the award-winning new terminal of the Madrid Barajas Airport, designed by Richard Rogers Partnership
bamboo ceilings and low light for a stress-free journey (or something like that)
on the shuttle from the airport to Casablanca proper
the view from our hotel, overlooking the port
just outside the walls of the medina
one of the entrances into Casablanca's relatively young medina
the old Post Office, an Art Deco building, built in 1918
the once-famous Art Deco Hotel Lincoln, where people like Edith Piaf once stayed
it's my tour, biatch!
walls of the medina and the old clock tower again
the building you can see through the arch was our hotel
dinner at Cafe Arabe on the sqala -- a total tourist haven, but wonderful nonetheless
the medina at night
Rick's Cafe -- a decidedly later addition
the minaret of Hassan II mosque rises up over the city
Hassan II Mosque -- opened in 1993, this is the 3rd largest mosque in the world, and one of the few open to non-Muslims
the world's tallest minaret
construction took a mere 7 years
there's an enormous courtyard, which can fit 80,000 people for prayers
beautiful tile work
all of the materials are Moroccan, save two...
the Murano glass chandeliers are one
the other foreign items are the 2 white marble columns from Carrera, on either side of the mihrab (not shown, at the other end of the interior)
sculpted cedar decor
5,000 women gather in the balconies, and 20,000 men gather on the floor
enormous and breathtaking
the cedar roof is retractable
the mosque is state-of-the-art: the chandeliers are lowered electronically along these tracks for regular cleaning, and speakers are built into the bases of the columns
the men's ablutions room -- worshippers come here to ritualistically clean themselves before proceeding upstairs
the Turkish bath (which has never been used)
Red in front of a beautiful fountain
a famous old light house across the way. the mosque sits on a promontory that juts out into the ocean
in the courtyard of our riad in Marrakech, Dar Nouba
Zelda, coolest cat in the world
Marrakshis love their satellite TV
one of the main souqs of Marrakech's medina
Djemaa el Fna, the main square in Marrakech and a UNESCO world heritage sight
stray cats need love too
these stalls selling dried fruits and nuts are all over the square
sugar dates. sugar dates and figs. sugar dates and pistachios.
Morocco has the best orange juice in the world - orange trees are native to Morocco
Jordan, ecstatic, just after having both a monkey and a snake thrown on him at the same time. (He told the snake handler to beat it.)
get this fucking thing off me
the most menacing look I have ever seen (seriously, zoom in on that mug)
you can't really see it, but the men under the umbrella behind us were charming a hooded cobra
poor miserable monkey
looking for snacks
"we are laughing! and we are very good friends!"
(see the snake charmer?)
after being fleeced by monkey man, we explored the square some more
Djemaa el Fna is constantly buzzing with activity -- both local and tourist
fresh-squeezed orange juice. these guys are serious salesmen.
the Koutoubia, Marrakech's main mosque
local legend has it that a queen melted down her gold jewelry to make the unorthodox fourth globe on top, in penitance for breaking the fast during Ramadan
Marrakech = the Garden City
the miracle of life
the Koutoubia was built during the 12th century
the rose garden around the Koutoubia
the souqs at night somehow look NOTHING like the souqs during the day (we got ridiculously lost that night)
Zelda, playful kitty
yeah, we weren't too impressed either
traditional Moroccan mosaic tiling, called zelije
Ben Youssef Medersa, a Qur'anic school, is one of the best places to see Moorish/Andalucian decor and architecture
intricate stucco work and cedar wood carving
the domed prayer hall
this niche, called a mihrab, indicates the direction of Mecca
the school was founded during the 14th century and enlarged during the 16th century; it was once one of the largest medersas in all of North Africa
the gorgeous, serene courtyard
you can walk through the 130+ student rooms
representation of a student's room. the school was still in use until as recently as 1962
those guys on the mopeds were insane. we actually saw a little girl get hit by one in the souqs.
by far, most of the tourists in Marrakech are French
the Ben Youssef Mosque. Our riad was not far from here, so every morning before dawn we were awoken by the call of the muezzin.
while walking through the souqs, little boys keep coming up to you offering to lead you to "Big Square, Big Square!" You always make your way back in the end.
those hooded robes are called djellabas. most men, and almost all women, wear them in Marrakech.
in the ceramics souq
"women be shoppin'! you cannot stop a woman from shopping!"
one of many beautiful keyhole doors
back in our riad for a home-cooked meal
we really loved this place and its kind owners, and we highly recommend it to anyone going to Marrakech: www.darnouba.com
we booked a private, 4-day, guided tour by 4x4 through the South -- across the Atlas Mountains and into the Sahara Desert.
Day 1: through the High Atlas Mountains to Ourzazate
loitering is the national pastime
we could be in Mexico, no?
the Tizi n'Tichka pass was completed by the French Foreign Legion in 1931, and it is one of only 2 roads crossing the High Atlas
at its highest point, the pass reaches 7,415 feet
some of the mountain peaks stay covered in snow all year round
one of the tallest peaks in the Atlas Mountain range
the landscape quickly alternates between lush...
and arid. the inhabitants of the mountains are Berber.
these stalls dot the road
rolling hills and whatnot
old stone house
a village nestled in the hills.
Telouet Kasbah, former home of the ruthless pasha Thami El-Glaoui, who ruled Southern Morocco on behalf of the French
View from the Telouet Kasbah
he spared no expense in decorating his palace
hypnosis-inducing geometric patterns
a traditional Moroccan meal = bread, Moroccan "salad" (a variety of vegetables spiced and served cold), and a tagine
the traditional Moroccan salad of boiled potatoes & beats with cucumber, tomato, rice, and a hard-boiled egg.
after lunch, we took this insane mountain pass over rocks, across rivers, and on the edges of cliffs
we passed several tiny villages
this guy was a real loud-mouth
kinda like those indigenous Adobe homes in the Southwest, eh?
before the French, the most popular route across the mountains was along this route. but the French were so terrified of the Glaoui clan at Telouet that they completely avoided it in building Tizi n'Tichka
lush valley, barren hills - a recurring pattern as you'll see
the cooling stream provides respite from the rocky slopes baking in the sun
you can always tell where the mosque is in every small village
Moroccans love them some storks
atop a ridiculously windy cliff
the fortified city, or ksar, of Ait Benhaddou, featured in such films as Gladiator (you know, that training-in-the-desert part)
Day 2: Dades Valley and into the Sahara. Amerdihil Kasbah, converted into a B&B and museum
these bright blue robes were traditional for Berber nomads
it's amazing how these palaces of baked mud and straw hold up over centuries
old kasbah stuff
Berber guides love to make self-deprecating jokes for the tourists. Green tea = Berber whiskey, mule = Berber taxi, etc. And that mortar and pestle? "Berber music"
the lock and key above? "Berber toothbrush"
dry river bed, called a oued
entering the desert in earnest
we landed on mars for a spell
This area is called the Valley of the Roses, because the French planted thousands of rose bushes here decades ago. Moroccans are now crazy about rose water. You can't really tell from this inside-the-car shot, but the roses were all in bloom while we were there.
children ran up to the 4x4 trying to sell us bouquets and lais
berber pottery barn?
these tour guides have the tourist traps all mapped out
your typical southern moroccan town - cafe, tourist shop, and phone/internet cafe
women beating the hell out of some rugs (and their car, by the looks of it)
the Dades Gorge
men and children wait by the side of the road to pounce on tourists as soon as they get out of the car. some men tried to sell us these scarves, swearing we would need them in the dunes. they failed.
the stunning Todra Gorge
funny thing about Moroccans: they see that Western tourists are attracted to Morocco's natural beauty, so they make it easier for us by building roads and hotels RIGHT THERE. oh well.
the view over the wide Dades Gorge
pretty much all desert (and oases) from here
big sky country
i has a hat
we stopped at this well in the middle of nowhere
our guide, Mustapha
hmm, desert over there
yep, over there too
further south, you see more and more chadors
but mostly, girls and women wear modern clothing and a head scarf
kids get around by bike in the south
a high school just let out
we stopped at this factory in Erfoud that manufactures goods out of the black fossil-laden marble that's found all over the area
thousands of years ago, the Sahara Desert was actually submerged by the ocean, so when sea creatures died, their shells collected on the sea floor and fossilized into the marble
they carve out the fossils to bring them into higher relief
stacks of marble waiting to be worked on
it's made into all sorts of stuff like sink basins, fountains, and table tops
on the left is a pile of "desert roses" -- crystalized sand and minerals
a marble-cutting machine from Carrera
R2D2 seems to have taken up work as a vacuum cleaner in Erfoud
There are sandstorms in the south every April -- we learned this after we booked our flight. Luckily, they had taken place the week before, as you can see from the sand strewn over the road.
Erg Chebbi -- a Saharan sand dune field
we literally drove to the end of the road, then travelled across the barren plain for about 45 minutes before the dunes sprung up in front of us -- very surreal
we disembarked from the 4x4 and hopped on our camels
the silken texture of the dunes
our guide told us these mountains are in Algeria, about 10km away
Erg Chebbi is 22km long and 5km wide
we were led to the camp by a Berber guide. the trip took about 90 minutes
this is the actual color of the dunes at sunset
talk about riding into the sunset
other groups of tourists watched the sunset from high up on dune peaks
I know, it's a lot of pictures of sand, but it really was an amazing experience
these tufts of grass were the only signs of life we saw, apart from the other tour groups
novelty wears off as ass starts hurting...
we have been privileged to witness some amazing sunsets in our travels
we eventually rendezvoused with this adorable French family and travelled into camp alongside them
camp = a couple dozen Berber tents huddled together at the base of the tallest dune in Erg Chebbi
beautiful clear night skies (though we couldn't see as many stars as we'd hoped, as the moon was nearly full)
Auriga the Charioteer, with Orion to the far left
we ate a communal dinner with the 3 other families in the tents around us (2 French, 1 German)
these huge black beetles scurried around in the sand
our tent, wooden poles with several Berber rugs draped over. that little candle was our only light.
after dinner, the Berber guides had themselves a ho down
we awoke at 5:30 to watch the sunrise
we climbed up the enormous dune behind camp to get a good view (these guys went up the smart way)
we were not so smart and tried to climb up the steep way. we only got half-way up before plopping down exhausted.
sunlight spreading across the dunes
as soon as the sunlight hits you, it immediately feels 10 degrees warmer
unrelenting sun for the rest of the day
this was an amazing thing to witness
mollie has had enough of this splendor.
camp in the light of day
rousing the camels
they keep them from wandering away during the night by tying one of their legs
that'll learn 'em not to bind a camel's leg
the source of stephen spielberg's dinosaur sounds
time to trek back out
trying to get back and shower before the sun kills us all
our guide pointed out all the tracks of the animals that come out at night -- foxes, mice, snakes, birds, and beetles
the anti atlas mountains in the distance
according to legend, a local family refused hospitality to a pair of traveling strangers, and so God buried them under this pile of sand as punishment
we were able to shower and change once we got back to the lodge at the edge of the dunes
Jordan played the haggle game and bought a rug for his mom
Day 3: The Deep South -- Anti Atlas Mountains and Draa Valley
more of that black fossilized marble. we picked up a few fossils from the roadside here.
enormous volcanic crater
most of Day 3 was pretty damn bleak
the Draa River, largest river in Morocco
the Draa River is pretty much the only source for greenery in this area
plateau & the dirt road
off-road detour. this is where Morocco begins to look like the stock images of "Africa"
this long plateau stretched for dozens of miles
count these rocks!
bw photo of a single tree
all roads but the main highway look like this, at best.
the towns use the fertile land in the oasis to plant wheat and build their houses on the crappy land on the fringes
date palms everywhere. the best dates in Morocco are supposed to come from this area.
these girls ran the length of a football field towards our car as we drove by, enthusiastically waving the entire time!
black camels (see the baby sitting underneath the camel on the right?)
townspeople gather at the wells
the people in the south are darker because many of them are descended from the Sub-Saharan Africans brought north by Arab slave traders
School just let out
the enormous palmeraie of Zagora
Zagora, one of the last outposts before the ungovernable Western Sahara
back when Zagora was a major post along the old cross-Sahara trading routes, it took 52 days to get to Tombouctou by camel.
Day 4: back up the Draa Valley, throughTizi n'Test pass, and back through Ouarzazate to Marrakech
what else to do but stack rocks, I guess
springtime in the desert
this guy sucked that water down!
our guide called this rift -- along the the incredibly stark Tizi n'Test pass -- "the Grand Canyon of Morocco"
i think those chalk rectangles mark out sittin' space
after a stop in Ouarzazate for lunch, we drove back over Tizi n'Tichka
these people and donkeys were walking in the road -- a potential hazard for the cars and buses traveling on the steep, winding pass
the weather was beautiful up here
late afternoon light
back in Marrakech! this gate is named for the gnaoui, a Sub-Saharan tribe famous for their music
the Saadian Tombs, final resting place of princes who ruled Marrakech in the 16th and 17th centuries
the tombs are surrounded by a lovely little rose garden
it's unknown who's burried under these slabs
a few tortoises roamed the garden
3 generations of Saadian rulers
this is the most popular tourist attraction in Marrakech
the tombs were kept hidden by the Saadians' successors for centuries, until a Frenchman finally found it in the early 20th century
nom nom nom
after the tombs, we set out towards the mellah, or old Jewish quarter
fruit vendors - this is where the locals, as opposed to tourists, primarily shop, and it is reflected in the different wares - food and household goods instead of trinkets
Jewish cemetery (closed for passover, alas). these little boys led us there.
we then looked for one of the 4 remaining synagogues. there was once a significant population of Jews in Marrakech who thrived off of trading in things like gold. however, they almost all left after WW2, and now there are only a handful.
it was down this alleyway, but closed in preparation for Passover
spice guy! he showed us all sorts of herbal remedies for cooking and healing
lunch overlooking the big square
we returned to Dar Nouba after our tour of the south
Zelda was waiting there to play with us some more
one more night in Djemaa el Fna. steam rises up from the food stalls, where one can eat like a king for a couple of bucks.
view from the plane of the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco, near Tangier.
the Straight of Gibraltar, between the Pillars of Hercules -- Ceuta to the South...
...and Gibraltar to the North. it's a fitting end to our trip, for the rock was named for its Moroccan conqueror, Gibr al-Tariq.