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Ifrane is a town and region just a bit south of Fes;  in fact I took a day tour from Fes.  It is pretty high up in the Atlas mountains, 5,400 feet, in what is sometimes called Berber country (my Casablanca host family iss of that culture and they preferred the term Tamaziɣ.)   Very green and lush in the summer, and snowy in the winter.  Iframe even has it’s own monkey:  the Barbary Macaque!   These pictures may not seem like Morocco to you, but I assure you, on the grave of my son’s pet rat, Ratso, that this IS Morocco.


There were FIELDS of these red flowers everywhere. This was in early May, so I guess at that altitude we can call them spring flowers?


This is one reason they call it the Moroccan Alps. For some reason they build houses that look like they belong in the Alps here, and when you spot them through the trees, like this “castle”, you are transported to…well…okay, maybe not the Alps But close cousin of the Alps!


Natural lake…very refreshing!


I took this picture because, along with the wood burning fires they had lit for forest management, the scene just made me think of Tahoe. Really nice.


This too!


And here are the Barbary macaques…. Just hanging out in the tree. These guys are quite popular. There were maybe 20 monkeys, but at least 80 people throwing food to them.


The ubiquitous donkey, in this role he carries kids around for rides. Donkeys, and horses, are all around these Ifrane parks to serve the throngs that come up for the cool air. When Ramadan is during the summer months, many families try to spend it up here. Like this year.


I was stunned to come across this glade. Lots of families out here enjoying their Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t believe this was Morocco. So verdant and lush and cooling.


The cool air coming off this water fall was palpable!


Moroccan family enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

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Fes: It’s More Than A Hat
May 12015

Fes is a really old town built with over 9,000 alleys and streets, none of which can accommodate motor vehicles – so donkeys and hand pulled/pushed wagons was it. Highlight here was hiring a personal guide for $10/hour and showed me everything, including the dying vats.


Fes is a maze of tiny alleys, “streets”, paths..some covered like this, and some not. ALL are filled with people of all types. It’s very exciting, as long as you’re not claustrophobic.


I was curious about the narrowness and asked my guide, “what’s with the narrowness?” . When these were built 1,000 years ago, there was always the chance that some marauding army, or gang would try to get you. So one reason for the narrow alleys was to discourage groups, or even individual large men, from chasing you. Doorways are sometimes just 4 feet tall for the same reason. I don’t know how effective it is. But this particular path leads to 4-5 homes. Through which those families must carry all their food, furniture, etc.


Vehicles do not fit in the Fes medina. They rely on hand carts and these guys. I almost got run over by this one. This alley looks like there’s room for him to maneuver, but what you don’t see is the crowd that has backed off to let this guy through.


She is baking bread!


You can buy ANYTHING in the Fes medina. Here, in the meat section, you can by camel meat.


A big industry is leather. Once the skins of animals, mostly sheep, are prepared, they soak them in these vats to cure and color them. This set of vats has been here hundreds of years.


This guy is slacking on the job! His job, when he’s actually doing it, is to dip skins is the vats, stomp on them, and finally take them out for drying.


And this is how they dry them. Drying skins on the room in the foreground, more vats of dyes on the ground behind.


Need some slippers? We got slippers! These were made from the leather you saw getting processed above.


Fes is also home to really old mosques and madrasas (schools). I am fascinated with the designs in Islamic architecture. So here are a few pictures.


Carved stone walls


Tile, stone carving, and painted wall.


Even the ceilings are beautiful.


I found this scholar being scholarly in a room of the oldest university in Morocco.

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Marrakech and the Jemaa:  Annoyances and Delights!
April 272015

Marrakech, Morocco sits on the edge of the Sahara Desert, a mere 200 km from serious sand. It’s a convenient 3 hour train ride from Casablanca, and trains seem to leave somewhat on time. So…an easy weekend trip, 3 nights away. Right? Well, not so much.

I get to the Casa Voyageurs train station, in central Casablanca, an hour early so I can buy a 1st class ticket. Because I’m all about going First Class when it’s cheap. $14 vs. $9 for 2nd class, plus you get a reserved seat and 6 people per compartment rather than 8. Well worth the $5, right? Turns out, 1st class is sold out, so I get a 2nd class ticket, which puts me in the densely crowded bustling free-for-all coaches. Train rolls in and my fellow passengers start the rush and shoving to load in and find a seat. I notice a guy in the passageway who refuses to move as I struggle to get past. He looks shifty. Very tight going but I heft my backpack up high and squeeze on by. Lots of yelling, not sure why yelling helped the process. Much jostling. Everyone shorter than me which gives me a nice view of the chaos. After peering into 4 compartments, being met with resistant looks among those inside, I find one where the resistant looks feel not so annoyed. I plop down in the nearest open seat, and relax. 30 minutes later, I notice that my smartphone is gone: the shifty swine has pickpocketed me! Which, you know, really?! It’s annoying. I knew about the risk, I thought I had taken precaution, I had my phone deep in my front pocket, but that wasn’t good enough, I guess. Fine.

My Ex Phone, now circulating in Casablanca

My Ex Phone, now circulating in Casablanca

Remember this guy?  The one one the right.  His son has my phone.

Remember this guy? The one one the right. His son has my phone.








As I sit there with 2.5 hours more travel ahead of me, I ask the train conductor dude what my chances are of finding (a) the guy or (b) my phone. He looks at me as if I had been dropped on my head as a child. Repeatedly. “Someone is probably selling it at the train station now.” Ugh. Fine.

As I sit there with 2.5 hours more travel ahead of me, I ask the train conductor dude what my chances are of finding (a) the guy or (b) my phone. He looks at me as if I had been dropped on my head as a child. Repeatedly. “Someone is probably selling it at the train station now.” Ugh. Fine.

So at this point I face two choices. Get pissed off, rant, and generally curse the world as I sit there, stewing away the hours. And stay that way. OR I could reflect and bless the crook for having the kind of life that causes him to do harm to a fellow human.   Considering these options, I decide to create a 3rd one. I silently but emphatically – and quite profanely I might add – curse the swine, AND his family, AND the horse he rode in on, for about 60 seconds. A good, solid cursing session, full of venom and indignation.   Felt really good. Then I said “screw it, it’s gone” and continued to read “Huckleberry Finn”, which I’m reading for some reason in North Africa.   I mean, I was NOT going to let the miscreant steal my phone AND my afternoon train ride to Marrakech too.   Right? (sigh…)

I call this a Modified Buddhist approach.


I get to Marrakech, sans (notice French, which is spoken here) communication device, and no one from the hotel is there to pick me up. I kind of expected it, because I speak no language the locals speak, and the person I talked to at the hotel to arrange it spoke no English, Spanish or German – my go to languages. And I’ve discovered that the usual back up tactic of charades doesn’t work on the phone so well. So no shock.

FORTUNATELY, my practice of transferring logistics info from phone to little Moleskin notebook came in handy, because I had the name, address and phone number of the hotel in that notebook and just flashed it at the taxi dispatcher and requested a ride. He, squatting there on the curb with half a dozen cronies around him, had, of course, never heard of the hotel. He whipped out HIS phone, which, after I told him about my phone’s demise, he was kind enough to flourish in a rather condescending way, I thought. His attitude was very “Neener, neener, neener, I have a phone and you don’t!” But I overlooked this. He got hold of the hotel, in very animated Arabic, arms flailing, voices rising, incredulity lacing his tone, lots of “la la la la la la!” (la = “no” in Arabic)…after about 5 minutes of this wildness and apparent anger he hangs up, smiles at me and says “No Problem!”. Turns to my driver…..more arms flailing, voices rising, incredulity laced “la la la la la’s”….driver turns to me, smiles, and says “Let’s go!”. Morocco taxi drivers are entertaining.

Jemma el-Fnr, main square in Marrakech's old medina

Jemma el-Fnr, main square in Marrakech’s old medina

I really like my guesthouse here, Riad Granvilier. It’s right in the medina, at Jemaa el-Fna, which is the main plaza in Marrakech, surrounded by souks, bazaars and a huge labyrinth of medieval alley ways, dark passages, tall walls, and hidden villas. (That’s the Jemaa on the lead picture to this blog post.) I have to admit, getting to it was a bit sketchy…Badr, my guesthouse’s day manager, met me at the taxi stand, near the shell station, because cars may not drive in the Jemaa after noontime. So Badr and me, we walked for about 10 minutes through this delightful market place insanity, then took a right at the corner with the sign that said تذكر، والأجانب تدفع ثلاثية, (loosely translated I think it means “remember, foreigners pay triple”), then another right, then another left past the donkey cart, then a left and finally a stretch before we end up at the door on our left.


Click to embiggen.

Kids playing soccer in the alley paid us no mind, and I nearly took a yellow card as I stepped on one running by.   Once we entered through the door, we were in another world. A beautiful courtyard, quiet, peaceful and sunny. Incense filled the air. A big orange tree in the middle, a water fountain gurgling, and my room just off to the side. The image that comes to mind is a geode, with a bland interior that opens up into brilliant beauty inside.

Inside those walls is some very nice accommodations.

Inside those walls is some very nice accommodations.

The next day, Badr, took me in search of a store to replace my phone. That didn’t work, so he left and I started to wander. Which I like to do. I just got lost in the labyrinth, taking pictures (some below) and not really worried about losing anything because MY PHONE HAD ALREADY BEEN STOLEN (guess I had a little residual anger…).   As I’m taking a camera picture of a store’s wares, I hear a voice. “My friend, I have been waiting for you”. Which is a pretty good line from a shop owner, if you think of it.   I turn and see a smiling man I later learn is named Hamza.   I decide to see what he has.

At this point I need to explain one of my character defects. I hate shopping. I hate owning “stuff”. I hate haggling prices in strange currencies (with all that math) for products that I do not understand and I do not want.   In fact, I really REALLY suck at it.   And so “Dave in a Moroccan Bazaar” is just all sorts of wrong, kind of like a lamb being led to slaughter. I’m a grown man. I know this is a problem I should work on. But I can’t get there. My best defense is to just not carry much money.

Right. Hamza. Hamza is an Herbalist. That means that his 15’ x 4’ cubicle of a shop is lined from floor to ceiling with bottles full of…stuff that presumably comes from herbs.   Stuff, you’ll remember, that I do not need, nor want. I tell this to Hamza and he looks shocked and hurt and retorts, “but you DO my friend! Here sit down and have some tea.” For those of you unaware of the tradition in these parts, before any real business transaction you must have tea. You simply can NOT do without it. If you insist on getting straight to business, you will offend your guest. (You may ask why I was worried about offending a man who was setting me up for the slaughter. But don’t. This is bigger than that.) So I sit and he sets to brewing tea in the propane tank that, if it explodes, will render his shop, and me, picayune.

Locals pour the hot tea from on high to cool it before it hits the cup.

Locals pour the hot tea from on high to cool it before it hits the cup.



While I’m there I might as well ask questions, which I do well. The format was usually this: “What’s that? No, no, no…I don’t want to buy 3 kilos of it, I just want to know what it is. Why are you putting it in a bag?” He looks hurt, and slowly removes the item from the bag. We do this at least 15 times. But sometimes he wins by sheer charm, sometimes he wins by sleight of hand, sometimes he wins because he just wears me down. Throughout he promises me a “good price”. For whom, I was never able to determine. Hamza is good. The tea is good. The experience is fun. I have nothing else to do. And I only have $50 in my wallet. What could go wrong?

We have a good time. I even manage to ignore my feelings of impending doom, incompetence and sheer naivete, and just go with it. In the end I walk away with $45 worth of stuff. That I do not need. That I do not want. Here’s my haul.

  • A jar of pure menthol sticks. You have not smelled menthol until you smell this stuff.
  • 4 bars of a soap-like substance that is “pure” amber, musk, amber/musk, and some other scent that I can’t remember. Maybe frankincense, because he used that word a lot around the time he was stuffing the bag. At least I thought that’s what he was saying. Could have been myrrh.
  • A bag of a special tea blend, called “Berber Whiskey” in these parts because no one drinks alcohol here, they drink tea instead. Locals invariably snicker when you say “Berber whiskey”.
  • A bag of something I still don’t know the name of. It’s a black seed. You wrap it in a silk handkerchief thing, crush it, hold it in each nostril and breathe deeply. Hamza did this for me rather forcefully, I thought. According to him it cures “clogged nasals, migraine headaches, and broken foot”.   Which is a pretty good seed to have around the house. He loaded up about a kilo of the stuff and I made him (proud of myself!) offload about ¾ of that.
  • A strange red lipstick. I don’t know how to describe this one. This is a small pedestal looking thing, about 3 inches tall. And smeared all over the top of it is a substance, that when you wet your finger and drag it across leaves a sort of lipstick that you then apply to your lips. Or to your cheeks as a rouge thing (impressed that I know what “rouge” is?).   He insisted I need this, “for your wives”.
  • A hard clay thing with a handle and a rough surface, for scraping off callouses, I gathered. He thought I must have especially tough callouses.

Anyway, he tossed all these in the bag, after weighing everything carefully, insisting all the time that he was going to give (someone) a good price. And then he announced the result: “420 dirham!” An auspicious number I thought. Gathering up all my pride I countered with 400, and he accepted. I’m a tough negotiator after all! I figure I got a bag full of stuff (that I don’t need nor want nor fully understand), I got 45 minutes worth of local entertainment, I got 3-4 cups of tasty local tea, I got to learn about vary strange substances (he also sold pigments, incense, oils, dried flowers and many other exotic items). I got to sit inside out of the hot sun. I also got to watch his partner work the passing crowd in 4 languages. And I got some of this blog post for you! So, for $42, not a bad investment. Right?

Happy Hamza, Post Slaughter Dave

Happy Hamza, Post Slaughter Dave

More happened in Marrakech that I’ll just allude to.

I took a picture of a group of men drumming, and a man came up to me and asked for money for the privilege. I thought I was being picked on, he didn’t ask anyone else. And I wasn’t even sure he was with the drummers. So I gave him 10 dirhams ($1) and he looked at me with disgust and said, “Fuck you!”. (Sigh.)

Drumming for dirhams.

Drumming for dirhams.

I took a picture of a cobra, and then let the snake handler take a picture of me with the cobra. He said, “that will be 300,000 dirham!” What the…. He was asking me for $30 for 5 seconds of work on MY camera. I told him he was nuts. His partner then comes over as the Voice of Reason, asks me what happened, I laugh and say this guy just asked me for 300,000 dirham for one picture on MY camera. The Voice of Reason looks at the guy, looks at me, and then as if he was King Solomon passing judgment calmly says, “You should not pay more than 200,000”. Ha! I give them 20 and walk away.   There’s one thing the street performers do well in Marrakech – they target the tall foreigners and then go for the big bucks!

I'm not sure these cobras had the actual ability to hurt anyone....

I’m not sure these cobras had the actual ability to hurt anyone….

Snake dude who demanded $30 for taking the previous picture.  With MY camera.

Snake dude who demanded $30 for taking the previous picture. With MY camera.

The first night as I perused menus in search of a restaurant that looked tasty AND served a cold beer, a man with a limp came up to me and asked, “you looking for beer?”.   How did he know? I said, yes I am! And he said, “follow me, I know a good restaurant”. So I followed Abdul Ahmad, as he led me through a dizzying route of back alleys. Sure I was doubtful that I would find myself back, or maybe he was hauling me off to some Saharan bandits that wanted to kidnap me and make me a sex slave for their women. I could deal with either consequence. Plus, I wanted a beer. Ended up at a VERY nice restaurant, Dar Nejjarine, that I even went back to two days later. Turns out Abdul Ahmed gets paid for brining tourists to the restaurant, so it cost me nothing. I got a great meal, free live music, and a delightful view of the sunset through minarets. And he got paid. (When I went back two nights later, I searched him out on the square and asked if he wanted to deliver me again, and get another commission and he happily agreed!). Nice guy.

The trip back to Casablanca went nicely, partly because I got a First Class ticket, partly because I had Survived Marrakech!

To spare you further commentary, I now present…pictures! With captions of course….

The first set shows a small subset of things you can buy in the alleys and “streets” of Marrakech. Colorful, but I avoided all (except from Hamza).   Traveling around the world in with only one bag and 25 pounds thankfully prevents me from buying too much.

I apologize in advance for the formatting.  WordPress is annoying sometimes, andI don’t have the patience to fix it.  Click to see these in more detail!




















Yep!  Only the best in sanitation!

Yep! Only the best in sanitation!

Then I just offer random shots of Marrakech, things that caught my interest.

The inside of a very nice museum, although I thought the architecture of the building itself was way more interesting than any of the exhibits.

The inside of a very nice museum, although I thought the architecture of the building itself was way more interesting than any of the exhibits.


Detail of a wall.

This is what a family homestay looks like.  I took over the 20 yr old's bed!

This is what a family homestay looks like. I took over the 20 yr old’s bed!

Another typical alley /  street.

Another typical alley / street.

And yet another one@

And yet another one@

I don't take many pictures of people, because I don't like to treat them as "museum pieces".  I managed to take this one without them noticing.

I don’t take many pictures of people, because I don’t like to treat them as “museum pieces”. I managed to take this one without them noticing.

Many kilometers of alleys just like this in the Marrakech medina.

Many kilometers of alleys just like this in the Marrakech medina.

These are tangines, and are national cooking dish.  Great for making couscous.

These are tangines, and are national cooking dish. Great for making couscous.

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Casablanca:  You’ve Seen The Movie, Right?
April 202015

Stayed here 3 weeks with a fabulous family. They were really warm and the college age children even gave up their room for me. All set up through IVHQ. I won’t talk about the assignment here, but my days were generally spent working in a coffee shop on a couple assignments, and evenings were spent often at the Center when all the kids were there. One day another volunteer and I explored Casablanca and saw the biggest mosque in Africa and ate at Rick’s Café, with no Bogie.


Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Africa


Hassan II Mosque, look at the the person in front of the door to get a sense of how huge this place is.

Casa.03. IslamicDesign

Detail from the tower of the Hassan II mosque.


Dave about the have lunch at Rick’s Cafe.


Inside Ricks! How’s this look compared to what you remember about the movie?


Selllilng produce at the market in the Casablanca medina (market).




I surprised her! Woman doing daily duties of some sort, near the Casablanca medina.


This illustrates Morocco for me perfectly – time, technology, traditions and modernity all clash here. It’s all here in the juxtaposition of the modern tram and the donkey card..

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Gibraltar:  Getting to Rabat

Gibraltar: Getting to Rabat

Cross the Straights of Gibraltar

April 182015

I was on my way to Rabat, Morocco to start my assignment with International Volunteers HQ but the is no direct route from Albufeira to Rabat.  For some reason, the market doesn’t exist. The next best way to do make it happen is to take a bus to Seville, spend the night, and then continue the journey the next day. So it was a very brief visit to Seville, but I had a very nice outdoor meal, and it was nice to see signs and speak a language that I kinda know.

In the morning I took that 3 hour bus from Seville to Tarifa, on the straights of Gibraltar. Then I had to hike 15 minutes “thattaway”, which was kind of dicey since my mobile phone didn’t have any working GPS, on account of the international Lebera SIM card I bought in London didn’t do roaming well. Anyway, I found the ferry, boarded, and enjoyed the ride over. On board, they have one Moroccan clerk processing the passports of all several hundred passengers. I was looking at the end of the line, and decided that I did not want to spend my voyage in that line, so I went out on deck and enjoyed myself. When we docked, I went to the line, and sure enough there were only 3 people left. So I got in line, got my passport packed and then headed out in to…..Morocco. Immediately was fleeced by the only taxi driver I could find quickly who would drive me to the back up train station on account of the main station being renovated for the next 12 years. Missed my 1:30 train to Rabat, borrowed a phone from the ticket clerk and called Samad, my connection in Rabat, and told him I’d be on the next train. Eventually I made it. My first inkling of what the next 3 weeks would be like.

I’m sorry I didn’t have much time to take good pictures…I was moving a lot.


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  • Ifrane:  The Moroccan Alps

    Ifrane: The Moroccan Alps


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  • Fes: It’s More Than A Hat

    Fes: It’s More Than A Hat


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  • Marrakech and the Jemaa:  Annoyances and Delights!

    Marrakech and the Jemaa: Annoyances and Delights!


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  • Casablanca:  You’ve Seen The Movie, Right?

    Casablanca: You’ve Seen The Movie, Right?


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  • Gibraltar:  Getting to Rabat

    Gibraltar: Getting to Rabat

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