Travel: Volunteering through Workaway on a farm community in Germany

In the current part of my last-20s travel journeys: I’ve left London, my television office job and extremes of living in such a large city, and have some how stumbled upon farm life in Northern Germany.  How does a city slicker like myself cope with life in an agricultural environment such as this? Better than expected it turns out.

There were ups and downs in the first 6 months after leaving my office life in London, but I was able to fall on my feet thanks to the decision to become a volunteer worker to fund my travels. Using the site http://workaway.info  , I searched until a found a community that interested me. This happened to be in Lower Saxony, about one hour south of Hamburg via train, at a little village called Sammatz. It was actually closer to Luneburg than Hamburg, and in terms of address it was situated in the area of Neu Darchau (a nearby town, nothing to do with Dachau), but disregarding geography, in turned out to be a great place to volunteer. There were lots of other fellow travelers working in order to have free food and accommodation, in fact in summer we had up to 85 volunteers on the farm! This is not to mention the 90+ permanent residents. Sammatz (google map it here) is a community unlike many you’ll find on the Workaway database – it’s well organised, with much varied work, cooked meals every lunch time, a fridge always full of food to cook your own, good accommodation, really friendly locals and some beautiful surroundings in the Northern Germany forest. As well as an organic farm, they have farm animals including many rare breeds (horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, an avery, chickens, turkeys, ducks, dogs, cats, people), a bakery for fresh bread, dairy for making organic yoghurt and cheese, an excellent cafe with deserts drinks and meals and also home and schooling for special needs and disadvantaged children. The volunteers can get involved with any or all of this, from caregiving with the special needs kids, to gardening – weeding is somewhat of a prerequisite when you first arrive, there’s plenty of stables and animal work to get involved in and also construction and larger labouring type gardening. Oh, I forgot to mention the kitchen as well, with prepared meals everyday the catering is fantastic from the cooks. These are served Monday to Saturday and you can also get involved cooking there.

Daniel, my friend and blogger, check his hot blog out: https://www.failingforward.today/

So there’s a lot to do within this little (but in a sense, big) community in the heart of Lower Saxony. When I arrived, I was but a mere volunteer, but soon my plan to stay 2 weeks had sped by and it wasn’t long until I found myself staying 6 months, until nearly Christmas. I eventually had my own room to myself, used lent instruments such as Piano and Guitar to continue writing songs, and had gotten the basics of German down thanks to one of the mentors on the farm who also teaches German. I probably would have stayed past Christmas as well, if it wasn’t for a nagging call to return home to my birth land of New Zealand. Coming back to New Zealand had an element of shock to it as well – after the freedom and social environment of the farm – I feel the experience changed me. I will no longer be able to return to the confines of the usual 9 to 5 office job without the knowledge that other, more communal ways of life can exist.

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Not that working at the Sammatz community in Germany was a holiday, we would work 7.5 hours a day, starting at 8am and going until 5pm, with the 1.5 hour break for lunch. This was a little on the excessive side as most Workaway’s have the guidelines that there should only be 5 hours work a day, but the extra work was made up for by the good social environment and good food. The work was rewarding as well, perhaps not the excessive weeding, i.e. ripping grass out of the ground (which could be fun in summer as an excuse to flirt and bond with fellow workies, but was pretty tough by cold Autumn).  With the larger construction tasks, care giving, labouring around the farm something could always be learnt, about team work and individual skills. Cow herding was a highlight of mine, something I took the lead on for several months, along with a Scottish friend of mine. Cow’s turn out to be highly emotional and interesting creatures, not unsimiliar to what a dinosaur might be like. This lead to a screening of Jurassic Park with the borrowed farm projector, which in turn led to an impromptu road trip with the friends group I had at that time, up to the city of Lubeck. Lubeck was in no way connected to dinosaur’s but the trip was a lot of fun, and an indication of the cool things that you can do with the cool people you meet in community volunteering experiences such as this.

Will I volunteer on farms or community’s again? Yes I probably will. Now back in New Zealand I have the choice of staying here, getting an normal job to pay off my ever escalating student debt, or escape back overseas on a flight I’ve booked to return to Germany and start the traveling once again. Since I’ve turned down the job and thus the opportunity to make money, I may as well go for broke and see what will happen in Europe for me in 2018. This time I think I’ll try find a workaway closer to the city, like Berlin and perhaps get involved in the sights and sounds of city life once again. But I have a feeling it won’t be long, until I’m back at that farm in Lower Saxony once again…

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[Blog] New Single: Seperations (Produced by Stakker)

A couple of months ago myself and a mate of mine Richard Baldwin, who produces and writes under the aliases Stakker, The Soviet Union and Belville (check out his tunes here), had our first jam, which immediately produced some promising sounds and ideas. We’d previously bonded at a party over a shared interest in old-school audio hardware, and learning that Richard owned not one but two mint condition Roland 808 drum-machines, I knew I had to get together and see what our minds could create.

I was slightly nervous at first to be jamming with such an experience musician, but we kicked straight into it and gelled quickly over some 808 pattern experiments. Quickly laying a beat into Ableton, I scrapped previous verses that I had brought to the jam, and wrote something on the spot to fit the sparse, mid-80s dark electro vibes that Richard was cultivating. Taking some ideas from previous incomplete verses, discussing the refugee crisis, I initially went down the route of the partying-at-the-end-of-the-world theme, that  I had previously explored in End Times. We sat on this rough initial draft for a month or so, having a few jams in between to remix tracks and hang out. Then, after the EU referendum decision, I decided it was appropriate to pick up this jam again and lay something down while the topic and inspiration is fresh. The upcoming US election adds another level of perverse inspiration behind the content of this track.

What we’ve come up with is called Separations, and I’m pretty proud of it. This is the first time I’ve finished a track for my ongoing solo rap project over a beat made not by myself. It felt particularly collaborative due to Richard taking particular interest in how I was delivering the vocals, honing it on specific line delivery as well as the tone of whole verses. We tracked all the vocals in about 3 hours, split up with pizza and cider, and I think the extra production input has taking the track up a notch. It’s still loose, there’s some improv at the end which Richard and I decided to keep in, and there’s a few vocal flubs we’ve kept in there for the hell of it. Stop it sounding too laboured or whatever.

I hope you’ll dig the message of the track – don’t want to be too preachy, but taking influence from political rappers of the past, this is all about unity in the face of the divisions placed upon us by the media, politics and negative rhetoric . Check the track out above, or on bandcamp.

Hamish Gavin and Richard Baldwin Stakker recording Separations

Dicking around at the recording sessions

Journal: Driving around New Zealand listening to The Clean

As the seasons in London shift from summer to autumn, the slight chill in the air juxtaposing the still bright daylight, and a blue sky not yet obscured by grey bleakness, is reminding me of the similar climates of my homeland. Particularly Dunedin, which if memory serves me correctly often finds itself in similarly contradicting conditions. One of the most pleasant things about Dunedin weather, is that even when it is frozen cold, with morning frosts rendering grass crisp like icicles, the sky will nearly always be blue and welcoming. A cold day will always be bright enough to run about outside – which we did plenty of as kids, in the parks, streams and fields of my hometown, Mosgiel.

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A wet Dunedin day

The weather shift also reminded me of some music that seemed to go hand and hand with the chilly warm days of Dunedin. Before I moved over to London, I did a lot of driving around New Zealand – mostly in Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton, as I strove to obtain my full license before embarking on a mission overseas. I moved to Auckland for several years before London, but I often found myself flying back to Dunedin to visit friends. During these visits, driving around in my Mum’s silver Kea or Grandma’s Mitsubishi, The Clean seemed the perfect soundtrack to to exploring the winding Otago Peninsula and sloped streets of Dunedin. So now that I’m roughly 19,075 km’s from Dunedin, and have been for over 14 months, it is maybe quite comforting to listen to a band such as The Clean, whose music seems to so strongly reflect the landscapes that the Kilgour brothers, and Robert Scott grew up in. Scott was born in Mosgiel, and the Kilgour’s in Dunedin, and I’m not exactly why their music seems to be to be the perfect companion for our vibrant student town and surrounding landscape. Perhaps it’s just that by me choosing to frequently play their Anthology during my cruises ingrained the comparison in my mind. But it seems quite possible that the landscape and energy of the town equally inspired the music – that which was born in student flats and bars of the 1970s, along with other reverb drentched, jangley, guitar based bands such as The Chills, The Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings, The 3D’s etc.. and all the other Flying Nun and Dunedin Sound family.

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Pulled over by the cops – on the desert road – North Island

I do favour the hilly roads on Dunedin, but the Waikato has it’s share of roadtrip memories as well, as after my Mum moved to Hamilton in 2012, I spent many weekends driving around those much flatter streets, and generally warmer climate, but again found myself often choosing Dunedin sound bands as the soundtrack. The Clean’s Vehicle seemed to suit these roads, their 1990 album recorded in London during a re-union tour. This is an album I’m returning to now, and perhaps finding an interesting existential connection the circumstances that surround that albums creation, seeing as David Kilgour was also lost for several years in this UK metropolis. Vehicle is the sound of The Clean again connecting with their homeland, and for me being all those kilometers away, it serves a nice replacement to actually standing on New Zealand streets.

So before I go off on another Europe adventure, I thought I would flashback to those cold New Zealand driving missions, where in one case we were off to shoot a music video at the abandoned World War II gun emplacements along the Otago Peninsula, just along from the favourite of New Zealand tourism, the Albatross colony. Or another time, heading off with my friend Anthony to explore the West Coast of the South Island, and both the Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier. Being in central London for more than a year, these experiences of freedom out in the Southern most countryside of the world do seem all the more special. There are many things going for London, but space and fresh air are largely not amongst them. That’s something that Dunedin and New Zealand has in abundance.

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Anthony Keenan (Ants) and I on the West Coast of New Zealand

Live Review: Death DTA (Le Divan Du Monde, Paris, 2016)

Steve DiGiorgio played his 3 string fret-less bass like a maniac, beard grey and tied up looking kind of like a metal pirate. Bobby Koeble played every riff, every solo including the classic leads he wrote for Symbolic almost perfectly, lip syncing the lyrics along with an enamored crowd. Gene Hoglan, the atomic clock showed no signs of tiring, as he smashed through the ground breaking poly-rhythmic beats he composed for the two classic Death albums on which he played, lighting up cigarettes between songs, and playing the other drummers beats better than they ever could. Max Phelps at the front, the substitute Chuck Schuldiner now a veteran in his own right having toured for 3 years with these legends, still seems as surprised as anyone that he was picked for the role. But it all comes together as the best metal karaoke show one could ever hope for, a massive release for those who have been listening to Death for their whole lives and had perhaps never thought they’d see these songs played live, by a collection of men who wrote them.

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Chuck Schuldiner was of coursed missed, his onstage presence, technical proficiency and signature vocals of which perhaps invented the Death Metal genre (before outgrowing it) could not be replaced by Phelps, who has a role I do not envy, in spite of how fun it looks. I’m sure it’s an enormous task to have to fill Schuldiner’s shoes night after night, but Phelps to his credit nails nearly every solo, and also attempts various low and high vocal styles that Schuldiner moved between during his career. The crowd was supportive, often yelling Max’s name and giving him support. We were there to celebrate Schuldiner’s legacy, as DiGiorgio made clear to the crowd during in between banter, yet these musicians seem to have grown into their own confident and unique force. It’s shame this formation of Death DTA will not be able to move beyond the limits of an official tribute act, and perhaps compose new material. I would be interested to hear what new compositions the group would create.

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To tell it like it was however; hearing such  classic songs live, played by such iconic musicians of the genre, left me to uncontrollably grin for nearly the entire set. I couldn’t but joyously mosh when hearing something like Overactive Imagination off Death’s 1993 album Individual Thought Patterns played live right in front of me, with the very drummer who I listened to in wonder ten years earlier as I tried to figure out what he was doing. I often found myself with my arms around the fellow French Death fans in the pit, jumping up and down and yelling every lyric to Pull The Plug and Crystal Mountain. Air guitar displays burst out amongst us at the front as we fanatics displayed our obsessive knowledge of the solos and fretwork from throughout Death’s discography. There was all the expected moshing and circle pitting, and rampant crowd surfing also broke out. I managed to pull off one ill-timed but hugely entertaining crowd surf as the acoustic intro to Destiny kicked into distortion. It was a bit of a struggle to get down once I was up in the air, but credit to the French crowd for going along with such antics. Almost all the signature tracks were played, minus a few – it will be interesting to see if any future Death DTA tours will feature Scavenger of Human Sorrow or Flesh And The Power It Holds for example (we might need Richard Christie on drums for those two).

Bobby Koeble

This being the last night of the tour, and being a metal show in Paris, there were extra bouts of between song banter – mostly from DiGiorgio , giving shout-outs the the backstage crew and taking time to specially thank the French crowd for coming out and supporting. We were apparently the best crowd of the tour – something DiGiorgio made clear he doesn’t say every night. Whether that was the case or not, it was a great gig and something I’m proud of trekked to have seen. My only regrets are that I don’t speak french well enough to make many friends before or after the show, and that security was tough enough to not allow some of us to wait after the performance to meet the band. Perhaps next time the band tours I’ll have a chance to chat to Hoglan in person. And maybe next time I’ll know French a little better – or maybe that’s asking a little much. For now, this Death fan is satisfied.

[Journal] Back To Metal or: Looking Back On Being a Teenage Metalhead

Our tastes change depending on who we are at any given time. When we’re kids, we often lean towards pop and friendly or gimmicky dance music, as this is what appeals to us. Or in our younger days, we listen to whatever our parents are into. As we grow up, we become more aware of cultural trends happening around us, and try to keep up with them, for the sake of being one with the crowd, to bond with our peers through shared cultural knowledge. When we hit our teens, some of us want to distance ourselves further from the mainstream, and look for periphery or outsider art that doesn’t so much appeal to those still following the mainstream. For recent generations, perhaps that means diving deeper into movements such as rap or metal, or at least that is what it meant for me, as well as searching for cinema not so accepted by my teachers or parents, horror and art-house for example.

Your experiences might be different, as I’m looking at this from a reasonably personal perspective. But metal for me formed a defining part of my teen years, from 14 upwards, I found myself listening to increasingly heavier music, out of enjoyment and also to know about something and be a part of a cultural movement outside what was predominantly taking place within popular groups in my home town. Sport and pop music never really had enduring appeal. I was preoccupied by the mainstream in my tween years, and although I found the Beastie Boys and felt pretty proud discovering such cool artists before the rest of my peers, I would soon turn my back on them, based on one nasty interview they have in New Zealand in 2005. That was before a concert I would want so much to go to but never had a chance, their headlining performance at the Big Day Out. When they acted like bored assholes, in an interview with Clarke Gayford on ex-NZ music channel C4 – my genre loyalties would be prompted to change.

They may have been having a bad day, and I would eventually forgive them (rediscovering them in 2007 upon the release of The Mix Up), but in the interim, metal would fill the gap of my teenage obsessions, and a love of dance and rap would soon be replaced by obsessive support for the heavy – Megadeth, Pantera, Death, Carcass, Mayhem, Slayer, Immortal, Cryptopsy, Metallica, Sepultura, Metallica and Black Sabbath amongst others. The chug, the growl, the double kick, aggressive lyrical delivery and the overly long song structure would become my new musical guide.

Incarnate playing Oamaru's Penguin Club, 2007

Incarnate playing Oamaru’s Penguin Club, 2007

Local New Zealand metal bands would also form a huge part of my metal education and influence. Playing alongside stellar bands such as Christpuncher, El Schlong, 8 Foot Sativa, Tainted, Overlord, Nuns With Guns, Injection Of Death – some from Dunedin, some from around NZ, would only cement my desire to become a better metal musician and be more a part of the community. I was drumming with my high school friends in a band Incarnate (separate schools, but similar friends and ages) and I was prompted to double kick faster and faster, and learn more complex beats and fills, through competition with the peers around me. Gigging together, with friendly competition and rivalry, these high school and university gig days were some of the best times of my life.

After tour photo - Osmium, Sinate, Incarnate, Flesh Gates & Menaesa

After tour photo – Osmium, Sinate, Incarnate, Flesh Gates & Menaesa

Time moved on, I changed cities, and perhaps moved away from metal. Rap re-entered my life, and in a turn of events I still find hilarious even as I delicately pursue it, I’m now an aspiring solo and group rapper writer and producer. Metal is still in my life, as I sporadically meet my friends for gigs and festivals, but mainstream, indie and rock is back to being a more dominant part of my life. I’m no longer trying to prove myself to a community, or gain respect in one genre or subculture. I’m following whatever I like at whatever given time, although still arguably somewhat being under the thumb of trends and phases.

The last month I’ve moved back to a metal phase, interspersed with other genres, but returned to much loved groups such as Baroness, Black Sabbath, and Immortal (whose live DVD is a brilliant lesson in live metal theatrics) as well as diving into bands I’ve previously ignored (as I write this I’m listening and loving Meshuggah’s  “I”) – particularly Gojira, who I find are a brilliant mix of progressive and melodic elements with traditional metal brutality. The whale pick scrapes they’ve pioneered add an addictive element to their death and sometimes even nu-metal influenced chugs. Their lyrical content is on point as well, drawing from philosophical as well as literary influences and also environmental concerns. I love a band that has a heart and cares about topical themes, and Gojira further prove a metal band can be intelligent and as heavy as the heaviest substance on earth, in line with philosophically minded metal bands like Death or Cynic. I will see Gojira live in June at Download Festival, with some friends adventuring over to the UK from New Zealand. I look forward to this greatly.

Drumming at Refuel 2009

Drumming at Refuel 2009

Tastes can change, and I’m lucky to be friends with many different people with tastes ranging from the hardcore dance fanatics, to the indie rock purists. I focus on music because this is what I know, but equally, many of my friends are just as much die-hard about sport or gaming. Our interests and obsessions take many twists and turns, but it’s comforting to know something solid that I loved in a past life, such as metal, as an interest and a community – just will not die.

Traveling through Paris during the 2015 attacks

I didn’t really want to touch the subject of the Paris attacks and the ensuing international panic at the time, hence it has taken me a long time to revisit my trip first trip to France – from November 2014. At the time, the presses reaction seemed typical, repetitious and all too remnant of the post 9/11 events over a decade ago. Murders took place and the immediate gut reaction by world powers was to cause more death. In the two months since, the topic of social media water-debate has well moved on from weather or not England should help in bombing Isis in the Middle East. More topics, tragedies and famous deaths have taken precedence. At the time I felt I wasn’t schooled enough in political history to know whether increasing bombing in Syria and the surrounding areas was the right thing to do. So I withheld opinion, even if my gut reaction was and is that peace should be achieved by means other than violence. I’m probably an idealist however.

But this is a travel blog – so lets move on from politics and discuss my first experiences with the most famous French city. My brother Callum and I had arrived in Paris in the morning of the 13th of November wide eyed and full of enthusiasm for checking out the Parisian sites. My first impressions were positive – the Eiffel tower loomed impressively in the distance and my first taste of French food while on French soil lived up to expectations. I bungled ordering a Baguette, being told off by a shop assistant for lifting up the packaging to see what fillings were inside. I couldn’t yet read any of the labels or understand that the lady was yelling at me – but my brother soon twigged and told me to stop fondling the baguettes. The next mission involved viewing the Eiffel Tower, which was every bit as impressive as the hype had led me to believe. We wandered around the area beside the tower for a while and marveled at the impressive architecture the Parisians have amassed over various political and cultural phase. Darkness hit, the tower was lit up, and then it was back to the hotel. A quiet first day, as me and my brother who was my traveling companion had planned to see more of the city, including the Louvre the next day.

paris november 13th 2016 eiffel tower

That night my brother and I went off to explore the Latin Quarter, the famous area of winding streets, restaurants and markets that would have once housed much of Paris’ artist community. My brother returned to the hotel early, while I kept exploring solo. I had no idea of what was taking place elsewhere in Paris on Friday the 13th of November as I strolled through the Latin Quarter, searching for music venues and enjoying the vibrant feel of the cities nightlife. The vibe there was electric – I had managed to stumble upon a local jazz group playing a cover of Sloop John B. A couple started swing dancing in response to the street jazz band. It seemed a serendipitous occurrence, to have seen something that embodied the stereotypical view of a cultured France. After a bit more walking through the streets, I made my way to an underground Medieval-era bar, Caveau des Oubliettes. A blues band was performing, of not exceptional skill, but the environment was unique.

It was only on my way home that I received worried text messages from both my parents saying that there had been a terrorist attack somewhere in Paris and asking if I was alright. I didn’t think a great deal of this at first, as we hear so much about violence taking place internationally on a daily basis, we become a bit desensitized to such warnings. I took the underground to meet Callum back at the hotel and observed the faces of the locals, wondering if what was taking place elsewhere was serious. There weren’t many people in the underground, but those there did look a bit concerned. One lady held her partners hand, staring sorrowfully into his eyes. The streets around the hotel were largely empty and once I got back to the hotel, Callum clued me up as to what was going on. The seriousness now dawned on me. I vaguely had a look at a news report stating an Eagles Of Death Metal concert had been shot at, but I didn’t want to think about that. I could have been at concert, given difference circumstances. So we decided to get some sleep, and re-evaluate the situation the next day.

We had promised our parents we wouldn’t take any risks the next day, but just after waking we decided to try and visit the Louvre as per our previous plans. My brother was rightfully a bit cautious about traveling through the city – there was police and military presence everywhere including on the tube, and therefore I didn’t feel particularly unsafe. We made our way to the Louvre and there were no queues and barely any crowds of people. It was looking like it might be an easy day to gain entrance due to the lack of crowds. We soon were made aware of the national day of morning – putting an end to our plans to visit any major Parisian activities. Never the less we still managed exploring the city, viewing the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacré-Cœur at the highest point of Paris,  and visiting a few free art galleries. We finished our day with a very reasonably priced three course meal back in my favourite area, the Latin Quarter, so all-in-all it was an as-per-normal day of tourist activities. Just with a much heightened police presence.

The next day was my last day in France, so still no visit to the Lourve this time around. That will have to wait. Even though what happened in Paris was huge international consequence, from by point of view as a naive tourist, the city and it’s people showed no sign of giving into any fear. They were all going about their daily lives, and nothing ever felt unsafe. Which is perhaps more than can be said for the daily life of anyone still living in Damascus. I hate to overlook the losses within Paris – it’s horrible and tragic whenever large scale deaths occur within any community – but what happened in Paris was only an isolated incident. The happening in Syria and other such places is occurring daily. I’ve not a great deal of deep conclusions to draw from my time being in Paris during a large international incident – all I can say, is that from the point of view of an irresponsible and perhaps insensitive traveler such as myself – it was still a good place to visit. I can’t wait to go back.

hamish and callum in paris

Travel: Morocco (part 2) – The Chaos of Marrakesh

In the last blog I detailed my first day in Morocco, a brief exploration of the beach side town of Essaouira. I was only in Morocco for 3 nights, so although I was only just getting my bearings in Essaouira, I soon found myself rushing off to Marrakesh. The short bus journey took 2 hours, the highlight of which a stop at a rural cafe, where I got my first taste of Moroccan mint tea. Also known as Berber whiskey (for the Berber people traditionally don’t drink alcohol), the mint tea was available in every cafe and restaurant and was always a welcome refreshment. When the bus eventually entered Marrakesh, I immediately noted the frantic nature of the place compared to Essaouira. Hoards of bus drivers approached me as I exited the bus, all vying for my dirhams. I managed to talk one driver into giving me a pretty good price, so I was soon on my way to the Riad (which is a traditional Moroccan house).
marrakesh mint tea berber whisky
The Marrakesh traffic was mad, with lanes filled with motorbikes, taxis and cars. The driver insisted not to use my seat belt, which seemed standard among all taxi drivers I encountered. After being let out of the taxi seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I eventually found the Riad, and met up with my fellow New Zealand traveling companion Stefan. We decided to venture into the central market for dinner. The chaos continued as we followed the streets of Marrakesh into the market square. The place was crammed – with people selling things, taxis parked, motorbikes, cyclists, cars and horses. A bit of a difference to the relative calm of Essaouira. We made it to the market and the confrontational style of Marrakesh market owners was immediately apparent. Store owners will approach you directly, especially if you’re a tourist, to convince you to buy their stock or eat at their establishment.  If you’re good at saying no it won’t be hard to resist, but if you’re soft, you could easily find yourself shelling over considerable amounts for trinkets and things you probably don’t need. Market owners will double the price of anything if you’re a tourist – so haggling and bargaining is absolutely necessary to get a good deal.
marrakesh snake charmers
We walked around this for a short time, spotting local performers, drum circles and guitarists performing. Not staying long however, as too long a pause and you’re likely to be accosted by a local to hand over some dirhams. We eventually found a small tent to eat at, and to great pleasure I dined on my first Tagine. A Targine is a traditional Berber dish, named after the Targine pot that it’s cooked and served piping hot in, and is somewhat similar to a stew. It comes with a variety of meats such as Chicken, Lamb, Beef and sometimes Rabbit, with a spicy sauce, with olives and maybe dates and a few vegetables. They are delicious and a major culinary highlight for visiting Morocco.
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Later that night we explored the bar scene in Marrakesh, which isn’t huge as being a mostly dry Muslim country, the majority of the drinking is partaken by the tourists. We found a pretty touristy piano bar and had a few cocktails by a swimming pool, before relocating to a more authentic local bar. Drinking the local beer, Casablanca, we made friends with a local musician working at the establishment, and attempted to jam along with his Oud guitar riffs. The night was slipping by, and it wasn’t until 1pm that we would leave the club, heading back to our Riad in order to get a bit of sleep before the day trip we had planned – which would be beginning at 7am the next morning. It took sometime to escape the bar without offending the locals (or getting into trouble), as a couple of men at the bar were attempting to sell us things we probably didn’t need – perhaps taking advantage of our tourist ways. We got home, but not before being followed by a random man. The walk to the Riad was definitely uncomfortable, due to this man shadowing us. We gave him a cigarette, made it safely into our Riad, and were happy to end the night. Perhaps a slight warning the Marrakesh is not the safest at night, if you happen to go drinking.
Ait-Ben-Haddou ksar
The next morning saw Stefan and I slightly hazily embarking on our day return trip to see Aït Ben-Haddou, a mud-brick ksar against a mountainside, the set of many famous films such as Lawrence Of Arabia, Gladiator as well as another Moroccan location for Game Of Thrones. A Unesco world heritage site, this ksar is one of the best surviving examples of pre-Saharan Berber architecture, built around 17th century (but propagated from very early period architecture from the area) It’s a four hour drive from Marrakesh to Aït Ben-Haddou, winding through the atlas mountains, some of the highest peaks in North Africa. We’d planned to join a tour group to travel to the mud-brick ksar, although due to a booking error on my travel companions behalf, we ended up on a private tour. I was slightly hungover from the night before and being stuck in a car for many hours with just Stefan and our driver-guide Mustafa initially seemed a slight disappointment, as I had hoped to meet fellow travelers via a tour group. But the private tour had it’s positives – Mustafa was a very educated and gave us plenty of information on the Berber and Arab people in the area. We stopped off at an abandoned kasbah along the way – a ruin on the outside yet nearly untouched in elaborate design on the inside. The landscape was spectacular and Mustafa gave us plenty of opportunity to stop and take photos.
marrakesh
Once we reached Aït Ben-Haddou, we first stopped for lunch, this time trying the cous-cous on a rooftop restaurant with a view of the ksar. Sometimes – sitting a spectacular spot such as this one, viewing an ancient architectural monument, makes one feel that are pretty fortunate, and also fairly undeserving of experiencing such sights. Our generation has travel so easy, you can start to take for granted opportunities to see parts of the world that our ancestors would have had no chance to see. Being among places of splendor can seem transcendent, but just as much they can be fairly unaffecting. To this extent, we finished our meal, eating one of the best oranges I’ve ever eaten (Moroccan fruit and vegetables are notably delicious) and then with a Berber guide we were taken through-out the ksar. Regular people were living their lives in this celebrated traditional structure, with tourists in groups milling through-out. We were taken to the of the hill the the ksar sits beside, and were able to gaze down upon the structure, as well as some of the Lawrence of Arabia film set that still remained. Mustafa would later take us down to stand among the film set – which was a big highlight for me. I was able to touch the construction, see how hollow it was, and noted that up close how not that convincing the paint work appeared.
Aït Benhaddou morocco
Then it was time to drive back to Marrakesh. The next four hours I would drift in and out of sleep, gazing upon the Moroccan landscape speeding by. I had seen hidden parts of North Africa that only a few years ago I could not have imagined actually being in a position to see, but for such brief a time, it was hard to know whether I was really able to make the most of it, or truly appreciate it at the time.