Travels With Maria

Marrakech at Ramadan

Here in Marrakech, reputed to be pretty wild, everyone was a bit subdued today because of Ramadan. We took a walk through the souks today, and the vendors were all working, but were not aggressive at all. By mid afternoon, it was quiet, with most laying down taking naps. We did see one seller lose his temper and complain loudly (likely a smoker suffering from nicotine withdrawal), and Zak commented that if you can't maintain a good attitude, it's better to smoke and eat. Walking past the drowsy sellers, I spotted a guy watching Ramadan porn on his phone: a video of meat sizzling on a grill. In the souks,…
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Zak’s Family

Zakaria, our trip leader, was born and grew up in Marrakech. Yesterday, we drove over the High Atlas mountains, hours on a winding mountain road in a huge bus on a narrow road, back into Morocco's green zone, finally arriving in Marrakech. We are staying in another Riad, an old home built around a courtyard. Tile, fountains, high ceilings. In the late afternoon, we walked to the Djemma el Fna, Marrakech's famous square full of hustlers, snake charmers, musicians, street food vendors and tourists. Crazy, chaotic place. Zak's mother invited the group to dinner. His brother, some sisters, a brother-in-law, some nieces and nephews all joined us. Zak is the…
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Ouarzarzate

Where Is Zat? Morocco changed its time Saturday night, falling back an hour. Normally, they follow the UK and Portugal on daylight savings time. But because Ramadan starts this week, they changed the clocks for the next 5 weeks. Since everyone fasts (no food or water) from sunrise to sunset, the time change means the sun sets an hour earlier, therefore they can eat an hour earlier. This morning we drove out to a small village where we met a family who was going to serve us lunch. The father is a mason, repairing the adobe that make up the village. In recent years, people are switching to cement, which…
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Sahara

Maria's birthday started this morning at 6:00am when we got up to see the sunrise. Several other intrepid travelers were also up to see a somewhat uneventful appearance of Sol which rose quickly over Algeria on the eastern horizon. It was cool in the early morning light. A couple of friendly dogs trotted past. After breakfast, the jeeps collected us and we drove to the edge of the dunes where there were 4 strings of 4 camels each. The camel drivers fixed us up with turbans, good protection from sun and wind. We got organized, mounted and we were off into the dunes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJOIC6npj1Q The camels took us high on…
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Sandstorm

This is the best OAT group we have been with. No one is obnoxious and any annoyances are very minor. Zak, our trip leader is quite impressive. He is only 25, speaks great English, is well organized and has a great sense of humor. He is giving us a lot of good insight into Moroccan culture, with a millennial's perspective. He is very open, talking about dating and young people in a changing culture. It used to be taboo for a young man to discuss these things with his mother, but Zak talked about it to his mom and she asked around the family and found a prospect. He is…
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Green Morocco

Wednesday, we had a day trip to Volubilis, the regional Roman capital from about 0 to 200AD. Interesting place, marvelous civil engineering using the gravity of the hillside for water management, beautiful mosaics. The local guide was excellent. Then on to Meknes, a former capital of Morocco. But what I found most interesting is green Morocco. Agriculture is the main industry in Morocco. The bus drove past vistas of fields to the horizon. Wheat, olives, poppies, peaches, mustard, mostly smallish plots for each crop, easy to rotate. Some of the olive groves have other crops planted between the rows of trees. Some irrigation, some relying only on rainwater. Rains evidently…
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Fes

Yesterday, the group rode our bus to the city of Fez, maybe 120 miles east of Rabat. A beautiful superhighway took us through the green region of Morocco. The world's second largest forest of cork trees (largest is in Portugal), wheat fields, olive groves on a gently rolling landscape. Eventually, the city of Fez came into view. We exited the highway and drove into the town. Fez has one of the world's largest vehicle-free zones, the medina, a warren of 9000+ tiny streets and alleys dating from the 9th century. Here is the oldest university in the world, operating since 859. In the late 15th century, Morocco had a big…
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Casablanca

We flew into Casablanca Wednesday, arriving mid-afternoon. We were met at the airport by Ali, who manages the Airbnb. It was a long drive into the city, through very congested traffic. The apartment is on the 14th floor, overlooking the harbor and the train station and lots of construction. This is the vacation home of Alexandre, who lives in Paris. Unlike most Airbnbs, which are furnished with the owner's cast-off stuff supplemented by thrift shop finds, Alexandre's furnishings have been carefully selected. A kitchy-chic melange of oddball antiques, like an old barber's chair, a lamp that is a life-size statue of an African princess, a walk/don't walk sign... Lots of…
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Alhambra and Hammam

After failing at seeing Holy Week processions for the previous 5 days, we bumped into a small one on the street Monday evening on our way out to dinner. A statue of risen Jesus followed by a Mary statue, with about 20 attendants with a couple of kids waving incense censers. Yesterday, we got picked up with a small group for the 2 hour drive to Grenada to see the Alhambra. It was pouring rain. The bus left us downtown, on our own for lunch, so we went over to the cathedral to see the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabel before stopping in to a tavern for coffee and a…
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Málaga

We took the train from Cordoba to Malaga yesterday morning. It was uneventful until we arrived. Malaga was the last stop. We waited until the rush of people subsided, then went to luggage storage at the end of the car, only to find out bags were gone! We took chase, running out of the car and into the station before we realized that we had boarded the train at the other end of the car. We went back, and sure enough, there were our suitcases. We know that no one will ever steal your suitcases from a pile of luggage: they might belong to the person right next to them.…
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Flamenco in Andalucía

Slept late Saturday, out of the apartment around 11. Walked the 3 blocks to the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. The Alcazar was built by Christian kings in the 1200s or so on the ruins of the destroyed Moorish castle after the Christians reconquered Córdoba. Castle walls and towers to climb, and acres of orchards and gardens. The Moors planted many citrus trees, oranges and lemons, to counteract the stench of the mideval open sewers. The oranges are very aromatic smelling and sour, different from eating oranges. Their leaves are different. The gardens in the Alcazar were all in bloom, but were planted in a haphazard manner. I guess this…
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Water and Horses

We woke up with no alarm for the first day in months. We have quickly fallen into Spain schedule. Chiyo pointed out that I did not mention La Mezquita in yesterday's email, only posted on Facebook. So here is that: La Mezquita is the great mosque of Córdoba. Originally a place of worship shared by Muslims and Christians, the Muslim ruler of Spain bought the Christian half in the 8th century and built a mosque, the second largest in the world at the time. When Christian kings regained control, they converted it to a cathedral. It's a real hodgepodge of architectural styles, including columns from Roman times. Hundreds of columns…
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Córdoba: Semana Santa

Tuesday night, we flew to Lisbon on TAP Air Portugal. The plane was an aging widebody Airbus with hard seats, really good food and nice service. It was short for a transatlantic flight, but we were able to sleep for some short hours. Maria didn't know where we were going until we got into the terminal at Logan, and even then, she didn't know the final destination. The next flight was to Málaga, then an hour train up to Córdoba. Córdoba was founded by the Romans in the second century BC. It was the capital of Moorish Spain from 719 until the 13th century. There is a Roman bridge across…
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China in Africa

It seems to me that the US has never had any program of investment overseas. We sell discount weapons, but that stuff has no long term return whatsoever, the use of the product causes anguish and destruction, and the main purpose of this trade is to funnel money to the arms manufacturers, not to gain any future benefit for anyone. We also look for oil, which is a major factor in our impending doom, not to mention all the shorter term bad effects. What I see the Chinese doing in Africa is something we don't understand. Our primary relationship with other countries besides trade, which is transactional, not an investment,…
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Visiting the Busingye Family

This was the most difficult thing we have ever done. It was cold when we woke up this morning. Maybe 45 degrees. Maria had long johns under her safari pants. We wore our winter coats to breakfast 100+ steps up the hill from our room. After breakfast, Ali took us on the short drive to the entrance of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Bwindi means "Impenetrable", so technically, the name is Impenetrable Impenetrable Forest. It is one of the oldest forests on Earth. It's on a mountain, so was spared the worst of the ice age. Home to many species of plants and animals. The one we were here to see…
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