Feeds:
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

I’ve read a lot while planning our Morocco trip, and figured we should visit Taroudant known to be “little Marrakech” on our way to Imlil, before we actually visit Marrakech. The heart of Taroudant is a small market, and perhaps, if you want to get some shopping out of your system, after spending some time in Morocco, this place could be a bit cheaper and less intimidating.  So I bought some moroccan glass tea cups, and we enjoyed some m’semen and tea in the market. All in all- a cute little manageable market town.

IMG_7083

M’semen guy in the Medina’s square. Couldn’t have enough of those

IMG_7071

Ahhh.. Sabres in Hebrew, or prickly pear fruits that we miss so much. Juicy, sweet and cheap.

Where did we stay? Again- off the beaten track, a few km away from the medina, at Riad Anma, where Marc, the Belgian owner knows everything about meats. Its located on a quaint road. We had some lovely time just catching our breath chilling in the pool or on the rooftop, while enjoying a tasty breakfasts and a dinner.

IMG_6923

Superb views of the Atlas mountains from Riad Anma’s rooftop

IMG_6922

Riad Anma’s pool

But the big discovery was a true amazing gem located outside of the city, that I wholeheartedly recommend making an effort to visit. Since not too many people visit Taroudant to begin with, and because you need transportation to get there, we had an elevated dumbfounding experience visiting and strolling this unique palace, that was almost, entirely, just ours for the day. It really helps to have your own car and driver.

IMG_6935

On our way to the palace. Views of the Atlas Mountains

Claudio Bravo was a celebrated Chilean painter, noted for his hyper realist still lifes and figurative paintings. Bravo who was born in 1936, traveled and worked around the world, but fell in love with Morocco, and somewhere in the 70s he built a magnificent palace, gardens and all, about 10 km north of Taroudant. Everywhere you walk in the palace says art, every little corner was well thought of and designed. Numerous paths invite you to discover sculptures, an abundance of exotic plants and at least three pools. It’s an oasis amid the red and yellow hues of the desert. Today, the palace is both a museum to Bravo’s life, art and collections, as well as a fancy hotel. I encourage you to take the tour lead by the knowledgeable Bashir Tabchich who was Bravo’s assistant, and to our understanding, inherited Bravo’s palace. After we got a closer look around the art and the beauty of the different rooms and halls, and got to ask many questions – we ended our tour at a patio, located near a lake, and were offered some Moroccan tea, pastries and fruit. The views were marvelous. From here on- I’m letting the photos of Palais Claudio Bravo do the talking.

IMG_6976

IMG_6984

IMG_7027

IMG_6979

pool1

 

IMG_7024

48989540_2161249033898904_2874196040083308544_n

IMG_7016

IMG_7022

IMG_7013

*A word of advice: besides the market and Bravo’s palace, we booked a tour to see the palm oasis and kasbah outside the city, an hour drive away. I DID NOT like it one bit. They offer a donkey ride around and some explanations. I felt sorry for the poor looking donkeys, and declined the ride. The scenery is nice, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for this. It definitely felt like a tourist trap. Statistically, it has to happen at one point or another when you travel a lot…

IMG_7060

The Kasbah

Read Full Post »

We left Essaouira and headed to Taroudant, traveling through Berber country. It felt almost as if we were in the midst of a biblical landscape.

Goats

On our way we stopped to stretch our limbs, and watched cute goats go wild after Argan trees.  A word of advice, though: some greedy locals have begun to exploit the poor goats to make money by tying the goats to the trees just to attract tourists looking for a good shot, and charge a fee. If you love and respect animals, and care for the environment, don’t cooperate with this conduct. By all means, stop on the way, where you can rest, and watch the goats in their natural habitat, free and happy.

Goats onroute to Taroudant
Goats can be seen climbing Argan trees and nibbling its leaves
IMG_6883
Ahalan goaty

Argan Oil

Around Morocco you will notice many vendors trying to sell Argan oil or products containing the oil. The Moroccans boast the many benefits of the oil: great for hair (shine) and skin (moisturizer), health (lower blood pressure, cholesterol, prevent oxidation), and culinary (seasoning and flavoring).

I am sure you will also notice the men at the front of the stores, while the women who work on producing the argan oil, are quietly seated at the back of the store, or nearby, but are not involved in the selling process. Recently, more and more vendors will advertise  “women co-operatives” as their argan source. Unfortunately these are not always genuine. Please try to investigate, before buying, that the shop is indeed using an accredited all-women cooperative (which is usually supervised by the UCFA- Union of Argan Oil Women Cooperatives), that benefits women, especially Berber or Amazigh women at remote places, and part of the Moroccan heritage.

We visited the remote village of Tighanimine to purchase some Argan products directly from Coopérative Tighanimine, that runs solely by women, for women.

Argan products

Besides, when traveling to far off places, you encounter unexpected, fun things.

1
Well, tajines are pretty much expected, but still nice to taste different variations
Touching base with the ocean
3
Camel caravan. Never seen so many camels altogether in my life.
Passing Agadir in a flash

Read Full Post »

img_7398

Our riad in Marrakech- our little heaven

Flight: We flew in from the USA with Royal Maroc to Casablanca. Flight went smooth, new airplane, movies, and I even got my Gluten free meal ). Landing and checking out was good. Be prepared with an address in Morocco, as you will be asked to provide one at the immigration. We provided the name and town of our first Riad.

Money: Morocco is a cash based economy. Almost everywhere, they would prefer cash, even in some of the riads. The most popular currency are Moroccan Dirhams and Euros. They will also accept US Dollars. An easy calculation to make if you’re from the States, is to divide DH by 10, and that’ll roughly give you a general idea of the price in $. Be prepared with cash. We brought cash in $ and € and changed them into DH every once in a while. In the markets and local restaurants, museums and vendors- you definitely need local currency. They do not like credit cards, but some high end places would accept them- so ask in advance if you know you’re short on cash. Another option is to withdraw money from ATM machines in Morocco, but then you have to find out about the foreign transaction fees, and if it makes sense to you. 

img_7071

Munching Prickly Pears in Taroudant’s market. Prepare MD.

After passing airport immigration, after the baggage claim, right before stepping outside the building, we changed some $$ to local Dirhams, enough to get us started.

You’ll be reading a lot about haggling in Morocco, which is very true. Except in museums, restaurants, and riads, prices everywhere else is almost always negotiable (including taxis).

img_7313

Market day in the Berber town of Asni

We were welcomed by our driver who waited for us outside.

Car + driver: I was debating whether to rent a car or hire a driver, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. While it maybe more expensive, given all the benefits, the difference in $ is so worth it.

  • We got a spacious car with enough room for all of us, a big trunk to our 5 trolleys and a few more bags, and even a place to charge the phone in the rear (on top of the charger in the front).
  • Landing in the morning after a long flight, and driving almost a whole day to our first destination, would have been hard. Having a driver allowed us to relax, get much needed rest as we were jet-lagged.  
  • We made sure to have an English speaking driver, so he explained stuff, pointed out interesting things along the way, and we were able to ask him questions about Morocco and his life.
  • Our driver communicated with locals when there was a need to find places. He also contacted our Riads ahead of time, letting them know when to expect us.
  • In some places, cars can’t enter the Medina, so the driver took care of dropping us off, parking outside, and of course, he always filled the car with gas (never with us, as to not waste any of our time). So we never paid for gas or parking.
  • It is unfortunate, but on and off the highways, there are lots of policemen, both for security reasons, but also for… money. We have been stopped a few times on different occasions. Our driver needed to produce some papers (I counted 5 different papers), and the officials took their time checking the papers very thoroughly. They also checked and open the emergency kit, checked dates on some of its content. Our driver was very organized and seemed like he knew it was coming, so he got a “pass”. We have met with other travelers, both independent drivers, and those who had a driver. They weren’t so lucky. Police would stop them, threaten to give them a ticket and a fine of 500 DH, or they could choose to give “baksheesh“. At any case, the tourists that had a driver (baksheesh paid by the driver), didn’t pay anything. So we had our peace of mind. Don’t want to scare anyone, and many do choose to rent a car, just reporting on our experience.
  • A driver allowed us flexibility, independence of when, and where to go and stop (to take pictures, for example), and to be spontaneous.

Our great driver was Loutfi, who worked for Jalil Benlabili from Morocco Unplugged. Best to get in touch with Jalil via Whatsapp:  +212 629809359, moroccounplugged@gmail.com.

img_6884

A spontaneous stop on the way to Taroudant

Having said all that, our driver was not an authorised tour guide. He may speak English and know things, but he wasn’t allowed to enter the Medina and show us around, but rather wait outside. Also, our driver was a Fez guy, he knew a lot about the northern part of morocco and the desert, and while he knew how to drive to some major places using the highways, it was his first time driving with us to other destinations.

Conclusion: do your homework: once you know your general itinerary, read TA forums, Lonely Planet, travel blogs, and be knowledgeable about your destinations. Also, on your way, interact with locals. Not only is it one of the best things about traveling: learning about the local culture, but also getting good tips about places worth visiting, eateries, etc. Read my posts to find out about the special places we visited, thanks to locals.

Riads: Riads are traditional Moroccan houses with an interior garden or courtyard, that turned hotels. All of the riads we saw and visited (even if we didn’t stay over) were beautiful, and wonderfully designed. I would search on TA/Booking websites some riads, would then look on the map where they’re located, and finally contact the riad by email, to find out prices, and specifications (especially since we needed 2 rooms, was breakfast included, local taxes, do they accept a credit card. etc’).

pearle1

Our riad in Essaouira

Getting around: Before leaving to Morocco, I made my family download onto their cells two apps that were very handy: Maps.Me and Google Maps. They’re both a navigating platform that work offline as well. I downloaded maps of the areas where we were going, marked on the maps different points of interest (our Riads, potential restaurants, attractions), and very easily shared those points with my family, so it all transferred to their maps.

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 4.36.08 pm

Our driving itinerary

The apps were useful when we entered the Medina to navigate our way inside. Also marked where the driver was waiting for us outside, so it’ll be easy to find him. Finally, sometimes we would split, so we marked a place on the map where we could all meet later. That technology is great!

Also- Unless you speak Moroccan-   French is your next best thing. Almost everyone speaks French. But between a few words in Arabic, a few in French, Google translator, English and body language, we managed just fine. To bargain, you only need to write down numbers 🙂

img_7472

Navigating the narrow alleys of Marrakech

Cell Phones: Yeah, don’t forget those 🙂 but also, bring your chargers, and a portable battery. If you travel with a group (aka- 3 young adults), bring more than one battery. We didn’t purchase a sim, but used free WiFi. A good app for communication via wifi, very popular in Morocco, is Whatsapp. I contacted and talked with the riads, and driver, while still in the US, via Whatsapp. There was free WiFi in all of our Riads and many restaurants and cafes. Remember, our driver helped with his phone when there was a need to communicate over the phone

Weather: We visited Morocco during Christmas break, so along the coast it was wonderfully pleasant, and once we got up to the Atlas mountain it was cold. So depending on which area in Morocco you’ll be and the time of year- please check online, and bring suitable clothes. And… sunglasses. Lots of sun.

Responsible Tourism: Responsible tourism means, among other things, to be aware and have meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.  That’s the kind of travel we usually try to conduct. That is why we chose to experience a few activities that allowed us to be exposed to local traditions, away from the beaten path, while supporting locals by spending our $$ with them. This was a win-win.

Read Full Post »

I’m accumulator of photos. I’m interested in patterns, shapes, colors, history, and it’s change throughout time. Maybe that’s why I fixate on doors (and knobs, and windows, and floors/roofs, and…).

I’ll let my photos speak.

img_6668

img_6678

This is my favorite. Which one’s yours?

img_6682
img_6701
IMG_6669.JPG
img_6661
img_6696
img_6698

img_6680

Ok, not a door. Still love it.

 

Read Full Post »

We arrived in Essaouira at night. No cars are allowed in the medina, so the car stayed behind in the large parking lot, and we walked our way through the big gates of the old city, pulling our trolleys behind us. At this point, it was very helpful to have the cellphone GPS with us, as we navigated through the narrow alleys. Also- check out the map at the end of the post.

Finally- our beautiful Riad, that’s actually part of the old wall that surrounds the Medina. Our beautiful room had the most fabulous view. Through the window, part of the ancient wall, we had an amazing vista of the ocean. Waking up to THAT… Oh mine! Riad Perle d’Eau.  Breakfast was great- served on the rooftop, with (what would be a staple in Morocco for breakfast) M’semen (local crepe), eggs, fruit, and coffee/tea. The Riad owners were very friendly and helpful.

img_6646

This is what we saw from our room window, every morning

We stayed in Essaouira 2 nights. The small Medina is easy to navigate and is vibrant and much fun. SInce there’s so much to see, let yourself to be absorbed with this town, and here’s what NOT TO MISS:

Synagogue Slat Lkahal

A somewhat restored synagogue that served the Jewish community in Mogador- old Portuguese name for Essaouira, that was built in 1850. The synagogue was a center for many social and religious aspects of Jewish life, as witnessed by the photos on the walls. Morocco is known for its good Jewish-Muslim relationship and as we travelled we have witnessed respect, love and compassion to the Jewish minority in Morocco. Slat Lkahal is located in the northern end of the Medina, in the heart of the Mellah (the original jewish area), and is just one of other synagogues in Essaouira. Synagogue Slat Lkahal.

img_6676

Visit the old port

A mosaic of little fishing boats, fish stalls, ropes, nets, ships, seagulls, fishermen, and Moroccan mamas going out to purchase their fresh fish dinner. The sun is shining on it all, the sounds are taking over, as well as the smell, the wind, and sometimes the light spray of the sea, if you’re standing close to the water. Breath and feel alive. Charming.

img_6705

img_6721

Fresh fish anyone?

Salut Maroc- Riad and restaurant

You absolutely have to visit this place, and especially before sunset. Grab a table on the rooftop, order some light food and mint tea, and get ready for the most stunning sunset. They usually have live music as well. Get there an hour before that, and just tour around the Riad, all the way up to the rooftop, to discover the gems of dazzlingly intricate tilework and splashes of color (stairways, ceilings, floors, walls, tables, heck- even the restroom). I couldn’t stop taking photos. It’s definitely psychedelic. Salut Maroc.

img_6742

lobby from above

img_6821

Salut Maroc rooftop

img_6737

psychedelic corner on the rooftop

img_6729

Even the toilet are mind boggling

img_6842

Epic sunset

Climb up to see the city line from above

Climb the old Portuguese ramparts, enter hotels and climb up to their rooftops (I recommend the views from Riad Mimouna, Skip the rest of the hotel, go straight to the roof).

img_6776

Old cannons, cobbled stone and the ocean

img_6807-collage

From the rooftop of Riad Mimouna- 360° views

Wonder the local quarter (both morning and night market)

Lose yourself by strolling around the non touristic areas of Essaouira within the Medina, and out. Observe the bustling life of the locals, buy and eat authentic food at the night market. Try the Harira soup from the vendor, or local moroccan crepes served with honey, nutella, or Amlou (almond spread mixed with honey and argan oil). Go for the spicy olives!

img_6687-collage

Local

img_6691

img_6851-collage

Local night market. Of course we filled our bellies with these goodies.

What else do I recommend?

-Chill with tea at African Roots cafe. Great vibes, great music, friendly staff.

-Share a lamb tagine, Moroccan tomato salad, or Pastilla (traditional chicken filo pastry pie). With so many eateries, it’s hard to decide where to eat, and you’d wish you had more time to try them all. I advocate for the ones that look the most humble, and unassuming.

img_6754

The son of the owner is watching the tagines. Can’t get more authentic than that.

-Adore the doors and entryways. I’ll have a whole post just for that. I’m obsessive.

map

Read Full Post »

Winter break is the perfect time to leave the East Coast chill and visit warm, golden Morocco. We landed in Casablanca airport, peeled off our layers, and set out to the sun, where Loutfi, our driver, waited for us.

We were off to Essaouira, and though according to Google maps the ride would take about 4.5 hours, in reality, like driving elsewhere in Morocco, it takes more time, especially if you like to stop enroute.

So stop we did. We first freshened up in the old portuguese town of El Jadida where we found a cool rooftop with ocean view and good mint tea and pastries. Le Lokal

Le Lokal

Le Lokal, cute rooftop

img_6600

At Le Lokal, mint tea, small pastries, and well… coffee, to handle the jet lag

img_6643

img_6615

Colors of El Jadida

img_6604

We stumbled upon the community bakery where  women deliver bread to be cooked in the wood-fired oven

When it was time for lunch, and after some more driving, we arrived in the city of Oualidia, located beside a natural lagoon. There, we had the freshest seafood with a tranquil seaview backdrop. Ostrea 2.

collage

This small town boasts the freshest mussels

oualidia6 (1)

Serenity at Ostrea 2

collage 2

Ostrea 2, Oualidia

oualidia

Leaving Oualidia, to Essaouira

Read Full Post »

Peru – part IV

Part V- Machu Picchu

Day 7

We woke up real early in the morning, in hope to see the sun rise from the top of Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas”, one of the new 7 wonders of the world. We made sure our backpacks for the day were ready (aka: water bottle, rain poncho, sun screen, snacks, hat, chocolate, tickets, and… passport!).

Some of us took the zigzaging bus up to the top (including yours truly), while others, braver, and better knee equipped, hiked up the steep steps.

Needless to say, at the top we discovered the many clouds that blocked the sunrise.

Good morning clouds of Machu Picchu

Good morning clouds of Machu Picchu

So, traveling with my son, until the rest of the family comes, we made our way on the trail that led up to the Sungate, on the western side.

Hello Alpaca

Hello Alpaca

With the thin air, and the narrow road at times, it took us a while to get to the Sungate, but the view was incredible.

The sun rising behind the clouds at the Sungate

The sun rising behind the clouds at the Sungate

MP5
At the Sungate one always meets people that have just hiked up the Inca Trail for 4-5 days to get to Machu Picchu. This is where we sat and rested, waited for the clouds to disperse and reveal MP with all its splendor, and waited for our food 🙂

meeting a group that just hiked for 5 days us the Inca Trail

meeting a group that just hiked for 5 days up the Inca Trail

After a little food (and energy). Lior and I started to climb down.

gotta be careful on the narrow road

gotta be careful on the narrow road

Can you spot the ruins of Machu Picchu ?

Can you spot the ruins of Machu Picchu ?

Short clip HERE

Glory Glory Hallelujah!

Glory Glory Hallelujah!

new friends

new friends

a must photo- unavoidable. Wayna Picchu in the background

a must photo- unavoidable. Wayna Picchu in the background

After we have hiked the trail to/from the Sun Gate, we joined an English speaking tour guide. Recommended!
From here on, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. There are many (but many more were left behind)…

overall look of the village

Overall look. Close by is the religious center, behind are the residential and industrial sectors

the agricultural terraces

the agricultural terraces

MP20

Quechua Peruvians tour their ancestor's landmark

Quechua Peruvians tour their ancestors’ landmark

an ancient view

an ancient view

terraces

terraces

who spots

who spots Alpacas?

heading back to the bus, down to Aguas Calientes

heading back to the bus, down to Aguas Calientes

After we made sure that our passports were stamped with the Machu Picchu mark, we took the bus back down. We were so tired after a long and interesting day, and went straight to the local market, where the cheapest and best homemade food is found (not to mix with the touristic craft market).

The local food market for great cheap meals and fruit juice

The local food market for great cheap meals and fruit juice

We filled our bellies, and now we had to kill time until our train ride, back to Ollantaytambo, and from there, a bus ride to Cusco. The boys went their way (to the hot springs), and us girls spend the best time ever, at the Vida Spa on Yahuar Huaca street, with an hour long hot stone massage. What a great way to end this day. A word from my daughter:

Lior: If you decide to hike up Machu Picchu, like I did, make sure you are physically capable! I thought it would be no big deal because it is ‘just’ one hour, all stairs hike. On the contrary, it was one of the hardest hikes of my life because it was one hour, all stairs! The steps are made of huge slabs of rock, so are not all even, and are mostly very big. So if you still want to hike up, make sure to time your wake up accordingly to how long it takes you to hike!

Since we woke up at 5 am, we did not get the chance to see the sunrise. Still, the view is beautiful, and it is more appreciable on foot. When the clouds are blocking the sun, it is a bit chilly (think sweater weather), but when the sun comes out, it is in FULL FORCE! The Incas built Machu Picchu in accordance with the sun, so it gets the maximum amount of light possible, so it gets hot quickly; make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat! After finally reaching the historic site, we hiked about another hour up to the sun gate (easy compared to the initial hike), to see the famous views, and the sun. Just our luck, as we got there, the clouds came in and blocked the view. We ate lunch there, and after walking a bit down the path back to the main site, the sun came back out…

After the tour, which is really good because I learned some history (!), take some time to just explore on your own. Machu Picchu is huge, and it is fun to explore all the nooks and crannies of the place, and get to know the alpacas! By the end of the day, you will have been able to say: “I’ve been to Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world!” , and realize the enormity of the statement.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »