Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rabat and ride back to Tangier: Day 17

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Day 17: Rabat and ride back to Tangier
This day was a long one in the bus - we left at 8:30 from Essaouria and arrived in Tangier at 7:45, but with stops along the way.
Argan oil seems to be the new “it” item in cosmetic trends at the moment. I’ve seen Moroccanoil advertised in fashion magazines a lot lately, but its nothing new. Argan oil is native to Morocco and cannot grow anywhere else (they’ve tried and not succeeded). It can be used for your hair, skin and in cooking. We visited a few places where we saw the women extracting the oil and the process behind it. One place in particular was also a business that gave divorced women, widows and single moms a place to work. I must say I am convinced that this Argan oil works because all of the women’s skin - of varying ages - all looked youthful and healthy. They all seemed to have a glow about them, and you know they haven’t had an easy life. I bought some almond lotion and oil for my hair. I loved that women established this system for other women - creating a product mostly for women! It’s very forward thinking for Morocco (women were just allowed to divorce a few years ago).
Also on the way back, we briefly stopped in Casablanca for lunch at McDonalds. This would NEVER be my choice for lunch, but we were in a rush and that what everyone was doing. It wasn’t so bad I guess...
We only briefly drove through Casablanca, the industrial capital of Morocco, but I wish we spent more time there. Apparently its not a place geared towards tourism and is just strictly for business, but it seemed like a very modern and happening city.
We stopped briefly in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, for a look at the mausoleum for the last two kings and the minaret. It was definitely a beautiful site. Other than that I didnt really see Rabat at all, we went back on the interstate.
....so next time I come back to Morocco, I will definitely spend more time in Marrakech, Casablanca and Rabat (easier because it will be on my own time too)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Essaouira, Morocco: Day 16

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Day 16: Essaouira
Shouldn't have bought and eaten those dried apricots in Marrakech because they made me insanely and painfully sick. You just never know with food here. Now everyone but one person has gotten this common ailment. Its just uncomfortable and gross, but at least we’re all in it together!
Thank goodness it was a short bus ride from Marrakech to our next destination -Essaouira, an adorable beach and surf town on the Atlantic coast.
I was fine enough to make it through lunch and walk around for a little bit, but then had to go to the hotel. I didn’t sleep at all the night before when it all started. Sigh. I was upset with myself for not taking advantage of the city, but at the same time, I would not have enjoyed it because I was feeling physically miserable.
I think that was the worst day of being sick - it seems to be getting better and more manageable.
Essaouria reminded me of a French beach town and lot like Asilah. Only wish I was felt better when I was there...did get a few photos though...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Marrakech, Morocco: Day 15

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Palace Ceiling
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Lanterns in Marrakech
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Spice Market
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Day 15
Started our morning with a tour of a centuries-old Palace and school, and it was raining again :( After we were free to go out on our own and shop.
Marrakech is so overwhelming, especially when you only have a day to be there (and not even a full day). I feel like there was a lot of stuff I missed, but that just means I will have to return.
Walking into the main square, where the bomb went off a month ago (which you can clearly see that it was targeted at tourists), you see performers, snake charmers and monkeys on a leash galore. Once you step inside the covered market, you must choose which path to take and hope that you will find what you need and for the best price.
Haggling is key - I ended up paying exactly how much I wanted to things. Also, things start to look the same after a while, so I tried to only go in the places that looked truly unique.
I was looking for the tall cone sculptures of spices all day, but only found a few. I think because it was raining and humid (which apparently it never is in Marrakech), the tower of spices would not have faired so well. Another reason to return - to photograph those beautiful spices!
Unfortunately, I felt like I only saw 1/300th of the city and only took like 100 pictures (which is extremely low for me). I feel as though this post sounds really negative, and I wish that it didn’t, I just hate feeling rushed in such a vibrant and cultural city.
Until next time Marrakech -

Ouarzazate and on the way to Marrakech {Days 13 &14}

Atlas Mountains

Day 13: Ouarzazate
5 out the 10 students were sick to their stomachs, so only half of us did the daily outing. We visited a movie studio where tons of elaborated, history movies set in the desert, like The Mummy, Gladiator, Passion etc were filmed. It was pretty interesting. Ouarzazate is sort of like the Hollywood of Morocco, but a little less glamourous.
I wasn’t in the mood for taking pictures that day and just sort of absorbed what I was looking at (and it looks a lot different in real life than it does in the movie).
After returning to the hotel, I took a long and much needed nap and chilled out for the rest of the day.

Day 14
Today we were on our way to Marrakech! It was an interesting drive through the Atlas mountains. After we arrived, we took a tour of the city but it was raining, so I didn't photograph anything. I’ve been feeling really groggy and tired lately, not to mention nauseous at times. I think its mostly the weather - its been nasty.
Need to rest up because I want the next and last week to be as glorious as possible.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Spanish Sahara, the place that you'd wanna {Days 11 &12}

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Sahara Desert
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Sand Patterns
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Me in the Sahara
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Day 11
Left at 8:30 for a looong drive to the Sahara desert. It was about 9 or 10 hours with stops along the way of course. I jinxed myself when I said I have a strong stomach because I got really sick on the drive and had to pull over many a times. It was gross and so unpleasant. By the late afternoon, though, I felt better.
We drove through snow capped mountains towards the desert. It was interesting to watch how the vegetation slowly changes. Finally we reached the Sahara right at sunset.
Our hotel was so fabulous. It was a huge open house with stories that overlooked the bottom floor. If you walk straight out the back of the house, there are the dunes of the Sahara desert. When most people think go the Sahara, they think it is only the sand dunes, but that actually only makes up about 15% of it. It was news to me.
After an enjoying an appetizer of roasted peanuts and mint tea, we had a delicious Berber Moroccan meal of the most unique tagine made with beef, eggs and chickpeas (full of protein and delish). Fresh fruit was the dessert, as it often is here. I know I have mentioned it before, but the Berbers are native Moroccans, they were here long before the Arabs and French. Most people in the Sahara speak only Berber and not Arabic.
After dining, we were serenaded by traditional Berber music and dancing - in which we all joined it. So fun :)

Day 12: Sahara Desert
Today I woke up at 5:00 for a camel ride in the Saharan dunes. We went so early so we could watch the sunrise over the Algerian border. The whole time I kept asking myself if it was real life - I couldn't believe I was riding a camel right before the crack of dawn, in the Sahara desert. Unreal. It is definitely an experience I cannot forget. It was so serene and peaceful on the dunes, I was mesmerized by the shadows and different patterns of the sand. It made me realize how fortunate I was to have this opportunity to be going to Morocco (thanks mom and dad!).
We climbed the highest peak and sat on the edge of the dune to watch the sun rise.
After riding, we were treated to a delicious breakfast of homemade cornbread/honey/orange cake. So good.
Then we were on the road again for several long hours until we reached Ouarzazate, our next destination.
The drive was practically flat desert the whole time, with the exception of canyons and mountain chains in the background. Its an interesting landscape to me because it is nothing like I am used to.

Song for this post: "Spanish Sahara" by Foals, for obvious reasons, but also its just one of the best songs, ever. Its monumental.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fez, Morocco: Day 10

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Fez, Day 10
We were only in the city for one day, but we made sure it count. We started by going to the top of one of the watchtowers to survey the whole city and take pictures. We then ventured inside.
Fez seemed a lot more crowded than Tangier or any of the other cities we have been to. The walls were closer and there was less open sky, plus with the addition of mules making their way through the crowd just made it seem a lot more tight and a little overwhelming.
We saw our way into some mosques that were so ornate and reminded me a lot of Hindu shrines that I studied in Asian art history this year. So intricate and patterned.
We got to oversee a tannery- where they process and dye leather. I had seen this image tons before and it was really neat to see it in person. The amount of physical labor that is put into it is astounding. I fell in love with a pair of boots that were leather and Berber (native Moroccan) wool rug. I haggled down to a price that I would never find for them in the US. I cant wait to wear them.
Lunch was at this fabulous restaurant with a fountain in the center possibly filled with rose water. Rose water is a big thing in Fez, its meant to be as a cleaning agent and perfume. Our first course was a little sampling of vegetables and spreads and beans. Second was pastilla, a ground chicken and nuts in a flakey pastry shell with powdered sugar - I know what you are thinking, but everyone actually thought it was delicious. The main course was couscous with beef and vegetables. Dessert was fruit, oranges and peaches and of course, mint tea. We were told this was a typical (aristocratic) Moroccan meal.
After lunch, we rolled (literally, so full) over to a guest house that overlooked the whole city, marveled at the rooms in the house and played dress up with traditional garb.
A trip to a tile and pottery factory was our last stop before heading back to the hotel.
After going to all these “factories” or more like workshops, its amazing to still see some small scale industry that can produce tons and tons of desired and unique objects.
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