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PCNW

Morocco, what a wild adventure

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PCNW

Morocco

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Although wildlife photography and safari’s are the best I had decided I wanted to try something different because I’ve discovered that I really like photographing people. Cambodia came to mind but my travel buddy (my daughter) vetoed that and we struck a compromise and went to Morocco….a photographers paradise if you ask me.

 

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I researched the country, read reviews, contacted hotel owners, drivers, guides and planned and booked the trip myself. My daughter had suggested finishing in Spain and see a friend that was studying abroad. I thought it ridiculous but in the end logistically it wasn’t a bad idea and Madrid was added.

 

But I will admit that I was worried about everything falling into place…..hiring men off the internet to drive us through the country, booking 7 hotels, flights, the dangers of traveling over the Atlas Mountains, sleeping in tents in the desert, etc…but in the end it came off without a hitch.

 

 

Gainesville, FL to Atlanta to Paris to Cassablanca.

One night Casablanca

Drive to Chefchaouen for two nights

Drive to Fes for three nights

Fly back to Casablanca then to Zagora

Drive three hours to the Desert Camp for three nights

Drive from desert camp to Marrakesh for three nights

Fly to Madrid for four nights

Home through Paris, Atlanta and to Gainesville, FL

 

The transportation that I had prearranged to take us from the airport to our riad was nothing more than a dusty beat up regular taxi that we could have hired for 1/2 the price. I jumped in one side, Caroline the other and when the handle came off in her hands and she couldn’t get it back on she settled for just throwing it under the drivers seat hoping the whole door wasn’t coming off next.….ahhh yes, we’re in Morocco.

 

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The next morning our driver Rachine gathered us, our luggage and his prayer rug and we set out from Casablanca heading to Chefchaouen through mostly rural country and into the Rift mountains sharing the road with goats, sheep and people in donkey carts. Even Caroline adopted my method I used while canoeing with hippos in Zambia and fearing for my life ….just don't look. She looked out the window to her left and I looked right while leaving the view of the oncoming traffic and mules to our driver. It’s amazing that you only need 4 inches of clearance to pass…around a curve…going at a high rate of speed……

 

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Along the way Caroline got bug eyed when she saw meat hanging beside the road and shortly there after our driver suggested we have lunch like a local in just such a place and so we did. We selected our raw beef and lamb chops, the meat was ground and placed on butcher paper then handed to us, we then took it to another man out by the street to grill.

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We ate with Rachine using our fingers with a stray cat to our right, a pool of blood to our left and a chicken under our table all while watching two brides get married. The food was delicious.

 

When I couldn't hold it any longer our driver stopped and asked a man about his bathroom but then told me I wouldn't like it.... but I couldn't wait. And I’ll be honest I had no idea how to use that toilet because there was no toilet….there was a hole... and a bucket of water....and I now know I didn't use it correctly because I didn't squat with my back to Mecca.....

 

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When we got to the blue city of Chaouen, as it’s called locally, our driver walked us around and a group of smiling women started dressing up Caroline and had her hugging a peacock before I could say no, no, no. They grew to love us after I got confused and paid them 10 times their asking price, kissing us as we left.

 

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Since our riad was inside the medina where no cars are allowed our driver dropped us by the curb, flagged down two random men who carried our camera bag and three very heavy suitcases up stairs, around corners and through the narrow cobbled alleyway sweating by the time they got us there. I carried my pillow.

 

 

Before the trip I wasn’t sure that we would go into the medinas during the day without a guide and certainly we wouldn’t go out after dark but when we got to our riad we were totally confortable walking around that night, it’s such a friendly small town, much friendlier to tourists than any other place we went in Morocco.

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While in Chaouen Caroline had a massage and a hammam which involves stripping to your birthday suit and having a stranger scrub you from head to toe with black soap and thick grease while she flips you back and forth like a grilled cheese sandwich.

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Everywhere we went men were talking Caroline into following them down an alley and into their store. We were such suckers.

 

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AKR1

@@PCNW

 

Wow. Your usual superb photographs, We did a family trip there two years ago and we loved it but unfortunately we only had 8 days and had to skip the desert.

Look forward to more.

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Earthian

@@PCNW

I was in Morocco in 1992 for a two day quick business trip. One day in Casablanca and one day in Rabat. I don't think i ever saw Morocca the way you have seen and captured it. Your photographs are beautiful. Details of equipment , if you please?

Edited by Earthian

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Terry

Wow! Fantastic!

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PCNW

@@Earthian I took both my Nikon D800 and D4, 24-120 f/4, 35mm f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.8. My daughter took her D7100 and a 24-120. Because the people and particularly the women in Fes and Marrakesh are sensitive about being photographed Caroline very quickly lost interest in photographing anything. I used my D800 and 24-120 about 90% of the time. The D4 was just our backup. I took a light weight tripod and never used it.

 

The D800 has two card slots and I set my camera up to shoot Jpeg in the 2nd slot. I send daily emails back home with a few pics uploaded and edited from my iPad. And since I can't upload raw images to the iPad I use the Jpeg card for those.

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Alexander33

@@PCNW

 

You are a natural at storytelling. I'm loving the narrative of your high jinks, and your photographs are truly superb.

 

However, I must take issue with your daughter's vetoing Cambodia as a travel destination. We spent a week in Siem Reap last January leisurely touring Angkor Wat and the multitude of other temples in the area, and we absolutely loved it. The people were great and the food was delicious. We are already plotting a return to see more of the country. You have to go.

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xyz99

Great pictures and story....can't wait for more!

 

We are considering a very similar trip, so if you can recommend them, please include details on where you stayed, which driver(s) and guide(s) you used, etc. You have some wonderful people pics, how did you go about taking them? They don't look "posed", so did you ask for permission? Did you encounter any language barrier? Thanks.

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PCNW

Oh man @@Alexander33 you're killing me with your Cambodia story. Neither my husband nor three sons are interested in going and Caroline has just started nursing school but I've been eyeballing a photographic trip with Nathan Horton for some time. He now has added another trip that's even more off the beaten path than his usual ones. I just might go by myself.

 

@@xyz99 I'd be glad to share my info.

Casablanca: Hotel Spa Le Doge

Transportation to Chaouen: http://badrane-tours.com

Chaouen: Lina Ryad

Fez: Karawan Riad. I arranged for them to send a driver for us from Chaouen.

There's a flight from Fes that leaves at 5:55 am, goes back to Casa then down to Zagora.

Erg Chigaga/Sahara Desert: Luxury Desert Camp and they will pick you up at the airport or arrange transportation from any location. Nick Garsten is the co owner and can help with all of your trip arrangements if you need him to.

I had the same driver take us to Marrakesh.

Were were going to break up the return trip by staying in Ait Ben but ended up spending an extra night in the desert and driving straight through to Marrakesh.

Marrakesh: La Villa Orangers

Madrid: The Ritz Hotel.

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PCNW

@@xyz99 We were planning on using a guide every day when in the medina’s because of the language barrier and because I didn’t want to get into a position of offending anyone with my photography. As it turned out we didn’t use a guide at all in Chaouen, they were far more receptive to photography but I always got permission first. If they shook their head I simply smiled and moved on.

 

I also would shoot from my waist while talking to Caroline and ended up with some usable photos of women that way.

 

I had read about a particular guide in Fes and contacted our Riad about him. As it turns out he and one other are the only guides they use and we were lucky enough to get him for two days. But just know that even if you make it clear that you’re not there to shop but to sightsee and/or photography you will be taken to specific shops that the guide will get a kick back from. It’s just the way it is.

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PCNW

Continuing on from….Everywhere we went men were talking Caroline into following them down an alley and into their store. We were such suckers……

 

I was allowed to tag along simply because they thought I carried the money. But I kept forgetting that the asking price was about 60% more than what they would take and bargaining is expected. The crowning blow was when I not only didn’t bargain but again paid 10 times their asking price by mistake....those darn zeros....after that Caroline took my wallet and became the banker.

 

Our last night in Chaouen we ate in family run restaurant and had spaghetti that was heavy with cilantro and cumin….. so gosh darn good. After dinner we had to run back to our riad through the rain and were laughing like hyenas because the cobblestones kept sucking my flip flops off my feet and I nearly killed my self trying to brake every few steps to retrieve my shoes. Anyone familiar with Instagrams Dash.cams acct knows what I mean.

 

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I’m using my old emails as a reference to write this TR and below are some answers to questions that were asked in those emails.

 

Medinas are the old sections of each city and inside their walls are very old houses called riads that have been converted into hotels with all of the charm but disadvantages of buildings built prior to much electricity and plumbing. There were 42 steep (not to our building codes) steps up to our room in Chaouen.

 

Chefchaouen is a smaller city in the northwest part of Morocco and in the area that marijuana and hash is grown.

 

Hammam is a public bath where females go separately from the men, get naked, socialize, and scrub each other with black soap and a course brush. Caroline’s hammam was in a private spa not the public ones.

 

 

Caroline meets Louis Vuitton.

 

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The call to prayer happens 5 times a day and starts about 5:45 am lasting about 15 min. which alerts the roosters to start their routine. When the roosters are about done with their gig and in the ongoing pursuit of keeping all Christians awake they pass the microphone to the cats who then pair up and take to the battlefield.

 

Next up Fes, a four hour drive away.

 

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This is the hallway in the medina leading up to our riad. Then through the doors is our beautiful riad and rooms.

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wilddog

What a superbly entertaining report with some wonderful images. So colourful. Thanks @@PCNW

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xelas

@@PCNW

 

Just absolutely gorgeous and colourful photos ... although so far my preferred one is the B&W of the man with an umbrella.

 

If your report will not finally convince my wife to say yes to finally go to Morocco, well, not sure what else can be done. And it would be a shame as Morocco is literally just steps away (a short low-cost flight) from our hometown!

 

Looking forward for more!!

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xyz99

Really, what an adventure! Love your pics and the narration.

 

Would you consider driving in Morocco? Considering your initial comments and the "just don't look" advice, maybe not?

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PT123

@PCNW

 

Absolutely fantastic pictures and very entertaining and engaging writing style - this is good stuff that I'm very much enjoying. I also appreciate the logistical info provided in post #8. My wife and I have been talking about going to Morocco and Tunisia for 15 years but their always seems to be a reason we don't end up going. Maybe this TR will help light a fire under our arse (as the English say) and get something booked.

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PCNW

@gamewarden if it matters this TR should be in North Africa and not the Worldwide section.

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PCNW

Dinner with a Prince

 

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The Karawan Riad was like the proverbial oasis in the desert. We were met by the hotel at the curb of the medina and once again traveled through the cobbled alleyways lugging our bags through huddles of children, past donkeys and to the riad. Caroline was giving me the stink eye as we approached the hotel in that suspicious looking area that you see above but once we passed through their huge medieval looking door we were inside a beautiful paradise.

 

We were fortunate to get a particular guide that I had read about and had a delightful day with him, finding everything he said interesting. He told us he had guided a prince from the United Arab Emirates the day before and knew where they were having dinner.

 

Like all little girls Caroline dreamed of growing up and marrying a prince. Mohammad got us reservations, I got Caroline all buffed and fluffed and sure enough when we got to the restaurant there were 10 dark men in dark suits eating at the next table.

 

One made eyes at Caroline throughout dinner and when they left our waitress brought her a piece of paper with his name and number.....I was already mentally composing the end of this fantasy when I had to go and ruin a great story by finding out the facts...the prince was actually downstairs eating and these men were only his security detail!

 

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The next day we set out again with our guide Mohammad, a university professor and so knowledgeable and proud of his country, heritage, religion and culture. We were fascinated by his religion, Islam, and seeing a Harvard looking professor.... 60ish, tall, tweed coat, taking a few minutes away from us to pray on a rug. We had so many personal questions, which he found amusing.

 

Such a gentle soul, giving coins to beggars, and not the only one to claim that Islam, Christianity and Judaism all have the same philosophy but a different name for a common God. His devotion would make anyone who's lost touch to visit his church, synagogue or mosque.

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We walked for five hours and at the end when he started reviewing our history lessons from the day I was done but Caroline kept up and got an A on the test. She wasn’t sure what she thought of this trip asking me "I can't see you planning this" and " would you do this trip again?"

 

 

The answer is I don't need to do it again for sure but I don’t one minute regret the experience or of having given her this opportunity to see... learn.....feel.

 

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wilddog

@@PCNW

 

I have moved your Trip Report to North Africa section as requested.

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xyz99

@PCNW: your pictures are absolutely amazing, thanks for sharing. Do you have a web site where you post more of your work?

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PCNW

@@xyz99 As the kids would say...LOL. Just an amateur obsessed with my hobby. But I will say my new thing is Instagram. Having never fiddled with any social media I now spend a bunch of time there. For those that don't know what it is it's photos and short video clips of just about anything. You can follow famous (or not) photographers, safari lodges, comedians, chef's, heck, the Queen of England if you choose. Try it out. pnweingart if you do. I've recently gotten @peterconnan hooked too I think.

 

@@wilddog, thanks for the kind words and help.

 

@@AKR1 I tried my best to take a pass on the desert too simply because of the time it takes to get there and back.....man oh man, so glad we didn't. Finding the flight really helped.

 

@@Terry @@PT123 @@xelas Appreciate it. @@xelas The umbrella man is a favorite of mine too and hanging in my house. And to answer your question the roads are good, particularly the main highways. It's almost as if Moroccans drive like they don't fear death so maybe you'd be better off doing your own driving??

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xelas

@@PCNW

 

And it really deserves the place on the wall! As for the driving, I don't know ... my brother was there a couple of years ago. Driving on his own, with 2 other cars. He described vividly the "who will chicken out first" game on the roads ... yet I am a tough guy to be scared away from driving on my own.

 

BTW, did you need those big luggage for your photo gear :P ?! No answers needed. My wife already hates me because I am limiting her on one carry-on and one check-in (max 20 kg) piece :blink: !

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PCNW

Tid Bits

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For those thinking about Morocco below is a copy and paste from an email answering questions from friends and family. This might offer some info for those looking to go.

 

Money

 

Larry, we have collected all of the Moroccan coins, some difficult to come by because of their low value are rarely used. We're working on the paper money which shouldn't be hard since their largest denomination is 200 Dirhams or about $20.

 

Food

 

Mac, the traditional dish here is called tangine and is cooked in a clay covered pot also called a tangine. In my mind it's a piece of meat with whatever is leftover from your kitchen. Frequently lemons and olives.

 

The night we had "dinner with the prince" we couldn't make heads or tails of the menu and finally got it through to the waitress who didn't speak a word of English that she should just order for us.

 

Oh my gosh she brought us the traditional Moroccan salad which was 18...yes 18 bowls of stuff and we couldn't identify anything. In the end we figured out some things were potatoes with cinnamon, okra, zucchini, carrots all cooked and or mushed with odd combination of spices and served cold. That was just the first course. Then some pot pie looking things that would have been a meal in itself and then our tangines.

 

Yesterday among all of the usual variety of breads and condiments we had Moroccan soup for breakfast. We think it was a very watery cream of wheat with odd spices. Always strange spices and always olives on the table.

 

Culture

 

John, Mohamed said that Morocco is the only country in the world that has never persecuted people for their beliefs. I'd like to look into that because he also said that in the Koran there is absolutely no difference between men and women but yet it seems that in life women are treated differently. To help his point he pointed out that Fes has the oldest university in all of the world and was started by a woman.

 

But someone asked why the a woman was walking behind her husband who was riding their donkey….the answer was because they only had one donkey…..and that might sum up the relationship between Muslim women and men….maybe not wrong, just different.

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xyz99

PCNW,

What time of the year did you go? It seems the weather was nice...how hot was the desert? We are considering April-May timeframe...

 

xelas,

Meet you in Morocco in 2017?

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PCNW

Well now, that was different…..

Sorry guys, no images from this.

 

 

The next day we slept in and had a spa day. Caroline insisted I try a hammam so while Caroline went with one woman I got into my birthday suit behind a sheer curtain and since you wear that into the room with your masseuse standing there looking at you I was wishing I had on Caroline's suit. She covers you with a blanket but that's just a tease because she's going to eventually expose most everything including your itty bitty titties or bodacious ta tas depending on your cup size.

 

Next was my hammam. I walked with another woman down some wet stone stairs below ground into a steamy, Roman looking room complete with stone columns and benches, wooden buckets and brass bowls.... wearing the same suit I had on before and wishing I could have ironed it a little. Communicating with hand gestures she had me sit on the stone bench like a helpless child and poured scalding water all over me including my head, lathered my front side including my ta tas with what looked like molasses and then did the same for my backside as I lay on my tummy.

 

Fermenting for about 10 min. takes place next then she scrubbed me with a course sponge from front to back, top to bottom including my ear drums and washing my hair until even a forensic scientist would have trouble collecting a skin sample for DNA. It was delightful but if you're the least bit modest stay home. But if you remember that these women grew up bathing in a public hammam scrubbing their sisters, aunties and friends and that she's seen all shapes and sizes of birthday suits, it's all good...actually great.

 

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Edited by PCNW

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xelas

@@PCNW

 

Hmmm, maybe ... why not ... second half of 2017 is still open ... great idea !

 

I don't know for which secret to ask you first: or the name of your guides or the post processing you have done ?! Specially the later is a bit of a mystery for me. I understood the gear you are using but those colours, shades, 3D feeling, are just OOTW!

Tell me, how many of above are HDR?

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PCNW

Ha, @@xelas I was confused at first too but the idea of meeting you in Morocco actually came from @@xyz99.

 

I use Lightroom and Photoshop. Probably 80% and 20%. No HDR edits here tho. I've mentioned this before but I can sometimes get a more interesting look by just editing my JPEG's on my IPad using the free app Snapseed. There is an HDR option that brings out the best in a photo. However I didn't use it for any of these images because it's not available for the desktop.

 

Sometimes I'll try to get a similar look using LR and start by lowering the highlights and opening up the shadows going heavy on each. Then I'll add lots of clarity and vibrancy. This won't work for all photos however. These basic edits could be done in most any editing program.

 

I use PS to clone out distracting objects that catch my eye, power lines, odd lights, or in the case of the driver I'll post next fix imperfect teeth!!

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