Category Archives: Morocco

Majorelle Gardens


This blog is returning to its roots for just a moment to focus on an actual garden, Majorelle Garden in Marrakech.  Designed by artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s, it has been a public garden since 1947. It was purchased and restored by Yves Saint Laurent in 1980, and his ashes were scattered here when he died in 2008.  See more in this post by another visitor.

monument to St. Laurent

One room featured his annual “Love” prints from the sixties up until his death – very much of their time.

St. Laurent's annual LOVE posterThis garden is most famous for the color known as Majorelle Blue.  I decided my only souvenir would be a can of paint, but I didn’t see any in the gift shop, which mainly features designs by Saint-Laurent.  It’s apparently a difficult color to find – the closest approximation is either a cobalt blue or ultramarine.  Here are some examples from the garden, where you can see how perfectly the blue sets off the plants.purple, yellow, blue DSC02361pots in a rowTo my eye, this garden is all about color and form.  Lots of palms and cactus, plus some Mediterranean flowering plants.  Take a look.  Here are a few palms, plus a wild and crazy yucca.DSC02348 palmDSC02367 yucca gone crazy

Next up, a gorgeously perfect succulent (I should know what kind but I don’t.).DSC02363

Then some flowering plants:  clivia, something I can’t identify, kalenchoe, the flowers of a palm tree, bougainvillea.CliviaDSC02349 kalenchoe DSC02366DSC02372

But it’s not just the species, it’s how they are put together, using water, color, form, light.

aqua, yellow, orangeblue pool more colors DSC02342DSC02334DSC02368

Best of all is the Majorelle blue in this iconic image.I want to live here

And I will leave you with these blue shadows.


Where is John McPhee when I need him?

I read his Basin and Range to get ready for Death Valley, and now I wish he had written about Morocco, too.  The rock formations have been amazing.  I can only look on in ill-educated wonder.

Rock layers near the salt mine on the way back from Telouet.  I see now in looking them up that the salt mines were traditionally managed by Jews and the river (perhaps the one whose dry bed we were walking by) was named the Oued Mellah.rock formations on the way back

The monkey’s paws or fingers – The Rough Guide says “an extraordinary cliff known as the ‘Monkey’s Fingers’ rises from the far side of the valley.  The rock, a weathered conglomerate of pebbles thought to have lain where a huge river entered a primordial sea, is a startling sight…”

the monkey's fingers or paws or clawsAnd another viewDSC02678Somehow we missed the next bit, described by Fodor’s: “A little further beyond ‘Monkey Fingers’ are more sculpted rocks known as the ‘Valley of Human Bodies,’ where local legend says that lost travelers died of hunger and were transformed into rocks.”

Patterns in the Dades Gorge

geology in the Dades Gorgetectonic shift? looking backIn the High Atlasthe road ahead DSC02731The dusting of snow really highlighted the layers in the High Atlas.  The odd little globes in the picture below are actually grasses or small shrubs covered in snow.snow on grass really off road
This was on our way to the Hotel Essalam, coming down from the Atlas onto a broad, dry plain.DSC02815 DSC02818 The Todras Gorge featured redder rocks but a similarly intriguing rock face. Goats find enough here to forage, somehow.goats in the gorgeMore views

more geology more rocky faces

Then there is the Middle Atlas, Atlas Moyen, with very different formations.DSC02991

And finally, one of my favorite pictures of the Atlas Mountains, on our way to Fes.DSC02985



Take me to your kasbah*

A kasbah is a citadel, a fortified building where people would live under the protection of the head of their tribe.  In the way of architecture here, kasbahs do not reveal from the outside the beauties they hold within.  They vary in size but are almost always made of dried mud bricks, with few, high windows and are often located on a hilltop for better defense.  Some have survived for centuries, some are only 100 years old, but inside they all feature the gorgeous elements we’ve seen so far:  tile, carved wood, and stucco.

Our first kasbah was Kasbah Glouai in Telouet, the small village where we had lunch and looked at rugs.  We walked along the dirt roads, past some napping sheep,in the villageand on to our first sight of the kasbah.the kasbah Glaoui, TelouetIt was built by the so-called Lords of the Atlas, the Glaoui family, as ruthless and greedy as they were rich, in the nineteenth century.  Since independence in 1956, the kasbah has been crumbling to bits, though there is some indication that a restoration effort has been made in the not too distant past.

From this imposing but crumbling exterior, we walked inside to find the beautiful patterns we’ve seen everywhere in Morocco.  This enchanting window highlights the tile and metalwork as well as the view of the green valley below.DSC02585But there’s more!DSC02592 ceiling carved and painted wood insideRemember, from the outside it’s a crumbling near-ruin, but somehow all of this has been preserved.

We walked up to the roof, Susan on the roof of the kasbah

from where we looked down on older parts of the kasbah that are still in use for farm animalsolder sections

and for drying laundry.laundry drying

It was an odd place, such skill and beauty in the midst of crumbling adobe.village wildlife

*This memorable phrase comes from a Hedy Lamarr film from 1937, set in Algeria and filmed entirely in Hollywood.

Tea with the Berbers



Elizabeth and Hassan in the snow at Chez PierreEAP and Hassan in his djellabahWe left Chez Pierre with many hopes that we would return one day. The setting is spectacular, and the food was beyond what you would expect. To top it all off, it was snowing again, the flakes beautiful with the flowering trees. Time to head for the gorge.Snow at Chez Pierre

We drove just a short distance before we got out to go on foot through the narrow gorge. A stream ran along one side, and the striated walls came close above our heads. Of course, the boys had to play…the boys

Then we went up and up and up. Mustafa told us we could find on YouTube the video of a Cadillac commercial filmed here. It certainly was an unbelievable road!DSC02706

And then we continued to go up. We were in the High Atlas mountains now. Down below are the gardens growing on the lush valley floor, garden plotsapple, fig and pomegranates along with green crops like fava beans and barley. But up above there was snow again, beautifully outlining the striations in the mountains.

It was also very steep.DSC02727 We saw goats down below, and not too far away was a fallen road sign advising of a twisty route. We backed away from the edge and got back in the cars.DSC02731

The next village along was Memsrir, still high up but not as steep as it was.  This is the gate into the square.gate to the square, MemsrirToday was Saturday, the weekly market day, and the place was just beginning to close up. DSC02740We observed this man selling dates both loose and in a moosh like this. dates at the marketAlso for sale were lots of vegetables including carrots, greens and potatoes. At the shoe stall we stocked up on children’s shoes to take to the Berber tent later today. We avoided taking too many pictures – this is a conservative area and they would probably refuse permission.

It was past Memsrir where we left the paved road for the off-road adventure. The road was rocky, pitted and sometimes hard to discern, though Mustafa did a great job finding it and staying on it.the road up off road
The road went on and on. Rocky hills and snow-covered mountains loomed up over and over again. We saw an occasional bird, too far off to identify, a lone man riding a donkey, another man standing next to a tent in the distance, and once a group of goats and donkeys. We stopped partway up to take photos, and of course the men had to throw a few snowballs. throwing snowballsWe stopped again near a stream for our picnic lunch. Don’t we look cold??

DSC02764 picnic lunch, tuna and cheese

At last we arrived at our destination, marked by the children rushing up to the cars in great excitement. Across a rocky track to the tent, edged in stones, covered in a fabric woven from goats’ and sheep’s wool, with a fire burning in the center. The smoke permeated everything with a delicious aroma.Mustafa and the children, Marge

Inside were two women and seven children. The younger woman with the green veil was about twenty and had the little baby Sidaya. DSC02781(The bright dots on this picture are shafts of sunlight coming through the loose weave of the roof of the tent.)

The older woman had three children,DSC02785 and the other children were the siblings of the first woman. Mustafa and the children, MargeThe men were either herding the goats or off at the weekly market we had just come from, where Mustafa the guide explained that they might be selling a goat or a sheep and buying vegetables and spices to bring home for the families.

The younger woman began to make tea for us. First she got the tea glasses out of a metal box, then she washed them with elegant movements of her hands using just a little water in a shallow pan and drying them off with what looked like an old apron. She was very careful to wash everything well but used only the smallest amount of water.

We had brought them a box of tea and two cones of sugar. She poured the tea into the teapot and hammered off a piece of sugar as well (mint tea is traditionally served sweet, like iced tea in the South). Then she poured the boiling water into the pot, poured it into glasses and handed around the tray. getting tea glasses from a metal box Here’s the water boiling over the smoky fire.making tea

Meanwhile, Hassan and Mustafa the driver were playing and singing with the children. All three men are Berber, so they could communicate and translate for us. The oldest girl, around eight, played the drum and sang a call and response song that produced great hilarity.  You can just barely see her behind her drum at the left of this picture.DSC02805

Even her older sister, mother of Sidaya, joined in at one point, though she was very shy and hid her face behind her veil.
playing the drumThe little children watched us solemnly and tried on the new shoes we brought them.DSC02798

Here are two of them with Marge.

At one point, a lamb came to visit and we all had to pet it.  Here are Marge and Susan enjoying its springy coat.  DSC02810After about an hour we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the cars. It was one of the most amazing experiences we have had on this trip or any other. Having three Berber-speaking companions made us feel we caught a real glimpse of this life, if only for a moment. What an amazing opportunity!drying clothes in the mountains

The desert adventure begins

Where we areWe were packed up and ready at nine a.m. sharp, and the drivers appeared as promised. The luggage was piled on a cart and we made our way through the medina to the square and to the two four-wheel drive vehicles that will carry us to the desert and back again.
In our car are Ed, Elizabeth, Phyllis and me, plus Mustafa the driver and Mustafa the guide, while the other car has Marge, Susan, Karen and Anita with Hassan the driver.  (They are the talkative car!) Mustafa the driver has a lively personality but is a very careful driver. Mustafa the guide is a university graduate who tells us about what we are seeing and answers our questions with a nice sense of humor.
We had been seeing the Atlas mountains from Marrakesh for the last three days, and now we were driving towards them. DSC02542

Flat plain at first, but soon enough the road began to climb. We were to cross the Tizi n’Tichka pass, a series of hairpin turns alleged to be one lane in places and with no guard rails – a slight exaggeration.  Slight.
Our first stops were for views and for a little mild shopping. The views were spectacular, with the snow-capped peaks looming over us and the road winding back and forth in an alarming way.  Thank goodness we are not driving!   did we really come up this road?  yes, we didAlong the way were men holding out geodes as we sped by – how can they possibly make a living doing that?  But there must be enough tourists driving by to make it worth their while.

The views continued to be astonishing.  Here are just a few.valley view snow-capped peaksSmall villages are tucked into the mountainsides.  blue doors mountain village

We drove through the top of the passat the topand then it was time for lunch.

We stopped at a place that was a combination restaurant and crafts emporium.our luncheon place, also rugs for saleWe walked up the steep stairs (there is no other kind in Morocco) to a plain room with a low table.  Here we were served salad (by this time we were daring to eat raw vegetables), rice, a delicious omelet and a tagine.tagine delicious omelet rice and vegatables, bread and olivesAs always, the meal begins with olives and bread. the Berber tableFrom here it was on to our first kasbah.

The tempting souks of Marrakesh

pix to come

Who knows what you’ll find in the souks (markets) in the medina (walled old town) of Marrakesh?  In my travels through the narrow alleyways, and without taking photos for fear of offending people or being asked for money, I saw a man planing a chair spindle with a press powered by his foot, people with safety pins for sale spread out on blankets on the ground, and of course lots of people selling pottery, rugs, postcards, bottled water, children’s toys and many other necessities.

But when I spotted some rugs as Ed, Elizabeth and I walked along after lunch, I didn’t really think I would buy one.  I had been focused on fabric and pottery.  But a rug caught my eye,  I went inside, and the rest is history.

The nattily dressed rug seller encouraged me to come upstairs, where rugs were piled almost to the ceiling.  We established that I wanted a small rug and chose a color range, and from there we were off.  Of course, he offered me some tea, which is part of the ritual, and explained that he could ship the rugs anywhere, displaying a notebook full of FedEx receipts and addresses as proof.  We discussed camel wool and sheep’s wool, and the difference between Berber rugs and others, saw the difference in stitches among the various kinds, and all the time saw more and more rugs piling up on the floor.

In the end, it was down to two rugs, a small one that I was thinking of for a wall hanging and another one for the floor of the sitting room.  He finally quoted me a price – we had both been silent on the subject up until then – and it started.  So much for two, so much for just one, so much for the big one, so much for the small one, and on and on.  I am a terrible negotiator, though Ed helped and so did Elizabeth.  In fact, she prompted me by saying, “Didn’t you tell me your top price was 2000 dirhams?” at which I almost said, “What are you talking about?” but stopped myself in time.

In the end I settled for the larger rug, we shook hands and all was well.  He gave me a receipt for my credit card charge and another one for the total price, neither of which actually matched the actual price, which I paid partly in dirhams and partly on credit.  The rug was folded up and beautifully wrapped in paper tied with string, and with handshakes all around we left.

Of course, it is so beautifully wrapped that I can’t bear to open it up and look at it, and so wish I had taken a photo somewhere along the way.  Look for it when I’m back home again.

Essaouira to Marrakesh

This morning we left our seaside city for Marrakesh.  First, Phyl and Marge had to consult about the route (more about that later).  Marge and Phyl determine the route to MarrakeshThen, the luggage lined up along the wall luggage in the lobby, Essaouiraawaiting the man with the cart to bring it to our cars parked outside the medina (no cars inside but plenty of motor scooters, bikes, donkey carts, etc.)  Then a fond farewell to Miriam, who took such good care of us, especially when Elizabeth came down with something and had to spend the first day in bed.  Marge, Mirym, Susan, EAP(Marge Miriam, Susan, Elizabeth)

Goodbye, Les Matins Bleus!

The two cars started out well, with Anita in the lead.  She is a crackerjack driver and never forgets there is someone trying to follow her.  We pulled over when we saw these goats in a tree.  goats in  atree along the highwayApparently goats like to nibble on the foliage of the argan tree, which thrives in drought conditions and produces the argan oil that’s for sale everywhere.  The others had visited an argan oil forest the day before where they saw goats in trees, but we had missed it.  Lots of photos later, DSC02306and many entreaties to hold the baby goats, and of course we dispensed some dirhams to the goat herders who obviously station themselves here just for the tourists.  But we know from the others that it is a real phenomenon, so there you are.

Our next two stops were for a quick lunch (chicken brochettes and ice cream at a roadside cafe) and for fuel (oilgas means diesel, it turns out).  Then the real fun began.

As we got closer to Marrakesh, the traffic got crazier.  All kinds of wheeled vehicles compete for space, and the pedestrians do their best not to get run over.  Elizabeth was trying to stay right on Anita’s bumper because if she didn’t a taxi would nose its way between us.  Lots of sudden stops and near misses caused me to either close my eyes or avert my gaze, since my gasps and shrieks would not help the situation any.  The worst moment came when Phyl knew that Marge was leading the Anita car in the wrong direction and jumped out to tell her so, almost getting knocked down by a motorbike in the process.  Scary!

We finally, after a few wrong turns, found our way to the parking lot close to the medina.  Here five of us were to hire a man with a cart to take the luggage to our riad.  That part worked well.  The riad is elegant and serene.  We filled out our paperwork, explained that instead of eight women we were indeed seven women and a man but that he was famille, so that was all right.  And then we waited.  And waited.  And waited, getting more worried all the time.

It was about 2 hours after we arrived that the bell rang and the three of them limped in.  I will leave it to a better pen than mine to tell the tale, but in outline, they got lost, Marge hopped in a taxi that could lead the way for the two cars, Anita got separated from the taxi and from Phyl’s car and had no phone, and no address for the car rental place or our riad.  She determined where the other two would have to drive in order to retrace their steps and stood there for an hour and twenty minutes before they drove by and spotted her with great joy.

The ministry of tourism and the police came to Anita’s aid before it was all done, but at last the three were reunited – in the middle of the street, as far as I can tell – and they got home at last.

After some short R&R time, we set out to the famous Jam El Ffna to see the sights:  snake charmers, scribes, musicians, and a strange musical act with a man wearing a rooster and a dove on his head.  We were fading fast so found a place for dinner – not easily – and made our way back home for the night.

Some birds but more flowers

Four of us set out this morning for a bit of birding along the Oued Ksob (Ksob River) before setting out for Marrakesh.  We stopped for a coffee first – there is no such thing as a latte to go, of course!  We ordered cafe noir which I will now remember means espresso.  Yum!!

As you can see from this sign, great things were promised at our birding site.  Birding spot (tho we saw none of these)

Of course, just getting out is always good, so no matter that none of the above were in evidence.  Instead, we saw the common bulbul (very chatty), a grey heron in the river, and Moussier’s redstart and a few others.  Nothing extraordinary but all life birds for me.

Walking back from the high banks of the river, Oued Kosbour eyes were caught by wildflowers.  Thistle, obviously, thistleand then this yellow hummingbird flower, DSC02292something that might be Gerbera daisies, DSC02293and some pretty purple flowers.  On one shrub I saw what I thought was a calcified flower of some sort.  Not!  It was a land snail.  The first picture shows empty shells on the ground, the second a snail still attached to a stem.

tree snails on the ground tree snail on a treeWe came home well pleased with our early morning venture.

Closing up shop

Maybe you have to rush off to prayers, or make a phone call, or perhaps answer a call of nature.  For whatever reason, if you have to leave your shop in the medina, just put a stick across the entrance. Apparently everyone knows what that means. And perhaps the other shopkeepers look out for you.put a stick across the entrance if you are closed

The Mellah

The Jewish quarter, the Mellah, is a bit of a mystery.  Morocco became home to Jews and Moors after the Spanish kicked them out in 1492, and there was apparently a thriving community of Jews here who got on well with their Muslim neighbors.  Marge told us that the tradition was, when the Muslims went on pilgrimage to Mecca, that the Jews kept their fires burning.

But after the war, apparently due to Aliyah (the necessity to return to Israel), thousands of Jews left Essaouira.  The Jewish quarter is now mostly in  ruins.  Neither Ed nor I could understand why no one else moved in and no one has been able to explain it to us.

There are a few buildings left, though.  In one doorway was a sign for the synagogue with a phone number to call for entrance.
 We walked in anyway and saw a modest little door with a hand-scribbled sign for the synagogue.The unassuming entrance  You are just going to have to turn sideways to view this one, I have lost patience, sorry.

We walked down the tiled hallway and encountered a man who led the tour.

The rabbi and his family lived on the ground floor and upstairs was the synagogue.  We marveled at the Torah ark DSC02264and looked around at the gorgeous blue colors.  Beyond that space was a room for the women.  I guess they could hear the service but not sure they could actually see very much.Looking into the women's section of the temple

A couple from Israel came in and the man said he had been born here but left as a child in ’62 for Israel. He claimed that the whole city had been Jewish, but that must have been family legend.  We went back outside and walked along the gritty path through the ruins and back to the buildings and shops.