Friday, July 27, 2007

In which all plans are defenestrated

Madrid, Spain

It's been rather a long time since I last posted, and much has happened, so I'll stick to the highlights. Defenestrated, a word I love, means to throw out the window.

After Fes we went to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Our hotel was accross the street from this amazing french cafe named Green Cafe complete with amazing french pastries. So instead of eating breakfast at the hotel, we ate their. They seem to be the only place in morocco that actually puts chocolate in their chocolate croussants. We walked everywhere in Rabat I think, and my knock off converse allstars were dying, so now I have some snazzy new purple euroshoes. After trying many shoes stores and finding no arch support in shoes, I started looking at people's feet, and have concluded that morocco is full of flat footed people.

One of the more outrageous experiences was meeting up with the couchsurfers of Rabat and Sale. If you want to know about couch surfing their website is, but the idea is so people can travel and meet other people and stay on their couches. One guy named Nabil walked mom and I to the tomb of Muhammed V, the king who liberated morocco from the French. It's a very impressive mosoleum, built in the ruins of the mosque that was intended to have the highest minaret in the muslim world, but was never finished. Then, the rest of the couch surfers showed up. They gave everyone, including me, a diploma for having attended the first couch surfing meeting of Rabab-Sale (although I was now attending the second meeting) and then had us take a lot of photos together.

We had heard that boats crossed the river to Sale from Rabat - they don't. So we walked a lot, took petit taxis and then smushed into a grand taxi to get to sale. We ate lunch at this lunch counter sort of place, and had sardine ball sandwhiches. It was very good, but perhaps one of the stranger things that I ate in morocco. Miraculously, none of us got sick from the lunch. This further validates the theory mom and I have discovered of food in morocco - the smaller and cheaper the place, the better the food will be. This holds except for very very nice resturants, where the food is indeed worth the money.

In Sale we also visited the exotic gardens. There are sections of the gardens from peru, china, congo, japan, pacific islands, arid mexico, etc. It's an amazing place. The paths wind through it in such a way that it feels much larger than it is. There are bridges, stairs, stone archways, and a waterfall. And it was nice and cool. We got there an away using the bus, our first public intracity transport. It felt a bit like the bus was falling apart.

We took the train from Rabat to Casablanca, and there bought a new suitcase, so Ian could take lots of things home for all of us. The day was spent repacking for the most part. The next morning, we all took a taxi with him to the airport. He had to spend the night in JFK, but got home okay. The rest of that day and half of the next rather angst filled day was spent deciding what I was going to do after morocco. That afternoon I bought a bus ticket to Madrid. I've decided to throw any plans out the window (unless I get into JET). And I will find that english teaching job when I run out of Money.

The bus ride from Madrid to Casablanca was 24 hours, although not all of that was driving time. The woman behind me on the bus, named Fatih, decided to sort of adopt me, and made sure I got through the whole thing okay. She's from morocco, but has been living in spain for 6 or so years. She didn't speak any english, so I drug out my high school spanish, and we sort of managed to talk. Spanish does seem to be coming back to me, which is nice, although I sound like a three year old.

We drove to Tangiers, then had to take all our stuff off the bus, go through passport control (moroccans aren't too fond of orderly lines) and have our bags scanned. Then we walked to the dock where the boats was, hauled our stuff up the gangplank, and waited an hour and a half for the ferry to go. The ride accross to algecieras was two and half hours. For some reason I thought it was going to be about 30 minutes. Then we did the whole pasport control and customs again, and got back on the bus about 1:30 am. We arrived in Madrid at about 11.

Madrid is beautiful, and seems so calm after morocco. The cars stay in their lanes, there are cross walks and lights telling you when you can cross. The sidewalks are wide and in good repair, and the metro is great. It also seems less poluted on the whole. I've found a hostel and harry potter, and am taking a couple of days to just hang out and not do too much. I have no idea what I'm doing next. If anyone has any friends I could visit or suggestions of places to go, I'm all ears. And now, back to harry potter!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

An aMAZEing city

Fes, Morocco

The guidebook says that Fes can be a sensory overload. I think I agree with them. The medina of Fes is the largest living midevil city in the world. It's a complete labyrinth, with some of the streets only about a person and a half wide. The only modes of transport are walking, and horses and donkeys act as tucks. We saw the coca cola delivery donkey go past one day. It seems about half of Fes lives in the Medina, which is divided into two parts - Fes al bali (where we are staying) and Fes al jadid (the "new" part). Then there's the ville nouvelle built by the french, and the modern city built after the french left. There's only one problem with Fes, and that's the amount of hustlers. Every one wants to be your tour guide, or to sell you something, or to take you to the tourist resturant so they can get a kick back, or something. This makes it very hard to get good directions anywhere, and because the Medina is such a maze, it makes it very hard to find certain sights.

But we did manage to see a lot of Fes al bali. Yesterday we visited the tanneries, the stinkiest place in the city. They still tan leather the old fassion way, which involves a lot of pigeon shit, lime, and dyes. All the different chemicals for all the steps are in different pits, and the leather moves from one to the other, often sitting in one pit for up to a month. The pits remind me of a honey comb. After accedentally walking into the middle of it all, we backtracked, went up into a shop and up on their roof to get a view from the terrace. They gave us mint sprigs to try to make the smell less. We could see the guys working. Some of them were standing knee deep in the pits of chemicals.

William's Arabic teacher, Muhammed, is in Fes for the summer with his family, and so yesterday morning we walked around the Medina with him, and then yesterday evening he and his wife brought us to his mothers house for coffee. I should have known it wouldn't be just coffee. They also had mint tea, cookies, croissants, a layered flat bread and non-sweet doughnuts, in other words, a feast. We got to meet their two adorable children, and his mother and sister. It was really nice to see how a real moroccan house and family, and to actually get to talk to a woman. Fatihah, Muhammed's wife is very nice. Most of the time on the streets we see men, in the hotels it's men except for the cleaning ladies, in the resturants it's men, etc. Although we see women, being a tourist, the only people we had talked to were men. After coffee, they took us in Muhammed's brother's car to the ville nouvelle, and we walked up and down the streets and stoped at a sort of traditional arts exhibition with music.

Today we hired a driver to go see some of the cities surrounding Fes. First was volubilis, a ruined roman city. Not much of it is left standing after it was sacked for its marble and then there was an earthquake. There were still some very impressive mosaics, such as the one that displays the twelve labors of hercules. They had reconstructed the triumphal arch, and some of the basilica. The city was on a hill, and had originally been surrounded by forest, but it was all cut down to grow wheat for the empire. And today the land is still used to grow wheat.

Next we went to Moulay Idris, where the first Moroccan king is burried. The entire town used to be closed to non muslims, but now it's been opened, although they still can't visit his tomb. In addition to being king, he was a grand son or great grand son of the prophet, and is considered a saint. Five pilgramages to his tomb can replace the required trip to Mecca. Deciding not to eat lunch here, we went to Meknes, the first imperial capital of Morocco. Our driver took us to two fancy tourist resturants before we could convince him that we really just wanted to eat sausage and bread on the square. And the sausage was great! We walked into the medina, then visited the old stables, where they quartered 12,000 horses back in the day. The place is cooled by water running underneath in pipes. At the time it was a major engineering accomplishment, and the place was indeed very cool. We drove past the king's palace, and then tried to go to the tomb of Moulay Ishmael, the one tomb we were supposed to be allowed to go into, and they wouldn't let us because it was supposed to be closed for the holiday.

Our last stop was one of the potteries of Fes. Fes is famous for its pottery and mosaic. They burn olive pits to get the kilns hot enough, ad there was a ton of black smoke pouring out. Although it was really interesting seeing all of the steps involved, the place made me feel ucky. Back in the car I realized that if I had to pick working in the taneries or the potteries, I would pick the tanery. The potteries really reminded me of a sweat shop, where guys were working in dark rooms doing the same thing over and over. In the tanneries, however, it had a more communal feel, even though guys were knee deep in chemicals.

Tomorrow I plan to really get lost in the Medina here, and then we head to Rabat, the capital, and the coast. Across the river from Rabat is Sale, a former pirate capital.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

On Moroccan food and the beach

Essaouira, Morocco

We're at the beach! Essaouria is a small town with a really nice walled old town that is right on the coast. Part of the coast here is rocky, but there's also a good beach that has been packed during the day. There are little kids in swim suits, covered women with their pants rolled up to their knees, wind surfers, and kite surfers. I think kite surfing looks like it would be awesome!

Some day I'm going to have to learn how. The city is very windy and cool, making a nice change after the desert. Most of the buildings in the city are white, and blue seems to be the color of choice for trim. It's really nice to be in a more laid back city, where I could go walking by myself, and where the shop keepers and touts aren't hasseling people all the time.

One of the biggest industries here is carving the local Thuya wood. Lonely planet indicated that the tree may be endangered, but Ian looked it up on the web, and could find nothing about the tree being endangered, or any groups set up to protect it. So we're going to assume that the guide book is lying. We've discovered on this trip that the guide book is not always correct. Yesterday, after reading about a "laundry mat" outside the walls in the ville nouvelle, mom and william walked half an hour there to discover that it was really just a woman's laundry business, and that she does have a washing machine, but it is not for everyone to use. So they left her our 94 pieces of laundry to do. When william and I came to pick it up they seemed amused at how many bags it was taking to carry it.

Me on a boat

Yesterday night, mom and William went out for their anniversary leaving Ian and me on our own for dinner. We went to a small pizza and pasta place. I got penne gratin, a version of macaroni and cheese. I was suprised when it came in the traditional tajine dish and was still bubbling. A tajine is made out of clay, and has a flat base and then a conical cover. They're used to convert a burner into a sort of oven. They come in multiple sizes, from an individual portion to a family sized one. Tajines usually have chicken, lamb or kofta, and then sauce and vegitables. They are brought to the table still bubbling. On the coast there are also shrimp (amazing!) and fish tajines. One of the most common types of tajine is chicken with olives and pickled lemon. I think it's on almost every menu that I've seen. And apparently they also make mac and cheese in a tajine.

Another common dish harira, a widly variable soup with a meat or tomato base, and vermicelli and chick peas in it. Here at the coast fish soup is popular. Couscous is another major moroccan dish. They serve it with cooked vegitables. They have lots of salads with tomato and onion, as well as the ocasional pizza and pasta. One good legacy of the french is great pastry and coffee. The national beverage is mint tea. It is served in a metal pot that is full of fresh mint leaves as well as some gunpowder green tea and lots of sugar. A pot usually contains enough tea for two or three cups. Breakfast is usually bread, butter, jam, orange juice, and coffee or tea. Sometimes they add pancake type things or hard boiled eggs to that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Photos from Marrakesh - Part II

The entrance to the Jardin Majorielle (paradise)

Plaster carver at work

In the courtyard of the Marrakesh museam

The only woman chief in the Jeema Fna food booths

Moroccan doughnuts

Goats in a Tree and other Tales

It seems forever ago that I wrote the last post. Since then we went to the Sahara, left the Sahara, changed a tire, saw the Atlantic, saw goats in a tree, got a speeding ticket, and returned the car.

Pre sahara we spend a night at toudru gourge, a very beautiful place. My favorite part of that day was the walk through the palmarie. It was amazing!! From the outside it just looks like many many palm trees.

But when you walk under them you see that there are many small fields that are growing alfalfa, tomatos, peppers, corn, cabbage, and more. There are also lots of other trees including pomagranite, fig, apricot and others which I have now forgotten. Because a river flows through the center of the valley, there are irrigation cannals with running water that wind their way through the fields. The fields have walls that are built up, and they are flood irrigated - water is let in from an irrigation cannal and then allowed to sink into the soil. I'm sure there's a lot of work going on in the area, to me it was a beautiful and magical place.

The sahara. After leaving toudru gorge we drove south to Zagora. As we were driving we passed a sign - welcome to the moroccan sahara. It began to get very hot and we drove through a lot of stony desert. Then, we started driving through yet another valley filled with palms - the Draa valley, home to the biggest river in Morocco. Our destination was Zagora, one of the last major towns before the serious desert. William had lived here for a month 12 years ago, so it was exciting to see what he had been talking about. We also went to the market - it was very hot and there was so much stuff. To attempt - spices, building materials, old tires made into baskets, cassettes, grains, produce of all kinds, especially watermelons, clothes, metal pieces, and jewlery.

That day at 6pm it was 102 in the shade. That afternoon we drove south, but decided not to go to the end of the road because william was worried about the tires. Very fortunatly the hotel had a pool, as well as excellent tomato, onion and pepper salad. And we learned that mom only sweats in the Sahara.

After two nights in Zagora, we drove out of the Sahara, and west. We drove along small roads, went through a couple of towns that were having markets, and then all of a sudden, the car started bumping and william pulled over. The result is that I know know what to do if I ever get a flat tire. And we were all very glad that it hadn't happened in the desert. Onward we went. We drove into Taroudant, a walled city thinking of staying there. The sign said it was 97 F, but to us it felt cool. It was market day there too and things weren't going right, so we drove all the way to Agadir, a big resort town on the Atlantic that also has a major port and fishery. It did not seem at all like the rest of Morocco, but it was nice and cool.

Yesterday we left Agadir, after trying to get to the beach and failing, and drove a two lane road with lots of very heavily loaded trucks. After a wile we passed a bunch of bottles on the side of the road. William told us it was Argan oil, made from the nut of the Argan tree. Traditionally, goats ate the nut and then their digestive system got rid of the hard outer coating. The nuts were recovered, the kernals pressed, and then you had this oil which is supposed to be very good for you, and is catching on in places like Paris and NYC. And to get the nuts, the goats have to climb the trees. Which is why I saw goats in a tree as we passed. The Argan tree can live in temperatures up to 50 C, which makes it an ideal plant to fight against desertificaiton. Back to the oil, now they have coopertives which are cutting out the role of the goat. Mom was joking and said there should be a campain for "full employment for goats"

After the goats in a tree we were driving along only to get pulled over for doing 82 in a 60km/h zone. The guy pulled out his book to show us the fine was 400dh. However, we didn't have that much money. He was kind of shocked, and we didn't understand him and he kept getting louder. He decided he couldn't take all the money of some stupid tourists, and let us go with only a 200dh fine and no written ticket.

We returned to Marrakesh, and then had to drive in the old city to get to the parking near where we were staying. William returned the car, and tomorrow we head out for Essouira, a small town walled town on the coast.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Photos from Marrakesh - Part I

Jardin Majorielle

Food stands in Jemma Fna at night

Orange juice stands in Jeema Fna at night

Friday, July 06, 2007

Drumming in Dades Gorge

Dades Gorge, Morocco

Yesterday morning, after spending the night in the hotel where David Lean stayed during the filming of Lawrence of Arabia, we crossed the dried up river bed into the old village - a UNESCO world heritage site.

A lot of the village had been rebuilt for the filming of the movie, but as we discovered walking around, what was rebuilt was what could be seen from afar. Everything else was still a little bit falling apart. All the buildings are made of rammed earth - similar to adobe, and when it rains the walls have an unfortunate tendency to melt. We got to see the inside of one of the towers of the kasbah (fort) and then walked all the way up to the top of the hill. From the top we could see the arena they had created for the filming of gladiator.

After recovering from our very hot walk, we drove east, into the valley of the roses, then the valley of the kasbahs, and finally into the dades gorge. The gorge is spectacular. The sides are made of red rock, which has been carved into strange brain like formations in some places. The floor of the valley is green - there are lots of fig and olive trees, as well as fields of potatos, wheat, mint, and other plants I couldn't indentify. The fields are small, but they make use of every inch of land, and it's all very intensivly cultivated.

After finding a place to stay, mom, Ian and I were walking along the road and we saw a threshing machine that was getting hooked up to a tractor. Since it was taking a while we walked on and then when we walked back by it they were feeding wheat into the machine.

As we stood there watching one of the women working motioned for us to help them carry the wheat to the machine. When we actually started to help, they looked very surprised and pleased. I guess it was a kind of dare or joke, they didn't think we could actually help. After a few trips to the machine the woman told mom to stop, I guess we were overloading the system.

At dinner that night (we were the only ones staying in the hotel) we asked the guy who broght us dinner, who is a trek leader most of the time about the thressing machine. He told us how easy it made the process. Now they could separate an entire family's grain from the wheat in two or three hours instead of the day or two it used to take them with a mule walking in circles over and over and then throwing the hay into the air.

At dinner William asked about drumming, because when he had stayed at the place 10 years ago, guys had been playing drums after supper. So the trek leader guy found a couple of guys working in the hotel to play the drums. Then they got mom and Ian, and later me to give it a try. The drums they gave me were heavy and kept slipping, but it was really fun. At one point the hotel manager came out and played for a while.

My camera and the computer are now over their argument and are talking again, so hopefully there will be some photos soon

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Old tiled buildings

The past two days have been days of old buildings. Yesterday we went to a palace that took 20 years to build by the Saadians, and then 12 years to strip by the next ruling group. Now the tops of the walls are filled with nesting storks. The word for stork in arabic (or at least moroccan arabic) is el clack (not spelled like that) because of the noise that they make. Their nests are huge. The palace is also home to a mimbar of the oldest most famous mosque in the city. The mimbar is made of wood with elaborate carving, and was done in the 1100s in andalusia, and then shipped in parts. It's been restored and was taken out of the mosque in the 1960s.

We also went to the jewish quarter, saw the old cemetary and a fake cynagogue and were scammed. It reminded me of my worst experiences in egypt. Yucky

Today we visited the Marrakesh museam, the Ben Youssef medresa, and this domed building that was an abolution fountan and was surrounded by an elaborite hydralic system, although since the description was in french, and kind of technical, mom wasn't quite sure how the system worked. The museam is in an old restored house of someone who must have been very wealthy. It's build around a spectacular tiled courtyard, which has been covered for preservation purposes. The museam does have exhibits, but what's most interesting is the building. I can't really describe it, you need photos.

A medresa is a theological school. Contrary to reports in the american news, when Barak Obama visited a medresa, he was visiting a school, not a terrorist place. This one also has an amazing tiled courtyard, topped by carved plaster and then carved wood. Around the courtyard are rooms for the students. All the rooms are off of mini, two story, court yards. They're about the size of a small dorm room. It was really neat to be able to walk into all the rooms, and get an idea of what the school could have been like.

On our way to the famous buildings we passed a guy who was doing the carving in plaster, He had a square of it, and he was chipping out the design with what looked like a screw driver. He said it took him 5 hours for a square that must have been 6 inches on a side. I can't even imagine how much work went into the tiled mosaics, and carved plaster and wood in these buildlings. And it's not just in the fancy buildings. Many doors we've past while exploring have also been carved.

Tomorrow we rent a car (hopefully with air conditioning) and head off east to the village where lawrence of arabia was filmed

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Orange juice in the square of all squares

Marrakesh, Morocco

First I would like to say that the orange juice here is fresh squeezed amazingness, especially when you can get it for 30 cents a glass. On the down side, orange juice will never be the same again.

We got to Marrakesh by train and to the edge of the old city (medina) by taxi. The petit taxis here are tiny - you can only fit three people in each if you try, so we always have to take two. There are no cars allowed in the medina, only bikes, motor bikes, and donkey carts. But let me tell you, that creates quite enough excitement on the streets, and when you're being passed by a motor bike and a donkey cart on a narrow street, it gets a bit tight. Motor bikes also seem to come flying out of passages all along the side of the more main streets.

We're staying in a riad, or restored court yard house in the medina that's quiet, provides breakfast, and is air conditioned!! It's very hot here - yesterday it was 100 F. As William says though, at least it's dry heat.

The main attraction of Marrakesh is the main square of the medina (spelling is escaping me right now). It's an open area that's kind of shaped like an L. Durring the day there are lots of people, donkey carts, motor bikes, carts, etc crossing it. Set up in the square are lots of carts selling fresh squeezed orange juice (amazing, see above). You have to make sure they squeeze it fresh for you instead of pouring it out of a bottle though. There are also dried fruit carts, guys selling herbs with horns and other magical things set up on their tarps, snake charmers that play a loud and obnoxious double reeded instrument, and more things that escape my mind for the moment.

The day is fantastic, but it's night that's really amazing. Out of nowhere come these food carts with their associated metal picnic tables, and they take over the part of the square that is the official square part. There are guys selling fish (a long way from the ocean) lamb, sausages, and salads. Other booths sell snail soup, another harira, and some sheeps head. Mom noticed that the signs for sheeps head area all in arabic - no tourists at those booths. The orange juice booths are still on the other part of the square. The snake charmers had left, to be replaced with (judging from last night) story tellers, ladies doing henna, drummers, guys in drag dancing, fortune tellers, a guy dressed in a crazy costume, and then the smoke from the food booths drifted over, making it the much more um whatever the proper word is. And it's mostly locals. It's like what you could imagine in the square in europe or the middle east and then square or cube it. Take visions from orientalist dreams and you might be half way there. As my brother was trying to figure out all day yesterday, how do you describe this place to someone who's never been there.

We also went into the souks (markets). I found a new bag, since the zipper on my trusty red one has died. And I tried on athletic shoe knock offs, decided not to get them, and then the guy offered me 2,000 camels for my hand in marrage. 3 days in morocco, and already the first one. Of course, mom said no.