Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chefchaouen

Today I have the loan of a laptop today, with an English keyboard. It will be easier to update my blog with this keyboard. I was tempted to edit my last one from Fes, but then thought it might be best to leave it since I talked about the keyboard issue.

Although I have enjoyed all the experiences in Morocco, I know I am a small town and open space person. The big cities are interesting and exciting, but my favorite experiences, so far, in Morocco have been Moulay Idriss and Chefcahouen. Moulay Idriss is like a small Mecca as the man who brought Islam to Morocco lived there and is buried there. Moroccan Muslims consider it a holy city. For those who cannot afford to make the trip to Mecca, seven trips to Moulay Idriss in a lifetime is a substitute. Before Arabs arrived, the Romans had a major city nearby, Volubulis, which we spent a morning wandering about in.


Several pairs of storks were nesting atop the old columns in Volubilis


In Moulay Idriss we stayed in a riad, a large home, once for someone wealthy. Today it is a small hotel, with the family residing in part of the home, and rooms for guests in the rest. The first thing that happens upon arrival is a glass of mint tea. I wasn't sure I would like sweetened tea as I have always liked mine Chinese style, just plain. But I quickly became enamoured of this refreshing and invigorating tea. To serve it correctly, it must be poured from high above the glass to make it froth a bit.

Among the things that happened at the riad was a demonstration of making pastille, a traditional Moroccan dish. But it is one for special occassions so is only available in a limited number of restuarants, without ordering in advance. It contains pigeon or chicken, almonds, spices which are wrapped in a very thin pastry. Often the finished pastry is topped with some powdered sugar and cinnamon. It is an excellent dish and our cook is noted for his specialty. He and his mother have been featured in TV cooking shows.

We spent a day wandering the narrow streets of the Fes medina, or old town. The medina includes the souk where there were piles of spices, dried dates, figs, apricots, olives, fresh vegetables and meat market.




We did have a guide in the Fes medina which is just about necessary. Hakima grew up in Fes, although the newer area, and still it took her two months of going with another guide to learn her way about , finding the various craft cooperatives. We visited the tanneries, mosaic and tile factory, weaving mill, copper shop, and rug shop. Most of my group are young and on very tight budgets. Of course I have limited space so cannot buy much. But looking was great fun.



Upper far right are the dyeing vats of the large tannery cooperative. On the upper left is a sample of mosaic tile work. Lower left is a detail from a traditonal carpet. Fancy brass tagine decorate a doorway (everyday cooking tagines are pottery) , and on the far right is a street shop typical of the older parts of Moroccan cities.
We had a half day stop in Meknes before catching the train to Fes. In the old medina we had camel burgers for lunch. Well, some of us did. The vegetarians opted for other selections. They were tasty, ground meat spiced with a typically flavorful blend of local spices, popped into a round, flat loaf of bread with grilled onions and tomatoes. (see picture in the post labelled "Fes.") In the meat market stalls had fresh heads of cows or camels to show what kind of meat they had for sale.
Now in Chefchaouen, I've spent more time on my own. The other nine members went treking in the mountains. Since they are young enough to be my kids or grandkids, I decided to stay behind. I probably got as much exercize but at a much slower pace. Chefchauoen is built on hills and the streets in the old area, except for a couple lower down, are stairways instead of streets negotiable by vehicles. I walked and walked, but came back to our delightful small hotel a couple times. That is because I decided to go the Hamman, the bathhouse. I needed to pick up my towel, fresh clothes, and marvelous lotions I had already purchased for the experience .

The hamman is a traditional Moroccan experience. Most houses did not have facilities for bathing. The hamman was a steam bath and area with hot water for cleansing, which is important as part of the purification process for worship. It is also, particularly for women, a social place. Since women, until fairly recent times, had little chance for socializing outside the home, two places provided that opportunity. One was the bath house, the other was washing clothes. The bathhouse has set times for men and for women except some larger communities that have separate facilities. Although many men in this town are multilingual, and I found many who spoke English, women may know only Arabic , Berber and often French. Because many of the Arabs who originally settled here were fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, there is also some Spanish language tradition. I don't know how many languages the women who were in the bath when I was there spoke, but clearly none of them knew English. But that was fine. There is a lot of communicating which does not require words. And among a group of naked women, there was plenty of laughter and helpfulness. I had no idea of the routine, how one did things there, but they handed me buckets, showed me where to sit, what to do. One woman began singing. Soon others joined in, but not singing together, but each taking a different part. I suspect part of it may have been creating verses as they went. And I suspect some of the verses were ribald, judging by the laughter.

It was delightful. An attendant rubbed my skin with special lotions and exfoliated all the dead skin with a rough mitt. Periodically she poured hot water over me as I sat on a mat on the floor. She shampooed my hair with some marvelous concotion. Then she gave me a short massage. The steam, the various lotions, the scrub, and massage left me feeling pampered and relaxed, and even though I could not understand the words, there was a feeling of commraderie which I enjoyed. Perhaps more than much of the group I am traveling with who are far younger. The group in the baths, although a variety of ages, reminded me of sitting in the baths with some of the old crowd at Tecopa Hot Springs.

I made friends with a Tuareg/Berber man whose command of English was superb. We sipped mint tea and talked for over an hour. Hamou is far from home and misses his family. He was showing me amulets (obviously it all started with a commercial basis), but he also massaged my hand and told me I was a strong woman and a nomad. At that point in our conversation I had told him nothing of my lifestyle. He had shown me some jewelry symbolizing the Tuareg and Berber people and one which was a symbol for nomads. He described nomads as being someone who may be Tuareg or Berber, but for whatever reason is away from his people, perhaps in a city. Anyway, I ended up with a pendant of the nomads. It seemed appropriate for me to have. I went back later just to visit and to take him a gift of a small dream catcher. He liked the story of the dreamcatcher which I thought he would after his explanation of the various amulets.

Ann, the Canadian in my group, and I did some laundry at the communal laundry area yesterday. We had fun as one of the woman showed us the routine. This town has a strong spring which runs through the wash house. Tubs hold water and there are stone wash boards. When you finish washing, you go further up to rinse in clear water. I don't know what impact the soap is having downstream, but the experience was enjoyable. Some women were washing their large carpets....stomping on them, using hard brushes, and then rinsing and hanging them on the walls of the bridge to dry.

Enough. I don't want to bore you. When I get home I'll post photos. I am having a great time photographing. After a long hiatus after Lin's death when photography lost its draw for me, I am again enjoying it. Good thing, my summer job at Yellowstone will be photo safaris instead of the standard tours I did last year.

Off to grab some lunch. Food in Morocco has been consistently good. We will catch a train to Tangier this afternoon. Hate to leave this town after two and a half days here.

Here are some additional photos of Chefchouen which, along with the Sahara, was my favorite spot in Morocco.





Above, our delightful small hotel in Chefchouen. Unlike many places where the common areas are wonderful and the rooms are "ho hum" the bedroom, which I shared with fellow traveler, Ann, was delightful. Same wonderful colors, artwork, and view of the whitewashed and blue town.


Homes have cookers for making couscous, tangine and stove top cooked items. But most families use a communal oven. The breads, cookies, and other pastries are made and home and carried to the oven to be baked. The baker pricks a symbol on the top of the bread to identify it and then cooks it. Later, you see people carrying home their bread.
On the steep, narrow streets of the medinas (the traditional older parts of the towns) donkeys are still a major form of hauling goods and collecting the garbage. Often the streets are so steep they have steps and vehicles cannot negotiate them. Here a burro brings sand and gravel for a project at our little hotel

Below is a typical street in the medina of Chefchouen. The blue and white colors are reminiscent of Andalusia, which is no surprise as the town was largely settled by Muslims and Jews fleeing Spain.



Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fes




Morroco so far is extraordinary; with superb food: But the keyboards are a challenge for me. Many letters are reversed and punctuation is so different I cannot even find many of the symbols I normally use: I may find them on the keyboard but there are 4 symbols and figuring out which control key operates thqt symbol seems mind boggling: It has taken me qt least 4 times as long to write this short paragrqph as it would normally: Do not expect a lot of posts from Morocco: But I will keep notes and write a lot about this incredible place later:

Off to the souks and medina today: quite a ways away::::the king is in town and we got booted from our hotel for his entourage::::very high class hotel however; nicer than we were to stay in; but we will need a taxi to get there:

Enough: This keyboard is a true challenge







While the lobby area was elegant, like several places on the trip the toilet seats didn't fit the toilet and slipped around, wobbled and left one feeling quite unsettled. Better the traditional squat ones.


The food at the top right is ground camel, with lots of great spices. It was served in hollowed out bread with grilled tomatoes and onions.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Malaga, Gibralter and on



view of modern Malaga from the Alcazaba, or ancient fortified city.
I´ve had a good stay in Malaga, fairly quiet, except for the Carnival on Saturday and Sunday nights. Cotton in my ears corrected the problem and I´ve slept fine since. The location is excellent.

Yesterday I took the bus to Gibralter, or rather a block from the border crossing into this British holding. I walked across, much as we do at Algondones, Sonora, Mexico. The difference was that coming back was as easy as going over, unlike the long lines at US Customs when returning from dental appointments in Algodones.

I took the tram to the top of The Rock, wandered about, went to the caves, saw the monkeys, and got a glimpse of Africa, just 8 miles across the straights. Otherwise, it was a bit disappointing. The conditions of the ramparts and the caves don´t come close to the historic sites I have seen in Spain. Still, I have seen the place and it easy to see why it had such strategic importance.
I enjoyed the bus ride to and from. Since it was not a direct bus, I saw communities along the way, mostly part of the highly developed Costa Del Sol, with thousands of high rise condominium developments, a few RVs parked near beaches, and the beaches themselves.

I´ve walked a lot in Malaga. Today I took the 24 hour hop on, hop off tourist bus and discovered a couple neighborhoods missed so far. The day was beautiful, warmest to date. So, I actually took off my shoes and socks and stuck my feet in the Mediterranean. That is as much as I wanted to soak....believe me, no one was swimming, although some people actually took off their heavy coats today and enjoyed the sun in shirt sleeves.

Tomorrow I pack and head to the airport for Morocco. My next post will be from somewhere in that country. At this point, I will cease traveling solo, having signed up for an Intrepid Tour (firm from Australia, same one Jaimie and I traveled from Beijing, across Mongolia and Siberia, to St. Petersburg with a few years ago.) I look forward to this new adventure. And my cold seems finally to have subsided so I am feeling fit and ready.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mediterranean Sea


This morning I had my first view of the Mediterranean Sea. It is only a short walk from the small hostal where I am staying in Malaga.

I started out quite pleased with the hostal. I have a private room, which overlooks the major pedestrian thoroughfare. It is small but comfortable and very clean. I have a shared bath, but since there are two of them, access has not been an issue. However, Carnival began yesterday. And the main events were on the street just below my window. Watching the activity was fun in the evening. It is a lively event, but definitely a family thing and nothing like the wildness of New Orleans Carnival. However, as all things in Spain, things don´t get going before at least 9 pm. and this was no exception. It was still going strong at 2 am, and there were even a few people still out at 4 am. I am hoping tonight will be a little quieter. I found some cotton for ear plugs. But if its still too noisy I will ask for a room away from the street. I love the view, BUT.





















Today I visited the Picasso museum. Picasso was born in Malaga, although he left with his family when he was only 8. Still, this city is proud of its collection of his work and I enjoyed the museum. It is a lovely day so I hiked up to Monte De Gibralfaro and the citý´s ancient walled fortress and castles. Incredible views. The facility may not equal the Alhambra of Granada, but the views and juxtaposition of ancient with modern highrises and cruise ships is certainly a statement of today´s Spain.
Still fighting this darn cold. I was beginning to think perhaps it had developed into something more serious and I should get it tended to. But talking with kids at the hostel in Granada, the pattern of this one, which seems universal, is that while the worst symptoms go away, some of the symptoms last several weeks. I do feel better, even if my eyes still water and ears feel plugged if I don´t take decongestants. So, I will continue with that and lots of hot tea.

After finding my sense of direction seriously challenged in the last few cities, Malaga is a delight. There is the sea and a harbor and I find I can easily orient myself. I always found my way eventually, but sometimes it was definitely the ¨scenic route¨as Lin called those round about, winding scenarios.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

reservation update

Issue with a place to stay on Saturday is resolved. No, I didn´t manage to get the other place to honor my reservation. But, I am able to get a room at the hostal in Malaga where I am staying beginning Sunday. I just added Saturday to the beginning.

So, I will take the bus to Malaga on Saturday and have an extra day along the coast.

Here are a couple views from the Backpackers Oasis Hostel in Granada. One is the view from my room, one is an inside shot of the interior courtyard opening, and the third is the street of Arabic shops leading to the hostel.

Granada

Greetings from beautiful Granada, where the sun is shining brightly. Yesterday I went to the Alhambra, definitely a highlight of Spain,. Begun in the 9th century by Arab rulers, it was taken over by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, just as Columbus made his landing in what became known as the new world. The moorish influence is strong with mosaic tiles, reflecting pools, arches, intricate carvings and ceilings decorating the corridors, rooms, entrances to the various courtyards.

I will definitely include photos of the Alhambra when I return home. Those of you who have visited the Alhambra know what I am talking about. For the rest, this is a treat in one´s travels. I was getting a bit jaded on all the cathedrals and special tourist sites, but the Alhambra has reawakend the excitement.

The site is set at the top of a steep hill. The walls and fortress protected ancient Granada. Inside are the castles of Caliphs, Kings and Queens. The entire hillside is crowned with gardens. The hike up is fairly steep, but worth every step. I took the bus, along with a woman I met from England on my first trip. We walked back down. From the ramparts of the guard tower, the Sierra Nevada´s (yes, early Spaniards gave the snowy range in California the same name) provide a dramatic backdrop to the city and are currently covered in plenty of fresh snow. It is cool in town, but clear and sunny. Perfect exploring weather, except that I must spend part of today dealing with my next lodgings . I have a confirmed reservation with reservation number for Saturday night. Now they send me an email saying they made a mistake and don´t have a room.

I made the reservation thru the site for hostals which includes both the standard youth hostel, otherwise known as backpacker hostels and for some of the inexpensive hostals, which are simple lodgings, a step below what they call a hotel. I have stayed in several of these and they have been pleasant, in good locations for exploring, and reasonably priced. They have a reservation system which easily shows what kinds of lodgings are available, cost, and availability. The place I reserved had a private room, with shared bath, and it was available for the one night I needed between my other two bookings. A few hours after I booked, my confirmation arrived. But this morning there was an email, in Spanish (I couldn´t figure all of it out, so I got help from someone here at the backpackers hostel) who confirmed what I got as the general meaning, ¨we are sorry, but we made a mistake and no room is available.¨ I have had no problems getting lodgings during the week, but Friday and Saturdays is harder and this is valentines weekend.

If I can not resolve this today, I will simply use Saturday to move to my next location, leaving Granada a day early, and ask for help from the tourist information folks. I may pay more for a room, but something will have to be available. Ah, the joys of independent travel.

Maybe this is all for the good. Instead of returning to the Alhambra, I am taking it easier, physically. I still haven´t managed to beat my cold. So, since I´ve killed a good part of the day dealing with this issue, I will use the rest to read, drink tea, relax. Go on a tapas tour tonight and return the the Alhambra tomorrow to see what I missed yesterday.

Notes after returning home: I returned to the Alhambra and discovered whole areas missed earlier. Choosing which photos to share of this exquisite place with my readers is tough. Much of the Alhambra shows the Moorish traditions, the arches, the arabic inscriptions, the lattice windows to shield the women, the courtyards with fountains and bathing pools, the mosaics, the intricate plaster work. The early Christian royalty used this part of the palace too, but eventually a round one, along the lines of the coloseum was built. The grounds and buildings show influences of hundreds of years of occupancy by different cultures.
In the early days of Christianity southern Spain had a thriving, diverse community of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Among some of the early Christian kings, schools and libraries preserved Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin. The Torah, Koran, and New Testiment were transcribed so their texts could be shared. But that came to an end. The Arabic leaders were routed. With the acendency of Ferdinand and Isabella, non Christians (as well as Christians who didn't pass the tests and tortures) were driven underground, forced to flee or were killed. Today there are hardly enough Jews in Granada to form a minyan. In recent years there has been a migration of people from Morocco back into Spain. In Granada, the narrow street leading to my hostel was called Arabic Street and was lined with tea houses, shops selling items from Morocco. I didn't shop since I was going to the souks and medinas myself, later on. But I did sample tea and pastries.
here is a gallery of photos from inside the Alhambra walls.
























In the evening I walked the steep hill streets for an evening view of the Alhambra. That view is at the top of this post. But it was also a fun time to see people enjoying a relatively warm evening, playing in the plaza, and seeing more of the architecture of an old part of the city.