Essaouira - on the Edge of Morocco

Morocco is SO full of cool colors. And - the DOORS -!

So - do you know the difference between a medina, a souk, a casbah, a riad?

I wasn't sure.
So here it is:

The medina - is the old town.
It usually has a wall around it.

The wall around the medina in Essaouira. It used to be called "Mogador". Isn't that a great name?

Small restaurants within the medina.

Taxis here cost between 70 cents and a dollar.

Those huge stone gates? They're called "Babs".

You can use them for directions. 
Like telling a taxi, "Drop me off at the South Babs."

Cats - are everywhere in Morocco! One fellow said, "We should really call it Catablanca."

The souk - is the market. The bazaar.
Often covered.

The souk is usually within the medina.

You can buy EVERYTHING in the souk.

A casbah is a type of fortress.
A citadel. Might also be within the medina.
Or not.

This old casbah has a VERY large stork's nest on top of it!

And a riad - is a traditional house built around a courtyard, often a garden.
Recently, a lot of riads have been turned into hotels.

It's a popular thing: Come to Morocco, buy a riad.
Fix it up, and start a guesthouse.

There you go. Now you know, too.

We're in Essaouira. 
The western coast of Morocco.

It's crazy colorful here.

We've been in Morocco over a month already. We hadn't planned to stay here so long.

In fact, we'd already bought tickets to SE Asia.

Turkish Airlines - from Casablanca to Istanbul to Bangkok.
We've been traveling in Morocco for a while, and thought we were ready to move on.

Then - we arrived in Essaouira. 
We spent Christmas here with family.

And - it's really cool! 
Relaxed. Comfortable. Chill.
Perfect temperature. Plenty of places to rent.

Kite surfing.
Guys playing soccer on the beach.
Umbrellas over restaurant tables. 
History, culture and a colorful medina.

And camels.

So - we decided to stay here a while longer.
We've rented a super cool little rooftop apartment.

It's about $40 a night. But - the wine is more expensive here. When you can find it.

Just inside the medina.

It's very sunny - but not hot.
Just about perfect for long walks on the beach. 

It's a very long beach-!

There's a thriving fishing industry here.
Lots of boats. Lots of fish. Lots of sea birds.

The birds are loud! Almost as loud as the mosques -

And - good restaurants.

It's about 3 hours' drive west of Marrakech. 

Marrakech - in contrast - is a VERY busy place.
About a million people, but it feels like more.

Traffic in Marrakech is - challenging.
 Erik drove through it.

His comment: "You’re right. The driving here is reaaaally crazy." 
And this - from a guy who lives and drives - in Bangkok.

So, what's in Morocco beside sand? 

Awesome blue cities.

Ancient castles buried in palm fringed valleys. 
Old stone palaces. Roman ruins. 

Mountain peaks and wild gorges. 
Berber villages.

We stayed with a large Berber family up in the mountains - lots of mint tea and soup.

Incredible markets and souks where you can wander for hours.
Everything from carpets to camel heads. 

The medina in Fes has 9,000 alleyways. (and 40,000 dead ends) 
It helps to have a guide - we did. 
One who was born and raised in the souk itself.

Oasis after oasis. Just like in films.

Music. And - incredible fossils.

This - is a table in our room.

Rugs. Tiles.
Handicrafts. Art. 

Steps are tiled. Walls. Sinks. Tables. Floors. Fountains. Tiles everywhere.

Brass, copper, rugs, textiles, teapots, trays, coffee pots. Certainly an Aladdin's lamp in there somewhere.

The tanneries of Fes, what a sight! 

Built in the 11th century, where they still tan and dye leather. 
Cow, sheep, goat, and camel hides are tanned, and then dried in the sun. 

Did you know goat hides make the softest leather?

The view is impressive - and so is the smell. 
(They give you a spring of mint to smell when you enter. As if.)

So many of the places look like film sets. 
Apparently, the film companies think so, too. 

A lot of popular films are shot here. 

Stan adding to the local color. They all call him Ali Baba. Not sure exactly why.

Stan was looking for meteorites.
Morocco is a good place to find them.

Stan hunting for meteorites. With his pétanque magnet.

Did I mention the doors...?

The main languages in Morocco are Arabic and Berber. 
About 75% of the people are Berber. 

Here's what the Berber alphabet looks like. 

Berber alphabet

A lot of Morocco reminds me of New Mexico. 

And of Iran, where I lived 1977-79. 
The climate, the geography, the adobe buildings. 
Sunshine and deep blue skies.

Almost as cool as the doors....

Our route: 

Casablanca - Rabat - Meknes - Volubilis - Fes - Midelt - Erfoud - Merzouga - Ouarzazate - Ait Benhaddou - Marrakech - Sidi Kaouki - Essaouira

...and more Morocco - here.

Morocco in Winter - Camels on the Beach

I wake up to CAMELS these days. 

Every morning, the herders bring them out to the beach (the beach!).
They settle in among the kite and wind surfers.

Camels and coffee.
I like it.

We're in Essaouira, beach town on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. 
We've been in Morocco for over a month.

We didn't mean to be spending so long here. 
But - it's pretty cool.

Mountains. Medinas. Mosques. History. Culture.

And - SO much art. 

Art everywhere. Handmade tiles.
Pottery. Rugs. Textiles.
Brass. Copper. Carved wood.

Crazy traffic in the cities. 
Twisted alleyways in the souks. Easy to get lost.

EVERYTHING is sold here.

Dates. Figs. Fish. Spices.
Engraved weapons. Odd musical instruments.
And - olives -!

LOOK at all those olives! A whole landslide of olives...

Stan and I really enjoyed exploring the country.
Casablanca - Meknes - Rabat - all the way down to the Sahara in Merzouga.
Up to Chefchouen. All the high points.

Fes, Marrakech, Ourzazate.
The Dades and the M'Goun Valleys.
Atlas Mountains, Anti-Atlas, and a few Middle Atlas peaks as well. 

Snowstorms to sandstorms.

Even spent time out in a desert camp on the edge of the Sahara.
It was surprisingly cold! Slept in ALL my clothes.

A mouse shared our tent with us.

Sunrise at the side of the desert tent.

No Starbucks out here, Stan.

It's pretty dramatic.
Looks a lot like New Mexico in places.

Winding switchbacks over the rocky and snowy Atlas mountains.

Last time I was in Morocco was 1982. 
Flying over the Sahara in a single-engine plane.

This Morocco is very different. And yet - maybe not.

There are moments where it looks almost biblical.
Women in long robes.
Guys still wear djellabas with little pointy hoods.

They all know still how to twist a long piece of fabric into a tidy turban.

Handy - when a random sandstorm comes up - which it did.
The camel guides started calling, "Wind coming! Wind coming!"

Sure enough - soon the wind was howling and the sand was moving like water.

(It was impressive! Really cool.)

 - Wish I'd had a turban....

Can't really get TOO lost around here. 

Over Christmas, we even had a family get-together here in Morocco. 

How cool is that?

Iris and Mikey and Noah from Berlin.

Erik and Ray from Bangkok. 

(Kilian couldn't make it this time-)

We rented a beautiful house in an argan forest near Sidi Kaouki.
(Argan trees have nuts that produce argan oil.)

Camels and donkeys graze there. 

And the goats - climb trees.

But now - they all went back to their work and their worlds.
(the goats probably, too)

Stan and I are still in Morocco.
Hanging out. 

- With the camels on the beach.