Saturday, September 27, 2014

9/27 -- Drive to Tineghir

Today we left the Sahara and the wide open and mostly barren spaces. We got back on our fancy bus and headed west, and will get to Marrakech in a few more days. We stopped at an interesting irrigation project where there are parallel rows of wells leading from the mountains downhill. Each well in turn is not as deep as the last. One tribe is responsible for each row of wells and the chief determines which family can draw water at specific times. This apparently works well for irrigating. Each well is also connected underground. The tunnels were dug in the 9th century. The whole arrangement allows the various groups to share the water without war fare.
Sarahan 'road'

Uplifted rock in the desert

Top of one well, with others in a row toward
the horizon
In my new scarf, tied in Moroccan fashion
Goats at a public well

Market in Tineghir. Note the sheep on top of the van:
going home for the Eid festival next week.

Ancient door in the carpet store
Our next stop was lunch at Tenijdad, an unimpressive place. We got to Tineghir before our hotel rooms were ready, so we went to a carpet shop which markets carpets from local co-ops, most of which have been lightly used. We were introduced to a variety of styles of carpet. Our host was quite entertaining, and some of the carpets were truly unique. We were kind of looking for something for either the dining or the family room, but the only one I was truly drawn to was bigger than I wanted and more money than I wanted to spend. We recognized that this was merely the starting price, but I didn't want to try to bargain the price down if I wasn't committed to buying it. We said no, and returned to the group. The sales people kept on trying and finally I convinced Jim it would fit either place and we got the price to something more reasonable and bought it.

Our new carpet -- kind of departure from the rest.
Once at our hotel, we both luxuriated in hot showers and caught up on internet activities since we have been off the air for 2 whole days.

9/26 – A Day in the Desert

Jim waiting for sunrise
We got up at 6:30am to watch the sunrise, but it was a bit disappointing. We should have showered like we intended last night before the attack of the bugs, because the water was warmer then. By morning, it was like ice, so we both set new records for how fast we could clean up.

Nomad's tent, about a 10 minute leisurely walk from camp
Breakfast was great, and then we set off across the hard pan for what was billed as a half-hour walk. It was actually less than 10 minutes to the nearest nomad tent, where we stopped to talk to the widow, who was carding and spinning dromedary wool on very simple devices. She served tea and answered many of our questions. The tent they live in is one she wove from the yarn she spun but on a borrowed loom. They keep both goats and dromedaries, and she has 8 children, apparently all pretty grownup. They stay in each location two to four months until the fodder for the herds runs out and they move again. They have no id cards, and wander freely back and forth across the border to Algeria, wherever their herds take them. They had homemade goods for sale and several of us bought colorful scarves and other trinkets.

Widow spinning camel yarn in her tent
We took the 4x4s to a school and Hassan started having a great time "surfing" the sand dunes. Jim in the front seat was in heaven. I was in the back and definitely not. Hassan is also teaching us the Berber words for things like "thank you" and "ok" whenever we use the Arabic or English. Jim is able to converse with him a bit in French too.

We ended up in a school, where the teacher had 1st and 2nd graders. He had formerly taught high schoolers and was enjoying his transition to a younger age who still wanted to learn. They sang the Moroccan national anthem at the top of their lungs and then showed us their prowess as he called out a number and they wrote each one down in succession on little individual blackboards. They seemed to develop a competition for who could be fastest and little girl in the back near us showed us her answer before showing the teacher. They all did well for only 2 weeks worth of instruction and probably little or no encouragement or practice at home. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph the class. I found it interesting that they had three versions of the alphabet: French, Arabic, and Berber which apparently was taken from the Phoenicians. I had seen the Berber writing occasionally before without knowing what I was seeing.
Peeking into the school, seeing the teacher
We also visited a couple irrigated farms with dates, alfalfa, and goats. The date farmer was harvesting(not a great year because of winds from the east pushing sand into the fields) and he demonstrated climbing a palm tree to whack off the stems with the dates. On our way out, we passed a sheep and goat enclosure. One of the goats peaked out curiously until a brown ram raced up and brayed at her to get back inside and mind her own business. Our next stop was a community well where a woman was carefully washing rugs in short wide pails and another woman with three small children and a donkey brought a bunch of plastic bottles to the well to be filled.
How to pick dates

Curious girl goat

Unhappy boy goat telling her there is nothing to see

Our last stop before lunch was  hilltop that was loaded with the kind of fossil-loaded rocks we had seen the day before in finished condition. Jim and I searched, moving far away from the central staging area trying to find a small enough rock to cart home that had a nice fossilized image in it. We did come up with some options, all mostly bigger than we wanted.

After lunch back at camp, it was just too hot to go hiking, so I am working on the blog and reading and Jim is playing chess on the tablet. We are looking forward to sundown, and I will certainly take a shower tonight before bedtime since the one in the morning can only be called short and unsatisfying. 

Unfortunately, the water in the afternoon was only slightly warmer in the morning and not consistent, but at least I felt a bit cleaner and relaxed until dinner. We watched the sunset again and had a campfire afterwards, with the camp staff, drivers, and Driss entertaining us with drums and song. Driss even danced and then encouraged the group to join in, which most did. All that was missing was the s'mores.
Another Sahara sunset

Our tactic of closing the shutters before dinner to keep out the light-attracted bugs was very successful and we had a much more pleasant evening after we repaired to out tent for the night than we had the previous evening.

9/25 – Into the Sahara

Women of Erfoud
We drove through Erfoud on our way south and saw that most of the women were dressed very conservatively – they looked more like the women of Saudia Arabia in chadors than any other women we have seen here. Our first stop was a fossil shop. There are vast areas here of stone with embedded fossils, and we were shown how the stone slabs were treated to bring out their characteristics. Of course they had a shop, and fortunately most of the stuff I liked best was way too expensive. At least we will not have the Moroccan equivalent of our 132 lb. jade horse from China to deal with.

Entrance to the mausoleum
In the next town, Rissani, we stopped at the mausoleum of the ancestor who founded the dynasty of the current king. It was an oasis of green inside the walls that contrasted with the desert outside. Nearby, we stopped to visit a family of limited means. The wife served us tea and nuts, assisted by her 11-year old son. We asked questions about her life, learning that her 18 year old daughter had just gotten married this summer – someone from another village had seen her at school, followed her home, made inquiries about her morals from the neighbors and then came to ask for her hand. She now lives in a nearby town.

Interior of Berber woman's home

As we left there, we met our Sahara drivers because we switched to 4x4s and will rejoin our bus in a few days. We briefly stopped at a roadside area to see camels milked, but the primary milkers had been put out to pasture. We did get to see a youngster doing his own form of milking, and it a move that would appall many in America, the owner gave a young camel a plastic bottle of coke to drink, which he did with great gusto.
Coke loving dromedary.

Driving in the desert is a lot like driving in Mongolia, but with less greenery. There occasionally are actual roads, but mostly there are tracks which you are free to follow or not. Our driver, Hassan, chose to take an alternate path, compared to the other 3 vehicles. All the drivers are Berbers, as are the camp attendants, and they are attempting to teach us their language when we use our few Arabic words on them. 
Not many roads out here.

We stopped for a camel ride (forgive me – dromedary ride, since we are frequently reminded there are no camels in Africa), which took about 45 minutes and ended with lunch. The riding frames were different than we experienced in Egypt and substantially less comfortable. We were all in a long line led by two drivers, which was also less free-form than Eqypt. I think I can safely say that for everyone, the best part of the ride was getting off.

After lunch, we drove to a village that focuses on supporting artisans and visited a group of men who form a musical group called Pigeons du Sable (Sand Pigeons). There music all sounded very much the same to my ears. Two songs had drums and sort of small double cymbals along with singing and simple dance moves. The next several song added an interesting 3-strings instrument that looked sort of like an elongated guitar, but its sound was largely drowned out by the drum, cymbals, and voices. A few in our group bought a CD, but the music was not to my taste. The women were invited to join one dance and most of us did.

Then it was into the desert for real. Mostly we drove over hard pan like the Gobi with less vegetation. We drove to Erg Chebbi, a high spot with wonderful views and a stone script that said “Sahara” with the symbol of Berber independence below it. We stopped at a Berber cemetery, marked with simple stones at head and foot and saw that many graves were quite small, indicating the passage of a child.
The cliffs mark the border with Algeria. There were several
Moroccan military outposts in the area.

View over the Sahara -- no dunes here
Berber cemetery
We finally arrived at our camp, a new construction that was substantially nicer than the one it replaced where we had had lunch. It was also further out in the desert and for a while it looked like it might be located in Algeria. We can clearly see the cliffs that mark the Algerian border in the distance here. After we moved our luggage into our tents, which have a private bath with and shower and running water. We gathered together in the shade of one tent for happy hour, a walk up the nearby dunes to watch the sunset with a glass of champagne, followed by dinner.
Our tent camp -- I guess they use dark wool because that is
the nomad standard - whatever the camel hair is.
Jim in our tent

The dunes in our area. We are actually on the hard pan, next to dunes. 
Algerian cliffs facing the sunset

Afterwards, we walked out of the dining room to marvel at the stars. I have rarely seen the Milky Way so clearly, though I had difficulty identifying any of the constellations I usually know -- probably too many extra stars distracting me. Pam showed us an app she has that maps out the constellations based on where you aim the phone, and it runs without needing an active data connection.  VERY cool.

Repairing to the tent for the evening was less successful as little flying bugs flocked to any source they could find. We had lowered the curtains to our room, but had not closed the wooden shutters, hoping for a breeze, but it let out enough light that the bugs came running. We turned off the overhead lights, (solar powered, only available after dark) and Jim just got into bed, but I wanted to update the blog, so I put on my headlamp and they streaked for my face. I turned off the headlamp and tried to write by the light of the screen, which continued to attract them. I finally just made a list of places we had been for another day to write up and retired at 8:45pm.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

9/24 -- Drive to the Sahara

Although we are in a hotel tonight, we have actually been in the Sahara since about noon. The landscape is dry and rocky, with the occasional canyon. Tomorrow, we complete our trek to the Sahara, and camp for 2 nights in desert tents and walk dunes.

Ifrane homes
We had a long drive, punctuated by a few stops. Our first rest stop was in a village called Ifrane, home to ski resorts at about 6300 feet of elevation. It is the site of the first private university in Morocco, established by King Hassan II of Morocco and King Faud of Saudi Arabia in 1994. The city itself is known as the Switzerland of Morocco, more for the pointy roofs of buildings that for the steep slopes. All the other housing in Morocco has been flat roofs, many with roof-top terraces so this was quite a visual departure. There was also actual landscaping in the town, so it hardly looked like we were still in Morocco.

Obedient sheep lining up for their water
Back on the road, we encountered a family of semi-nomadic sheep herders who had moved into their winter quarters. We stopped first by the men who were watering the sheep, which filed nicely toward the trough, taking turns like they knew the drill. Then we ambled over to the women and children in their abodes -- walls were mostly made of stones with a framework of wood on top. The ones being used had tarps over the roof framework, which were held down by rocks. We were invited in and were surprised at how homey it was. About half the space was nicely arranged sleeping spaces on a hard dirt floor. The front and one side wall were lined with shelves and cooking pans. I was startled at how MANY pans there were. The women were friendly and the two kids looked about the same age, about 2, and entertained themselves without TV, massive numbers of toys or much of anything else. There was a substantial battery in the home and at least one electric light along with a satellite dish, though I didn't notice a TV. I did wonder how warm it would be in winter.
The walls and roof frames apparently are in place year around.

The inside was cosy (in a good way) and filled with pots!

Back on the road, we continued our trek south, which I slept through when the roads got too curvy or bumpy. Jim and Mike carried on a conversation about the types of rocks (Mike is a geologist who worked in the mining industry) for much of the ride. Lunch was a nice break in a large restaurant in Midelt, and from there the road got rougher. Jim took pictures, occasionally the bus stopped so we could photograph some canyon, and around 6pm we arrived at our hotel in Erfoud. It has a lovely pool and we had dinner here and prepped for our desert camp tomorrow. Anything that doesn't get published tonight will probably have to wait til the 27th, because I don't think we'll have wifi for a few days.

The photos below show the varied terrain we drove through today,

An oasis

Typical village on the edge of the Sahara

9/23 -- Explore Fez

Into the medina
I had another unhappy morning, so Jim set off with the group to tour Fes without me. Fortunately, a couple hours later, I was fine and Driss left the group with the local guide and came back to get me so I could join the rest of the tour. At the tour's start, the group did other stuff that Jim barely remembers so I will have to get him to review the pictures.


Ceramics workshop

Ancient and modern modes of transportation

A really narrow lane - one was so small,
Jim had scraped off stucco on both sleeves
Camel meat was available.
We entered the souk, which by mid-day gets quite busy, and wandered through the narrow lanes gaping at all the food and other things on sale.We entered a tiny, busy shop that had once been the Moroccan equivalent of a caravansarai - a safe place for a caravan to stay overnight. We encountered a number of pack horses and donkeys as well as carts as we navigated the narrow lanes. We stopped outside a famous mosque that was founded in 859, but were not allowed in. We stopped at another mosque(?) back door that had an eight-pointed star that was the equivalent of a wishing well -- you put your hand on the star to ask for your wish. We also got a peek at some of the very fancy wedding furniture that people rented, including elaborate seats for the married couple and carriages to bring in the bride.

The Moroccan version of a caravansarai

Candy nougat artfully displayed
Famous mosque

Wishing star

Young woman posing for a friend at the front of the wishing star spot.

Bridal carriage

Jim, the touareg
Then it was lunch time, this time another vegetable tagine with some beef and fresh fruit for dessert. Then it was back to the bridal row to visit a weaving factory. They showed us the loom and how it worked and then displayed a number of the fabrics. These were more oriented to household use than clothing, and several were quite lovely. They also had several in our party model Moroccan fashions. Joel and Joan made a perfectly lovely  Moroccan couple, and Jim was dressed up as a Touareg nomad.

Joan and Joel

Tannery -- white vats are quicklime, color vats behind with
drying areas on the outer edges
Back in the narrow lanes, we headed to a tannery and got a viewpoint of the dyeing works. Leather is first soaked in quicklime, then moved to the colored vats, which use only natural dyes. It sits in the vats for 4-5 days before it is removed for drying, then scraping, and other processes to make it supple. This place works with sheepskin, goatskin, cowhide, and dromedary hide. Our host made it very clear that Africa has dromedaries (one hump), not camels (two humps). Then we were led into a sales shop. I was actually looking for a purse to better complement the colors I had been wearing on the US portion of the trip than the red bag I brought. But we started with coats and right away I found a red one that was becoming and a good shade. Finding the light fuchsia shade I wanted in a purse was a bit more of a challenge, but I walked away with more stuff, and started to wonder how it will get home!  Fortunately, I only have earrings left on my list of potential purchases. Jim is thinking of a rug, but that will be shipped, not carried on the plane, if we find one.

Behind the tannery, the sea of satellite dishes on the houses
was amazing.

Our host family for dinner
This evening we headed out again for dinner with a local family. Our host was a used car dealer, his wife, and younger daughter. He knows a bit of English, but his daughter was quite fluent. She is a college student studying business and confirmed what we had learned earlier about the changes in the life of young women in Morocco. We talked about cars too, and saw the wedding pictures from her older sister, explaining some of the marriage customs here, which fit right in with some of the specialty shops we had walked by in the morning. Dinner was excellent too, and before we knew it, we had to return to our riad for the night.