Casablanca

Our time in Essaouira has come to an end and we travel back to Casablanca for our flight to Paris and eventually home. The coastal route follows the Atlantic seaside passing through small towns, farms that run to the sea and an incredible number of beautiful white sand beaches with very few beach homes. This unspoiled seashore, if it were at home, would be wall-to-wall houses.

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Oceanside Home

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Rock fences divide the fields

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We passed through the seaside towns of Safi, Sidi Bouzid and El Jadida before going through a heavy industrial section and then residential suburbs of Casablanca.

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Morocco Mall

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Mural

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Residential Suburb of Casablanca

One last glimpse of the beautiful Hassan II Mosque framed by a brilliant clear blue sky – awesome!
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Essaouira

img_0330_edited-1We drove a short distance south of the city to a grove of argan trees and stopped to see goats . . . goats in trees! The adorable goats of this region are very skilled climbers having adapted to climbing the thorny, gnarled branches with cloven feet, which aid their balance.  Two shepherds manned the herd of goats and a few sheep.

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We watched as the goats clambered up one tree after another, spreading out through the branches, some standing on hind legs to reach the lower branches eating the plum-like fruit and discarding the hard nuts in the center on the ground. The nuts are then gathered and pressed to make the argan oil used in cooking and cosmetics. We followed the goats for quite a while it was such great entertainment as they balanced on limbs barely big enough to hold them trying to reach each tasty morsel; a few fell out of the trees but were back in the branches without hesitation, this must be really good eating. There were a couple of kids that had to be hand-fed, they had not yet developed their climbing skills and George made fast friends with one of these adorable little bundles of fur.

Leaving the goats to their “grazing” we visited a nearby local women’s’ cooperative that specializes in Argan production to learn how this useful oil is made, trying our hands at hulling, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The fruits are placed on a rounded stone and then hit with another stone to release the kernel from the hull, trying not to smash your fingers in the process. Then the kernels are ground before pressing. This is a labor-intensive process but produces some of the finest quality oil and very expensive oil. The shampoo I use at home is obviously done through a much more efficient mechanized process and is not of high quality;  I have not yet seen the cooking oil at home but we did sample some and it has a wonderful nutty flavor – I will seek it out.

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Essaouira’s Harbor

Essaouira meaning “beautiful picture” is also known as the “windy city” and is popular with windsurfers who flock here to take advantage of the powerful gusts off the Atlantic. It’s a city known for art, inspiration, music, and history. It was a hippie town in the late 60’s and early 70’s, visited by Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, Frank Zappa. It’s Jimi’s visit that seems to have had the most impact. The city is scattered with references to him. In late 1940’s Orson Welles directed “Othello” in this area and there are photos of him in our hotel where he lived during filming.

Jimi

Jimi

The city’s architecture and feel is quite different from others in Morocco, the fortified city walls and lookout tower are armed with several bronze canons targeting invaders from another era. From the tower you have stunning views of the islands, the city and the sunsets. It was here that a mystical scene from the 1940’s version of “Othello” by Orson Welles, as well as scenes from the “Games of Thrones” series were filmed..

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Cats roam the streets and rule the market keeping it free of vermin, they make themselves right at home and curl up anywhere including in the shop displays. It felt like they probably outnumbered humans 2 to 1!

Calico on Quilt

Calico on Quilt

The small port adds a huge splash of color, vibrant blue fishing boats come and go with their daily catches and the wharf bustles with activity as fishermen repair their nets, clean and display their fish, shoppers come to select the best piece of fish for dinner or have it grilled on site for a very fresh lunch on the dock, watch out for the seagulls!

Fishing Fleet

Fishing Fleet

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Catch of the Day

Catch of the Day

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Lunch is served

In the boatyard ships are being constructed, repaired or painted and scaffolding serves as a napping place for cats undaunted by the heights.

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Cat Nap

It’s such a vibrant place. Tucked on side streets were incredible pieces of street art, while windows were decorated with rich blue and patterned tiles.  This little seaside resort city has a lot to offer, especially at the end of a long and busy trip, a nice laid back vibe, perfect before heading home.

Essaouira by the Sea

En route to Essaouira we ran into a bit of a predicament in a small town, demonstrators had blocked a bridge, the only way through town . . . or so we thought.  The police were no help when asked what was going on but our drive did find out that they were demonstrating over lack of sewers, don’t exactly know what that means here but it was enough to have us looking for an alternate route.

A full size bus, think Greyhound,  in front of us turned off the road toward a dry riverbed and we followed.  It was dusty and bumpy but looked like a work around until the full size bus met a large truck in a narrow wash; with both vehicle roofs tilting towards each other the drivers tried moving as close as they could to the sides of the narrow opening.  We weren’t sure if they would be stuck forever or if they would be able to pass each other without ripping off mirrors or worse, part of a roof.

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Blocked Bridge

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Uh Oh

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Hmm, I think you can make it . . .

We were stopped for quite a time until everyone has evaluated the situation and determined they could make it and then slowly, very slowly proceeded.  Once they successfully passed each other we continued on through the riverbed, looking for a different route so we could avoid another case of “bus meets truck”.  We found a dusty animal path through a farm and it did eventually lead us back to the highway bumpity bump bump, cough, cough.

Essaouira, located on the Atlantic Ocean extends from the massive historic fortifications of the old city to a long, magnificent beach along the shoreline. Offshore in the distance lies Mogador, also known as the Îles Purpuraires (Purple Islands). The ancient Romans who occupied this area used the island’s resources for creating a dye that colored their togas purple, thus giving the islands their name.

Known as “the pearl of the kingdom,” Essaouira boasts a wonderfully temperate climate, beautiful whitewashed neighborhoods, ornate architecture, a splendid medina, and a host of artisans’ workshops and colorful markets. Much of Essaouira’s magic comes from its artistic influence—inspired by the city’s tranquility, beauty, and splendid light.

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Kitties make themselves at home anywhere

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Little cafe in the medina

On Sunday the beaches are marked by soccer games, back to back stretching almost the entire length of the beach.  Children play in the surf while some choose to do their push ups in the sand while camels watch.

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Soccer Sunday

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Bahia Palace in Marrakesh

Bahia Palace was completed in 1900. The construction was the work of Si Moussa grand vizir to the sultan and intended to serve the personal uses of the sultan. His harem was housed here, and it included an enormous court decorated with a central basin with the concubines dwelling in a series of surrounding rooms. The whole complex is quite large, covering more than 19 acres and is comprised of a series of walled gardens, pavilions and courtyard structures. It is still used by the Moroccan government as a formal venue for receiving special guests, foreign dignitaries.

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Artisans worked for 15 years to complete the palace and salons contain intricate inlaid and painted ceilings.

Only a portion of the rooms and gardens are open to the public but they are lavish and offer a glimpse of the kingdom’s former opulence and its remarkable craftsmen.

 

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The Courtyard

Jardin de Majorelle in Marrakesh

The beautiful Jardin de Majorelle was created in the 1920s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle, marble pools, raised pathways, banana trees, groves of bamboo, coconut palms and bougainvilleas lead you through an tranquil oasis in the heart of the city; this was Majorelle’s masterpiece, not his paintings.

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The garden fell into years of neglect before being purchased in 1980  by the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge who lovingly restored it.  The Majorelle blues are brilliant.

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A Berber Museum shares the site and holds YSL’s beautiful collection of traditional Berber clothing worn at various festive occasions.   The museum is small, only three rooms and no photography was allowed but the displays are absolutely stunning and the collection is impressive including beautifully preserved traditional handcrafted jewelry, pottery, basketry and woodworking.

The Love Gallery also housed within the gardens contains a collection of “Love” posters Yves Saint Laurent designed over a period of 35 years and sent as greetings to his close friends.

 

 

The Medina of Marrakesh

Marrakesh is one of the ancient cross-roads of North Africa and losing one’s self in the medina of Marrakesh is a MUST.  It tantalizes all the senses with  the smell of roasting meats, aromatic herbs, the colors are bold and demand your attention, the souks beckon, the tranquil courtyards and the quiet rooftop terraces draw you in, shops dazzle with copper pots and silver trays,  stalls display colorful preserved lemons, peppers and olives, carts of fresh produce and dried fruits leave you longing for a taste, lantern shops cast a magical glow and sunlight streams through the slatted roof. At night the market turns into a feast not only for the eyes but also for the belly as carts line the square cooking up Moroccan “fast” food.  It is no wonder this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

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Pillows and Fabrics

Chef Extraordinaire

Chef Extraordinaire

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