A Day In And Around Marrakech

(I’ve edited this post ‘cos I muddled up my visits!)

This was another busy day in the life of our tour group, and it contained yet another highlight.

The day began at Les Jardins Majorelle, a 12 acre botanical garden that contains rare varieties of trees and plants. What makes the entire garden so captivating though is the use of colour, especially the bright cobalt blue. The garden also contains a memorial to the creator’s close friend Yves Saint Laurent.

 

The gardens specialise in rare species of cacti.

There was a lovely shop on site too, with eye catching displays.

The memorial to Yves Saint Laurent.

Nabil has started to give us more shopping freedom in places where he’s more confident that he won’t lose us, so after we left the gardens we had 30 minutes to play. I just loved these little guys – pity they didn’t fit into our suitcases!

The Tiskiwin Museum was another planned excursion and unequivocally the highlight of the day. Originally a riad, it was owned by a Dutch anthropologist who collected works of art from the Sahara, Morocco and North Africa.

It was another 40 degree day so we enjoyed a peaceful relax in the courtyard.

The antiquities include basket work, jewellery, furnishings, utensils, garments and horse related gear. The displays weren’t always easy to photograph, so I’m only too aware that the following photographs simply don’t do justice to this magnificent collection of artefacts.

We were also able to drop in to another button cooperative – where the buttons were made quite differently.

Beautiful fringing being made by one woman. Most of us bought things in this shop because they made perfect gifts or momentos – they were small and light. We were also committed, once again, to supporting cooperatives that were run by women.

Til next time…
Chris

 

A Day Trip Into Berber Country

Today we headed up into the Atlas Mountains in order to experience the Berber life. Our bus driver is amazing. Moroccan roads outside of the cities generally leave a bit to be desired, and throughout the country drivers are generally considerate, if a little crazy at times. He did a brilliant job even though it was a bit hairy at times looking out of the window at what seemed to be a sheer drop from beneath the bus. Metal barriers exist on curves, but not along the edges of roads, so one slip and it’s all over red rover.

The day didn’t go quite to plan – we’re still not sure what a day in the life of a Berber really is like but we did have yet another lesson on cooking a targine!

However, it was an awesome bus trip high up into the mountains. There have been times in the last 10 days that I’ve felt that Morocco has brought alive so many of the Bible stories that I remember from childhood and today really was one of those days. What do you think?

 

 

Mules and donkeys were to be seen everywhere.

 

 

The river beds were marked out in stone or tree branch fence lines into small family plots.

Once our targines were set on coals to cook we spent a very lazy 2 hours getting to know each other a little more and gazing out onto scenery that turns white in winter.

One thing I can say about the Moroccan people is that they are immensely practical!

 

Once again, the decorations inside the guest house were amazing.

Nabil – relaxed and happy. I think that the one thing he would have most liked to do was get the bus driver to take us to Agadir to meet his mother! All 21 of us….

Rhellie, I found a new hike for you! Just a mere 4167 meters  to the summit of Mt Toubkal and a  3 day walk… It’s the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains.

One of the locals came to see us off – complete with goods for sale, of course.

On the way back we stopped at The Berber Boutique, where there just may have been a little exchange of currency for goods. It truly was like being in a candy store.

And a little further down the road were yet more targines. Don’t they look great grouped together,

Til next time….

Chris

 

 

 

A Visit to the Art Tissage Tam Artisans’ Cooperative

The tour that we are on is the first of its kind and was developed as a joint effort between our tour leader, Lisa Walton, and the Monarch tour group, who were responsible for researching many of the places that we’ve visited.

Our tour guide, Nabil, has been a tour guide for over 20 years and he is excellent at what he does. He is extremely concerned about our safety and well being and will always hire additional guides in large crowd situations where he believes we are safest having someone at the front and back of the group and someone moving throughout the group. Apparently Polish pick pockets are the best in the world, but Moroccans are pretty good at it too! Having said that I have to say that for the most part Morocco is a very family focused and friendly place. The street peddlers are a tolerable nuisance and we’re now pretty good at managing them.

Because this tour concept is new, many of the places that we’ve visited are new to Nabil too. Apart from moments of likely boredom when we’ve spent extended time with Moroccan women, I suspect that he’s really enjoyed his time with us. The women’s cooperative that we visited the other day has previously hosted tour groups and had someone on site who could translate for us which left him free to come and go and this is often what happens (on one occasion he was tasked with locating 10 packets of Imodium!).

However, the artisans cooperative that we visited today was not only new to Nabil, but there was no translator on site. He apologised numerous times for his lack of knowledge with regard to embroidery related matters but once we got there he did a fantastic job of bridging the language barrier.

The Art Tissage Tam artisans’ cooperative in Tameslouht supports around 60 families in this small community 30 kilometres out of Marrakech with some working within and around the cooperative and others working from their homes. They proudly boast that their clients include some French fashion houses.

It was a very hot day, but we were able to relax in the semi-covered courtyard and watch talented locals embroider, make baskets and fringe edges of shawls.

 

Can you see the djellaba buttons?

We all spent time browsing the onsite shop – total eye candy!

Visits to nearby buildings allowed us to see first hand the weaving work of the local menfolk. One even asked me to (most unbecomingly!) crawl under his loom and try my hand at weaving.

These guys work in pretty cramped and primitive conditions.

Meanwhile another group of women prepared us a delicious lunch which was much enjoyed. Our knowledge of salads and tagine cooked meals increases daily, needless to say.

As we departed they insisted on a group photo then they presented each of us with an exquisitely woven and fringed table mat.

Til next time….
Chris

A Feast Of Design and Texture

On our way home from our cooking school we stopped to visit a palace, Bahia, which is now a wow! wow! wow! tourist attraction. The ornate decorations are exquisite. It was once the home of an elected government official who had 24 wives and who, for evening entertainment, sourced blind musicians who would be unable to gaze upon his wives as they entertained the family each evening.

This place would have once been opulent beyond words and I cannot begin to grasp how many dozens of craftsmen and artisans would have been employed in order to complete the work.

So today’s post will be a feast of design and texture – I hope you can get an appreciation of the wonder of this palace from my often inadequate photographs.

The harem – 24 wives shared rooms around this pool and fountain area.

These are photos of just some of the ceilings in the palace…..

The walls and doors were pretty impressive too…

 

 

The carved plasterwork was also amazing.

And of course no Moroccan palace would be complete without a fountain or two….

Til next time……
Chris

Postcards from Morocco

I’m going to make this a Postcards from Morocco post – sharing some of the images that I’ve taken in the last two weeks as memories of this wonderful adventure.

Hope you enjoy them.

My heart breaks to see women begging, but Nabil tells a story of a woman someone once observed begging over a number of years with a small child in her arms. That child stayed a baby year after year! Apparently hiring a baby is not unheard of. Needless to say, I suspect that a high percentage of women in the situation above could well be desperate.

Brass lanterns can be found EVERYWHERE! At night pop up traders place tea candles inside and, en masse, they look magical.

The Arabian dromedary (one hump) camel is common to Morocco.

I’m not sure if this woman was distressed or exhausted, but this poignant scene encapsulates the myriad of textures and design that is so typical of Morocco as well as the burdens that its women bear.

Practical transport option for narrow winding alleyways within the medinas but they also play chicken out on the roads amongst buses, cars and trucks.

No mortgages here….the ground floor of a family home is built first then when money permits a second storey is added. Half finished second storeys are a common sight.

How ironic that this is the hotel into which they booked a bunch of quilters!

Love the ubiquitous arches of Morocco. This is one (Bab Er-Rob Et Bab Agnaou) of the 14 gates along the 12 kilometres of ramparts around the Medina of Marrakech.

Stork nests are abundant in Morocco.

Ah, the smells of Moroccan herbs.

I love the donkeys of Morocco. I have seen every conceivable burden on their backs. Yesterday we witnessed one get cross with its owner – believe me donkeys can do tantrums every bit as good as a two year old!

I think this is irony rather than fact….but in Morocco you never know!

Targines, targines and more targines.

Bulk foods and supplies are the norm.

I’ve included this image for several reasons. Historically this body of water and nearby pavillion in the Menara imperial gardens, fed from the High Atlas Mountains, was used in the 12th Century by the sultans for romantic trysts. However, I walked into the gardens behind this woman and couldn’t keep my eyes off of her shot silk jelallaba. It was gorgeous.

This is a country of winding, narrow alleyways within the old cities. The red oxide of the plains upon which Marrakech was built give every building there, old and new, a distinctly pink hue.

I have never seen so many cats!

Love the henna tattoos!

I think you can buy just about anything here…

Everything is ornate.

The biggest take home lesson for me this visit has been that you never know what lies behind the doors of Morocco.

Til next time……
Chris

Moroccan Cookery School

Once again we were afforded the opportunity to wend our way through the narrow passages in the Medina of Marrakech and enter one of the thousands of innocuous looking doorways.

This is the sight that greeted us.

Today we were booked in to a cookery school which had been established in one of the riads that I described yesterday. The set up was amazing – with two long benches, beautifully laid out with preparation equipment, in the traditionally decorated courtyard.

The most important seasonings in a Moroccan kitchen.

A traditional bread basket for storing bread.

Our hostess, Wafa, was an absolute delight and mesmerised us all with her beautiful djebella, musical voice and wealth of information.

However, in typical Moroccan style, the day started with mint tea – served in quite an elaborate ceremony by a charming gentleman in full national garb and with a constant twinkle in his eye. It is the role of menfolk to make and provide mint tea to guests.

The essential elements of mint tea.

The next 4 hours were absolutely full on. Our hostess and translator took us through each recipe step by step. The 3 female chefs demonstrated techniques, pre-prepared some of our foods, helped when we didn’t quite get things right and (mercifully) cleaned up our mess as we went. They also ensured that our tagines were cooked successfully. Several times during the day we stopped to wash our hand in this delightful manner.

Our three chefs – each of the women had experienced recent challenges in life, and the cookery school had provided them a measure of security.

The day started with a demonstration of Moroccan bread making. I can attest to the fact that bread in Morocco is to die for! Simple, but tiny modifications make our daily bread intake unique.

The first dish we prepared was a chicken tagine – see those tiny saffron threads? (Marg, I have some for you!)

And then the helpers took them away to be cooked. No rest for us, it was now time to prepare our vegetable tagines.

Then our two salads: cucumber and tomato and an eggplant based one.

We were warned that graduation today hinged on the successful making of a tomato rose!

For dessert we prepared a grated carrot mixture – soaked in orange juice, then flavoured with orange blossom water, spices and raisins. It was scrumptious and ever so refreshing.

It was served with a Moroccan version of Mille Fleur that one of the chefs had demonstrated during the day,

This riad had a mechanised awning over the courtyard which kept us cool. Sorry folks back home, but it’s pretty much 40 degrees here all week!

Nabil came and went throughout the day, one of his tasks being to locate 10 packets of Imodium! Not in anticipation of our own cooking, but to an extent I think that we’ve all experienced a few wobbly occasions with our tummy woes and these were the ‘just in case’ supply for some. Two hadn’t been well enough to attend today.

Mid afternoon we sat down to eat our prepared meal, after which we were all presented with our certificates. I’m pretty sure that every one of us learnt a lot – about ingredients, cooking utensils and preparation techniques. It was a totally fun day and an opportunity not to be missed.

 

Til next time….
Chris

One Never Knows What Lies Behind A Wall in a Moroccan Medina

The Moroccan riad/ryad is the traditional family home or palace of 2-3 storeys, with an internal courtyard and/or garden with a central fountain. I mentioned in an earlier post that Jewish settlers here built homes with external balconies in contrast to Morocco’s traditional inhabitants who built homes to be inwardly focused – balconies overlook the internal atrium thus providing greater privacy to the families and better protection from the weather. External walls are often windowless whereas internally one might find larger doorways and arches opening onto the central area.

Sadly, a generation or two ago families often sold the family riad as younger Moroccans chose not to stay on as part of extended family living in riads, opting for greater independence offered by apartment living.

However, canny investors were more than happy to snap up these (often beautifully decorated) riads and turn them into hotels, hostels and guest houses.

On the afternoon of our grotto visit we visited one such riad – formerly a palace – and now owned by a French collector of antiquities. Part of his collection includes textiles and for this reason we once again experienced the opportunity to see behind some of the walls of the Medina of Fes. Our morning and afternoon visits could not have been more extreme – from the humble to the palatial.

A beautiful old bird cage.

This, I suspect, is the main house, but around the courtyard are several more and we only went into two of them.

After a lovely chat with the owner about how he came to live in Morocco and own this riad (and more recently the one next door!) he allowed us to wander through two of the buildings that housed the most wondrous collections.

 

 

One whole room was dedicated to a collection of gourds from around the world.

Til next time……when I tell you about today, which was spent in a Moroccan cookery school. We’re all just a little bit exhausted.

Chris

 

Catching up…

Our internet access in Fez was a little frustrating so I am behind in describing some of the other adventures that we experienced there.

Today we had a 7 hour bus trip to Marrakech, with little to report on as I slept most of the way (an out of the blue migraine knocked me for six and after breakfast one of the other women on the trip gave me one of her magic cures, which worked brilliantly but knocked me out) so I can now try to catch up before the Marrakech adventures begin.

On the day that we ventured within the walls of the Medina of Fes we firstly visited a tile and pottery factory. Because of its use of fire it must be sited outside of the Medina. Our guide took us around the grounds, explaining the processes and emphasising the ways in which they do things perhaps a little differently to us. Although most of the tradesmen were on holiday (for the sheep festival) some had stayed on in order to demonstrate for us.

These are some of the traditional stencils that they use. Our guide showed us a range of traditional designs from both the Arab and Berber cultures.

The kiln area. Crushed olive pips are used as a fuel source.

We were then taken to the area where the mosaics were made.

Painstakingly chipping away to create the tiny pieces. How many chisels have been sharpened on this stone?

The intricate pieces fit perfectly.

Then we went on to where mosaic features are created – upside down.

The edges of tiny pieces are sanded as he works.

Then it was shopping time…..

Needless to say, I think everyone came away with some pottery because to resist was futile!

Behind the Walls…..

Once again the streets of Morocco were deserted as our bus headed out of the city this morning. And wonders of wonders all traces of sheep on the streets had disappeared! In towns that we passed though people could be seen carting their dressed sheep to the local butcher, or waiting patiently at his stand while their meat was chopped up for them.

Our group is beset with tummy woes at the moment and we are scrambling to identify likely suspects. Today our money is on the watermelon – we’ve just found out that growers inject them with water to increase their weight, and we’ve seen some of the water sources in this country!! Consequently there’s been much daily anguishing about whether or not affected individuals feel that they can join us or not on our excursions and I suspect that a doctor’s visit may be imminent.

Nabil is currently standing up the front of the bus educating us about Arabic numerals – oh, so simple up to number 9 because each numeric has the number of corners in it that represent the value of that number. If I’ve lost you – number 2 has 2 corners when written down, number 5 has 5 corners. So of course 0 had to have no corners!

He is a mine of information – our days are filled with his snippets of facts. For example, on the previous King’s 50th birthday he gave to his country 50 million trees – making modern Morocco a remarkably green country. The current king doesn’t have all of his money in off shore accounts – he invests in his country. The Costco-like supermarket that we went to a few days ago is one of a chain – owned by the current ruler.

Today we are off to see a cherry button cooperative in Safrou. We were shown cherry buttons yesterday in the grotto – individual buttons are formed around a small hollow tube (formed paper or plastic tubing).

MUCH LATER IN THE DAY:
Yesterday I didn’t think that anything more that we experienced here could trump our grotto experience of yesterday. I was wrong. So wrong.

The button cooperative exists on the ground floor of a private home in Safrou. (https://cherrybuttonscoop.wordpress.com/about/ )

It is a very basic room, although large and spacious, containing various sized looms, a couch lined seating area and a dyeing section. We were all asked to sit around the walls on the couches, with hijab clothed locals sitting amongst us. We were all a little awed – we were inside a Moroccan home, sitting beside Moroccan women!

For once we were on the inside looking out!

We didn’t need Nabil – one of the young women spoke excellent English so she was our translator (and later able to answer the myriad of questions that we posed). We were each given our silk thread, large eyed sewing needle and a decorated drill bit that they’ve re-purposed very cleverly. Our lesson began……their nimble fingers wove and twisted as they showed us the process, then over the next hour patiently helped each of us to make a djellaba button. Unexpectedly, one women in our group at the end of the room removed her hijab (it’s hot here today) and we felt somewhat honoured that she felt that she could do that with us present. Shortly afterwards off came her djellaba and we knew then that they no longer considered us strangers.

This is the button that I made!

What fun we all had fumblingly trying to emulate the dexterity of these amazing women, watching a demonstration of hibiscus flower dyed wool (they use all natural dyeing processes) and examining the loom work and indigo dyed fabrics.

Then……

We were invited upstairs into the home for a shared lunch. This trip just keeps getting better and better. What an opportunity. Yesterday we experienced the extremes in Moroccan homes – the humble grotto and the luxurious riad (haven’t told you about that one yet!) and today we shared a meal in the home of an everyday family in Morocco.

The entrance hall was tiled with this beautiful design.

Afterwards our two main hostesses dressed in their hijabs and djellabas and joined us on the bus for the ride down to Safrou’s town centre where the retail outlet for their cooperative is located.

These tiny buttons are used to decorate their djellabas.

The women use these tiny woven buttons to make decorative jewellery and knowing how much work goes into making them, as well as feeling a strong commitment to the cause of local women, let’s just say that they will need to do some major re-stocking in the weeks to come. The little shop burst at the seams with eager Australians while, I suspect, other local artisans looked on in envy.

We drove home mid afternoon, with an excited buzz throughout the bus. I wonder if we can top that experience?!

A Day To Remember

The streets of Morocco are practically deserted today. The occasional pedestrian wanders the streets, seemingly without purpose. Small groups of men gather in cafes drinking coffee while others gather around fire pits that have popped up in random locations along the city streets. There, sheep heads are roasted in preparation for tonight’s feast. Freshly peeled skins lay spread out on pavements and freshly hung carcasses can be seen suspended on balconies and in garages.

 

A lonely mule waits patiently in the sun, no burden to carry today.

Morocco has come to a standstill, and from what Nabil has told us it will take several days for it return to normal. This is family time and with it comes the opportunity to visit with others, to reaffirm friendships and to share the tasty delights of various sheep dishes.

With few options for tourists, we had a fairly relaxing day. Mid morning we piled onto the bus for a 30km trip to visit a nearby grotto. Stopping at one of the few cafes that are open today (so that we can have a bathroom visit), the bus became a lively buzz of conversations as we get to know each other a little more each day and patiently wait for nearly 20 women to make use of the one available facility.

Nabil had explained that we’d go to Bhalil, a village known for its grottos but we had no idea what lay ahead of us. While waiting at our loo stop cafe he had struck up a conversation with a local who lived in one and unhesitatingly invited us all back to his home for mint tea. No other experience that we have in Morocco will match what happened next.

We walked slowly up an old cobblestone road, drains running red with sheep blood, carcasses hanging in doorways and a fire pit of cooked sheep heads being tended by an excitable group of young lads. Up we climbed, through a doorway into a passage and on into a cave that families have lived in for hundreds of years. What a magical experience it was. We felt so honoured. I’ll let my photographs speak for themselves.

How old must this pot be?!

Our host ceremoniously served us the traditional mint tea.

How do you enter a grotto? This photo was taken from outside the front door. Imagine entering the door that can be seen on the right, and immediately turning left. See the rocks bulging out from the walls in the photo above? That’s the cave. Here’s what you see when you enter the door and turn left:

This is the entrance – into the kitchen area. The bathroom is outside of the cave – it’s the room to the right with the mat in front of the door.

The magic of the day was complete when, during dinner, a group of Jewish men gathered in one corner of the large dining room and raised their voices in song to celebrate their Sabbath. Another memorable moment in this trip.

Til next time….

Chris