hour of climbing the steps, we finally were out of the forest that covers the volcano sides and approached the top. No more lush vegetation around us, only stones and some dead trees that have been burned by the acid rain. With the first lights of the day, the landscape that surrounded us seemed to be otherworldly… A smog was covering the path ahead; on the right side, the volcano wall clear, with only a few burned  tree trunks. On the left, a steep slope until the bottom of the caldera where a lake has formed.This lake, with its chemical and unreal blue colour, is actually the most acid lake in the world. At the bottom of the slope there was a hut; near there, a huge column of white and thick smoke spiralling towards the sky.

We were sitting on the side of the path, flabbergasted by the infernal beauty of this view when a creaking sound, as regular as a metronome, seemed to get closer to us.From the way coming out of the caldera we saw him: walking fast, on the rhythm of the creaking, his body bent under the weight of the bambu sticks that he was carrying on his shoulder. A basket hung on each end of the sick; full of yellow and smelly stalactites: sulfur.From his face, we only saw his smiling eyes; the rest was hidden by a cap and a scarf. Coming next to us, he said hi and sit with us. That’s how I met Sokerman.

We stayed there for a while, chatting and sharing some food. He then offered to lead us downhill until the camp next to the huge column of smoke.

The way to go downhill was steeper, more slippery and dangerous than expected. The drizzle coming in this early morning didn’t help us, nor did the remarks of our guide that punctuated our path with “be careful, someone fell down here and died”.

Once we were in the caldera we passed next to the hut where someone was asleep and went closer to the smoke.

Suddenly the wind changed and the smoke came on to us. The air was then full of toxic gas, burning my lungs. Squatting, trying to get some fresh air near the ground, Sokerman came to help me to get out of the toxic cloud, before disappearing into it, with a crowbar. He returned one minute later, the arms full of hot sulfur stalactites.

With the smoke blowing uphill and the rain getting stronger, this was not the best moment to leave, so we decided to go into the hut and wait for a more appropriate time to climb.In the hunt, around a fire, we talked about our lives, becoming more and more aware of the differences between our lives.Sokerman was 40, working in the volcano since he was 12. Twice a day, six times a week, his job was to go down and snatch some sulfur from the toxic heart of the mountain. In total, around 60 men were doing this “job”.

The sulfur, bought 500 rupiah per kilo by a company, was used to refine sugar beet, make matches and also denim.Taking a total of 100 kilos allows him to get $5 per day, which allows him to feed his family and pay for the studies of his son.The job is extremely hard. Sokerman’s shoulders and back were distorted by the weight of his baskets and every single laugh followed by a coughing fit. However, Sokerman never complained about his life.

He told us a bit about the man that was asleep. This post is offered by the company to the men that are now too weak to carry the baskets: the “firemen”. They stay in the caldeira, monitoring the pipes that carry the liquid sulfur out of the volcano. Sometimes with the contact with the cold air, the sulfur burns and might damage the pipes. The small advantage of this position: a gas mask is provided by the company, whereas for the others a simple wet t-shirt covering the nose and mouth is enough.

The accidents in the volcano were numerous, and every year was synonyme of victims. To be sure that their baskets were full of the bigger pieces, some workers start to work earlier, in the darkness, taking more risks.The life in the south east of Java is not always easy, and while this job seemed to us to be a form of modern slavery, more and more people were coming to the Kawa Ijen: getting $5 for a working day of 10 hours was appealing for some poor people.

During the years I spent in Indonesia, I came a dozen of times to Kawa Ijen, and seeing most of the times my friend Sokerman. He looked a bit more worn every time, a bit more stooped under the weight of his baskets that seemed to be less and less full, but never the smile on his face seemed to vanish.

credit photo: wikipedia.org

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Travel blog Bali

The kids who face the ghosts

A moment lived in Indonesia by Maxime, a traveler from France

When I was 21 years old, I went to Bali. I never traveled out of Europe at this time and I didn’t have a real idea of what this island would look like. I had in my head a cliche vision of this island and I was quite disappointed when I arrived at the airport. There was some roads, cars, billboards… ! Me who imagined myself as an Indiana Jones, I was finally in another modern country.

After a few days, an Indonesian friend of mine brought me to a local park for a night walk.

It was around 11 pm and the night was really dark when we met them: two kids who were collecting plastics amongst trashes. By selling plastics to the waste collection, they will get some money who will allow them to buy food.

My friend did the translator and we sit with them for a chat and share some grilled corncob. They were 9 and 7 but looked younger. They were friends and used to come here every night. Their parents were really poor and lived also from selling plastic. We talked a moment altogether, they were smiling and laughed when I tried to repeat after them some words in Indonesian.

Then, once they have finished their corncob, they recommended to my friend and I to leave. This park was apparently haunted, one of their friend has been changed to a monkey by a bad spirit and they didn’t see him anymore since this night… As they knew pretty well the park it was not too much dangerous for them to stay, but for us…

Then they leave, laughing, skinny and dressed with rags. After a few seconds, their shape disappeared into the darkness.

This moment was for me like a slap, I never met people who live in this condition. It destroyed a lot of certitudes that I have, it was for me the beginning of an eternal questioning.

credit photo : Jan Benda