Thursday, January 22, 2009

Marrakech Day 5 (10 Jan 09): The Atlas Mountains

We took a trip to Ourika Valley in the High Atlas Mountains today, and our amiable driver Abdul was patient with our addiction to taking pictures of the Moroccan countryside - snow on mountains, green vegetable fields and cacti growing on sand within a two hour drive from Marrakech:

We also saw a couple of souks on the way:

as well as a Berber home:

We also saw, perhaps for the first time in my life, a Dromedary, a small camel with one hump (I may have seen one in a zoo, but I obviously wasn't paying attention):

After two hours of getting on and off the car to take pictures, we finally arrived at the little town of Setti Fatma, where we were told we could take a "brisk walk" to the Walk of the Seven Waterfalls. "Brisk Walk" was apparently a bad translation from Arabic to English, as it turned out to be a major hike. We had to climb over big river boulders, and were only helped along the way by the helpful balancing hand of our amazing Berber guide, who, as may be expected from someone who has been climbing rocks since infancy, gave a whole new twist to the word agile. Here are some pictures from the climb (noticeably, not a lot, as my hands were busy grasping at anything to help me keep my balance):

We had a late lunch at a cafe by a river. Louie had skewers and I had Berber tagine (chicken with vegetables):
And our delicious, simple dessert - oranges with cinammon:

This was the last major day of our vacation, and we flew back to The Hague the next day. That was a good one, L!

Marrakech Day 4 (09 Jan 09): Walking

Unlike the cities in Italy we visited, there are no major tourist attractions in Marrakech. Instead, you should let the city, as a whole, charm you. 

L and I devoted today to just wandering around the city, aimlessly, without any set agenda (except for dinner). We walked around these walls of pink, with men and women in colorful jalabas, donkeys and carts, spices and figs, oranges and ornate buildings so different from what we usually see in our part of Asia, Europe or America.

We started out at the New City, which looks like any other city, except for the orange trees lining the streets. After an impulse rug buy at an antique dealer, an ATM run and lunch at a chic cafe, L and I made our way to the walls of the Medina:
Upon entering, we got lost and saw these:

For dinner, we went to what was reputably the best restaurant in Marrackech, Al Fassiah, run entirely by women. We had a traditional Moroccan meal (similar to what we had on the first day). We had Harari soup:

Moroccan salad:

Mixed Skewers with Couscous (the proper way to eat it is to put some sauce and some chili on it):

and Lamb Tagine with Tomatoes and Onions:

Judging by how much I loved eating all this, I think I may have been Moroccan in my former life. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

Marrakech Day 3 (08 Jan 09): Essaouira, actually

L and I took a break from the pink city and travelled to the blue city of Essaouira near the sea. Morocco is a country of amazing landscapes, and our two and a half hour drive brought us through the beginnings of a desert, snow-capped mountains, green flowering hills and the seaside. Here is an interesting picture of goats on an argan tree, a tree that grows only in southwestern Morocco:

The goats brave climbing the thorny tree to eat the fruit. We tasted oil from the fruit on the way, and it was a bit nuttier than olive oil.

We got to Essaouira at noon, and hit the ground running.

We arrived back in Marrakech early in the evening. L had a hammam and a massage, and we ate delicious lamb tagine with vegetables at the Riad for dinner. (Sorry, no food pictures that night).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Marrakech Day 2 (7 Jan 09): Tourist in Marrakech

We started our second day with a guided tour of Marrakech. Our guide was the distinguished Mustafa, who was once a banker, but now toured people around the Medina that is visited by more than 8 million people each year. (By the way, the people from Morocco are pretty amazing - they know, by default, 3 official UN languages. They speak Arabic and French from childhood, and learn English in school.)

There was much to see in this pink city. We visited several souks (these are a leather based one and a metal based one):

here's a souk selling carpets:

and a store selling traditional herbs and spices:

We also went to see the fantastic Ben Youssef Medersa, a Quranic school established in the 14th century:
The Koubba El-Badiyin, the only surviving structure from the era of the Almoravids (from the twelfth century:
and the Musee de Marrakech:

At night, L and I climbed to the top of an outdoor cafe and gawked at the busy Jemaa El Fna, with its snake charmers and monkey peddlers, story tellers and make shift food shops. The Koutoubia Mosque is seen in the distance, the tallest point in Marrakech:

We ate at one of the make-shift stalls, and insofar as street food goes, the meal was pretty memorable:

Upon sitting down you're given bread, fresh tomatoes, pickled tomatoes and olives:

I had skewers, of which the sausage was the best:

And L had chicken couscous, which was really, really good:

We ended the meal with fabulous Moroccan Mint Tea, which I really couldn't get enough of: