Friday, May 18, 2018

Morocco! - part 2

We had a couple of days to explore the desert. The first day we were off-roading in the SUV, seeing camels roaming about, meeting nomadic Berber/Amazigh families, visiting an oasis, and climbing trees.... I just couldn't resist! We found out that there are no wild camels in the desert - all are owned and tagged. They do eat camel meat, but it is expensive and rare because the camels are more valued for tourism and transportation. The Berber people make up more than 60% of the population in Morocco and they prefer the name Amazigh - which means wild and free! No wonder I felt so at home with them :)

Roaming camels
A lone tree in the desert must be climbed!
There were two distinct deserts: the great sand dunes of the Sarah with the red sand, and the black rock desert, which was exactly what it sounds like - rocks that looked like they've been burnt. In the desert there are oasis, which are like huge community gardens. The natural springs are diverted through irrigation channels and each family gets water for a certain amount of time each week. They grow crops for their families and to sell in the souks.

Black rock desert - Sand dunes backdrop

Sand Dunes

Irrigation in the oasis

After exploring by car, we got to explore on camels! A two hour ride through the dunes at sunset, out to a camp to spend the night. I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive about the camel ride, as I'm not a big fan of horses, and wasn't sure how I'd do, but I LOVED it! The camels are super slow and the ride was surprisingly smooth. It really did feel like I was riding a "ship of  the desert". It was a meditative, mesmerizing experience.

Off and running, errr..... walking!

I made friends with Shooma 

Out at the camp we each had our own sleeping tent, which had an actual bed and carpets on the sand floor. There was a bathroom tent with flushing toilets and running water sinks. I'm still not sure how that actually worked?! The camp had solar power electricity - I learned that Morocco is leading the way in solar energy and will soon have the largest solar plant in the world. There was also a community tent where we had dinner and music. We had beautiful weather, but the winds kicked up when we got to camp, so star-gazing was pretty limited that evening. However, back at the riad, we had a magical night on the rooftop, under the stars, with a bottle of wine and local music.

Camping in the desert

The camels settling down for the night

Our camel guides also provided the after-dinner music and entertainment

The next morning we were up early to catch the sunrise and ride back to the riad to continue the adventures.
Sunrise in the desert

Algeria is on the other side of the plateau on the horizon

Camels are just cool!

To be continued (again)....

Morocco! - part 3

Leaving the Dunes behind, we got to spend some time in a small village souk (market) where they were selling livestock, spices, dates and anything else you can think of.

Spices that smelled so good

Date paste - they use this a lot during Ramadan

The donkey parking lot that didn't smell so good!
We traveled the Road of 1000 Kasbahs, which was an ancient trade route from the Sahara into Marrakesh. The kasbahs are ancient fortified villages built from mud and straw, and some are still inhabited today.

One of the many kasbahs
Travel companions

Snow-capped Atlas mountains in the background

Our next night was spent in a hotel at the bottom of the Dades Gorge. We drove up 24 switch-backs and then got to walk down the road at sunset to get to our hotel. Evidently this road is famous - Cadillac filmed a commercial here.
Dades Gorge

One of the hotels in the Dades Gorge

After our serene night in the gorge, we drove through the City of Roses, through the Atlas mountains and on to Marrakesh. 

Making Rose Oil
Marrakesh is the tourist capital of Morroco. The souks were laden with treasures - pottery, leather goods, spices, sweets, fruit, fabrics, lamps, rugs.... there was so much to take in! After dinner, we went out to the Jemma el-Fna Square to take in the nightlife. It was teaming with people and coursing with energy.... snake-charmers, trained monkeys, musicians, and juice vendors, along with henna tattoo artists and shoe-shiners.



Nuts, seeds and dried fruit

There were more than 20 juice vendors all in a row
We stumbled upon a beautiful rose garden just a few steps away from all of the chaos of the souk. The peace in the garden was tangible after the noise of the souk and the asymmetrical nature of this bench caught my eye - a reminder that beauty isn't predictable or balanced, that life is imperfect and messy, but that's where the real living happens.

We had another 4-hour train ride from Marrakesh to Casablanca before we flew out to head home. With a couple delayed flights, I had tight connections and got to run through two airports, but thankfully made all of my connections, and made it home safe and sound. It was an amazing adventure filled with so many memorable experiences. I am grateful for the awesome friends I traveled with and the new friends I made along the way. I also discovered some new food I'll be trying to replicate in my own kitchen, so stay tuned for those recipes!

Morocco! - part 1

I recently had an unexpected opportunity to visit Morocco with some friends, and so I jumped at the chance to spend 10 days exploring a new Country and my first visit to Africa.

It was a whirlwind tour that overwhelmed and delighted my senses. I flew into Casablanca (via Atlanta and Paris), then took a five-hour train ride up to Tangier to meet up with my friends who were flying in from Amsterdam. I had a few hours to explore the beach and see the Strait of Gibraltar. When my friends arrived, we took a taxi to Chefchaouen, arriving after midnight - making it a 36+ hour travel day for me!
Beach at Tangier
Chefchaouen hillside
Chefchaouen street
Chefchaouen - the Blue City
We had a delicious breakfast on the rooftop of our guest house before heading out to wander the streets of Chefchaouen, known as the Blue City. Stories say the Jewish community began painting their houses blue, and soon everyone else did so too. Others say they're painted blue to keep the mosquitoes away, and still others say it's to represent the sea. Regardless of the reason, it is a strikingly beautiful little village nestled in the Rif mountains. From there we hopped on a bus for a five-hour ride to Fes where we had two days to explore. Fes has an ancient medina built of a crazy maze of winding roads that are barely wide enough for a donkey, and there were many of them! The oldest university in the world, Al Quaraouiyine, which was started by a woman can be found in Fes, and it is also well-known for its many tanneries. The leather tanning process was fascinating, and gave me a whole new appreciation for the time and skill involved in preparing leather to be used to make products. I had a hard time resisting all of the shoes, and I did come home with a new leather bag!

Donkeys have the right-of-way


Covered Market
Our last evening in Fes, we took a taxi to the famous Blue Gate and wandered through the medina. As we were leaving, we found our way through the medina to the farmers market, then to the flea market, and finally into a courtyard filled with locals sitting around with their families watching the birds swooping as darkness fell. It was magical!

The Blue Gate in Fes
Early the next morning we were picked up by our hired guide and we drove through the Atlas Mountains. There were apple orchards, olive groves, wild monkeys, date palms as far as the eye could see, and nomads roaming the hills and herding their sheep. The monkeys may be wild, but they sure aren't shy. They will take peanuts right out of your hand.... expect I wasn't too keen on getting that close, so was happy to just take pictures.


Shepherd in the hills

Nomad dwelling 

River of Date Palms
After driving through the picturesque mountains, we arrived in the desert - the pinnacle of the trip! Our riad (hotel) was a lovely place in Merzouga right at the base of the Dunes and just 20km from the Algerian border. We were able to walk out the back door  into the Dunes and watch the sun set. It was beautiful and so very quiet. 

Courtyard view from my room

View from the rooftop - yep, there's a pool!

A few steps away in the backyard

To keep this from being ridiculously long, I'll write a second post for the second half of the trip.
To be continued...

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Back to School

This week was yet another first day of school for me. As a life-long learner I've often joked that I'm going to collect a bunch of certifications rather than just one focused degree, and this week started me on the road to another new certificate!

Thanks to my dear friend who insisted on capturing my first day!

This is one of those occasions in life that just seemed to fall into place. Part of my trip to Paris last Spring was a time to do some reflection on the past and anticipation of what the next season of life might hold for me. As I started to pay attention to what I talked about and read about, I realized FOOD is always on my mind! Yes, I love to bake (obviously), but more than that I noticed that not only was I reading cookbooks (which I've been told isn't "normal"), but I was also reading about food systems, soil health, naturopathic treatments for various ailments, and using food to prevent and remedy illnesses, and overall holistic health. 

Then, over tea one day, as I was lamenting to a friend my frustration with yet again not knowing what I wanted to do next in life, she mentioned this school that some of her colleagues were attending and suggested I may find it interesting.  As you may or may not know about me, I am a researcher by nature, and so I started researching not only this Nutrition Therapy Institute (NTI), but also many other independent schools as well as nutrition programs at various colleges and universities. However, I kept coming back to NTI. Not only are they located here in Denver, but they have a holistic approach to nutrition that encompasses mind, body and spirit. And so, I started the enrollment process, was accepted and now have started my first class... Anatomy & Physiology! A bit intimidating, but also fascinating.

Not only does this program compliment what I was independently reading and learning, but it seems to be such a natural next step for me, both personally and professionally.  I am excited about this new season and the myriad possibilities ahead! 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

April in Paris

I recently made a trip to France - initially because I had been feeling a little homesick and I was eager to reconnect with friends and visit the city that captured a bit of my heart. But more so, because the plane ticket was so cheap I couldn't NOT go! And, it's Paris, in April. Need I say more?!

I spent a few days back in Rambouillet, hanging out with friends and strolling down memory lane. The apartment I rented was perfectly situated down town, right next to a pastry shop. It couldn't have been a better location for me!

The entrance to the courtyard of my apartment is tucked under the awning of the pastry shop

The courtyard behind the pastry shop - my apartment was just on the right

The Farmer's Market was always a favorite Saturday morning activity

The Chateau at the school where I lived and worked - so many memories here

A medieval laundromat!

After catching up with friends, I headed in to Paris for a week of roaming about the city on my own. This was a much needed personal retreat - a time of solitude and reflection (anonymity in a crowd can be the perfect place for this). I had researched several non-typical, non-touristy things to do, so that I would have options and some sort of destination to wander towards as I meandered through the streets. This is the way I prefer to travel and explore - having options that allow for spontaneity in the moment, depending on the weather and what I'm in the mood for. I made it to most of the places on my list, and stumbled upon some pleasant surprises along the way.

A perfect lunch spot with a view of Notre Dame

An unexpected view from the rooftop of the Galleries LaFayette 

Some lovely street music

Canal St. Martin - the "other" river in Paris, in a quaint, artsy neighborhood

There She is - always making an appearance at the most unexpected times

The square and church near my hotel

Le musee Cluny (the museum of the Middle Ages) was fantastic and full of surprises

Le Jardin des Plantes (the botanic gardens) was impressive

This was a delightfully quiet, non-touristy church with a spectacular organ

The Rodin Gardens are calm and secluded in the heart of the city

Stacks of flowers at one of the oldest markets in the city

The view from the beautiful Pere-Lachaisse cemetery
This street performance satisfied my hopes of seeing a Jazz concert in Paris

One last walk along the river
My time was filled with  plenty of sightseeing and lots of walking, interspersed with many stops at cafes, creperies, patisseries and brasseries. I mostly survived on cheese, pastries and crepes washed down with plenty of good wine.  I left with a satisfied stomach and a full heart - thankful for the time I had to see friends and reacquaint myself with the city. In so doing, it seems I reconnected with a part of myself that had gradually been muted over the past several months. A lightness and freedom has returned to lift my spirit and carry me forward into this next season of life.

So long Paris. I'll return soon.