BC: September 2011
1: The madness of the medina The grandeur of the architecture The richness of its history The unparalleled cuisine The majesty of the rugged Atlas Mountains This is Morocco
2: The Ben Youssef Madrasa is an Islamic college built in the 14th century. Its 130 student dormitory cells cluster around a courtyard richly carved in cedar, marble and stucco. The carvings contain no representation of humans or animals as required by Islam, and consist entirely of inscriptions and geometric patterns. This madrasa was one of the largest theological colleges in North Africa and may have housed as many as 900 students.
5: The Marrakech Museum The museum is housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace, built at the end of the 19th century by Mehdi Menebhi. The palace was carefully restored by the Omar Benjelloun Foundation and converted into a museum in 1997. The house itself represents an example of classical Andalusian architecture, with fountains in the central courtyard, traditional seating areas, a hammam (bath) and intricate tilework and carvings. The museum's large atrium (originally a courtyard, now covered in glass and fabric) contains a very large centrally hung chandelier-esque ceiling piece consisting of metal plates decorated with fine geometric and epigraphic cuttings. | Note the scale of these lanterns!
6: The Medina | A medina quarter is a distinct city section found in many North African cities. The medina is typically walled, contains many narrow and maze-like streets. Because of the very narrow streets, medinas are free from car traffic ... but we did notice the ever present motorbikes going through the most common arteries. As it has for centuries, the medina offers leather goods, clothing, traditional lamps, earthenware, and produce. But it has not remained untouched by modern times. We noticed ATMs, satellite dishes, and yes, everyone has a cell phone.
7: Djemaa el Fna with the Koutoubia Mosque (upper left)
8: The cuisine of Morocco is mainly Berber-Moorish, European, and Mediterranean. Couscous is the most famous Moroccan dish along with pastilla, tajine, and harira. The most popular drink is green tea with mint. | During the day, Djemaa el Fna is predominantly occupied by orange juice stalls, youths with chained Barbary apes, water sellers in colorful costumes with traditional leather water-bags and brass cups, and snake charmers.
9: Bringing home the bacon? | One of the five daily prayers required of Islamic practice.
10: Riad Azenzer | While in Marrakech, we stayed in a Riad, a traditional Moroccan palace with an interior garden or courtyard. Riad Azenzer was run by Said Jarara, a great guy and knowledgeable host. He had been a Berber mountain guide for 20 years but was now running the Riad while his wife was undergoing chemotherapy in France. Said spoke English, Berber, Arabic, and French. That's about it though.
11: The Chigaga room had its own Rapunzel balcony
12: On our way to Imlil, our driver (NASCAR-racer-trapped-in-a-Moroccan-cabbie's-body) had pushed Benz-ahrazad just a little too far. She was a goner. Luckily, he cashed in on a favor from another cabbie in the next town and we were picked up not to long after. | R.I.P. | Wonder if I could just run there?
13: Imlil, the gateway to the Toubkal National Park. We stopped here to meet with Amzil Hassan at his home-turned-lodge, Dar Tighoula. We were definitely in the mountains, hole-in-the-ground toilets and all. A quick stop for cookies and mint tea and it was off to start the trek.
15: The Berber "Fridge" Pipe in cold water from the stream, poke holes in the rubber hose, and the mist will do the rest.
17: The view from Mount Toubkal, at 4,167 metres (13,671 ft), the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains and in North Africa. | We got into the Refuge du Toubkal by late afternoon and were served an enormous meal. After a good night's sleep, we made our summit push the next morning.
18: The summit was incredibly cold and windy! We took our obligatory summit photo shots and headed back down. We pitied the fools walking up in shorts and no hat or gloves. What would their moms say? After a quick lunch, it was back to Imlil. Incredibly, Benz-ahrazad had been resurrected! Once again, we piled into her tan pleather seats (with no seat belts) and made the 2 hr drive back to Marrakech.
19: The following morning: a quick flight back to Lyon, a short drive back to Geneva, a long flight back to Orlando, pick up the girl, and a flight back home sweet home. That Casbah rocked!