Sunday, April 25, 2010

Homeward Bound

After several very thorough checks of our carry-on luggage we boarded a Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca to JFK. Long (8 hr.) flight was uneventful. Landed at JFK @ 5 pm. Went through customs quickly. Headed over to JetBlue for 9 pm flight to Tampa. Weather in NY and Tampa was very bad (tornado warnings in Tampa) so we had to sit on the plane on the runway for 4 hrs before taking off. Arrived home at 3:45 am, exhausted!! My wonderful hubby was there to meet me! He must really love me to pick me up at 3:45 in the morning!! Fez made it home too.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Majorelle Garden, then to Casablanca

This morning we stopped to visit the exquisite Majorelle Garden. It is part of the former residence of French artist Louis Majorelle, beautifully renovated by the late couturier Yves St. Laurent. In among the gardens is what was Majorelle’s deep-blue villa, which is breathtaking. Boarding the bus we said goodbye to Marrakech, and headed back to Casablanca where we began our trip 12 days ago. We enjoyed a farewell dinner at our hotel, Le Meridien. I can’t believe this journey is almost over. It has been an amazing experience. Morocco is a beautiful country full of so many contrasts. The people are very kind and gentle, and speak from the heart. I like the way they shake hands and then put their hand on their heart. I like their expression “schwayah schwayah” which means slowly, slowly, the pace they live their lives. The colors here are so vibrant. I feel we have really experienced the African rhythm of life. John was a wonderful leader. His love of photography is contagious and his ability to teach it is passionate. Most of all, I enjoyed his delightful sense of humor. Ishmael was a terrific local guide. He watched out for all of us and was like our father in protecting us and keeping us safe and making sure everything ran smoothly. His smile was always reassuring. Our group was very cohesive and we learned so much from each other. I’ve never been on a trip before where everyone got along so well. We shared our last evening together at the Le Meridien with a touching farewell dinner. I have learned so much about this beautiful country and my photos are my treasures that will help keep this lovely memory alive.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Marrakech Day 2

This morning we explored more of Marrakech and its fabulous old medina (market). The medina is a maze of dried fruit and spice stalls, Berber rug vendors, and leather and ironworkers’ shops. I had a chance to experience a glimpse of daily life as I strolled the narrow streets. I saw veiled women buying fruits, vegetables, meat and spices for their next meal, young boys taking their family’s bread to the community bakery and children playing in the streets. Most of the people did NOT want their photo taken. We also went to an apothecary where they sold spices, and natural oils and creams for the skin. After a nice presentation we were able to buy the products. We had lunch in a restaurant that used to be a palace. It was absolutely gorgeous. The afternoon was free to relax at our beautiful hotel that has a lovely pool. Tonight we have a second photo critique and dinner in the hotel.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Riding on the Marrakech Express

We continued this morning through the “Valley of the Thousand Kasbahs,” stony desert landscapes with many villages and Kasbahs. This area us called the Hollywood of Africa because many movies are filmed there. Jay and Christian, you would get a huge kick out of this area. Apparently they bring in crews for 6 months to make a movie. Our first stop was at one of the most exotic and best-preserved Kasbahs in the whole Atlas region, Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou. UNESCO has designated this as a World Heritage. It has been used for scenes in films such as Lawrence of Arabia and Jewels of the Nile. Driving after lunch towards Marrakech, we crossed the High Atlas Mountains at 7,000 feet, with panoramic views of arid mountains and lush oases shadowing the rivers far below. After arriving in Marrakech and regrouping at 4 pm, we had our first introduction to the famous Djemaa el-Fna Square, perhaps the greatest open-air spectacle in the world, where I could see the colors and feel the pulse of Morocco. I drifted with the smells and sounds of the souks. Marrakech follows the beat of an African drum. This imperial city has been almost continually occupied since Neolithic times, and was once the Berber capital. Traveling back in time 2,000 years, I saw snake charmers, magicians, acrobats, and dancers, delighting children and adults alike. I have never seen a more bustling and lively area. It was a truly amazing experience. After a lovely dinner around the pool at the hotel, we stayed overnight for the next two nights at Hotel Tichka in Marrakech. It got very cool tonight outside.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


We spent the day in and around the hotel. After breakfast we walked through a small palm grove that led to the gorgeous site of Amerhidil, a Kasbah located on the opposite side of the river behind the hotel. King Hassan II was so taken with the architectural beauty of Amerhidil that he decreed its image be placed on the 50 Dirham Note. This afternoon there was free time (thank goodness), so I could relax and enjoy the gardens and veranda of Kasbah Ben Moro, and catch up on my blog. P.S. They like Obama here!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tinerhir to Skoura

This morning we went to a market in Tinerhir. We went to amazing Berber rug shop there. We learned about the different styles and techniques employed in the creation of Berber rugs, meeting and photographing the women weavers who made them. The colors and textures of the rugs were spectacular. Continuing on we stopped at “Fatima World,” where a funky lady named Fatima was selling her wares. On the way we also saw Berbers tending their sheep and camels, women swathed in dark haik, children walking home from school, and people selling rose necklaces (made of real roses). Turning off the main road, we entered the stunning Dades Gorge, filled with unusual red rock formations and fascinating villages and Kasbahs. We ate lunch there outdoors on the patio of a restaurant. The weather was perfect – spring like and breezy. After lunch we continued driving to our accommodations for the next two nights a renovated Kasbah hotel, Hotel Ben Moro, in Skoura.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sahara Sunrise....

We woke up at 4:30 am. This morning was a special one. Camels were waiting to take us to Erg Chebbii, a huge, drifting expanse of dunes in the Sahara to watch the sunrise. We each mounted our camels and then went in a caravan to a spectacular viewpoint. It was cold and a little windy. The colors were amazing as the sun came up. The photo opportunities were amazing. After this incredible experience we had breakfast in the tent and prepared to leave. On the way back in the Land Rovers we stopped to see a Berber nomad family. Once in Erfoud we re-boarded our bus and went to a fossils (found in marble) factory. Then we saw a system of underground water wells. Continuing on we traveled to the Todra Gorge, often called the “Grand Canyon of Morocco,” with interesting rock formations. We stayed overnight at the Hotel Lamrani in Tinerhir.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Into the Desert

After an early breakfast, we boarded the bus and climbed into the Middle Atlas, the moorlands, with brooding skies and sheep pastures. It reminded me of the British Isles. We drove through cork forests, streams and wildflowers. The terrain was very lush and very green. The air was chilly. Since we had a long drive (6 hours) we stopped several times along the way for bathroom breaks and photo opportunities. Our first potty stop was at Timahdite where we had mint tea. As we ascended the terrain went from lush and green to barren, rocky and dusty. Lone cedar trees stood in the desert. The road was very curvy and by the time we reached our lunch spot in Midelt (where they found dinosaur bones) I was feeling queasy and dizzy. I drank tons of water and felt better by the time we got back on the bus. We continued to Erfoud, an oasis region (with palm trees) at the edge of the Sahara. Then we got in Land Rovers and drove through the sand (no roads) another 45 minutes to Merzouga, a Berber tent village in the Sahara desert. We climbed the sand dunes from dusk to sunset. The dunes were fascinating as the sun reached the horizon and colors changed from pink to gold to red. It was an extraordinary and unforgettable experience!! We spent the night under the stars in Berber tents at Auburge du Sud Merzouga. We all got a shesh (head piece) as we listened to Berber music by the fire. Dinner was served under an open tent. We each had our own sleeping tent with a mattress, blankets (it got very cold) and a light bulb. Bathrooms facilities were a bit of a trek. Unfortunately I had to pee during the night but I just squatted behind the tent. My Mom taught me that well! The good part about getting up in the middle of the night was seeing an incredible starry sky. Had a hard time falling asleep so I got about 4 hours of sleep because......

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fes - Day 2

Our second day in Fes. We went to the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter. The Mellah was created in the 15th century when the Jews were forced out of the Medina by pogroms. Fes’s Jewish community suffered repressive measures until the beginning of the French protectorate in 1912. Faced with an uncertain future after Morocco gained independence in 1956, nearly all of Fes’s Jews migrated to Israel, the U.S. or Casablanca. Our guide said only 6,000 Jews remain in Morocco today. We visited an old synagogue that has been restored and is used twice a month. Then we explored the Mellah with its ornate balconies and forged-iron windows on our own. After that we went to a ceramics factory and shop, and to lunch by the blue gate. Tonight we will have a photo critique and pizza.