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Pressing on to Tangier

Our time in Casablanca was brief. After a good sleep in my comfortable hotel, Le Doge, the next morning we set off for another three hour drive, to Tangier. Along the way we stopped at Abdou’s sister’s home in Bouznika for our second breakfast. According to Abdou, it is not unusual for Moroccans to have an early breakfast, then tuck in again for more sustenance before lunch! Along with the usual tea (sweet or not), came almond cake, baguettes, honey, jam, olive oil, soft cheese and olives. (I have eaten an unconscionable amount of bread on this trip!)

Abdou and Zachariah

More charming children, especially little Rian.

The landscape here has changed again, to more lush fields and large groves of olive, banana and avocado trees, and small herds of cows and sheep graze the rolling hillsides. At lunchtime we stopped in Assilah, a lovely small fishing town, where we enjoyed a very cheap (160 MAD, about $16 for the three of us) spread of lightly fried fish, calamari, shrimp and frites, then strolled through the quiet medina inside the ancient city walls.

Just outside Tangier we stopped at the Caves of Hercules, a rather kitschy tourist spot but interesting geologically. As myth has it, Hercules created the caves during his seven labors when he ripped Africa away from Europe at this spot. On one side the mighty Atlantic crashes against the cave walls, while on the other the more gentle Mediterranean waves lap against the rock. The inside is a combination of natural formations created by weather and water and man-made carving. Another legend has it that the famous Barbary monkeys that inhabit Gibralter (just 8 miles away), made their way there through tunnels under the sea from these very caves.

This area is called Cap Spartat, and there’s a handsome lighthouse pointed out toward Gibralter. We got there about 5:30 and walked around a bit, to see where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet, marked by a fingerpost sign. But I could tell my guides/companions weren’t Caves of Hercules

photographers, who would have stayed for what promised to be a spectacular sunset in about 45 minutes. Since we’d had a long day of driving, I didn’t press it!

Marrakech to Casablanca

I left my new friends at Dar les Cigognes with hugs and their pleas for me to return. Staying there was a wonderful way to slip into Moroccan life.

The drive to Casablanca is about three hours.From here on we’ll be chauffeured by Abdou’s friend Zachariah, who, as it turns out, is a very skillful driver. Finally free of the Marrakech traffic, we made it to Casablanca in time for lunch at the home of Abdou’s brother.In anticipation of our arrival, his wife and sister-in-law had been busy preparing the traditional Friday couscous, steamed with meat and vegetables for three hours. It was as delicious as it looks.

Four of his brother’s children were there, along with three cousins. They’re all beautiful, but the little ones (2 and 5) are too cute for words.

Casablanca is a chic, bustling cosmopolitan city, with sleek ultra-modern architecture — and paralyzing traffic. No donkey carts or tok toks, just big Beemers, Mercedeses and Land Cruisers and the ubiquitous scooters creating their own lanes as they zip down the boulevards. Casablanca is the economic capital of Morocco, and it shows. In my brief time here, I heard more French than Arabic spoken, testifying to its colonial roots.

After lunch we had a tour of the Hassan II Mosque, until recently the largest in the world. Its 600-foot minaret can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city, and is cloaked in intricate mosaics. It sits in the midst of a vast courtyard that accommodates 80,000 worshippers. Our guide told us 25,000 can fit inside. Pictures fail to capture the sheer size of the space.

All of the features inside are crafted from carved plaster, stone, marble and wood from Morocco, with a small area of the prayer hall constructed of Carrera marble from Italy. The ceiling is made of carved and painted cedar wood and slides open to the sky in less than five minutes and closes in two: a real feat, since it weighs 1100 tons. At the eastern end of the hall is a niche where the imam sits on a high stool to lead the prayers. 360 speakers amplify his voice inside and out. Women are seated in a sort of balcony area in the main hall, unlike the mosques I visited in Jordan, where women are relegated to the basement. 

In the center of the hall a glass inset overlooks the ablution hall on the floor below, where worshippers wash before prayers at marble lotus flower-shaped fountains; there is an area for men and an identical one for women. The washing ritual is repeated before each of the five prayer times specified in the Quran: wash right hand three times, left hand three times, face three times, right foot three times, left foot three times. Good way to keep Covid in check!

To bring me back to earth, Abdou took me on a brief walk to a nearby neighborhood, where two more modest mosques overlooked small gardens. One wonders at the need for two more mosques!

Into the High Atlas Mountains

A bit more than an hour from Marrakech, the High Atlas Mountains provide an easy escape from the summer heat in the city.

Along the way the terrain becomes more barren, with scattered small villages and wide spots along the road where entrepreneurs had set up their wares, mostly ceramic pots; and camel drivers beckoned us to have a ride.

We stopped at a small Berber village, where a guide demonstrated the ancient method of milling grain and took us on a tour of his home, offering tea and freshly made bread baked over a wood fire.

The rooms above are the living room and the master bedroom; the teapots and tagines are used for company. Driving along the river, we saw many cafés like the one below set up for dining al fresco.

We met up with Mohammed in his village so that he could guide me on a “one-hour hike” up the mountain to see the waterfall. The early part of the hike was a gentle uphill, with steps helpfully carved into the rock. We passed by tiny shops tucked into the overhanging rocks, along with small cafés strategically located for a tea break. As the altitude got higher, the path disappeared, replaced by boulders; and the little bridges over the stream were no more, forcing us to clamber from rock to rock.

The display of soft drinks above is in a so-called “Berber refrigerator,” a spray of cold water from the stream that’s surprisingly effective at cooling beverages. As I write this I realize I was so busy trying not to fall off the mountain that I took few to no photos of the terrain we had to navigate to get to the top.The payoff was this lovely waterfall. As is always the case, the trek down was even more difficult than the hike up. But the kind Mohammed held my hand over the tricky spots. On the way down we saw a veiled woman with fou-fou shoes (pointy toes, sparkly, leather soles I’m sure) climbing up on her hands and knees. I don’t know how far she got, but I have to give her credit for the attempt!

Tomorrow we set off for Casablanca!

The Pleasures of the Hammam

After my big day walking and shopping with Abdou, I decided to take a short walk around the square — and got myself impossibly lost in the labyrinthine streets. It was inevitable, but I got a good four miles in!.

Afterwards, over mint tea, Amanda and Youssef outlined a proposal for my remaining days here, actually nearly two weeks. Tomorrow Abdou will take me to the High Atlas mountains, then on Friday we’ll set out north and east, first stop: Casablanca. The rest I will keep under wraps till we’re underway. Abdou will be my driver and guide.

Today I experienced the pleasures of the hammam, which is a weekly ritual for folks here. It starts with entering a marble chamber, nude except for underpants. The attendant (I’ll have to find out what they’re called), Aziza, dipped dish after dish of hot water from a metal basin and dumped it all over me, then I lay down on my stomach and she continued. Once I was thoroughly soaked, she used an abrasive mitt to scrub me with black soap, taking off accumulated layers of dead skin. Next she packed on a fragrant herb mixture and scrubbed some more, including my face. Finally came a thorough rinse with hot water. After I had dried myself I had a deep tissue massage. I have to say, my skin has never been this soft since I was five.

This would be a very civilized thing to do every week.

Settling In in Marrakech

Amanda and Youssef, my keepers here on the ground, set me up with a guide for the day on Tuesday. Abdou is probably in his early 20s, the youngest of seven children, and studied to be guide while in college. He proved to be knowledgeable and engaging. Our first stop today was Bahia Palace, so much more interesting with a well-informed guide to fill in the details. Built in the 1860s and comprising 150 rooms, the palace was the home of a grand vizier and covers an expanse of 8000 square meters (86,000 square feet!)

There are private rooms for his four wives and a special one for Bahia, his favorite. Surrounding a large courtyard, known as the harem room, are twelve apartments, each accommodating two of the vizier’s concubines. The vizier had six children by his four wives, and countless more by his harem; the number of the latter is not recorded.

The layout is a labyrinth, due to the fact that it wasn’t built all in one go, but added onto piecemeal by the vizier’s heirs. There are various riads inside the palace, and lovely, peaceful gardens separating the different sections. All of the rooms are lavishly decorated in carved plaster and painted cedar, with Koranic verses spelled out in decorative tile. The grand courtyard is paved in Carrera marble, and I have to confess that the old event planner in me shouted “black tie venue” when I saw it.

Our next stop was the argan cooperative, which our host described as a “Berber pharmacy.” The shelves held a dizzying array of miraculous lotions, potions, creams and oils (for cooking as well as beauty), including nigella seed for exfoliating the skin, argan massage cream, Berber tea, black soap…the list goes on. I filled my basket with products for myself and Christmas gifts for others.

Abdou knew I was on orders from daughter K to find an 8×10 kilim rug, so we marched on to the carpet cooperative, where the energetic helpers rolled out rug after rug for my inspection. Then the process of elimination began.

I made a Marco Polo video to send to K for her input, and we settled on one similar to the one in the top right-hand corner. Then I chose a smaller one for my entryway similar to the one at lower right. The bargaining commenced, and I have to admit that it was nerve-wracking for me. But the salesman threw in a much smaller one to position beside my bed, and took my bag from the argon store to include in the (free and insured) shipment. They will arrive next week, before I do.

Shopping can bring on a powerful hunger, and Abdou wanted to make sure I would eat authentic Moroccan food, so we enjoyed a tanjira at a cafe overlooking the souk. This one was made from lamb cooked very slowly with many spices and preserved lemon. To eat it, you tear off a piece of bread, dunk it in the sauce, and use the bread to pull off chunks of meat. Quite delicious.

After lunch, we dived back into the souk so I could have a brief lesson in plaster carving and tile making. I learned I’m not very good at either, as it takes years to develop the skills these two craftsmen have.

Our meanderings took us to a shop with fabulous handmade shoes (see me below with Mohammad the cobbler and the giant shoe), exquisite scarves colored with natural plant-based dyes, and and olive shop where we sampled olives at various stages of ripeness.

Moroccans love their sweets, and Abdou is no exception. He picked out a half-dozen or so from one of the shops and we devoured them with mint tea on one of the rooftops overlooking Jamaa el Fna, as we watched the last vestiges of the sunset fade behind the mosque.

Sunset at Jamaa el Fna

Two more quick stops to fill the last empty corners of our stomachs: a tiny place for harira and a savory crepe, and another for grilled chopped sardines made into balls we tucked into bread. Both simple and delicious — and by the way, Moroccan bread is fantastic.

After a long, full day, I tumbled into bed with my hot water bottle.


Back on the Road…

But not exactly the way I planned. I arrived in Marrakech yesterday, two days ahead of a group of fellow photographer travelers, ready for a couple of weeks of adventure in this corner of Morocco. Within an hour of my arrival, the Moroccan government announced it would close its borders to all foreigners for two weeks, effective at midnight. That meant that all of my fellow travelers — including the group leader, who was wrapping up a trip to Tanzania and joining us in two days’ time — were locked out of the country.

So here I am, by myself but not alone at Dar el Cigognes, a lovely riad in the old medina. My hostess, Hayat, couldn’t be more gracious and has treated me like a queen, from the welcoming mint tea to assuring me she and her staff are committed to my every comfort. There were even rose petals strewn on the bed and in the bathroom!

The rooftop terrace was the perfect spot to have dinner, starting with harira (Moroccan soup) consisting of chickpeas, lentils, tomatoes and broken pasta in a rich savory broth scented with spices. To follow, fish tagine, complemented with silken red, yellow and green peppers, potatoes and olives. Finishing it all off was the perfectly tart, not too sweet, lemon tart.

The tiled floors and stone walls make the riad chilly at night, so I was shivering went I got ready for bed. To my delight, the staff had placed a heater in my room and a hot water bottle in my bed — heaven!

This morning it was pretty cold outside, so I slept in and went back up to the roof for an enormous breakfast: beautiful fruit, including grenadine berries, a first for me; various local breads, a pancake, scrambled eggs, yogurt — I’m embarrassed to confess how much I ate, so I’ll just show you the fruit!

After breakfast I ventured out through Jamaa el Fna, the center square of the old medina, which is encircled by shops and restaurants. At the far end I met Zachariah, a spice seller, who took me on a tour of his wares and offered me a glass of delicious Berber tea. Bahia Palace was just around the corner. More on that later — it’s bedtime.

Last of Acadia

It seems to have taken me forever to finish off this post…

When the rain finally abated, we visited the lovely Sieur des Monts Nature Center. A stroll on the boardwalk and through wooded trails showed off autumn in all its glory. Turns out fall is lichen season.

The image on the left above is me playing like Monet.

If we were going to get a sunset, Jordan Lake would have been the place, but alas, mist shrouded the Bubbles. The boulders at the water’s edge were dramatic nonetheless.Do you prefer the color or the black and white version?

My friend Terry and I decamped from Bar Harbor on Sunday afternoon and spent about a day and a half in Portland. Our plan was to chase some lighthouses, but the ones that weren’t far out of the way were underwhelming. Portland Head Light was picturesque, however — and you notice the sun came out.

We packed up our cameras and headed to the Old Port and our hotel, opting for a bit of wandering, a little shopping and lunch. Portland is a great eating town, but the pandemic has left restaurants short-handed, making it hard to get a reservation. We weren’t disappointed, however, with the places we found: the Honey Paw, David’s and Boda for delectable small plates. They don’t get the ink accorded to Duckfat (a 2-hour wait for lunch!), Central Provisions or the Eventide Oyster House, but our meals were delicious all the same.

After depositing Terry at the airport Tuesday morning, I meandered down route 1 to Ogunquit for my last lobster roll. Before jumping onto the interstate to return to Connecticut, I stopped to photograph Nubble Light in York. I’ve never seen the Atlantic so calm and flat; usually the waves are crashing against those rocks.

All in all, this long weekend turned out to be a good way to dust off the camera in anticipation of a host of upcoming trips.

Autumn in Acadia

As I look back at this website, I realize it’s been a year since I posted a blog, so I may be a little rusty! This recent expedition took me to Acadia National Park in Maine with the same photographer leader who guided us through Death Valley in 2020.

On our first afternoon we hustled off to to Hunter Cove Beach to catch sunset. After a trek through the woods we faced a rocky beach, which presented a challenge for positioning tripods — and even walking. But the clouds broke just enough to tinge the sky orange and magenta.

At 6 a.m. the following day we were chasing a sunrise at Monument Cove, though the clouds remained stubbornly packed in.

Since we were caravanning behind Richard it was hard to know where we were at any given time when we stopped for photo opportunities. But we did capture some nice images of Duck Brook, the Tarn and Upper Hadlock Pond.

As the light faded, reflections in Upper Hadlock Pond became more dramatic.

Saturday morning we ventured to Bass Head Lighthouse for the iconic shot most lighthouse lovers have seen. But it was raining, and the only way to get that shot was to scramble over these rocks. Some in our group did…

…but I was terrified of breaking something — my camera, my leg, my hip — and/or plunging into the angry ocean beow; so I settled for a truncated view of the lighthouse and gave it a vintage postcard treatment in post processing..

The rain let up while we drove to the fishing village of Bernard, hoping to have a lobster roll at Thurston’s Pound. But it had just closed for the season, so we schlepped through the drizzle to capture what we could of this iconic town, deserted except for one lobster boat unloading its catch.

Tune in later for more from Sieur de Monts Nature Center, and Jordan Lake.

Gifts from the Pandemic

Living in New England is truly a gift during these days of the coronavirus. While Connecticut’s governor doesn’t get the publicity accorded some of our neighboring states, I’d say he’s done a pretty good job managing this outbreak (even though at this writing some in the state are freaking out that our positivity rate has leapt to 3%, the highest since June).

One step he and neighboring governors have taken has been identifying states with large outbreaks and requiring that people coming here from those states quarantine. The net result is that I, along with virtually everyone I know, haven’t ventured out of New England.

The gift in that has been the chance to discover the beauty all around us: from Maine’s rocky coastline to the sweeping sands of Cape Cod and the (usually) quiet tides along Long Island Sound; vast expanses of woodlands, vibrant in the spring with new green and flowering trees, and a riot of color in autumn.

I’ve been hiking a lot more lately, discovering magic close to home and clinging to these waning days of autumn. All of these images are from JB Williams Park, just a mile or so from my house.

I know several people who have used their confinement productively to clean out closets and basements. I figure there’s plenty of time for that when the dark, grey days of November are upon us. Meanwhile, our lovely fall weather has given me the gift of not feeling guilty about that now!


The Last Hike

Since I only had a half day on Saturday, I opted for an easy-ish hike in Ashland, at Whitten Woods, which promised meadows and scenic vistas over the lakes.

The trail started immediately climbing gently through the woods and across a meadow of ferns bronzing in the autumn sun. For the first time all week I crossed paths with a few other hikers, including a two or three families with young kids.

About a half-mile in, the trail forks: to the left is the south loop, and to the right, the north, perfectly evoking Robert Frost. I chose the right, through the yellow birches.


Up I climbed to the top of the loop. I’d been thinking about how few huge boulders there were on this trail, when suddenly a confusing tumble of them blocked my path. But I found my way, thanks to the frequent markers. Through the trees I caught glimpses of sky, thinking a panoramic vista would be just around the corner. Finally, the payoff came as I started downhill — a spectacular vista of Squam and Little Squam Lakes, with the White Mountains hazy in the distance.

It seems like the colors have changed dramatically in the past two days. This was by far the prettiest view I’ve seen all week. I wonder how many miles my Ahnu hiking shoes have taken me in the past three years?

I managed to escape New Hampshire without encountering any rabid Trump supporters (though there were a few pick-ups parked in fields with MAGA flags). The restaurants I frequented had strict mask protocols, and no one seemed bent out of shape about it. It felt perfectly safe to be hiking alone, though these days I worry about falling; but I was never without cell service. There are so many more trails to explore in this region — can’t wait to go back. All in all, this was a good way to break quarantine, if only briefly.