Robbie Buck features my song, Sunday, on “The Inside Sleeve”, Radio National

In the last few days I’ve had a couple of nice deliveries from the universe with regard to my music. I’ve woken up several mornings in a row to emails from complete strangers seeking copies of my CD. Overjoyed, but at first a bit perplexed, it soon came to my attention that Robbie Buck (established Australian music radio personality, formerly of Triple J’s breakfast show with Marieke Hardy and Home ‘n’ Hosed) played me on last Thursday’s edition of his show “The Inside Sleeve” on Radio National. Pretty freakin’ awesome, huh!

Just as awesome, is the fact that there are people who’ve connected with my music enough to shoot me emails and buy my CDs. As a songwriter and performer you do like to think you write primarily for yourself. It shouldn’t matter what other people think! This is your outlet! Nonetheless, you can’t escape the joys of a little bit of appreciation or validation. So thank you universe, new fans, radio personalities, friends, you are amazing!

You can listen to last Thursday’s edition of “The Inside Sleeve” by clicking here. I feature towards the end of the hour. You can also visit the ‘my music’ page on this blog to listen to a couple of tracks.

If you like the music, please consider buying a CD. In doing so, you’ll not only be supporting me, an independent Australian artist, but you’ll be supporting the volunteer work I’m currently undertaking in Morocco with street children and their families.

You can email me at briony_mack@hotmail.com to order a CD; they’re going for a measly $15 + $3 postage. Failing this, if you’re strapped for cash like me, you’d also be doing me a huge favour by simply “liking” my Facebook page (in the right sidebar on this blog). Oh, and tell your friends.

I’ll be here in Morocco until early October (having arrived in April), and following this will be busking and gigging my way around Europe, sleeping on peoples’ couches. I’ll be back in Australia early December to play Scorcher Fest on the 9th of December. Put this date in your diaries – there’ll be more on this to come!

All in the name of life and living it,

Briony

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Un Petit Tour du Maroc, Part II – Tangier to Chefchaouen

From Tangier, we made our way to the mystical town of Chefchaouen.

We pulled up at the bus station around midday, after several hours sitting aboard a CTM bus (my fellow travellers’ first – and stress-free – experience using the fantastic service). The heat was scorching as we awaited a couple of blue Petit Taxis (the small taxis that service Moroccan towns) to take us up the imposing hill into the medina (the old town), nestled high in the Rif mountains. As Petit Taxis in Morocco are only legally allowed to take three passengers at a time (baffling to me as the Grand Taxis which service the routes between cities can legally take six, even though they’re built for four), my sister and I sent mum and her friend off in the first, whilst we waited for the second. After enduring the raw sun for 20 minutes with no taxis in sight, we breathed a sigh of relief as suddenly a bunch of them rolled off the mountain in succession like a string of blue beads.

Here it’s not just the taxis that are blue; it is the whole town. The Chefchaouen medina is a tangle of cobbled alleyways with bright blue washed walls of all different shades. Blue stone meets everywhere with erratic climbing vines that break up the sunlight, seeming to give the multicoloured wares lining the walls their very own spotlights. It is a really spectacular place, and the magic is tangible. At night this magic is heightened, as old fashioned wrought iron street lamps provide light to the labyrinth, and high rooftop terraces provide views of distant mosques, set into the mountainside and bottom lit so that they appear to be hovering in mid air. In my humble opinion, it was certainly the most picturesque town we visited in Morocco, and I’d highly recommend it be on the itinerary of anyone considering a trip to the country.

Chefchaouen

That said, apart from wandering the medina (which one could accomplish in a day) and perhaps trekking out to the apparently incredible Akchour Gorge (something we didn’t do, but our friends with whom we were lucky enough to meet up with for dinner on the second night did), there doesn’t seem to that much to do here. Of course, Chefchaouen is the place in Morocco to smoke kif/marijuana. Everywhere we looked there seemed to be people crouched in doorways or behind trees smoking joints. So I suppose if that’s your bag you might want to consider booking in a few more nights!

Our next stop, agreed upon unanimously as the most fantastic set of experiences we had in Morocco, was Fez. A shout out pending my next blog entry to Aziz, Mohammed, Mustafa and the rest of the wonderful staff at Dar El Yasmine – hands down the most hospitable and friendly guesthouse on the planet. Stay tuned to find out why in the days to come!

Briony

Un Petit Tour du Maroc, Part I: Taroudannt to Tangier

The fifth day of Ramadan, and today I have cause for celebration: the return of my brain. After a week-long heatwave with temperatures soaring past 50C, we have finally struck some luck: a cool change and a restful night’s sleep. In fact, I had been so sleep deprived prior to last night’s blissful cool change that I was quite seriously contemplating a trip to the doctor, sure that the warning signs my body was giving me represented no less than some volatile, terminal, heat-related illness.

Blessed with an overactive imagination, a tendency towards hypochondria, six nights of insomnia, and little more energy than to lie on the couch and type my symptoms into Google WebMD, my brain went into glorious overdrive as I, against my better judgement, attempted a self-diagnosis. As I typed in my browning out regularly, a red rash boasting as much coverage as free-to-air TV, a headache, weakness, nausea, stomach pain – you get the picture – Google cleverly diagnosed my inevitable and untimely death by water intoxication (that or dehydration – the symptoms can be similar), heat stroke, food poisoning, or – worse – cancer. Thank you so kindly, Google.

Fortunately for me I was able to encroach on the new volunteer, Tomi’s, personal space and slept last night downstairs in her room, thus having the best (or only) night’s sleep I’d had in a week. Given that I woke up this morning in such good health I genuinely felt an urge to jump up and down for joy, I have concluded that my anxiety, poor health and hallucinations of the previous couple of days were probably less than fatal. I have no idea how the folks here are surviving all day without eating or drinking water.

So, readers, I apologise for the dearth of blog posts in recent weeks. I’ve actually just arrived back in Taroudannt after spending a truly exciting and lovely two and a half weeks travelling through Morocco with my mum, sister and a friend of ours. In true form, my aspirations to post blog entry after blog entry along the way quickly fell by the wayside as instead of huddling down into my computer I spent my time really living this beautiful country, and, well I’ll admit it, indulging in a certain mental laziness (let’s say in equal parts). Hopefully as a result of this though, the stories I can now share with you will be all the more rich: the traversing of winding and precipitous roads through the High Atlas mountains, camping out in the Sahara desert in the middle of the blistering heat, striking incredible bargains, getting totally ripped off, wandering ancient Roman ruins, visiting Berber caves, crashing multiple weddings, and most of all having the privilege of meeting some of the most wonderful, generous and hospitable people I’ve ever met in my life.

It all started with your simple fifteen hour bus ride from Taroudannt to the sea side city of Tangier which lies in the very north of Morocco, a short 35 minute ferry ride from Spain. After my experiences on buses travelling through India I was similarly apprehensive at the thought of catching one through this fine country; however, my voyage was, despite the lack of sleep, like travelling first class wrapped in bubble wrap in comparison – I was more inclined to tell the driver to speed up rather than slow down. I rode with CTM, which, along with Supratours, is the most established and well-regarded bus company traversing Morocco. Its buses are new, air-conditioned, and as comfortable as a bus can be. The roads were similarly remarkable, with a divided auto-route paving almost the entire way. Quite frankly, I couldn’t believe it; they were truly impressive.

I was also very lucky to have sat down next to Emily at the bus station in Taroudannt. On the tail end of a nine month (if I remember correctly) stint as an English teacher in Rabat, Emily, a slight, mild mannered but hilarious English woman, had been travelling for the last 11 days or so, by herself, off the beaten track. She was pretty awesome, I won’t lie. Together we experienced all the delights the Moroccan road had to offer. Amongst other things: refuelling at a petrol station in the middle of nowhere that stocked all your essentials (fuel, coffee, fruit ‘n’ veg, fresh meat, and…um, a giant swimming pool, something that transpired to be quite a common thing in Morocco); a most incredible full moon shining over the Atlas mountains and water-filled valleys; and a moonlit ghost town showcasing nothing but two gleeful rollerbladers who grinned as they cut the bus off (dudes, you are not in Miami, you are in the middle of Morofucckan nowhere).

Front view of the unassuming, normal, petrol-stationey petrol station in the middle of nowhere, Morocco.

Back view of the swimming pool. At the petrol station. In the middle of nowhere. Just your essentials.

While it had originally been my intention to catch a bus from Taroudannt to the capital of Rabat, then to catch a train from Rabat to Tangier, I discovered when I got off in Rabat at 7am, delirious from the lack of sleep, that the same bus was actually continuing on all the way to Tangier. Upon being informed sombrely that the bus was in fact completely full, I asked the station master if it was alright if I just waited around just in case someone didn’t show up. This turned out to be a prudent decision indeed. We got chatting, I think he pulled a few strings, and I had my ticket to ride. Funny, even though the bus made a few more stops to pick up and drop off passengers, there were at least 5 seats spare the entire journey. Travel rule number one: it often pays to wait. Rule number two: it pays to be nice.

Once I arrived in Tangier, I avoided the taxi touts at the bus station (travel rule number three: these guys always hike up the prices) and caught a taxi to the Dar Jameel  Riad in the Medina of Tangier. There are riads all over Morocco – old houses-come-guesthouses with rooms generally circling a central courtyard. This gorgeous, sun- and smile-filled place was the first of many encounters with the famous and impeccable Moroccan hospitality. After having a shower, marvelling at the mosaic-covered walls and intricately carved roof woodwork, I guzzled two (small) beers (the first in months!), paused a moment to let that glorious holiday sensation ripple through my body, and put my tired self to bed between crispy white sheets.

I was woken from my deep, deep slumber by Robyn, an old friend and former colleague of my mother who was joining us for our trip, banging on the door. She, along with one of the riad’s most delightful staff members, had apparently been at it for quite a while. We exchanged brief and energetic hellos before I conked out again. Later, following a lovely dinner with Robyn at one of the incredibly overpriced beach front restaurants (with views of the beach obscured, mind you), and a walk along the beach promenade past countless such creatively named nightclubs as Oxygen, Beach Club 555 and Snob, we returned to the riad to sleep and await my mum and sister, whose flight was due to arrive in Tangier at 11pm. They finally burst in at half past twelve to announce that the airline had lost my sister’s baggage: my sister, as usual, was calm, collected and unfussed; my mother, as usual, was stressed, highly strung and nonplussed. Bless her cotton socks. Despite the night’s hiccups it was really, really fantastic to see them after not having done so for over three months. I think we spoke for a good five minutes before I passed out again. (Incidentally we picked the bag up the next day after having been informed by airline staff that ‘it had been there all along’. We all had our doubts, suspecting it was more likely the airline’s attempt to save face.)

Tangier upon first impressions seems, like many other Moroccan cities, an interesting mix of old and new. The gorgeous medina is filled with winding and cobbled alleyways packed with colourful shops, hidden riads, souks (markets), a kasbah (in which people still live), and attractive monuments, while the beachfront sports modern restaurants, nightclubs and a seedy, fishy smell.  Despite what the guidebooks say, everyone seemed to be friendly to us (if not a little ‘colourful’) and less inclined than we expected to try to rip us off.

We spent the morning of our first full day (after politely declining an offer of a walking tour from the guy who’d shown my family to the riad the night before) visiting the nearby Caves of Hercules, a half natural, half man-made grotto with an opening to the sea that looks like a map of Africa, where we were ripped off under dim cave lights whilst buying fake crystals which in the light of day had been jazzed up on the inside with a spray of iridescent purple paint. Three dollars down, an interesting story, and a mass manufactured rock each later, we made our way to the first lighthouse in Africa at Cap Spartel. Afterwards, as we drove back into Tangier past a neighbourhood of palatial houses, our driver of few words delivered us some finger-pointing commentary: “this one belong to rich man of Kuwait. This one…belong Saudi rich man. This one, King of Iran. This one, rich Moroccan man. This one, I think Spain. This one Moroccan King”. Lots and lots of rich, rich men in Tangier, apparently. Also lots of local fisherman out of jobs as they protested against the Moroccan government’s blanket fishing ban, ostensibly aimed at industrial fishing vessels.

Just one of the gorgeous monuments in Tangier’s kasbah – a public water fountain.

When we arrived back at our riad, a familiar face was waiting for us. Several teeth missing, closely shaved head, dressed in Adidas trackies, thongs and what looked like a three day old T-shirt, the guy who had walked my mum and sister to the hotel the night before, and had offered us a walking tour that morning, was still waiting for us. We decided to go with it, as he spoke pretty good English, had been waiting all day, and we were scared of him. The guidebooks do warn you against ‘unofficial’ guides, and they’re actually illegal in Morocco. Luckily, this guy turned out to be a sparkly iridescent crystal in the rough: a bit dodgy to be sure, but a great story nonetheless. He took us around for six hours, talking over the top of us, doing his utmost to reassure us that he wasn’t just out to make commission like all the other unofficial tour guides by retorting every time one of us mentioned buying something with “THIS IS MY TOUR ON MY TOUR THERE’S NO BUYING YOU BUY AFTER IF YOU WANT TO BUY NOW YOU NOT COME ON MY TOUR”, and insisting on taking group photos of us at every stop. It was really a fantastic, colourful, hilarious six hours, but we were pretty damn glad at the end of it to be rid of him. Bless him.

The next day we climbed aboard a bus headed for the gorgeous blue- and white-washed town of Chefchaouen, nestled into the Rif (or should I say ‘Kif’) Mountains. Stay tuned for Part II of Un Petit Tour du Maroc which will be posted on the blog in a couple of days. Make sure you keep an eye on it, wontcha?

Outside the city walls…

Outside these walls...

I don’t often venture outside the impressive city walls of Taroudannt unless I’m travelling somewhere specific. There’s really little need to.  All that one seems to require can be found within them: artefacts and essentials alike abound in the city’s two souks; the crooked back lanes and colourful murals provide a calm escape from the buzz and dust of the city centre; and I can make it to work from my house in about five minutes (and back home again for lunch even more quickly!).

Most of the government buildings exist on the outside though, and today was one of the rare occasions I needed to visit one of them. Instead of waiting for my friend outside the police station, at which my Visa extension papers await approval, I wandered over the road to the park. There are many similarly gorgeous and impeccably maintained water features like the one in this picture surrounding the official residences of Taroudannt. They’re lovely! Maybe I could lobby the pollies to install one inside the city walls…