Tag Archives: tan tan

Hamam in Tan-Tan…

Soon after we had cautiously loaded our bikes onto a coach in Essaouira, our stomachs were put to the test on windy moutainous roads leading to Agadir. But this mild discomfort pales compared to the exhaustion we would have felt had we cycled.

Our original plan was to spend one night in Tan-Tan in order to get right back onto the road following a few days off. But as soon as we met Mustapha, who we found on couchsurfing; we knew we would have to prolong our stay. By the time we’d unloaded our bikes and panniers, we’d already been introduced to his
brother, Nourdinne, and soon we were sipping tea with his mother, another brother; cousin, sister and brother-in-law.

‘Here we say that when we have a guest, our house becomes his house and we become the guests’, says Rachid, the youngest of the brothers.


puppyAfter dinner, the conversation turns towards the British love of animals. Before we knew it, we were receiving animal deliveries; a couple of tortoises, a rabbit and a puppy plucked from the street.

The following day was a treat for the senses: we spent most of the morning in Mustapha’s spice shop, looking at the herbs, spices, oils, remedies and soaps, trying to think of cunning ways of carrying them on the bikes and failing.

In the afternoon Rachid invited us to visit the Hamam. Excited at the prospect of a good scrub we were quick to accept the invitation.

Rachid, sesitive to the fact that I would have no way of communicating with the women who work in the Hamam (men and women naturally have seperate rooms), spoke with them beforehand to explain that a European would need babysitting.

Taken by the hand a plump Moroccan woman undressed me in the business fashion of a stressed mother. Leading me to the hottest room of three the exfoliation began. Using traditional soaps that Mustapha provided from his shop she scrubed my skin to a shade of raw pink.

Occassionaly she raised her head and showed me the rough mit, originally black it now accepted the colour of the first layer of my skin, she would tut dissaprovingly of my lazy exfoliation habits and then continue at the hard grind.

Whilst a little tough on the skin the experience was actually rather wonderful. I think I had made the false assumption that women lacked social time in Morocco. Its very easy to see men in the streets sipping tea and chatting all day, this brought both Imran and I to feel that women were somehow deprived of this of time.

There is, however, something rather sweet in being proved wrong. Seeing the women of the Hamam working together and bathing in the same rooms with no inhibitions brought me to realise how intimate the friendships between women are here. I felt a sense of a sisterhood as I was roughly undressed. Feeling rather exposed and a little sheepish I wished for a moment I had not accepted the Hamam invitation, but just then, as I felt so shy and out of place, the young woman next to me had spoken softly and with a smile said simply,

‘Bienvenue au Maroc’.


Banjo Berbère…

We love to cycle, otherwise we would not be cycling thousands of kilometres. However we are but man, and man must laze, eat and laze some more.

And laze we have done, though it’s fair to say we have invested in our musical time here in Essaouira. Everyone here is a musician and taking time to hear what everyone has to offer has been worthwhile.

Medina street

Take Ibrahim; a twenty something gimbri player who works in a music shop by day and plays Gnawa music by night. Ibrahim made time for us, was patient with Imran as he showed him the ropes of Krakeb playing and was keen to share his love of music. Until we met Ibrahim our short time in Essaouira had brought us to be pessimists, verging on snobs. Until we reached Essaouira, we had grown accustomed to being the only tourists in town and we found the crowds of mini-skirt parading tourists undignified. However, Essaouira wisely taught us a lesson, not to judge too sharply and to keep our eyes open.

Ibrahim playing gimbri

Imran and Ibrahim jamming...

It does seem strange that it would take a banjo for us to fully warm to Essaouira. But it has indeed been the banjo Berbère that brought us to enjoy a Moroccan jam session. After playing music and meeting various musicians around the small city we were packing our bags to leave. But in the time it took for a handful of photos to be printed we had been introduced to half a band; waiters by day and musicians by night.

True to the Moroccan spirit we were invited to rest in a quiet lounge style room with low lying couches in deep reds and gold- within a few minutes we were sipping tea and listening to the sound of the gimbri once again.

Abdul playing Gimbri

But this time the feel of the music was transformed by the resonating sound of the 4 string banjo and a gimbri. We had seen banjos for sale in various music shops but remained unenlightened as to why there presence here seemed so strong.

Mohammed playing BanjoHere the banjo is creatively played as a lotar style instrument. The lotar is a 4-string lute with a hollow tear-drop shaped carved body. Unique to musicians in the regions of the High Atlas Mountains of southwestern Morocco, it has a similar tone to the banjo. This is not a concidence, as some banjo enthusiasts or ethnomusicologists will already know that the banjo, gimbri and lotar can all trace their ancestry to the West-African ngoni.  Seing the banjo played alongside its cousin, the gimbri, was uncanny.

As they finished work the musicians around us grew in number, occasionally running away from a tune to serve a customer. We were encouraged warmly to join in and with such a supportive environment both of us felt at home.

Mikaela looks challenged by Gimbri

But every laze must come to an end, and ours will end abruptly in Tan Tan. Annoyingly our Mauritanian visa requires us to enter before the 5th November, thus we need to pick up the pace a little to allow us time in Dakhla to organise our border crossing safely. All of this means its time to take a bus, just to Tan Tan, conveniently missing some of the high mountain peaks! With freshly laundered clothes, a bag full of coconut macaroons and a couple of Kebabs we begin the next chunk of the voyage, the road into the Sahara