VS: The Morocco trip. 1- The country

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: VS: The Morocco trip. 1- The country
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 2006 22:25:40 +0100
My trip this winter was planned to be together with an American couple, Jan and 
Bruce Struckman, who had to cancel at the last moment becuse of an acute eye 
opertaion. I promised to send them a report of the trip afterwards, and thought 
that maybe some of that also might be of some interest for the  bird lists. 
This first part has no birds in it at all, but the later ones will deal with 
the birds of the coastal areas, the hills, and the desert, respectively



I took part in the Sunbird 'Winter in Morocco' trip (for some strange reason 
advertized by Winging It in the US as 'Fall in Morocco') last week, very ably 
led by Bryan Bland, who has been doing this for 30 years, and James Lidster. We 
were a group of 14 people, nicely mixed, with half Americans, half Britons, and 
with also a good mix of ages, and experience, ranging from young Steven, for 
the first time outside Europe, to old Gerry on his 37th international birding 
trip. As usual nowadays, almost everybody had brought a scope, so I often felt 
a bit like a parasite, ambling from one scope to another (I don't own a scope 
as they give me headaches after a while). But it also meant that I had 
excellent opportunities to see all the birds that the leaders conjured up; they 
were again wizards in knowing where to find the birds, and afterwards to make 
sure that everybody saw them. Also, the level of birding competence among the 
participants was once more surprisingly high, and I often felt envious.

We flew directly from London Gatwick to Agadir, and were there based on the 
large hotel Anesi, apparently quite close to the beach. I use this somewhat 
curious turn of phrase, as we in fact never saw the hotel and its surroundings 
in daylight. Agadir has not much architecture to show anyway, as the entire 
city was destroyed in the devastating earthquake some 40 years ago and so 
everything except the old citadel is new. We usually had breakfast at 6 am and 
left half an hour later, and most evenings we were not back before 7 pm. The 
hotel was a large block (I lived on the 8th floor) and quite comfortable, once 
I had learned how to keep my room cool. The food was buffet-style, and largely 
western-style with a veneer of mideastern cooking.

Every day we were out in the field all day, but as usual, Sunbird took very 
good care of us and we had some quite interesting lunches. One day we ate at a 
caravan-serail in Massa, a beautiful and original-looking place, that hardly 
anybody seems to know about, and that does not seem to strive hard to change 
this either---there is not even a sign outside telling that this is a place 
where one can eat. Another day we ate our taziens in a large bedouin telt in 
the mountain town of Tafraout, and the last day we humped along sandy and 
three- dimensional roads to a posh and isolated beach hotel, Kfar Massa, again 
near Massa. Some days, when the leaders did not know of restaurants safe enough 
for our use, we had picnick lunches outside in some oasis or other. And one 
night we stayed overnight in the southern oasis of Tighmert, S. of Goulimime 
(which the roadsigns called Guelmim, by the way), an old garrison town.

Morocco is a country of rather uncompromising square houses (built that way to 
keep them cool, no doubt), virtually all painted some shade of peach (varying 
from ochre to cerise), with white trimmings and often blue doors. In the 
villages and small towns on the coastal flats the houses look as if they were 
dropped from above, with little evidence of a master plan; the hill towns are 
tighter, and in some regions, where there must have been regular tribal feuds, 
the villages are clustered closely together on hilltops and surrounded by 
strong walls. The people are as varied as the houses : in Agadir most men use 
western clothing, but as one comes out in the countryside and also in the 
smaller town, many of the men use Arab clothing, long robes often in earth 
colours or white, and long hooded dark brown coats making them look like the 
henchmen in  historical movies. The men absolutely dominate the streets, and a 
surprising number of them seem just to be sitting around, in the many cafes or 
on the stoops before their houses or small businesses. The women are just as 
variable, but most use elaborately patterned wide clothes, usually covering 
their heads and often most of their face; in the more extreme cases only one 
eye is visible. Somewhat unexpectedly, as the objective of all this must be to 
make the women less desirable-looking for strange eyes, many use very 
conspicuous colours and strong patterns, which somehow seems to be 
counter-productive. The schoolgirls also varied regionally and also within 
every town. Most were wearing the head-scarf, that has been so hotly debated in 
many European countries, some also cover their faces partly or largely, but 
everywhere there are also girls that go bare-headed, even in the more 
traditional areas; so peer-pressure can't be all that terribly strong. The 
women are always on their way to somewhere, and you don't see any in the cafes; 
but one does see some young couples walking together hand in hand here and 
there in the evening twilight. All the people are friendly, wave to the cars, 
and shout greetings. Of course near the tourist places they also try hard to 
sell you things: Moroccans are well-known master-salesmen.
During the one week we were in Morocco we were two days into the mountains, two 
days in to the desert and two days to the coastal wetlands, On the seventh day 
half of the group went on a pelagic trip out of Agadir, while the other half 
went out by car. We saw lots and lots of good birds and I'll tell a bit about 
this later on. The weather was fine all the time, after a severe rainstorm the 
day before we arrived, of which we saw the tracks all week; this also caused 
rough seas the first part of the week. Mornings and evenings were cool, but 
during midday temperatures went up to 25-30*C I think, and we had only high and 
partial cloud cover some days. One day started out very foggy, but that burned 
off almost as soon as the sun came out. And we had some impressive sunsets over 
the sea and over the desert!
I am most grateful to Sunbird for organizing this great trip, to Bryan and 
James for finding and showing us the birds and smoothly solving all smaller 
logistical problems, and to the other participants for letting me use their 
scopes lots of times.

                                                         Wim Vader, Tromsø 
                                                         9037 Tromsø, Norway
PS Note the correct zipcode number here

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