Posts Tagged ‘morocco’

Official Daily Reports from Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour

May 7th, 2008 at 5:13 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Looks like the official daily expedition reports prepared by the staff of the ship we’re on, Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour, are slowly starting to trickle onto Lindblad’s web site.

You can look at them here. Make sure to click the date of the entry to read the complete report for that day. There are presently three days posted:

We’ll post our own entry here on The Traveling Richters for today’s nice visit to Porto, Portugal in the next couple of days as we have to get up very early in the morning to go see the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela tomorrow, and we’re losing an hour due to a time zone change going from Portugal to Spain (we will be six hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast).

 

Ruins and History in Morocco – Meknes and Volubilis

May 6th, 2008 at 7:06 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Sunday went as planned. After an early breakfast we were loaded onto the buses we had been using for the past couple of days, along with our luggage, and taken to the Moroccan city of Meknez (also spelled Meknes), which was about a two and a half hour bus ride.

Meknes was originally built by Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismael in the 18th century in an effort to create a place that would be analogous to Versailles. Meknes’ building consumed huge resources, with stones and materials taken from other Moroccan cities for its buildings.

Nowadays, Meknes is just another Moroccan city, albeit one with a rich history. Much of the original Meknes no longer exists, as it had been built with wood, but we visited the granaries and stables, as well as several gates and the mausoleum of Moulay Ismael. The granaries were rather impressive in terms of their size, but only the corner stone columns of the stables remain, so other than the sheer size of the stables (which could hold over a thousand horses), there was not much left to see. The mausoleum also serves as a place of prayer, and we were privileged to be allowed in to see it (after taking off our shoes).

As time was limited, because we needed to get to the ship Sunday evening, we didn’t see much else of Meknes other than a couple of gates into the old medina before heading to the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis, about 30 minutes away. I am not sure if Meknes was just not meeting expectations based on the comparison made to Versailles or rather because our whole visit felt abbreviated and rushed due to time constraints. Not sure we’ll ever find out.

Along the way to Volubilis, we passed the city of Moulay Idriss, which contains the mosque of Moulay Idriss, an Islamic holy place. The city was originally listed as part of the tour, but again due to time limitations we merely drove by after a short stop some distance away to take pictures of the city.

Volubilis was far more extensive than we had expected, and apparently archeologists have been slowly reconstructing parts of the city, including some walls and columns. We had a tour provided by a local guide who was a bit difficult to understand, but we did spend about 90 minutes walking around with him and our fellow bus travelers. Again, we could have easily spent more time exploring other parts of the ruins, but we needed to get to our prearranged lunch at the Hotel Volubilis, up on a hill overlooking the ruins.

Bas stands in the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis in Morocco
Bas stands in the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis in Morocco

The view at lunch was great, but service was slow, and again, due to time pressures, we had to rush out as the servers were trying to serve us traditional mint tea at the end of our meal (with no dessert apparently).

It was a long three and a half hour bus ride back to Casablanca where we finally saw our ship, Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour – our home for the next eight days. It was a real relief, as we had visions of spending the rest of our tour on tour buses, as we had the last several days – I think we had more bus time than time out of the bus, which was not exactly our idea of the sort of expedition we thought we had signed up for.

Once we entered the ship, we were whisked off to our cabins – understandably smaller than a typical hotel room, but comfortable. We then headed up to the lounge for a glass of champagne, some snacks, and our ship safety drill, followed by an orientation and buffet dinner. Along the way we unpacked our bags completely for the first time in two weeks.

Jake, Krystyana, and Linda during the safety drill on Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour
Jake, Krystyana, and Linda during the safety drill on Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour

Our first night’s sleep on board was not as restful as we would have liked, as we needed to acclimate to being on a moving ship, including the rocking motion, the rumbling of the engines, and the resulting creaking in our cabin. But again, it was good to know we were sitting put with our clothes in one place for a while (for the record, our second night was much more restful).

 

Casablanca, Rabat, and Fes

May 3rd, 2008 at 2:08 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Now that I have a working (albeit oddly) working phone data connection, I find I can’t get a decent WiFi connection in my hotel in Rabat. Ah well.

We had an early start yesterday morning in order to be able to get to our hotel in Rabat, Morocco’s capitol, at a reasonable time. We got to Casablanca, Morocco’s center of commerce and industry after a few hours in our bus, stopping briefly at Mohammed the 5th Square. King Mohammed the 5th was the father of King Hassan the 2nd, who in turn is the father of Morocco’s present King Mohammed the 6th.

One of the things that really struck us in Casablanca was how many satellite dishes were all over the place on residential buildings. It seems that the satellite dish is the national flower of Morocco.

Another stop in Casablanca was the world’s largest mosque, named in honor of King Hassan the 2nd. The mosque’s minaret, at 200 meters high, has an elevator inside, and 20,000 can worship inside and another 100,000 outside. Due to religious privacy laws we were not permitted inside, however.

After a reasonable but late lunch at the La Mer restaurant, we drove up to Rabat and visited the Oudeya Casbah, with its great ocean view and narrow alleys, painted white and blue. Very reminiscent of Santorini and Mykonos in Greece.

We ended our tour of Rabat at the Mausoleum of Mohammed the 5th, which features the sarcophagus of the named monarch, as well as sarcophogi of King Hassan the 2nd and his brother, Prince Abdullah.

Arriving at our hotel in Rabat was welcome indeed, especially as it was past 6pm. At our 8pm dinner it was announced that while our ship had finally come out of dry dock, it was now doing sea trials, and there was no conclusion yet as to when we might be able to board.

We had an even earlier start this morning as the bus ride to Fes (same as Fez, but apparently Fes with an ‘s’ is the correct spelling) takes about three hours. We arrived in Fes at just before 11am, starting with a visit to a tile factory where tiles are still made by hand. Quite an amazing process (although by American terms it might be deemed a sweat shop), which produces some beautiful pieces of work.

Next up was the main reason for our visit – the medina of Old Fes, which is celebrating its 1200 year anniversary this year. Old Fes, with it’s 300,000 inhabitants and tens of thousands satellite dishes which bloom on the roofs like some sort of wildly spreading fungus, is a warren of narrow paths filled with shops of all sorts.

We went through the butcher’s section, where we saw sheep, goat, and camel parts, including udders, brains, and heads. We also visited various artisnal sections, like that of the leather workers, the bronze makers, herbalists, weavers, and more. Endlessly fascinating. We where also in the photographers group, in which we were joined by Massimo, an Italian photographer working for National Geographic, as our photography mentor.

Lunch (late) was a Morrocan-style meal (unfortunately serving lamb as the only meat – only Linda ate that) at the Palais Mnebhi featuring a belly dancer. We had a good time, especially as it was cooler than outside and we could sit for a while (photo above is from there). Even more welcome was the announcement made during lunch that our ship was finally en route and we would be boarding her in Casablanca tomorrow evening and having dinner on board. We had been semi-seriously joking about this becoming a bus tour instead of a cruise the way things were going.

After a bit more touring of the souks we now find ourselves on the way back to Rabat for dinner at a private home at 8pm tonight.

Tomorrow we are off to visit Meknes, known as the Moroccan Versailles, and the old Roman fortification known as Volubilis. And on Monday we should be in Portugal, finally, just one day later than originally planned. It’s a shame we won’t be able to go to Sark in the Channel Islands en route to England, but nice that we get to see Meknes and Volubilis, as we had read about both in various books recommended by Lindblad prior to our trip.

 

Change In Itinerary – More Time in Morocco

May 1st, 2008 at 7:01 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

My Internet connection is about to end so I need to write this quickly…

We just learned tonight that the National Geographic Endeavour has not been released from dry dock in the Canary Islands, so we don’t actually have a ship to board tomorrow.

This requires a change in plans, which means we are now going by bus to Rabat, with a lunch stop in Casablanca, and will stay two nights in Rabat. On Saturday we will go from Rabat to Fez to spend the day in Fez, and on Sunday we will be going to see the ruins of Volubilis (a Roman city), Moulay Idriss, and Meknez, and then hopefully will board ship on Sunday evening in Rabat.

This change in itinerary sadly means that we will not be going to Sark in the Channel Islands. Once we are on ship I will update the Current Itinerary page.

 

Another Day of Marrakesh, Then One in the Altas Mountains

May 1st, 2008 at 2:51 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We’re pretty beat. The Lindblad/National Geographic folks have been keeping us very busy, and we’re about to head out again for a final dinner in Marrakesh in a few minutes, so no time for photos right now, alas, nor much verbiage (and I’m sure there will be rejoicing as a result of that).

Yesterday we went back into the Souk, visited the leather workers, metal workers, and a then had a presentation at an herbalist’s shop about a variety of herbs that can be used to treat various ailments, or improve various conditions. These ranged from getting rid of migraines to removing wrinkles. Pretty entertaining and interesting. The herbalist shop also offered various spices and oils for cooking – we’ll be experimenting with those when we get home.

We also visited the Medersa Ben Youssef, formerly a school/college where the Koran was studied, and saw how students lived, and where the performed their ablutions. Shopping followed.

After lunch back at the hotel, we visited the Koutoubia Mosque (outside only, as non-Muslims are not permitted inside), the Saadian Tombs (interesting, but the highlights for many appeared to be a rare (for us) owl and live tortoise living wild on the property, and the Bahia Palace (stunningly beautiful). We also observed that wild white storks have made nests upon most of the tall buildings around, which are mostly the towers of mosques. Storks reportedly bring good luck (in addition to bringing babies).

Dinner was in the beautiful setting of the Beldi Country Club, a few minutes outside Marrakesh. We were entered by Ganoui tribal musicians as we walked across lantern lit, rug covered paths. Excellent ambiance and food.

This morning we had an early start as we boarded one of 25 or so Land Rovers to take a tour of part of the nearby Atlas mountains, home to a number of Berber villages and tribes. Amazing views and scenery, as well as views of daily village life. Most terrifying incident was when Diane was almost taken down by a horde of urchins (little Berber kids) hoping to get some coins from her. The twisty turny narrow roads were pretty harrowing too. We had lunch at a very pretty hideaway in the mountains called La Rosarie – a place filled with flowers (mostly roses).

When it was time to return to Marrakesh, Linda and the kids returned to the hotel while I went with a small group of about ten people to visit the Dar Si Said Museum and look at some historical artifacts. The museum was mildly interesting, but in serious need of upkeep.

And dinner tonight is set for the heart of the medina at the Stylia restaurant, where we are to be greeted by blue men of the desert holding lit torches.

Maybe there’ll be a chance for photos later tonight or tomorrow – we’ve taken hundreds.

Tomorrow we head to Safi to board the National Geographic Endeavour and do some exploring of Safi itself.

 

Touring Marrakesh – Day 1 – Souks and More

April 29th, 2008 at 7:33 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Seeing as I needed to come up with something of a different way to post since my phone data connection still isn’t working, and because I had a bit of extra time today, I’m going to go with a more visual blog entry for today, our first full day in Marrakesh.

After breakfast we went to the Lindblad/National Geographic hospitality desk, got a quick orientation, and met a few fellow early arrivals for our upcoming tour. Among them was Diane from Chicago, a wonderfully nice and charming woman who ended up joining us for the day’s adventures.

The morning consisted of going out on a private mini-tour of the Koutoubia Mosque area, the souks (windy and maze-like paths through a covered area with shops) and the big open market place, with Mohammed, a guide Lindblad made available to us.

Jake and Diane pose with Berber water sellers in front of the Koutoubia Mosque tower
Jake and Diane pose with Berber water sellers in front of the Koutoubia Mosque tower

Marrakesh is rather touristy, and lots of folks go to various extremes in order to be candidates for tourist photos (for which they charge) including wearing traditional Berber water seller outfits, taming snakes, pulling teeth (or at least implying such), and offering monkeys for shoots.

Once in the souks – the area where diverse goods are sold from stalls and small buildings, typically a covered meandering path with lots of noise and people traffic – we looked in on a few shops, both ones that were of interest to us as well as ones where our guide Mohammed knew the owners. It’s a well known thing too that guides get a commission on sales made to people that come into their shops with the guide, and Mohammed confirmed that he would get an end of year “bonus” from such shops, but added he only recommended shops with reputable merchants and goods.


Colorful spices in the souks of Marrakesh

One of the places Mohammed brought us to was a carpet shop, where we were presented with fine examples of hand woven Arab, Berber, and Ajakoub (Moroccan Jewish) carpets and rugs. The seller who took care of us was Aziz, and he explained (and Mohammed previously also indicated) that his carpet shop represented a number of women’s cooperatives which make the carpets and rugs, with the carpet sellers acting as a clearing point for their wares.


Krystyana, Bas, and Linda examine rugs at the carpet sellers’

The rugs and carpets can be made of wool (camel, goat, or sheep – sheep is most common) or cactus fiber.


Bas tests out a carpet at the carpet sellers’ in Marrakesh

We ended up finding several rugs of interest to us, and learned first hand the art of Moroccan haggling. We ended up narrowing down to two pieces, one for Diane and one for Krystyana, paying about one-fifth of the original asking price – quite a steep price drop, leaving me convinced that we still might have paid a bit too much (especially as we then added another similar rug/covering for Bas). But, if we did, we can chalk up the excess to the price for an great show – what the carpet sellers do is a real theatrical performance (and enjoyable for at least one sitting).


Bas is not sure about the water snake around his neck as Krystyana looks on

After the souks we walked back out to Place Jemaa-el-Fna, a huge open area market place with a variety of things on display, ranging from dates and figs to snake charmers and monkey handlers.


Jake has a monkey on his back

We got back to our hotel for lunch and meeting some of our newly arrived tour compatriots, and then at 4pm met up outside to take a two hour ride in a carriage drawn by a pair of horses. The ride brought us to the Majorelle Garden, owned by Yves Saint-Laurent, which had the most amazing cactus collection we had ever seen, then past the old city walls of the medina, and then to the La Menara gardens which features a grove of thousands of 500 year old olive trees (not very visually impressive, alas).

What was amazing was how the horse drawn carriages were just part of regular traffic, along with crazy bicyclists, moped handlers, motorcyclists, and automobiles of all sorts and sizes. Glad it wasn’t me driving the horses, as otherwise the results would likely have been messy.


Diane, Krystyana, Linda, and Bas in the horse carriage in Marrakesh

The horse carriages are just part of the regular traffic in Marrakesh

Camels hang out by the side of the road in Marrakesh

Yes – there are camels in Morocco. We saw several sets hanging out with their owners by the side of the well trafficked roads – a fascinating visual contrast in modes of conveyance.

At dinner later this evening we also met some of the Lindblad staff which would be educating and shepherding us – quite a diverse bunch. I’ll try to get around to writing up something about them as I get to know them.

Tomorrow’s plans are further exploration of the souks and the rest of Marrakesh, and on Thursday we go into the High Atlas mountain range for the day.