Sunday, April 25, 2010

MOROCCO TRIP - Day Ten - Marrakech

After an insane week at work I am finally getting back to finishing up posts from our Morocco trip which seems so long ago now I wonder if maybe it was just a dream. But I don't usually take this many photos in my dreams so I guess I really was there!
Our last full day in Morocco and unfortunately I am trapped in a city. But I do need to try and make the best of it, not everyone is lucky enough to get to see such amazing parts of the world.
We enjoyed breakfast on the roof at our Riad and then set off to see another round of historical buildings.

On our way we visited the city square Djemma El Fna. This has the same sort of vibe as any city or town square, people come here to socialize and hang-out. However there are a few attractions that you probably wouldn't find in your average American city square!

Needless to say I made a bee-line for the snake charmers.

However I steered well clear of the local dentist! Eeeeeek! Snakes I'm fine with, tooth pullers, not so much!

We walked through a warren of narrow streets crammed with a colourful range of merchandise.

We made our way to the Bahia Palace. Another architectural masterpiece which provided great insight into how the privileged lived in the 19th century.

Once again I could feel a sense of indignation rising up in me as it was explained that this is the area where the concubines got to 'get outside'

But when the wives wanted to get outside they had this minute space to roam around!

But I didn't rock the boat, even when it was explained that the 'favorite' wife had the smallest outside space of all - 'for her safety!' OK then!!

Personal feelings aside it was extraordinary to see how every single surface area was elaborately decorated.

Having escaped the close confines of this palace we visited the ruined remains of the 16th century Badi Palace. I was quite happy to ensconce myself in a shady spot whilst Dominick and Said strolled around.

Because I wanted to check out some of the palace's current residents.

There were several pairs of white storks perched up high on their nests of sticks and for me they gazed down with just as refined a regal air as any previous grand royal resident.

While I was sitting quietly enjoying the quiet and the cool, a familiar squeal broke the peace and peeping out, right above where I sat, was the culprit - a kestrel. The pair had found a perfect little niche in which to nest and they were voicing their displeasure at my proximity to it.

House Buntings were also much in evidence and this particular individual, braver than the rest seemed quite convinced that I was going to produce something tasty for him to eat as he hopped around very close to my feet.

It is always fun when you get to do some birding in the most unlikely of places or should I say palaces! But soon we were on our way again.

Our next stop was the Herboriste El Andalouss. We were served with the now obligatory mint tea while the owner delivered a well practised account of all his numerous herbs and potions with often rather amusing lists of their properties. Who knew that there were so many different types of Moroccan Viagra!?

Then on our way again. Try as he might Dominick just couldn't get a picture of this gate way without a taxi cab stopping in the middle of his shot!

We slowly made our way back towards the Riad with various photo stops along the way.

I was pretty much done with my quota of historical sights at this point so Said and Dominick visited the Saadian tombs while Brahim and I sat and chatted about (you guessed it!) birds! He is going to be quite an expert by the end of this trip!

After that we retreated back up onto the rooftop of the Riad for a delicious lunch. We have been served so much wonderful food on this trip I am sure we have both gained several pounds.

After our large, leisurely lunch we strolled through a couple of gardens in the city and then headed back towards Djemma El Fna. It is at it's most lively during late afternoon and early evening. The array of fruits on display were so beautiful we just had to take some pictures but we had to be careful, many of the stall holders want to charge you for that privilege! Once again my high power zoom came in very handy.

I do think the prize for the best outfit has to go to the local water seller - what do you think?

We indulged in a little retail therapy. Dominick almost reduced the merchant to tears with his ferocious bargaining on the price of this beautiful hand embroidered tunic. Said explained rather sheepishly to the merchant that Dominick worked in finance so there really wasn't anything to be done about it!!

Then I paid a visit to the henna ladies.

Shopping done we retreated to one of the terraced cafes to watch the square from above.

As the sun started to sink we made our way slowly back through the streets towards the Riad, soaking up our final genuine Moroccan moments.

Later in the evening Said and Brahim collected us to drive us to Chez Ali which was a very touristy show that seems to be the standard end for every trip that they do. We both would have far rather been somewhere much quieter with far less people but we decided we had probably been quite demanding enough during the course of our trip and so we would just go along with it! Lord knows that doesn't happen too often :)

So, show over, we headed back to the Riad for our last night in Morocco.

Photo Credits - CJT & Dominick V

Thursday, April 22, 2010

MOROCCO TRIP - Day Nine - Ouarzazate to Marrakech

This morning we didn't have a particularly early start so Dominick visited the hammam within the hotel. A hammam is a traditional 'spa' type facility. He thoroughly enjoyed it and came back looking gently boiled!

We went and ate breakfast on the hotel terrace overlooking the river before meeting up with Said and Brahim.

Our first stop of the morning was a nearby lake which was teeming with birdlife. Once again I was thrown into the role of bird guide but by now I was getting into my stride a little more and so was able to do a reasonable job with ID's. There were lots of Crested Larks hopping around on the track in front of us. As you can see their cryptic colouring is a great advantage to these birds that spend so much time on the ground.

The water birds were as shy as ever but we did manage to get a quick shot of this beautiful Shoveler working the shallows.

In the distance were numerous cormorants and it wasn't until I put my binoculars on them that I spotted the interloper!

An Osprey! Brahim had quite got into this whole 'birding' thing by this stage so I was explaining to him the differences in fishing techniques between a cormorant and an osprey. With such a limit on English vocabulary this really put my miming skills to the test! It's that crazy English lady again - we'll just humour her she'll be going home soon!!

With my birding ration over for the day we were back to the kasbahs!

Ouarzazate was a very odd mix of the traditional Moroccan structures

And bizarre remnants of film sets and locations!

After we had seen our share of Gladiator movie posters we headed for the Ait Ben Haddou, a traditional pre-Saharan habitat from the eighteenth century. For me the highlight was the means of travel to get to this particular kasbah that appealed the most.

Riding a donkey or mule across the river!

Not such a highlight for Dominick though.

Although in this particular instance my sympathy was with the poor old mule! That is one heck of a load he is carrying!

I got to go across solo which was a great relief to me and probably to the donkey too!

There was an alternative means of transport but I don't think any amount of money would have got Dominick back on a camel at this point!

When we had safely made it across we began the climb up through a labyrinth of narrow streets and stairways.

All the way to the very top where we were rewarded with spectacular views in every direction.

Then we strolled back down, caught our four-legged transportation back across the river and went back to the vehicle.

The next section of our drive involved going off road through an area of the Atlas mountains called the Ounial Valley.

Once again we were bombarded with endless expanses of spell-binding scenery. In stark contrast to the desert, it was cold enough up here that even some of the donkies were wearing coats!

We eventually rejoined the tar road and continued to climb.

We stopped at the signpost marking the highest point of the road to take the obligatory photo.

That is in meters of course!

Somewhere along the way we were supposed to visit another kasbah but we were both feeling a little 'kasbahed out' by this stage, apart from the fact the scenery was just so spectacular we were more than happy just to spend time enjoying it.

Having gotten over the highest point we started to wind our way slowly back down. And what am I photographing here?

Well this handsome fellow of course! Although I don't think he really appreciated my interrupting his courtship of the lady frogs!

I was now beginning to feel very sad as we were heading back to the city and the end of our trip. It was hard not to feel a little winsome at the aching beauty of everything around us and the magical moments we have experienced over the last few days.

As we descended out of the hills the land suddenly flattened out completely and we found ourselves in the outskirts of Marrakech. We drove to our Riad which was another spectacular establishment, our room was beautiful but somehow we didn't remember to take any photos of it! Sorry.
Later in the evening Said and Brahim led us through the maze of streets to a private house were we had a delicious dinner. (Brahim and I had hatched a plan earlier in the day to arrange an 'oriental dancer' for Dominick after dinner!) So Dominick got an excellent belly dancer as his after dinner entertainment which I think he rather enjoyed! We then made our way slowly back to our Riad for the night.

Photo Credits - CJT & Dominick V