Sunday, November 30, 2008

Public Bath Experience II

Hammam II.JPG

I shared my second hammam experience with Carrie and Khadija. This was the ideal combination of ladies to accompany to the hammam. Carrie had never been before, so I got to feel all experienced, wise, and "with it" as I explained to her what to do. But, Khadija was there to fall back on when I forgot the order of the steps or where exactly I was supposed to hang my towel.

The steps progressed pretty much like my first experience. I was kind of hoping that slightly less skin and dirt would peel off of my body the second time. It didn't happen. I guess it HAD been ten days since my last scrape down. That must have been enough time for the dead skin cells and dirt to accumulate.

Despite it being her initial hammam experience, Carrie noticed something that had previously escaped my attention: the walls of the hammam are heated. Hammams are powered by large fires. The fires heat large quantities of water, and the water runs through the walls, making them warm to the touch. Hmmmmmppphhhh.

Weak Sauce Attempts at Sunset Pictures

It would be cool if the title of this post could be something romantic like "Sunset Over the Sahara" or "Desert Nights." Unfortunately, despite having the arguably BEST view in all of Southern Morocco, I was unable to produce any photos worthy of those titles. I blame it on not owning a tripod and overwhelming incompetence (please do not judge the quality of my beautiful Nikon camera based on these shots). Anyway, here are a few of my attempts...


Here it is. Gorgeous sunset, picturesque traditionalesque mud building, and only a mediocre combination of the two. Oh well...


This one is not so bad. I especially liked the rays coming from the sun. I also like the fact that I'm not blind, despite pointing my lens directly at the sun.


What's so incredibly painful about this particular picture (and yes, I know this is technically not a "sunset picture" being as it is a picture of the moon, so spare me the smarmy comments) is remembering the intense gorgeousness of the original scene. I'd never dreamt of the moon rising over sand dunes, but now that I've seen it, I will permeate my dreams forever.

It is obvious by the oblong shape of the moon that I was not using a tripod. I did attempt to prop my camera up on a table on the patio. But, that wasn't tall enough. I stacked a stool on top of the table, and that was better, but I couldn't see the viewfinder. Also, the stool drooped in the middle, causing crookedness. So, I was forced to do a handheld shot at a slow shutter speed. :(

It was captivating. Seriously. You probably don't believe me because of the poor quality of the above picture, but you're just going to have to take my word for it...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Camel Riding in the Sahara!!!

Because I am extraordinarily lame, I was insanely excited about riding a camel in the Sahara desert. Youssef, the owner of our kasbah, arranged the whole experience.


We started by having our heads wrapped in a traditional turban. The turban offered protection from the sand and upped the cool factor by at least one hundred.


This is Carrie. She is a Fulbright teacher from Heber, Utah. Carrie rocks. Carrie also "agreed" to be my model for a photo series on how to wrap a turban (by agreed I mean that she didn't run away while I was taking the photos. Also, she knows that I am a blogger, implying implicit consent).


The turban wrapping was provided by Youssef.


Youssef wrapped the turban around Carrie's head, and, um, then he twisted it...


Then he, uh, wrapped the twisted part behind her head...


And, um, tucked it in, or something...


Then kept twisting and wrapping in a very turban-like fashion...


Before, uh, tucking the end of the turban underneath, the, um, twisted part...


Okay, so that didn't quite end up being the informative how-to piece I had envisioned (even Carrie looks annoyed in this picture- and she's an incredibly positive person). Maybe you can figure out how to tie a turban by looking at the pictures or something (is tie even the right verb to use? I really have no idea...).


The end result left us looking authentically touristic and ready to ride our camels!!!


This is our guide leading the camels to us. We considered ourselves very fortunate to have a private guide (as opposed to traipsing around with forty fanny-pack-wearing tourists).


This is Carrie and me greeting our camels. I knew the dark one was meant for me because he (or she?) was loud as soon as they arrived.


Getting on the camel while it was on the ground was pretty easy, and I was pretty much feeling like a pro-spectacular-fessional...


then the camel started to stand up, and I had to hold on to the little tourist bar pretty tightly. (You will notice that I managed to continue looking at and posing for the camera, despite almost falling off my camel. I am amazing. Also, I am pretty sure that I was smiling underneath my turban, even though my mouth was covered.)


Carrie and I both made it safely through the standing up process, and I was able to continue my blatant posing. (Hey Brahim!!! Thanks for taking the pictures of my camel mounting!)


If I looked down, this was my view. You may not be able to tell, but our guide was BAREFOOT! He started out wearing Tevas (hahaha), but took them off a few minutes into the journey. (Fun fact: he just left the sandals in the sand. He picked them up on our way back to the kasbah).

Sand View.jpg

If you think that I got tired of looking at the sand dunes, you would be WRONG! I can't really describe why the view of the dunes was so mesmerizing, but it was. The coolest part was that we didn't see anyone else. It was almost like we had the desert to ourselves.


We stopped halfway through journey to eat lunch at this oasis.


In order for us to dismount, the camels sat down for us. This prompted Carrie and I both to again use the little tourist bar. (See that white bag. We're pretty sure our lunch was in there.)


Dismount was 100% successful.


The camels took a well-deserved rest.


And I was able to get this close up of Carrie's camel.


I took the opportunity to pose, yet again, with my camel (notice the ring in his nose? I tried not to look at it).


This was our lunch. The bread was yummy and soft. The cheese was French. The salad was full of sardines and eggs. Turns out, I like fresh sardines. Is that weird?


After lunch we climbed a humongous sand dune. Our guide climbed up like it was nothing. I almost died. I'm serious. My thoughts about climbing the dune can be summed up in two sentences:

1. I am ridiculously out of shape.
2. Maybe I should work out or something.

Embarrassingly, I had to crawl in order to make it up to the top. But, I did it.

Sand View From the Top.jpg

And I was rewarded with this view. Nice, eh?


I also got to take a picture of my feet in the sands of a Saharan dune!


Here's a view of the oasis. The tents are for people who go on overnight camel rides. Those people are very cool. (Hey Steve! Wanna go camping in the Sahara with me?)


Here are the triumphant dune climbers (although, Carrie was significantly more triumphant than me because she wasn't heaving like an asthmatic bovine).


Carrie at the top of the dune.


Me at the top of the dune. (Gee whiz, what would it be like if my camera weren't full of cheese-a-riffic photographs?)


We walked along the crest of the dune, causing little sand avalanches like this.


Then we were introduced to Berber skiing. Our guide grabbed my left ankle and Carrie's right ankle. Then he dragged us down the dune. (Is it just me, or do both of our feet look strikingly white?) It was fun. I shrieked the whole time (shocker).


This was our guide's face during the Berber skiing. I wonder if he likes this part of his job...


We ended our Berber skiing experience halfway down the dune. Then we ran the rest of the way down. It was fun. My body was kind of stretched between the force pulling down the dune and my weight causing me to sink into the sand. I also managed to get sand in just about every crevice of my jeans and into the chapstick that was in my pocket. The above picture shows the footprints I made in the dune.

Sand View  Favorite.jpg

We saw more fantastic views on the way back. (If you look closely you can see four-wheeler tracks.)


We arrived back at our kasbah a little bit tired, a lot sandy, and very happy.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Our Kasbah

Kasbah means castle. Sort of. A kasbah is kind of like a largish old style building with lots of rooms. These days, kasbahs are used as charming hotels or inns.


We stayed at the Kasbah Panorama just outside of Merzouga, Morocco. For the full effect of this picture, click on it to view full size.


There were several cool features that persuaded us to choose the Kasbah Panorama as our desert abode. One was the fact that it was made out of mud and straw. Seriously. Do you remember your world history classes where you learned that ancient civilizations used to mix mud and straw to form bricks. They still do that in Morocco. It's amazing. As you can tell from the above picture, the Kasbah Panorama owners even sculpted a balcony from the mud-straw mixture.


Our bathroom was separated from the rest of the room by a mud-straw wall.


Another cool feature was the groovy ceiling. I have no idea if this is authentically Desert Moroccan, but it felt authentic.


The kasbah was graced by wicker lamps, a nice touch that added to the rustic desert ambience.


This picture is kind of poorly composed (okay, EXTREMELY poorly composed), but it will kind of give you an idea of what the place looked like inside. The rooms without bathrooms use the one at the end of the hallway.


One of the most exciting- at least for me- features of our kasbah was the camels in the backyard!!!! Given my newfound affection for dromedaries, I was quite satisfied by their proximity.


However, the best part of Kasbah Panorama was, hands down, the view. Panoramic indeed.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Sahara!!!

I don't think I ever imagined that I would travel to the Sahara Desert, but I did!!!!!


This was our first glimpse at the desert. It doesn't look like the traditional image of sand dunes, but hold on, that's coming...


The desert is home to nomad tents. This one is set up just for tourists, but it will help you get the idea of what the real ones are like. (Say hi to Danielle, a Fulbright teacher from Portland who stars in the above picture. Hi Danielle!)


The dessert was also home to some fascinating dry ground...


and even more fascinatingly, camels!!!! It has recently come to my attention that I heart camels. I was very excited to see some randomly wandering around the dessert. (Note to readers: In order to experience the true glory that is this picture, you should click on it to see the full-sized version. It was almost sunset, so the lighting was awesome! Due to my technical incompetence, I can't make a bigger version appear without cutting off some of the photo. My sincerest apologies.)