Thursday, May 31, 2012
We are going to spend the next few days showing you pictures of sand. We think they are varied and all pretty good in different ways. But they are all pictures of sand. So, if you're one of the hardy regulars here, get ready for artsy elemental stuff. Exhibit A, above. If you prefer our attempts at vivid travelogue, check back again in a week or so.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
I discovered on this trip that everything I had previously known about the desert came from Bugs Bunny cartoons (or perhaps cartoons of inferior competitors). And one inevitable scene in those cartoons is that if you are wandering through the desert, your best hope is to find an oasis. You might think you see an oasis, but most likely it is just a mirage, and when you try to jump in the water of the oasis, you will wind up with a mouthful of sand. The mirage thing may not quite work like that, but the oases are real! Above, an oasis in the desert, with water, palm trees, and even a bunch of frogs.
Something else I learned about the Sahara: It's not all sand dunes, which are the parts you see in Bugs Bunny and/or National Geographic. The locals divide the desert into three types: Erg, which are sand dunes; reg, which is scattered rocks and pebbles; and hamada, which is a flat plain of exposed stone or hard earth not unlike what golfers know as "hardpan." The majority of the Sahara is hamada and reg, as seen surrounding another oasis below. But the erg is the most photogenic, so that's where we'll go tomorrow.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Camels! Your correspondent went on a somewhat cheesy, but still totally fun and worth-it camel ride through the Sahara from our camp to an oasis. Obviously this is mostly for novelty value now, as most locals get around the desert on motorcycles or SUVs. We did see some people leading pack trains of camels, but I think to some extent these were just to reposition camels for tourist rides and resupply tourist camps.
But our guide did claim that there are wild camels run around the desert. Most of the obviously owned camels I saw had some sort of rope tied to their mouths even when they were let out to pasture. And I did not see any camel-herder around these camels, so maybe they are indeed wild (or more likely feral?) camels.
Monday, May 28, 2012
First item from the Sahara, for no particular reason: there is actually wildlife there! Your correspondent imagined it being a totally lifeless wasteland. Perhaps it was only because we were not in the hugest expanses of dunes, but there were several living things. There are actually some flowers and patches of grass in some stretches. Even in the middle of the dunes, though, you can find scarab beetles, as below, which leave funny trails through the sand that would be notable even if the scarab wasn't famous from any number of movies about mummies and other ancient Egyptian stuff.
Even cooler, and pictured below in the hand of one of our guides, is the sandfish. This is weird little lizard that burrows through sand with a motion really does look exactly like swimming. Your correspondent held the sandfish for a moment, and found that despite being very shiny, they are actually really dry and the shine is just because they are so smooth. Oh, also: They are super awesome. Perhaps as testament to their awesomeness, their scientific name is "scincus scincus." Best of all, according to Wikipedia, they are readily available in U.S. pet stores. Get yours today!
Sunday, May 27, 2012
We went to the Sahara. It was wonderful. We took the bus from Marrakesh to the town M'Hamid, which is a town of maybe a few thousand people, literally where the road ends. You can walk to the end of it as it just disappears into the desert. Your correspondent arrived at almost midnight with no hotel reservations and no plans on how to get to the desert from there - and everything worked out great. We haven't pulled off something like that in years, since the days when we were backpacking in Chile or Central Europe and it seemed more authentic and cheaper to not have reservations anywhere. I don't know if it's authentic or cheap, but the feeling of freedom is pretty hard to top. At least, as long as you don't get shut out and wind up sleeping on the street.
The sign above, is a replica of one that used to stand in Zagora, and read "Timboctou, 52 Jours," because apparently it was exactly 52 days by camel caravan across the Sahara to the trading networks of sub-Saharan Africa. And apparently, someone did the math and two of those days got you from Zagora to where M'Hamid stands today, a couple hours trip down the sealed road. We decided to leave it for another vacation to complete the full 50-day journey across the Sahara (which is probably no longer even possible for normal people due to border tensions in the region). But we did spend two nights out in the dunes, and will show you some pictures to prove it over the next several days.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
We took a 12-hour bus ride from Marrakesh to M'Hamid. The national bus line provided timely service and a clean, modern bus. But 12 hours is a long time on a bus, no matter what. I can't say the time passed quickly, but the scenery was truly spectacular. We took a lot more handsome pictures than we'll wind up showing here, some of which are of more traditionally photogenic mountain passes and palm-filled valleys and striking rock formations. But we think this one, from some mud-walled town along the way whose name we forget, captured something a bit more Moroccan than pretty scenery. Reasonable people might disagree.
Friday, May 25, 2012
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Like a lot of developing cities, Marrakesh features lots of people getting around on bicycles and scooters and mopeds and such. Which, in turn, presents the staff photographer with a great opportunity to practice his panning shots. The pointy-hood style djellaba is purely gravy.
Oh and extra gravy, below, which was not-so-cleanly executed on the panning front, but it's a dude on a "Zip" scooter in a djellaba and a fez. You can not go wrong.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
It took some serious wandering to get away from the tourist souk and into a section of town that seemed to be selling stuff for locals. But when you come to a spot where a kid has a table about five feet wide and filled with cute yellow chicks for sale, you've probably found the local area of the market. Sadly, that kid did not want his picture taken.
Instead, we offer this photo of a tailor who makes djellabas, or as we call them in America, "Jawa robes." You can see his entire shop here, with the staff photographer shooting from a foot or two out in the street. Most notably, this gentlemen sold baby-size djellabas, finding which had been something of a quest over the course of the trip. Tip to Moroccan tourist souk people: If prominently displayed in one of the primary tourist shopping areas, you would almost certainly make a killing on baby-size djellabas, or at the very least djellabas for children (age 8? 10?) roughly the size of Jawas.
Monday, May 21, 2012
This guy's stall in the Marrakesh souks was bursting with color from his various fruit-shaped pastry treats. It's a little tough to tell here because it actually was a bit dark, it turns out. In any case, we were unable to resist and bought a few, and then were suckered into buying enough to get some kind of modest volume discount. It was probably worth it. I think we ate all of them before we left. But it was a struggle.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Morocco's main square, the Djemaa el Fna, is as fantastic as advertised. Would that every city had such a gathering place for musicians, vendors, and great street food, bustling every night of the week. Above, just a couple of the delicious open-air grills that serve Moroccan fare on the square nightly. Your correspondent ate there on multiple evenings, enjoyed it every time, and suffered none of the much-rumored gastrointestinal distress as a result.
Below, a photographic masterpiece documenting your correspondent's first ever knowing consumption of snails. There are many stalls in and near the square sauteing up a huge vat of snails, ringed by bar stools where customers are handed a small bowl full along with a toothpick for retrieving them from their shells. They weren't bad. I'm not sure under what rubric one might consider them a delicacy, but perhaps they have fancier snails in France.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Friday, May 18, 2012
We were only in Meknes for a couple hours. Maybe three. But here we are with a second picture from Meknes. A second picture of a door, no less. Or really, the people near the door. And what doors!
We thought we had some great pictures from the market areas in Meknes, which were really truly local markets, and involved nobody hassling tourists, and it turns out were quite easy to get legitimately lost in. But those pictures aren't as good as these atmospheric dudes in front of atmospheric doors. There are also so many walls in Meknes fencing off old cities and various grounds belonging to the King that I had a hard time tracking what walls I was inside and which ones I was outside of. But this, in any case, is an impressive gate from a big city wall. Like yesterday, perhaps worth clicking on to see it a bit bigger, if you have a moment.
Tomorrow, if I'm not mistaken, Marrakesh!
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Your correspondent made a brief spin through Meknes. We hired a cab for the day, and the driver did fine with very basic English (better than your correspondent's Arabic or French, to be sure). But he also was stumped when I didn't really want to go see the Meknes Royal Horse Stable or something, and preferred to just go straight to the medina and this building which is a large, ornate, multi-room mausoleum for Moulay Ishmail, who ruled Morocco in the late 17th century.
Photography note: I love this guy coming out of the door and wish I could publish this way bigger to capture the whole scene but get the details on the person and the door. Anyway, you can see it somewhat bigger if you click on it, should you care to do so.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
This may be our last picture from Fez - since our goal is to edit all these pictures down to 30 entries, and we are halfway through our trip and yet Fez was nowhere near half of our trip.
Anyway, this is just nice late afternoon light on a guy selling chestnuts. The wall features some election-related graffiti - although I don't really get how it works. There were numerous locations that had a series of numbered boxes on the wall, some of which featured what are clearly logos for political candidates or parties. Did they paint all 11 boxes here to help the viewer understand that they needed to find the pigeon in box 11, not the dove in box 5.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Two things on a wall in Fez: First, the number 7 is from some sort of election graffiti, a favorite topic of the Holla. Maybe more about that later. Second, the threads stretching across are from some process of yarn-spinning or weaving or something that your correspondent never really understood how it worked, but it involved looping thread around a nail or hook on the wall, then stretching it out some twenty yards down the street to the shop of the person working the thread into whatever item they are producing. We think the various strings on the nail to the right of the picture are the result of previous iterations of this process, but we're not totally sure.
Sorry for the not very insightful peek into Moroccan culture on this one. Mostly we just like this as a found composition.
Monday, May 14, 2012
Another business on the main road in Fez medina. I think these are bottles of rosewater, since the sign says "eau de rose", but the sign also says a lot of other stuff and there were other signs cropped out of the picture that mentioned lots of other flowers and herbs. Sadly my zero level of Arabic and hodgepodge French was insufficient to nail down further detail. This kid was happy to have his picture taken, and then the staff photographer proceeded to take some close-up pictures of the bottles and such, and then the kid decided that was enough pictures and asked me to quit. And then the guy selling newspapers or something next to him started arguing with the kid in Arabic - given the timing, perhaps about whether I should be allowed to keep taking pictures or not. Obviously there is some sort of community discussion or policy debate regarding proper interaction with the camera-toting tourist hordes.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Though not the first thing that springs to mind when imagining the tourist sights of Morocco, they do have a nicely preserved Roman ruin. Between Fez and Meknes, the ruins at Volubilis are the remnants of a Roman city built a couple thousand years ago. There are arches and columns still standing, one of which columns is home to storks in the winter, as seen below. The coolest feature was the presence of many nicely preserved mosaic floors, of which the photo above is just a detail. Your correspondent loves old piles of rocks and happily wandered around for hours, probably to the bafflement of the driver who was waiting for me in the parking lot.
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Best thing about Fez, in comparison with the perhaps more famous Marrakesh: Each one has a magnificent medina, or old town, with winding alleys occupied by souks, or markets. But in Marrakesh there seems to be a pretty clear, and sizable, section of town that is the "tourist souk." In Fez, this process is clearly underway, and there are a few stretches that are tourist-dominated. But there are also stretches of medina that seem somewhat mixed. I.e., there are still people selling stuff that is obviously for locals not too far from the places selling leather slippers and handbags for tourists. The guy pictured above, selling mostly grains for cooking (I think), was along the main street heading from the most famous city gate to the most famous mosque. It seems only a matter of time before this prime real estate is dominated by nothing but tourist-market shops, but that time hasn't happened yet. (He was one of many who I think agreed to have his picture taken and then ignored the staff photographer as he shot, which is kind of perfect.)
Friday, May 11, 2012
While The Lovely Katherine was waylaid with some dread illness, the staff photographer had a nice stroll around Fez and did not have to feel even a bit guilty about holding things up by standing around waiting for the right composition to come together. I have to assume that the little laughing kid here is related to the older kid. But maybe he's not related, and just laughing because he won all those tic-tac-toe games on the doors behind them.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
The trend over the last couple decades in Morocco has been to abandon the big international hotels in the new cities and stay in renovated riads, or stately homes centered on leafy courtyards. Your correspondents are admittedly a bit contrarian at times, but we're trying to accept the trends that have merit - and this trend certainly does. We stayed at a fine riad in Fez, with a nice roof deck for taking breakfast and a beautiful blue-tiled courtyard featuring fruit tress and a fountain and the bowl of oranges above and a number of live turtles.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
When some people we know and love asked why wanted to go to Morocco, among the reasons we gave was the architecture. One friend who had been there said she didn't think there was anything particularly interesting in the architecture there. Not that we care too much about being right all the time, and our friend is still great and smart and all, but this photo from the Bou Inania medrassah (c 1350) proves she was wrong.
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
One of the famous industries of Morocco is their leather work. In both Fez and Marrakesh, there are large tanneries where leather is made by hand in what appears to be a backbreaking process of washing hides in noxious substances and scraping and dying and such. There is also a small industry of guys trying to get you to go see their tannery and then demand a sizable "tip" afterwards. Your correspondent was half-way shopping for a briefcase and was fished in by one of the more clever (I like to think) of these faux guides, but the extended tour of the tannery that resulted actually turned out to be pretty worthwhile. So it wasn't a "scam" other than that the promised price "free, just come look and see if you want to buy something at the leather shop" changed by the end of the trip "I spent a long time showing you around the tannery, so give me some money." The price I paid was what I thought the tour was worth, so I didn't feel financially ripped off, but one still feels a little silly at the point of realization that you've fallen for a line.
It can be a little hard visiting a country as a tourist when you want to be open to experiences and talk with locals but avoid being taken advantage of. Perhaps some amount of getting scammed is worth it for the value of not spending your whole vacation avoiding conversation in an attempt to avoid being taken. Your correspondent did, in fact visit a couple workshops where friendly people were happy to just show him what they were doing, but it's hard to know which is which before hand. I suppose that is all to say: nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Anyway, above and below, hides drying on the roofs of the tannery buildings.
Monday, May 07, 2012
Sunday, May 06, 2012
Saturday, May 05, 2012
After our brief time in Casablanca, our first destination was Fez. (The last couple days' pictures were also from Fez, actually.) We had heard from a friend who had been there that people in Morocco don't actually wear fezzes. Not true! We did not see many youngsters running around in fezzes but we definitely saw a number of the oldsters fully fezzed up. We saw even more of the brimless caps seen above, especially the one in the middle just above the "patente" sign. They basically seem like a felt fez without the tassel. We can't say if that technically qualifies as a fez or not.
Friday, May 04, 2012
Did we not, just yesterday, tell you there would be more jellabas? And yet, we're not sure which is more interesting here, the guy in his jawa robe, or the contraption he has set up for displaying candy for sale. Also of note, this was the first of several subjects that we did our best to communicate, "Do you mind if I take your picture? Un foto, s'il vous plait?" And got an affirmative answer, and yet then they looked kind of annoyed that we were taking their picture. Which I guess one can understand in a heavily touristed place like Morocco: Perhaps they know which side the bread is buttered on, but they don't have to be real excited about that buttering job they are stuck with.
Thursday, May 03, 2012
It must be said: One of the most striking features of Morocco is the widespread use of the jellaba, which is Arabic for "Jawa robe." The Jawas* limited themselves to a plain brown robe, which Moroccans also use but not to the exclusion of a variety of patterns and colors, such as this light striped number. Do not/not worry that this will be the last picture of a jellaba-clad Moroccan we will present here. Not by a long shot.
* Follow this link if you don't know what a Jawa is in the science-fiction sense, or if you want to be shocked by the amount of time that fans have put into a wikipedia page dedicated to a minor character from Star Wars. Did you know, for example, that "The Jawas were originally descendants of the Kumumgah species which used to live on Tatooine long before the formation of the Galactic Republic and long before the planet was even a desert." Criminy, people.
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
The only real site of touristic interest we went to in Casablanca was the Hassan II Mosque. This huge structure, built at the edge of the sea, is the third biggest mosque in the world. We expected something very gaudy and ostentatious. While it was intricate and huge and therefore to some extent ostentatious, it was not gaudy at all. It was a beautiful building, actually, particularly the interior. We took a bunch of pictures of the beautiful tile work and carved columns and plaster and such, but this shot of a guy washing the windows facing the ocean beat them all.
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Your intrepid correspondents went to Morocco. It was only two weeks (or less for some of your correspondents), but we still managed to take a million pictures and a thousand of them turned out ok. So, over the next month and maybe more, some pictures and maybe some stories and probably some fun facts from Morocco. Above, to start us off, sunset in Marrakesh.