Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sahara Desert. It was as amazing as it sounds.

(This is from back in February when my parents visited...)
After our weekend in Fez, we returned to Casablanca for a day. Good family friends, Jack and MaryAnn Jackson, arrived Monday afternoon to accompany us on our next journey. We spent the afternoon/evening walking around Casablanca, eventually heading to the Grand Mosque down by the ocean. While tours were done for the day, they did get to look inside and we were able to be there for one of the 'Call to Prayer' times. It's a neat experience to hear the Arabic words pipe through the speakers while actually AT the mosque.
The next day, we took a train to Meknes where we would meet our driver/guide Hicham and start our journey south. Our destination was Merzouga, which is on the eastern edge of Morocco and part of the Western Sahara Desert. It took us all day to drive down there, but we saw some amazing scenery along the way, driving through the Mid-Atlas Mountains, and then the High Atlas Mountains as well. We even saw some monkeys along the way.

When we finally reached the area of Merzouga, it was dark. We were met on the road by someone from our 'hotel' who guided us in to where we were staying. We were starving, as we had not really eaten much that day. We were told to go into the dining hall area for tea. We thought this would lead to food, as they had asked us what we wanted to eat. In retrospect, I think we were supposed to drink the tea, retire to our rooms, then come back to eat. But, we just sat there and eventually the food came. It was delicious, Moroccan cuisine and it was followed by 'entertainment'. Some of the younger gentlemen who worked here played the drums and some traditional Berber style of music. They even got us all up dancing at one point.
We stayed at a place called the 'Hotel Nomad Palace'. It was really cool...just a building out in the middle of seemingly nowhere. Rooms were very nice. The walls of this place were kind of a mix of what looked to be clay and straw.

My room
The next day, we were taken to few little 'villages' around where we were staying. We watched and listened to the 'Pigeons du Sable' play some gnaoua music and dance along with it. Of course, Moroccan mint tea accompanied this as well. It is a staple here like offering water is in the States. After this, we were taken into the village of Merzouga. Here, we got to walk around the oasis part of the village. This was pretty cool, as they told us about how they share the water supply within the villager's green space. Each space gets water for a certain amount of time in order for them to grow their crop.
After more purchases from the one shop in town, we went back to our Nomad Palace and had a bit of time to relax before lunch. This place had one of the coolest pools ever, because it was shaped in the hand of Fatima. This is a very popular Moroccan symbol; an amulet of sorts thought to ward off the evil eye. Or, in other words, keep evil spirits away. Anyway, this was the pool...

Eventually, we would make our way out into the desert...

We mounted our crew of camels around 4:30 in order to be out in the middle of the Saharan dunes a bit before sunset.

Our camel caravan...Dad, MaryAnn, Me, Mom, & Jack

It was timed out perfectly, as we arrived at our camp about an hour or so before sunset. We climbed a smaller dune to watch the sunset. Jack and I then climbed a higher dune to watch the sunset a second time. :) 

Our caravan guides were a couple of pretty young guys. They were from 'the school of life' as Moroccans like to say. They spoke very good English, all of which was learned through conversation, as they most definitely have never had any formal schooling in terms of English. They made our journey fun...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Things that make you go Hmmm

OK, I'm 2 vacations behind in posts. Sorry 'bout that. For those of you who wonder if I work, the answer is Yes. I work a lot. Weeks keep me busy and weekends are to recover from the weekdays. And, maybe to drink a little. That being said, I'm hoping to catch up soon. I've been tending to veg out watching TV and movies rather than getting at that blog.

However, I have a quick one to belt out. I found out anothe interesting fact about Morocco the other day. Here, it's rare to see anyone wear a seatbelt. I mean, rare. Same goes for helmets on scooters, bikes, and motorcycles. Crazy, I say. Well, a few of us were talking about seatbelts the other day after noticing a car with kids in the backseat obviously not buckled in. (We see this every day, but it just got commented on once again.) Someone in the carpool home mentioned that Moroccans actually get offended if you wear a seatbelt while riding with them. They think you are saying that they are not a good driver. One friend commented that a taxi driver got upset with her because she put her seatbelt on, and he kept saying "I'm a good driver!" Well buddy, YOU might think you're a good driver, but the lady over there talking on her cellphone while driving a stickshift and smoking a cigarette is probably NOT the best driver, so I'm gonna go ahead and buckle up on this one. Thanks for the words of encouragement though.

Morocco is such an interesting country...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

YouTube sensations...

My friends, Jim and LuAnn, make videos of their pictures from here and post them to a site on YouTube. It is called 'Roseymeetsworld' if you want to check out any of their other posts from their time in Morocco. They put together a video from when their friends were visiting, and a lot of it is footage from our weekend in Fes.  If you want to check it out, go here:
It is called 'Fez and Friends'.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fes with the Folks

Trying to get back at this blog. Been a BUSY month with February break, recouperating from break, report card comments and grades due, etc. So, I will now attempt to catch you up on some of the happenings...

The first weekend that Mom and Dad were here, we went to the Imperial City of Fes. This ancient city was established around the year 800. It is a living, breathing World Heritage site. It boasts the world's oldest university (yes, even before Cambridge, Oxford, etc.), Kairaouine University (and mosque).  There are 350 some mosques in the medina. The medina is divided into 'neighborhoods', and every neighborhood has a hammam (bath house), fountain, and mosque. We had an amazing tour guide, Hakim, who filled us with knowledge of Fes and this amazingly historic medina. We also toured with my good friends Jim and Luann, and friends of theirs from the Seattle area who were visiting. It was a great day, with lots of walking. I think in all, they said we probably walked close to 8 miles. We were tired and our legs felt like we walked that far, but inside those medina walls, winding through the narrow streets, it just doesn't seem that far. The medina is kind of like a big bowl, and we basically walked down to the belly of it and then back up. We were able to see this shape the next day when we went to some panoramic viewing sites on the edge of the city. While in the medina, we saw where they make scarves, blankets, etc. using the old school looms. We also went to the tannery, where they still stretch, dry, and dye the leather hides used for making all sorts of things. Learning about the amazing history of Fes along the way made it a fabulous way to start the vacation!
The 'Blue Gate', one of the entrances into the medina in Fes.

Above is a weight-powered water clock, which was finished on 6 May 1357. According to Wikipedia:  The clock consists of 13 windows and platforms carrying brass bowls. The motion of the clock was presumably maintained by a kind of small cart which ran from left to right behind the twelve doors. At one end, the cart was attached to a rope with a hanging weight; at the other end to a rope with a weight that floated on the surface of a water reservoir that was drained at a regular pace. Each hour one of the doors opened; at the same time a metal ball was dropped into one of the twelve brass bowls. The rafters sticking out of the building above the doors  supported a small roof to shield the doors and bowls.

Carved plaster work, calligraphy, and zelij tile work. Intricate & beautiful...

This is the medina bread maker. Or at least one of them. Families bring their bread to him, with a family mark on it. He then bakes it and keeps track of whose is whose bread and it gets delivered back to them. And yes, he has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

One shop full of dried fruits, dates, nuts, figs, etc. The dried pineapple was amazing! I love how they arrange the food into pyramid like designs.

Our tour took us to see some weaving. They then dressed us in scarves. We didn't necessarily buy the ones we were wearing, but made purchases nonetheless.

Man working the loom, making a thin blanket.

We visited the leather tanneries on our tour. This is from a shop up above, looking down on the vats they use for dying the leather hides. This was so amazing to see. When we walked in, they gave us mint plants to sniff because the smell at the tanneries is unbearable at times. It wasn't so bad this day, but the mint was nice anyway.

This gives you an idea of the 'bowl' shape of the medina. The tannery is somewhat at the 'bottom' of the medina. Those are hides drying on the roof of the building where those kids are running around.

Me knocking on the King's palace door.  :)

Zellij is the tilework that is quite famous in Morocco. We went to visit a zellij 'factory' of sorts, which is really a bunch of guys hand making pottery and little tile pieces. Absolutely amazing. In the pictures, you will see how they craft each individual piece and then lay out the design with the colored side of the tiles down. Once this is done, they then fill it with concrete to create the table, or fountain, or whatever the piece is.

Table top. Imagine laying out each of those tiles individually... wowza!
Large, beautiful, hand-crafted fountain.
View of the countryside surrounding Fes