Posted By andy on June 1, 2009
Hi all. Day six already? This tour is going by so fast. There is almost no down-time (and almost no sleep time), unless you count the many hours we spend in the bus. But, even in the bus, with all the conversations, the tour-guide presentations by Hamid, Yuval, Jawad and others, the drumming and singing, and the interesting sites of the Moroccan landscape, towns and villages we pass through on our way from one hotel to another make it so that we don’t sleep much on the bus either. But, most of the tour people I talk to are fine with the lack-of-sleep, and prefer to utilize our limited time in Morocco to the fullest. Sleeping is overrated anyway.
We were only in Ouarzazate for less than ten hours, so I can’t tell you much about it, except that it’s the “Hollywood” of Morocco, with a number of film studios that have sprung up in the recent past. The Hotel we stayed in was nice enough (which is more than I can say about the hotel restaurant staff), and they did have sporadic wi-fi. I managed a three minute video iChat to my in-laws, and another one or two minute one to my folks. But, the long latency made it tough to hold a conversation, and even uploading a few pictures to this blog took longer than it should have.
Ouarzazate, the Hollywood of Morocco
We left Ouarzazate right after breakfast for our four to five hour ride to Marrakesh. The road between Ouarzazate to Marrakesh takes you up to the highest peak in North Africa. The views from the Tizi-n-Tichka pass are breathtaking, on one side the desert, the other side, the valley full of fields of green. It’s your typical winding mountain rode, similar to what you’d expect in the Rocky Mountain range in the USA. I know a number of people on the tour got a little car sick with all twisting and turning, but since I go over Highway 17 twice every workday (and even work on my computer during the ride if I’m not driving the carpool), I was used to it. Check out these amazing pictures we took either from the bus, or from the one or two rest-stops along the way.
On the road to Marrakesh
A rest stop on the way to Marrakesh
The Tizi-n-Tichka Pass, high in the Atlas Mountains
Driving through the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass
Finally we arrived in Marrakesh! What can I say about Marrakesh? Well, it’s definitely one of the international tourist destinations that’s not to be missed. With the craziness of the “Jemaa el Fna” square, the endless labyrinth of shopping in the “medina”, the great opportunity for people watching, sites to see, etc. I would recommend any brave tourist looking for something unique in the world to come to Marrakesh at least once in their travels. But hold on to your belongings. One tour member had her purse snatched right off her back while at an ATM.
When we first entered the city, and before we went to our hotel, we went to a gas-station/cafe (open 24/7) for lunch. Yes, a gas station. But, I must say the food was great, especially the bread, which was the best bread I’ve had in Morocco yet. We then went to the hotel to check in, and drop off our bags. The hotel was ok, but lack of wi-fi was a huge disappointment for me, as many of the tour people had by now sent the URL to this blog to their friends and family, which made me even more determined to get regular updates posted (I did manage to “borrow” wi-fi from the next door hotel to check my iPhone email).
Our hotel in Marrakesh
The lobby of our hotel in Marrakesh
We started our introduction to Marrakesh with a tour consisting of three areas, a 100+ acre park of old-growth olive trees, surrounding a large cement-lined reservoir (used to water the thousands of olive trees), followed by the main Mosque containing the tallest building in the city, followed by a quick pass through “Jemaa el Fna” to take in some of the insanity of the snake-charmers, monkey trainers, fortune tellers, dancers, drummers, story-tellers and food-stalls, and anybody else who has a interesting way to get money out of the tourists wallets. I wish I had my video camera during my time in the square, but I was hesitant, due to the high security problems, and the amount of money I would have had to shell out for the privilege of pointing my video camera at anybody. The sounds of the square were deafening at times, and I think Glen had his audio-recorder with him, so perhaps I’ll get a chance to include some of that in the tour video.
The reservoir in the olive-tree grove in Marrakesh
The large mosque in the center of Marrakesh
The sea of humanity in "Jemaa el Fna"
A snake charmer in "Jemaa el Fna"
A fortune teller in "Jemaa el Fna"
One of the many musicians in "Jemaa el Fna"
Interesting food in "Jemaa el Fna"
More music in "Jemaa el Fna"
One thing that I found interesting was the juxtaposition of people in traditional Islamic clothing (including full head veils), along side many young couples holding hands, and flirting with one another around the reservoir, dressed in the skimpy western-sytle clothing warn by similarly aged people in the USA. As an American who is led to believe that Islamic countries are full of nothing but traditionalists, and that public displays of affection between unmarried males and females are seriously frowned upon, this was something I didn’t expect to see. But Morocco is an extremely tolerant country (in so many ways), and this was just another clear example of that wonderful Moroccan attitude of life.
We got back to the hotel, and cleaned up for Shabbat dinner in the restaurant. After shooting video and photos almost constantly during the previous week, I decided that this Friday evening would be my night off. Good thing there were others in the group that did bring their cameras, and took pictures at Shabbat, and later that night, and they have all be so gracious to share their photos and video with me. This has really become a group effort, and hopefully, when we get back, we can expand on the whole “tour-blog” concept, and make a lasting record of our wonderful time together in Morocco.
Prior to the Shabbat dinner, we had the traditional jewish lighting of the candles, blessings over the candles, wine, and bread. There were also a few musical numbers by Dror, and Yuval. Hamid gave traditional Sufi blessings as well. It was fun to have Shabbat dinner together in Morocco with all the new friends we’ve made on this trip.
Shabbat dinner in our hotel in Marrakesh
Singing at our Shabbat dinner in Marrakesh
After dinner, we headed to a restaurant in an old Jewish home in Marrakesh. As you see in the pictures there was elaborate tile and carved stone from floor to ceiling. It was a great site for our evening entertainment which was belly dancers, and three local musicians, skilled in the traditional Andalusian style, which happens to be the style of music the Yuval Ron Ensemble will be playing at the Fes Festival in a few days. Before long, Dror, Yuval, and Smadar (one of the beautiful, talented singers in the ensemble) had joined in, and I must say, for me personally, this was the best musical entertainment of the entire tour (so far). I was now seriously regretting not having my cameras with me. But, there were plenty of cameras taking pictures, and here are a few.
Dancer during the Andalusian music at the Jewish resturant
Yuval playing with the Andalusian musicians
Smadar and Dror performing at the Andalusian music evening
Andalusian music night
At the end Smadar sung a moving song about mothers, dedicated to Jawad (one of our tour guides), who had recently lost his mother. Smadar’s singing and body-movements have such deep expression, it was a special experience for all of us there.
Smadar singing a song for Jawad
We got back to the hotel after 2pm (again), and eventually we went to bed.
Tomorrow, more in Marrakesh, and the first concert of the Yuval Ron Ensemble in Morroco.