MOROCCO PICTURE JOURNAL MOROCCO ITINERARY MELITOUR HOME PAGE
DAY 01 CASABLANCA
DAY 03 MEKNES/VOLUBILIS / FES
DAY 04 FES
DAY 06 ERFOUD ,
DAY 7 RISSANI and MERZOUGA
DAY 8 GORGE TURDA
DAY 9 TOURUDENT
DAY 10 AGADIR ESSAOUIRA
DAY 11 ESSAOUIRA
LETA, FRED and ZE
DAY 12 MARAKESH
We met at the hotel lobby for a group meeting. Most people had arrived a day or two before the tour had started. So most every one was mentally and physically ready to go. A couple of people had arrived only few minutes before our group meeting and they were being a great sport to show no sign of exhaustion. Though it was November, the weather was perfect - bright, sunny and yet not too hot. Our first stop was the Muhammed the 2nd's Mosque, the 3rd largest mosque in the world. One hundred thousand people can pray here at one time. The mosque works only on Fridays and on Moslem Holidays. Therefore, it felt more like a wonderful art gallery of artists of various craftsmen rather than a spiritual location. While we were all admiring the intricate plasters, mosaics, the marble and the woodwork , an old lady had walked in to the mosque. Our attention was immediately converted towards this lady. This reminded me the wonderful teaching of Celalettin RUMI - Turkish Mystic Sufi who had defined human beings as " Master piece of perfect art". Yes, at that moment , none of the extra ordinary art work could rival the beauty of this lady who was welcoming us to her mosque with a big smile. We have climbed down the steps to the lower floors of the mosque where there were huge pools, flower shaped fountains for ablution and room upon room Turkish bath which best can be described as images we tend to picture when we think of the "1001 and Arabian Night Stories". But none of what we have seen was as interesting as the lecture Haci - our Moroccan guide gave on how to use the Turkish toilette - the hole in the ground. Islam preaches cleanliness as one of the most important factors of faith. Five times a day, before each prayer, every Moslem has to wash their feet, arms, neck, face, mouth and nose. This washing ritual is called ablution. In this hall of ablution one thousand people at one time can fulfill their washing ritual. After we left the Mosque , we went to lunch on the Atlantic Ocean. The bunkers on the beach were constant reminder of the French invasion of this country in 1912. Lunch was a light salad and fish, fresh from the ocean. Our restaurant was on the shore where in 1942, one hundred thousand US soldiers had landed Africa. Some of our tour members took a walk by the water and reported that the ocean was not cold and suggested that next time to make time for swimming. Our next stop was a Catholic Cathedral which still has a congregation of about 500 people. The stained glass windows were telling stories from the Bible. One tour member pointed out to the bonnets the female images were wearing. We all wondered who the artist was and why he was putting this contemporary garment design when describing Biblical images.
We droved in
the residential neighborhoods, through the Jewish quarters of Casablanca,
admired the vibrant colored flowers in the gardens and the creative
architecture. On this ride every other fabulous bulding was the palace of
one king of the Arab world or the other. We were told that the kings, like
the king of Saudi Arabia, Dubai.. would not visit their homes often but
when they do, each time they come with a different set of hundreds of
women in their harem.
The end of the day was a nice little
walk in the Medina. Medina is the walled neighborhood of a big city
where people lived, did their trade and had their work shops for all the
crafts that we are now admiring. The Arabic word "medeniyet" "
civilization, had derived from the word MEDINE.
As we were walking under the arches of the white washed streets of the Medina, we got invited to visit one of the houses. The house was built around a big hall with a glass roof. There were no windows opening to the street but plenty light inside. The 80 year old mother was praying when 23 of us had "invaded" her house. She did not look like disturbed at all. In fact when her prayer was over, she gave us a very welcoming smile. those who were on other MELITOUR tours commented on this visit being a MELITOUR slant to our tour.
The olive market, the carpet auction alley and the political party banners on the street walls were the highlights of this short visit to the Medina. On the street walls, there were numbered rectangles drawn. We found out that the 23 political parties of Morocco had these places allocated for their banners and propaganda material. The one that stroked us all was a oil lamp with an Islamic Cresent. Our guide said that Most of those who had voted for this party would have been illiterate. that was why there was nothing written on the propaganda poster. Thank goodness this party did not make it in the elections but even just seeing their presence made us have goose bumps. We have completed our day with an excellent chicken tagine dinner at a restaurant not too far from our hotel. Some tour members preferred walking back to the hotel. For dinner to night we went to a nice little restaurant. The group had appreciated the place since there was not one else at the restaurant, we did not have to worry about the cigarette smoke. We had an excellent vegetable soup, lemon chicken tagine and ice cream. All of us especially those who had arrived that morning were ready to go to sleep. Before 09:00 pm we were all sound a sleep.
To beat the Monday morning traffic, we left the hotel at 07:30. Driving along the ocean we have seen the summer homes of the rich Moroccons who live inland Morocco. Our guide must be very impressed with these summer homes. He knew which house had how many tennis courts, how many swimming pools and how many square meter some of the bigger houses were. After a nice little town - Muhammediya, and lots of praises for the Mayor's hard work for the environmental issues, we were now in the country side. Expecting nothing extra ordinary on the way to Rabat, we have decided that the group members will introduce them selves and tell us briefly who they were and why they wanted to visit Morocco. Before we could hear the fourth or fifth person, few people on the bus like a chorus started screaming "tents - tents". The bus stopped, we all got out to see what was going on. Soon we found out that, it was a holiday and horse races were the usual entertainment for the rural areas in Morocco. Instantly the whole group was out in the fields walking among the horses and the beautiful Berber tents. The horses were being prepared for the big spectacle. They were being washed and trimmed.
The Barber man was in his traditional costume was getting ready to have a nice profitable day selling water. When we finally got back on the bus, all of us were trying to re live the event looking at our pictures. We could take our eyes off our cameras only when Haci announced that we were passing by one of many palaces of the king. The beautiful gardens along the road either belonged to the king, or to his sisters or brothers. Though the king uses these houses very seldom, we were told that hundreds of care takers work daily to up keep the palace . None of us were impressed by this ostentatious life style. However, It sounded like, for the Moroccans, this is not some thing to be offended by.
Our next stop was a tea house along the road on the ocean side. Since it was holiday, they did not have their regular work team. Ordering tea and coffee took more than we had planned for. In spite of the hassle of ordering the drinks, the stop was much appreciated. We have already started getting addicted to the famous Moroccan mint tea.
This was going to be our first Caspa - walled city - visit. We did not know what to expect. Through the huge 12th century gate we walked in to the narrow streets of this blue and white world. The impression we got was that the ocean and the white surfs and sea gulls at the foot of the caspa must have been the source of inspiration for the colors used in this mini town. The cats were enjoying the sun. The group got divided in to two. Those who wanted to spend more time on photography chose to follow Haci while the others made a post card / poster shop very happy. While we were appreciating the shade of the bright colored begonvilias. the weavers enjoyed stopping at the local carpet weaving center. Though it was a holiday, there were 3 ladies working on their looms. They said that the weaving workshop is a communal space. They weave only for them selves not to sell. When eventually we all gathered together, we found our selves in a wonderful garden. Our time in the caspa flew. We were left with the wonderful impressions of blue and white.
We have decided to get to our restaurant by the ocean before the holiday crowds of the locals took over. Fried fish, calamari and delicious shrimp served in huge plates looked very inviting . We had all enjoyed the picture journal of Rain. While we are all trying to take photographs, she , she is drawing , painting and making an excellent artistic report of our tour. After lunch we had a short walk around the Medina. Since we had spent so much time at the tents looking at the horses, the group had agreed that we could visit the souk but not spare time for shopping. Every one was supportive of this suggestion and in half an hour, like a miracle we could get out of the huge market.
Since it was a holiday, the streets around the souk were not very crowded. The ladies spotted the few jewelry shops. Others were admiring the wood work. Since there were no other tourist we were center of attention. Few men sitting by the fountain were following us by their eyes, ready to jump up should any one of us approached his shop.
In Casablanca we have seen few iron work. But the huge iron arch way covering the souk was really the first dramatic work that stroked us. Not knowing that through out the tour, we would continuously admire their craftsmanship for bending and twisting the iron, we all had our cameras pointing to the arch way and clicking it from every possible angle..
The Moroccan King ./Muhammed the 2nd after he built the world famous mosques in south of Spain, he wanted to built similar but larger mosque in his own country and started building this mosque in the 12th Century. However, he could not live long enough to get his dream come true. His successors were not interested in the project. They just buried him in a breath taking wonderful tomb. The hundreds of unfinished pillars still standing as a reminder of his passion of being the "greatest". The Moroccan King today still keeps his soldiers on their horses at the gate of this as a sign of respect to his great grand father from 800 years before our time.
Our road to Meknes meandered through one of the biggest cork forests of the world. Though the cork industry had lost its popularity since wine producers started using the screw on tops tin stead of the good old corks for their wine bottles, we could see miles and miles of harvested cork trees looking naked with their red trunks.
A half an hour before we arrived our final destination for the day - Meknes, We saw an unusual activity going around a goat - hair, black tent and a dozen horses. We immediately stopped the bus and as if we knew that if we did not get there in few seconds, we might miss a great experience, we started running towards the tent. There were at least 30 people. 8-10 of them on beautifully dressed horses. The riders were both men and women. they were all carrying guns. there was a huge bun fire in the back. The flames and smoke was reaching the sky which was covered with fire color clouds. While we were trying to find out what the occasion was, the horse men started galloping their horses and shooting in the air. This was their holiday entertainment. We were very welcome and we could not refuse their offer and did pose with their huge guns. We finally arrived at Meknes. It was a wonderful day.
The very inviting
looking pool of our hotel turned out to be a disappointment when the tour
members stripped in to their swimming suits and dropped them selves in the
lapis color water. It was as cold as a well chilled white wine. So quickly
every body knew that
When we arrived at our next stop at 09:00 am sharp, we were hoping to be the first group to go in. Because we knew that what we want to see was going to be a photographic spectacle. The gates were not open yet. the man who had the keeps got caught in traffic and was going to be 10 minutes late. When we saw another group approaching the gate, we thought we better stand in line and ignore all the other photo ops around us not to miss our chance of having this place to our selves at least for few minutes. Moullah Ismail of the 18th Century was an interesting character of the Moroccan history. He had 61 wives and his heart was still calling for another lady - an important one- the daughter of his foe, the king of France, Luis the 14th. He was refused. This King had also passion for horses. For the 12000 horses that he owned, he had built this magnificent stable and from a distance of 20 miles, he had brought water through and underground channel and created a little dam lake to be able to water his beloved Arabian Horses. The roof of the stables were gone in an earth quake but the Olive trees growing at where once the roof was are still casting shadow to the isles where the horses would have been taken care of with immaculate care.
Moullah Ismail's Mosque has a huge portal. Two halls lead to an open court yard which like all the other court yards that we have seen in Morocco decorated with a fountain.The sundial on the wall was pointing to 10.00 am which was exactly the time we have entered this mosque. In front of the Mihrap, Haci had demonstrated how Moslems pray. The aesthetics of the craftsmanship for all of the architectural elements were breath taking. We had agreed on visiting a museum that was not on our itinerary instead of shopping time. So we started walking to the souk of Meknes through narrow streets and only stopped to take the pictures of the men carding wool and making huge mattresses.
The fine arts Museum at the old square
of Meknes was a 18th century palace which was built for the vezeir
prime minister of the King of the time. Soon after the palace was
completed, he got sick and moved out
of Meknes. The palace was not used
until it was renovated to be used as a museum. The garden reminded
us all the "Garden of Eden" . The caftans, embroidered belts, jewelry,
hand written books, pottery, mosaics,stained glass, brass, wood work,
flowers, trees every thing was beautiful. he beauty that was surrounding
us was no longer a surprise
On the left, the harem of the palace, on the right the restaurant where we had lunch. The craftsmanship might vary a little bit, but the style and the beauty is always there.
Those who went to the souk found the yarn, silk, trims and wool. Those who chose to wait in line to get their money changed, found out that the banks in Morocco are not the most efficient working places. After lunch we started to drive east to visit a roman city. Volibulis was the biggest of the Roman cities built in Morocco. The name of the city meant "Morning glory" it certainly is a glorious city. There are innumerable houses with huge pools, mosaics and beautifully carved pillars. The Basilica, the Temple of Jupiter and the Gate of Caracalla and Julia Domna reflects the glory of the 2nd Century of the Roman empire. The cacti on either side of the road had bright red fruits. Still under the affect of Volibulis, I thought they could have been the torches from the city streets trying to show us the right way as the sun was disappearing in the brown and green valley. We arrived at Fes after sun set. The ud recital at the restaurant where we had dinner was a nice touch of the Arabic music.
We started the day
am. Three people in the group
decided to take a rest. There were 19 people
streets of the souk were full of
The donkeys were the only
mean of transportation and they
have the right
a way. When we heard the drivers of the donkeys shout BALLAK!!! we
quickly learned that not to get run over,
we had to give a way to the
When we entered the tannery, we were all given a generous bouquet of mint so we could cope with the smell. In spite of the horrible smell, the colors of the leather being died were so amazing, we thought it was absolutely worth the time to visit the place.
The tile and mosaic production center was our next destination. As we approached the out skirts of Fes, we saw that the blue sky is hiding behind the dark black smoke. The kilns were on and more of these irresistible wonders were being fired. When we left the kilns, I am sure every one was asking what other way can Man control nature to create such beauty? Our day was full but for our early morning departure the next day, every body went to bed early with a big smile on their face.
We fed the dogs. We fed the apes. We hugged the people. But none of what we did changed the reality of the fact that life here was very difficult and these people were facing the difficulty with grace . They have accepted it to be their destiny and learned to live with it.
Along the side of the road couple of hundred yards away from the highway, we saw a black tent. Off we came from the bus. we were hoping that we can visit the tent and have a chat with the owners. But there were few dogs and no people. We still thought we could check the tent out. There were empty water containers, hardly any thing in the tent except couple of carpets on the floor and no sign of life. In this very lonely and poor looking surrounding, we were all mesmerized to see that there was a 'tree of life " painted on the wall.
We had a wonderful sleep at our excellent hotel. After yesterday's long ride, we had the well deserved excellent buffet dinner. Now we were all ready to get on the Land rovers and start our adventure in the Sahara. The plan for the day was to stop at the tent of a Berber family, have our picnic lunch at their tent, learn about what it meant to be a nomad Berber in the desert and have a superb finale for the the day with a camel ride in to the sand dunes.
The plan had to be immaculate so we would not miss the sun set.
The first stop was the souk of Erfoud. The tour members had organized a shopping list for the Barber family that we were going to visit. We had decided to bring the family noting that they them selves could not buy. Some ran to the drug store and got ointments, aspirin, tooth brushes and tooth paste. Some bought water, beans, spices. Some came to the bus with bags of bread and laundry soap. When we loaded our night bags and our picnic lunch and of course the gifts purchased for the family, the caravan of land rovers took off in to the red sand of Sahara desert. We could see mirage in the distance. It looked like there was an ocean. We were so lucky not to have to run after a mirage to get a drop of water. We all had our bottles of water as our most precious carry on.
Our first stop was at a place which was once, millions years ago was the basin of the evaporating ocean. The fossils of shelled fish were all piled on top of each other now petrified in rocks created a wonder of nature. The desert people had made these fossils as their capital. Every shelled fish was meticulously taken out of the rock bed and had become necklace, bracelet, plate, table top, basin, and many more things. As soon as we arrived at the fossil bed, we were surrounded by the children who appeared from the middle of no where and created a little souk for us.
When we arrived at the Barber tent we found the women hard at work. One of them was grinding wheat, the other spinning wool and the young woman was feeding the goats.
The cameras were clicking constantly. The goats were cute, the faces of the woman were so photogenic, the weaving of the goat hair tent was so well done, the loom had such a colorful carpet.... We had so many reasons to shoot pictures. But some one had to keep the time. We had to be on the camels for our caravan ride no later than 04:00 pm. So finally we calmed down, settled in the shade of the black tent, unpacked our picnic lunch. Weather it was the excitement or the heat, no body could finish their meal. We carefully assorted the chicken, rice, fruit, the yogurt and gave them to the family. We hoped they could have a nice feast that evening.
We made it to the hotel in time. The
Camels and their happy looking owners were waiting for us.
Those who chose to sleep in the tents woke up early to watch the sun rise. The sound of the birds and the moaning of the camels were the best wake up call they could have n the desert. The breakfast was a bit of challenge with the Israeli group. Each tour member was claiming enough food for five people. My group did not know how to meander between the elbows keeping them off the buffet table. But the group said, where there is a will there is a way and they ended up having pretty good breakfast. We had started making plans how to beat this group to dinner that evening.
We took our land rovers to the next town to visit the House of the Tuareg Family. We were given a wonderful lecture on who Tuaregs were. What they did historically and we had a chance to see from swords to drums , from small boo boos to excellent kilims and carpets the work of art of the Tuaregs. Those who wanted to shop got lost in innumerable rooms trying to pick the riches of the Tuaregs for their own private c ollections. When every one was done, credit cards signed, it was time for more mint tea and drumming. The rest of the day was back at our wonderful hotel at the sand dunes. Most of the ladies enjoyed the argan oil as their masseur worked the oil in to their skin all over their body.
Today we are driving west bound to Quarzazette. Along the way we saw camels proudly nursing their babies, a breath taking gorge and innumerable caspas.
Our meals were always fun. We were
always trying to figure out what spices were used. Every one's favorite
dish was the lentil soup that we were served on this day. The gorge was a popular destination
for the European tourists and mountain climbers. The barber woman
carrying water in plastic containers on donkey backs became an excellent
picture with the great back drop of the gorge. When we all got back to
the bus, t was time for a quiet time and a good nap.
We started our day walking through the streets of the caspa. The stork nest was the biggest one any one of us had ever seen. The houses were very much a like. They had God ( ALLAH ) and the Hand of Fatima protecting them. From the small windows we had beautiful faces looking at us. The houses of the big land lord were so very decorated it seemed like they were trying to make up for the simplicity of the houses of the commons. The houses were generally built around a court yard with high walls cutting the contact of the house from the out side world. In villages there was generally a color scheme for the whole village. the houses would either be painted brown, red, pink, safran yellow but in the casbahs the sun dried mud brick walls were only covered with more mud.
These women were not allowing their pictures to be taken in the previous years. There is some thing changing in Morocco
We had all heard or have seen pictures of the Argan trees and the goats who feed on the argan fruit. Just before we arrived at Tourudent, we finally saw the Argan forest and goats happily grazing on the trees. The light was not good for photos but we still did not want the opportunity. The group was very wonderful. We were all very quiet not to scare the goats and took many pictures.
The hotel tonight was a great surprise for every one. A former palace with a stunning garden.
We are going to leave at 10:00 tomorrow morning so every one can enjoy the garden and hopefully catch up with their journal.
Tonight we can catch up with the news as well. Our TV in our rooms had BBC on. Pakistan is still having problems. In Bangladesh, they are expecting a deadly storm.
It is only 100 miles to Agadir. By noon we arrive at this brand new cty which was totally rebuilt after the earthquake in the 60s. Haci's daughter and her family are living in Agadir. They will meet us at the restaurant. The reunion of the family was wonderful. Yasemin, Haci's grand daughter came with a bouquet of red roses and gave each one of us one rose with a big smile. The see food platters were very delicious and they were presented like a work of art. After a short stop at the local market, we started our long ride to our next destination. The road to Assiuora was a long one and we were all anxious to get to this little city for our 2 night stay. We did make a stop on the beach to wet our feet n the Atlantic ocean. We were all very tred when we finally reached our hotel which was the hotel used as a set of the famous movie by Orsen wells.
by the Portuguese as a harbor for slave trade in the 16th century, The
fortified city is the only reminder of the grim past of the city. Of all
the Moroccan sites, this is the most cheerful one. The wonderful beach
that stretches along the city is a haven for the sea gulls and camels,
not to mention the para-gliders, and the fishermen chasing crab. The
fisherman's marina is lined with blue painted boats . One wonder why they
might have chosen the color of the ocean to paint these boats. Could they
be hiding in the ocean once they
rowed their boats
out of the harbor?? The square of the city is lined with many
little fish restaurants. We will have the tour members be on their own for
lunch to day so they can choose what delicious food they might want. Your
choices can be shrimp, crab, various unusual fish just caught in the
ocean. The market has some very interesting shops.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANITA!
We left this beautiful city after a feast of fish. The frst stop pn the way to Marakesh was at the Argan Oil cooperative.
We learned all about the magic of this oil used for cooking, used as cosmetic, used as food. We have done a good job supporting the cooperative. Every one was saying that that s it they will no longer have wrinkles.
We arrived at Marakesh at 05:00. the check in was a desaster. It took us a good one hour to check in. The group was still being excellent. They were very supportive of Haci and me trying to resolve the problem the desk was having.
We spent the rest of the evening at the big, magical square of Marakesh. Every one went their way to experience an excellent dinner on their own. We have already made the plan for departure. Every one was gong back on a different day, at a different time and 5 people were staying for the cooking class. When t is time to discuss the air port transfers, that means the tour is over but we did have one more full day tomorrow. It will be THE day at the Marakesh souk.
All but one was ready to charge the Souk this morning. The plan was to go to the museum and the spice market as a group and then every body was to find their own way back to the hotel.
The Grand finale was at a great restaurant with a candle light dinner.
HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL AGAIN!!