RobCowell

Follow me on my adventures as I visit different places and photograph stunning locations.
Living in: United Kingdom
  • Day8

    Success or Failure?

    May 8 in Morocco ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    At 3pm later today I arranged to meet Nigel and Monique to share transport to the airport but until then I had time to myself to sort myself out, pack away my camera gear (not a two second task) and complete my mission to purchase that fridge magnet. So, packed and ready to go I left my bags safely stowed in the Ryad and headed out in search of a magnet ... I wasn’t looking forward to this given my experiences a week ago. To my surprise something had changed because this time, somehow, I must have been different. This time I hardly got pestered at all and when I was approached with the offer to see ‘this’ festival or ‘that’ event I had magically found the confidence and words to swiftly deal with any attack. Or maybe it was simply the body language emitted by a desperate person on a mission to seek out fridge magnets, to boldly go where ... before I wasn’t so bold!

    I found my magnet and I also got lost amongst the backstreets of the Médina but no worries, with the help of Google Maps and the generous help of what appeared to be a ten year old child (who expected to be paid of course so maybe not so generous after all) I made it back to the Ryad then started my journey to the airport to begin my travel home.

    So was this trip a success or a failure?

    I pose this question now I’m back home and without doubt it was a success. How could it not be? Well, upon arriving home I wasn’t so sure because when I first checked my photos I was rather disappointed, as often I am when I see them on the computer straight out of the camera. I’d set my target this time at fifteen as the number of competition standard images I would bring back. At first look I couldn’t find half a dozen. I was sad.

    This trip was a success however and in many respects I’ve appreciated it more since arriving home. The people I travelled with were so warm and friendly and we all got on so well. Our photography skills were at different levels but we all supported and learned so much from each other and, most definitely, me included. There were several occasions when I was well out of my comfort zone, street photography for sure, but that can never be a bad thing. I learned a lot both about my photography and myself and thank everyone who travelled with me, and Katrina of course, for the experiences because without all of them it could never have been so enjoyable. Then there were the physical experiences of actually being out there in that landscape - the desert views, the towns and villages, the sand dunes, the camels in the desert and those night skies. Wow! What else can I say? Within just a few weeks I’ve been privileged to be in the arctic landscapes and temperatures of northern Norway and now the desert environments of Morocco. Wow indeed!

    So what about those photographs then? Well yes of course, once I sat down properly and looked through my images more carefully then there they were - a whole collection waiting to be processed. There were plenty of failures of course but a goodly number of great ones too and in this footprint are six which I thought you’d like to see, including the grass in the sand and the blue wall from the gardens. You’ve already seen the night sky photographs of course.

    I think this journey, for you as the reader, has maybe been very different to my others so I really do hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the trip. I guess it’s a little weird I was on a photographic workshop and there’s not been so many photos of the landscapes as I usually show you. I think that’s simply because my time wasn’t my own and the journey times, in proportion to the overall length of the trip, were huge. It felt like most of the time was spent in the minibus, but I guess that’s not really the case.

    I don’t yet have my next adventure planned but rest assured there will be another and who knows where. Whatever or wherever it is I hope you’ll travel with me again.
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  • Day7

    Last Evening in Jemaa el-Fnaa Square

    May 7 in Morocco ⋅ 🌙 29 °C

    Soon we were near the large square Jemaa el-Fnaa which is a must see location if you visit Marrakech. We’d been here at the start of the trip if you recall and I think we just gravitated here now because there are souks nearby, plenty to see in the square and reasonably priced places to eat in the streets leading from it. There’s plenty of food and eating opportunities in Jemaa el-Fnaa itself but it’s all just too much trouble to get into arguments over money whilst being forced to buy things you don’t need. According to Trip Advisor, several reviewers say stall #5 contains nothing but rogues and thieves who will threaten physical violence if you end up not making a purchase. True? I don’t know because we simply walked at our leisure, repelled all boarders and ignored anyone or anything that looked as though there was the remotest chance a snake or a monkey might be involved ... or any silly toy to be honest. One seller persisted/intruded for far too long trying to sell us a little wooden box with a spring loaded something or other in it, which jumped out in a limp sort of way when you opened a drawer. I’ll now regret not buying several because when I’m home my life will surely seem so bleak and miserable without one! Did you sense a mild amount of sarcasm in that last sentence? Yes, really?

    We spent quite some time in the souks though, where although everyone is keen to make a sale you do not have the feelings of being attacked as you do when walking the streets or in that square. Another bonus is the price of things, which seem a lot more reasonable, and less stress during the ‘negotiations’. I purchased spices for my daughter from an extremely friendly man who is standing next to Nigel in photo two. All I needed now was my fridge magnet and my mission would be complete.

    The other photos here give you the general idea of what we saw. I preferred the square as the day faded to night when for me the place came alive. It is worth the experience of visiting Jemaa el-Fnaa square but you need to be on your guard with your shields up. I never found it threatening nor felt unsafe at any time but you do need to keep an eye on your wallet or purse and keep your wits about you. Having said this I can think of many places in the world where the same would be true.

    We ended the evening, there were four of us left now, accompanying Nigel and Monique to their modern western-style hotel where we ate our meal in the roof terrace bar area. Sherilee and I shared a taxi back to our Ryad to end the last full day of this trip.

    What a lovely day.
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  • Day7

    Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech

    May 7 in Morocco ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    Arriving at our hotels last night marked the end of our photography workshop with Katrina. As we separated to go to our various hotels there’d been the usual ‘goodbyes’ and ‘good wishes’ but for some, myself included, there is still the best part of two days left because of the way flights had been booked. I did wonder before I left how these ‘spare’ days would work for me but I’d got a guide book with more than a few ideas of how to fill the time. In the end everything fell into place because today some of us decided to meet-up at the Jardin Majorelle, about 25 minutes walk from the Ryad.

    So, most unlike me, here are some photos taken at the gardens which I must say were very pleasant and cool with plenty of shade, we also spent time in the cafe which was very pleasant I might add, but there was one highlight here I never expected.

    In the middle of the gardens was a building painted a deep royal blue with ornate bright yellow windows and doors painted in turquoise and yellow - the cafe was near this building. It was an absolute magnet for people to come to take their photos of each other, selfies too with many people taking them. The colours here made it perfect for a portrait and when three girls asked if I would take their photo with their phone, I responded by asking if I could also take a photo of them with my camera. They agreed, and so for a while our group took photos of the people having their photos taken. Never before have I seen so many stunningly attractive girls line up to have their photo taken. In reality we photographed only two or three and Monique took their contact details so we could send their photos to them afterwards. No photos here I’m afraid as I don’t have their permission, but you will see one photo taken just around the corner which didn’t require permission from the person featured in it.

    Our visit came to an end but we now all had a common need - no, not the loos, but to go and roam the souks and maybe make the odd purchase or two. We decided to take a taxi and we were once again reminded we were in Marrakech as we witnessed taxi drivers fighting over fares (who gets them) and asking outrageous amounts of money to travel even a short distance. I find it all insulting to be honest - this can in no way be described as the ‘character’ of Marrakech, it’s simply greed manifesting as offensive behaviour. There can be no excuses for it.

    We left the taxi rank and headed to a quieter place less than 200 meters away where we found a taxi and paid a reasonable rate.
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  • Day6

    Travelling to Marrakech

    May 6 in Morocco ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    Our bags had been loaded onto the pickup truck together with one or two of the group who decided to return to the hotel, and therefore our minibus, on four wheels instead of four legs. They just couldn’t face riding the camels through the desert dunes not because of the heat, the driving sun or the undoubted craving for water ... no, they wimped out to save their bottoms, knowing we had at least an eleven hour drive in the minibus to get back to Marrakech. There was no denying that was going to be endurance so they had decided it was prudent to take the camel-free option.

    The rest of us, including Katrina (that’s her in the blue top in photo two) rode the camels attempting to take photos on the way. Just as on the journey outbound, this proved tricky because the suspension on a camel hasn’t evolved to the same sophisticated degree as its ability to survive without water in a desert. As a result, many of the photos I did attempt were out of focus and my inner thighs and bottom complained about my choice of the camel-inclusive option for at least 24 hours afterwards. I’m not complaining though because I really enjoyed being on that camel train and would undoubtedly do it again given the chance. I was gasping for a cold drink at the end though and also appreciated why the Berbers wear their tagelmust cloth headdress, because after a while you can pretty much taste the sand. On reflection, I think all this would have been a completely different experience had there been any sort of wind whilst we were amongst the dunes. Photography would perhaps have been a bit of a nightmare.

    Soon we were back aboard the minibus and starting the long drive home. I’ve included our last view of the Sahara sand dunes as we left and a snapshot of where we stopped for lunch. We did stop more often but only briefly to allow our driver to rest for a while and for us to get a cold drink.

    You’re maybe wondering why I’ve included a photo of a load of electricity pylons. It’s not the pylons which are of interest but that glowing thing in the background - the photo is of a solar power station and I’d seen something similar in southern Spain, but was amazed to see one here. It works because surrounding that glowing column are hundreds of mirrors which reflect the sunlight and focus it at the top of the tower. The heat created by this is used to generate electricity. How clever is that!

    There’s no denying this was a very long day. The last part of the journey was in the dark and was somewhat frantic as the road was now full of heavy lorries travelling in both directions. Our driver negotiated all this using his best Moroccan driving skills which meant at times it was best if you closed your eyes and hoped for the best. Hopefully our driver didn’t also do this.

    We were all tired when we arrived in Marrakech and I’m sure that, like me, everyone had no problem falling asleep when they finally got to bed.
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  • Day6

    Sunrise

    May 6 in Morocco ⋅ 🌙 19 °C

    When necessary, only 90 minutes sleep seems to be enough but even so I think we all had to heave ourselves out of bed and force ourselves to get going. I suspect not many of us got dressed either, not because we spent the morning running ‘round stark naked but simply because we slept in our clothes.

    We headed out from the camp and into the dunes where we’d been last night and from here we had a clear view towards where the sun would rise. There’s not much to say about all this really, it was a sunrise after all, so just enjoy the three photos I took as the sun brought the new day to life. It doesn’t look too bad does it - the colours are nice and it’s a bit moody I guess, but I was hoping for more earlier on to be honest, when sometimes the clouds can be a blaze of purples and reds. This didn’t happen today but it was really calming to watch the light change as the sun slowly climbed above the Algerian border.

    Once sunrise was over we all looked for compositions in the golden tones of this first hour or two of the day. After I’d taken photo four in this footprint I really struggled to be honest. I’d come here with a vision of an image I wanted to capture, of the long sweeping curves of sand dunes of the sort vaguely like photo four but much more striking and dramatic. In that photo the large dunes were too far away and nothing like that was on offer where we were so I found it really hard to find alternatives to what I’d fixed in my mind. I needed to learn from this: my mind needs to be more flexible and mould more easily to the situation on hand. Then Katrina arrived and having checked everyone else was okay, she then spent some time with me giving me ideas on how to look for something different ... without the tripod. This was just what I needed and in no time I’d captured an image that made the day a photographic success. You’ll get to see it in the final footprint of this trip - it’s of some grass in the sand ... sounds stunning doesn’t it so I bet you can’t wait to see it!

    The last two photos are of our up-market camp site which I took after breakfast just before we left. We’ve only been here one night but seem to have seen and experienced so much in that short time. It was definitely the highlight of the trip, so different to our normal routines and awe inspiring to spend the night in a location such as this. That sky was truly amazing.
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  • Day5

    There Were "Billions of Stars"

    May 5 in Morocco ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

    Those of you who have watched Professor Brian Cox talking about the solar system and the universe on the BBC will understand why I’ve chosen that particular title for this footprint. Okay, it’s not possible for the human eye to actually see that many stars, but when you look skywards from the inky black of a desert night you will believe you see that many. As the night progressed the Milky Way, our galaxy, rose from the horizon to become a magnificent spectacle spanning the entire heavens, its core majestically ablaze with the light from the billions of stars within it. That view, that awesome sight, is the reason I wanted to be here and the opportunity to try to photograph it was simply a bonus.

    The first photo of this footprint, all from my big camera of course, was taken from the campsite looking outwards to the south. The Milky Way is still low in the sky even though it’s not far off midnight, but from this position you also get the tents and the water tower to give a foreground perspective.

    Monique, Nigel and I ventured out from the camp into the dunes where we found the camels resting for the night. I must admit I’d be pretty fed up if my sleep was interrupted by people setting up three legged gadgets, talking while they did that, clipping funny looking things to the three legged things, talking, shining lights and going click every now and then. If it were me I think I’d have engaged full-on spit mode, but they didn’t. No, they remained calm, quiet and tolerant and watched these stupid people sitting in the sand amongst billions of camel droppings, for that’s exactly what we were doing and they were probably creating even more if truth be known. The second photo, then, is of one of those camels in the night and the only camel who chose to remain standing the entire time.

    Photographing a camel, at night, in the pitch dark is not the easiest of tasks on a score of one to ten, with ten being pretty much impossible. This was a ten! Why? Because the camel was alive, not stuffed, so it had a tendency to do what living things do, which is move! The camel’s body stayed remarkably still but its head kept moving, perhaps due to a combination if general inquisitiveness, frequent “tutting” at having its sleep interrupted or maybe an inner turmoil as to whether or not the odd spit, even a small one, would damage the excellent reputation the camels had carefully nurtured in the eyes of these very idiots. Anyway, it’s not the clearest photo in the universe, but this is what I managed to get. The second camel shot worked better because the camels were sitting - you can see that camel in the background still standing up.

    The fourth photo is the Milky Way in all its glory taken around 2am with the final one of this set taken about half an hour later when we got back to the camp. We eventually went to bed around 3am for a hour and a half because we wanted to be up again for sunrise. We should have stayed up however, because when we left our tents at just after 4.30am the predawn light was already bright and we’d missed that special time when darkness gradually fades towards the blue light we’d experienced yesterday evening. Hopefully we’ll get to see a brilliant sunrise.
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  • Day5

    Choose Your Camel

    May 5 in Morocco ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    Finally at around 6pm we arrived at our destination having seen the sand dunes increase their dominance within the landscape for maybe three quarters of an hour beforehand, maybe longer. None of us really knew quite what to expect - we knew we’d be sleeping in tents tonight, we knew camels were involved at some point, but how it all linked together was still a mystery.

    We arrived at a hotel somewhat travel weary, some gasping for a drink and others for a loo though thankfully both these needs were easily serviced! Then we waited for what would happen next, with some donning their tagelmust (traditional headdress, for Berbers often indigo in colour, which protects from the sun and inhalation of air-based sand) and others chatting or sorting out luggage. Then a pickup truck arrived and our bags were loaded onto that and finally we were ready. We were led a few hundred yards away from the hotel and to our awaiting transport - our camels sitting patiently in the desert sand. This is it, I thought, this is the beginning of the best part of the trip - right here, right now. I couldn’t wait to find my camel and get going.

    At this point I feel I have to make it very clear that these here camels were mighty fine specimens. Not only were they clean, as far as an average camel goes, but they were very mild natured, did exactly as they were told and simply got on with their task of carrying their extremely inexperienced cargo (us) across the dunes. At no point did I even see the merest hint nor thought that at any time a camel was thinking of taking a deep breath preceding some sort of gigantic spit, for spitting is something camels are known for and they don’t call them ‘Spit the Camel’ for nothing. Or was that a dog, I forget. No, these camels did not spit though I draw the line at calling them cuddly or even pretty, even though one camel had really pretty eyes. Pretty if you fancy a camel, that is.

    Our camel experience lasted for about an hour I think. I lost track of time to be honest because about half way we stopped to take photos of the camels being led around by our camel drivers. Okay it was staged for us, but we all managed to get some great photos before we climbed back onto our camels to continue to the camp. The light was fading now and the colours of the desert seemed to come alive as the golden light faded towards blue. What we saw as we moved through the dunes was stunning and I so much wanted to stop again to capture images of the dunes in this fantastic light. I would have needed my tripod though and that was probably already at the camp site now, but just being there was enough however. Just being there.

    When we arrived we realised this wasn’t the sort of camp site you get in Bognor Regis on a wet day in summer, oh no! This was camping on a grand scale - rigid tents with electric lighting and carpeted floors, separate washrooms for each tent and a tent dining room, with table service, electric lighting and an area for charging phones and camera batteries. Luxury! Even the sand was carpeted outside the tents.

    There was just enough time for sorting ourselves out before dinner and afterwards the Berber staff provided entertainment around a log fire until late into the evening, Brilliant. What an end to the day.

    Except this wasn’t the end but the beginning, for now it was time to get the tripods and cameras for our astrophotography workshop ... and the sky was simply stunning.
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  • Day5

    The Dadès Gorge

    May 5 in Morocco ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    The area we are in is generally known as the Valley of the Roses and the Dadès Gorge. Having done the rose component in the name, now it was time to see the gorge which was interesting on two counts - first it is really narrow and deep and you can see that from the photos I’ve taken. Secondly it was rammed with people enjoying the sunshine and relaxing in the waters of the river flowing through the gorge, not more than a few centimetres deep in places. People were having picnics and chatting, there were families and couples and everyone was having a great time. It was a really relaxed atmosphere here, a bit like the local park in Wolverhampton on a sunny day ... okay, nothing like that but I’m sure you get the idea.

    On the left hand side of the gorge is a narrow concrete road so you could drive through it but today it was mayhem with so many cars and buses (and our minibus of course) all trying to get past each other with some going up the gorge and others coming down. Everyone got out of our bus and I got off to take a phone photo for this footprint before going back to collect my proper camera. What I wasn’t expecting was that as soon as I alighted the vehicle it disappeared up the gorge to go and turn around ... and my camera went with it. Doh!

    Not having my camera at first seemed a bit of a disaster but in reality I found I didn’t mind after all. I took time to take in the scene and simply experience it for what it was with me as a tourist rather than a photographer. After a while Monique lent me one of her cameras so I took some shots for her, but soon our bus arrived back and we climbed on board where we sat and relaxed as our driver did battle with the other vehicles attempting to get back to the main road. Battle is the right word because within moments our minibus was bumped by another vehicle as they all tried to squash into too little a space along that road.

    Footnote: before writing this footprint I did a quick spot of Googling, as one does, and it appears there’s rather more to this gorge than we thought or saw. Have a look for yourself and discover why the road through Dadès is another of one of the most dangerous in the world. Shame we never experienced that - it’s further up the road from where we were.
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  • Day5

    The Journey Continues

    May 5 in Morocco ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    There was still a long way to go to get to our destination today and here’s a few photos I took from the minibus so you can see the sort of views I saw, some of which are the kinds of landscapes I had in mind before leaving home when thinking of Morocco. I think it’s those palm tree valleys with sprinklings of sandstone buildings, but what I was surprised to see was the scale of some those buildings. Some look more like fortresses and for some reason I didn’t expect that even though, when I think about it, Morocco was an important trade route with caravans travelling across the country with precious cargos, including gold. These settlements, located where the palm trees grew indicating water, were important stopping points where caravans could be protected against thieves and bandits. Well, I think that’s the way it was - it sounds reasonable doesn’t it.

    The last photo in this footprint is one place we stopped on the way to see how rose water is made, though my guess was that rose petals and water might well be involved somewhere along the line, and funnily enough my intuitive guess proved correct. This was also one of our photo opportunities during the day but I must admit I wasn’t greatly inspired so the outside of the building is all you get to see. Apologies if you suddenly have a burning desire to see a thousand pink rose petals and now you’re all sad, especially when my guess is we saw far more than that - not that I want to add to your disappointment of course. Let’s move on.
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  • Day5

    Confusing Times

    May 5 in Morocco ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    During the evening a fact came to light that none of us had expected even though, had we thought about it, a clue had been given when the various airlines we’d travelled with had sent emails notifying that the return flight times had changed. I never realised why, thinking it was simply a technical or logistics reason, and I know others never saw the implications either. You see, Morocco had decided to change their clocks but not when we’re used to at the end of March but now, in May, perhaps to coincide with the start of Ramadan. So what, I sense you are thinking.

    The problem was we didn’t seem to be able to get a definitive answer to whether or not the clocks were changing, by how much or in what direction. The clocks changing was one of the factors that led to everyone going to bed instead of staying up for photography because the rumour was we were to lose a hour of sleep. But I decided to stay up and get the photo anyway, as did Monique if course, and I set my alarm accordingly so I would be up in time for our early start for our continued journey to the Sahara. The alarm rang and I dragged myself out of bed, sorted myself out and took my things down to reception ready to meet the others, but no-one turned up and for me that was certainly a mixture of the strange and the slightly worrying. Why weren’t they down for breakfast?

    Whilst I waited I decided to have a look around. When we arrived last night we’d checked-in then gone straight for our meal and it was dark then. I wanted to see where we were and what was here but couldn’t go too far of course, because the others would be down any minute. But I only had to walk around the corner to be amazed at what I discovered.

    The photos in this footprint show what I saw, not only the gorgeous golden light of the morning but a sandstone city on the hill on the other side of the river. It was an amazing sight and so worth seeing even if it was so early ... and early it was because the clocks had gone the other way to what I expected, so I was up and about absolutely ages before anyone else. It was worth it though, and when the others arrived we had breakfast then climbed aboard our bus to continue our journey.

    Ait Ben Haddou was definitely a photographic opportunity missed. Can you imagine the possibilities here not only at sunrise, but at sunset and during the night for astrophotography? Maybe one day a return visit? Who knows. By the way, look out for the snow on the Atlas Mountains in the background of the second photo ... it looks like snow, I wonder if it is.
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