Illene, Isabel, Jeannie and Kay. Two weeks with OAT travel in Morocco
  • Day15

    Morocco Day 15

    October 26, 2018 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 12 °C

    Up and out for our flights home. Isabel, Illene, Jeannie and I out by 6:30 AM for flight to Paris and then Paris to home. Uneventful but long. Pictures attached today are each of the couples and roommates on our trip. A wonderful group to hike with and, of course, out terrific guide, Mustafa.Read more

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  • Day14

    Morocco Day 14

    October 25, 2018 in Morocco ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Our final day on this wonderful trip through Morocco. Novotel hotel in Casablanca not up to the other hotels on this trip. However for one night, no problem. About a 3 hour bus ride from Marrakesh, Casablanca is on the coast of the Atlantic and the largest city in Morocco. Casablanca is considered the economic and business center of Morocco and has an urban population of 3.35 million and a regional population of 6.8 million. A lot of work going on to renovate and take advantage of their long beachfront with parks and facilities. From the small bit of the city we saw, still a lot of work to do.
    We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Casablanca and then to our hotel to check in. The afternoon was spent touring the amazing Hassan II Mosque. The mosque is set on an outcrop of land jutting over the Atlantic. The mosque is the 3rd largest in the world after Mecca and Medina. The beautiful building holds 25,000 people inside and an additional 125,000 outside for special celebrations such as Ramadan!!! Its minaret is the world's tallest at 210 metres. (689ft) And the inside is filled every Friday for services. We were able to tour the interior of this mosque which was completed and opened in 1993. It is open to the public at various times each day when not in use. The interior is quite spectacular, especially the chandeliers - 56 chandeliers of white/clear Murano glass. The mosque is a showcase of the very best Moroccan artisan-ship: hand-carved stone and wood, intricate marble flooring and inlay, gilded cedar ceilings and exquisite zellige (geometric mosaic tilework) abound. The ablution area, where the men wash according to a Koran prescribed method, has fountains and wash stations for 1,000 people !! Again we learned a lot and so happy to have had this opportunity.
    Back to our hotel for packing and other necessities to get ready to fly home tomorrow. However no trip to Casablanca would be complete without a trip to Rick's Cafe. (Of the movie, Casablanca and Humphrey Bogart, fame. Illene and I out with other members of the tour group to see the famed bar for our pre-dinner cocktail I rather expected a dive but it was a lovely restuarant and bar, very homey and warm with low seating, fire places and lots of small rooms on 2 floors. Our room had Casablanca playing on a monitor in the room. :-) Fun and a drink to remember.
    Back for dinner at the hotel, saying our goodbys as all leave at different times tomorrow. A great trip, good people on the tour, new friends and a wonderful guide in Mustafa.
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  • Day13

    Morocco Day 13

    October 24, 2018 in Morocco ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Morocco Day 13
    Today was an optional day for activities. Ilene and I had talked with Mustafa about hiking somewhere near Marrakech and he had arranged a guide for us to hike in the High Atlas mountians. However Illene was up most of the night with a GI issue (has attacked most all of us at one time or another this trip) so we had to cancel. Illene rested this AM and I went on the tour with a few of the others.
    The Jardin Majorelle is a highlight of things to do in Marrakech. Yves St Laurent and his partner adoptees of the city of Marrakech, bought the villa and gardens in 1964. They restored the gardens, added a well-curated Berber museum and gift shop. The botanical gardens include plants from 5 continents. Many cacti to represent the Sahara and throughout the gardens electric blue building, canal and large pots of every color. Terrific ambiance and so pleasing to the eye. So glad I did not miss this.
    Next another walk through a different section of the medina – more upscale products and work areas. The colors, sights, and smells are so great - a constant stimulation of your senses. In this section a lot of smaller souks for woodworking, metal working, leather, dyeing, etc. A short stop at the Marrakech Museum housed in a restored palace. More lovely mosaics – one of the things I will remember most about Morocco.
    Lunch in the median, the traditional Moroccan way – lamb on a big plate and eaten with your fingers.😊 Very sticky and very good lamb!
    Back to the hotel for rest and packing before a discussion in the early evening with Hind, a 22-yer-old Moroccan member of an organization in Morocco promoting women’s rights. She was simply amazing. So well spoken for a 22 year old. She reviewed for us what is good in Morocco about the rights of women and then things that “need more work for change”. No topic was off limits and we spent about an hour and a half discussing marriage laws, educational system, abortion, gay rights, birth control and many more. Highly enlightening.
    Our “farewell” dinner at the Red House. Cornish hen couscous and good wine in a lovely setting.
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  • Day12

    Morocco Day 12

    October 23, 2018 in Morocco ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    Out for a morning walk to see the major sites of Marrakesh. A little background on Marrakesh, the most visited city in Morocco, also called the Red City, for its predominate pink adobe buildings. city of 1.7 million people and thin the last 20 years. The city consists of a large medina which includes the bazaar as well as a huge city outside of the walls of the city. Marrakesh is also called the City of Gardens for its lovely gardens and lots of parks and green spaces - all spotless and immaculate. Our first stop was the Koutoubia Mosque, near our hotel. It is the 2nd largest mosque in Morocco. As in Turkey, the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer 5 times a day on loudspeakers all over the medina. This mosque has a huge minaret that serves as an architectural landmark for the city, all in pink plaster. Our mode of transportation around the city today was unique, horse and carriage! :-) Lots of fun taking pictures as 16 of us drove around the city in 4 carriages. The horses took us to the Jewish quarter, same story here, minimal number of Jews remain but the style of home (living quarters on top and store on the bottom) has been retained. A short walk to the Bahia Palace. A beautiful massive building filled with complex geometrical carvings and dazzling bright colored mosaics, Carrara marble floors and - replete with a harem. Quite the impressive palace. A short stop at the Saadian Tombs. Built in the 16th C by a very wealthy Sultan who decided to build a mausoleum for his family. More mosaics and tombs clearly a representation of immense wealth.
    Light lunch in the square, some shopping in the medina and back to hotel for siesta.
    Dinner was on our own this PM and we had planned carefully for our dinner in Marrakesh. Lots of discussion and research between Isabel and me. Mustafa tried to get reservations and they were full. :-( So we took Mustafa's recommendataion and went to La Maison Arabe - terrific setting in a huge courtyard surrounded by lush greenery and low lighting. Food was 8-9 on a scale of 10 but ambiance was a 10+. Vendy and Phil went with us as well.
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  • Day11

    Morocco Day 11

    October 22, 2018 in Morocco ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Our last long bus ride today from Quarzazate to Marrakesh. The road leads through the High Atlas Mountains with lush, fertile valleys and small villages. The High Atlas Mountains are the longest mountain range in Africa and have 3 peaks over 12,000 ft. A very windy, mountain road up to the pass at ~7,000 ft and down the other side to Marrakesh. A couple stops for pictures, coffee and bathrooms.
    Arrived at the wonderful Jardin Koutoubia Hotel in the Medina of Marrakesh in time for a late lunch. Wonderful food, the restaurant at this hotel is listed on the fine dining restaurants of Marrakesh and it was easy to tell why. Lovely seating area by the pool with lush greenery, palm trees and very quiet in the courtyard.
    Time to unpack - again - and then Illene and I out to find a bank and a pharmacy. Had a successful walk not far from the hotel. Large group of people lined up on both sides of the street several blocks away clearly waiting for something. When we asked we were told that the king was coming. Morocco is a monarchy and the people love this king. We waiting as long as we could but never got to see the king. :-(
    Back for our first sojourn into the souk (shopping area/bazaar) of Marrakesh. So hard to describe. We walked for at least 1/2 hour past stalls and merchants selling any kind of wares. After all of that time, our guide said that we had probably seen only a very small part of the souk. We make our way to the famous square in the city - Jemaa el-Fnaa. The area is immense with hundreds of stalls all around, a huge "street food" area, hotels, cafes, and lots of open space. The square is busy from 10 in the AM to 3-4AM 24/7. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. As the sun goes down the entertainment in the square heats up and there is a carnival-like atmosphere. Belly dancers (tranvestites), snake charmers, Moroccan bands, henna tattoo stands, games for kids, gambling games, etc. You name it and it is there. A cacophony of sights and sounds. An amazing display of entertainment.
    We wandered on our own for an hour or so, Ilene and I bought some cheap travel technology - adapters and different types of plugs. I got a US to Europe 3 prong adapter for $2. :-) We all ate at one of the street food places, incredibly cheap and everything very fresh. back to our hotel for "after dinner" drinks.
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  • Day10

    Morocco Day 10

    October 21, 2018 in Morocco ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    Quarzazate has developed as a city since the 1920s. The city is a movie studio capital used for 30-35 movies/year. The movie culture/production started when Lawrence of Arabia was shot here. There are two large studios, one owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Other movies and documentaries shot here that we discussed were Homeland, Game of Thrones, lots of desert and Biblical movies. Many of the producers, actors stay at the hotel where we are staying. Who would have thought we would see a movie capital in Morocco!!!

    Our activity for the day is “A Day in the Life”. This experience is unique to OAT, the company we are traveling with, and provides a more in-depth study of the people of the country. We traveled to a village called Ait Ben Haddou, which consists of a new village and an old village, built in the 9thC, with a river on the edge of town. The old village was built into the side of a mountain with a watchtower on the top. This village has become a tourist attraction as it is well-preserved. We started with a tour of the new town with Ali,our town guide, and a visit to a home and a school. Homes built with places for the animals (goats, sheep and donkey) to live and several large rooms as well as a kitchen. Most all homes are made of adobe but some with cement. The reason most of the people have moved from the old town to the new town is, that, when it rains, the river flooded their homes. There are still 5 families that live in the old town and about 150 families in the new village.
    As we finished our tour of the villages, we went to a building outside of the old town which houses the Imik Smik Women’s Association for Rural Development. This is an organization that the OAT Grand Circle Foundation supports. The association supports women’s rights in this rural area of Morocco and was established in 2012. Essentially started with a group of women getting together because they wanted some “space” and now is 74 members strong with members from 16-74. Their goals are to create workshops and programs to teach women how to sew, read, cook, and further education. They started by baking cookies to sell, added other products and now have a little store where they sell their goods. All of the money so far goes made back into the organization. A fascinating discussion with several of the girls/women running the organization about divorce, relationships with men, etc. An amazing feat for these women in this country and a force in women’s rights. Tagines made by the women for lunch. Following our meal 2 of the gals did artistic henna tattoos for those wanted A great, fascinating experience.
    Back to hotel, cocktail hour on an open air patio near our rooms, a walk through a bustling Sunday night market and dinner at a French restaurant – very good duck.
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  • Day9

    Morocco Day 9

    October 20, 2018 in Morocco ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    Up for sunrise in the desert this AM again – much clearer today as the wind stopped yesterday afternoon so not as much sand in the air to block the sun. Off in our 4x4s and back to Erfoud to pick up our big bus and off to the west and the city of Quarzazate. Another long bus day, not a lot of mileage but many small towns to slow the bus. Several stops along the way: example of a centuries old irrigation system., a series of wells from the Anti Atlas Mountains about 100K away; an oasis area with beautiful farm land where each of the families in local village have a plot of land to farm for their own use and to trade with others; a beautiful valley nestled in the lowlands of the High Atlas Mountains. The major stop of the day was in the town of Tinejdad and a walk around the Ksar, fortified village. Here we also visited a museum dedicated to the Berber culture which was very interesting. Berbers were the first people in Morocco and are still about 70% of the populations. Berbers have their own language so a child begins by speaking Berber and learns Arabic in school. Mustafa, our guide, is a Berber and speaks 5 languages! Also, a lovely restaurant for lunch.

    Back on the bus to wend our way to Quarzazate. Hotel Berbere Place, lovely huge hotel all on one level with beautiful grounds. Wonderful buffet dinner in our hotel with some different foods tonight – hearts of palm, anchovies, sardines, smoked raw fish, etc.
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  • Day8

    Morocco Day 8

    October 19, 2018 in Morocco ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Rose around 6:30 to be out to look at the sunrise by 7. I skipped the earlier AM activity of checking out the sky for stars around 5AM. Sunrise was kind of a “bust” as it had been windy last night and still sand/fog on the horizon at sunrise. Breakfast and out by 8:30 for morning action. First stop our highly anticipated camel ride. A beautiful day, not too hot, and all of us (except Illene who walked due to her back) up on colorful blanket covered camels! (really dromedaries – one hump) What fun, tons of pictures during an hour ride into the Sahara with our guides leading the trains of 4 camels each. A good time had by all.
    Back over the desert terrain – up and down sand dunes, really fun – to another area where there is water and a small village. Here the inhabitants of the village all have individual plots of land where they grow fruits and vegetables for their use and with which to trade for other goods. A centralized irrigation system controlled carefully so each of the plots of land get the same amount of water by the “waterman”. Lots to learn about the desert water culture. Then a stop for Gnaour music – the music of the desert - made with drums, castanets, and a stringed, mandolin type, instrument called a gambri. After being entertained by a group of musicians, which included a darling 4-year-old boy, we danced with one of the entertainers.
    A quick stop at a Muslim cemetery in the desert, basically the graves are distinguished by mounds with rocks as markers for the head and foot. Lunch of goat (bought by our guide in the town we went through yesterday) in a tagine with a wonderful onion, prune and raisin sauce. The usual comment – tastes like chicken. 😊
    After an afternoon siesta we gathered for a fascinating discussion of the Muslim religion which of course led to all of the thoughts and issues that, we as Americans, have about the Muslims. E.g. Terrorism, ISIS, the Middle East, etc. The discussion was highly participative and very interesting. Out for a nature walk in the desert as the sun is setting. Fascinating all of the things you can see: tracks in the sand – beetles, rats, gerbils, fox, and birds. Also, Mustafa explained the different plants that we saw and what the nomads use each part of the plant. Snakes here as well, most common the hooded viper, deadly poisonous, glad we did not see one of those.
    Back to our tent dining room for happy hour, another cooking demonstration of a Moroccan dish, dinner and bed.
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  • Day7

    Morocco Day 7

    October 18, 2018 in Morocco ⋅ 🌬 15 °C

    Leaving Erfoud today to travel deeper into the desert. A few stops along the way. First to a date market. Date palms are everywhere (where there is water) around here and dates are a major crop for Morocco. Also, it is harvest time. Mustafa says that there are 62 species of dates in Morocco. The bustling market place was alive with deliveries of produce via motor bikes, all piled high with cartons of dates, all sizes and shades of yellows and browns. Other date products were dates mixed with almonds and other nuts into a kind of jam, as well as coffee made from the ground pits of the dates. Next, a very interesting experience at a quarry and workplace where rocks are mined for fossils to be made into spectacular furniture and dozens of other items. E.g. Sculptures, tables, basins, plates, etc. The craftsmanship in these items is amazing. Some of the sculptures even in 3D! We were able to observe the entire process from raw material to finished project.
    Then off in our 4-wheel drive vehicles to explore the Sahara. We drove over sand dunes and up waddies, past some structures and, after an hour, reached our desert camp. What a great place! Individual tents for 2 with showers and toilets. Canopied beds with lace netting (for flies not mosquitoes). A dining tent – all run by solar. Even a place for charging our electronics by each bed. Lunch here and a rest time until late afternoon.
    Out in the late afternoon to visit a “nomad” family. Nomad in quotes as they were previously nomads but now have stayed in the same place for several years. The family consists of a mother/grandmother, several daughters and grandchildren. (also 2 sheep, 2 goats and a camel). The patriarch of the family died last year. All of the sons and grandsons have moved to the cities to earn money and send home as nomad life is increasingly difficult due to droughts. Spent a lovely hour or so with the mother, grandchildren of 13 and 4. Mother demonstrated how she cleans and twists camel wool for weaving. She has made many of the carpets that we sat on in the tent. We brought presents for the little girl and she left happily with a bag full of clothes and kid stuff. Their life is very hard, the harsh desert climate makes wood gathering for cooking difficult, they trade for most goods and the money that OAT provides so that we tourists is very helpful. Then off for another ride across the desert and a short walk on the sand dunes. Its amazing to see the different features of the dunes, all the graceful waves from the wind, all soft edges and constantly changing. We trekked up one dune and there we sat and conversed over our wine (and beer for some) as we enjoyed sunset over the Sahara!! A truly memorable experience and one not soon forgotten.
    Back to the camp for a cooking demonstration – a tagine with lamb and vegetables – dinner and an early to bed with plans to get up early AM to see the stars in the desert and sunrise in the Sahara.
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  • Day6

    Morocco Day 6

    October 17, 2018 in Morocco ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Off by 8:30 for a long day of travel with Erfoud, the gateway to the Sahara, as our destination. Raining in Fes but weather expected to get better as we head South. Very interesting morning drive. First stop was in the Mid-Atlas Mountains, elevation around 6,000ft. Irane is a mountain ski town with A-frame sloped roofs for the snow as in Switzerland and Austria. Very busy place in the winter with Moroccans from the lowlands who want to enjoy winter sports. A walk around town to stretch our legs and a quick stop in a café for some take out tea and pastries. Second stop was in a National Park where the monkeys come out of the forest at this time of year to feed and prepare for winter. Here we also heard about the cedar forest, 2nd in size to the largest in the world in Lebanon. Morocco is learning how to protect the trees for future generations. Cedar is used for much of the building in Morocco, especially the wooden balconies we saw in the Fes Jewish quarter. Last stop before lunch was Zaida, a small town know for its meat (lamb, goat, and camel) and currently, the center for the apple crop distribution. Landscape this morning changed from the city, to the mountains, and now in the wide fertile valley before we drive over the High Atlas Mountains and into the pre-desert after lunch.
    Lunch of fresh trout today from the lakes nearby (farmed), but good. An afternoon of driving in the High Atlas, up to about 8.000 ft. Then a long stretch of flat plains until we reached Errachadia- the largest City in SE Morocco. A brief stop for bathrooms and stretching our legs. About 30 minutes before Erfoud, we arrived at an oasis. Amazing – arid rocky desert all around and this wide green space around a river bed filled with date palms. Runs ~100 miles!!!
    Arrived around 6:30PM at Hotel Chergui in Erfoud – a large very touristy hotel with lovely grounds. Buffet dinner and an early evening.
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