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Morocco Part Eight and on my way home

Morocco return

Without an alarm I always worry about being able to wake up in time. With open drapes, the sun woke me a little after five. My room was actually a suite and quite lovely. I wish I could stay longer and enjoy it. I tried sitting on the balcony but the slats on the metal chair kept turning making for a rather energetic seating. I am not accustomed to French bathrooms—a bidet and the toilet in a separate room. Other parts of the world have not discovered the arched shower rods but the water was quite hot.

Breakfast was the typical assortment of croissants, coffee, tea, and brown eggs.

Everyone was gathered in the lobby with their luggage a little past seven; we loaded into the van, and said good-bye to those who had later flights, and headed off to the airport. A bit of confusion occurred at the airport as we off-loaded our luggage . Signage is limited and there are so many people, it was challenging to find the right place to check in. Clearing security took just moments even though there were dozens of people.

Unlike most American airports, people spent their time waiting in the café portion of the departure area—not the actual gate. Of course, the gate number wasn’t announced until five minutes before we started boarding. I had six hundred dirhams left—and I decided I needed to spend most of them even though most of the goods there were double or quadruple market price. I found a lovely silver thimble, some nice silver bracelets, and a map of Morocco—which would have been great to have had in hand for the week.

The flight was uneventful; our tutor always celebrated the end of a teaching session with two packets of Pringles and 2 glasses of wine—I opted for a box of chips and a packet of Walker’s shortbread cookies.

Our luggage was delayed in off-loading and many of our group had connecting flights. Immigration and customs were incredibly quick—a huge contrast to US. I made my way to the hotel and settled in.

Tomorrow I’ll be home.

Note: It seems to always take me quite a bit of time to edit my photos. It was hard to choose the best of the many that I had taken. I’ve uploaded them along with a few movies to smugmug.

http://ysr612.smugmug.com/Family/Sylvias-pictures/Morocco-2010/11710483_uKPgp#826496597_T5rPF

http://ysr612.smugmug.com/Family/Sylvias-pictures/Morrocco-2010-part-Two/11717918_mtihL#826874448_6hZnM

http://ysr612.smugmug.com/Family/Sylvias-pictures/Morocco-Part-Three/11721336_PkX73#827237816_dXwtX

http://ysr612.smugmug.com/Family/Sylvias-pictures/Morocco-Part-Four/11738967_3dBBe#828609308_pxSjU

If those links don’t work go to Smugmug.com; then to ysr612; then to Family; then to Sylvia’s pictures; and there you’ll be in Morocco.

Morocco Part Seven

Atlas Mountain Pass overlook

Morocco Saturday

Today we return to Marrakesh in preparation for tomorrow’s departure. I ate breakfast early as I hoped to take some photos from the top of the ramparts. The view there is quite nice and I regret I didn’t find it sooner. I return from my photo-taking session and find everyone gathered with their luggage. There is confusion as to who will ride in what vans as is typical for a lot of large groups, particularly with some that have hearing problems.

The bus is fairly roomy and we drive through the Atlas mountains via hairpin curves and switchbacks. The view is fabulous and I wish we would stop so I could take photos. I have to content myself with photos through the window and hope the reflection is dimmed by my slight zoom. The road isn’t too bad although it has clearly washed out in places and road crews are busily repairing some sections. We meet a few other vehicles and occasionally one vehicle has to pull over for the other one to drive through.

Our first stop is for mint tea at the top of pass. The view here is fabulous but the photographers all take photos of a red and white streamer on a pole near an old van parked over the side and filled with bits of rock and tajines.  There is another small shop filled with more rocks, carved pigs—also a favorite with the photographers.

photography tutor in the mosque

Our next stop was a mosque that is being restored. Part of the roof has been put back on but the old doors which are twenty feet high are piled in the corner. The light inside is quite nice with so many arches and angles and patterns on the floor.

Lunch was next at the LaBergerie a French Moroccan restaurant in the middle of a garden filled with various succulents and cosmos and trees covered with tiny yellow fluffy ball flowers. Salad of potatoes, cabbage, boiled eggs, grated carrot, sliced seeded cucumbers, green peppers, and beets was  followed by a tajine of meatballs and poached eggs in a tomato-cumin sauce.

Our hotel in Marrakesch is quite fancy and I ended up with a suite complete with leather couch/chairs and writing table plus a balcony. After unloading our suitcases, we headed to the main square.

It is hard to describe the main square and souk other than totally congested and chaotic. Huge lines of horse carriages—palishes with some of the horses getting quite excited line one whole side of the square; long lines of people wait to get on the buses presumably to return home; the whole place smells of horse urine and manure. Crossing the street near the hotel was quite challenging—traffic  runs every which way, there are frequently four or five rows of traffic in space I would think would be adequate for three—there aren’t any lane markers and bicycles, motorcycles, cars, horse carriages all weave in and out—a few horns honk but on the whole everyone seems to be pretty polite and there are amazingly no accidents.

The souk is filled with story-tellers, vendors selling orange juice from huge heaps of oranges, huge bags of spices and figs and nugs with each vendor offering a taste of his wares, strangely garbed men and women in red and green hats with ball fringe and wearing shoulder straps of bronze bowls wander about the crowd. I take a few photos but after buying two pashmina scarves, I head back to the hotel fo wait for supper.

Tomorrow will be another long day.

Morocco Part Five

Morocco Thursday

Tajine and The Atlas Mountains overlook

Today was our free day and as hoped, the weather was absolutely perfect. I think I was the first one to breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed three cups of very nice coffee and conversation with one of the photographers. After breakfast, I wandered down toward the market. I was rather fearful of getting lost, even with a map and so I kept track of the number of turns I made. The strawberry cart man was on the corner, smoking a cigarette while carefully selecting strawberries to arrange in plastic bowls. The strawberries here are a deep dark red and perfectly ripe, not squishy, and wonderfully tasty.

I sat on a bench outside the ramparts and did some line drawings of people as they walked by. I tried to find a way up onto the ramparts but was unsuccessful.  The stork preened himself in the nest over the roof-top restaurant. Hundreds of bicycles were parked in a corner of the street; a few mopeds kept them company. A children’s park overgrown with weeds was on the outside of the ramparts and I sat and drew the ramparts. Several old men sat on benches behind me and, although I do not understand any Arabic, I suspect they were solving the world’s problems. I walked back to the hotel to warm up a bit, and then walked down another street and found another bench to sketch from.

Our tutor did a fairly extensive tutorial near the swimming pool, and I headed off to find yet another bench and so some more drawing. Around three, I came back to my room, ate an orange and apple and took a nap.

On one of my perambulations, I discovered a small book store. There were some very well thumbed through postcards—I bought three; and then perused the offerings. All the books were faced with the binding to the right rather than the left. There were textbooks, cook-books, and what must have been classics as they were hard-bound with fancy gold labels—all in Cyrillic alphabet. Some of the books had both French and Arabic; some also included English. It was tempting to buy a cook-book that included all three languages—but I think I am very short on return luggage space.

Several men stopped me on the street—to practice their French first—and then when they discovered I was American—to practice their English. One was a tutor in English and French and had taught all over the world. He asked me what I like best about Morocco—and perhaps I was a bit naughty, because I blurted out something about their beautiful smiles—and he only had three or four teeth!

I took more photos at that golden time of the day when the light is just perfect in the late afternoon—even though there are strong shadows—the light is so even, it seems magical. I’ve been here not quite a week and nearly every day, the light takes on that golden sheen. I filled one 2 GB card, sat down to change it out, took some surreptitious photos of women—and then after a bit, began to feel like I was exploiting them. And so I put away my camera and walked back to the hotel quite ready for supper—and to go home.

I had dinner with David and Jill—he owned a boat-building business in England and she was a makeup artist for movies. It was an enjoyable evening with all of us laughing at the vagaries of the hotel cats—one of whom was in heat and the others quite willing to participate in connubial bliss.

Tomorrow we go to the pottery—it’s supposed to be a bit of rough climbing/walking—and I wonder how different it will look from the Mexican pottery shops.

Morocco Part Four

Pots on a hillside made by Aziz

Morocco Wednesday

Rain falling on banana leaves woke me this morning—early enough to be the first one to breakfast and savor two cups of coffee and warm croissants. I walked around a bit, discovered a lovely municipal park with benches and flower gardens, and a playground for young children and a soccer field. We loaded up the van and started for Tiouet.

On the way, a herd of goats were climbing the argan trees to eat the nuts. They were quite amusing as they leapt up into the trees quite high and reached for nuts still higher. The nuts are then collected from their droppings, the papery husk removed, the hard kernel cracked and the internal seed pressed into oil. ( more on this later)

Our next stop was the market in Tioet. I saw no women in the market except for the occasional European women tourist arriving in groups (like us). The back row was the meat market with carcases hung from huge hooks; off to one side were all the donkeys that had brought the produce to market; hobbled, and periodically braying in disgust and frustration. Carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, and oranges were heaped in great piles on tarps while individual sellers weighed produce in hanging scales. A shoe maker was busy mending shoes with a metal shoe horn; one seller offered boxes of soap and oil.

I took some surreptitious photos using the view-finder and after some time decided  I needed to do sketching as that was the reason for coming to Morocco with this particular group. Almost instantly I had an audience. I drew two men loading a donkey; and then started in on a little boy that was about three. He, of course, lost interest in the whole project after about two minutes and his older brother chased him down, returned him to stand in front of me, held his arms, and then pulled his cheeks back in a smile. They all wanted to see the other pictures in my book—and then I began to teach them to count in English. They got quite upset as each time we practiced, there were more little boys, and they all thought the number they were given as I pointed to each in turn belonged to them.

My fingers became quite cold and after a bit, we all left for Fatima’s for mint tea and then lunch. We were supposed to walk down to the palm grove but the remainder of the group was quite tired out and so we remained at Fatima’s until lunch was ready. Fatima’s house consisted of several rooms with quite low doors—of course I am taller than all of them; carpets were on the floor, cushions and low tables prepared for our meal. The wall was hand-printed with a lovely blue flower. There was a roof terrace which had a spectacular view and the walls were a lovely orange with bright turquoise doors and two huge hand-forged door keys.

Lunch was prepared over a traditional Moroccan cooking arrangement—a pot of vegetables; while the couscous steamed on top. The driver made shish-ke-bob of beef and chicken over two small clay pots of coals.  Then, Fatima showed us how the argan nuts are cracked; I had to try it, and she laughed at me as I either hit them so they shot off into the pile of husks or hit my fingers. We did sample some of the oil with some bits of bread dipped in it—similar to dried tomatoes and olive oil with dried basil as served in San Francisco. It was quite nice—reminiscent of pumpkin seeds.

We then all got into the van and drove a short distance to an oasis where we could see a Kasbah—an ancient walled city, and lots of palm trees. There were dozens of red poppies blooming in the fields along with purple legumes and some sort of yellow chicory looking plant. I finally got up the courage to open up my paint box and try some painting. Palm trees are not my favorite tree and the paper was not particularly receptive to water although it claimed to be an all-media paper.

We stopped for a brief tour of the argane oil factory—where once again I got to try my hand at cracking nuts. The women all sat in a circle, their legs outstretched on pillows—some of which were feed sacks, and pounded the seeds against a rock using a smaller rock. It is a cooperative and funded by several entities—all to give women work. The building is quite lovely and the process seems well-organized. I was able to buy a small bottle of the oil to take home with me—although I should have bought large quantities as it is supposed to be low in cholesterol and fight wrinkles and remove scars.

Supper was in the hotel; the buffet contained couscous, calamari, kidneys ( I didn’t try), spicy chicken, and scalloped potatoes and buttered noodles. The dessert tray was quite fabulous featuring three different kinds of cheesecake including one with bits of green jello in it, and another with candied fruit.

Tomorrow is supposed to be our free day—and I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet—a lot will depend upon the weather.

Morocco Part Three

Dried fruits in the souk

Morocco Tuesday

Breakfast was very crowded this morning with plates and cups in short supply. I used a cereal bowl for my egg and rolls and finally got a coffee cup—although I was desperate enough to just stand under the urn and slurp it from the spout.

Our morning was spent at the tannery. The work there is very interesting, so many different steps to tanning leather depending upon the type of animal and I suppose the condition of the animal. Most of it is back-breaking work—leaning over to fish the skins out of the vats, scraping the fat, pulling off the wool, drying, brushing, and finally making it into a product such as a belt or sandals—which look amazingly like Aladdin’s slippers, or handbags. They also make ‘poufs’ which are cushions. Hanging on the walls, they look like huge leather baskets—and I was offered one at half the price that the others bought—-but  I have no room in my luggage for anything much larger than perhaps a scarf.

Lunch was a traditional 7 vegetable couscous followed by a lovely fruit salad of banana, apple, and orange with a sprig of mint and then the glass of hot very sweet mint tea—which the shop-owner called American whiskey. Most of us walked back to the hotel and I was content to simply sit and watch people walk by. Such an amazing collection of colors and color combinations, I would never think to try. I wonder if they are intentional or the result of limited clothing—but when I walked through the market, I believe it is by choice. Then there are the groups of women that walk by—again such incredible color choices—but then would I pick my friends by how their clothing complemented mine?

We rode to supper in horse drawn carriages even though it was getting dusk. The square was full of people and we could smell popcorn along the way. Shops were doing a brisk business although chickens and lamb or perhaps goat still hung from the meat markets. One meat market had an adjacent shop filled with live chickens all busily pecking away at grain in long troughs. Bicycles, motor-cars, taxies, motorcycles and scooters, mule drawn wagons, people on foot all mingled on the narrow streets but no-one seemed to get upset and there weren’t any accidents.

We were let out at the end of an alley—deserted and rather dark. After a few turns we entered a richly tiled and beautifully decorated restaurant with a veranda open to the night sky. Supper was served at a very long table with beautiful cobalt blue china—and many courses of wonderful vegetables—all cold but pickled or preserved. The main course was lamb with quince and the dessert was fresh orange slices with cinnamon flanked by wonderfully huge sweet strawberries.  I abstained from the wine, thinking I was passing yet another kidney stone.

Henna flowers now decorate my right hand. The hotel owner’s daughter got married today and as part of the ceremony was painted with henna on her hands and feet. The photographers in our group documented the ceremony although the final formal ceremony isn’t until July with a huge feast and many changes of dress. The henna lady offered to stay and apply henna for the rest of us—three of us took her up on the offer.

The henna is compounded in a large urn wrapped with tin foil and is applied with a syringe and short needle. The end result feels rather like having played in mud or working with clay to form pots and not quite getting all of it off. We were instructed to leave it on as long as possible and then use a hand cream to let the stain soak in. One of the other ladies wanted to get it on the palm of her hand especially for Easter and her very staid vicar.

**late note: Unfortunately I did not take a photo of my lovely tattoo and it is now quite gone. It was a series of stylized flowers reaching from my index finger to my wrist—very pretty.

Tomorrow we go into the country—maybe I’ll be brave enough to get out my paints.

Morocco Part Two

Souk view

Monday

Birds  in the banana trees outside my window served as my alarm clock. Breakfast was in the main dining hall and consisted of a hard-boiled brown egg, croissant type rolls, sliced tomatoes and cheese and of course, olives. The coffee was quite excellent and I admit to lingering over several cups.

After breakfast, we met in the patio for a brief discussion and review of different painting techniques. I haven’t picked up a brush except to paste wall paper for several months—and my intentions to spend some time drawing remained just that. Our assignment for the morning was to find an interesting spot in the hotel to paint—and to primarily focus on sketching—not a full-size complete painting.

We walked through the market to our luncheon site—an outdoor café where we had chicken tajine or beef shish-kebobs and very American looking French fries followed by coffee or mint tea. The method of serving mint tea here is to pour the hot water from a very high level into the small glass and then pour that water back into the pot. We lingered waiting for the day to cool off a bit—although it is hot here, it is not very humid—so I find it rather pleasant—the others find the heat rather oppressive.

After lunch we wander through the market place. There are many sandal/slipper makers—with all sizes and all sorts of styles and colors. The jewelers display lovely filigreed items of many sorts—belts, earrings, bracelets. The robes are particularly attractive—so many lovely colors and unusual color combinations. Some of the robes are displayed on blue-eyed, blonde carefully coifed plastic mannequins—most likely French and quite old. Some of the robes have a hundred or more tiny hand-made buttons—twirled-braided –down the front of the robe. The custom is for the woman to buy the robe and then weave silken ribbons through the front to personalize it.

We stop to talk to a sculptor—who selects his own stone from many miles away—taking two or more days by donkey to carry the stones to a place where a cart can pick them up and bring them to his work-place. Then he works with various tools—hand-driven drills to carve out turtles, camels, masks, and abstract figures suggestive of robed Bedouins or Arabs or Berbers.

Our next assignment is to sit about the orange juice seller square and do more sketching. I do a bit but am more interested in Mustafa’s discussion about his country—and trying to pick out the different nationalities by their clothing. I see all sorts of variation in dress—the jellaba which is a hooded caftan garment—tasseled for the girls, non for the boys; totally black scarves and skirts and veiled (Bedouin), to brightly colored head-scarves only over European dress, beautiful blue scarved/skirted women with a black face veil, to totally American dress with blue jean shorts and shirts. Men wear shirts with shorts or pants, thick cotton sweaters, brown hooded c aftans, blue hooded caftans, some wear fez—most are white with intricate designs embroidered on them, and some wear stocking caps with a point on the top.

I walked back to the hotel with the instructor, stopping on the way back at a roof-top café for a panache—–French for mixed up—a drink of banana and citrus—quite nice—but of a green color suggesting avocado. The photographers were all busy practicing panning movement while their instructor guarded their tripods.

Supper was in a moonlit garden patio of a quite lovely hotel about ten minutes away from our hotel. I shared a bottle of red wine with one of the painters; I was surprised when all the English knew the words to the Beverly Hillbillies television show, were familiar with Davy Crocket (and the TV song), plus the Dukes of Hazard.  Probably the four bottles of wine split amongst six people had something to do with the singing much to the amusement of the others. Hot sweet mint tea ended the meal and we journeyed back to our hotel via taxi.

Tomorrow we tour more of Taroudant and see a tannery. Perhaps I’ll be brave enough to break out my paint.

Morocco Part One

Entrance to Hotel El Salaam

I’d dreamed of going to Morocco after Art History—all those famous painters who claimed their idea of light and how they painted changed dramatically as a result of their time in Morocco. So I signed up for a painting tour through a British company and after more than a few emails, organizing of work schedule, and so forth, found myself about to experience the wonderful light of Morocco personally.

My husband planned to drop me off at the airport and so we set the alarm, had the coffee premade except for pushing the on button, and did all those last minute kind of things you do before being away from home for ten days.

Neither of us slept very well; I suppose we were nervous about missing the flight. My bags were packed and repacked and rearranged and repacked. We stopped in Liberty for sausage biscuits and more coffee and I realized I had forgotten t o take my Humira—I hope I won’t be so stiff I can’t move before the end of the week.

The flights were uneventful with the exception of moderate turbulence from Atlanta to London. My seat mate snored and for awhile I thought she was going to put her head in my lap.

I had planned to spend the day exploring London. The train information was a tad confusing; and worse because they were speaking English and I still didn’t understand them. I did buy a ticket and rode down to the London Bridge station; then I was supposed to get off and find my way to the Underground or to a bus. Apparently there is a strike of some of the flight attendants as well as the train attendants.  I thought the train was proceeding further but discovered it was actually returning to the airport.  By this time the weather had turned quite foul—not just misty but actually pouring.

So, I bought some postcards, some postage, a huge cup of coffee, and made my way to the hotel for an early check-in.

Tomorrow Morocco!
Sunday March 21, 2010

Gatwick is incredibly noisy and packed with people. I had printed out my boarding pass before I left Texas—most fortunately as it turned out. There were lines of people everywhere, people carrying their skis, chatting on the ramps, and official EZ jet staff directing people here and there. I got to skip to the head of the line, went through security—after the computer was re-booted to check those of us with non-UK passports, and then entered what looked like something out of Vegas. Two floors of shops, people eating, people chatting, shopping, carrying small paper bags of delicious smelling food. Unlike US airports with banks of monitors displaying prominent gate arrivals/departures, I finally spied one—and I was on the wrong end! Not to say I ran, but I did hustle down long hallways that looked very space age—all gleaming silver arches.

The flight was pleasant, even more so because the seats were roomy and I had plenty of leg room. It is reminiscent of Southwest with no assigned seating and limited services on board. I could buy a breakfast or snacks or a Gulliver bear; I opted for just a coffee. Upon arrival in Marrakesh, the plane off-loaded from both the front and the back.

I picked the slowest line in Immigration and was the last person to pick up my bag sitting all by itself on the baggage runway. The airport itself is covered with beautiful tile work everywhere—I wanted to take photos but the security personnel did not appear friendly. I met my group, changed money into dirham’s—thinking of them like fat dimes—there are 8 to the dollar.

We rode in a typical tourist van to Taroudant.  The roads are bad in places, and the driving is much like it is in Honduras or Mexico. Lots of covered trucks labored up the hills, people riding motorcycles and small scooters—I spied two women in typical Muslim dress riding a small scooter. Donkeys, motorcycles pulling a small truck bed, lots of bicycles, people on foot, horse- drawn carriages, and then the camels. The mountains here are as old as the Alleghenies, and as we head further west, the mountains are taller and covered with snow.

Huge plastic covered greenhouses that cover acres and acres house bananas and pineapples. The almond trees are in full bloom and everywhere there is green grass and trees. In many ways it resembles parts of Big Bend but with more water. Citrus trees hang heavy with fruit amidst olive trees. Much road construction is under way, herds of goats and sheep are guarded by a single goat-herd.

Our local host is Berber and tells me that the Berbers, some of whom are still nomads, were the first to inhabit this land, over 5000 years ago. Then the Hebrews came—then the Romans and finally the Portuguese, French, and Spanish. Thus their language is a mixture.

We stop for tea about half way; there is a pleasant breeze and it is good to stretch for a bit.

Our hotel is quite plush—a former palace—and I am assigned a lovely room with a raised bed—no doubt to accommodate the plumbing retrofit, a seating area, small table and chairs and a basket of fruit. I had worried a bit about who I would be assigned as a room-mate but now I have just myself to worry about. We have supper in the hotel and then early to bed—it’s been a long day.