Archive for the ‘Morocco’ Category


Thursday, September 26th, 2019

Our drive to Casablanca was along the coast part of the way.  Beautiful.

We had one full day in Casablanca.   Casablanca is one of the largest and most important cities in Africa.  It is Morocco’s chief port and one of the largest financial centers on the continent (according to Wikipedia).  It is an economic and business center.  Industry (automobile) and phosphate is very important.

The main attraction is the Hassan II Mosque designed by a French architect.  It is situated on a promontory on the Atlantic Ocean.  The mosque has room for 25,000 worshipers inside, and a further 80,0000 can be accommodated in the mosque’s courtyard.  The minaret is the world’s tallest at 690 feet.  The mosque is the third-largest in the world.  The work started in 1989 and was completed in 1993 at an estimated cost of $800 million.  Photos really don’t do justice to the building complex.

Notre-Dame de Lourdes Church is a modernist Catholic church that was built between 1953-56. The main attraction of the church is the glasswork of world-famous stained glass artist Gabriel Loire.  The glass windows cover the entire two side walls.  It is impossible in photos to convey the beauty.  There is a grotto in the courtyard to Bernadette Soubirous who had multiple visions of the Virgin Mary on the outskirts of Lourdes in 1858.

We did a brief stop in the souk and also drove by colonial and modern buildings of the city.  (It does not look like Chefchaouen!!)

We took a tram to the cornice, ate lunch, and returned to the hotel.

In the evening the six of us who had spent the entire three weeks together went out for dinner at an unusual restaurant—NKOA.  Fusion meals of Asian and Moroccan.  Interesting.  And one last photo out our hotel bedroom window.

It was a good trip!



Essaouira area

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

While staying in Essaouira, we spent one day in the surrounding area.  We started by stopping at French horse stable.  Beautiful horses!

The area south of Essaouira to Agadir is the special area for argon trees.  Argon trees apparently only grow in two places in the world—southern Morocco and some place in Mexico.  However, the trees in Mexico do not provide fruit.  We have seen argon oil sold in several places in Morocco but this is the REAL place—where the trees grow!  One classic image is that goats like to eat the argon leaves.  There are many photos of goats climbing trees but we were told that many of those photos have goats tied in the tree.  The ones we saw were not tied since as we watched them, they jumped from branch to branch and from tree to ground.  We suspect there were so many goats in one tree because it seemed to be the only green tree around.

We stopped at a women’s cooperative for argon oil and saw again how it is made.  The women sang and danced for us also.  We tasted bread with argon oil, argon oil and honey, and argon oil and ground almonds.

In the rural areas, markets are often held on only one day of the week.  We found a Berber market on our day.  It was different than the souks since everything was outside.

Our last stop was at a vineyard started by a French man in 1994.  We enjoyed lunch there, tasting three types of wine—white, rose, and red.


Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

Essaouira has been occupied since prehistoric times.  It is considered one of the best harbors of the Moroccan coast, partly because it is sheltered by the island of Mogador, making it a peaceful harbor protected against strong ocean winds.  The Carthaginians established a trading post in 5th century BC; early 1st century a Berber king established a Tyrian purple factory processing the shells of a nearby island.  (Tyrian purple is an imperial purple produced by the secretaion of several species of predatory sea snails.)  The dye was used in the togas worn by the Senators of Rome.  The Portuguese built a fort in the 16th century.  The present day city was built in the mid-18th century by the Berber king, Mohammed III.

Mohammed III encouraged Jews to settle in Essaouira.  At one point they represented 40% of the population.  We visited the old Jewish synagogue and the large Jewish cemetery.  There was the annual international commemoration of the death of Rabbi Haim Pinto (1748-1845) during the few days that we were in Essaouira.  Our hotel must have hosted several hundred.

In the early 1950s Orson Welles stayed at a hotel just south of the town walls during the filming of his 1952 classic version of “Othello” which contains several scenes shot in the streets and alleyways of the medina. Legend has it that during Welles’ sojourn in the town he met Winston Churchill, another guest at the hotel. A bas-relief of Orson Welles was located in a small square just outside the medina walls close to the sea but recently it has been destroyed by weather.  Beginning in the late 1960s, Essaouira became something of a hippie hangout.

We visited the fish market early in the day as fresh fish were being sold.  A local fisherman guided us, pointing out the various species and how to tell if the fish was fresh.  Sardines are very popular and abundant.  The sardine boats go out at 2 or 3 in the morning and return about 10 am.  Other boats may go out for several days.  It was hard to image being in one of those small boats for several days in the ocean!  From the port we also had a good view of Mogador Island, used as a slave hold and a jail, and Iles Purpuraires, having the purple shells.

We picked out some fresh fish.  It was cleaned at the port and taken to an interesting restaurant where we had lunch.  We bought food at the market and also took it to this restaurant where they then prepared our whole meal from items we had bought.

We visited the fort of the city, likely from the mid-18th century.   The ramparts still hold a number of Dutch cannons.

We walked through the medina and saw many similar scenes to the many other medinas we have visited but each one seems to have some unique sites.  We saw an older man making beautiful lutes.  He cut fine narrow strips of aluminum and then pounded the strips into the base of the lute.

Essaouira is known for its wood-working activities, using mostly Thuya wood.  We stopped in one workshop and saw beautiful pieces.

We stopped for coffee mid-morning and listened to a busker singing Beatles’ songs.  We met our guide’s mother and nephew.  The fisherman from the port also came to say goodby after delivering the fish we had chosen to the restaurant.

Various scenes in the medina.

Our last evening we walked along the beach and watched a beautiful sunset.  Essaouira is known for its wind—and it lived up to its reputation.  There were several windsurfers.  The islands made for a beautiful background for the sunset and it was hard to choose just one photo!!!!


Marrakesh to Essaouira

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

It was a day’s drive between the two cities but we made only three main stops along the way.  We stopped in a small town that is known for its melons.  (A red mark on the melon means it is from this particular town.)  We sampled and then bought several.

Our next stop was at a woman’s house for lunch.  It  was a woman that OAT has chosen to help.  (As we understand it, a local OAT representative finds people in particular need.  OAT provides them with some money and they in return do something for us travelers—meal, activity, culture instruction, etc.  After a year or two, contacts change so that OAT can help more families.)  This woman was a cook for festivals and had used some of her money to buy a chest freezer.  She told us that she sometimes needs to cook thirty chickens for a wedding!

Our next short stop was with a farmer.  He is renting land and doing various types of farming.

Our last stop was an overlook of Essaouira.  It was hot and hazy so not a very good photo.


Saturday, September 21st, 2019

Marrakesh is the fourth largest city in Morocco.  We have therefore visited all four of the largest cities – Casablanca, Fes, Tangier.  It was inhabited by the Berbers in ancient times but the city was founded in 1062.  Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading center for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.

We stayed in a lovely Riad.

We had a brief introduction to the Souk and The Square the first night.  “The Jemaa el-Fnaa is one of the best-known squares in Africa and is the centre of city activity and trade. … It has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985. The name roughly means “the assembly of trespassers” or malefactors. … Historically this square was used for public decapitations by rulers who sought to maintain their power by frightening the public. The square attracted dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here, and stalls were raised in the square from early in its history. … Today the square attracts people from a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. Snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers, story-tellers, dentists, pickpockets, and entertainers in medieval garb still populate the square.”  (Wikipedia)  We saw some of this but very difficult to take photos.

Our two days in Marrakesh were packed with seeing many places.  We started with the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in the city.  It was built 1184-1199.  The Kasbah Mosque was originally built by the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansour in 1185-1190. It is located in the old kasbah of Marrakech. Along with the Koutoubia Mosque, it is one of the most important historical mosques in Marrakech.

The Bahia Palace, set in extensive gardens, was built in the late 19th century by the Grand Vizier of Marrakesh, Si Ahmed ben Musa. Bou Ahmed resided here with his four wives, 24 concubines and many children.  It is a beautiful place with extensive rooms.

We visited the beautiful “Museum of Confluences.”  It had been a majestic palace built in 1910 and used as a residence.  It is now brings together many of the influences of Moroccan culture and architecture.  When we visited they had a special exhibit of the influence of Yves Saint Laurent.  (Later we visited a special museum of Yves Saint Laurent’s work but no photos inside were allowed.)

Of course we visited the souk!.  It is always the heart and soul of the town.

We took a carriage ride to the Majorelle Garden.  It had been the home of landscape painter Jacues Majorelle.  Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent bought and restored the property and has a memorial to him.  The garden has a large collection of plants from five continents including many cacti, palms and bamboo.  It was a welcomed cool relief in the heat of Marrakesh.

We visited the old Jewish Quarter (Mellah).  During the 16th century, the Mellah had its own fountains, gardens, synagogues and souks. Until the arrival of the French in 1912, Jews could not own property outside of the Mellah; all growth was consequently contained within the limits of the neighborhood, resulting in narrow streets, small shops and higher residential buildings.  The Alzama Synagogue is located in the area.

Our last afternoon we went to The Secret Garden to relax and enjoy a lovely lunch.  It is a quiet spot with examples of Islamic art and architecture.

In the evening we had a Farewell Meal at a luxury restaurant.  We said good-by to most of the other travelers.  Only six of us are continuing on the post-trip to Essaouira and Casablanca.

Ouarzazate to Marrakesh

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

This is a very short blog with only scenery photos.  We traveled through lovely mountainous scenery along winding roads.  We reached our highest altitude of 7,415 feet.


Friday, September 20th, 2019

We left our desert “home” and headed to Ouarzazate.  As usual we saw interesting scenery and made several stops along the way.  Our first stop was to see a subterranean irrigation water system built in the 14th century, to bring irrigation water from nearby mountains, and mostly abandoned in the 1970’s when a dam began to impact the water table.

Besides scenery, we were also interested in some signs.  “Allah, Country, King” can be found on many hillsides near towns—to show their allegiance.  We also saw the Berber “z” many places—here on the hillsides, but often in paintings, architecture, etc. and on the Berber flag.  It is a symbol for the Amazigh (Berber) language and culture.

We stopped at El Khorbat Oujdid, a ksar (fortified village) near Tinejdad.  It was built in 1860 and is still inhabited.  The ksar is walled and has a number of towers.  There was a small museum and some restored houses, a school, and a mosque.

Along the way to Ouarzazate, we stopped at a women’s cooperative that makes rose water.  Rose water is often used in Moroccan pastries but is also used in cosmetics.  (No photos of the actual production!)

OAT always has “A Day in the Life” when we visit a local family and participate in some activity.  It, hopefully, helps us understand the daily life of a “normal” family.  The family also gains as OAT tries to improve their lives.  We participated in this experience while at Ouarzazate.  On the way to the family, we stopped and saw an artist drawing/painting interesting pictures.  He used tea and another ingredient (which we forget).  He then held the paper/painting over a fire and part of it turned black.

We stopped at our selected home and met the wife, father, and young baby.  (The older children were at school.)  We helped make bread.  We then carried small stools out to the family’s olive grove and had tea and bread.  On our return to the house, the father showed us how he makes bricks for building.  While we were gone the helpers made couscous, vegetables, and chicken which we ate.  It is customary to eat gender-segregated so we did.  It is also customary to eat with your fingers but our group has a hard time with that, so the family provided spoons.  The children arrived home from school with some of their friends and sang for us.  We also had the children and mother join us in “Do The Hokey Pokey.”

We said goody-by to the family and then stopped in town and visited a women’s cooperative that Grand Circle/OAT is supporting.  There is a group of about 15 women who have started this cooperative which now includes about 40 women.  They run a small bakery and with the help of Grand Circle are moving into a bigger building so that they can expand their activities.  They will begin weaving, run a café/gift shop, and have a nursery for the children of the women.

One woman showed us how to make couscous.  It is basically flour and water, mixed with your hands and pressed through a sieve.  They also painted henna on our hands.

Ouarzazate has been used for a number of movies.  Atlas Studios was founded in 1983 and by acreage is the world’s largest film studio.  According to Wikipedia some of the movies that have been filmed here are: The Jewel of the Nile, Aladdin (2019 film), Gladiator, Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, Game of Thrones, Atlantis, The Amazing Race 10, and many more.  Our hotel in Ouarzazate has been used by many movie stars.  Artifacts were everywhere in the hotel, including a throne from The Ten Commandments.

Desert Experience

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

We headed towards our desert experience from Erfud but made several stops first. Our first stop was to fossils.  Paleontological research shows that the area of Erfoud was a seabed where many types of marine animals existed – about 380 million yeas ago.  There are many mines and quarries where the fossils are embedded in huge boulders.  We stopped at a workshop where they were making various items from these fossils.  We question the ethics of this but they were beautiful pieces.

We stopped at a ksar (fortified village) to visit a woman.  A ksar is a village of attached houses and other structures, often with a wall.  They are usually built of adobe.  The woman is a widow and lives with her two school-age sons.  She has a couple of children who are living in the city, have jobs, and help support her.

We stopped at one more place to watch a camel being milked and to taste the camel milk.

Then off to our desert encampment in 4-wheel drive vehicles.  We found the camp quite luxurious.  (Especially when compared with our visit to a nomad.)

We visited a nomad and his family.  It was a bit depressing.  The father of the family (76 yrs old) had been a truck driver but was away from his family too much.  He returned to nomadic life and was very happy because he felt free.  However, he admitted that his wife was very unhappy and only one son remained with him to help him.  The rest of his children came to visit only a couple of times a year and only one day at a time.  The father ruled the family!

Our first evening we drove from our camp, climbed a sand dune to watch the sunset.

The next morning we got up at 5:30 to watch the sun rise!

We then took a 45-minute camel ride.  What fun!

After the ride, we saw a very old Berber cemetery.  One the way home we stopped at a place where we had an introduction to gnaoua music (gnawa),  an ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms.  It is characterized by using castanets, a 3-stringed lute, and a drum.  It is usually a few lines repeated over and over.  We also participated in the dancing to the music.

Our last visit while in the desert was to a very enterprising farmer.  This farmer’s father started the farm in 1985 and he has now taken it over.  He grows 5 species of dates plus a variety of vegetables.  He needs to pollinate the dates by hand which means climbing the palm tree.  He dug a well and built an irrigation system.  He has one son helping him and the other sons are in town helping to support him.  Date trees take about 5 years to produce.  In a good year he can make a good income; but he may only have 3-4 good years in 10.

When we returned to the camp, we took a short walk around the camp, found some bleached camel bones and enjoyed another lovely sunset.

It was extremely windy our last night.  Sand was everywhere–even on our bed!  But the next morning–our last–was beautiful.






Fes to Erfoud

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

We had a long bus ride from Fes to Erfoud—about 9 hours.  However, we made several stops along the way and the scenery changed drastically.  We went from fairly green to desert dry.


We start with a photo of our bedroom in our lovely Riad in Fes.  We will end this post with a photo of our bedroom in our extravagant hotel in Erfoud.

We stopped briefly in Ifran, sometimes called “Little Switzerland,” for a stretch break.  It was at 5600 ft altitude so lovely temperature.  However, so very, very different from what we have seen so far.  (The King and the Saudi’s like to come here to go skiing in winter.)

As we continued climbing the High Atlas Mountains it became more desolate.  We stopped along the road at a small community to visit a nomad farmer.  (Our guide had bought some food at a small village (bread, yogurt, sardines, tea) which we gave to some of the residents of the community.)  The farmer lives in one area about 4-6 months and then moves to another.  He has been married about 10 years.  When we arrived his wife was off collecting firewood.  By the time we had had tea with him and his young son, she had returned.  Such a life!  It is hard to reconcile our luxury with this life.

We continued on to Erfoud, enjoying the scenery.  We saw rain coming but managed to avoid it.  There has been more rain recently with even some flash floods of which we saw evidence. Some places even reminded us of the U.S. southwest.

Our hotel in Erfoud.

Volubilis and Meknes

Monday, September 16th, 2019

We took a day trip to Volubilis and Meknes from Fes.

Volubilis is a partly excavated Berber city, considered as the ancient capital of the kingdom of Mauretania.  It  developed from the 3rd century BC onward as a Berber settlement.  It grew rapidly under Roman rule from the 1st century AD onward and expanded to cover about 100 acres with a 1.6-mile circuit of walls. The city had a number of major public buildings in the 2nd century, including a basilica, temple and triumphal arch. Its prosperity, which was derived principally from olive growing, prompted the construction of many fine townhouses with large mosaic floors.

The city fell to local tribes around 285 and was never retaken by Rome because of its remoteness on the south-western border of the Roman Empire. It continued to be inhabited for at least another 700 years, first as a Christian community, then as an early Islamic settlement.  By the 11th century Volubilis had been abandoned after the seat of power was relocated to Fes.

The ruins remained substantially intact until they were devastated by an earthquake in the mid-18th century and subsequently looted by Moroccan rulers seeking stone for building Meknes. It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that the site was definitively identified as that of the ancient city of Volubilis.

(Previous three paragraphs taken mostly from Wikipedia!)

Meknes is one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco. Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement, it became capital of Morocco (1672–1727).  It is noted for its Spanish-Moorish style, surrounded by high walls with great doors, and a blending of the Islamic and European styles of the 17th century still evident today.

Interesting side note: Bab al-Mansour gate, named after the architect, El-Mansour. It was completed 5 years after Sultan Moulay Ismail’s death, in 1732. It has mosaics of excellent quality. The marble columns were taken from the Roman ruins of Volubilis. When the structure was completed, Moulay Ismail inspected the gate, asking El-Mansur if he could do better. El-Mansur felt compelled to answer yes, making the sultan so furious he had him executed.   ( Two paragraphs taken from Wikipedia)

That evening at our Riad we had a demonstration for making pastille – a type of Moroccan meat pie.