Tag Archives: marrakech

Swimming pools, Argan Oil and Goats in Trees

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Swimming pools, Argan Oil and Goats in Trees

Marrakech Part 4:

The morning of our 5th day in Marrakech we checked out of our riad in the medina and headed out of town.  We booked our last couple of days in Morocco at a fancy resort.

Kenzi Menara Palace

Kenzi Menara Palace

Fancy hotels even give you free slippers!

Fancy hotels even give you free slippers!

Cathy, Jessica and Catherine spent the day with us as well.

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Leslie with my buddy Cathy

We checked in and changed into our bikinis right away.  Well, Mike wore trunks, sorry ladies!

Cool California girls in the sun

Cool California girls in the sun

The girls played in the pool while Mike, Cathy and I lounged in the sun. We visited and sipped our drinks under the warm African sun.  We savored our last day with Cathy as she would be heading off on an adventure to the desert in the morning.  They drove across the Atlas mountains to the end of the civilized world then continued on dromedary back.  Cathy is going to have to write a guest post so we can find out the details of their adventure! unnamed

Cathy, Jessica and Catherine's camel ride looks more authentic than ours!

Cathy, Jessica and Catherine’s camel ride looks more authentic than ours!

Our last day we enjoyed an amazing, exotic buffet at the Kenzi Palace. My favorite was a fruit spread that was made of mashed oranges, cinnamon and honey. I ate it on warm Moroccan bread. Heavenly!

To me no trip is complete without a good hike or even better, a really long trail run.  We spent the majority of our time in Morocco in Marrakech so we were ready for some nature. Abdul, our driver who took us to ride the dromedaries, picked us up at the hotel.  The plan was to visit a Berber village in the Atlas mountains and go for a hike. As we drove out of town Abdul explained that we were headed to the Ouika Valley. We drove for an hour to a Berber village called Setti Fatma which I imagined would be a remote, quaint little village. Instead, as we neared the village the road became dense with cars. We stopped at an Argan Oil Co-op where the women demonstrated how the argan nuts are cracked then ground and turned into oil.

Sky and Savvy sitting with the Argan nut ladies

Sky and Savvy sitting with the Argan nut ladies

Sit right here, I'll be right back with my samples

Sit right here, I’ll be right back with my samples

Our new friend, Ilham

Our new friend, Ilham

Our guide was delightful, the girls liked her immediately and they even let her braid their hair.

Looking at the Atlas Moutains

Looking at the Atlas Moutains

We bought several bottles of magical Argan Oil.  She promised that one was specifically formulated to clear skin blemishes.  I was skeptical but before bed that night Sky put the oil on a little patch of acne on her nose.  Amazingly after one application and a day of swimming in the sun the next day the patch had completely resolved.  Youth, the sun or the oil? Your guess is as good as mine.

Our next stop was a rug store.  Of course we were perfectly aware that our guide had a vested interest in our purchases and I had no intention of buying a rug but we were curious just the same.

Savvy with the rugs

Savvy with the rugs. Give her a job!

Buried in Rugs!

Buried in Rugs!

The man in the rug store showed us rug after rug but wouldn’t give me any idea of the prices unless I would choose one.  Strangely, it was very rushed and stressful.  Finally I told him that I liked one and he told me the price. It was outrageous and I suggested that we leave.  Suddenly the price was a 1/3 of his original offer.  I know that is typical but I was surprised. We left and I think our driver was a little annoyed with us.

Of course, Sky found a friendly kitty amongst the rugs

Sky, the cat whisperer, found a friendly kitty amongst the rugs

The “typical” Berber village turned out to be a typical tourist trap but it was still exotic to us and we enjoyed it.  We dined on a sandy bank of the Ourika river on plastic tables under colorful umbrellas.

Waiting for lunch on the bank of the ___ river

Waiting for lunch on the bank of the Ourika river

Cheesy strolling minstrels played for us and posed for pictures. 

Sky ate eggs and as usual, a pack of stray cats found her.

Sky is a cat magnet!

Sky is a cat magnet!

After lunch our hiking guide, Jamal was waiting for us.  He was a cheerful, 25 year old who spoke excellent English and even some Spanish.  Jamal told us he grew up in Setti Fatma.  He learned his English in school and explained that schools in Setti Fatma are taught in Arabic and French.  Anyone who attends school is fluent in both. He also spoke Berber but pointed out that he could not read or write the language of his ancestors as it has a different alphabet and it is not taught in the schools.  Jamal led us through a cacophony of vendors on the way up the mountain.

Up the hill past 100s of tables of stuff for sale.

Up the hill past 100s of tables of stuff for sale.

for sale

for sale

stuff

stuff

 

I love to shop but this was really too much even for me.  We finally passed most of the hikers and shoppers.

Up the trail to the 7 waterfalls

Up the trail to the 7 waterfalls.

Jamal pointed out the “Berber refrigerators”.  Cold snow-melt, running off the mountain keeps drinks cool in gaudy painted fountains.

The Berber Refrigerator

The Berber Refrigerator

Once past the many blankets and little tables of stuff for sale the only way to continue was to hop across streams and climb over boulders.  Now we were hiking!

Mike and Savannah picking their way through the rocks

Mike and Savannah picking their way through the rocks. Mike is always sure to be behind just in case someone falls.

Sky, Jamal and Savannah

Sky, Jamal and Savannah

What a view, see the village below?

What a view, see the village below?

We hiked for several hours and counted the 7 waterfalls. We were thankful that our girls had good stamina and balance. They could climb straight up the mountain. Much like this goat:

Moroccan goats can climb trees!

Moroccan goats can climb trees!

We came across one goat stuck in a tree.  He cried until his shepherd could climb up and help him out. Jamal was a great guide, he was patient and clearly loved his job.  He was in his element and let us know that getting paid to show foreigners his trails was a very cool gig for him.  The views were breathtaking.

Sky looking for the goats

Sky looking for the goats

We hiked back to town through another gauntlet of vendors.  On the way down the hill I bought some “Moroccan Nutella”, a delicious mix of honey, almonds and Argan oil.  The trail actually cut through restaurants where earthenware tagines roasted over charcoal bricks.  There were couches and chairs with plush, colorful pillows right on the back of the river.  Tourists from all over the planet lounged and enjoyed the Moroccan sun or slept in the shade of brightly colored umbrellas.

Siti Fatma

Setti Fatma

After the hike Mike and the girls had an ice cream reward.

Ice Cream by the river

Ice Cream by the river

Yum!

Yum!

Back at the car Abdul was waiting for us.  We settled in for the drive down the mountain back to the resort.  I didn’t feel like I had seen anything remotely near what life is like in a typical Berber village as promised by our guide.  I did recall that a well traveled friend warned us that we were not going to see the real Morocco.  I am certain that she was correct but we did see the side of Morocco that has embraced visitors. We didn’t see a single person that was unkind and everyone was genuinely welcoming, friendly and quick to share their culture.

We spent our last day in Marrakech by the pool.  We sat in the shade and I researched and wrote about our adventure.  Sky and Savvy swam and met some lovely girls, Georgia and Lexi.

Little girls all over the world play hand games.  They taught each other songs and will no doubt go home and share them with their friends.

Little girls all over the world play hand games. They taught each other songs and will no doubt go home and share them with their friends.

Lexi and Savannah

Lexi and Savannah

Best friends after a day in the sun!

Best friends after a day in the sun!

Our one selfie of the trip! Coronas in Africa!

Our one selfie of the trip! Coronas in Africa!

The next morning we flew back to Spain and when we got off the plane we all took a deep breath of Andalucía. Adventures are great but it also feels really good to get home!

 

Mint tea, snakes and monkeys

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Mint tea, snakes and monkeys

Marrakech, Morocco: Team Kezmoh goes to Morocco Part 1

Morocco, so close to the Iberian peninsula…  Team Kezmoh knew we couldn’t spend a year in Spain without visiting Africa. We could have traveled across the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry but we wanted to visit deeper into the country. We choose Marrakech, Morocco’s jewel of the south.  Al Magrib, the Arabic name for Morocco, means “far west” or “where the sun sets”. When Arabs first arrived in Morocco it is said that they believed that they had reached the westernmost point in the world.  And so, we travelled south to the land where the sun sets…

Marrakech was founded over 1000 years ago in 1062.  In the 12th century red walls were constructed to fortify and protect the city.

Marrakech from google images

Marrakech from google images

Team Kezmoh started the day at 3:30 am to make our flight from Sevilla to Marrakech.  Sky and Savannah jumped out of bed, excited to begin the next chapter of our adventure. We travelled during their spring break from school. We knew that we would miss Semana Santa, (Holy Week or Easter Week) so we planned a couple of extra days in Sevilla on the way home from Africa.

First steps in Africa!

First steps in Africa!

We easily found a taxi outside of the airport and we arrived after a quick 10 minute drive. Luckily we had the phone number for our hotel and our driver called ahead for directions. When we arrived he pointed down a narrow alleyway and said in French, “I think your hotel is that way…” A moment before we set off in the wrong direction, Youseff, our host at Riad Jardin Secret appeared. He had thankfully come out to meet us. He greeted us warmly and unlocked a small unmarked door in the rampart (wall around the city).  He led us down a tiny passageway to the entrance of our riad. I was very relieved to see the sign outside the unassuming door. The door gave no hint of what we would find inside.IMG_9554

 

Just arrived!

Just arrived!

Youseff led us into the cool tranquility past an indoor garden and sat us down in a beautiful parlor. He hurried back with sweet, hot mint tea and gorgeous pastries.

Youseff, taking good care of us

Youseff, taking good care of us

Sky and Savannah enjoying some mint tea.

Sky and Savannah enjoying some mint tea.

Delicious Moroccan Pastries at Riad Jardin Secret

Delicious Moroccan Pastries at Riad Jardin Secret

We learned that a riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior courtyard or garden. There is generally a water feature in the central courtyard that acts a natural air conditioner.

Sky and Savvy in the courtyard

Sky and Savvy in the courtyard

Warm air entering the riad is cooled by channeling it over the water. The heat rises and leaves via the open air courtyard.  We noticed a significant temperature drop as soon as we entered the riad.   Ryad is the Arabic word for garden so technically our riad was called “Garden Secret Garden”.  Riad Jardin Secret is a very typical, traditional Moroccan palace.  It was built in the 19th century and has been beautifully restored.   It was designed to protect the privacy of the family who would have lived there. There are no exterior windows to the city. All of the windows face to inner gardens and courtyards.  This design principle also supports the Islamic tradition of privacy for women.  The inner walls are constructed of a shiny tadelakt plaster. Most of the courtyard walls are adorned with colorful zellige tiles.

After a rest in our room we checked out one of the lovely lounge areas around the courtyard. Notice the traditional z tiles

One of the lovely lounge areas around the courtyard. Notice the traditional zellige tiles and intricate carvings.

There are 8 rooms, each opulently decorated. We were told that Jardin Secret was once the home to an aristocratic family who also owned the home next door.  One wife would have lived here with her children while the other wife would have lived next door.  (Polygamy is now illegal in Morocco).

We relaxed and sipped our tea until Youseff led us to our room.  We felt like royalty when we entered.   Our quarters were spacious with plenty of room to relax.  The windows had colored glass and views of the courtyard and when opened allowed the peaceful sounds of the fountain to relax us.  SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOur bathroom was large with a tub that was definitely not for those lacking in agility. There was a thigh high mosaic wall to climb over to enjoy an open air shower.

Beautiful tile tub/shower

 

Youseff left us to rest.

So tired!  Notice the shiny plaster on the walls. This is called Tedelakt plaster which is created using lime plaster that is treated with a natural soap.

So tired!
Notice the shiny plaster on the walls. This is called Tadelakt plaster which is created using lime plaster that is treated with a natural soap.

The view from my bed

The view from my bed

Sky and Savannah played on their new rubberband looms creating bracelets and little animals (thanks Dave!). We enjoyed the cool peaceful tranquility until our stomachs reminded us that we needed to go out. Youseff walked through a short maze of passageways to a busier road deeper in the medina. The medina is the area within the rampart walls, it is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets with thick walled interlocked homes. This labyrinth was supposedly designed to confuse invaders.  We learned that it also functions to confuse modern day tourists.  The narrow passages were quite obviously created for pedestrian and animal traffic but today they are a dangerous mess of foot, donkey and scooter mayhem. We had to be constantly alert as scooters flew by the winding, tight roads.

In the Medina

In the Medina

Youseff pointed out small landmarks so that we could find our way home.  He launched us in the direction of good eats and disappeared.  We wandered down the road, conscious that we looked conspicuously foreign.  Although we were careful to dress respectfully the first day (the picture above is from later in the trip), we realized that short of wearing headscarves there wasn’t much that would help us blend in.

We stumbled upon a lovely restaurant called Kremm Café.

The Kremm Café

The Kremm Café

After months in Spain we were excited to try some Moroccan food.  The typical Moroccan dish is a tagine, an earthenware pot which is traditionally heated over hot coals.  All of the ingredients are placed in the dish and are cooked slowly over many hours.  Mike and Savannah discovered what would be their favorite food right away, lemon chicken tagine.  The chicken, lemons, olives, onions, oil and spices are placed in the middle of the pot and vegetables are arranged in a pyramid over the meat.  Sky and I enjoyed many vegetable tagines which are the same design minus the meat.  Cous cous is offered as a side dish with the juices from the tagine poured over it for flavor.

We were not brave enough to eat from one of the street vendors but it did smell good.

We were not brave enough to eat from one of the street vendors but it did smell good. This picture is from Wikipedia.

Marrakech is teaming with tourists. We felt foreign but we had plenty of company. We felt a bit more comfortable amongst the European tourists who were dressed for the weather in sundresses and tank tops. We soon gave up on wearing long pants and long sleeves.

After lunch we set out to discover the famous Djemaa el-Fna square. This is a huge open air market. Djemaa el-Fna is both a functional marketplace where the locals come to shop and a major tourist trap. The main entrance is lined with horse drawn carriages and men with crazy hats trying to lure visitors on a tour around the medina.  The idea of the big square was more exotic than the reality.  “Henna” artists swarmed us as we approached . One young man grabbed Sky’s arm and started painting a “free sample” he said.

Beware of black Henna, Sky still has a rash!

Beware of black Henna, Sky still has a rash!

When he was done with a quick doodle he demanded 100 dirhams, (which he did not get).  It turned out that her henna tattoo was not henna at all but an irritating black ink. Weeks later, Sky still has a rash. Next up were the snake charmers who were friendly and welcoming at first.  One man draped a harmless, lethargic, green snake around our necks, “for luck”.  IMG_9248 IMG_9246

 

He led Mike over to his tent where he pulled a viper out of a basket. He held it over Mike’s shoulder for a picture. When I looked at the picture later I noticed that it was flat and quite possibly dead. IMG_9253We took pictures knowing that we would be expected to pay him.  I offered him 20 dirhams (about 3$) which I thought was fair for a couple of photos. His demeanor changed quickly and suddenly he was angry demanding 200 dirhams (23$). In the end I gave him a little more and we walked away. Whew, not the magical experience I had hoped we would find.  There were dried-out lizards and turtles in cages baking in the sun. Unhappy monkeys in chains were led around by evil looking handlers.

As soon as we got close to the monkeys I felt bad that we were encouraging this practice. The monkeys looked at us with sad, intelligent eyes.

As soon as we got close to the monkeys I felt bad that we were encouraging this practice by being there at all. The monkeys looked at us with sad, intelligent eyes.

It was a circus of unkind, seedy performers exploiting the animals and tourists alike.  They began with toothy smiles but were quick to change from friendly to demanding in a blink of an eye.

We did enjoy the fresh squeezed orange juice from one of the many juice vendors.

Don't forget to come back to stand 27!

Don’t forget to come back to stand 27!

Eventually we retreated to a rooftop cafe to observe the chaos below. Djemaa el-Fna is today at best a flee market or carnival, at worst a lure to see how much money they can bleed from the tourists for a few pictures and trinkets.

Long ago it was a very different place. Djemaa means “meeting place” or “congregational mosque”. Fna or Fina can mean either “death”, “end” or “courtyard”. So Djemaa el-Fna either means Mosque with a courtyard or Meeting place of death. There is a famous Mosque in front of the square called the Koutoubia Mosque but I also found references to the ancient practice where severed heads of criminals and sinners were displayed in the big square so either definition may be correct.  No pictures of that!

Sky and Mike in front of the m

Sky and Mike in front of the Koutoubia Mosque

The Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in Marrakech and the towering minaret (picture above) built around 1150 is the oldest of the 3 great Almohad minarets around the world.   The others being the Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Giralda in Sevilla.

Here is my dad, on our trip to Sevilla with the famous, Christian-ified minaret behind him

Here is my dad, on our trip to Sevilla with the famous, Giralda, the Christian-ified minaret, behind him

And another, sorry I couldn't resist I have so many pictures of Sevilla. Note my Dad in the lower right hand corner!

And another, sorry I couldn’t resist because I have so many pictures of Sevilla. Note my Dad in the lower right hand corner!

Interestingly the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque is topped by 3 golden orbs.

3 golden orbs. No, I didn't get that close. Credit goes to Wikipedia

3 golden orbs. No, I didn’t get that close. Credit goes to Wikipedia

There are many legends regarding the orbs.  One of which is that they were made from the melted jewelry of Yaqoub al Mansour’s wife in penance for eating either 3 grapes or for eating during 3 days or 3 hours (depends on what you read) of the Ramadan fast. We couldn’t actually enter the mosque as we were quite obviously not muslim.

After enjoying our break from the chaos in the square on the terrace with a light dinner (well, quite light, as it was very bad). We ventured into the souks, the markets of the medina.  Part of the experience in the medina, it is said, is to get lost in the souks. Breathe in the smells, taste the food, buy some stuff that you never knew you needed. We dove in, visiting various shops. I bought some shoes and souvenirs.

Sky bought some sandals from this nice man who was happy to pose for me.

Sky bought some sandals from this nice man who showed us how he made them.

Who knew I needed blue slippers!

Who knew I needed blue slippers!

We could see the minaret and initially using that as a reference we thought that we could just walk in one direction and end up at the rampart wall and then walk until we came to our riad.  Silly plan.  The sun soon set and any chance of navigating using the minaret dissolved as everything above the walls of the labyrinth faded with the last light of the day.  Nevertheless, I was enjoying the exotic sights and smells. There were tables piled high with dates, apricots, mint and herbs. Colorful stores lined the streets filled with leather shoes, scarves and pottery. IMG_9312There were carts with baskets of aromatic spices (would have been more appealing without the many flies). Vendors called to us as we walked inviting us to sample their foods or try on traditional flowing robes.  The colors were intoxicating. I was fully enjoying the experience but as it grew darker and we tried to orient ourselves I became a bit nervous.  Walking in one direction was actually impossible as every road twisted and turned almost imperceptibly until we were not sure which direction we were going. Deeper into the medina the shops became less touristy and the people more local. I had read that a compass would have been useful, I later remembered that my iPhone had a compass but I didn’t think of it at the time. The girls began to worry that their parents were lost and Savvy started to cry. Despite the dark alleyways, I never really felt unsafe. There were children playing around every corner and friendly locals stopped to offer directions.  Just take the second left and then you will be on the correct street… Finally we stopped at a newsstand and the man directed us to a teenaged boy who offered to lead us home. I read that this is what everyone ends up doing when lost in the medina and since a taxi is not possible we followed the boy deeper into the tangle of passages. Soon we recognized a shop where we had bought ice cream earlier in the day and I paid the boy 100 dirhams (12$) which is what my tour book recommended.  We were so relieved to be welcomed home by Youseff. He made us tea and by midnight we were asleep only 18 hours after we had left Spain! As I was tucking the girls into bed they asked how many days we had been in Morocco. I answered just one day but it already felt like 2 or 3.

Stay tuned for Morocco part 2… Please send comments! I love to know who is reading this!