This was one of my first posts as a blogger/artist. In this post, I have a mix of travel photos as well as sketches. Published in June 2015, it is an account of a week long trip to northern parts of Morocco.
To visit Morocco is still like turning pages of some illuminated Persian manuscript all embroidered with bright shapes and subtle lines. ~ Edith Wharton
The other night I attended my granddaughter's dance recital. She was in several numbers, but her colourful veil dance set to the beat of the oud and the riq, instruments of Middle Eastern music, was most enticing, and it brought to mind wonderful images of a week I spent in Morocco last year.
Of all the places I have visited, Morocco leaves an indelible imprint for its unusual contrasts and its exotic experiences.
We traveled from very cosmopolitan cities such as Rabat and seaside Casablanca to unforgettable Marrakesh where we visited the Koutoubia Mosque and the Saadian Tombs and experienced the bustling night life during an hour-long caleche ride through various city streets. In Marrakesh or the red city, the contrasts are most jarring: the snake charmers are found not far from the exclusive chichi boutiques and high-end hotels.
Our next destination, Ouarzazate, is located south of the mountain range. It is the home of two immense movie studios and location of films such as Gladiator, The Mummy, and Prince of Persia.
To get there, we must drive through the high Atlas Mountains (yikes!) and we are advised to take a motion sickness pill before our climb begins.
Our guide, Rachid, isn’t kidding.
In one 30 km section of the road, there are no less than 99 hairpin bends if we care to count.
After travelling 30 minutes on this twisting road going up the mountain range, passengers who are nauseous have moved to the back of the bus while I am gripping the edge of my seat listening to ooohing and ahhhing at the deep gorges that appear on one side or the other or even on both sides of the road.
I, on the other hand, am hoping the brakes on the bus hold out, and I am counting the minutes until we are done with these mountains. This portion of the trip reminds me a bit of Santorini or Capri except that we are surrounded by valleys and other mountains rather than a view of the sea.
In this rather barren area, people survive by selling fossils and beautiful rocks with minerals and semi precious stones.
From Ouarzazate to Erfoud, castles or kasbahs appear here and there as well as adobe houses as we continue along our route.
A little lower, closer to the valleys, there are walnut and apple trees, olive groves, dates, fig, juniper, pistachio, cedar, pine trees and fields of roses. We see few animals other than sheep that are fed alfalfa. Families do not have enough land here to feed livestock.
This is a region of cooperatives. The women in the argon oil cooperatives have been lifted out of poverty by successfully selling their oil to the beauty industry, and this special locally grown and cultivated oil is touted as beneficial for all types of ailments.
Below, photo of boys selling rose petals from nearby rose fields where we saw women hand picking the petals. The scent of the roses in this area was intoxicating. On the right, a partial view of the rose fields. And below, a man selling fresh dates by the roadside. Further below, oasis and desert.
In Erfoud, an oasis town known as the "Gate of the Sahara Desert", the sky is dark and menacing.
There is talk of an approaching storm.
Our group is split up and our local guides will drive us in their modern Jeeps to Erg Chebbi, the desert sand dunes of the northern reaches of the Sahara, 45 minutes or so from our hotel.
But first, we stop very briefly in the small town where our guides secure our scarves around our heads. This should have been a clue as to the kind of outing this was going to be.
On this particularly grey, overcast day, the desert is an eerie place.
It is as though a big bowl has been placed over the entire area from which nothing can escape, and where all sounds are muffled.
To the uninitiated like us, there are no visible signposts to guide us to our destination. In the distance we see dromedaries and an occasional stone hut.
By the time we reach the big Berber tent in the midst of this vastness, a sand storm is working itself into a fury.
There is no escaping the grit.
It is in our hair, our ears, our eyes, and even in our mouths. I feel like every drop of moisture has been sucked out of my skin.
Our scarves wrapped tightly around our heads by our thoughtful guides offer minimal protection. No matter. For someone who is used to Canadian blizzards, this is quite exciting. However, there are no howling sounds in the desert, only silence. This surprises me most of all.
The hushed atmosphere is almost one of reverence as provided in a church. Desert dwellers seek cover in their homes. Only tourists are crazy enough to be outside on this day.
We seek shelter in the tent staying out of the storm for about an hour while some in our group venture further into the desert on dromedaries and more sand blasting (great natural skin cleanser).
By the time we are all ready to return to our hotel, night has fallen.
Again, our amazing driver navigates very confidently in the dark, over the dunes and around the rocks, and we reach the well-lit paved road within an hour.
What a thrill this whole experience has been!
Morocco is a land of breathtaking open spaces, of deserts, canyons and caves and gorges.
It is a window to the past with its kasbahs, and medieval walls.
But Morocco is also a chaotic labyrinth of crowded souks and leather tanneries where the sights and smells overwhelm the North American sensitivities.
Then again, it is a land of olive groves as far as the eye can see, of strawberry fields, of vast arable lands, of pristine beaches and fields of sweet smelling roses.
It is a place of friendly family meetings in town squares and sidewalk cafes where everyone is welcomed with sweet tea and honey-coated desserts.
In Morocco, you will never be bored.