Although we had spent a couple of weeks in
Day 1: Flight to
Day 5: Bus to
Day 6: Drive to
Day 7: Hike in
Day 10: Ferry to Tangier. Train to Fès
Day 11: Fès. Fès el-Bali.
Day 12: Fès. Fès el-Jdid. Train to
Day 13: Grand taxi to Moulay
Idriss. Return to
Day 14: Grand taxi to Moulay Idriss. Trek to Volubilis.
Day 15: Train to
Day 16: Train to Marrakech.
Day 17: Transit to the
Day 18: To the
Day 19: Off-roading
Day 20: Return through the flood waters to Ouarzazate.
Day 21: Return to Marrakech via High Atlas.
Day 22: Marrakech. Djemaa el-Fna and souks.
Day 23: Marrakech. Kasbah and Mellah. Overnight train to Tangier.
Day 24: Early morning fast ferry to Tarifa. Bus to
Day 25: Endless bus ride to
Day 27: High speed train to
Day 28: Home.
RENFE high-speed train
I really don’t like travelling west to east—it really messed the biological clock since there’s no easy way to get back on schedule other than waiting for time to adjust. Going the other way just means staying up an extra few hours and you’re back on time. In any case, with a long wait for the train to Seville and a couple of very rainy days, and then add the ubiquitous low-key tourist rip-off attitude, and the charms of Seville never did overwhelm.
On this trip, much more in Spain than even
in Morocco where it could be a bit more rationalized, the attitude of many in
tourist service was, “How can we get just a little more from these
yokels”. Inflated bills, restaurant
charges for items never ordered and never seen, “hidden” taxi charges. Tiresome, and in the
long-run macro-sense, self-defeating.
We’ve seldom gone out of our way more to avoid eating at restaurants or
take taxis. Someone may have ended up
with a euro or two more in their pocket, but overall we spent far less in
Seville Cafes, Seville
It has the legacy of its moments in the
sun: it was a capital of one of the kingdoms of Islamic Spain (Al-Andalus) after
the disintegration of the caliphate of
Used by both Muslim rulers and Castilian monarchs (including Fernando and Isabella as they prepared for the final stages of the Reconquista), the Alcazar is a complex of Mudejar and Gothic architecture and beautiful walled gardens.
Patio de las Doncellas, Alcazar, Seville Interior detail, Alcazar, Seville Gardens, Alcazar, Seville
Flying buttresses, cathedral, Seville Part of the cathedral treasury, Seville Murillo’s La Inmaculada, Cathedral, Seville
Main altar, Cathedral, Seville Columbus’ tomb, Cathedral, Seville Giralda, Seville
Bus station, Seville
The Generalife was the summer palace—a delight of symmetry in gardens, pool and fountains.
Patio de la Acequia, Generalife, Granada Jardin de la Sultana, Generalife, Granada
Palacio Nazaries and Palacio de Carlos V, Granada Torre de la Vela, Granada
Interior detail, Palacio Nazaríes, Alhambra, Granada Palacio Nazaríes, Alhambra, Granada Palacio del Portico, Alhambra, Granada
A rental car and three days in the
Hiking in the Sierra Nevada Sierra Nevada
The main port linking
The first step off the ferry at Tangier was our first on African soil, and the completion of visits to all seven continents. Tangier was once noted as among the most disagreeable places to arrive in the world. The touts have largely gone and the ones left are almost helpful. A quick petit taxi ride (only slightly over-priced), train tickets purchased, and we had left Tangier behind and were off to the oldest of the Moroccan Imperial cities, Fès, in little more than an hour.
We had allowed ourselves to be convinced that a guide was really necessary to navigate the labyrinth of Fès’ old city, Fès el-Bali. In reality, we managed to end the relationship fairly quickly and plunge in to the alleys and souqs. The medina of Fès el-Bali is the world’s largest medieval Islamic city—a warren of narrow alleys and walkways, a trial for the senses, especially smells, appealing and otherwise. And flies.
Souq, Fès el-Bali, Fès Souq, Fès el-Bali, Fès
Fès has a remarkable history, celebrating the 1200th
anniversary of its founding in 2009. In 859 a university was established with
the building of the Kairaoine mosque, making it the world’s oldest and Fès the
intellectual and cultural centre of the western Islamic Empire. In the 20th
century Fès’ students were central in the political
challenge to French dominance, one reason the colonial capital was moved to
1200 years of history, Fès The university, Kairaoine mosque, Fès
The most photogenic sights in Fès el-Bali are the tanneries, which still use natural processes. Hides are successively soaked in vats
containing an alkali solution, pigeon droppings and urine, and natural
dyes. The odours are distinctive and
memorable. Even back in
Tannery, Fès el-Bali, Fès Tannery, Fès el-Bali, Fès
Tannery, Fès el-Bali, Fès Tannery, Fès el-Bali, Fès
In the “new” section of Fès
(i.e., the part originally built in the 13th century!) contains the
Royal Palace, Fès Cleaning the brass doors, Royal Palace, Fès
Olives and fruit display, Meknes Dates, Meknes
Bab el-Mansour, Meknes Heri es-Souani stables, Meknes Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes
The easiest way to travel between nearby
Grand taxi stand, Meknes Entry to the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss Market in Moulay Idriss
Less than 5 km from the town of
The site of Volubilis Volubilis Volubilis mosaic floor
Mosaic of the abduction of Hylas by the Nymphs, Volubilis Mosaic detail: a somewhat insipid Hercules, Volubilis
Mosaic in the House of the Acrobat, Volubilis Mosaic detail, Volubilis
Rick’s Cafe, Casablanca
The highlight of the city is the new Hassan II mosque, the world’s third largest (reportedly 25,000 worshipers can fit inside). The minaret is 210 m tall. We caught it just at dusk. Opened in 1993, construction of the site is still ongoing.
Hassan II mosque, Casablanca Hassan II mosque, Casablanca Hassan II mosque, Casablanca
Train to Marrakech, a short overnight, and
we headed over the High Atlas mountains, with some early snows, towards the
High Atlas, Morocco Oasis of the Drâa Valley Soft dates, Drâa Valley
Camel caravans once crossed the
52 days to Timbuktu sign, Zagora Watch tower in Drâa Valley near Tamnougalt
Kasbah, Tamnougalt Kasbah detail, Tamnougalt Improved reception for the Tour de France? Tamnougalt
The region around Ouarzazate
Boubker Ait El Caid and Nancy
South of Ouarzazate and away from the
Sahara road scene Tagounite
With our travelling companions, Annie from Quebec and David and Amanda from New York City, we’d arranged to have the “Sahara experience”: a trek by camel to a bivouac in the desert north of M’Hamid and off-roading some 60 km to the largest dune complex in Morocco, the Erg Chigaga. Things started well, but night came quickly after about an hour and we could see lightning ahead. First the sand, then the rain.
We’d each bought a long cloth for a Taureg turban and when the sandstorm hit there was nothing to do but wrap the whole thing around your face and hope the camels knew where they were going. Visibility was impossible. Sand penetrated everywhere—for three days we were scraping sand out of our ears and I found half a cup of sand in one pocket a week later. My camera was under my jacket but after a couple shots the next morning it ground to a halt, the victim of the sand which had infiltrated through every pore—hence the attribution of the pictures of the next couple of days.
Then the rain hit with lightning strokes
every 2-3 seconds—some close enough to see the impact point. It raged.
The storm produced more rain than had been seen in the region in 20
years. I’m not sure I can take full
credit as the rainmaker, but I have seen it rain in
The only advantage of all of this is that enabled me to forget my rapidly developing camel sores. The camels milled around during the worst of it, but we did eventually find the bivouac. A couple of tents had torn and collapsed, but we did get out of the storm. Needless to say, there was no sleeping under the stars.
Camel trek, Annie and Nancy Sahara bivouac in the morning Bivouac tents
The next day we did head out by 4WD into an
Off the road in Sahara (pic: Annie) Another 4WD mired in the Sahara (pic: Annie) Erg Chigaga dunes (pic: Annie)
An overnight in Ouarzazate and we retraced out way back for three days in Marrakech. For the first time the complexity of the Moroccan medinas thwarted us. We’d arranged through an agency to stay in a traditional guesthouse (riad). It took a frustrating three hours to find it. Once there the Riad Medea was a delight.
Riad Medea, Marrakech
Within the 16 km of walls the medina of Marrakech contains many memorable sights. The Palais el-Badi is now ruined, but still conveys a sense of its massive scale and former opulence. Built in the 12th century the 70 m tall Kotoubia is the archetype of the Moroccan minaret.
Palais el-Badi, Marrakech Koutoubia, Marrakech
Cyber Parc, Marrakech
The souks are the typical labyrinth. Wild-captured animals and animal skins, many of which would violate CITES trade rules, are for sale in the animal souq.
Spotted cat and other skins in souq, Marrakech Baby tortoises in souq, Marrakech Chameleon in souq, Marrakech
Without doubt the locus of Marrakech is the Djemaa el-Fna, the large open square in the medina. By day it has a smattering of henna painters, fortune tellers, herbalists, water-sellers in traditional costume. Come dusk and the Djemaa el-Fna truly seethes. Food stalls open selling tajines, snail and sheep’s head soups, and fresh juices. Story tellers gather crowds. Bands of drums pound rhythms. Snake charmers alternately charm their cobras and passers-by. Others set up games of skill and chance. In 2001, recognizing its role in preserving the oral history of Morocco, the square was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Djemaa el-Fna by day, Marrakech Water seller, Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech Food stalls at dusk in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech
Snake charmers in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech Snail soup stalls in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech Sheep’s head soup stall in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech
Tajine in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech Food stalls in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech
The overnight train to Tangier; this time a
fast ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar—to Tarifa;
and a bus to
Gare de Marrakech
Airplane landing on runway, Gibraltar Flags, Gibraltar Trafalgar gravestone, Gibraltar
Royal Male, Gibraltar Dr. Who’s new persona, Gibraltar
tower, Mezquita, Cordoba Doorway, Mezquita,
Mezquita, Cordoba Chapel in Mezquita, Cordoba Main altar, Mezquita, Cordoba
Cordoba was also the centre of the Spanish Inquisition’s operations from the 15th to the 19th century. The pretty gardens of the Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos, belie the fact that it was from here that the persecution of Muslims, Jews and those others deemed heretics operated.
Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos, Cordoba Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos, Cordoba Gardens, Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos, Cordoba
The religious openness of Muslim Spain has
often been overstated, but certainly, to varying degrees, religious minorities
were often tolerated under Muslim rule.
The great Jewish scholar, Maimonides, lived in
Maimonides, statue, Cordoba Synagogue, Cordoba
Door, Juderia, Cordoba Juderia, Cordoba
Another fast train. Overnight
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