Morocco’s Todra Gorge

1 06 2020

On this day, we awoke in our castle inspired hotel nestled in a fertile valley with cliffs towering hundreds of feet above.

Morning hikes were on the agenda, followed by walking in the Todra Gorge. Either a sun baked climb to further up the cliffs, or a more gentle walk along the palm-lined valley through which the Todra river flows. I chose the latter, which seemed to offer shade.

This valley and its village, like many in this part of Morocco, has hot, dry walls above, and anything by the river is verdant, green, and lush, frequently with palm groves. This is where people make their homes.

We met our local guide and began the hike. It was very comfortable, the temperature starting about 60 and rising to 75 degrees while on the walk.

It was early spring. Things were greening up, and flowers emerging.

Cherry blossoms.

Before long, we came across fields of crops tended by members of the village.

It seemed the pace of daily life here was somewhat dictated by the needs of the plants in the fields and gardens. And right now, crops needed some tender care to get them established. It was such a beautiful sight and sweet smelling as well. The air was dry, the temperature comfortable, and the view was a contrast of blue sky, reddish orange canyon walls, flowers, and green fields and palms.

 

Further upstream, the village came into view. These homes were made of rocks and sun dried clay bricks. Thus, their colors often resembled the walls of the gorge. Sometimes they were built into hillsides. They have levels and the levels are for different activities. It was beautiful to glimpse the contrasts of field, sky, gorge and structure.

The trail ended on the road, not far from the entrance to the Todra Gorge. After a break for tea and Citron at a cafe, we headed into the Gorge. It is 2,000 feet high at the entrance. Further up, the narrowest passage is about 30 feet wide. It is a popular destination for locals seeking recreation, athletes like rock climbers. Hikers, tourists, and even a crowd of students making merry were in attendance.

If you can zoom in, you can peek in on a woman rock climber!

I also found a lady who had brought everything necessary for a family picnic. Chairs, blankets and a charcoal grill all ready to go.

We made it back to the village for a late lunch. Walking through the winding lanes, it was a mix of buildings in every sort of condition imaginable.

Some were abandoned, some looked very old, and yet, like elsewhere in Morocco, a door could lead to something wonderful inside.

 

I videoed my walk to our lunch riad to show that you just cannot predict where you are going to wind up. Just when an area might seem to be in disrepair, you pass through a door into an oasis!

We had a leisurely lunch. We also saw a demonstration about carpets. I have so many carpets I don’t have room for another!

On our way back to our micro bus, Mohamed took us to his sister’s house. She had a newborn baby to show off!





Morocco: Nomads of the Steppe

25 05 2020

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Leaving the sands of the Sahara behind, we had a long drive to the Todra Gorge. We traveled on a well maintained highway through the flat, arid steppe. It’s a sparsely inhabited land. For centuries, farmers irrigated this land by digging down to the aquifers below. But in the last 20 years, the aquifer has dropped significantly.

Still, there are wells in places. And the Nomads will set up camp near these wells. Their lives are migratory. They will move to a spot, set up camp, and spend months there. We spotted a Nomad house whilst traveling, and stopped to pay them a visit.

On this day, we saw a mother with two sons. They had a multi room home, goats, chickens, and many things we have at home. Just different. Husband wasn’t there, he was probably working in the fields somewhere, or in town. Mother was welcoming, we didn’t bother her at all. And, she loved showing off her children! At one point she was laughing hard at the antics of her children, and their goat.

It was clear there was a lot of love. The Moroccan Nomads are a culture all their own. They don’t do well in school because they are so different from the other kids, and because they move on. Also, it isn’t long before they’re needed at home to take care of things. They are a dwindling culture. We were fortunate to interact with them for only a short while.

Their camp had many things familiar to us Westerners, but they took different forms.

I think it’s important to respect their culture. It’s delicate. And they seemed genuinely happy to be “living on the fringe,” with little of modern society’s pressures. Their lives are in tune with nature.

At long last, we reach our multi story lodge in the Todra Gorge region. It’s got a nice pool outside. And a river running just in front. Palms line the river. It isn’t long before we were resting around the pool! But it didn’t last all that long, because in this north south valley, the sun went behind the western cliff, and it became chilly right quick!

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This lodge had a restaurant with a substantial wood burning fireplace! Quite a nice spot for dinner. Here I ought to mention a beverage I loved as a child, but it has disappeared from American grocery stores. It is the Schweppes Citron! In America, it was called Bitter Lemon. It has bits of lemon floating around, and is simply marvelous. Available everywhere in Morocco!

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Camels in the Sahara

7 05 2020

We’d all been looking forward to being in the Sahara Desert – by far the biggest in the world. Riding camels, and seeing stars. We’d be spending the night at a glamping campsite on the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes. It’d been a long day on the road getting out there, across the arid steppe. But in the late afternoon, the dunes rose above the village of Merzouga.

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We were to ride camels into the desert and stick around until sunset. It was a really epic experience being out there. Not long after arriving at an auberge (lodge) we began suiting up for the ride.

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Aditi and Mohamed

We brought along minimal supplies such as water, cameras, and jackets for after sunset.

While we waited, a truck drove up to me and the driver asked me in French, “Where can we get water, is there a natural water source around here?” I was like, “Dude we are in the Sahara!” Anyway, it wasn’t long before we found our camels. They all seemed to know what was coming up.

 

Our guides assisted us getting into the saddle and getting the camel to stand up.

David gets his camel to rise! Well done! When the camel stands up, you’d better hang on! And trust the camel knows what it’s doing.

With everybody on their camels, it was time for a group shot before we set off.

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We entered the dunes in a “camel train,” with lines connecting each beast. Since they have done this thousands of times, the camels all know what to do. The sand seems bottomless, but the camels feet are quite wide and don’t sink in very much. Still, it’s a very bouncy ride, and when climbing, descending and turning on a dune, it’s pretty unsettling for a newbie like me! Add to that trying to take a photo!

Before long, the timeless view of the rusty colored desert in the late afternoon brings up awe and emotion. I’ll never forget the endless sea of dunes.

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We reached a spot where we could explore the dunes under our own power. There was something about the setting that made me just take in the wonder. How many millions of years have these sands been here, shifting, moving, changing shape.

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Once the sun set, we rode to our glamorous camping site. I’m used to roughing it, but this was something else! It had rooms with blankets and beds. A bathroom with flush toilet. But still, it had a spot with a campfire for music and conversation. Katie and I were hoping for a sea of stars. Instead, it was a full moon, which blocked out the sky for much of the night. I was able to rise an hour before dawn, just as the moon set. But I only got 20 minutes of Milky Way Galaxy viewing.

Dinner time with a toast!

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CHEERS! No shortage of wine tonight!

 

 

 

 

 





Onward to the Moroccan Sahara: Road Trip Videos

25 04 2020

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Hello! These videos will bring alive some of the magic of my trip to Morocco. On this day, we head to the desert town of Merzouga, and we’ll cross desert badlands before riding camels. You’ll see a town this time with people milling about. Enjoy some of the music we had. Drive through a blinding sandstorm. Ride on a camel! See Sahara sand moving in the wind. See camels foraging in the dunes.

I had the luxury of riding in the front row of our 15-passemger van. It has a terrific view of the road ahead, and Mohamed and our driver had some good music playing! Plus at this time of day folks were milling about in this rural town. I love the fact that this video shows a woman sweeping the street – a very common sight! They like things cleaned up.

In this region of Morocco, rivers cut into the flat plateau. Flora found a rich source of water and soil all along these rivers. In a way, the rivers have become “winding oases” in the middle of the harsh environment. Date palm groves go on for miles, and this is where the people live. Often, the images of the buildings amongst the date palms evoke images of the Bible.

As we were getting closer to the sand dunes, we were suddenly engulfed in a sand storm! Visibility almost nil. Then, just as quickly as it arrived, it vanished.

At last! It behold the Sahara! The Erg Chebbi dunes.

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The edge of the dunes come into sight.

Riding into the dunes on camels.

In the distance, camels roam free amongst the dunes.

And sand moving in the wind.

Hope you enjoyed! The full Sahara post will follow! We camped out at the edge of the dunes.

 





Our Kasbah Hotel in Midelt, Morocco

23 04 2020

 

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We left Fez for a long day on the road through the Mid-Atlas Mountains and then onto the high desert plateau. Along the way we witnessed a market for sheep. And got ourselves a picnic lunch, which we ate at a riverbend site. A shepherd with her flock of sheep passed through.

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Like every day, it was sunny, dry and comfortable. The wind was light.

We descended into a high plains landscape, passed through the town center of Midelt, reaching our hotel on the outskirts of town.

Right in front of the hotel, the snowy northern High Atlas Mountains dominated the view.

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This hotel is built to resemble a kasbah. I though it was cool architecture. It had an outdoor swimming pool as well.

The style of the rooms, and some of the surrounding buildings, walls, and even geography made me think I might be on the other side of the Atlantic, in Mexico! No doubt this is because of the Spanish-Moorish interchange over the centuries, and the shared architectural styles, which the Spanish brought with them to Mexico.

The rooms were airy and generous. The terracotta colored floor and the colors of the walls and drapes made me think of Mexico, too. I’ve never been to Spain myself. Perhaps it has a flair of Granada? The rooms were very generous. Each had a “sitting room” capable of sleeping two and a main room capable of sleeping three.

There was a little hike we could do to a pond nearby, and on the way, once again, I felt like I could be in Mexico. The look of the houses, the walls, end even a nearby mesa completed the image.

The walk wasn’t without beauty, as spring cherry trees were flowering and some peacocks strutted around!

Down at the pond, an information sign got me grounded. It definitively reminded me that I was NOT in Mexico, because it was in French! Essentially, it said the surrounding area and Atlas mountains drained into this river, which the pond is part of, and that it joined other rivers heading north to the Atlantic. It is 13 meters deep. The fish that find home here are bass and trout. There are also Green North African frogs.

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That night, I ate trout, which was quite tasty, from this pond!

On the way to the hotel, we passed through central Midelt, and like many towns in rural Morocco, it was very quiet. In my pictures, there’s nobody in sight. There are many reasons. There are people, but the men are out working their fields, or women are inside cooking and cleaning. We passed through at a time later in the afternoon. We’d see lots more people when children are going to or coming from school. Or, on certain days of the week markets are open, and locals plus people from surrounding areas are all shopping. We’d see women gathering discussing women stuff, or men at the Mosques or cafes. In the most conservative rural towns, there is a culture about women and their attractiveness to men. Women stay inside and the homes are designed so that women can see out, but men cannot see them inside. That way, the men can concentrate on the tasks at hand, rather than “distractions” or “temptations.” In the cities, this was not so much the case.

On the next day, we were traveling to one of the HIGHLIGHTS of our trip! We would be riding camels on the Sahara! And spending the night in the desert.

 

 

 

 





Fez, Morocco: Crafts and Medinas

19 04 2020

Katie at the Textile shop

Katie looking iconic!

From Meknes, we made our way to Fez for two nights. Fez has been described as the “Cultural Capital of Morocco.” With 1.7 million inhabitants, it is the second largest city in the country. It houses a Royal Palace, and is known for its medinas, religious schools, and production of ceramics, textiles and leather. It was founded sometime in the 8th Century.

Our drive took us past uncounted olive plantations and other types of farms or ranches.

We arrived in time to settle into hotel rooms, and then went out to dinner. Mohamed suggested I try the Chicken Pastilla. It’s a twist on chicken for dinner! It’s kind of lightly sweet pastry layers over chicken. Delicious!

 

In the morning, we headed to a kasbah with a commanding view of the city.

From the hilltop, we could see castle walls, the medinas, and university, mosques, city gates, and more.

Like other cities in Morocco, the roads were in good condition and the traffic manageable. Many of the streets were lined with palm trees and modern lighting.

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It was the beginning of another beautiful day. Next on our agenda was a visit to Dar al-Makhzen, the Royal Palace. We stopped in a square where the palace gates are located. There were guards dressed to the nines from various military branches. Each gate was painstakingly crafted in intricate detail.

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We then journeyed to a ceramics factory. I hesitate to call it a factory because everything is hand made. There, skilled craftsmen perform all the tasks necessary to make the various products. Everything conceivable is made. Bowls, cups, urns, tagines, tablets, vases, figurines and more. We saw everything from the raw clay to how artisans turned pottery wheels, added metal decorations, and fashioned tile inlays.

Even in their unfinished form, the shapes and colors made for very beautiful images!

We got close up glimpses of the artisans at work. Each was a specialist in one area or another. All kinds of skills here. Metal work. Chiseling. Sculpting. Painting.

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Everybody in Morocco wears a NY Yankee hat!

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This will become a Tajine

Next we took a stroll through one of the busy medinas. We’d wind through the many alleyways, filled with sections of shops – in a section you can find textile shops, meat shops, jewelry shops, dress shops – pretty much anything. Along the way, a donkey or cart might squeeze by. Better keep your valuables close at hand, our local guide cautioned.

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Like other medinas, it had seemingly endless alleys leading in all directions. And all along there are doors – some doors lead to shops, but others lead to restaurants, homes, riads, or even places of worship. And then, just when you are feeling overwhelmed, the call to prayer from the Imam fills the air!

As I’ve said before, whilst walking the medinas, an unassuming doorway often leads to something fantastic. Here, we encountered an open roof mosque. It was incredibly meticulously crafted with marvelous detail.

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Two more crafts to visit. We toured a section of town where they make leather goods. I imagined it employed several thousand people. And we went to a textiles “factory.” That is where I got the next image of Katie in a traditional head scarf!

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That evening, we all gathered for sunset drinks at a hotel roof bar. The stars came out.

The following day would be a long drive out to Midelt – getting closer to the Atlas Mountains.