Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ait Benhaddou - Morocco - June, 2012

Ait Benhaddou, Morocco  June 2012

Today was the first day of the safari and our first legitimate stop was to the old town of Ait Benhaddou.  I say legitimate because we made several stops at shacks along the way to get a drink, go to the bathroom, all of which are squat toilets.  I'm sure that Mohammed got a kick back.  More power to him.
    You've probably never heard of Ait Benhaddou, but you've seen it many times, unless you've been in a cave or never seen a movie.  It's where many great movies were partially filmed, "Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and the list goes on.

I don't usually take photos of garbage cans, however, Ait Benhaddou had one... and that was rare to see in Morocco.  Funny, I had to go to a ghost town to see a garbage can.  

As tourist, we learn that the UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has taken over control of the Ait Benhaddou site and it does many things to protect it from the ravages of time and the greed of mankind.  You are allowed to wander the streets, but you must have a guide with you.  Fair enough.  I've seen what not having a guide can do to archaeological sites, and for that matter, what guides taking bribes can do to sites.  If it means employing one more person, good enough for me.

I think this ol' feller has been around since the original gladiators fought.  He earned a few dirham for sitting in the sun, playing music, and making the world a better place.  Thanks, mister.

There were about 450 people living here, but they've all been moved to across the river because during the flood season, they couldn't cross.  Now there are about 25 people who still live here as caretakers.  The people are berbers and don't like being told where they can come and go.  Who does...but get in line!

UNESCO wants to make Ait Benhaddou as authentic as possible.  So they are destroying anything that  has been put there artificially, such as the gates used in Lawrence of Arabia.  The arena that was built for Gladiator has been completely destroyed and nowadays looks like an open field with a bit of a depression in it.  I understand UNESCO"s thought line, but really?? you couldn't just have a sign that says, "added for the Gladiator scene"?  How many tourist are going to come here if it's just another set of ruins.  Marketing 101 fellas!!  If you really want it to be in it's original state, level it.  The locals have been fighting for many years to keep Lawrence's gates!

The world isn't black and white, UNESCO, despite that we want it to be.

 "Don't be afraid of giving away power, because only the powerful can give away power." -SWB

Day 8 Camino de Santiago July 13th Viana

Camino de Santiago July 13, 2012 Day 8

We, Kevin and I, hiked 18K today to the town of Viana.  On the patio, people had written their favorite mottos.  I wrote mine... see it later.  If you know me, you won't be surprised.

We've decided that we are going to be "guided" by our guidebook, not "dictated" by it!  Big difference.  It gives a distance of how far you need to travel each day if you want to complete the trail in 30 days or so.  Well...... we're not in a competition.  Life is good on the trail.  Lest you think I'm eating gruel out of tin cups and sleeping in sweat holes with roaches and vermin, think again.


I thought the food would look like something out of Monty Python, but no, no, no!!  Every morning there are bakeries, and that means cafe con leche and fresh hot croissants.  Dinners are out of this world good and not just because we've been hiking 8 hours a day.

 My shirt is soaked and sometimes I think, "Cripes!   I could fly the camino in one hour in a jet!  What am I doing?"  But then I think of the great people I've met.  The fun dinners where the wine and/or beer is flowing and people are laughing!"  And I know the next day I'm going to get a great workout!  Exercise and good food.  Two of life's staples!!  And the trail?  beautiful flowers wild artichokes.

 We've decided that we're not going to be like certain northern Europeans that we won't mention, however, everything seems to be a competition to them.  When they ask you how far have you hiked today, they don't really care.  They just want to tell you how far they've hiked, which is farther than you've hiked.  It's very competitive... but only if you are in the race?  I'm not.
    The views of castles in the distance framed by almond trees is special.  Not many of them back in the old home town.  I won't be here forever, so I have to take the time to enjoy them.

Many times, you come across little things that people have done, in the spirit of just being nice, like making an arrow on the trail out of rocks to show the way, or making a smiley face out of rocks to make you laugh... or building a two person hut with a bottle of wine inside, just in case you get caught in wicked storm.  It would be fun to get caught in a storm in this mini castle with the right person, no?

Not a bad way to have dinner every fresco?  A Pilgrim's Menu is three servings- salad, entree and dessert!  While hiking!! I can't get over it!!


Aviana is no metropolis, but they do have an art museum, featuring local art.  It was right across the restaurant where I was sitting and I first noticed it because of the building.  Stunning.  The art work wasn't 1/2 bad either.  A nice relief from the dusty trail.

The Caravan from Marrakech

Staying in the Riad Fantasia in Marrakech had several advantages:  It was close to the Souq and to the Square; It had a nice meeting area where travellers from around the world met for breakfast, work on the internet, smoke hash, whatever.  
     I wanted to go on a 4 day safari to the desert and stay amongst sand dunes, see a couple of gorges, and in general, see what Morocco looks like.  Lucky me.  There was a group of ten British students who were traveling together and as they were talking to the “tour director”, I mentioned to Abdullah that I would like to go.  He mentioned to the tour director and badda-bing, I had found my group.  For the record, they are:  begining in the back row - Bob, Michael, Johnny, James the tall, and Raz in a red shirt. benging over is Rose, behind her is Lauren, the Jess in the middle, Sarah-the au pair in Toulon, France, and Phoebe.


  The Brits had never been in a desert before and so everything was interesting and fun for them.  It was a good group to be with.  Little things like dates were cause for a photo shoot!


The cost was 900dirhams or $100, for four days.  It included 3 breakfasts, 3 dinners, 1 hotel, 2 nights in the desert, a beautiful van, a guide, and camels.  Little did I know how wonderful the trip would be.  I thought that for $100, I’d be eating gruel, slamming down brown water, and picking bed bugs out of ... well, you get the picture.  O contrare!  


 The ride to the far south east corner of Morocco was amazing.  The landscape was a  dream for a geologist, of which two of the Brits were. (Raz and Rose).  Raz was originally from Romania but had been to school in Manchester for several years.  They were all students at Manchester U...or the Unee, as they said.  Some of Morocco reminded me of Arizona.


We went through two gorges - Dades Gorges and Tondrah Gorge.  Both had cold water swooshing through and steep walls that people from all over the world came to climb. 


I really liked how some Moroccan teenagers at Dades Gorge brought their instruments, waded across the river, and had a jam session in a cut out in the canyon.  No, they did not ask for money and frankly couldn’t care less who was there.  They’d each take turns singing and I was envious of how uninhibited they were.  Good for them!

    We’d be driving in the middle of nowhere and pull over to take a picture and WHOSH, someone would pop out from behind a rock with... a handmade basket of peaches.  

Our van was a brand new, smooth riding, air-conditioned, big windowed, and spacious .  Some of the best times during the four days were when everyone was tired and quiet and we listened to Moroccan music while gazing at the amazing landscape.   

 Lush green valleys and oasis after oasis filled with palm groves and olive groves.  Cities that were built around the turn of the century... the 10th century, looking like something out of a movie, were around every corner.  


 Atlas Studios, has built a movie city but we weren’t allowed inside because they were filming a movie.... I think it was Rocky LXVIII - It’s where Rocky’s descendents survive a nuclear holocaust and shock, make a living by boxing.


Some things probably haven’t changed in the past 1000 years.  Donkeys/mules are still used as a means of transport.  This old guy was probably the descendent of a mule who carried his fodder on the same path 10 centuries ago!


Our guide, Mohammed, told me that the wheat in the picture is what makes the cous cous.  He pointed out that the shed was where the wheat was separated from the husk.  Same practice, same shed, same families for a 1000 years.  


At one of our stops, Phoebe posed next to scarves showing the Berber symbol for freedom.   I wanted one but they all had tears, runs, or had ragged ends. 
It's suppose to symbolize a man standing with his arms spread eagle as if to say, "I'm free".


 It had to happen.  Mohammed took us to a tiny village and turned us over to another guide named, “Creepy”.  Not really, I can’t remember his name, but he gave the girls creeps because he would joke about marrying them and having babies, and wouldn’t let it go.


The village that Creepy took us to was a Berber Outlet Home.  Basically, the Berber women in the surrounding mountain villages wove rugs and brought them to the lady’s house to sell.  To get to it, we walked through a couple of miles of fields growing peaches, figs, and various vegetables.  When we reached the village, the town was dusty and other than the electric wires hadn’t changed too much.

      Inside the house we were given the standard spiel and several of the Brits bought rugs.  It was all interesting, I just don’t like being a captive audience.  
      After we left the Rug Heist Factory, we went to another Cooperative, this one making Argan oil which made from squeezing the oil from the nut.  Supposedly, it is more expensive than olive oil and has a richer taste.  It's also used to fight wrinkling.

     When we reached the desert, we decided that we’d need to go native, at least get a face mask to guard against the blowing sand while on a camel.  So like a bunch of GeekMeisters, we all dropped 50 dirham for a piece of cloth that Mohammed, (who I’m sure got a cut) showed us how to tie as the locals do.  It turned out to be a good buy!
Life ... is what happens when you are busy making plans
- John Lennon -