Morocco 2017 – Part 2

The trip to Morocco was September 17  (Travel) through October 2.  Part 1 of the travelogue was through September 25, and left us on the Sahara Desert.  This “Part 2” picks up on September 26.  So much to see and experience that the travelogue has been broken into two halves.

Tuesday September 26

As we left the desert we saw a Qanat – an underground tunnel to bring water from the mountains to a village miles below.  A stream on the surface would run too fast and cause erosion, and the water would likely evaporate before the destination.  Therefore the tunnel was built underground, back in the 14th Century, with a gradual slope.  It started in the mountains, where a well was dug until it reached the water table.  Then a horizontal tunnel was dug until it reached another hole to the surface, to remove construction and maintenance dirt.  And another, and another.

Qanat Shafts
These look like wells, but they are just maintenance shafts
Qanat Maintenance shaft
What’s down the holes? Not a bucket to lift water, but a carrier for the mud collected during maintenance of the Qanat
People using the water had to do their share of maintenance. Their work was timed by this leaky dish. It was filled with water, and when it had all leaked out, your shift was done.
Qanat Tunnel
Down one set of maintenance stairs, you can see the next place where the dirt can be raised out of the tunnel.

As we were driving away from the desert towards Ouarzazate (back on our bus) we came across a local date market.  There were probably over 100 farmers offering their dates from tarps on the ground.

Date Market
The dates for sale were arranged in piles by grade and type. A few vendors even had digital scales.

Along the river (hundreds of miles long) were towns such as this.  The desert is not as dry and barren as I expected.

In the north, where I was raised, we would have called these snow fences.  Keeping the wind blown desert sand off the highway is the same issue as snow in the north.  In some areas they were poured concrete, arranged in multiple rows along a curve in the road.

Sand Fence
Fence to keep the wind blown desert sand off the highway.
It was not unusual to see a shepherd tending his herd. Remove the bus on the paved highway, and it could be biblical times.

On the way to Ouarzazate we stopped to visit one of the walled cities and the Berber museum.

We also visited a Berber school, where the kids were learning the Arabic alphabet.

Berber school
The kids were taking a break, but when they went back inside, it was girls on one side and boys on the other. However if a boy misbehaved, he had to sit with the girls and vice versa

Wednesday September 27

Today we visited a home…

Outside Kitchen
It had an outside kitchen for baking and slow cooking over a wood fire
Inside Kitchen
It also had an inside kitchen with a conventional bottled gas stove, refrigerator, and other conveniences
Living Room
They also had a very traditional living room, with fine carpet on the floor and soft seats around the sides of the room.

But one of the surprises was that the stable for the donkey and other animals were part of the same house.  The animals didn’t enter or go through the residence, but the “barn” was not a separate building.

The stable was part of the house

This home was part of a farming cooperative.

They allowed us to help harvest some of their crop. I don’t know how much help we were – The lady in blue doing the work before we arrived was using two sickles, one in each hand.
They grew olives. Note how some are still green and others have ripened to black.

Salt TreeThey also had a Salt Tree like we saw on the desert farm. By including this in the feed for the livestock they do not have to have a separate salt block. The leaves/needles taste extremely salty.

Then we visited Imik Smik Women’s  Association, supported in part by our tour company.  Single or divorced women have little education and  work opportunity, so this cooperative teaches them skills and helps them find work; initially making couscous (a pasta, not a grain), bread, and pastry that they sell locally.  They let us help them (they were better without us), making cookies and couscous.

Cookies made by the cooperative “with our help.”  Making Couscous is much harder than it seems.

We then went to one of their homes nearby for lunch, and they produced traditional Berber clothing for us to try

Berber Outfits
We will never be models

One of the ladies in the coop was an expert in Henna, the semi-permanent (days, not years) tattoos common in their culture.  She applied traditional designs to all who wanted them

The Henna Artwork on folks in our party. Note the ankle also

That night we returned to Le Berbere Palace hotel.  It is located near the  huge movie studios – larger than those in Hollywood.  Countless movies have been made in Morocco, but not the movie “Casablanca” which was made in Hollywood. Therefore many props from movies were in the hotel, including this throne.

Throne in the hotel
The bearded attendant on the left is our tour guide, Halim El mansouri. The attendant on the right is a waiter from the adjacent restaurant.

Thursday September 28

Three miles west of Ouarzazate are the Atlas Corporation film studios, based on acreage, the largest in the world.

Film studio
Pick your language – Arabic or English – for the film studio and the Hotel Oscar
Atlas Film Studio
We didn’t take the studio tour, but on the outside are some of the larger props from previous films.

We continued over the high Atlas Mountains on the way to Marrakesh

High Atlas Mountains
It was a 5 hour bus trip over the High Atlas Mountains
Yes that is our two lane superhighway (okay, not super) that winds up and down across the mountains

A couple times we had to wait as construction crews cut further into the mountain then cleaned the dirt off the highway.  Remember this area gets snow in the winter, and there are almost no guardrails.

At one of the rest stops somebody offered to record proof of life on our camera.

Once in our hotel in Marrakesh we had the opportunity to explore the market.  Part is portable, set up in the Jamaa el Fna square daily, and part is permanent “souk” with alleyways between shops, providing goods for locals and tourists.

Mid-afternoon in the Marrakesh Market
Dates, Nuts, and Nougat
Olives and other “wet” foods

This was our guide’s (blue shirt) favorite vendor of orange juice – a large glass of fresh squeezed for about 43 cents (4dh).  There are dozens of orange juice vendors in the square.

Orange juice
A large glass (probably about 12 ounces) of very fresh orange juice, your personal straw but a glass glass from this vendor for 43 cents

Another vendor was selling snails cooked in a mystery broth for less than a dollar for a bowl of snails.

You may recognize some of the shirts for sale in the souk.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and others

And, of course, the Snake Charmers and other attractions of the large open Jemaa el-Fna square.  One translation of the name means “assembly of the dead” which may be related to the public executions on the plaza about 1050 AD

And of course, a young boy wearing a University of Texas Austin hat

Where did you get that hat? Turkey. In Africa Turkey is closer than Austin.

Friday September 29

One of the events of the day was exploring the huge Bahia Palace, built in the late 1900s to be the best palace in the world.

The extravagance of the artwork and architecture were amazing
Note the open large brown doors. They can be closed in the winter, leaving the smaller doors to access the hallway and outside gardens
Multiple fountains in the courtyards. Many of the rooms around the courtyard were for the dozens of concubines.
In the winter the brown shutters close the windows, and the large brown doors are closed, leaving smaller passage doors.
Lovely gardens, but if you look closely, two of the palm trees are actually cell towers.

We got an overview tour of Marrakesh in a traditional horse drawn calèche.

This is a great way to see the city, but with 4 separate carriages, our tour guide wasn’t with us!
There are a number of fountains from the period of the French occupation in the early 20th Century. In the background you can see the landmark Koutoubia minaret.

In one of the gardens our guide found an Orange leaf.  The large part of the leaf is common to all orange trees, but the two tiny leaflets near the stem are for inedible oranges – those so bitter that they can only be used to make the marmalade loved in England.

Orange leaf
At the stem end of the leaf, bottom in this picture, are two small leaflets that are the characteristic difference between eating and cooking oranges.

The landmark Koutoubia minaret is the tallest structure in Mirrakesh.  The associated mosque was not oriented correctly (pointing towards Mecca), so a new mosque was built beside the first which was 5 degrees off.  The new mosque was 10 degrees off in the other direction.

Koutoubia minaret
The structure at the top, near the traditional 3 (or more) gold balls, points towards mecca, so people can orient themselves properly for prayer.

The Saadian Tombs were built in the Saadian dynasty, 1578-1603.  The main mausoleum houses 60 graves of the royal family (and their close advisers), but was sealed off by their successor who didn’t want a reminder of his predecessor.  They were discovered in 1910 and refurbished to their previous grandeur.

Saadian Tombs
The primary tombs have Italian marble markers, and are all aligned so that the person, buried on his/her right side, faces Mecca. The tombs facing the other way are often Jewish advisers, some of whom were held in higher esteem than members of the immediate family.
The mausoleum had spectacular plaster and mosaic works
Other family members did not have a large marble marker.  About 60 people were buried inside the mausoleum
About 100 other family members and servants were buried outside
Soldiers and servants were buried outside. The grave at the back, facing the wrong way, but with a relatively large marker, must have been a highly regarded Jewish adviser.

We then visited a spice market, with a tutorial by a “pharmacist” who described the advantages of various potions, and mixtures.

Spice market
Of course, at the end of the lecture, there just happened to be potions for sale. Jenny loves her Moroccan oil.

And a visit to a rug dealer.  They showed Arab and Berber styles, with a far wider variety of colors than the largely red Syrian “oriental carpets”

Arab rugs
This is an Arab rug – Berber rugs often have fringe on all 4 sides. We even saw rugs like this on the ground in the desert. Of course, if you happened to buy one, they would arrange shipping.

Some of the rugs had designs that were not the semi-regular patterns

Moroccan designs and colors in the hand-woven rugs

Saturday September 30

A free day but most of our group chose to visit the Majorelle Garden, created and maintained by artist Jacques Majorelle for about 40 years stating in 1923.  By the 1980s the property was run down, and was purchased by designers Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who worked to restore it, and ultimately opened it to the public with an entrance fee to support the maintenance of the garden.  The villa that was Majorelle’s home has become an Islamic Art Museum and a Berber museum.

Cactus are not common in Morocco, but are a major feature of this garden
The cactus came in all shapes and sizes
Jenny was impressed with a Jade plant as large as she is
There are a number of water features
Jenny was amazed by the white bougainvillea
YSL monument
There was a modest memorial to Yves Saint-Laurent, one time owner of the garden. His ashes are scattered in the garden.

As we left the garden we encountered some Art students, practicing their sketching.  We had a delightful conversation with them.

Art Students

A couple examples of sculpture encountered in a public park

I am sure there was significance to the wires around the person, but it is lost on me.
A globe of bicycle and other wheels.

Back to the Jemma el-Fna square by the market.

What does somebody do with a monkey on a leash?
They find someone who will pay to have their picture taken with the monkey on their shoulder.
What does somebody do with Snakes?
Find somebody who would like a snake around their neck
Or take a Selfie with a snake

This trip through the souk the Spice display caught my eye

Spice market – note there are also jars and packs of spices, in addition to the bulk.

Satellite TV is having a huge impact on the Moroccan culture – for centuries few people traveled far, and did not know of the “world out there.”  Now even nomads have a solar panel, satellite dish, and a flat screen TV.

satellite dishes
Look at the number of satellite dishes on the souk – the fixed location part of the market.

Our almost final dinner for the tour was in an even finer restaurant than we had been dining in for the couple weeks.  A few members of our group would depart on an extension to the tour in the morning, while the rest of us would go back to Casablanca.

Final dinner with our host and guide

Sunday October 1

We took our bus to Casablanca and drove around the city, but the highlight was the Hassan II Mosque, named after and commissioned by the father of the current king.  It is the largest and most elegant mosque in Morocco, the 13th largest in the world.  It’s minaret is the world’s tallest at 210 meters (689 feet).  The estimated construction cost, in today’s dollars, is several Billion dollars.

It is one of very few mosques open to modestly clad tourists who carry their shoes in bags provided for the purpose.  (Head cover is not required, no bare shoulders or knees.)   Photography is permitted, even flash pictures.

Our guide pointed out the place to get the classic picture of the mosque and minaret.
From this more traditional view, you can see the scale compared to the people t the base of the minaret
Once you enter, it takes your breath away. Over 6000 masters of various crafts decorated, with 2,500 construction workers at peak times over the 7 years of construction
The prayer hall from the front. The mosque can accommodate 25,000 worshipers indoors, and another 80,000 on the plaza. Water flows in the streams that run the length of the hall, and you can look through the water. The building is partly on land and partly over the Atlantic ocean.
Muslims always clean themselves before prayers, so there are dozens of fountains downstairs for the devout to wash.
The ceilings are amazing, especially considering they can be retracted in 5 minutes despite weighing 1,100 tons.

Monday October 2

Start our return to the United States.  No combination of flights would get us home on Monday, so we chose to fly Casablanca to Madrid to London and spend the night before a non-stop flight from London Heathrow to Austin Texas on British Airways on October 3.

Final Thought

We expression affection by saying “you warm my heart.”  In the desert warming is not good, cooling is better.  And there is no reason that a heart has to be a romantic organ, other than western traditions.  In Morocco the romantic expression is “you cool my liver.”

We took this trip because we did not know what to expect.  It took a long time to prepare this travelogue because there were so many events each day it was hard to reconstruct what we had experienced.  The sights were amazing.  The people were great.  Our tour guide was phenomenal.  We always felt safe.  I recommend this tour, and OAT – Overseas Adventure Travel – to anyone.

Back to Part 1

Morocco 2017

Our adventure in Morocco was so intense that the travelogue is in two halves.  This is the first half; if you want to jump to the second half click here.

Morocco was our first ever “Tour,” rather than traveling alone, and we chose to work through Overseas Adventure Travel.

The route of our two week trip

We landed in Casablanca on Monday September 18 (Via Austin to Chicago to Madrid to Casablanca), and were met at the Casablanca airport and immediately driven to Rabat.  After checking into our hotel and taking a brief walk, we had a welcome dinner and met our host for the next two weeks.  Halim El mansouri is a former flight attendant for Emirate, fluent in English, French, and Arabic, and extremely knowledgeable about Morocco history and culture.

OAT travel group
Our travel group. To Jenny’s dismay, the men included 4 engineers, a geologist (who could pass as a civil engineer) and a retired airline pilot.

In most groups, we are considered the well traveled couple.  In this group, our travels didn’t even merit consideration.  Practically everyone had been to FAR more places than we have been.  One of the group had even lived in Morocco for a couple years, back in Peace Corps days.

This travelogue will be as brief as I can make it, but it is hard to discard 90% of the pictures.  Maybe I will come back and expand the detail and the number of pictures over time.

Tuesday September 19

Rabat is the current capital of Morocco.  We stopped by the Royal Palace, but the well loved King Mohamed VI didn’t invite us in.

Rabat Royal Palace
Royal Palace in Rabat. The guards in white are the honor guards (secret service); the others are representatives of several military services.

The Prophet Mohamed loved cats, so there was a national respect for cats, but only a few dogs, mostly as working dogs for the shepherds.

Lots of cats
Lots of cats were around villages and sites.

Outside Rabat is the 14th Century Arab town of Chellah, which  was built on an earlier Roman town of Sala.  As we looked to the left, it was Roman, as we looked to the right it was Arab.

Roman side
The Roman side of the site. Note the city wall in the background behind the trees
Arab side
The Arab side of the site.  That is a stork nest on the top of the Minaret

Through the doorway on the right we entered the mosque, still in remarkable condition after 7 centuries.

Arab Mosque
The Mosque is in remarkable condition despite being 7 centuries old.
There were stork nests everywhere you looked.

On to the next site, protected by honor guards.

Honor Guard at the Mausoleum of King Mohamed V (grandfather of the current king)

Across from the Mausoleum is the unfinished mosque (based on the pillars) and the Hassan Tower which was to be the Minaret.  Construction was stopped in 1150.

Hassan Tower
Hassan Tower and pillars for a mosque, construction suspended in 1150 AD

In the other direction on the same plaza was the Mausoleum of King Mohamed V, grandfather of the current king.

Mausoleum of King Mohamed V
If you thought the outside was fancy, try the inside! The center is the late King, the back have the King’s brother and wife

The fortifications near the sea were not to protect from pirates, but to house the pirates.  For years, the Europeans had pillaged the Moroccan shipping, so they were only getting even, as long as the king collected 30-50% of the pirated loot.

Pirate fortress along the sea.

Outside the city wall, we passed an Arab cemetery.  The funny angle is because the person is buried on his/her right side, facing Mecca.  Funerals are cheap, since the body gets a free trip to the cemetery in an ambulance-like vehicle, donated for the purpose.  If someone dies overnight or first thing in the morning, they are usually buried by Mid-afternoon.  Only women get simple coffins for modesty.

Arab Cemetery with traditional headstones.  Remember this when we see a Berber cemetery later.

The fairly tall tree on the left below is a palm tree.  The very tall thing on the right is not a palm tree, but a cell tower in disguise.

The cell tower is well disguised.

The old section of town, inside the city wall, is called the medina.  Part of the medina is the souk, or shopping area, characterized by random alleys and countless corners, laid out over the last 500 or more years, understood only to the natives.  Our dinner this night was in the souk.  A local (in traditional dress) met our bus and led us in and out of the Medina.

Arab guide though the medina

Wednesday September 20

On the way over the mountains from Rabat to Fez (or locally, Fes), we stopped at a forest of cork oaks.  The trees need to grow about 20 years before the cork bark can be stripped.  The trees thrive with the stripping, and are ready to be stripped again in another 9-10 years.  The trees live to be 200-300 years old, and provide an environment for endangered species.  The cork industry is endangered due to the competition of screw caps, but not due to the shortage of cork trees.  Please help our environment – drink more wine with real corks!

Cork trees, with their bark stripped up to about 7-8 feet high. The trees thrive and regrow the bark
cork bark
This is a scrap of cork bark found on the ground. Notice that the thickness of the bark is the length of the cork – if the wine corks were taken directly from the tree (they are not) it would be a hole punched in the bark from the outside toward the center of the tree
Cork trees also produce an edible nut, like a large acorn. These were in a market. Tasty, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of effort searching for them.

As we headed towards Fez, we encountered increasing numbers of Berbers.  They are an ethnic tribal group indigenous to Northwest Africa since before recorded history (recorded as  early as 3000 BC), who speak the Berber language.  Recently, as part of an attempt to incorporate them into Morocco, a written form of the Berber language was developed, and made one of the official languages of Morocco, which can be seen in this school sign (under the Arabic)

Berber sign
The new Berber alphabet is rather unique, appearing below the Arabic name of this school

As we got into the more rural areas the number of donkey carts increased, but they were still some on the city expressways.

Donkey Cart
Donkey Cart, not far from our Riad

We passed a local market, and couldn’t resist stopping (this is where I got the cork nut picture).

The market was a forest of tarps for shade and rain protection. Stalls are free unless you want to leave your goods overnight, when you make a contribution to the night watchman.
Lots of fresh vegetables, for which you must haggle the price.
Every market seems to have a character!

Upon arrival in Fez, we checked into the Riad Marjana.  It is an old Moroccan home that has been converted to a small elegant hotel.  Rather than room numbers, the rooms have the name of the family member who last lived there.

Riad Sign

The owner of the Riad Marajana welcomed us to his home.
Interior of Riad Marjana
Riad Pool
Looking the other way in the “living room” was a pool available to the guests. An exercise room was next to the pool.
The Riad food was hard to consume as well. This was the pre-dinner salad for the 7 people at our table.

After lunch we went to a pottery and mosaic factory.  The usual folks turning clay on a potter wheel, and a kiln fired by… guess… dried olive pits, a byproduct from pressing olive oil.

This gentleman painted complex designs on plates, freehand, without a pattern. The brown spot on his forehead is the mark of a devout Muslim, who presses his forehead on the floor 5 times per day in his prayers.
painted pottery
This is a portion of the pottery this expert paints in a day.
Mosaic Fountain
One of the many fountains, tables, etc. on display (for sale) at the ceramic factory.

How do you make something like this?  Pick a color, and determine what shape the tiles need to be in that color.  Draw that shape (many times) on a piece of scrap pottery of that color.

Tile cuutter
The first workman cuts out the required shape with a hammer on an anvil. He is teamed with another worker who tapers the back, away from the cut on the colored surface. Apparently different skills are required.

Another worker places the tiles in position, face down.  There is no picture – he knows the pattern from memory, and works upside down.  The only guide is a metal frame of the outside shape. He may pick pieces out with tweezers, and occasionally sands the edge to refine the fit.

craftsman placing mosaic tiles
Craftsman placing colored tiles, upside down, with the pattern only in his mind.

When all the tiles have been placed, they are cemented in place from the back.  Still nobody has seen the final design at this point… it is loose, face down, on the floor.  A special cement is applied from the back.

Mosaid Cemented Tiles
Mosaic Cemented Tiles. Only after the cement has dried can the piece be lifted and viewed.

And this is the final result.  Every piece was placed based on the artist’s memory of the pattern

mosaid result
The result of this mosaic process.  Could you have found the 8 yellow tiles 1/4 of the way in from the edge, looking only at the back?

Can they do this again?  All day, every day.  This is only a tiny part of their show room of finished tables.

Mosaic Tables
Mosaic Tables

Thursday September 21

There is another royal palace in Fez, merely covering 200 acres.  The entrance has 7 gates.

7 Gates
The 7 gates to the Fez Royal Palace

Even though I knocked politely, the King did not invite us in.

Fez Palace Gate
Fez Royal Palace Gate

Not far from the palace was the Jewish quarter.  The Jews were an important part of Moroccan culture until recently, when most migrated to Israel.  The Jewish architecture features lots of balconies on the street, contrasted with Arab architecture with few openings to the street but open central courtyards.

Jewish Balconies
The Jewish architecture features lots of street-side balconies.

The synagogue has been active for hundreds of years.

The Synagogue is still active

And a nearby Jewish Cemetery

Jewish Cemetery
Jewish Cemetery

The Fez Medina (walled city) consists of two parts.  The large part was founded in 789 (8th Century), and the smaller new part merely dates back to the 14th Century.  They are now a UNESCO world heritage site, as the largest no-car urban area in the world.  (We won’t discuss donkey carts and bicycles). It has 10,000+ alleyways, and 270,000 residents. The reported best GPS are the kids who will help you find your way for a very small fee.

Don’t mind the occasional braces – it has been standing for many hundreds of years.

Within the Medina is the University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in 859.  In 1947 it became part of the state educational system, and has gradually modernized into a respected university.   Depending on definitions, this is considered my many to be the oldest continuously operating university in the world.

The upper windows were originally student rooms
Column detail
The detail at the base and top of each column was amazing

In addition to the usual shops for clothing, food, and jewelry, the tannery is in the center of the Medina.

There were countless vats of smelly chemicals and dyes
Tannery worker
Sometimes workers would stand in the vats to mix the leather with the chemicals. They coat their skin with olive oil and shower when they get out.

There was also a cloth factory, with weavers operating manual looms

The shuttle with bobbin was shot back and forth in the wooden trough by the weaver pulling a rope. Progress was amazingly fast.

That evening we broke into groups of 5 people and were dinner guests in private homes.  Our hosts were a realtor and his wife.  His mother lived with them, but did not join the dinner.  Their teenage son came home during the dinner, and in English dutifully recited where where was in school and what he was studying.  After dinner he was a nice kid able to converse easily in English when he was less terrified about meeting Americans. We did not meet their college age daughter who was working at a bookstore.

Their home was a spacious 3rd floor apartment, with numerous well furnished rooms and modern appliances.  As foreigners we were invited to see their bedroom, something never shared among natives.  She had made home-made bread as part of our dinner.

Dinner hosts
Our host and hostess for the home dinner. He often works at home, and as a devout Muslim (see the spot on his forehead) he often prays (5 times per day) at home or at a nearby mosque.

Friday September 22

We chose the optional tour of Volubilis – a Roman city since the fall of Carthage in 146 BC.  At it’s peak in the late 2nd Century, it had a population of about 20,000.  In my opinion this has more ruins, in better condition, than I remember from Rome (and like Rome, there is always more that can be excavated and restored).

Map of Roman Empire
This is the southwest corner of the Roman empire. We have previously been to the northwest corner – Hadrian’s wall in Northern England. We have, of course, been to Rome. Will we ever get to the eastern extremes?

Just a few samples from this site… it could have a complete travelogue by itself.

The victory arch – predecessor of those in Paris and many other cities.

Victory Arch
Notice the couple tourists in front of the arch.

A number of other walls had been recovered or restored

The Thermal baths had hot rooms, warm rooms, toilets, and changing facilities.

An oil press had been restored

Mosaic Floor
Our floors should look this good after 1,800+ years.  This one had been wet with water to hide the dust.
mosaic floors
There were many mosaic floors throughout the site, in amazing condition

Then we went on to Meknes…

Meknes gate
Gate to the walled city. Yes, our bus fit through the gate with at least an inch to spare.

The sultan didn’t invite us in, either.  Of course he has been dead for centuries.

Meknes entrance
Notice the group of students, on vacation, near the door
Stidents in Meknes
Our guide struck up a conversation with them. The guitar player had just learned to play, via YouTube. Nobody cared that one girl was more conservative (hajib, long sleeves, ignore the selfie-stick).  They sang a folk song for us and talked about their studies.

The sultan had as many as 12,000 horses in these stables (with a slave responsible for each horse).

One side of several huge rooms in the granary, to support people and horses.

There were at least three rooms, which extended farther behind the camera than this way (which had light), and similar long rooms, parallel to this

Saturday September 23

This was a long 9-hour drive day as we crossed the Middle Atlas mountains.  As we got into the mountains, the buildings switched from flat roof to sloped because of the snow.  We took a break at the town of Ifrane, where there is even a ski resort near the 6,000 foot level.

Everybody has go get a picture of the Ifrane Lion, carved in 1930.  Rumors that it was carved by a World War II POW are precluded by the 1930 date.

As we drove through the forests near Ifrane, we were in an area where some wild monkeys lived.  Question: “Should we look for monkeys in the trees or on the ground?”  Answer:  “Yes.” Notice that these monkeys do not have tails.


Shortly after leaving the forest we spotted a “Semi-Nomad.” They are people who move on with their herds when they cannot graze any more (there is snow in this area), but they leave the frames for their tents, etc. so that they can return later.  When a “full” nomad moves on, nothing is left behind – they don’t expect to return.

Halim, our guide, negotiated permission to visit his family and home.

Semi-nomad family
Our guide is in the red/blue shirt, the Nomad is with his granddaughter.
Semi-Nomad home
The large white tent is the living/dining area for the Nomad, his Daughter and son-in-law, and his granddaughter. Notice the satellite dish with solar panel and battery; inside is a modest flat screen TV. There are auxiliary smaller tents for cooking and laundry, and as the private bedrooms for the two families.

They have a stone corral for their 350 sheep, with pens for the lambs. The son-in-law was tending the sheep and would return every night.  His bedroom is the black front tent to the right of the corral; the father’s bedroom is a separate tent to the left of the main tent.

Inside the corral are pens for lambs. The tent at the right is the daughter and her husband’s home (when they are not in the common area)
We stopped at Midelt for Lunch

The road over the middle Atlas mountains was exciting, especially when you consider that snow falls in this area.

This tunnel was part of the road.

In cartoons an oasis is often portrayed as an isolated palm tree or two, with a water source, surrounded by the sand of the desert.  The Ziz river provides water for an oasis hundreds of miles long.  Date Palm trees are common along the oasis; with individual trees having specific owners who care for and harvest the dates from their own trees.

Oasis along the Ziz river

We visited a fossil processing factory – they make museum pieces at one extreme, and bathroom sinks at the other extreme (we had a fossil sink in our tent).  This was just a first cut, not a finished product

Fossils at the processing plant


Sunday September 24

As we left our Kasbah in Efroud, we drove to Rissani, a conservative Berber area

Typical dress in Rissani
This gate isolated a garden and memorial
Rissani Garden
Rissani Doorway inside the complex

From that luxurious complex, we went to visit a home

The adobe houses are popular since they are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
We were always offered Tea, from a silver pitcher and silver tray on legs, poured from height to aerate and cool the tea.

Then it was on to the Sahara Desert – which starts as relatively flat gravel, the abruptly becomes sand dunes.

At this point we left our bus, and moved to three Toyota 4 wheel drive Land Cruisers which chased each other, off road, to our camp.

This was our camp. The open side tent was our dining room, the low black tents were our private rooms with bath (including flush toilets and showers with warm running water.

Sunday afternoon was very hot, so we postponed our camel ride until Monday.  Many found shelter in an affiliated Hotel that offered us an air conditioned room for the afternoon.

Later that evening we drove to one of the places where fossils are visible on the surface.

That is Jenny’s foot to give a scale to the size of the fossils
Some were quite huge.  Remember that this means the Sahara desert was at the bottom of the ocean thousands of years ago.

Monday September  25

There was enough dust in the air that we didn’t see the sunrise until it was well up, with no great color show.
If there was a shortage of camels, Jenny was willing to give up her place. There were plenty of camels
Originally I was placed too far forward. Jenny got it right the first time. My doofus hat has a drop down cover for my neck.
She did well, even texting while driving
I was so high when on the hump like the others, that they had me slide back behind the hump.  I would have liked some stirrups for stability.
Camels are dramatic and fun to try, but these were our “ships of the desert.”

Gnama music is a local chant by former slaves (and their descendants) who chose to stay in Morocco rather than returning to Guinea or wherever they came from.  The music and dance is becoming quite popular.

Gnawa Musicians and Dancers
Audience participation was welcome for part of the dance

We encountered a Nomad family who invited us into his tent (and added a rug so everyone could be on the rug, not on the ground.  He, of course, served us tea – even Nomads have the required silver teapot and tray.

He explained that he no longer had a large flock of sheep or goats, but his son took their 3 camels to work with the tourists each day. Rather than moving every few months for grazing area for their animals, he has not moved for several years. Other family members had moved to the city. He may be one of the last Nomads
And then his cell phone rang. He took the call! His grandson had joined us, with Halim, our guide, translating.

We also visited a farm – a gentleman had a plot (probably a couple acres) with a well that he and his father had dug, so he had water to raise vegetables, feed for his family and livestock, dates to sell, and other goods. He was very clever in his management of the crops and the water.  He had, for example, tried olives and taken them out since the wind interfered with pollination so the crop was too small.  He had one male date tree and manually pollinated all his other dates trees. To be sure he got productive female date trees, he planted them from cuttings rather than taking the chance on gender by planting seeds.

He even grew a Tamarix – a salt tree.  By feeding it’s leaves to his livestock he did not have to buy salt supplement. (I tried – the leaves tasted extremely salty).  Some of his crop he harvested every few days, and only had to replant it every couple years.

It was date season and our farmer was proud of his harvest so far.

We visited  a Berber cemetery on the desert.  There are no names on the graves – the tribal bonds are so tight that if you visit the cemetery, you know who you are visiting but should pray for everyone there.  I was so intrigued, I forgot to take pictures, and had to borrow this from a fellow traveler.

Berber cemetery
Grave Markers but no headstones with names. Small graves are apparently children

In the cities the larger Berber cemeteries are not as “personal”


This was September 25.  We didn’t return until October 2, so you have only seen the first half of our tremendous trip.

When you are ready, you can jump directly to the second half.