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Morocco

    Fab Africa Travel

    Five Days Fes to Marakesh

    Chapter Eleven Comes to an End

    Location: Morocco

    One month in Morocco has been marvelous.  We have seen so very much, and still there is much to see – so we will return one day.  But for now, I am so happy to have experienced this magical and friendly country – especially the past five days as we have traversed the diverse geography from Fes to Marrakesh.

    We hired a guide to show us parts of Morocco we

    With our guide Abdul

    would find difficult to reach on our own – and I am so glad we did.  Our fantastic guide Abdul from Your Morocco Tours was amazing(5 days only $250 per person).  He safely drove us for five days and was funny, interesting and proud of his country and his heritage.

    Have I mentioned how friendly everyone is?  

    Ziz Valley

    With our friends Steve and Sarah we left Fes on a Saturday morning for the long but beautiful drive.  We began to climb into the mountains only a few hours out of Fes.  Eventually we made it to the beautiful Ziz Valley.  Here we began to see the red rocks and reddish pink buildings I had always imagined when I thought of Morocco.  Although the white and blue and green and grey we had seen up to this time was beautiful in its own way – this red color of the desert against the green of

    Desert sunset

    the date palm trees made me feel I was part of a movie set.

    Have I mentioned how great all the roads are?

    After a long day of driving we arrived in the desert, just in time for a spectacular sunset over the Sahara.  It was breathtaking.  I didn’t want it to end.  Awash in orange from sand to sky it was spectacular.

    We then continued a short distance into the dunes to our spectacular hotel called Kasbah Azalay.  Stunning.  How can this be our hotel when we paid so little for this tour?  Not only was it pretty in a very Moroccan way but the service and hospitality was perfect.  We enjoyed a lovely tagine for dinner

    On the camels

    and a good nights sleep.

    A more leisurely day was on hand for Sunday and after breakfast we climbed the dunes and shopped for scarfs in the town of Merzouga.  We then enjoyed a visit to the village of Kamila where we sipped mint tea and listened to the authentic Gnaoua music of the region performed by the ancestors of the original Sudanese slaves who were brought here five hundred years ago.  Their efforts to preserve their culture and music are commendable and we danced and had a great time with them.

    Have I mentioned that this country, more than any other, is where I want to buy things – pottery, rugs, leather? I am restraining myself.

    Late in the afternoon we arrived at the staging area for our camel trek into the desert.  To be completely accurate it’s actually a dromedary trek.  Camels are the beasts with two humps.  The animals with one hump are technically dromedaries, but everyone calls them camels so, hey, whatever!

    On the camel trek with arne

    I wasn’t really sure how this was going to go – was it scary? Painful? Smelly?  Actually, it was a teeny bit painful – but mostly just fun.   The dromedaries were not smelly, they didn’t spit or bite, but once you are sitting up on one, you realize this ain’t no horse.  Wow.  They lumber along and your leg muscles feel the movement, but honestly the next day it was my arms that were sore, from trying to hold on when the camel goes down a hill, or sits down.

    There were ten of us riding and after an hour and half on the camel, including a stop to watch another spectacular Sahara sunset, we arrived at the nomad camp.  We were assigned tents with beds and served tea while we waited for another group of 18 to arrive.  When they did we all had dinner together (tagine) and then a bonfire and music around the fire.  By this time the temperature had plummeted and we put all our clothes on including wool socks and hats and snuggled under the covers for the night.

    Have I mentioned there are more stars in the sky in Morocco?  Billions.

    Wake up at 6am and you immediately feel the pain in your legs (and crotch) and arms.  Yikes.  But back on the camel we go, even before I get a cup of coffee.  Ugh.  I was hoping my camel knew the way to the nearest Starbucks, but instead he took us out of camp into the dunes to watch the sunrise.  Surreal.  And way better than Starbucks.

    Dunes

    After the sunrise and a thousand more photos we were back in the saddle and headed back to town, where we were served a nice breakfast (with plenty of coffee) and had a hot shower before we reconnected with our guide Abdul and began day three of our tour.

    We drove away from the dunes and into the amazing Moroccan red rock canyons and gorges.  A

    Todgha Gorge

    truly surprising area of Morocco I had never even heard of.  The Todgha Gorge was stunning and we enjoyed it late in the afternoon where the 1000 foot walls had sunlight on the tops, but the river was in the shadow of the mountains.  We also visited a remarkable fossil museum where we learned about

    Fossils

    the 500 million year old ocean fossils found in this area and another place where we learned about the ingenious well and aqueduct system the Berber people built to access and save water from the

    Ancient wells

    Atlas mountains 300 years ago.

    Have I mentioned  how diverse the geography is? From ocean to desert to mountains to rivers to lakes.

    Finally we arrived in the Dades Gorge, another amazing marvel of Mother Nature, where our hotel for the night was perched on a cliff overlooking the valley below.  We enjoyed an authentic Moroccan couscous meal and met a nice couple from Seattle and swapped stories before a good nights sleep.

    Up and on our way in the morning we drove to see

    Monkey Feet

    more ancient Kasbahs perched in the Dades Gorge and throughout the red rock region and stopped to view the geological wonder called Monkey’s Feet.  A geology uplift of rock that is unique to this area and impossible to describe.  And yes, it did look a bit like the bottom of a monkey’s foot.

    Midday we visited one of the best preserved Kasbahs in Morocco, the Amerhidil – built-in the 17th century and in remarkable condition.  Given that most of this construction is made from mud and straw bricks, finding well-preserved ones of this age is unusual.  We toured the building, ate a delicious lunch of grilled turkey kebab and then headed on our way to our hotel.

    This night we stayed in another very beautiful boutique hotel with exceptional customer service.  Everywhere we go the people are so kind and helpful and that is the case at Riad Tama.  Big rooms, and a beautiful garden and a lovely restaurant where we enjoyed a a French inspired dinner.

    Have I mentioned a Dar is a house, a Riad means garden but is often used to refer to a hotel or house with a garden?

    Day five- our final day began early at 8:30 with our fabulous guide Abdul as we headed off to the

    Kasar Air Ben Haddou

    famous and well-preserved Kasar of Air Ben Haddou where we spent a couple of hours walking with an incredible guide who had been raised in this village. Morocco has a big film industry and this place is one that is often featured in many films including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Jewel of the Nile.

    Have I mentioned a kasbah is a house of a rich family usually with four towers while a kasar is a fortified village with more than one kasbah?

    Our final day continued with another spectacular

    All together and a wonderful time.

    drive with surprising scenery and geography over the Tizi Tichka Pass to the famous city of Marrakesh – our final stop of our Morocco adventure.  We will be in Marrakesh for three days.

    We loved our tour!  An inspiring experience in a magical place.

    In the future when I think of Morocco I will certainly remember the cities we have visited (Casablanca, Chefchaouen, Tangier, Asilah, Fes and Marrakesh) but I think it will be the rural areas I will remember most fondly.  The desert is such a special place to be, and to be able to sleep there and see the stars at night and ride the camels – unforgettable.  The gorges and red rocks and Kasbahs of old are like something out of a movie set (and some are) but they are real.  And beautiful.  And cherished by the wonderful Moroccan people.

    Five Days from Fes to Marrakesh.  What an experience.  What a lucky girl.  What a life.

    Fabulous!

     

    Fab Africa Travel

    Magic & Mud at the Moroccan Hammam

    Chapter Eleven Scrub Down

    I’ve had some pretty remarkable “spa” experiences over the years and through the travels of My Fab Fifties Life; a massage by a blind woman in Zanzibar stands out; the public baths in Budapest were fun; a most memorable Korean Spa Experience (read about that one here); soaking in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland on a cold winter night remains a highlight;  the Thai masseuse jumping up and down on my back I won’t soon forget.

    And now, here in memorable Morocco a new experience – the ancient way of the Hammam.

    A Hammam is a cleansing experience, a social event, and a structure.  The ancient buildings were often the only source of hot water for the people of the medina and villages and these places became the social center of life in the old times.  To have a Hammam in your neighborhood was a much sought after addition.  Usually built near to a mosque to share a water source for cleansing.  The Hammams old and new are designed to trap warm air and vent steam, usually through a domed ceiling with small star-shaped holes.

    A Hammam experience is very different from the Korean Spa experience where you “soaked” in tubs of different temperatures.  Instead, in Islam it is considered unclean to “soak” in water.  Instead it involves a lot of pouring water and scrubbing and spraying.  Islamic people are fastidiously clean, washing hands and face three times before praying and praying up to five times a day.

    Today’s Hammams are usually open for women during the day and men in the evening.  Women flock to the Hamman to enjoy the ritual cleanse, relax and get away from their daily duties, and to gossip and socialize with their neighbors.  Just like fasting, a weekly ritual for devout muslims, a weekly visit to the hammam is part of both a religious and social Moroccan life.

    When we were in Asillah I visited my first Hammam, but it was not purely authentic although I enjoyed it immensely.  It was geared more to tourists and was located in a hotel.  Here I spent two hours having a woman scrub and cleanse me and wash my hair.  Following this I also had a massage and a manicure and pedicure.  It was all very lovely and relaxing and my skin felt so fresh and new.

    My second Hammam was a very authentic one in the city of Fes with my friend Sarah.  Fes is Morocco’s second largest city and the world’s largest medina (and oldest – a Unesco Heritage site).  The city of Fes has so many hammams, nearly one in every neighborhood. Even though there are so many they are nearly impossible to find.  The medina is an incredible maze and since few businesses of any kind have signage, you can easily walk right by and not know you just passed a Hammam.

    So we were taken to the Hammam by the housekeeper of our Airbnb.  She took us to the hidden one close to our Riad. She helped show us how it works. She brought all the things we needed and proceeded to create a very magical authentic cultural experience, even though she speaks not a word of English.

    At first it was a bit weird hanging out naked with our housekeeper. But we got over that after we were doused over and over with hot water. While we sat on the tile floor she slathered us down with African black soap, a mixture of several oils and plant extracts that looks like mud. It is solid but greasy and turns to liquid when rubbed on your warm skin. It felt pretty nice. She then used a scrub mitt and scrubbed the hell out of my skin. She was pretty proud of how much skin she sloughed off. Doused. Next she mixed dry henna with water and slathered that all over (I mean ALL over) my body. The green henna smelled exactly like spinach. Doused.

    Next she washed, conditioned and combed out our hair. Doused. I thought at this point we were done. Not.

    Next she lathered a loofah with jasmine soap and scrubbed us down again. Doused.

    Next she poured dry rosebuds in giant buckets of hot water. While the roses soaked she cleansed herself while we relaxed.   She then took the rose-water and doused one final big time. At this point my contact lenses and my inhibitions floated away.

    The room was abuzz with about a dozen other women of all ages including two small children.  The women all helped each other scrub their backs.  There was one very ancient women who seemed to be the hammam madam.  She refilled water buckets and cleaned up, dressed in what looked like board shorts and nothing more.

    This experience although unique, was similar to rituals in other countries. It seems to me everyone except the USA has some kind of ancient communal bathing ritual. If you can relax and let the magic take over, you should try it.  It was fun to experience it so authentically here in Fes.

    Fab Africa Travel

    Morocco on my Mind

    Chapter Eleven

    Location: Morocco

    Morocco on my mind. We’ve been in Morocco for 15 days and in Asilah for a week already and I am enchanted.  And so very relaxed.  Morocco is just about everything I could have hoped for.

    View from Our airbnb

    Except warm.

    No, in November Morocco is not warm.  I’ve layered up a lot, buried myself under blankets and comforters at

    Tea by the fire

    night, and cuddled up by a roaring fire in the evenings.  But it’s actually nice.  It’s sunny during the day, and comfortable and dry and we know we have heat and humidity coming up in destinations in the near future, so we are enjoying a bit of “winter” in North

    Moroccan Harira soup

    Africa.

    Morocco on my mind.

    Casablanca was “meh”, Chefchauoen was “bright”, Tangier was “confusing” but Asilah – ahhhh Asilah.  I will never forget you.  We are right on the ocean where the crashing waves lull us to sleep.  Where our morning coffee and breakfast is served on the terrace with the wind and salt air cooling our coffee mugs.  We walk on the beach each morning, with the resident camels, and wander the quiet “off-season” historic medina.  We visit the mercado with the locals, no other tourists around and we are both

    Mercado

    Latifah makes Couscous

    accepted and stared at by the amazing variety of residents of this region.  Asilah has been a spectacular, laid back, relaxed place to recuperate and regroup  on the Grand Adventure.  Exactly what the doctor ordered.

    Of course our perfect Airbnb plays a major role in how happy we are here.  Not only is the space perfect but it comes with Latifah, our personal chef and housemaid who is talented, kind, funny, and one of the hardest working people I have ever met in my life.  We have not eaten out at all during our

    View from our room

    time in Asilah – we have instead allowed the talented Latifah to pamper us beyond reason.  And I am so happy.

    Morocco on my mind.

    Our friends from California Sarah and Steve arrived two days ago and they too are loving Asilah and Latifah and we all are learning to cook the incredible Moroccan cuisine together.  Expect a blog soon about the cuisine of this amazing country.

    Two weeks in and still two weeks to go.  We relax

    Beautiful spices

    here in Asilah for a few more days and then we pick up the pace again; four days in Fez where we have a lot planned, five days on a tour that includes the desert and then three days in Marrakesh.  Feeling satisfied and welcome, enchanted and enthralled in this colorful, ancient and fascinating world.

    Morocco on my mind.

    Fab Africa Travel

    Artistic Asilah Sur La Mer

    Chapter Eleven

    Location: Title


    We came to artistic Asilah to do nothing.  Seriously, that was the plan.  We really needed some true relax days – to stay in bed all day if we so desired.  We chose Asilah because of its location, sur la mer, without knowing much more about it.  And it’s perfect.

    Only an hour south of Tangier, this teeny ancient town is nestled on the beach on the Atlantic Ocean.  In November it’s very quiet.  I mean really quiet.  In fact the year round population is about 20,000, with significantly fewer inside the medina perched on the ocean surrounded by Portuguese walls and ramparts.  During the summer months the population swells to more than 120,000, especially on the weekends, as Moroccans flock here
    for the cool ocean breeze.

    But November – how lovely.  The sun is shining but we need a sweater and at night the temperatures really dip.  Our Airbnb sits right on the sea, comes with a full-time maid and cook and we are only paying $72 a night.  There is very little to do here, but that’s okay with us.  Exactly what the doctor ordered after the past two months of constant motion.  Peace and quiet except for the crashing waves – like a lullaby.

    Annually Asilah hosts an art festival (in July) where murals are painted on the whitewashed walls and buildings inside the medina.  This began  in 1978 as a children’s art event and now defines Asilah.  The small town is known now as an artist haven, with galleries and working studios as well as the murals that are painted fresh each year during the festival.  The festival also includes music and dance and other arts, and draws about 200,000.  Too many for me.  Glad to be here in quiet November.

    The murals are a treat.  Some done by children, but most done by Moroccan artists.  My favorites are the ones that incorporate parts of the buildings – such as doors or windows or the ever present historic grates on the windows.

    The murals have certainly made Asilah a popular stop for visitors, many bus tours from Casablanca will stop for a couple of hours on the way to Tangier.  But in November we have only seen perhaps a half -dozen tourists.  And that’s the way we like it.

    So we get up and do some Yoga and then maybe take a run or walk on the beach.  Our cook Latifah then serves us breakfast on the seaside terrace.  The rest of our day is free – maybe we read.  Or blog.  Play scrabble and chess.  Maybe we nap.  Or walk through the quiet medina and enjoy the murals.  Latifah then serves us a midday Moroccan meal – sometime around 2:00pm.  This is our choice to eat at this time.  Later we might have fruit or a snack or step out for some tapas.  Who knows?  We have no plans.  We are relaxed in artistic Asilah sur le mer.

    Fabulous.