A Travellerspoint blog

November 2013

Farewell to Morocco

overcast 16 °C

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As the sun sets on the Hassan II mosque on Casablanca’s waterfront we say farewell to Morocco – a country, like so many that we visit, which is being dragged into the present but in so many ways is trapped in the past. All life is here: the rich and the poor, the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
Garbage disposal is a major problem and much of it ends up in the rivers or strewn across the landscape, but we prefer to focus on Morocco’s more picturesque aspects like the colourful doorways…
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The ubiquitous and inexpensive Berber shoes…
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The many roadside fruit stalls…
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The beautiful displays of olives and dried fruits in the markets…
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The tasty tangines – this one of leg of lamb with prunes, figs, dates and walnuts…
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However, sometimes the most picturesque scenes are not the prettiest. For instance: the many crumbling mountain villages of mud houses…
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The poor struggling to survive by selling a few vegetables in the street…
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And the numbers of young children working for a living…
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Morocco isn’t perfect but it is a fascinating place to visit, so come and see for yourself. These young boys in Meknes will be pleased to greet you…
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So, a final farewell to Morocco and, as usual, our heartfelt thanks to all the people who made our visit possible and pleasant. Thanks especially to our friend Christine who tagged along and treated us to boxes of delicious almond cakes.
Now we are in Ghana – another adventure begins.

Posted by Hawkson 13:10 Archived in Morocco Comments (2)

At The End of the Road to Morocco

sunny 26 °C

We were disappointed when the 4x4 SUV we rented to drive through the Moroccan deserts and mountains turned out to be little more than a scratched-up diesel cargo van with windows, but after 3,000 kilometres of driving on donkey tracks and through chaotic city streets crammed with carriages, motorbikes and massively overloaded vehicles like this…(Yes- that really is a full sized tree in the back of a pick-up truck travelling at 50K)
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and this...
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we’ve fallen in love with our reliable old banger and have christened her Fatima.

Morocco has some superb toll highways but they are little used because the locals can’t afford them. However, it also has some death defying roads like the 200 kilometer single track stretch of cracked up tarmac and gravel that took us 7,000 feet into the High Atlas from Marrakech to Taroudant…
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Some people might find this snaking roller coaster a little scary – even terrifying – but what a view from the top…
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High in the mountains we came across a restored 11th century mosque which once served a community of 17,000…
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But now only a few hundred people survive off the sparse alpine pastures in these picturesque villages of mud houses…
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Higher and higher we climbed until our ears popped and we no longer dared to look over the edge. But then the reward – a night in an ancient Berber kasbah, a fortified farmhouse built of mud and camel dung, which has been lovingly turned into an atmospheric country mansion and filled with fascinating local artefacts…
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After a peaceful night in the countryside without a mosque's meuzzin within shouting distance, we hit the deserted desert highway...
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And then, as we near the end of our Moroccan odyssey, we head to the coast and the picturesque fishing port of Essaouira....
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Next stop – Casablanca, and then to Accra the capital of Ghana.

Posted by Hawkson 12:07 Archived in Morocco Comments (9)

Marrakech - Morocco’s Tourist Mecca

sunny 27 °C

Discount airlines fly thousands of winter weary Europeans into Marrakech every day and there is a battalion of guides, touts and salespeople waiting to pounce. The numerous caleche drivers outside La Koutoubia mosque can spot a tourist at 500 paces…
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But the drivers are generally good-natured and will eventually take no for an answer.
But who can blame them? With average wages only a fraction of their northern neighbours it is understandable that they would want a share of our booty. Everyone bargains hard and always wants more – but as soon as the deal is sealed they are all smiles. And storekeepers will do whatever it takes to close the deal…
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The owner of this store left us in charge for twenty minutes while he went in search of the exact colour of a $5 dollar trinket that we wanted – now is that good service or sheer desperation?

Photographing people is difficult in Morocco. Many people, especially women, don’t want to be photographed at all, while others will happily pose – for a fee. And no matter how much they are given they always ask for more. It’s frustrating, so we try to capture people unawares. Here are some in the souks of Marrakech…
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The souks are fascinating places – where else would you find a butcher’s shop crammed between two shoe shops…
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Handmade leather shoes are everywhere here and at about 15 dollars a pair – depending on your bargaining skill – you can have any size, shape or colour you want.
Marrakech is all about tourism and is the first place where we have encountered large numbers of foreigners. Morocco in general is benefiting due to conflicts throughout the Arabian countries but few visitors venture far from the major attractions such as Place Jemaa El Fna in the centre of Marrakech – the centre of the universe in the 60s when hash smoking hippies found paradise here …
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But today’s Marrakech has been cleaned up in many ways and much of the city is now swanky hotels, swinging nightclubs, Michelin starred restaurants and ritzy golf resorts catering to the jet set – not our scene. We stayed in a beautifully restored riad inside the walls of the old city and soaked up its old world charm. Here’s James soaking up the charm of the indoor pool…
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Marrakech has long been a destination for the rich and famous and French artist Jacques Majorelle created an exotic garden in the heart of the city as an oasis for his clique. Yves St. Laurent eventually acquired the garden and no trip to Marrakesh is complete without a visit…
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Now we’re off to the stars – a two hundred kilometre drive through the High Atlas Mountains on some scary looking roads – wish us luck.

Posted by Hawkson 01:48 Archived in Morocco Comments (6)

The Winding Road to Marrakech

sunny 28 °C

Driving through the Middle Atlas Mountains is like riding a roller coaster through space and time and we found ourselves in such surreal surroundings that it seemed appropriate to eulogize our experience poetically.

Up and away we gallop over the Atlas
While Berber mules plod timelessly on
And washerwomen launder their smalls at the village pump…
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An octogenarian troglodyte with a twinkly eye
Beckons us to her mountainous cave
And treats us to a tea dance with her water pail…
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The rocky desert, desiccated by day and frosted by night
Gives reluctant succour to a million sheep
And a lonesome shepherd dreams of verdant lands faraway
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Mountain springs feed cool azure lakes
And enable the Berber farmers
To wrest a living from this arid land…
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We resist the roadside pedlar’s sugary temptations
Of pomegranates, oranges, honey and dates
Until a sweet arbu seller snares us with her smile…
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Time shifts ever more backwards as we climb
But winter approaches; the snows are coming
And the mountains will soon turn to alpine pistes…
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And then our magic carpet takes us to a new land
Where time miraculously swings to our millennium
And we discover Switzerland in the mountains’ midst…
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Yes – Dear blog reader – Nestled amid the medieval villages of Berber peasants and subsistence farmers in the heart of the Atlas is the alpine resort town of Ifrane. It is known as the Geneva of Morocco with its wide, clean boulevards, swanky chalets and expensive French restaurants. It could be a mirage - but it is not.

And the winner of the thousandth blog comment is Abigail Gossage of Ottawa, Ontario. A second prize also of “Slow Train to China” goes to Jean McLaren of Gabriola who posted her comment just a few minutes later. Congratulations to both.

Posted by Hawkson 13:19 Archived in Morocco Comments (3)

Frenetic, Fascinating Fez

sunny 26 °C

When it comes to Morocco there is always a risk of over-romanticizing. It is certainly beautiful, in places, and it is definitely exotic to western eyes, but it would be disingenuous of us not to paint a true picture of this intriguing country.
Morocco isn’t all sweetness and light. It has multiple personalities and some of them are not pretty at close range. The city of Fez is a character in point. On the one hand Fez puts on a modern French face with tree-lined boulevards, fancy shopping malls and, possibly, more upscale patisseries than Paris – (the marzipan petite fours are exquisite and the breads simply delicious). But turn the other cheek of Fez and you will find a much darker side. This is a view of the old city – the medina – from one of the fortresses built to protect it…
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Life within this chaotic warren of interlaced souks has changed little for generations.
Many streets are insufficiently wide for two persons to pass and daylight barely penetrates the deep canyons. The whole place could be depressing and claustrophobic if it weren’t for the frenetic activity of the artisans and merchants who live out their lives, just as their forefathers, in the gloomy workshops and stores that are squeezed into ever alley and corner…
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There are more artisans per square foot in Fez than there are per square mile on our artistically inclined Canadian isle. Peek into any nook or cranny in Fez and you will find someone making something by hand…
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Tens of thousands of artisans create a bewildering array of handcrafted items which are sold in a myriad of tiny shops and fondouks (ancient caravanserai – courtyard hotels where, in the past, visiting merchants would be lavishly entertained by artisans hoping to sell their wares). Many of the fondouks have been restored and are now used as the attraction to lure potential customers – “Just see building – It’s free – No buy…etc.”...
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Little has changed in Fez for centuries. Once through the elaborate doors of the fondouk the gentle, but very persuasive, pitch begins and unwary tourists may pay ten fold for the experience. But the fondouks represent the attractive side of the souks. There are plenty of less appealing sights and smells especially where the meat and fish are sold. But it is the infamous tanneries that are both the most compelling, yet repulsive, attractions in Fez…
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Every day the hides of thousands of sheep, goats, cows and camels are stripped of their flesh and fur and processed in these enormous vats of lime and dyes. The smell of rotting flesh and chemicals is indescribable and in the summer when temperatures hit the mid-forties it would be wise to give them a very wide berth…
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Watching the men and young boys working in these conditions is like watching a depiction of hell. Photographs can never convey the scale of the operation or the medieval working conditions. This little boy, with his donkey laden with newly processed hides, is probably only ten years old…
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There are a million photo opportunities every day in this incredibly diverse country and we are now leaving Fez to travel into the Atlas Mountains for a taste of the Berber life - destination Marrakech.

Readers are asking when our travel guide “Slow Train to China” will be published. Good news - copies will be available for Christmas. The Blissful Adventurer’s 220 page guide for independent travellers who dream to see the world is a very modestly priced and orders should be emailed to Gabriolablisspublications@yahoo.ca

However, you can win a copy simply by posting a comment on this episode of our blog.
We are nearing a thousand comments on our blogs and whoever posts the thousandth comment with receive a complimentary copy of “Slow Train to China.”

So – final reminder. Order copies for yourself, your friends and family for Christmas and post a comment on this blog to win a free one – it couldn’t be simpler.

Posted by Hawkson 09:15 Archived in Morocco Comments (13)

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