Journey to Morocco

Our musical tour of Morroco with the Yuval Ron Ensemble
  • .: Welcome to our “Journey to Morocco” blog :.

    The Yuval Ron Ensemble has been invited by the King of Morocco to the Sacred Music Festival in Fez, Morocco where they will be one of the featured performers. Yuval and the entire Ensemble have invited us to travel with them, to meet the tribal musicians and dancers of Morocco, and to share in this extraordinary musical experience. Together we will explore the wonders of this ancient civilization and its many mystical music and dance traditions. And, through this web-site, you can join us in this amazing journey as well.
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    Day 2: Volubilis / Moulay Idriss

    Posted By andy on May 27, 2009

    We awoke to the rude sound of our iPhone alarm at 7am, and slowly headed up to the pool area for 30 minutes of yoga/stretching exercises, followed by a buffet breakfast of orange juice, pastries, eggs, etc. I was feeling rejuvenated after the stretching and meal, and was ready to start the day. I packed up my video camera, batteries, memory cards, mini-tripod, and met up with the members of the tour. We started by walking down from the hotel to the Volubilis city ruins, past fields of sheep and donkeys (the donkeys do a lot of work around here). It was a nice cool breezy morning, and the walk was very refreshing. We spent a couple hours at the ruins, led by a local guide who gave us the history of the city, and pointed out some of the more interesting things to see, such as mosaic floors, remnants of old homes, baths, the main “street” (complete with an early underground sewer system), and the big city “arch”. Also, we were shown a stone carving of a large erect “member”, and we all got a good laugh as Dror, Jaime, and a few others sat upon the rock containing the stone dong and pretended they were so well endowed. I’m a big fan of touring old ruins, and Volubulis didn’t disappoint. 

    Some sheep along the road to the ruins of Volubilis

    Some sheep along the road to the ruins of Volubilis

    Donkeys do a lot of work in Morocco

    Donkeys do a lot of work in Morocco

    Part of the runis of Volubilis

    Part of the old city of Volubilis

    Andy at Volubilis

    Andy at Volubilis

    Dror having an imaginary hot-tube in Volubilis

    Dror having an imaginary hot-tube in Volubilis

    An interesting carving at Volubilis

    An interesting carving at Volubilis

    A mosaic floor in Volubilis

    A mosaic floor in Volubilis

    We then walked from the ruins to the city of Moulay Idriss, one of the oldest and one of the holiest of Islamic cities in Morocco, up on of a large hillside. Some tour members opted to take the tour bus between the two cities, but I choose to walk the complete distance (a few more miles). It was well worth the walk, since when we first entered the city, we got to walk through a local market area, where street merchants were selling fruits, meats, spices, and many items you’d never find in a market in America (snails, live chickens, large bins of spices, whole sheep carcasses hanging, etc.). All sorts of interesting sights and smells to take in.

    The road up to Moulay Idriss

    The road up to Moulay Idriss

    The market at Moulay Idriss

    The market at Moulay Idriss

    We made it to the city square, where we met up with most of the tour members, and ate a nice lunch of lamb, bread, vegetables, olives, and, of course, Moroccan mint tea (loaded with sugar). We did some shopping in the square, and I found a “TeleBoutique”, where I was able to make a quick call home and talk to my wife, Andrea, and two of my three kids (Jeremy and Jordan). I was feeding coins in to the phone as fast as I could, and the entire 10 minute call cost 70 dirham (about $9). It was nice to talk to the family for the first time since I left New York. 

    The city square in Moulay Idriss

    The city square in Moulay Idriss

    Lunch at Moulay Idriss

    Lunch at Moulay Idriss

    Next, Hamid led us through the narrow streets and alleys of Moulay Idriss, and discussed more about the history of the city, and some things about Islam and religion in Morocco (video to be posted later). You can feel history around you when you visit Moulay Idriss. We opted to take the bus back to the hotel, where we hung around the pool area, did some swimming, and I finally got a chance to write the details of the time we had spent in Morocco so far (of which you are now reading).

    Dror on the streets of Moulay Idriss

    Dror on the streets of Moulay Idriss

    At sunset, some of us once again converged on the pool deck, to watch the sun drop below the distant mountains. I grabbed Jamie’s Doubmek, and got to jam for about 30 minutes with Dror, Jaime, and some of the other tour members, as the sky changed from blue to orange to a dark pinkish red. Before long the women were dancing, and another magical tour experience was had by all. I feel so lucky to be able to play the drum with two such talented drummers as Dror and Jaime. This is the vacation experience I was hoping for.

    Dror, Jamie, and Andy playing drums during the Moroccan sunset

    Dror, Jamie, and Andy playing drums during the Moroccan sunset

    At dinner time, we ate in the more formal dining room at the hotel. Low tables and chairs, under a colorful tent-like ceiling. Dinner started with bread, olive oil, a plate of vegetables (cucumber, egg-plant, carrots, potatoes, beets and greens). Then they brought big tajines (pointy clay pots) to each table, filled with a lamb stew with prunes and almonds. Delicious.

    Dinner in the formal dining room at Hotel Volubilis

    Dinner in the formal dining room at Hotel Volubilis

    We were going to have an extended Sufi music/dance ceremony in the dinning hall, but plans had changed, and we were instead given the incredible honor of being invited to a private home back in Moulay Idriss (I guess the “performers” felt more at home there). Actually, these were not performers in the typical sense of the word. They were just doing what they do to praise god, and express their spirituality. All fifty of us gathered on the roof of their house, under the stars. The six or so Sufi musicians played drums, wooden flute-like instruments, and R’aita (a small double reeded horn). Before long they had us all on or feet dancing, and singing. Words cannot describe the energy and spirituality that emanated from the roof of that home that night. Yuval played his Oud, Dror and Jamie, and some other tour members played along with percussion. One tour member had her violin, another her flute. Mint tea, and cookies were enjoyed by all. It was almost 1am before we headed back to the bus to return to the hotel. The Sufi joined us on the bus, and the singing continued for the entire ride. 

    Our night with the Sufi at Moulay Idriss

    Our night with the Sufi at Moulay Idriss

    Yuval playing oud with the Sufi

    Yuval playing oud with the Sufi

    Tomorrow, we’re heading for the desert…

    Day 1: We’ve arrived in Morocco

    Posted By andy on May 27, 2009

    We’ve made it to Morocco! The Royal Air Moroc flight out of JFK to Casablanca was on time, and I managed to sleep for about three hours of the seven hour flight. Two red-eye flights in two consecutive nights for a total of five hours of sleep. Yet, I didn’t really feel all that tired (at the time). I met up with the others on the tour (most of us were on the same flight, and sitting next to each other ) and, so far, they all seem very nice. Many people are from the Los Angles area (though some are from New York, Texas, Israel, Washington, and others). Some knew each other from a previous Yuval Ron concert tour to Israel. I’m sure that over the next few days, I’ll get a chance to get to know many of them better.

    Some tour members arriving from the Casablanca Airport

    Some tour members arriving from the Casablanca Airport

    We we’re through immigration by 8am, but it took almost two hours before we were all loaded into the bus and ready to head out to Volubilis. We were all getting pretty hungry by the time we stopped at a gas station / cafe for a quick snack. The workers at the cafe didn’t speak English, and the menu was all in French. I thought I ordered a cheese sandwich (brie on ciabatta), but I ended up with some kind of sliced meat as well. I ate it anyway, and it satisfied. Then we re-boarded the bus, and drove for about 90 more minutes. It’s amazing how much the rolling hills of golden brown look like similar terrain in California. But, when you see the buildings in the various towns and cities, you wouldn’t mistake it for America. 

    The Hotel Volubulis

    The Hotel Volubilis

    We made it to the hotel by about 3pm. This hotel (the “Hotel Volubilis”), is not in a town, but instead is in the hills right over the ancient ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis. The Hotel Volubilis is an older facility, that seems to not have been renovated anytime recently, but it is clean enough, and I really have nothing bad I can say about the place (location, location, location). The views down to the ruins are stunning, and you can see for miles fields of olive trees, mustard, and other agriculture. I managed to get about two hours of a nap, when I awoke to the sound of distant drumming. I had to immediately get out of bed and investigate.

    The view from the pool at the Hotel Volubulis

    The view from the pool at the Hotel Volubilis

    The drumming was coming from the pool area, where Jamie, a drummer from the Yuval Ron Ensemble and a few other tour guests were jamming, while watching the sunset. Watching the sunset over the distant mountains from the the pool area with the sound of Moroccan rhythms was something magical. Ladies from the tour dancing just added to to the experience. I had my video camera running, and captured a beautiful sunset (video to be posted later).

    We all met for a Moroccan dinner in the hotel restaurant (soup, kabobs, rice, vegetables, dessert were all delicious). Following the dinner we had Hamid (our guide from Sarah Tours), and Yuval provide an introduction to the tour, and to Sufi music. A group of Sufi musicians came dancing through restaurant playing drums (Taarija) and a horn (R’aita) and introduced us to a Sufi “Chamda” ritualistic dance/jam. Then Yuval, Jaime, and Dror, led the group in some singing, and we finally all headed back to our rooms around 11pm, ready to catch up on some well needed sleep.

    The Sufi musicians at the first tour dinner

    The Sufi musicians at the first tour dinner

    More tomorrow.

    In Flight Wi-Fi!

    Posted By andy on May 23, 2009

    I’ve never been on a plane with an available Internet connection before tonight, so of course I had to try it. It’s surprisingly fast. If I had my MacBookPro instead of just my iPhone, and if it wasn’t about 2am, I could probably video iChat with someone.

    The plane is full, and most people around me are asleep. I managed to doze off for a couple of hours, but the cramped, uncomfortable chair finally got to me. I really want to get up and stretch my legs, but the guy sitting next to me is asleep, and I don’t want to wake him trying to get passed him. Oh well, less than two hours until were back on the ground.

    I picked up a travel novel before I left called “In Arabian Nights” by Tahir Shaw. It’s about Morocco, and covers many places that I’ll be visiting over the next couple of weeks. So far, I’m enjoying it. I’m also reading the “Footprint” Morocco travel guide, and the small “Lonley Planet” Moroccan Arabic phrase book. Of course, without having somebody to pronounce the words for me first, I’ll probably mess them up and accidentally insult somebody by mistake. Hopefully our travel guides will be  willing to teach us a few useful phrases, such as “Where is the bathroom?”, or “I’m lost in a foreign country with nobody around me that speaks English, please help me find my way” (well, hopefully I won’t need that one).

    All of a sudden, it’s light outside the plane window. How can it be morning already? Guess I should put on my eye cover and try to sleep a bit more.

    More to come later. Goodnight.

    Update (9AM EST): Landed safely, and took a quick cab ride to Peter and Lisa’s apartment. Time now for a shower, some breakfast, and some rest before tonight’s flight to Casablanca.

    The Journey Starts…

    Posted By andy on May 23, 2009

    Hi all,
    The big day has finally arrived! I’m flying to JFK tonight on the red-eye out of SFO, getting into NYC early Saturday morning. There, I get to spend half a day with my brother Peter, and his wife Lisa, before catching the Royal Air Moroc flight direct to Casablanca Saturday night. My mom is also in NYC visiting with my brother, so I’ll get to spend time with her as well.

    Hopefully I’ll get some sleep on tonight’s flight, but if not, I’ve got my iPhone loaded with movies and music to keep me occupied.

    Dror is on a different flight from me, so perhaps we’ll run into each other at JFK on Saturday afternoon, otherwise I’ll catch up with him in the Casablanca airport once we both get there.

    I’ll provide an update when I can.

    See you all soon.

    Andy :)

    Welcome to our tour website!

    Posted By andy on May 11, 2009

    Hello all! 

    This is my first post to our new tour website. We’re just 11 days away from our incredible journey to Morocco. We intend to use this website to share our journey with all of you. We’ll post a daily diary of our tour, photos, videos, audio recordings, samples of delicious Moroccan food (ok, you’ll have to settle for our descriptions of that yummy food), and whatever else we can find to share with you. 

    Hope to see you all soon,

    Andy.