Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gorgeous Gorge.

3-26-14 BOUMALNE DADES, MOROCCO: We started the day in Ouarzazate at the Kasbah Taourirt.  It's one of former Pasha of Marrakech and feudal warlord, Thami El Glaoui's, many palaces. Our tour guide is a local who has appeared in many films. After the tour, the bus took us east on the Road of 1,000 Kasbahs. We followed rivers and went through several small towns.

We stopped a few times, once at a fossil and mineral shop that had some nice specimens, but they’re all too heavy to drag around. We arrived at Boumalne Dades in time for lunch at our next hotel, Xaluca, another gem.

We did the Dades Gorge. It’s a beautiful spot, cut out of the rock by a river and heavily settled for the water that allows agriculture. The rock in question is sedimentary sandstone, limestone and conglomerate. All of it uplifted, bent, folded, faulted, fractured and weathered. We motored for most of it, but we did walk parts where we could avoid the traffic.

Back at Hotel Xaluca, we caught Berber folk dancers, heard Ron’s last talk about an archaeological dig, Sijilmasa, that he worked on several years ago. We may visit the site tomorrow. We shared the busy hotel with German bikers and English birders. Dinner followed.

Kasbah Taourirt palace.


Palace room.

That church, top/center, with the cross is a movie set.

Movie star/tour guide.

Road of 1000 Kasbahs trip.

Fossil shop.

Dried up salty puddles.

Dades Gorge-weathered sedimentary conglomerate and sandstone looking like stacks of oreo cookies.

Dades Gorge-folded, fractured sedimentary rock. Imagining it all lying flat gives you an idea of how much compression occurred to build the Atlas Mountains.

Dades Gorge-twisty road near the top. The river is at the bottom of the shadowed cliff. The rock here is all limestone.

Dades Gorge-nomad family.

Berber dancers at the hotel.

Hotel Xaluca tea service.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lights, Camera....

3-25-14 OUARZAZATE, MOROCCO: We were on the bus by 8 AM heading east and then south up into the High Atlas Mountains. They were formed at the same time as the Alps and Pyrenees as part of the collision between and subduction of the African Plate with and under the European Plate. Anyway, the Atlas are tall and young and the tops are still snow capped. As the road climbed up the foothills, we noticed the change in vegetation to apple and cherry trees from the citrus trees.

In late morning, still in the foothills, we visited a Berber village and met the villagers and Peace Corps volunteers. The villagers were excited to have us visit and fed us a lunch of mint tea, olive oil,  a butter and honey mix, bread and hard-boiled eggs. We had a village tour after the spread. We also got a lot of info about the volunteers’ activities which includes, well-digging, medical care and literacy for women. There doesn't seem to be much government assistance for the rural poor. Lucy got two marriage proposals.

Back on the road, we made only a few stops for pix and wc’s, and then we were over the pass and down into the desert. On the way up, folded and fractured sedimentary strata became evident as the vegetation thinned out. South of the mountains is a rocky desert with sparse vegetation which is very different from the fruited plains north of the mountains. There are villages clustered around the rivers for the water.

Aït Benhaddou is a river village with a mostly abandoned, but picturesque old town that has been restored by movie companies. They use this area for filming desert epics. Andrew told us Game of Thrones was filming there the last time he led a trip. After lunch, another good one at L’Oasis D’or, we explored the old town, crossing the river on a beautiful new bridge. The top had great views of the green river valley and desert. Later after the ladies finished shopping, we went on to Ouarzazate, the Hollywood of Morocco.

The Berbère Palace Hotel is filled with leftover props from movies—chariots, thrones, statutes of pagan gods—all labeled as to movie of origin. Before and during dinner we met and talked with some local female university students. They have great English skills. We talked about Morocco and America and women’s issues. One of them hopes to come to the US to study journalism.

Before the climb begins...

It's still green.

At the Berber village.

Berber village lunch.

Berber village center with the mayor.

Sedimentary strata upended...

...and folded.

Some snow near the top and green in the valley.

Near the Atlas summit, little vegetation, twisty road.

Atlas Mountains from the south, desert in the foreground.

Movie set/village of Aït Benhaddou.

White wagtail at the riverside. [thanks FM]

Top of the old town.

Atlas behind Aït Benhaddou.

Old town and river.

If there's a desert, there must be camels.

Berbère Palace Hotel with pagan god.

Monday, March 24, 2014

More Marrakech.

3-24-14 MARRAKECH, MOROCCO: After breakfast, we had an 8 AM start and bussed to the Jardin Majorette, a beautiful, walled garden founded in the early 20th century, by Jacques Majorette, a French painter. It was later opened to the public, and more recently restored by Yves Saint Laurent. The grounds include a Berber Museum. The cactus collection is one of the largest in the world. The museum has tools, jewels, and textiles. It’s small but worth the visit.

Next, we were back in the medina and saw a renovated house, Dar Bellarj, and the Ben Youssef Madrasa, a 14th century Islamic college. It’s another architectural gem built around a central courtyard with a reflecting pool. The typical building in the medina has a plain outside wall with no windows and opens up to an atrium with the reflecting pool. Upstairs in the madrasa, is a labyrinth of small student rooms. Lucy had her name written in Arabic calligraphy.

We saw a Qoubba, a site for ritual baths, from the 11th century, built by the Almoravid dynasty. It is the only structure that survived the transfer of power, non-peaceful, to the Almohads successors. It’s a small, stout and sturdy looking structure. Lunch was at Dar Moha in their courtyard by their pool, another great meal.

Some of us went with the trip leaders Ron and Andrew to the archaeological dig that Ron has been running for 9 years at Aghmat, a small town in the Atlas foothills. The Atlas Mts. are craggy and snow covered. Ron's team has uncovered a large, Roman style bath with three chambers, the royal palace and the mosque. The size of the bath and mosque suggest a big settlement. Ephesus and Pompey once looked like this when the excavations were beginning. Back in Marrakech, Ron gave a history rundown on Morocco. Atlas Mountains tomorrow.

The Jardin has water features, bridges and a huge cactus collection.

Cacti, cacti, cacti.

Big bamboo.

Almoravid mosque, 11th century.

Calligrapher at work.

Souk transport.

Simultaneous translation.

Hotel garden.

Marrakech school kids.

The madrasa courtyard.

The market, souk, light fixtures....

and dyed yarn and weaving.

Aghmat offers a view and preview of the Atlas Mountains behind the mosque.

In the archaeological dig at Aghmat, inside 11th century baths.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Square Snakes.

3-23-14 MARRAKECH, MOROCCO: How could I be in Casablanca and not mention Casablanca?

The climate in Casablanca is like California—palms, eucalyptus, bougainvillea, citrus, olives, hibiscus, etc. There are vineyards and local wines. This morning’s lecture by Ronald Messier about Islamic art was excellent. “No boring monotony, no abrupt changes” was the take home message.

The road to Marrakech is a four lane, limited access highway heading SE and rising steadily from flat plains with roadcuts of buff and cream colored sedimentary limestone to hillier land with red soil and gray rock outcrops. These roadcuts have no well-defined strata. The climate is more arid than at the coast. The roadside activity is all agricultural, cattle, sheep, olives, vineyards, vegetable crops and prickly-pear cactus. The cactus fruit is eaten, the greens are fed to livestock and the plants are used for fences.

Our hotel in Marrakech, Le Meridien, has adobe buildings, like most of the structures here in this city. We had buffet lunch at the hotel on the patio by the pool right after arriving and then hit the old town. Most buildings are reddish-brown adobe, but the Bahia palace that we visited was painted white with blue trim. The inside of the palace is decorated with lots of tile work and very fancy carved, cedar ceilings. We spent time in the market, souk, in the old town, medina, inside the kasbah, originally a fort whose walls now define the medina. Storks live atop those deteriorating walls. The adobe walls were built using wooden cross-supports holding construction forms together, now the walls are holed where the wood has eroded out. Pigeons and other birds use those holes as nesting sites.

Djemma el Fna Square, the center of the old town has stalls selling everything plus snake charmers with cobras, monkeys, street food, music and huge crowds. Val and Lucy, who are on the trip, did it all, including the snakes. After a quick turn to buy soccer shirts for presents, Judy and I watched the action from the upper floor of a watering hole. Dinner, the best yet, was at Yacout.


Play it again, Val.

The tat.

Sheep galore.

Stork on the wall.


Palace room with mosaics, a fireplace and carved cedar, no plain white plaster ceilings here.

Charmed cobras.

Central Square.

There's a shirt shopper in there somewhere.

Those cones are spices and herbs.

Holes in the walls of the kasbah.