A Travellerspoint blog

Camels, Fossils and Roses. Oh My!!

Stay calm and camel on

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Day 4 and 5 – Camels, Fossils and Roses, Oh my!!!

After breakfast we started to head south the heart of the desert. We went through the middle Atlas Mountains to Ifrane (65KM from Fes). This town has been nicknamed “Morocco’s Switzerland’. It reminded us of Canmore. A small skiing town close to the mountains with the buildings looking like ski chalets. This town’s name means Lion in Arabic and there is a large Lion statue in the main town gardens. The town is surrounded by a Large Cedar Forest (the largest one in Morocco). There were many cranes that had built their nests on the tops of chimneys.

Another 120 Km took us to Midelt where we stopped for lunch in a Kasbah. We passed through many fortified villages on our way to Erfoud. Another stop to stretch our legs and finally to Merzouga for our camel ride and night in the desert.

We arrived at dusk and had to leave the bus to go on sand tracks to the Aubree Hotel: Les Estrella de las Dunes. (Star of the Dunes). By the time we go organised and on the camels (watch out for the back end going up first when they stand up) it was pitch black and we wondered how this was going tobe any fun. It didn’t take long to answer that question. The sky was full of star and we had a crescent moon to give us light. It was absolutely silent. Not a sound to be heard except for the students talking and singing.

Camp was lit by candle lights and was a wonderful sight to see. There was much talk about sore thighs but it didn’t last long once we had a chance to sit and drink mint tea and eat a wonderful dinner. The tents were authentically decorated and very comfortable. We even had flushing toilets and hot showers in our rooms (not quite authentic I guess). The beds were comfortable and the rooms were dark and again you could hear nothing outside. Even the camels had stopped grunting.

The sun rises at 6:30AM and to see it from the top of the dunes, we were up at 5:45 to make the pilgrimage. Needless to say some made it and others opted for staying on the top of the first hill. The sand is very fine and difficult to walk on. We had breakfast and again were on the camels for the ride back to the stables. The camel herders were wonderful and must have been professional photographers in another life. They took so many pictures of everyone and I am sure your will see many on Facebook.

We started back to Erfoud were we stopped at a fossil workshop. This area of Morocco was under water around 30,000,000 BC and was the first Mediterranean Sea before the Continental Shift, thus the fossils. The road between Erfoud and Ouarzazate is known as the road of a thousand Kasbahs.

On the way to the Todra Gorge we stopped in Tinghir. This is a complete opposite to the desert we had just been in the night before. There were palms trees, green lush grasses and many flowers and roses to be seen. The water comes down from the Atlas Mountains and through he Todra Gorge to Tinghir to make an Oasis in the desert. We had an opportunity to get into the water and cool our feet. The water was mountain cold and very refreshing. We also experienced a light rain shower. Who would have thought you would have rain in the desert?

Two more stops and we were finished for the night. We went to a carpet factory and saw many types of carpets including ones made by the Berbers. Once again the credit cards were being used for purchases. Finally on to a “Rose Town”. Kelan M’Gouna is known for growing roses and many products are for sale using this beautiful scent. There is a Rose Festival but we are missing it by a week. It would have been interesting to see.

We are in Ouarzazate right now with another pool. What a luxury!!! Tomorrow we will have a few comments from the students of their thoughts on the trip so far.

Posted by Scrossman 01:18 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Medina Madness

Shoppers Unanimous

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Medina Madness!!!
WOW!! What a wonderful day again. We had a chance to stay in bed until 8AM this morning and then we were off again.

Today we were off to the Fes Medina. This the largest old medina in the world. 9500 alleyways. And you can get lost in any one of them. We entered through the Boujeloud Gates (Blue Gates). We saw vegetables, fresh meat being cut (goat heads included) live chickens; some of the 400 variety of dates that are grown in Morocco, olives, goat cheese, Rose Water items, and then went into the artisan quarter to see the tinsmiths working on the brass and bronze ware. This was our first shopping stop of the day. The group bought bronze plates, teapots, bowls and items that were decorated with Alpaca (Pewter).

Once we were finally finished, we went to find an ATM machine. There are only a few types that will take the Canadian debit cards. You need to look for BMCE bank. Once we all had money again, we went back to the bus to go to a different entrance into the Medina.
We visited the Jamaa Al-Karouine – the world’s oldest established university. We were able to peek into the Main courtyard as it closes for lunch and it was right on noon. We also were able to see a Medersa (a Koranic School). The different Motifs were explained to us and the fact that there are no images, just motifs on the walls.

We then went to the “stinkiest” place on earth – the tanneries. The reason there is such a foul smell is the fact they use Pigeon Poop to help with the tanning process, the acid in the poop helps to soften the leather. Once again there were many purchases made. This was followed by lunch.
Off to the fabric store to see how the fabric is woven on Kilims and made into various types of cloth for different purposes. There were scarfs, shawls, tablecloths, bedcovers, dresses, Jdelabas, Fezes and much more. Again we did a great job of helping the local economy.

One last stop before we headed back to the hotel and the awaiting pool. We had a panoramic view of Fes. Beautiful to see and very spread out. The River of Pearls divides the city into old Fes on the right bank and old Fes on the left bank.

We had a great time at dinner with everyone trying on their new purchases. Tomorrow we are off to the desert and our camel rides and overnight camp.

Posted by Scrossman 01:13 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Finally in Fes

Long road ahead

sunny 14 °C

Finally in Fes!!!!!

Just finished day one and I am pretty sure everyone is ready for bed. Well at least most!!! When I did the first post, I knew we were going to have a busy day BUT I NEVER thought it was going to be THIS busy!!!!

Let me just take you back to Saturday. We arrived in Frankfurt at 11:30 AM and set about getting into town and on to our various tours.

There were 11 that went on a 2 hour walking tour which took 5 hours to complete!! The highlight was the Jewish Memorial Site. We were told that it really touched everyone. They also has a chance to try the local schnitzel and beer. The group had an opportunity to see the “Padlock” Bridge. No one was able to add a lock of their own, so I guess they are still waiting for their true loves. When we met up again there were a few cold and tired bodies.

The other group were planning on taking the Ebbelwei-ExpresB Tram where there is a tour of the main sites around Frankfurt but seen from the comfort of a tram car. Unfortunately this did not happen as most of these tours are reserved many months in advance and we were planning on just getting on. We end up taking the Hop on/Hop off bus tour around the town and going to the Cider Bar district to try the famous Frankfurt Cider. We learned that if there is a green wreath over the bar door, they have a license to press their own cider. We found an establishment with that sign and had a wonderful meal. The day turned out to be a great one.

We all met back at Hauptbanhof (the main train station) and went back to the airport, for our flight to Casablanca. The plane was very empty and many got to have a row of seats to themselves. Great food and service on all flights.

And NOW for day one. We only had a few hours’ sleep as we had to be up and out of the hotel by 8:00AM. We headed north 80KM to the Capital city of Rabat. The population of greater Rabat is roughly 2 Million people. Morocco has the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Spain in only 14KM from Tangiers (In the far of north of the country).

Our first stop of the day was the Royal Palace. There are 5 different types of guards we saw that protect the King while in residence. We saw men dressed like Secret Service and the men dressed in the red royal guard uniforms as well as army, navy and the Gendarme. The grounds were huge and beautifully kept.

From here we went to the Mohammed V Mausoleum to see the tombs of Hassan II (the present king’s father and Mohammed V (present King’s Grandfather). We learned that the present King is very forward thinking and has helped the women’s cause by having them allowed into parliament and higher offices of power. The Hassan II Tower is on the same site. We finished in Rabat with a visit to the Kasbah (of the Udayas) the old walled village of Rabat’s Medina (old walled city). To clarify: Kasbah is the walled village and Median is walled city.

We then headed off to Meknes. Another 120KMs north of Casablanca. We visited the Bab El Mansour Gate. We had a chance to take a fast local lunch where many local favorites were tried. We met back at the gates and continued behind them into one of the 25 Mosques. We were allowed inside to view the beautiful mosaic and marble architecture. This is one of the many UNESCO sites in Morocco.

Our final portion of today’s journey was to Volubilis. Another UNESCO site. This was 30KM north of Meknes. Here we saw the Roman ruins which were unearthed in 1915 and became a World Heritage Site in 1997. These ruins would make you think you were in the Roman Ruins in Italy. Complete with Aqueducts and all the necessities of life.

By this time the temperature had risen from a very comfortable morning to a smoking hot afternoon.

We had some very good news on our final drive to Fes (another 100 KMs north). The hotel we were to stay in was overbooked and we were upgraded to an amazing 5 star hotel. Zalagh Park Palace. We already have a plan to get back from our tour tomorrow and hit the pool. By the way; the temperature tomorrow is supposed to a high of 33C!!!! Who has clothes for this heat????

This is all for tonight. More after our Souks, Tanneries and Clay workshops. Tesbaheena ala Kheer (Bon Nuit for those French speaking Moroccans)

Posted by Scrossman 23:52 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

2 days and a bit!!

2 days and a bit and we are off to Morocco. Tests are all finished, marks are in and now we can relax and enjoy ourselves on our great adventure.

Our adventure starts when we get to Frankfurt on Saturday morning. We will travel from the airport and head into town by train. We have almost 9 hours here so we have decided to explore this city as best we can in the time we have. Some will go on a walking tour and see the famous sites on foot, while others will take a tram tour; with a sampling of Frankfurt Cider which is now famous around the world. We have a few students who will visit with family and friends who are in the Frankfurt area. Then back to the airport for our second portion of our journey to Casablanca.

We will be having a very busy day the first day once we arrive in Casablanca. We will head north to Morocco's coastal capital since 1912, Rabat. We will see the picturesque Kasbah of the Udayas, built in the mid-12th century and the unique Hassan Tower (begun at the end of the 12th century, it was meant to have the world's largest minaret, but was never completed). Just opposite the tower lies the 20th-century Mausoleum of Mohammed V.

From here we continue to Meknes to view the UNESCO World Heritage Site: the gate of El-Mansour. Our tour here will also include the medina (market); the royal stables and a tour of the royal palace.

One more stop before we reach our final destination for today (Fes). Volubilis is a partly excavated Roman city which was developed from the 3rd century BC onwards. It was not until the 19th century that the ruins we see today were identified as the ancient city of Volubilis. Today it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wow!! All this and it has only been the first day. I hope to show you lots of pictures of our travels as we continue on our whirl wind tour of Morocco. Stay tuned and I will get back to you once we are in Fes.

Even Steve (our school mascot) is in his Djellaba ready to go!

steve.jpg

Posted by Scrossman 13:23 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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