Friday, 3 October 2014

Au Revoir, Marrakech

How do you say good-bye to a place that has captured your heart so fully and completely? A place where romantic French is the most common language after Arabic, a place where birdsong echoes in the country air, and mad chaos in the medina? A place where the most delicious chicken served in its own little cooking pot, the tajine is served in every restaurant; a place where it is warm enough to walk around almost naked at midnight (not that I do), a place where we have felt welcomed, relaxed, and fully captivated by the people and their ways.

Lovely gardens at our hotel

After spending our last two days at the night market and touring around, we agreed that some of our favourite experiences were:

haggling with persistent shop keepers who refused to take "no" for an answer, then when we walked away, would call us back, only to try to get us to accept a higher price. Once we stood our ground, they usually came down to our price, or perhaps we came up very slightly, they acted like we had just royally ripped them off. We kept our senses of humour, thanked them, shook their hands, smiling all the while, as they shook their heads in disgust.

Yes, he is very clever!

Having one of the shopkeepers wrap a scarf around my head Arab style. So much fun, how could I not buy it after this?

How do they get those spices into those lovely pyramids?

Appreciating the creative ways that things were displayed.

Hand beaded gowns fit for a princess or maybe the Queen of Sheba!


How about some olives?
In the middle of the chaos of the market, we came upon inobtrusive little doorways that led to delightful riads, or hotels that had a sweet courtyard opening to the sky in the middle. The deskeeper let us take a quick peek at this one where we could have stayed for a fraction of the price. Hmm, maybe next time!
It's hard to believe that anyone would want a warm hat in this hot climate!

And always a delicious meal!

Good-bye to beautiful buildings

Wide boulevards

And herds of camels on almost every corner. We will miss you, but we promise to come back and explore more of your glorious country!



Thursday, 2 October 2014

Atlas Mountains and Berber Villages

Leaving Marrakesh bright and early in the morning with our new friends Garry and Marie from London, we were soon out of the city heading toward the Atlas mountains. Our driver Abdullah explained as we went that the people in the small villages in the Atlas mountains were Berber rather than Arab. Driving through these villages is like stepping back in time to when people lived much more simply. While tourism has its drawbacks in these types of villages, there is also a significant economic advantage, as the locals have created cooperatives which help them to collectively benefit from selling their handcrafts.

The first village that we stopped at was in the Argun Valley. This cooperative showed us how argun oil is made from the argun nut. First it is pounded by hand between two rocks to crack the nut.

Then it is ground on a wheel to squeeze out the oil.

Argun oil is reknown for its cosmetic properties, promising beautiful skin to those who use it. We shall see! It is only available in the Argun Valley, as this is the only place in the world that it grows.

In true Morrocan tradition, we were given a cup of delicious sweet mint tea, and only after social niceties have been exchanged were the different kinds of oil explained...lemon for tired feet, lime to help you sleep, and rose to keep your skin beautiful. We wanted to buy one of every kind, but the restrictions on our luggage helped us to exercise restraint!

Climbing the stairs above the shop to the roof gave us terrific views of the village!

Driving through later Berber villages, we saw women washing rugs in the river, and hanging them out to dry.

Garden patches irrigated by hoses run from the river higher up in the mountains

And villages built on the side of the mountain.

We set off on a hike to see the waterfall. Across a very rough and rickety bridge. Don't bounce, whatever you do!

Through delightful little oasis where comfortable sitting areas had been created

and the oranges are kept cool by a hose carrying water from high in the mountains. These made me think of nomadic people coming upon an oasis as this surely was, and by placing a few carpets and cushions on the sand, creating lovely resting places.

We climbed over huge rocks, and after an hour of climbing, finally decided that the trip to the top was too dangerous to attempt wearing flip flops.

On the way down we passed village women leading their goats

and stopped for a short camel ride.

This land of mystery, magic and memories will stay with us forever!



Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Magical, Mystical Marrackech

We are in the land of the Beduoins, where the amazing night sky makes one think of Lawrence of Arabia, elegant women in veils and wandering desert nomads!

We arrived at our hotel just in time for breakfast after a sleepless night on the train. Every time that we started to drop off to sleep, the train would either stop (which seemed like every half hour) or toot its whistle or both! The train was clean and safe, though, and the beds clean and comfortable.

Our hotel was a welcome oasis at the end of a crazy journey, and we were thrilled to see that is was just as beautiful as promised, with a great patio off our room and lovely patios and pool.

It's a bit far from town, but that's a small price to pay for the peace and quiet! We caught a cab into town and spent the day at the Souk (market). This is a most amazing experience, as the souk takes up 25 square kilometers within the walls of the medina (town), with twists and turns and many branches. We were careful to keep our eye on specific landmarks, and to not take any branches, as people have reported getting lost in there!

Leather products abound, and we had fun shopping for shoes


figs and nuts.

We even visited the snake charmer! Bryce wasn't too impressed when the charmer wrapped the snake around his neck,

but it was pretty cool to see the cobra rise up as the charmer played his flute.

The cobra did strike at someone who got too close to take its picture. I sure hope it has been defanged!

Sights, smells and sounds assaulted us from every angle as the smell of rich spices intermingled with horse and donkey dung and the sounds of "madam, come look, it doesn't cost anything to look!" greeted us at every stall.

The magic of this place will stay with us forever!



Sunday, 28 September 2014

So Long, Spain. Now, North Africa!

Our hearts will always be in Spain, but adventure called, and we booked a ticket on the fast ferry to Morocco. We were up bright and early to catch the 9:00 am ferry, and caught a taxi to the dock. We enjoyed our first American breakfast of bacon and eggs since leaving home....Bryce always gets my bacon, since I don't eat beef or pork! We even had great wifi at the little cafe, which allowed us to get caught up on emails and Facebook.

Heading to our loading area with half an hour to spare, we were totally confused, as it wasn't clear which line we should be in. I finally found someone who looked official and showed them our tickets. We stood in the area and waited....

and waited.

Finally, at 10:00, they opened the gate and people pushed, shoved elbowed their way as close to the front of the line as possible, all the while carrying gigantic bags, boxes and babies! Amazing! This was crazier than getting on a Beijing subway! We found our bit of space in the madness and settled in to.....wait some more!

Finally, at 11:00, almost 2 1/2 hours after we started waiting in line, they let us on the ferry! It was a very nice ferry, and although we weren't sure whether the numbered seats were reserved, we found a nice window seat for our two hour journey.

Here's Bryce's version of the trip:

We finally dropped down in Tangiers long enough to have some Oriental food in a Muslim restaurant served up by Abdullah, who speaks German, French and Spanish better than either one of us knows. He understands our: "Je suis Canadiennes, Vancouver," and he gave us wifi pronounced "weefee". He just brought our food, chicken in a delicious sauce and guess what, more olives!

The trip from Spain to Morocco was amazing! I have never seen so many little old ladies stampede a wicket in such short order as these old gals. Men, women, children of all ages crammed through to get on the boat and then through all the turnstiles at immigration like it was $1.49 day at Woodwards!

Two hour wait in line to get on the ferry, still in Spain!

So, it was a couple of hours waiting in line for the express ferry. Silly us, express does not mean fast, it means comfortable, and it was! Starving for oxygen in the cramped pre-boarding area makes a fellow grateful for just about anything! Getting off the ferry, we had couple more hours in a crowd crazed stampede with the mob rules method to get through security. Fortunately we mastered the art of shoving through a crowd on the subways of Beijing, but this mob makes the Chinese look tame! The one and only scanner for the crowd of about 800 broke down when people in front of us started piling their suitcases up 6 deep on top of the belt and it looked like the crowd was about to go into a full on revolution.

In, crowded, looking a little frazzled!

Iwobbled over on my cane to the security guy and he let Arly and I through out of pity.I did not think that we would make it in one piece. The Arabs are very clear in their threats when people with 6-8 suitcases on a luggage cart get in their face and top the load off with Grandma who sports a very attractive blue streak tattooed down her chin! One toothless snarl with a hairy eyeball from Grandma and you clear out, like now!

I did love the Rock of Gibralter and pulling into North Africa was a thrill in itself!

One never knows what is waiting around the corner for them, do they? We got off the ship with no dirhams, although we did raid the money machine before we left Spain, so we were loaded down with Euros. We found the exchange office and did a switch. Looking around for someone to ask for directions, we ran into the "Chef de Gare" (station manager), who took pity on me and pointed us toward a bus leaving for Tangier City, an hour away. "But run, he says, it's leaving right away!" Ya right!

When we arrived in Tangier, we were greeted by our new best friend, Hussan, who informed us that he would take care of us and not let us get ripped off by the taxis and other hustlers who were on us like flies on a manure pile. Being a tourist in this town, I felt more obvious than a turd in a punchbowl! We were the only non Arabs on the ferry, on the bus, and for all I could see, in the entire town!

Hussan wanted to give us a two hour tour of the city for only 6000 dirhams! (About $70) I greased him with enough dough so he would go away, but not before he found us a cheap taxi, which took us to the train station for about a tenth of what it would have cost us in Paris!

We now have sleeper couchette car tickets for the train that leaves at 10:00 tonight, and arrives in Marakesh at 8:00 am tomorrow morning. No sooner had we finished our purchase, and there's Hussan wanting to know if we want to go shopping and have a couple of beers with him? No, we're going to go enjoy a nice lunch and relax in a restaurant, but thanks very much!

Lots of love to all. We are not coming back, so send us Ricky Dog, and we will run a shell game in a small cafe somewhere between here and Casablanca! Love, Bryce





Saturday, 27 September 2014

Marvelous Mezquita

Just when you think that you have seen the biggest, best, most beautiful buildings, Spain offers up something that is even more wondrous. Cordoba is a short hour and a half drive from Sevilla, that is if you can figure out how to escape the maze of narrow, one way, blocked off streets to get out of Sevilla! After driving around in circles for a few minutes, we finally got smart and gave a taxi driver 10 euros to lead us to the highway! Why didn't we figure that out when we came into the city?

Once we were on the freeway, it was a nice relaxing drive, and our GPS led us straight to our hotel, which had a nice safe parking lot at the back. Better yet, it was free! We were checked in by 11:00 am and set off on a mile and a half walk to see the Mezquita.

I love it when you can see the castle or cathedral from afar and it looks like something out of a storybook! The Mezquita is set high on the banks of the Guadalquiver River, with a Roman bridge approaching it. At the other end of the bridge is a tower that has been turned into a museum, and in the river are ruins that have been left in their natural state.

We had to walk through this arch in order to entire the medieval city, which is now lined with souvenir shops and restaurants.

They sure liked to build those walls high!

Entering hrough the gates we came into a beautiful courtyard with fountains and pools. When still under the control of the Moors, this huge courtyard was used for people to do their ablutions before praying.

As you have probably gathered, there is a theme to these palaces....the site was originally a Catholic chapel, then the Moors moved in around 750, and brought a period of prosperity to the city, making it the most powerful in Spain. By 1236, the Moors were driven out of the area, and the Christian rulers decided to turn the mosque into a church.

Entering into the chapel, we were first struck by its incredible size. Although it looked like a giant hall, we could not see to the end. But, most awe inspiring were the rows of painted arches going in every direction.

I am grateful to those who took this mosque over for preserving the original design with the exception of the Catholic chapel which sits in the middle of this gigantic structure,

while the integrity of the original building has largely been respected.