A Travellerspoint blog

"Are you sure this place is honest?

...honest as the day is long.....

The journey of "1000 Kasbahs" continues to Marrakesh today but first we make time to visit Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Ksar-or fortified city..along a former caravan route. I can actually feel the time warp in this country...the feeling of history and times past is still present here. I cannot really explain it....very little feels like the 21st century in these parts of Morocco. The kasbahs and mazes are enticing...I just want to go wandering. We bought a drawing from this artist who adds honey to his paint and then....with a flame h heats the drawing until the sugared paint caramelizes and accents the the artwork. Very cool!

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Over the Tischka mountain pass we go. The day starts off bright and sunny but along the way we encounter some dreary and rainy weather.... its a good day for the long drive. In some areas the landscape reminds me of the pyramids of spices we see at the souks...various mountains of color! Beautiful!

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We arrive in Marrakesh! Do's and don'ts:

Don't accept directions or help from anyone without asking how much they're charging first.
There are no favors here.
You MUST pay for photos.
Agree to no more than 2 Dirham for the photos before taking the photo.
Pay when done.

I was told this and did not realize how aggressive these vendors are. A another traveller and I had our 2 Dirham in our hands which we showed the guy. He nodded and said "yes, yes" and grabbed us by the arms and practically threw his monkey on our shoulders. The monkey seemed very stressed, had a chain on it and was hissing. The man was rushing "take photo, take photo..!" So we rushed and took the photo since we were intimidated by him and the monkey. Then he said $10 US ! We said "you agreed..2 Dirham! ". He kept saying $10 US and was angry. We gave him the $10 and then he said "each"! At that point we should have walked away but he grabbed us by the arm and yelled "$10 US each!" We were so nervous about this experience that we paid him and ran....with him shouting after us "I love Americans!" We told Mohammed who said if that happens again, take his photo and say you are going to the police. They will back off. He said be firm and serious with a negative response...a strong "NO!" usually works.

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That little experience taught us both a lesson.

We headed back to the hotel for a nice dinner and much needed rest.

Posted by Linda Fluckiger 09:33 Archived in Morocco Tagged restaurant ben lotus ait haddou marrachesh Comments (0)

"Castle in the Sand"

..."they shoot movies....dont they".....

sunny

My internal alarm clock goes off automatically. I never heard the clapping, I make my way out of the tent and sport some camels heading out to the desert. I make my way up the sand dune and start to see a few others heading to a high spot for some photos of the sunrise. Dawn is just breaking.

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A few more minutes and "here comes the sun🎶"...

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After breakfast we continue on our long ride today over the Atlas Mountains to the Todra Gorge. Not only do the tourists visit but the locals know how to enjoy the spectacular beauty in their own back yard. This gorge is a deep ravine carved by the Todra River over millions of years.

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The drive continues and we see acres of sand hills which turn out to be wells. The villagers come to get drinking water here and have to use one of of these water wheels to retrieve it.

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We make a stop in a small village and listen to some Gnaua music. The traditional instruments are very interesting and produce very cool sounds!

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Roses are a natural in Dades Valley which is our next stop. They are profuse bloomers in the spring. They put the petals to good use by making lotions, creams, perfumes and oils and rose water which provides an income for the locals.

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Atlas Films has their studio here and many films were produced in this area. Lawrence of Arabia and Game of Thrones are just two of the popular movies filmed in this area.

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We arrive at our hotel ....which is a beauty!

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Posted by Linda Fluckiger 11:01 Archived in Morocco Tagged hotel valley studios gorge ben atlas ait haddou todra dades ain't Comments (0)

"Midnight at the Oasis...."

.....send your camels to bed 🎶🐫🐫

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Our day begins with a visit to a small town on the edge of the Sahara. The town is called Rissani. Near this town a huge area of fossils were discovered which has become the main activity in this area. This town also has a 17th century Ksar (Castle) . We wander the souk (they are all quite different) then move on to another desert town named Sijilmasa which was once a bustling Berber city and medieval trade depot. We stop at a local bread shop and see how the popular Moroccan bread is made. We learn that the Tuareg people are a large Berber ethnic group. They inhabit the Sahara dessert. Traditionally, they are nomadic. They have been called the "blue people" for the indigo-dye colored clothes they traditionally wear and which stains their skin blue.

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We head back to the hotel for lunch and pack a change of clothes for our adventure into the Sahara. We pile into 4x4 vehicles which take us out to the desert. On the way we stop at a Berber tent for tea and to experience this way of life. Its a simple and hard life. They are on the move constantly....carrying ALL of their belongings with them. They move either from weather conditions, theft, work supply needs...what have you. See for yourself:

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We've all been excited about today's adventure...camel trekking and camping in the dessert. Our time has come. We arrive at our "camp" and are immediately invited for tea and cookies. We are paired up with our camels "Bob Marley" and "Jimi Hendrix" and our camel handleor's...Abdul and Imir. We ride out to the dunes with about 100 others excited to watch the sunset in the desert. We walk up to overlook the desert. Imir puts down a blanket on the crest of a large sand dune where we sit and wait for the sunset. There are lots of people who come to have this experience. The view is breathtaking and the excitement in the air is palpable. Everyone is thrilled to be here. Imir is entertaining and speaks a little English...he makes sand drawings, writes our names in Arabic and introduces us to two sand lizards.

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The sun sets. I am one with the universe. We all head back to our camels and the "camel train" returns to camp.

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We are greeted by the band as we enter our "luxury campsite" for tonight. These are Gnaua musicians and they play traditional instruments, (lots of drumming) and there is even a twirling dervish who spins around with his tray of "Moroccan Whiskey"-filled glasses and doesn't drop any.

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Dinner is delicious including the bottle of champagne I brought with especially for this occasion. We eat, drink and laugh for hours. I venture out with a few others for some night shots of the campground and the starry-night sky. We were told if we had an interest in the morning, they would wake us up early with some clapping and those of us who wished to go could walk the dunes and watch the sunrise. You know I opted in!....and Rick....will be sleeping in.

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www.Bivouac La Belle Etoile, Merzouga

Posted by Linda Fluckiger 10:21 Archived in Morocco Comments (2)

Where is my heart?

Chicken Tajine

overcast

As we assemble in the lobby after breakfast, we are thanked by the hotel staff. The men in our group receive Fez hats and the women are each given a scarf. What a nice gesture! We even received Moroccan slippers in our rooms. We ate the Tagine like we never ate before and drank the "Moroccan Whiskey" like nobody's business. We took in the medina, the tannery, the souks, the carpets and enjoyed it all. The colors, textures, landscape, aromas...it's all very Moroccan!

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We depart Fez and start our drive thru Morocco's Middle Atlas Mountains stopping for a coffee (Nos-nos) which is a Moroccan cappucino and quite good. Our stop is in the ski resort town of Ifrane, a small town with a European ambiance. During our ride we cross the 6000 ft pass toward the Sahara which is where we are also entertained with Mohammed's jokes and a CD with Singing in the Rain, Moon River and Where is my heart. We ask for a Moroccan CD to be played. We want the real experience.

Mohammed says:

There is a mother who is very, very old and who has three sons. It is her birthday. The three sons get together and try to come up with a gift for their mother but cannot agree on one to buy for her. Each son decides to buy his own. The first son says he is buying her a beautiful house with a swimming pool and will have it all decorated to her liking. The second son says he is buying her a new car so she will have something fancy to drive around in. The third son decides to buy her a bird and will teach it to recite the entire Qur'an so she is comforted and has company in her old age. Days later the mother invites the sons for tea and says to son #1..."I'm am disappointed in you my son". "Why?" he asks, confused. " You bought me a big, beautiful house and one I cannot care for. You don't don't know me at all. To son #2...the mother says "what on earth were you thinking? I am too old to drive, I cannot even see very well anymore." This is a terrible gift for me. You disappoint me. You don't know me at all!" Son #3 has spent much time training the parrot to recite the Qur'an. He is excited to present his gift to his mother. He knows she will be pleased. The mother says..." Son...you make me very happy. You know just what I need and what brings me the most joy." The son is thrilled. The mother then says, " The chicken was delicious!. "

Here's that Chicken Tagine recipe if you're interested!

CHICKEN TAGINE

Tagine of chicken is simply means a stew cooked in a special kind of pot with Mediterranean spices and preserved lemons. You don't need the pot, a casserole dish will do, but you do need the preserved lemons.

The recipe is not difficult and is really juist home cooking Moroccan style. While using a tagine (a cooking pot with a conical lid) makes it more authentic, it is by no means essential. The dish works very well cooked on top of the stove in a saucepan, if that is all you have.

Preserved lemons can be bought in the better deli's these days and you can also make your own. In the absence of either, you could use fresh lemon juice and the pared skin cut into strips but its nowhere near as good.

Moroccan cooks would use a whole chicken for this recipe cut into individual joints. You can do the same but I've simplified that a little by using chicken thigh joints instead.

For 4, you need:

9 chicken thigh joints, skinned but bone in
1/4 c cold stock or water
1 onion, chopped
2 crushed cloves of garlic
1/2 T of paprika
1/2 T of cumin
pinch saffron
2 T chopped cilantro leaves
2T chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2T olive oil
1 T clarified butter
l preserved lemon, chopped
2 potatoes, cut into wedges
2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the stock, onion, garlic, paprika, cumin, saffron, cilantro, parsley, salt and pepper in a food-safe plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight.

Drain the chicken and discard the marinade

In a heavy bottomed pot, saute the chicken in the oil and butter until browned. Add the potatoes, preserved lemon, tomatoes and enough water or stock to just over the chicken. Gently simmer with the lid on for a further 30 minutes, remove meat and vegetables and rapidly reduce the cooking juices by half.

Arrange the meat and vegetables on a warm serving dish and spoon sauce over them. Garnish with fresh cilantro, olives and fresh lemon wedges. Serve with rice or couscous and a green vegetable such as spinach.

Enjoy.

We are on the Kasbah route also known as "The way of the thousand Kasbahs". There is a large palmery here which produces three varieties of dates. These dates thrive here...they love their "heads in the sun, feet in the water". The houses( kasbahs) are interesting since many are in poor shape due to the winds and rains that time has taken on them over the years. These kasbahs are made of mud and hay and can only hold up for so long...they are then rebuilt . Many that we see are situated on an Oasis. Amazing scenery and so many interesting facts regarding not only this area but everything we've seen so far.

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We arrive at our Kasbah in Erfoud. Another Moroccan spectacular complete with camels!

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Time to pack up a small overnite bag for our camping trip and a good nights sleep!

www.Kasbah Xaluc Maadid

Posted by Linda Fluckiger 12:29 Archived in Morocco Tagged mountains oasis chicken middle atlas tagine dates kasbah kasbahs erfoud xaluc maadid Comments (0)

Magic carpet ride

explore....

sunny 75 °F

Touring the medina in Fez today is something we've been looking forward to. Lots to see and what makes it even more exciting is the fact that there is no traffic. No cars allowed! We enter thru the Bab Boujloud a.k.a. "Blue Gate" and visit the Al Bou Inania Madrasa which is a mid-evil educational institute and a mosque.

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We have no cars but mules are allowed. The sights and smells are stimulating the senses. No stop to Fez is complete without visiting the carpet quarter of the medina. Here's a noteworthy fact: If travelling to Fez to see the carpets and the tannery and anything else in the medina...be forewarned: the vendors are aggressive. Again.....AGRESSIVE VENDORS. They won't stop until you are out of the medina. Just an fyi. I was told about this fact, read about it, you tubed it, and thought...no problem. Don't get me wrong, I had no problem but I did not expect the persistent attempts to get us to purchase. This is not your typical shopping experience. Don't pick anything up or you'll be followed and constantly asked how much you want to pay. You can say no a million times, they don't take no for an answer.

Here's a little story...we enter an area where they make carpets ... they are beautiful and colorful. "Welcome!"....and here comes the "Moroccan Whiskey" and the spiel. "All of our rugs are handmade (which they are and they are gorgeous), we have Berber and Moroccan carpets, we have all sizes and we can ship or you can take with you. We package them to carry on plane." Then they start rolling out the different types and sizes.... and the colors and designs are dazzling. I'm loving the "show". When my father travelled to Morocco many years ago, he bought two carpets which I now have in my home. (He was an easy target and knowing him...paid top dollar and did not bargain), so, nonetheless, I don't have the room for any more at the moment. Not that I wouldn't have loved to buy a few but I had no need.

There are different rooms which are offset from the main room from which we are in at the moment. Several men come to each of us and tell us to follow them to come and see the different rugs and colors etc. Rick disappears (don't know where he went). A gentleman comes over to me and introduces himself as Hassan and tells me to follow him to see the "magic carpets". I laugh and tell him I am in no need of a carpet and proceed to tell him the story of my dad and the carpets he had purchased. (I look around for Rick..no Rick in site) The story doesnt dissuade him from trying again...and again, I repeat the story. Nope...not working...still wants me to come and see the "magic". I'm fine and stay planted right where I am.

Here comes the "backup brigade", as I call them. Two more guys come out and join Hassan and now they are rolling out carpets in front of me. After about 10 carpets, (Rick appears) I thank them very much and ask if we can walk around and take some photos. Lots of Arabic going on to which I realize how little I learned. " Of course, you are welcome! More mint tea?" "No thank you, we will just wander and wait for the others." I say. Rick and I start wandering around taking photos and Hassan mentions that we can look over the city by taking the stairs to the roof. We do, take a few more photos and head back downstairs. Finally everyone starts filtering into the main room once again where we join them. We have a seat and guess who comes over again? Hassan. "How about a beautiful wall hanging?" Luckily our tour guide was ready to move us along to the tannery. Lots to see on this tour yet.

Well, I did love the place and the carpets...here are a few photos:

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We continue thru the medina and head to the Chouara Tannery where we see how leather is cut and dyed using traditional techniques. On the way, people are walking around handing out mint because as you get closer the smell hits you hard. We are told to crush it in our hands and hold it against our noses. (I can't imagine how strong this is in the summer.) It was pungent in Spring and it was only 70-80 degrees. Apparently, the locals collect chicken poop and sell it to the tannery to strip the hides of all the hair from the camels, goats, cows. The hides are then put into vats of dyes. It is quite a site:

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Of course you can also buy anything and everything made of leather and at very good prices.

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Making our way thru the medina we stop at another gem, the Nejjarine Museum which is home to a collection of wooden arts and crafts before stopping for lunch.

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We stop at the Jewish Quarter (mellah) and visit a Jewish cemetery which was built in 1438. The dead are not buried. They remain above ground so their transition to the next life is easier.

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I had read about Hammams before I came to Morocco and was dying to have the experience....just because when in Morocco...do as the Moroccans...

Hammam is a Moroccan spa....so to speak. I've never heard of it before I planned this trip. Maybe you have. In my opinion, it is a "must-do".
Each hammam experience is slightly different. I knew I wanted to try this so first thing this morning, I made arrangements so I could go to the hammam when we returned from our tour. It would take about an hour and a half. Good! Nice relaxing way to end a full day in a dusty medina.
I'm escorted to the "hot room" by a woman... floor to ceiling maroon marble and a marble well filled with water. There also seems to be a marble ledge for sitting with a leather mat on it....and lots of steam. She doesn't speak English, of course...so hand signals and body language have to be our mode of communication. She gestures to undress. I do, and so far...so good. She gives me a few more signals and ...OH! I get it....everything off! OK. Well...the room is very steamy and I can hardly see her anyway so,... ok. That means she can't see me either...good thing. She instructs me to sit and as I do she takes a large bowl with hot water from the well and dumps it on me. She starts dumping more and more and throwing the water so fast I start holding my breath. It is hard to breath without getting water in my mouth which I now start to think about. We cannpt drink the water in Morocco so I'm doing all I can to breath through my nose but this is feeling like a workout. The water is hot and coming on strong.
After about 10 minutes of this, she gently pushes me and says something in Arabic, then French which I understand to mean: lie down. I do that.

She has another bowl with a black gel-like soap in it. She holds the bowl for me to see and says "savon beldi" and nods. So I nod. Yes, sure, why not. I have no idea what is going on but how bad can it be. She rubs this gel all over me and I can see I'm black. She takes my arm and I flip over and now I'm sliding off the leather mat. I get myself positioned where I feel motionless and she indicates for me to take a deep breath. I do and she leaves the room for another 10 minutes. I think I'm supposed to be relaxing which I am in a way but...I'm wondering whats next. Curiosity killed my relaxation time and replaced it with anticipation.

In she comes and has me sit up. Here come the bowls of hot water again. All of the "savon beldi" gets rinsed off. Now... the interesting part. She has a mitt in her hand which is an exfoliating mitt called a kess (I later found out) and she starts to scrub. Hard. Everywhere.
It really feels good but I'm sliding all over the place on this mat (maybe this is the magic carpet ride!) and she's trying to position me to stay put but it is slippery. I start laughing and cant stop. I'm grabbing the mat to hold myself in place but with the aggressive scrubbing ...let's just say it's impossible. She has me sit on the edge of the ledge now as she climbs behind me and starts scrubbing my scalp. My head is getting a workout too!! She shampoos and rinses with some orange-blossom scented something and then again....throws bowls of hot water. Now I'm all rinsed off and my skin is smooth. She signals for me to stand in the center of the room and I'm thinking she's getting me a towel. Its taking a few minutes and I'm standing there waiting and all of a sudden....swoooosh!!! Ice cold water comes spraying out of the ceiling and the walls. OMG! I scream and laugh and I dont even know what to do. I'm jumping around in there trying to find a spot that has no water. It stops! In she comes with a towel and a robe. When I'm ready I step out of the room and she hands me my clothes and sets me free. My skin has never felt so soft and I....have never been so relaxed. It was a real treat! Would I do it again? Absolutely!

We are invited to a local family home this evening for dinner and enjoy a delicious Chicken Tagine with all the trimmings. We are even given the recipe which I will definitely try when I get home and which I'll share with you at some point. Wonderful desserts and great conversation top off the night. The priority of daily Moroccan life is family unity whether it is lunch or dinner. It is the important part of their day to spend time together and converse about each other's daily lives and what is going on in the world.

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This was a great day!

Posted by Linda Fluckiger 07:40 Archived in Morocco Tagged museum carpet fez hammam moroccan tannery mellah chouara nejjarine Comments (1)

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