cerebral museum

Koutoubia gardens bracelet maker

Posted in Uncategorized by Cassandra on March 31, 2010

Commissioned a few pieces from this man when I was wandering through the gardens next to Koutoubia in Marrakech. Koutoubia is the largest Mosque in the country. He made a tiny bracelet for my 5 year-old sister Pattie Ray.

He speaks five languages and has never been more than 50km from his home in Marrakech.

His name is Mohammed. He is very precise, mesmerizing to watch.

I’d bet he’ll be there the next time I visit the city.

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Marrakech, Morocco

Posted in Uncategorized by Cassandra on February 10, 2010

Over the holiday, I had a one month break in classes. I had decided a long time ago to drive down to Morocco with a friend. He’s Moroccan (from a town on the northwest coast called Larache) and has a car, plus he was making the trip anyway, so it all fit pretty perfectly. Our plan was to head down together, ferry the car across, and tour around for a couple of weeks. I was super excited for all of this and didn’t really plan too much out beforehand. I’d been wanting to go to Africa for a long time, and this was a perfect opportunity.

Marrakech, Morocco

On the 15th of December (four days before we were supposed to leave) I was in Germany when I got a phone call from Badr. He sounded terrible and told me we’d have to postpone our trip a week or more due to his passport expiring, but still really wanted me to come with him. I thought about it for a few hours and, due to many reasons, I went online and bought a 30€ flight for myself to Marrakech for the 20th. It was an impulsive decision, and I’m so glad I did it. Later on I made plans to meet up with him when he came down, but he never ended up making it, so I’m definitely glad I just decided to go by myself.

first view of Africa

I packed one backpack (mostly full of camera equipment and maps) and took one pair of boots. This was my favorite solo trip to date. Morocco is pure magic.

I landed in Marrakech at 8am in the morning on December 20th. From the plane I could see the Atlas mountain range in the distance and the sun rose as I was crossing the tarmac into the customs building. As soon as I exited the airport, I was immediately accosted by dozens of taxi drivers. They were asking twenty euros for a ride into the city and I haggled my way down to 8 euro. The car broke down halfway into the city and I put all of my water jug’s contents into his radiator to get us the rest of the way. The taxi driver befriended me at this point and invited me to dinner. I politely declined. So, after this bit of excitement, I finally made it to the medina (old walled in part of the city) of Marrakech.

Cafe du France

I had breakfast and relaxed before beginning the search for my riad. Riads are old post-colonial french mansions that were once owned by wealthy families. Many have been converted into bed and breakfast types of places, or hostels. The one I stayed at for my first 4 days in Marrakech was only about 11€ a night (~$15). Morocco is not an expensive place to travel in. I found increasingly cheap accommodations as the time passed, and the food is delicious and equally inexpensive.

I spent the first few days getting my bearings and planning out my route. I went without a return flight and had loose plans to work my way north towards Spain maintaining complete flexibility, which I really enjoyed. I passed the heat of day on cafe terraces, and drank unbelievable amounts of this stuff:

Moroccan mint tea… new favorite drink. It’s made with herbal tea with fresh mint (yerba buena) added in, poured into the cup from an impressive height so as to make it frothy on top. A Berber man told me a few weeks later, “a tea without bubbles is like a moroccan without jelabba.” (jelabbas are the native dress of Moroccans, it’s like a body-length long sleeved dress with a pointy hood that is worn over the clothes of both men and women.)

Most of the medina in Marrakech is a labyrinth full of souks. There are a few main plazas (Djemma al Fna the most famous and home to the Cafe du France). The souks are insanely long winding connected alleyways full of stores and shops of every kind.

junk shop with the most awesome owner. I bought a WWII knife here.

saffron, curry, mint tea, cumin, sage, anything you need..

later I ate them in soup

near my riad

The light was amazing. It was in the 80’s in the middle of winter.

Assault on the senses in so many ways.

Djemma al Fna

Marrakech turned out to be my favorite of the larger cities in Morocco. (Later went to Fez, and it seemed a bit claustrophobic to me.) Marrakech wears its heart on its sleeve. (more on this later) There weren’t too many tourists at this time. Most folks in the city speak at least three or four languages well (both french and arabic are the official languages, but spanish and english are widely used), and bits and pieces of seven or more.

I wanted to rent a motorbike or even a bicycle, but I decided to leave Marrakech after four days and head south toward the sahara. On my second to last night, I met a physicist from Geneva (whose name I couldn’t pronounce.. I just called him ‘joe’) who works on the particle de-celerating part of the CERN Hadron super collider… We nerded out over this and though he was speaking on an entirely different level when he tried to explain it to me, we found common ground over a cheap sausage stand dinner in the plaza. I could have talked with him for days.

The photo above shows the plaza full of stands and markets that sell dried fruit, yerba buena, the most amazing 30 cent hand-squeezed-to-order orange juice and prepared food of every kind. After sundown the stands are all erected, closely followed by the storytellers (interesting NYT article on these guys here) and music men replacing the acrobats and snake charmers that are found during the daytime.

After a lot of reading and talking to different people around, I finally decided on a rough plan for my next 3ish weeks. I found a route that would take me down through the Todra gorges, Dades valley, Ourzazarte and finally to the sahara near Erg Chebbi. The next morning, I jumped on the first van I found headed that way. After that, I headed back to Marrakech then north past Casablanca, and through Rabat, Fez, Meknés, Chefchaouen and finally Tangier.

I’ve got so many stories and even more photographs, probably four or five more posts worth, going to try and get those up within the next week or so.

Ma’ slamaa!

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