A Travellerspoint blog

September 2021

From the desert to Ouarzazate

with the Atlas Mountains in-between

sunny 94 °F
View Morocco on HopeEakins's travel map.

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We opened our eyes to freshly brewed coffee and scrambled eggs... in the Sahara! And then we made our way back across the sands to our bus, waiting to take us to Ouarzazate. We were in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Those would be the high peaks in the first photo, and you will hear more of them in the next post.

The next photos show a window - actually two - and two hallways that look like colored squares. The fenestration of buildings here in Morocco is very peculiar. The traditional buildings have VERY few windows. Usually three sides are solid adobe and only the facade has any openings: a door and 1 or 2 windows at most. Even new construction is similar, except for modern structures in business districts. However, most buildings have inside courtyards that are open to the sky, so the sun makes the splashes of light seen in the halls of the photos - but not after sundown. Maybe the national esthetic likes dim cool interiors as a contrast with the heat and dazzling sun outside. The interior lighting is also odd. The (nice) hotels where we are staying have 5 or 10 watt bulbs in their fixtures. There is enough light to read in the bed, but not enough to see in the closets or the hallways. We use our phone flashlight to find the stairs.

On the Way of a Thousand Kasbahs, as it is called, we stopped at a small private museum In a ksar (multigenerational family home) and saw the intriguing tool in the photo: hooks for retrieving ropes fallen into a well. That is indeed a specialty item. Another one: a loom (shown here for the benefit of Barry Sellers and Doug Johnson). And another: a silver case for the plastic water bottles found on every table.

Ta-da. We arrived in Ouarzazate. This home of the Moroccan film industry is pronounced something like "Ou-ar-za-zat". so of course we all call it "Where's z'sat." Our very large hotel was filled with race car drivers and their wives?/girlfriends??/crew??? on a week-long car rally. One of the autos had a sticker reading "Dept. of Defense. Ft. Worth JRB." Makes us wonder whose tax dollars entered that vehicle in the race. One thing we do know is that the rally drivers are fearless. They hugged the 6000' high and very narrow roads and when we were ahead of them they flew around us, seemingly without a glance at the road ahead.

Here are some bits of housekeeping:
1). If you click the word Morocco in RED at the beginning of this blog you will get a map of our location.
2). Travellerspoint asks for a daily temperature, and we usually enter the daytime high. But 100 degrees in the day cools off to 75 or so in the evening with lovely breezes.
3). We have been out of touch because we couldn't access WiFi in the desert or out last hotel. We'll try again tomorrow.

We miss you all and delight to hear from you and to think that you are reading of our adventures. Thanks
Hope and Bill

Posted by HopeEakins 15:28 Archived in Morocco Comments (2)

Sand, sand everywhere

But we did have a drop to drink

sunny 99 °F
View Morocco on HopeEakins's travel map.

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We may have been glamping in the Sahara, but getting there wasn't easy. There is a reason that the camel's feet look like saucers. They walk with ease across the sand, while we sink with every step. Our camel drivers wrapped us up well in turbans and orchestrated our ascent and descent from the beasts, but the long ride felt quite - shall we say adventuresome. One of us is already celebrating her last transport by dromedary. Our tent(s) is/are magnificent. We have a king size bed, desk and chairs, and little closet frame in the large oval, a small sink room adjacent, and flush you-know-what on a little throne beside the shower. After we had used all of them, we went to the top of the dune where Gnawa musicians played their music. Gnawa is described as Moroccan Gospel - hmm, didn't quite recognize it. A fabulous dinner followed, and then no WiFi until Tuesday. We felt very out of touch, but even more in touch with this magnificent world.

Posted by HopeEakins 16:17 Archived in Morocco Comments (2)

Into the desert

(Daytime) temperatures are rising

sunny 100 °F
View Morocco on HopeEakins's travel map.

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Morocco is a vast and diverse country! We have crossed high (13,000 ft) mountain ranges and travelled along the seacoast. We have been impressed by modern cities with fine architecture and infrastructure – and we have been decidedly unimpressed by towns whose crumbling clay buildings fall asunder when it rains. We began the day in Fez (photo One, elev. 1300 feet), driving through scruffy desert unrelieved by even a palm tree, and then climbed to Ifrane (elev. 5500 feet), a charming Swiss village with chalets and a university and a ski resort nearby. Then across the vast Atlas Mountains on an incredible highway – and down to Erfoud, on the edge of the Sahara desert. (We have been told that this is an unnecessary duplication, since ‘Sahara’ means desert.)

Photo Two is of an 85 mile long oasis filled with date palms, large swaths of which have burned in a forest fire, so they talk of climate change here too.

We have said our prayers and prayed for our Duncaster congregation and Doug Engwall, the officiant there today. We are about to learn about the fossils which fill this desert - because it used to be a vast sea. After getting our heads around that phenomenon, we will leave in a bus to rendezvous with 4 wheel drive vehicles that will take us to our camels that will bear us to our desert encampment. Apparently our tent has hot water (what do you want to bet that the heat is from solar panels??) and a toilet (??) but no electricity. We have charged the phones, but I don't think a blog will be forthcoming until we leave the sand.

Posted by HopeEakins 08:17 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Volubilis and Château Roslane

A journey into Morocco's ancient past

sunny 79 °F
View Morocco on HopeEakins's travel map.

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Our morning route: from the crowded Fez medina to the New City filled with diplomatic residences and gardens and then on to the countryside. The region around Fez is a fertile agricultural plain against the Middle Atlas mountains, packed with pomegranates, grapes, and olive trees, miles of olive trees. Fences of prickly pear and oleander and roses border the fields, and the land became more and more remote as we travelled inland to Volubilis. Wow! In the midst of this distant area of this distant land, a huge Roman ruin is being excavated. Volubilis is in the far southwestern corner of the Roman Empire and flourished from its 3C BCE founding until local tribes overran the Roman army in 285 AD. The city declined, became Christianized, became Muslim, and was abandoned in the 11th C. And it sat and sat and got covered with dirt. Then the 1755 Lisbon earthquake toppled what was left, and it sat and sat again until the 20th century when excavation began and a fine city began to emerge. Even the storks like it! Moroccan storks nest in columns, cedar trees, and cell phone towers (which are made to resemble palm trees), and the nests are often six feet wide. Apparently the legend of storks’ baby delivery service is almost universal.

After much walking around Volubilis’s triumphal arch and basilica, latrine, public baths, and olive press – and a 21,000 square foot villa - we visited Château Roslane for an elegant lunch beside its vineyard and lavender fields.

Posted by HopeEakins 17:44 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

Fez

The Medina, drugged chickens and decapitated lambs - and hurrah for Morocco anyway

sunny 77 °F

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A medina is a walled neighborhood, and is far different from a gated community. The medina in Fez is enormous and filled with 9000 tiny lanes and alleys. Even a Smart car couldn’t fit in them, so all transport is by tiny donkey or wheelbarrows pushed by old men or tiny motorbikes WALKED by young men. We squish up against the walls as Moroccans hurry by; Moroccan merchants grin at us with sheer delight – they haven’t seen any tourists since Covid began. The winding alleys are dark and punctuated by simple small doors. Once inside the doors, the buildings open up into magnificent courtyards. Walls and floors are decorated with tiles and mosaics and tadelakt, a kind of plaster that is intricately formed into beautiful and magnificent designs. Back in the lanes, chickens doze on the street, calmed before they are strangled; sheep heads lie in the sun awaiting some chef to purchase them, various types of tripe are arrayed alongside them.

We wandered (actually were led) to a carpet dealer who, like all carpet dealers, served us tea and tried to sell us rugs. We visited a school of the oldest continuously operating university in the world, founded in the 700’s by Fatima, a woman! Next we were given mint sprigs to hold while we climbed 500 steps (well maybe not quite) to overlook the tannery where hides are prepared and dyed; the mint was to disguise the smell of the processes - and we needed it. Then off to a tile manufacturer whose artisans clipped small shapes from tiles to use in designs, and a potter where we acquired some wonderful vases .

After another tagine lunch we went to the Jewish quarter and its synagogues. Morocco prides itself on its diversity and full acceptance of all who live here. The country is distinctly different from other Muslim countries who are not quite so tolerant. Morocco’s broad acceptance goes back at least to the 15th century when Jews migrated here freely from Spain, where Ferdinand and Isabella expelled them during the Inquisition. The Jewish quarter in Fez was established right next to the royal palace to indicate that Jews had the protection of the King.

We love Morocco. The median strips on the highways are beautifully planted; street lights and highway lights are stunning, their artistry varies from place to place; the people are friendly and well educated and filled with humor. Last night we had dinner with a professor of English whose subject is Moroccan feminism. She is very optimistic about the recognition of women’s rights and the equal status of women in today’s community here. Tonight we ate on a rooftop next to a table of six young men celebrating one of their birthdays. Then sent us some of the cake to enjoy; we serenaded them with Happy Birthday.

Posted by HopeEakins 21:57 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

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