Surf and Turf


Morocco -- part 2

For this trip, we signed up for every optional tour available.  One of them was a culinary demonstration.  We learned how to make couscous.  Open a box and pour it in boiling water?  Surely you jest.  This is a three hour commitment every Friday for families in Morocco.  It's a religious thing.  And so on our last Friday in the country in the city of Marrakesh, we attended the class.  As we found out time and time again, we would go through a nondescript door and on the other side would be this fabulous scene.  Sometimes my mouth would hang open at the fabulousness of it all.  Pools, palm trees, fountains, mosaic scenes, intricate carvings in the walls, beautiful furniture, etc.  Same thing happened when we showed up for our cooking class.  It was in a beautiful room at a beautiful restaurant.  The woman below is our teacher and the man is Rasheed, our tour guide and interpreter.
After watching the demo, we were treated to couscous, lamb and veggies that had been prepared earlier.  Our table was outdoors surrounded by lush vegetation. We were also treated to some more tagine dishes.  Using a tagine to cook meat makes it very tender because the moisture is constantly falling back into the food.  And the meal ended like all the others:  a huge bowl of oranges, dates, and bananas.  They even threw in a plate of pastries.
After lunch we were taken to the Majorelle Gardens and Marrakesh Museum.  Gorgeous.  (picture of that below)

At the Bahia Palace in Marrakesh.

On our way to Ouarzazate, we stopped at a place that makes and sells (of course) Argan oil.  We had a demonstration to see how it ends up as the expensive oil that we all love and use.  What -- you don't use it yet??  Pay attention here.
The argan fruit is shelled and the bitter covering is fed to animals.  The nut is then cracked open by hand by these women that are in a co-op.  They each have their favorite rock to open it up.  They let me have a crack at it.  Not easy!

And then the nuts (a nut within a nut) are put through a rock grinder and the stuff that comes out looks like peanut butter.  Then the "peanut butter" is squeezed and the oil comes out.  The dry leftovers are again fed to animals.  Argan oil is deliciousDipping bread in it is yummy.  And it's also used in cosmetics.  And then there was a store of course.  I bought the spray for hair.  I was ready to buy a small bottle for eating, but the lady said, "Get the bigger bottle.  It's more economy."    Their use of English was very amusing.  And yes, I got the bigger bottle.  Look up the virtues of argan oil.  It's good for you.
They have tried to plant more Argan trees, but they won't grow.  There is only one way for it to happen:  goats climb up in the trees to eat the fruit after the grass on the ground is all gone.  The nuts pass through the goats and that is the ONLY way to grow a new tree.  You're welcome for that information.

Yes, we saw those awesome goats.  And their shepherds were right there to get paid for the privilege of taking the picture.
This was a full day tour of the coastal town in Essaouira on the Atlantic coast.  Back in the day, they had to protect themselves from pirates.
Our tour guide would pronounce some words that would make us smile.  Do we tell him the correct way to say the words, or do we let it go and allow the next group to enjoy it also?  (We let it go.)  One day he was saying something that he really wanted us to internalize, so he said, "I am warning you orally with my words."  I immediately got my phone out and wrote it down.  I'm planning to use that phrase myself.  It's priceless.  And also hilarious.
We ended our tour of Morocco in Casablanca.  The picture below is the Hassan II Mosque.  It's the only mosque that non-Muslims can go into. So we did.  It was built over the Atlantic ocean.

Thousands of Muslims pray there.  Only men on the ground floor.  There is a mezzanine for the women.
Can you say STUNNING?  And downstairs there are fountains for the people to wash first so that they are symbolically clean before praying.  Interesting, huh?
The view of the Hassan II Mosque from across the bay.
Our boys noticed the waves and talked about the surfing done in Morocco.
The royal palace in Rabat.  Like I mentioned in the previous post, I really like those keyhole entrances.  David -- wanna remodel the house?
And of course the snake charmers and their enforcers are watching for anyone that dares to take a picture.  You must pay for the privilege of using your camera!
These guys are water bearers.  Drink their water at your own risk.  They are mostly there for the picture opportunity.  Which of course, you will pay for.  I shot this from inside the tour bus.  Does that make me a cheapskate?

Here's our itinerary:

Day 1)   Arrive in Casablanca.  Transfer to Rabat.
Day 2)   Tour of Rabat. The Royal Palace.  Chellah Necropolis.  Mohamed V Mausoleum with Hassan Tour.  Oudaya Kasbah.    Afternoon:  (en route to Fez)  Volubillis.  Holy City of Moulay Idriss.
Day 3)   Fes.  (That's how they spell it there.)  Quaraouine Mosque.  Medersa Attarine.  Caravan Serail Nejjarine.  Medina.  Tanneries.  Jewish Cemetary.  Mellah. Mosaic factory. (rainy day)
Day 4)   Enroute to Erfoud.  Cedar Forest.  Middle Atlas Mountains.  Ifrane (ski resort).  Azrou (handicrafts), Errachidia.  Ziz Valley.  (oasis')  Kasbah Asmaa for lunch.
Day 5)   Sunrise at Merzouga Dunes.  CAMEL RIDE!  Travel to Ouarzazate via the Tinjdad Road, Todgha Gorge, Dades Valley, Rose Valley, Road of the thousand kasbahs.
Day 7)  City tour in Ouarzazate.  Atlas Film Studios.  Kasbah Taourirt Village (12th century).  Ait Benhaddou Village.
Day 8)   Travel to Marrakech via the Tichka Pass.  High Atlas mountains. Half day Telouet Kasbah with 4x4's.  Stop in a village for tea and bread with a host family.
Day 9)  Marrakesh.  Saaian tombs.  Koutoubia Minaret.  Bahia Palace.  Shopping in the Medina.  Culinary demo, Majorelle Gardens.  Berber Museum.  Dinner with a horse drawn carriage ride.  (the entertainment during dinner was the best ever.  Musicians and bellydancer.)
Day 10)   Essaouira.   Seaside. Shopping in the medina.  Bought gelato.  Twice.
Day 11)  Travel to Casablanca.
Day 12)   Hassan II Mosque.  Corniche seaside.  Mohamed V Square.  Habous quarter.  Notre Dame de Lourdes Cathedral.  Shopping in a medina.  Farewell dinner along the Corniche.  (what we would call the Strand)
Day 13) Fly to NYC.  Fly home to L.A.

We had a wonderful time.  Traveling with Jim and Sharla was really fun and gave us the opportunity to share the experiences.  We made wonderful new friends within our tour group. We highly recommend a Moroccan vacation.  The whole trip can be summed up in one word:  Wonderfulness.  (That's a word, right?)


Morocco (part one)

First of all -- our adventure in Morocco was AMAZING.  The question we got the most from people was (and still is):  "Why Morocco?"   Well, for starters, 1) we'd never been   2) it's exotic  3) we found a good deal   4) I like going places that everybody and their dog haven't been to.   (David tells me that I'm the only person he's ever heard that uses that phrase.)   And another thing: the theme for Girls Weekend 2015 is Arabian Nights, so I had homework to do.
It was a 7 hour flight from New York City to Casablanca.  We were met by our travel guide and immediately left for the capital city of Rabat.  Morocco has had a few capital cities over the centuries, and so each one has the distinction of being called an Imperial City. 
We were given that first day to rest up and deal with jet lag.  We slept for an hour or two and then met a senior missionary couple serving in Rabat on a Church Service mission.  No proselyting allowed.  They took us around on a great walking tour of the city.  It was so great to be with them and have a more in-depth tour and to hear about the service that they are doing in the country.

Now - let's get on to the many pictures.  It's always a good idea to start with a picture of food.
Can you say YUM?  (By the way, this was at a restaurant where Elder Holland had been not too long ago when he dedicated the land.)
They serve a lot of olives.  Which I LOVE.  For the most part, out of the four of us, I liked the olives and the dates the most.  Lucky me.  Oh -- and they have TONS of oranges and tangerines.  I ate more of those for the two weeks than I've eaten in years here at home.  And I even have a tree!
We went on this adventure with David's brother Jim and his wife Sharla.  Great traveling companions.

 This was at the Hassan Tower in Rabat.  Those horses have learned to stand still for hours.

 In the lobby at the hotel in Fez.  (these pictures aren't in order)
 This was a dinner and a show at a restaurant in Fez.  I didn't used to appreciate mosiacs -- I thought they were too busy and kind of ugly.  I have done a complete180. Now I love them!  Every wall in this big place was covered in mosiac.  LUV.  (And I have already ordered and received a mosiac wall hanging for the house.  Now where to put it. . . )
Those guys in the above picture played for a long time.  Then there was a bellydancer (she was so bad it was hard to keep from laughing my head off) and a magic show.  Three times I was called up to join the performers.  Three!  And David was even led to the stage once.  I have videos if you ever want to see them.
 After being in Fez for a couple of days, we headed up over the Middle Atlas mountains.  The picture below was in the town of Ifrane.   If you didn't know you were in Morocco, you'd think you were in a Swiss ski resort.  We stopped for lunch at Kasbah Asmaa. 

 Middle Atlas Mountains.  We watched the monkeys in the trees for a while. 

 At the restaurant.

 The florist in Rabat is friends with Elder and Sister Madsen, so when he saw us, he gave Sharla and I each a rose.

The Oudaya Kasbah in Rabat

 Baby turtles for sale.
 The ancient ruins of Chellah in Rabat.  Those towers are called Minarets.  And at the top?  Stork nests.  And we saw plenty of storks.  They nest there for the winter.  And those nests are massive!
Below is a natural spring that has eels in it.  And still today as in ancient times, "old maids" come to bathe in the waters and wrap the eels around their waists to invoke powers to find a husband.  Because everybody knows that's the way to find a mate. 

 Just thought it was pretty.
 Okay, back in Rabat.    This building is the Hassan Tower.  It's new.  Inside, the current king's father is lying inside his gorgeous tomb.  The whole building just for that.  Mosiacs covering EVERY wall.  The most gorgeous tile on the floor that I've ever seen.  The ceiling -- amazingly beautiful.

 Treats.  I bought a piece of baklava.  I paid a whole dollar for that piece!  Rip-off.  But I'd do it again.
 Okay, now we're at the ancient ruins of the Roman city of Volubillis. (a stop on our way to Fez)  There are wonderfully preserved original mosaics, the Roman Road, and the city layout.  This city existed before Christ.  And I learned that the phrase "all roads lead to Rome" is literal.  Had no idea.  
Everywhere we went, the local guides would tell us that the Lisbon earthquake in the 1700's leveled a lot of places and caused a lot of damage.  I had to look it up when I got home.  On today's Richter scale, it would have measured in the 9's.  So I can see why there was a lot of problems because of that.
 I was very surprised to find out all the cultures and peoples that called Morocco home at one time or another.  Besides the Romans, it was a thriving Jewish stronghold.  But when Israel became recognized, most of the Jews went back "home."   And our guide said "Israel" by using air quotes.  He probably didn't appreciate that I laughed out loud when he did that.  Too bad.
 David and Jim at Volubillis.  ( Notice the stork nest up there on the column?)

Inside the medina.  Rooms are open in the middle to collect rain water.
 The above picture is inside the Medina in Fez.   We walked into a leather factory and then upstairs to look out over those pots of dye for the leather.  Fez was the capital of Morocco for more than 400 years and is home to the University of Al Karaouline, the oldest operating university in the world.
In the medina, there are over 20 miles of alleys.  We had to have a guide because there is no way on earth you could find your way around.   Ever.
 This was a place of worship inside the Medina.

 At a pottery plant.  The guys below hand chip each small piece of mosaic.  I'm impressed.
 I bought two soup bowls at this place.  And I got the blue ones.  Indigo blue is the color of Fez.
 We traveled to Erfoud (very close to the Sahara Desert) and pulled up to this Kasbah.
As we walked through the keyhole entrance (have I mentioned how much I love those keyhole entrances yet?) we were greeted with a GORGEOUS site.  We only stayed one night here, but I would have been happy to spend a few days here.  Oh my gosh!  Even the bathroom sinks were to die for.
The meals were amazing.  Best "hotel" ever!
 The next morning we arose at 4 a.m. to travel to the Merzouga Dunes (30 minutes-ish) where we rode camels.  Woo hoo!  Highlight of the trip.  We can now say that we rode camels in the Sahara Desert.  It was still dark when we arrived.  We were assigned our camels (one per person), climbed up (easy-peasy) and rode for about 20-30 minutes to where we would leave the camels.  We climbed up a few more dunes and watched the sun rise over the Sahara.  You can wipe the tears from your eyes now.  I'll wait while you go get a tissue.

Our shadows.
 Our guide had that way-cool garb to put on me.  And yes, he was tipped generously.  And then we rode the camels back to the Kasbah.  You know what?  I think I want a kasbah.

Our tour group.  We are in Ouarzazate.  (War-za-zot)  This is at the Atlas studios and this particular set is where Return of the Mummy was filmed.   Jewel of the Nile was filmed here and anything else that needs to look Egyptian.  We even saw the castle where the exteriors for Game of Thrones is filmed.  Brad Pitt also starred in a movie that was filmed there.  Can't remember the name.
 This is the Dades Valley.  Famous for its roses.  And dates.

Kasbah Taourirt in Ouarzazate

 We took a half day 4x4 Telouet Kasbah tour and stopped by a home of a family.  As usual, we were offered mint tea and bread.  It was wonderful to see what the inside of these homes looked like.  And people were very gracious this whole trip to make tea for the four of us Mormons with just hot water and mint leaves.
The girl above had served us the tea and bread (below) and then went to work making her rug on the loom.   And we got to see the room just off the kitchen where the goats, sheep and chickens live.  In fact, a goat wandered in once to say hello.  I'm impressed with the manners that Moroccan goats have in greeting guests. And the oven where the bread was baked?  A tiny rock dome outside. 

 Meat for sale!

This was a side trip to Todgha Gorge.  The river started right behind where we're standing and just bubbled up out of the ground.  Donkeys were there quenching their thirst, and women were there doing laundry and filling up jugs for drinking water.   We crossed a rickety bridge to get to the restaurant.  I have to admit that I really enjoyed the fact that they don't have OSHA rules there.  Things were more "real" and authentic.  There was also a guy trying to get us to rock climb straight up the canyon wall. You mean this powdery loose rock wall?  Are you kidding me?  Okay okay, maybe OSHA's not so bad.

 At Ait Benhaddou.  A World Heritage site. 

Every hotel (or kasbah) should have a camel zoo out front.

 Ait Benhaddou.  Sharla and Jim in the frame.

 On our way to Marrakech, we went up and over the Tichka Pass in the High Atlas Mountains - the highest road point in Morocco.  (that number is in meters)   Kudos to our driver for negotiating those roads.

Fatima and Mohammad

 David and Jim
  Sharla's couscous lunch at Kasbah Asmaa.  

Languages spoken in Morocco?  Arabic and French.
And now I'm thinking:  this is only part one?  Gee - we must have had a super great time if there's more.  Oh yes we did!