Souks, Roman Ruins and Dinosaur Tracks: Country of Contrasts

Tourists in Morocco tend to stay in the old parts of the cities.  These medinas contain a labyrinth of narrow passages that include the souks (shopping areas) and riads (usually houses of past upper class citizens recently converted to hotels – think high end bed and breakfasts).

Path to riad

 

Leila exploring souk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wood worker

 

Waling in souk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s easy to get lost in the souks, so we opted for guides in both Fez and Marrakesh to help us navigate the maze of passages. They also advised us on the methods to negotiate the best prices for items, as haggling over prices is a must.  Embroidery, metal work and ceramics were high on our list of items to purchase.

Potter

Embroider

Metal works

Walking the souks was often like being in a vast farmer’s market, with each shop having its specialty.

Fish in market

Chicken sales

Man selling parsley

Scarfs in market

I was most taken by the colors and geometries.

Lemon and olive stand

 

 

 

Lemon geometry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spice stand in Fez

Tower of spices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piles 0f goods

GarlicPeppersRoadside fruit

The narrow streets presented challenges not seen outside the medina.

Small tractor

Donkey cart

While there was a vast array of transport (cars, motorcycles, bicycles, horses, donkeys and donkey carts), one piece of modern technology was often seen being used by the riders.  Everyone seemed to have a mobile phone, which of course required many cell towers.  A number of these were disguised as palm trees.

Palm cell tower

Another pervasive modern technology was television reception dishes, seen on top of even the oldest structures.  Residents pay a onetime $50 fee and then have ongoing access to television, thus television dishes were everywhere.

Televsion dishes

When you overdosed on the crush of people, bartering and noise, you step into your riad and leave it all behind.  The quiet central courtyard and atrium usually has a water feature and a display of flowers that contrast with what is just outside your door.  After a rest in your room, a quiet dinner awaits you.

Riad in Fez 2

Flowers in riad

Dinner in riad

The medinas house many traditional communal functions.  Women prepare bread daily for the family, which require taking the leavened, but unbaked, bread to communal ovens.

Communal Oven

Tourists can easily come away thinking that this traditional view of life in Morocco is the norm. But many people move away from the medinas to enjoy the advantages of the “New Town.”  Townhouses with modern conveniences, such as individual ovens in each house, and modern shopping areas that look like your local grocery store and Home Depot.

New Housing

Grocery store

Home Depot

Our guide in Marrakesh, Hajja, not only navigated the souks for us, but showed us the architectural sights – mosques and palaces that made us feel like we were back in southern Spain.  This made sense, since many of the Moors who were driven out of Spain in the fifteenth century moved to Morocco and continued to build similar structures.

Two women in old palace

 

Main mosque

Moorish pillar

Moorish courtyard

When Hajja learned that I wrote dinosaur books, she convinced us to change our plans for the next day to go see dinosaur tracks that were a few hours outside of town.  What she didn’t tell us is that she hadn’t been there in 10 years and didn’t know exactly where they were – but she was sure there would be a sign.

There was no sign, so we drove right by what used to be the sign.

Missing sign for dino tracks

We did get some great views of rural villages during our hunt for dinosaur tracks.

Berber town

She finally had someone tell her we had come too far, so we went back, just to find that since she was last there a wall, with locked gate, had been built around the dinosaur tracks.

Gate with lock

While we walked along the wall, trying to see if we could get a glimpse of the tracks, Hajja ran into some young boys who just happened to have the key to the gate in their house.  We never did understand why 10-year-old boys would have a key to the gate.

Boy with key

The tracks were extensive and a delight to discover as we walked over the rocky surface.

Three dino tracks

Single dino rack

What was most fun is that the adventure turned into a dinosaur lesson for the owner of the key and some of his friends.  They knew there were tracks inside the fence, but did not know from what kind of animal.  You could tell from the size of the tracks that it was a good sized animal and probably a theropod.

Dino Lesson

While we were talking with the children, we got to see local Berber farmers pass behind us on donkeys carrying feed for their animals.

Berber farmersOf course food had to fit into our itinerary in some way, so we took a daylong Moroccan cooking class — that was also a contrast of new and old.  We made bread in a traditional clay oven.

baking bread

But then entered a high tech cooking area with video projection systems so we could see the master chef.

HIhg tech cooking class

Leila and I made individual servings of chicken tagine, and several salads.

D and L after cooking

We even got to keep the tagine pot when we finished eating our meal.

Meal at cooking class

After four days in Marrakesh, we moved on to Fez, with more time in the medina, souks and riads.

Leila in Fez souk

 

 

 

 

 

Farmers market for sweets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My fear of stinging insects was challenged in one market area filled with sweets

Sweets

Bees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It may look like the second photo is a delicacy covered with raisins, but each dark spot is a bee.  It was not possible to capture the hundreds of swarming bees that filled the air.  As you can image, we did not buy any sweets and moved on quickly.

A highlight of the being in Fez was a visit to the Roman ruins in nearby Volubilis. The ruins not only provided insight into life when the Romans ruled the area 2,000 years ago, but a look at the beauty of the Moroccan countryside with its many olive groves and vineyards.

Roman Ruins from afar

Roman ruin panarama

Roman ruins

Roman ruin mozaic

 

 

 

 

 

Roman Column

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roman ruins two arches

View of countryside

This was our first excursion on the African continent, but not our last.  In June we will visit South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.

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