Archive for January, 2013

Morocco or Come with me to the Kasbah

January 24, 2013

“The invitation “Come with me to the Kasbah,” which was heard in trailers for a movie in the 1930s, Algiers but not in the film itself, became an exaggerated romantic overture, largely owing to its use by Looney Tunes cartoon character Pepé Le Pew, himself a spoof of Pépé le Moko. The amorous skunk used “Come with me to ze Kasbah” as a pickup line.”
When we first arrived by car from the airport into the city of Marrakesh we felt we were back in Mexico—the city’s car traffic was chaotic, drivers paid scant attention to traffic lights, impatient drivers honked if traffic didn’t  move, the streets had trash everywhere and the buses were crowded.

Marrakesh did have the most beggars of any city we visited and they were not shy about coming up to you when you were eating at an outdoor restaurant and begging food off your table. And speaking of food— the food is cheap, good and we didn’t cook one time in Marrakesh. The national dish is the “Tagine” —meat and vegetables cooked and served in a small clay pot. Bread with every meal as the Moroccans use bread as their fork picking up their food with small bits of bread, like Mexicans do with tortillas. If you are allergic to wheat you could not live in Morocco. Bread is served with everything, at every meal, all the time. Marrakesh is also known for its Medina and Jna el Fina plaza. In the plaza are snake charmers with cobras and vipers,(the snakes look docile and were not very active—good thing right?) women wanting to mark your hand with henna tattoos, jugglers, dancing women (that is, men dressed as women) vendors of cosmetics and Argan oil, trained monkeys and guys with odd musical instruments playing their hearts out for tips. Add to this chaos the plaza is crossed by motorbikes, bicycles, horse and buggies, mini vans and an occasional car. The houses in Marrakesh are predominately painted a brown sand color or an off-white. The color that you can paint your house is regulated by the government. You do get the option of painting your front door any color you want.
We took a short five day tour of the country, no Roman ruins this time,  it was primarily natural sights. The highlight of the tour and Morocco was the camel, no, to be more exact dromedary ride in the sand dunes to spend an overnight in a tentcamp. Because it is the off season we had the place to ourselves. Two guys served us and played Berber drums and we (No, just me and Anita) cuddled under warm clothing and blankets staring up at a sky full of stars listening to the music. Cold at night? Burrrr. The best time to come to Morocco I am told is April—not to hot, not too cold. In summer the temp can reach 50 degrees Celsius. On this private tour we traveled around the desert and over the Atlas Mountains with a guide and driver. We visited small Berber communities and markets. We went to visit two Nomad families, one that lived in a cave with the barest of essentials and the other lived in a tent. It was a pretty enlightening experience seeing how minimal a life they lived. The children didn’t even go to school. Our guide, who’s family owned the tour company was born in a Nomad tent, but at a young age his family moved to a city after his mother died and he went to school. We ate lunch at his sisters house, a beautiful women who never learned to read or write. We traveled the road of the 1000 Kasbahs. Kasbahs are big houses that are fortified and have two defense towers. They were built out of and adobe like material of mud and straw and all over the desert are kasbahs that are literally disintegrating and falling down since they were built with not much support and many are 500+ years old.In Morocco all the cafes, especially at night, are filled with men drinking tea, smoking and talking. Wherever you look there are men. Men are the shop workers (of course not in women’s clothing stores), the taxi drivers, the waiters, bus drivers, police and women (which I assume make up 50% of the population) make up 10% of the people in the streets. There is very little intercourse (however you want to understand that word)between men and women here as I could tell. Example: There are several channels on the TV where young women stand around in revealing clothing and prompt guys to call in so they can talk to them on the phone. I mean, how hard up can you be to spend your money on a phone call just talking to the girls. The vast majority of Moroccan women (Muslim) cover their heads with scarves. I am getting used to it. It is a great idea ladies if you are having a bad hair day.

Then we went to Fes, the city with the biggest Medina. A huge  old walled city with around 9000 narrow pathway like streets, the Medina of Fez is a walled city with madrasas, fondouks, mosques and palaces dating from Marinid rule in the 13th–14th centuries. At that period, Fez replaced Marrakesh as the capital of the kingdom. It is so easy to get lost in the maze of streets and it is recommended to get a guide which we did for a day. There is a  small English speaking population and while we were wandering we met an English speaking German woman who is married to a British man. We went to see their house, they bought a beautiful old moorish house for next to nothing and renovated it. Fes is a really unique place, a UNESCO world heritage city. It was an  interesting place and one worth visiting. Do not open a map on the street or in the Medina of Fez, it is a dead giveaway you are a tourist and several helpful guys will magically appear all wanting to guide you. You will find their services are not free. The other ploy they use is if you say you are going to this place or another they will say it is closed and you should go with them to their place. Any baggage handler will ALWAYS want more money than you give them .Taxis ON METER are cheap. I hate to say it but many Moroccans look upon tourists as walking ATMs to be fleeced. You are warned.

Finally we stopped for three days in Asilah, a city just south of Tangiers and on the Atlantic ocean. It is a small friendly town with a big Spanish influence. Most of the year it is a tourist beach town. In January it is quiet. The medina there is small, clean and lovely, probably the nicest we saw. This tragic thing about this town was the garbage on the beaches and in empty lots outside the medina. We found it appalling. It ruined the beaches for us.

We taxied to the ferry in Tangier and in 35 minutes we were in Spain.

 

Photos can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151212008776516.451970.667416515&type=1&l=4753f6b706

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Safed, Galilee, Masada and Tel Aviv

January 5, 2013

Safed or Zefat

We headed out of Jerusalem on a clear, bright and warm day and drove north toward the city that is revered as the spiritual heartland of Israel — Safed. This is the city where the Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism originated and so I thought if Jerusalem had all these holy people and places this place must be …. I really didn’t what to expect.
Safed (it has several spellings) clings to the side of a mountain and you wind your way up a curvy looping road, trying to read small road signs until you enter a normal looking small town. So far the place looked normal …. whatever that is. Safed is a helter-skelter collection of mediocre art galleries, inns, falafel joints and pizza parlors. One of the “must sees” is a cemetery that has separate paths for men and women leading to it. For all the build-up of this as a “holy place” well, I just didn’t feel it. As far as I could see it was a tourist town with over priced restaurants, pizzas without pepperoni, service people who could care less about service and buses full of “birthright” kids — young Jews brought (many times free) to Israel from other countries to experience their homeland. Strangely this small spiritual town did have, I’m not sure how this ties in with the Kabbalah spirituality, four small kiosks selling lottery tickets. It seemed like a lot of lottery outlets for such a small town. I guess spirituality isn’t what it used to be. We did take a hike and Climbed up Mount Meron. At 1,208 meters (3,963 ft) above sea level, Mount Meron is the highest peak in Israel. Of course many of you come from states with taller mountains and this can be best described as a “sort-of” tall mountain. Anita was thrilled that her new knee was working wonderfully and she could hike without a problem

After three days in Safed soaking up Kabbalah spirituality we drove south down along the Sea of ​​Galilee, what is part of the “Jesus Trail.” Jesus came from this land and there are many cities and areas mentioned in the Bible. Buses of Christians drove up and down the roads stopping at cities and holy sights mentioned in the new Testament. The land is quite green and beautiful with rolling hills. We stopped in a bustling little city of Tiberias and walked around on the board walk. This was December and it was very unbusy. From there we drove to Beit She’an and stayed a night at a hostel where we were two of four people staying there. The place could hold a hundred people or more. Again, December is slow tourist time in this part of Israel. This is a place where Anita thought she had died and gone to heaven — they served salad for breakfast. Heaven for her, purgatory for me.
We did go to a great ruin Beit She’an, (see pictures) It is one of the best ruins of its kind we saw so far and really unknown and empty .

Masada

Next day we headed out early to another hostel near the Dead sea and at the base of the famous mountain plateau called Masada. (In case you don’t know, Masada is the place where a small group of revolutionary Jews fought off the Romans in an uprising circa 77 AD. The 900 or so people killed themselves rather than be taken prisoner by the Romans. The place has special meaning for Israelis (I liken it to the Alamo for Americans.) The view from this place overlooking the white earth of the desert, the delicate brown desert sands and the turquoise of the Dead Sea is wondrous You can take the “Snake Trail” up to the top of Masada or a tram. We took the tram. Many people journey up there in the dead of morning to see the sunrise. We took the tram around 8 am after a hearty breakfast and some salad. Masada is quite something and well worth the trip if you are in Israel. Just don’t go up there in a windstorm or in the dead of summer. You are on top of a mountain with very little cover.

While we were there at the hostel at the base of Masada we drove some miles away and swam in the Dead Sea. Indeed you do float quite high in the water due to the salt content. Plus there is a high mineral content to the water which coats your body with a slick oily residue. Some Australian young women, always the daring nationality, went topless. The lifeguards on duty (guys) didn’t say a word. They did carefully monitor the women with binoculars to make sure they didn’t drift away and drown. We also hiked up a narrow canyon to see “David’s Waterfall” at the gorgeous Ein Gedde Nature Preserve. Then we took another really steep seriously difficult trail that wound up into the rocky clifts above. Anita was thrilled to be able to do this. Again the views of the Dead Sea and surrounding desert were fab. I did notice that the water that cascaded down the waterfall was pumped up in large hoses.
Tel Aviv.

Having our fill of Masada and the desert we headed for Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was a pleasant surprise. Anita thought the place would be just another large city. It is not just another city. Compared to Jerusalem it is Sodom or maybe it is Gomorrah. I always get the two mixed up. Tel Aviv is a NEW city in Israel, it was founded in 1909.Today is is a city of about 350,000, so not really too big and very walkable. The city is bustling with restaurants, shops and a young hip population that spends night and day in cafes and more time walking the streets with cell phones attached to their ear, more cell phone users than any place we have visit so far. I understand prices for phone service are very low and everybody, I mean EVERYBODY, has a phone.

An interesting aspect of the city is Tel Aviv’s White City , designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, comprises the world’s largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings. (See pictures) In the 1930s many architects fled Nazi Germany and settled in Tel Aviv and consequently designed many of the apartment buildings. There are very few single family dwellings, and the ones that exist are small. As I mentioned Tel Aviv was a pleasant surprise and a great city. If we return to Israel this place deserves more discovery and exploration. It easily would be a place to spend some time. BTW everyone spoke English in Tel Aviv.

Shalom

I have been posting only a small selection of the many, many photos I have taken. I have stored my photos on Dropbox and if anyone would like to see them just let me know and I will give you access to them and tell you how to see them.

For the current photos go to: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151184105286516.448589.667416515&type=1&l=1ec1df56ae