Monday, July 21, 2014

African Adventure: Morocco - Marrakech

June 11th

Today was going to be a long day involving visiting two towns in the Atlas mountains before driving to Marrakech.  The night before our guide suggested we skip the towns and go directly to Marrakech instead.  The difference would be a seven hour drive instead of a ten hour one.  The Wife and I did a few Google searches.  The towns sounded touristy and not that interesting.  One was a ski resort, not my idea of authentic Moroccan.

The other American family who was on their own tour parallel to ours were offered the same choices as we were.  Apparently both guides didn't think it was worth the extra three hours.  All three of us on the tour, as well as the other American family, ended up deciding to skip the mountain drive and take the quicker route to Marrakech.

A few days later I would wonder if we made the right decision.  I'd seen pictures of the Atlas mountains and I'd hope to see them on this trip.  We would end up not seeing what I'd expected to see.  I suspect the extra three hours would have given me what I wanted.

The drive from Fes to Marrakech was uneventful and I took no pictures this day.

June 12th
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Le Jardin Majorelle.
Today was our tour of Marrakech.  We started at Le Jardin Majorelle, the villa and gardens once owned by Yves Saint-Laurent.  The gardens are now open to the public and the buildings are now a museum of Berber history, art, and culture.  We walked through the well maintained gardens before touring the museum where we saw tools, clothes, and other Berber items.  Yves Saint-Laurent's ashes are buried in the garden.
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The columns, mosaics, and carved plaster of the Saadian tombs.
After the gardens we visited the Saadian tombs.  We ended up seeing quite a few tombs in Morocco.  The Saadian tombs were just as magnificent as the ones we saw in Rabat and Fes.  The mosaic work and the carved plaster work were exquisite.

Last major stop for the morning was the Bahia palace built by the Grand Vizier in the late 19th century.  Another display of opulent Moroccan architecture.  Here we learned more about the culture and the harems - the palace is named after one of the Vizier's wives.

We ate lunch, another tadjine of course, at a restaurant near the palace. After lunch we stopped at a herbalist/pharmacy where we learned of different herbal remedies used by the Moroccan people as well as spices used in the cooking.  It was interesting ... and fragrant.
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The souk or marketplace.
The day was heating up so we headed back to our Riad.  Temperatures in Marrakech were approaching 105°F (40.6°C) and we would spend the hottest hours in our hotel.  During this down time the Wife got a henna tattoo in the Riad spa (pictures are on Facebook if you are my Friend).

Our afternoon, once it cooled off a bit, was the large Djemaa El Fna square.  We walked around the souk, finished most of our Moroccan shopping, and ended in the large open square where large food stalls were being set up for later in the day.  We stopped at a tea house perched on top of a building overlooking the square where we avoided the tea but enjoyed our Coke Zeros.
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Panoramic view from the rooftop tea house.
After a brief rest we returned to ground level and walked the square.  The Wife got her picture taken with monkeys.  I avoided getting my picture taken with the snakes.  We walked among the food stalls before stopping at a stall that sold music CDs.  The Wife had told our guide of her interest in the Muslim call to prayer.  After listening to clips of several CDs, the guide picked a recording of the cantor who calls the prayer in Mecca.  I have to admit hearing the call to prayer is always a highlight of visiting a Muslim country.

The three of us had dinner at the Riad before heading for bed.  It was another nice day in Morocco.  Tomorrow we would head out into the countryside.

June 13th

Our last day in Morocco was spent in the Ourika Valley.  We got a small taste of the Atlas mountains during our drive.

Our first stop of the day was at a village's weekly market.  We saw what the average Moroccan would buy and what services they could get at the market including barbers/dentists and healers of various kinds.  One of the stops confused us a bit.  We were going through the meat market (a vegetarian's nightmare).  There were goat and sheep heads on the ground in front of the stalls to indicate how fresh the meat was.  Our guide stopped at one stand and proceeded to bargain for and purchase a half a sheep.  We all were wondering if he was doing some grocery shopping during our tour.

We got back in our car and headed up in to the valley.  We made a stop along the way to drop off the meat - I assumed he had a friend up here with a fridge to store his groceries.  We passed Mick Jagger's home up in the hills.  We passed Brigitte Bardot's former house.  It was a beautiful valley and I could understand why one would want a home here.

As we drove higher into the mountains the temperature dropped noticeably.  At our turn around point we stopped and walked down to the river that flowed down the rather narrow valley.  The area was a popular vacation area for Moroccan's to beat the heat.  A few of us soaked their feet and we got our picture taken.

We started back down and stopped at a mill.  The water powered mill was in a small farmer's house.  We saw how he made flour and cornmeal, how their home was organized, and how Berber families lived out in the countryside.

We returned to the place our guide had dropped off his groceries.  It turned out not to be for his family but for us.  He'd dropped off the half of sheep to a family who cooked us all a meal.  As is customary, the food was prepared by the women of the home but they did not eat with us.  It was Friday and the men of of the house were at the Mosque for prayer.  The tadjine was delicious and the meat was tender.  Another excellent meal.  Entertainment was provided by a kitten who decided she would join us for lunch and go hunting for wild napkins.
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Our lamb tadjin over couscous - Yum.
We returned to our Marrakech Riad and rested for the remainder of the afternoon.  Our tour mate, Ac, spent her time having a hammam.

That evening we were going to have our farewell dinner.  We met our guide in the Riad lobby and he took us to our waiting horse drawn carriage.  The carriage took us back to Djemaa El Fna square.  A comedy festival was starting and people were watching Charlie Chaplin projected on a large outdoor screen.  Is was a bit surreal.  The carriage wound itself through the stalls and restaurant tents until we reached our destination, the Palais Soleiman.

The night started with a Moroccan salad (eight to ten small bowls with different vegetables and salads).  While we ate the music started and out came the belly dancer.  Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating to watch her.  She danced with all the men ... she tried to get me up but I defensively turning my face red until she went away.  I took a movie and pictures ... none that turned out in the low light of the room.

We were then served a whole half of sheep.  This was followed by a large tadjine.  We ended up leaving early and skipping dessert - there was just so much food one could eat.

Pictures of Marrakech can be found in my Morocco 2014 Flickr album.

June 14th and June 15th

The next two days were travel days.  It's amazing how long it takes to get from one part of Africa to another.  We ended up flying to Madrid.  We had a thirteen hour layover so we spent the night at the same hotel where I stayed during my first Camino in 2011 (a coincidence since our travel agent made the reservations).

We got up early the next day, ate at the airport McDonald's (the only place open at that hour), rechecked our bags and flew through security (no lines that early in the morning), and caught a plane to London Heathrow airport where we then caught a direct flight to Nairobi.  I managed to watch four movies between London and Nairobi.

In Nairobi we were picked up at the airplane by an expediter who drove us to the terminal (bypassing the crowded bus) and we went through the diplomat/VIP queue to get out passports stamped.  It felt a bit naughty.  The electricity went out two or three times as we waited for our bags to arrive on the belt.

A driver picked us up and dropped us off at our hotel.  It was late, it was dark, and we really didn't see anything on the way to the hotel.

Tomorrow our Safari adventure would start ... with a free day.

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