Friday, June 16, 2017

Morocco May 2017

All Pictures are at the bottom of this post

Last year you voted for me to visit Iran in 2017, and that is where I had planned to go. Unfortunately, with the new president of the United States, Iran is holding up visas for American Citizens. Iran has done this in retaliation to the United States ban on visas for Iranian Citizens wanting to visit the
United States. You are correct, I just reestablish my US citizenship last year, bad timing on my part, poor me. Now what? I had just a few days to make a new plan. Morocco! Why not? I have not been to Morocco and it has been sometime since I've been to Africa.

Flights - Philadelphia to Madrid, Spain - Madrid to Casablanca, Morocco. Yes, business class, no I am not paying for business class, my trick still works. This will be my first time flying American Airlines International Business Class. We will be boarding soon, I will let you know what I think.

Here are the airlines I have flown international business class and what I thought (ranking on a scale of one to ten):

Lan Airlines - Chile - I give them a five - service was good, seats only reclined to about 160°, not the best for sleeping. Ethiopian Air - Adidas Ababa, Ethiopia - I give them a six - new Boeing 787, similar seating to Lan Airlines, though a newer plane, food and service was great. Ethiopian Air really gave you a feeling of the Ethiopia culture. The reason for a low score, without lie flat seats on a 12 plus hour flight, I can not give a grade higher than six. Cathay Pacific - Hong Kong - I give them an eight - true lie flat seats, every seat was an aisle seat, food was great, first flight the service seemed rushed, second and third flights the service was pleasant, they had American food options and Chinese food options. Qatar Airlines - Qatar - I give them a ten - seats turned into a very comfortable bed, brand-new 787, food and service were perfect.

Since I had arrived early for my flight, I spent some time in the Admirals Club Lounge. Unlike foreign carriers who have separate lounges for business class travelers, American Airlines mixes the regular lounge members with Business Class Travelers. To compete with other business class lounges that offer free drinks, American give you a free drink coupons. I thought this was kind of cheesy. The food was of a lower standard, but the service was top-notch the staff was there when you needed them but in a unobtrusive way, pleasant and relaxing.

For business class flights the lounge host announces when your flight is boarding. This gives you the exact amount of time to gather your items and walk to your gate. I literally walked from the lounge
directly onto the plane. I truly felt for the poor people in economy, having to wait and then stand in line. If they had any idea how I got my business class ticket, and what I paid for it, or should I say what I did not paid for it. If they knew... there would be a lynch mob stringing me up.

As I boarded the plane I noticed the configuration was similar to Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airlines with a few differences. The foreign carriers Qatar and Cathay Pacific flew Boeing planes Cathay's being an older jet and Qatar flying a brand-new 787. American Airlines was flying an Airbus A-330, I guess that is all part of globalization. Another significant difference, there was no partitions between the two center seats. Both foreign carriers had partitions for privacy.

The seats and accommodations did not seem to be at the same level as Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airlines. The service was of the same high-level. Dinner was served just after take off, the food was just OK what you would expect in economy, not business class. One nice plus, they offered Bose Noise Canceling headphones, this was a first for me, and a unexpected pleasure. When I use the head, which was a standard airplane lavatory, it reminded me of my experience using Qatar's business class bathroom. Qatar's bathroom was much larger than a standard airplane bathroom. But the real difference was the cloth hand towels and assorted bath accessories that were refreshed after each use. I would give American Airlines business class a six, they did a good job, but there was nothing unique or special.

I arrived in Madrid at 7 AM local time. I quickly collected my next boarding pass. I needed to find a business center where I could modified my boarding pass to show business class. Once done, my altered boarding pass gave me access to the Iberia business class lounge. One of the best parts of an international business class lounge? The showers, yes, a shower after an eight hour flight is refreshing. I boarded my Iberia flight at 10 AM. Of course business class, but to be honest the seats were the same as economy with two exception, there was a curtain behind the seats in row four and the business class seats were in the front of the plane. The seat size and leg room were the exact same as economy. One great surprise, Margarite was seated in the seat across from me.

Day 1

Casablanca - we have arrived. Immigrations was a little hair raising. It has been eight months since I've cut my hair. Correct, I do not resemble my passport photo, not at all. After five looks at my passport and five looks at me, and many questions, the immigration officer finally believed I was who I said I was. I had a plan, take the train from the airport to downtown Casablanca. The train runs every hour on the hour. The time 12:06 PM, with the hold up in immigrations we missed the train. When you travel you need flexibility, as you never know what might happen. We made a U-turn and hopped a taxi into Casablanca. My French and Arabic are a bit rusty and our driver spoke a hybrid of both. After a little confusion and miss direction we came to an agreement on where we would be drop off and what the fare would be. The plan was to leave our bags at the Ibis Hotel next to the Guard Casablanca Voyager train station.

No Ibis Hotel, it was closed for renovation. We checked a few other hotels but none were willing to store our bags. Margarite was getting hungry so we had lunch at a local café, Restaurant Pizzeria, across from the train station. Great hospitality and great food. Without being able to dump our bags we thought it best if we just get the next train to Rabat. Total cost for two people on a one hour train ride seven US dollars. While waiting for the train I spoke to a local gentleman who thought I was a Moroccan, hair and all. He owns JS rugs with locations in New York and Morocco, he gave me his
card JS Rugs, Joanne and Samir. He told me if I was ever in New York looking for a Moroccan rug he would hook me up. The train was very comfortable with private cabins, each cabin seating eight people. Our cabin was empty except the two of us and a local woman on her way to Fes. After a few stops our cabin filled. Everybody was very pleasant. One observation, the youth 20 to 30 years olds were very respectful of the elders 50 and up. For example standing to give up their seat, or carrying bags for the elderly. Once we arrived in Rabat we decided to take the 20 minute walk from the train station to the Riad we will be staying at. Think of a Riad as a small boutique hotel or Bed and Breakfast. We were advised that there was some risk in walking vs. taking a taxi. Not risk as far as safety, but risk as far as time. The Riad is located inside the Medina which is the historic part of the city we would learn that the Medina is walled off from the newer more modern part of Rabat. Once you are within the walls you are like a mouse within a maze.

We had detailed directions and were told there would be signs directing us to our Riad. Imagine you're walking down alleyways with buildings two, three and four stories tall. Every building is painted white and looks the same besides a few ornate doors. The alleyway is anywhere from three feet too ten feet wide. Only about a fifth of the alleyways have names. Within minutes we were lost, our detailed directions failed us. We would later learn we enter the Medina or maze at the wrong Dar El Kebira Riad De Luxe in Rabat. We were not disappointed with our accommodations. We were greeted by Smail whom we assume was the bellman, he took our bags, set us in the lobby, offered us tea, coffee, and snacks. As Smail got us some refreshments, Nawal the manager, got us all checked in and gave us some ideas of what to see. Smail then return with our key, carried our bags up two flights of stairs, and showed us our room. Thus we thought he was the bellman. The Dar El Kebria was pure Moroccan. Once you crossed the ornate doorway you were in an oasis from the maze of the Medina. The lobby with an indoor court yard or atrium that rose the height of the full three stories of the building. The furnishings were traditional in every sense.
location. Following our given directions, only made things worse. It was clear to the locals we were lost tourist, very quickly a few locals got us going in the right direction. Then a young couple insisted on carrying our bags and walking us the remainder of the way to our Riad. We will be spending the night at the

Dar El Kebira Riad De Luxe like other Riads offered dinner. It was 4 o'clock, we had decided we would eat at the Riad as the menu looked great and it had been a long day. Dinner would be at 7 PM so we had three hours to kill, we decided to go explore. Nawal gave us some ideas of what to see in Rabat. We set out to see the Kasbah, Les Qudaias or Kasbah of the Udayas which is located at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Built in the 12th-century, fantastic views of Rabat, the Atlantic Ocean as well as Sale the city across the river from Rabat. Nawal offered to give us direction, but we decided to wing it and meander our way through the maze known as the Medina of Rabat. With a general idea of what direction we wanted to go, we made rights and lefts, whatever was needed to keep us heading in what we thought was the correct direction. We finally popped out of the maze not too far from our target. Not a direct
hit, but close enough. We toured the Kasbah Les Qudaias, a Kasbah is a fortress used to protect the Medina, as well as where the city leader would live. The views were as promised, but to our surprise, the Kasbah contained a beautiful garden. It was a bit past six so we thought we should start making our way back to the Riad. Another surprise we enter the Medina at the gate our original directions were meant for, and the directions were perfect and there were signs leading us to the Riad at every turn.

At dinner we found out Smail was not only the bellman but also the waiter, and a fine waiter he was. For dinner the option, a prefixed menu or À la cart, we chose the prefix which included an appetizer, main course, and dessert. The food and service were all great, the appetizer was a Mediterranean salad, for the main I had the chicken breast prepared with lemon and olives, Margarite had chicken prepared with prunes and apricots, dessert was fresh fruit. Nine o'clock, it had been a long day we were ready for bed. We had no idea how tired we were, but when we did not wake for 12 hours we figured we must have been tired.

Day 2

After breakfast we ventured out into the maze known as the Medina and bought Margarite some tea
mixed from different herbs. The shopkeeper guaranteed the tea would give Margarite a full nights sleep, a tall order after 12 hours of sleep. We took pictures and people watched, taking in the Morocco culture.

At noon we headed to the train station, this was a 40 minute trip on our arrival, but a 20 minute trip on our departure. After 24 hours in Rabat we have learned how to navigate the Medina.

Just before the train station we had to navigate a street protest. With both the signs and chants in French and Arabic we could not figure out what the protest was about. The protesters appeared to be students. We later learned protests are common in Rabat, as Rabat is where parliament (the government) resides.

We bought our first class train tickets to Fes. We decide it is worth the extra four dollars, eight dollars versus twelve dollars, for a little extra comfort on our three hour train ride. The train was scheduled to depart at 1:12 PM the actual departure was 1:54 PM. We are learning Moroccan time is not an exact time, more like and estimated time. The train traveled through beautiful rolling hills of Morocco, much of the land is used for agriculture, we passed many olive and orange groves. Our
cabin had room for six, at most at anyone time we had five passengers including ourselves. Everybody was friendly and helpful. They helped us understand we did not have to worry about what stop to get off since Fes was the termination point for the train.

We heard the Fes Medina was larger and more complex than the Rabat Medina, plus with the Fes train station being several kilometers away from the Medina, we decided to take a taxi rather than walk. The taxi took us to the gate closest to the Riad we would be staying at. As we walk toward our Riad we were met by a boy who spoke perfect English, 14 years of age. His name Asseade, he walked us the 400 meters to our Riad. Riad La Cle Fes which will be our home for the next three nights.

It was 6 o'clock. Dinner was to be served at 7:30 PM we had an hour and a half to explore. Being Friday, the Sabbath, the historic section of the Medina was closed. We walk through the market to a large square where there was a carnival like atmosphere. I think
the whole town was there. Everyone of all ages socializing, there were a few games of chance. One game was a board with squares, each square had a number, you throw a coin, and if it landed in the square without touching the lines you win that number times the value of your coin. I hit a square with the number three on it, so I got three coins back. There were three or four of these games going on drawing large crowds. There was a game where you could squeeze the grip and test your forearm strength. The last game we played had a donut tied to the end of a bamboo pole. The object was to get the doughnut around the top of the one liter bottle of Coke, after 10
minutes neither Margarite or I came close. It was dinner time so back home we went.

Dinner was a Mediterranean salad, the egg plant was excellent, the main course was a meat sauce with fried egg, similar to Margarite's lunch our first day in Casablanca. Tonight the meat sauce had little to no flavor, I would not recommend it. Dessert was at Sliced Orange sprinkled with cinnamon. Tomorrow we have a tour of Fes arranged.

Day 3

Farida Chaaibi our guide for the day picked us up at our Riad at 9:30 AM. We have been introduced to Farida by a Mark, more on Mark later.

We learned that the section of the Medina we were staying in, was historically where the wealthy had lived. This section is one of the highest points of the Medina and close to the entrance gates.

Like Rabat, from the outside, all the buildings look the same, very modest, tan in color, few too no windows. The most opulent feature might be a fancy door. Inside was a different story, most had garden courtyards with fountains, some even had mosaic swimming pools.

As the wealthy moved out of the Medina, some of the larger homes have been converted to Riads and Restaurants. The modest look from the outside is due to the predominate religion in Morocco of Islam, where modesty is considered a positive trait.

As we walked through the maze of alleyways, Farida gave us a brief history of Fes and the Medina, Which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Built around 800, the Medina was mostly inhabited by Syrians migrating to Morocco. This is where the Arabic influence of Morocco came from. Fes has many freshwater springs formed from the run off from the Atlas Mountains to the south. Making it a desirable place to settle, plus a great trading route between the Middle East, North Africa, and
Western Africa.

We came to a section of the Medina full of souks, small Arab markets. There are no supermarkets or department stores in the Medina, everything you might want or need can be bought at the souks. After just 15 minutes I was totally lost, if Farida had left us my guess it would be a week at the soonest before I would find my way back to the Riad.

We finally reached one of the lower gates to the Medina. We caught a cab to visit one of two fortresses (Kasbah) that were built to protect the Medina. From this vantage point we could see all of Fes, both the new area and the old area. The new area also known as the new town or New Medina, built after the French colonize Morocco. Fes is in a valley between two mountain ranges.

Morocco is well known for it's pottery. Our next stop was a co-op that teaches the traditional art of Moroccan pottery and mosaics (Zellige Tiles). The clay comes from The Atlas Mountains, we got a great explanation of the history
and how religion and culture influence the designs. Originally most craftsmen in the area were Jewish, you can see the Star of David in many designs, Islam does not believe in putting figures in art and design so most designs are geometric. The mosaics are hand carved out of colored tiles. Each beveled to fit perfectly together. Each step patiently done by hand. After the tiles are cut they are placed face down, building the mosaic. It is like doing a jigsaw puzzle backwards or upside down. Once the mosaic is complete, cement/plaster is placed on top, creating the completed mosaic. When it all dries you have a beautiful piece of art.

After visiting the co-op we took a taxi back to the Medina where we visited the oldest university in the world. This university was started by a woman, but only men could attend. This university has
changed to a religious school, now that there are many universities with more resources. We also visited a historic building that had been used as a dormitory for the University. On our way to our lunch break we passed through the copper section of the Medina. The coppersmiths were hard at work crafting pots and utensils. Very noisy!

After lunch our first stop was the tannery, with a light breeze the smell was not as bad as had been anticipated. Fes has the worlds largest outside tannery. The tanning process is the same as it has been for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The hides are soaked for a week in limestone and pigeon excrement (ammonia from the excrement is the key) which helps soften the leather. The hides are then washed with fresh water and dried. Next the dyeing stage, natural ingredients are used to create the dyes. The process is labor-intensive, and can be hard in the winter months when the temperatures are near or below freezing. Since the dyes are natural materials they are not hazardous. After much bargaining we think Margarite bought a suede jacket, we should know soon.

We had a few stops left, a weaver where we learned silk can be made from the agave plant. Beautiful scarves and blankets were being made from this silk. Then we stopped at a rather large antique shop before heading home.

A long and fulfilling day. Farida's fee for the day €40, we gladly paid her €60 and still felt like we got a bargain. We will learn shortly if Margarite bought a suede jacket.

Tomorrow will be taking a cooking class at Riad Anata. We decided to venture into the maze
(Medina) and see if we could locate Riad Anata. This will help us save time tomorrow morning. We had been told it would be a five minute walk, of course unless we got lost then it might be as much as five hours.

The Riad Anata was truly, five minutes away. The Riad Anata was just like the other buildings in the Medina, modest on the outside, beautiful on the inside. We were invited in for tea, which we enjoyed along with the view from the rooftop.

We were to meet a man about a suede jacket at 8 o'clock, it was approaching 6:30 PM and our lunch was wearing off. It was time to start looking for a place to have dinner. Farida had told us there were plenty of good restaurants near the Purple Gate, not too far from our current location. We chose Chez Thami for dinner. Margarite had the Moroccan soup and tajine plum chicken, while I had the aubergine (eggplant) and couscous royal with meat. Dinner was great! The owner thanked us for coming. The restaurant seated maybe 20 people, all outside seating. We
learned a dinner at this restaurant was about a third the price of the meals at the Riad. Since we were seated outside, we got to do a lot of people watching.

Fes was having a festival, and we planned to check it out. It was fast approaching 8 o'clock and we had to meet a man about a suede jacket, so no festival tonight. Just passed 8 o'clock back at our Riad, we met Abdul. Abdul had help Margarite look at jackets at Terrasse de Tannerie which is a leather shop at the tannery. Margarite found a jacket she liked but it was not a perfect fit, plus the price was above her budget. She made Abdul a ridiculously low offer with the stipulation the jacket must fit perfect. After a few minutes of Abdul and Margarite haggling with Margarite not
budging, Abdul asked his boss to match Margarite price, the boss refused.

Then the owner, a woman, stepped in, she agreed to the price and to make the jacket a perfect fit. She explained the jacket would be ready at eight o'clock and Abdul would delivered it to our Riad. The best part if Margarite didn't love the jacket she did not have to buy it. We are learning, Morocco is dominated by men but run by women.

As promised, Abdul had the jacket and it fit perfect. We paid Abdul the promised sum along with the generous tip for his time. If you are visiting Fes and looking for leather products please contact Abdul he works at Terrasse de Tannerie and can be reached at phone 066 340 2550.

Day 4

Today is our day to learn Moroccan culture through cooking. We booked a cooking class at Riad Anata. We arrived at 10:30 AM and were greeted by Victoria who we had met the previous day, she introduced us to Mina the chef and cooking instructor. We discussed the menu which will be vegetable salads, Moroccan style, followed by tejine chicken with string beans, with melon and sorbet for dessert. The kitchen was on the rooftop of the Riad with beautiful views of the Medina and Valley.

Part of the class is going to the market to get our supplies. The market was about an 800 meter walk where we got to see Mina in action, negotiating for the best prices and the highest quality produce. We think Mina may be the mayor of Fes. The reason we came to this conclusion, we could not walk more than a few meters without someone greeting Mina and spending a few minutes chatting it up, in a mix of French and Arabic.

One surprise, there was a 10K running race going on through the roads of Fes. We learned it was part of the festivals. We were a little disappointed we did not know about the race ahead of time as we would of loved to have run
in it.

Once back in the kitchen we started prepping the meal. Mina had purchased the chicken the day before, it had been soaking overnight in a brine solution. We cut the beans, chopped the coriander, peeled and de-cored the carrots, and so on. Mina is an immaculate chef, cleaning and putting everything away as we went. Everything was cooked to perfection using a pressure cooker. We even learned how to make thousand mountain pancakes, they are called thousand mountains because when prepare properly they look like there are a thousand mountains on them. The best part of our class, we got to enjoy the fruits of my labor. What a great meal, made even better, knowing we helped make it. It was now 3 o'clock.

Cooking Video

We found out that the festival in Fes is all week. That is why all the people were out and about our first night and actually every night we have been in Fes. We walked around the Medina eventually
returning to the Square were huge crowds had formed. A live concert had just gotten underway. Boy do they like their music loud. Too loud for us, so we moved on. Having had a large late lunch, we decided a light dinner was in order. As we wondered the Medina, we ran into our friend Asseade, the boy who helped us find our Riad the first night in Fes. We asked Asseade for the best place for a light dinner.

Asseade said his house would be the best and off we went. Actually it was his cousins house, whom he called his sister. The name of the his cousins house was Dar Akram, a Dar is a bed-and-breakfast, slightly lower price than a Riad. From the outside the building look like any other in the Medina, but inside was very beautiful, we met a
lovely couple that were staying at the Dar. The woman was from Canada named Emily and the man from Australia. They have been traveling the world for the last few years. We had a fantastic dinner on the roof top terrace. After dinner the whole family joined us for some great conversation. Next thing we knew it was 11 PM well past our bedtime, so off we went.

Please visit Asseade and his family if you are in Fes, remember Dar Akram.

Day 5

The best laid plans.... or something like that!

The plan was to have our friend Mark Willenbrock pick us up at 9 AM. Mark is the owner of the travel company called Mad About Morocco. Yesterday I got the following email from Mark "I'm going to have to provide you with an alternative driver...", to make a long story short a personal emergency came up which made it impossible for Mark to meet us. As a substitute Idriss Outalba will
be our guide. Margarite was very happy as Idriss is a tall, dark, handsome, gentle, Berber man.

We left Fes at 9 AM, heading out for the days final destination, the town of Merzoiga which is in the Sahara Desert. Idriss had a very comfortable SUV. We wound our way through Fes finally leaving the newer part of the city heading south towards the Atlas Mountains. Our first stop was Ifrane, Morocco, also known as the Switzerland of Morocco. It was remarkable how the architecture resembled Swiss chalets with steep roof lines. You would've never thought you were still in Morocco, there is even a ski resort in Infrane. There was a stone carving of a lion representing the Atlas Lion at the entrance of Ifrane. Yes, lions once roam these mountains.

After a short stop in Infrane, we continued on a Southward track when we stopped to visit with wild
Berber Apes, we bought peanuts and had fun feeding the apes. There was and interesting hierarchy of the older male apes keeping the female and younger apes in line.

We continue south crossing the Lower, Middle, and Upper Atlas Mountain range. We would stop often to admire the natural beauty of Morocco. One surprise were the large stork nests in chimneys, roof peaks, and mosque towers, both the storks and the nest were oversized.

Idriss explain the storks are migratory birds which have their chicks in Morocco, the storks then leave while the chicks stay behind. The chicks
remain for one year, the next year the chicks migrate with the older storks. It was coming on 1 PM, Idriss suggested we stop for lunch in the town of Midelt. We were a little over halfway to our final destination the restaurant was a local place Idriss knew the owner of the restaurant Al Akhawayn. The food was true Moroccan, grilled meats, lamb, chicken, and beef. The flavors were to die for, an awesome meal.

After lunch we walk the small town of Midelt, before continuing south. As we left the Atlas Mountains the landscape turned into desert. We would drive through large gorges cut from rivers. A few of the gorges had long green oasis formed by
the rivers, as green as green could be against the brown of the desert. When we approach the town of Erfound, Idriss asked if we would like to visit the fossil factory, of course we said yes. We stopped at the fossil factory, Manar Marble. This geographical area 300 million years ago was a sea. This was before the continents separated. When the sea dried, the sea animals fossilized and over millions of years turned to stone.

Manar Mable mines the stone. From the stone Manar Mable manufactures marble slabs for
kitchens counter tops to fountains for gardens, each with a unique design caused by the fossil imbedded in the stone. It was a fascinating place with some beautiful products.

We had 30 minutes left in our drive to Aberge De Charme our final destination. Aberge De Charme is a beautiful lodge in the middle of the desert. It was 7 PM when we arrived, we had been on the road 10 hours.

We were in Merzoiga, the middle of nowhere. Including us there were only four guest in the
entire place which I would guess had 20 to 30 rooms. I could not resist the beautiful pool and went for a swim. Dinner was at 8 o'clock we started with a Moroccan beer, had what looked and tasted like a Chinese eggroll as an appetizer, the main course was brisket, prepared in a tejine with raisins, pears, and apricots, followed by melon for dessert. Up to this point meals have been great, through this may have been the best so far.

Day 6

At 2:00 AM, Margarite woke up too violent cramping and vomiting, this is not unusual for our travels. Something must of been wrong with what she ate. Her body was quickly and efficiently
removing it from her system. The next morning Margarite decided it might be prudent not to venture too far from a toilet, so she stayed back as Idriss and I ventured into the Sahara desert. Idriss's Mitsubishi four-wheel-drive SUV was a perfect match for the sand and rocks of the Sahara.

We left out the back entrance of the Auberge which border the Sahara desert. Idriss created his own roads sometimes following tracks many times creating his own. The desert is relatively flat the ground is rocky. Yes, there are sand dune's but that is a small part of the desert. We traveled due south towards the Algerian border until we were south of the dunes then we drove more Southwest until we came to a nomad camp.

A man and his wife lived alone in the camp, they invited us in for tea. They had a small solar array to power the refrigerator, next to the solar array was a strange water tank configuration, I would later ask Idriss about this. The man was in his 80's and his wife maybe 40 years of age. The women had left her village to live the nomadic lifestyle. The reason, she loves the solitude.

The older man made us tea, washing each glass, then washing his hands, finally using the wash water to make the tea. Now that is an efficient use of water. There are freshwater springs in the Sahara, this camp had a well and pump system. After our tea we exchanged pleasantries until we departed. During our stay we learned the man had a
herd of goats that self herded. Self herding - the goats would leave in the morning looking for desert grass and shrubs to eat then return at night to their pen. The only threat was desert wolves, the wolves would try to attack the goats at night.

As we drove away from the nomad camp I asked Idriss about the strange water tank configuration. First a little background on Idriss to help put everything in context.

Not only was Idriss a tall, dark, handsome, Berber man, he was also an educated mathematician and physicist. After university Idriss decided to follow his passion of being a host to tourist in Morocco instead of a career in Math and/or Physics. Though Idriss had a passion to solve problems, and loved using his math and physics background to solve problems he saw.

One problem he wanted to solve was how to store the excess electricity that the nomad generates
during the day with the solar array so the nomad could have electricity at night after the sun goes down. With that background here is the explanation of the strange water tanks.

Idriss knew batteries are too big and too expensive to store this excess electricity, using his education in math and physics Idriss designed a two level water tank system to store energy that could be used at night. Here is how it works. The first tank was 20 feet in the air the second tank 10 feet in the air. There was a narrow vertical pipe connecting the two tanks. During the day, when the sun was shining, the solar array powered a pump that would pump water from the lower tank to the upper tank. Idriss designed a small propeller driven electric generator that he installed in the pipe between the two tanks when the sun went down the nomad would simply open a valve, thus using gravity to allowing water to flow from the upper tank to the lower tank. As the water flowed it crossed over the generator Idriss had design. Thus generating electricity to be used at night. Now the nomad could power lights and the refrigerator 24 hours a day. Using the solar array during the day and Idriss's special water tanks at night. Idriss wanted no credit for the design of the generator. Idriss just like solving problems using his math and physics education, what a great guy. We were lucky to have him as our guide.

Leaving the Nomad camp we continued west, the desert was as baron as baron could be. With the exception of a nomad camp every once in a while and camels roaming the dessert, there is not much out here. The camels all had harness's so we assumed the owners were not far away but we never saw them.

As we got west of the dunes we stopped at an overlook to take pictures of the dunes. Idriss explained under the Sand dune's is water and without the water the dunes would blow away with the winds, the water is the glue that holds the sand together.

After the pictures we headed north, I was glad Idriss knew the desert as I had no idea where we were going, let alone where we were. Idriss asked if I would like to visit the village of Pigeons du Sable. This village is made up of descendants of African slaves. The descents were brought to this area by
Arabs as part of the past slave trade.

Once at the village we stopped and listened to the locals play traditional music. Many say the blues and soul music of the Unites States came from this traditional music. What a great visit, beautiful music and dance.

Idriss was worried about Margarite, I convinced him she would be fine and we should grab lunch. As it would happen a friend of Idriss is the owner and chef of the Restaurant Café Nora. We had the house special, Berber pizza. Thin pizza dough covered with meats, eggs, vegetables, spices, then cover with another layer of thin dough, then baked for 30 to 40 minutes. The Berber pizza was delicious, so flavorful. It was approaching 1:30 we decided to head back and check on Margarite. What a wonderful morning exploring the geography and culture of the Sahara Desert.

Margarite was on the mend though very lethargic. We decided to delay our departure to the Sahara until 6 o'clock giving Margarite more time to recuperate.
Her body had expelled everything out of her digestive track eliminating any nutrition along with the poison she had picked up! Maybe the signs in American restaurant, "employees must wash their hands" is not such a bad idea.

At 6 o'clock we headed out to Bivouac Aux Dunes, this is a Berber desert camp about 15 km from Auberge De Charme in the dunes of the Sahara Desert. The camp was deserted except for the grounds crew. So far all our accommodations have been impeccable, yet deserted. In most cases it was just us or maybe another couple, we are not complaining we love having these beautiful accommodations all to ourselves. The camp had
all the modern conveniences, yet we were in the middle of a remote desert. Dinner was a spring roll with cinnamon and the main course was tejine chicken with lemon and potatoes. Margarite not yet confident in the stability of her digestive track decided to stick with warm tea.

Sleep came easy total darkness inside our tents along with very comfortable beds. Sounds, no sound at all, just peace and quiet.

Sahara Sunset Sunrise Video

Day 7

We were woken at 5 AM by our camel jockey. Mounting a camel is like riding an out of balance elevator up one floor, first you are thrown forward then backward then you are 8 feet above the
ground. The moon was full so it was easy to see as we were led by our jockey through the desert.

After half a mile or so we reach a large sand dune. We dismounted our camels, which is the reverse of the mount with gravity adding to the process. Once the camels were well situated we hiked to the top of the sand dune to enjoy a brilliant sunrise, very quiet and peaceful just us and our camels. Once back at camp we enjoy the freshly prepared breakfast of eggs assorted Moroccan bread along and fresh squeezed orange juice. It was now time to leave this beautiful place.

We returned to Auberge De Charme to shower and collect the rest of our belongings. Though we felt the day had already been fulfilling, we still had a whole day ahead of us. Our first stop was a small village Rissani, on the edge of the desert. We toured the markets though being as early as it was and a Wednesday (Wednesday is not a big market day in Morocco) there was not a lot of activity. The highlight was trading my shoes plus 60 dirham (six US dollars) for a pair of Berber sandals. Both the shop owner and I thought we each got the better end of the deal.

We continued on to Alnif a tiny one camel town. The highlight was spending time with Mohammed his shop and he was adamant that we take pictures and post them on his Facebook page. Based on the pictures in Muhamed shop, he is well-known and well respected throughout the world. Up to this point we have been traveling east after our stop in Alnif we headed north, next visiting the Gorges du Todhra.
the local geologist and fossil expert. He gave us a detailed tour of

The gorge was carved by a river which originates from a spring, my guess the walls of the gorge are well over a few thousand feet high. There were aqueducts on each side of the river that supply water to the town of Tinerhin. Tinerhin is an oasis formed by the river. Tinerhin is also known for its beautiful roses, in fact we just missed the Rose Festival by a few days.

We enjoyed a very nice lunch at an outdoor garden café. I ordered Kafta we have learned is the meat sauce with fried egg we have had a few times before. Margarite took a risk and had an omelet, so far her body has not rejected it, though we still have a little over 100 km of driving to go.

We will be settling for the night in the town of Skoura another oasis town in the desert. We are staying at a converted 18 century Kasbah called Ait Ben Moro. A
Kasbah is a medieval fortress, spending the night was a great experience. The room has all the modern conveniences, even air conditioning. The room was spacious, with an outdoor seating area, indoor seating area, as well as a nice bedroom, we had plenty of room to stretch out. The staircase, circular and narrow with walls a few feet thick we knew we were very secure. A fabulous place to stay. Guess what, we were the only guest, both Margarite and I enjoyed a swim before dinner.

Dinner was appetizers of Aubergine (eggplant) and carrots cooked to perfection, followed by tajine chicken with prunes and a touch of tomatoes. For dessert, caramel cream brûlée.

Day 8

We woke at seven. We had hoped to get a run in, unfortunately Margarite's G.I. system was not cooperating. Our run switch to a brisk walk, south along the dry river bed until we found a suitable crossing to the village side of the river. We explored the village until we returned by reversing our course. Along the way we discovered huge holes about 10 feet in diameter and so deep we could not see the bottom. It looked like meteors had hit and left bottomless craters. Idriss later explain these holes are part of an old aqueduct system. Since they could not borrow horizontal holes/tunnels, they dug vertical holes and then connected them at the bottom. This created an underground aqueduct. It maybe one of those things were the saying, "You had to be there", applies.

We left Skoura for Demante, which is on the western side of the high Atlas Mountains. Though only 160 km away, it will take several hours to drive as the roads will wind through the mountains. Similar to Bhutan except paved and far fewer pot holes.

The views were stimulating while at the same time breathtaking. We ventured down a dead-end road 12 km to a small village, as remote, as remote could be. The village of Magdaz, did not even have electricity until two years ago. Most homes have no plumbing and use a common well for water. The homes are built into the mountainside using mud and straw.

What was most amazing was the extreme weather these homes and people go through, very hot and dry summers, rainy in the fall, extreme cold and snowy winters. It seems spring is the only tolerable time of the year weather wise. The best part of the village tour is meeting the people, from young kids to the elderly. Everybody seemed happy and content.

After the village tour we stopped for a pleasant lunch at Gite d'Etape. We enjoyed our lunch with the
owner Mohamed El Mady. Muhamed served us a tomato salad with cucumbers followed by tejine goat with potatoes and peas, an excellent meal. For dessert fresh melon with oranges.

We were about halfway to Demnate. We continued our windy, hilly drive stopping often for pictures. As we got close to Demnate we stopped at a natural bridge called Imi Ifri. The River had carved a cavern or tunnel in the sandstone leaving a natural bridge to cross to the other side. After a few pictures we made it to our final destination, Tizouit Madison d' hotes. A beautiful place to spend the night nestled in the Atlas Mountains. Tizouit means bumble bee in
Berber. One unique feature of the luxury accommodations is the pool. The pool is filtered by water plants. The pool water circulates through a pond containing the plants which cleanse the water before the water re-circulates back into the pool. No chemicals needed.

Believe it or not dinner was the best so far. And that is saying a lot, since with the exception of our first night in Fes all our dinners have been top notch. We started with an eggplant purée spread on fresh baked bread. The main was tajine chicken prepared with onions and a very flavorful sauce, the chicken melted off the bones. Dessert a very light cream caramel Brûlée.

Day 9

We woke at seven and walk the dirt road to the bottom of the natural bridge. What a pleasant morning, cool temperatures, the sun just peeking over the mountains. Being at the bottom of the cavern we got a much better perspective of the natural bridge and it's size. We took stairs to the top,
where we had been the day before. We then crossed and took a separate set of stairs to the bottom on the opposite side. From this vantage point we could see sunlight coming up under the natural bridge / tunnel. We reversed course and headed back to Tizouit. Once back we had a delicious breakfast pool side.

Idriss picked us up at 11 am, our first destination was Ouzoud Falls. Advertised as the largest falls in North Africa. The term "largest" is a relative term, not knowing how many falls there are in North Africa or what the magnitude of falls in North Africa are, we had no expectations of what we would find. While not Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, we were very please with what we found after our 60 kilometer drive. A spectacular first fall terraced into a pool where water accumulate before falling again, the second fall, to a lower pool. The waterfalls and plant life were beautiful.

The falls were more commercialized than we expected, most sites we have seen so far in Morocco have not been commercialized at all, Ouzoud Falls was the exception. To get to the bottom of the falls there were stairs along both sides of
the falls, shops and restaurants lined the stairs from top to bottom. At the bottom there were boats that would take you out and under the Falls for a small fee. This commercialization took some of the charm away, this was more about expectations than anything else. After a hike to the bottom and back, which included a Berber Ape checking out my hair, we headed to our final destination for the trip, Marrakesh.

We will be spending two nights in Marrakesh. We are staying at the Riad Zamzam, we have not been disappointed with any of our accommodations in Morocco and Riad Zamzama was not an exception. Riad Zamzam is within the Marrakesh Medina. Like Rabat and Fes, from the outside the buildings looks simple, modest, but once inside beautiful architecture and furnishings.

We arrived at 5:00 pm and relaxed until dinner which was served at 8 PM.

Like Rabat and Fes the Marrakesh Medina was a maze, there was no rhyme or reason on the layout of the alleyways. Since we were the only guest the houseman offered to walk us to the restaurant where we would be having dinner. He explained as we went, how to get back to the Riad.

Dinner was at Limoni, it is an Italian restaurant, the food and service were fine, but not for our first dinner Marrakesh, maybe if we were in Rome, bad choice for Marrakesh. Luckily for us the houseman realized we had no idea how to get back to the Riad and showed up to walk us back. What a nice man.

The Marrakesh Medina is much busier than Fes especially at night, more shops are open. And there are mopeds and scooters buzzing in the small alleyways. We felt like a visitor being dropped into a crazy bees nest.

Day 10

Idriss picked us up at 10 AM for a day tour of Marrakesh, there was some confusion, I had booked a
guide through the Riad, but Idriss said he would bring a guide. In the end it was only Idriss. This was not a big deal as Idriss was knowledgeable of the monuments of Marrakesh.

Koutoubia Mosque is one of the oldest and largest mosque in Marrakesh. After we took a few pictures we went to tour the Palais La Bahia. A palace built around a collection of Riads and patios, boasting of a wealth of rich decour. Margarite and I spent some time wandering the building and gardens. From the Palais La Bahia we went to Palais El Badi another beautiful building with lovely gardens.

At this point we decided to go off on own, we're pretty sure that Idriss was not licensed to be a guide in the Medina and we did not want to get him in trouble. He drop us off in the Mellah, which was the Jewish section of Marrakesh up until the late 1940's and early 1950's. When Israel was formed many of the Marrakesh Jews immigrated there.

As we walk through the area, lovely people were constantly come up and offer to help us find our way. At first this seemed great until we realized the directions always took us to their shop or their brother's, cousin's, mother's, or father's shop. And if none of their distant relatives have a shop, then and only then will they take you to your destination, but they expect a fee for this service.

I would be fine with this arrangement if it was explained up front, after a while you become rude or just ignore their offer of help. We were looking for the synagogue, being Saturday we assumed it would be close to tourist, but thought we would try our luck.

After ignoring a few offers of help we knew we were close. We stopped at a carpet store and ask for
help. A very lovely man offered to take us, he must've sensed our apprehension and quickly said I will take you for free, no fee, we gladly excepted. The walk was just a few blocks, as suspected the synagogue was closed.

I explain to the guard that I was Jewish and we would like to pray, once I showed him I was circumcised he allowed us in. There are still a few Jewish families living in Marrakesh that practice at this synagogue.

After touring the synagogue we stopped back at the carpet store and found our friend, he gave us a detailed history of how the Muslims and Jews have always enjoyed a great relationship in Morocco, even to this day. He explained how some of the last
names of the Berber and Arabic Muslim families and Jewish families are the same. His theory is that at one time these different families were the same. The shop Kasr Ben Hayoune is a co-op. Women from all over Morocco make carpets and rugs and bring them to the co-op to sell. At the end of the year the women share the profits.

Our next stop, Place Jamaa-el-Fna "the main square". We found a nice restaurant that had a terrace overlooking the Square. After lunch we visited a snake charmer that was not so charming. After giving us a little demonstration
of his snake charming skills he asked for a tip. I gladly gave him the equivalent of a few US dollars. He got angry and wanted the equivalent of $40 US dollars, I told him he was no longer our friend, took my initial tip back and walked away.

We continued wandering the Medina, dodging scooters, mopeds, and sometimes even donkey carts. We decide to visit the photography museum, maison de la photographie de Marrakech they have photographs of Morocco from 1870s to 1950s. It was a great way to get the sense of the Moroccan people and the country's history.

We were getting burned out on the Medina and decided to head back to the Riad taking the most direct route. This route took us through the markets and the industrial section, metalworkers, woodworkers, and even leather tanners, not a normal route for a tourist. Of course every few feet
someone would offer to help us get to a store or our destination. We would as politely as possible while getting our point across say, "NO!" With about 20 minutes to go, a huge wind storm blew in. Everybody except us, ducked for cover. We enjoyed the peacefulness of the empty streets while getting sandblasted by the blowing sand and hit with flying trash. Our Riad could not of appeared sooner, an oasis from the blowing debris.

It was 6:30 pm and time to venture out into the maze known as the Medina of Marrakesh. The winds had died down and the temperature cooled from 104 to 98, not too hot since it is a dry heat. We were using a mapping app called that works with no cell or Internet connection, just the GPS in your phone. When traveling I try to rely more on paper maps than apps, as I feel the paper map gives you a bigger picture of where you are and where you have been. In the case of the Medina I am not sure there is a paper map that has the details needed to navigate without getting lost.

Our first stop an ATM, at first we just wondered assuming we would run into an ATM. After 20 minutes we realize this was futile. showed us the closest ATM was .7 miles away in the middle of the souks or shops. This section of the Medina is like a maze within a maze. With the help of technology we made it, yes we made a few wrong turns, but we made it and got some cash.

Next adventure find a restaurant Margarite picked Terrasse des Epices a .6 mile walk that we accomplished without any wrong turns, boy are we good. Dinner did not disappoint I got the Moroccan salad's followed by beef and fig tajine. Margarite had grilled vegetables followed by tajine chicken with olives and lemon, everything was excellent. The seating was an upstairs outside terrace. The only negative, it seemed like everybody was smoking, luckily the wind was still blowing so the smoke was not too annoying.

The walk home, about a mile, was straightforward with lots of turns. If not for the hassle of being stopped every few yards and asked if we needed help/directions or to be told we were going into the forbidden zone. They would help us get to where we needed to be, even though we knew there were no forbidden zones! Another tactic that was used was to tell us the road is finished, meaning a dead end, and we should go another way that they will show us. Luckily we had good technology and made it home safe and sound.

Day 11

This morning we woke and Margarite's phone said it was 6:30 AM and her watch indicated it was 7:30 AM. We did not give it much thought and went down for breakfast at 8:30 all seem normal. With one exception, another couple had checked in the night before and their guide had not shown
up. He was scheduled to pick them up at eight and it was now 8:30. Being a little late is not unusual in Morocco, but 30 minutes without a call that's not normal at least from our experience. At exactly 9 AM their guide showed up, now we were curious did the time zone change while we slept. The day before we were notified our flight to Paris would be departing an hour earlier than originally scheduled, but the length of the flight had not changed we would still be arriving as originally scheduled. With all these hints we were fairly sure the clocks changed by an hour while we slept.

We had a cooking class scheduled for 9:30 which we would be ready for, but we now expected it to
start at 10:30. We met our chef, teacher, Illham, at the new 9:30 which was now the old 10:30. We walked about half a mile to a vegetable market and got many different vegetables and a few oranges and lemons. Next to the vegetable market was the chicken market where we picked out a live chicken and watch the shop owner butcher it. Now that is fresh chicken!

Once we got back to the Riad we had a 30 minute break, we chatted with Marcus the owner of the Riad Zamzam and the manager Imome. Marcus spends time in Morocco and London, Imome is Moroccan and grew up in the Medina. As we waited, the staff set up a prep area in the courtyard. This is where we will be preparing lunch.

We each had a workstation, the staff had cleaned and prepared the vegetables, this was a pleasure as that is the mundane part of cooking. First we prepared tajine chicken with onions and seasonings. We did this first to give the tajine plenty of time
to cook. Think about this, the chicken was live less than an hour ago. After the tajine went on the coals, we prepared the vegetables for several different salads including, beats, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, etc.. More salads than you could imagine. We didn't want to eat the salads as our chef made all the salads look like a pieces of art. So beautiful we did not want to disturb the presentation. It was enough food for an army. Margarite and I somehow managed to consume about 90% of it. What a delightful meal, made so much better because we knew we help make it. After lunch we relax for an hour and let our food digest until Idriss picked us up for our departure.

Though we had not planned to visit Morocco we are glad we did. What a great country, we learned a lot about the history, culture, and geography. In hindsight, the only change we would of made to the trip, is spend a little more time in the Atlas Mountains hiking and mountain biking.

A big thank you to Mark Willenbrock of Mad About Morocco. Mark spent a lot of time helping with the planning of this trip. And big thanks to Farida and Idriss for guiding us and of course all the owners and staff at the great restaurants and Riads we visited.

All Pictures

Morocco May 2017