03/04/2012 Last night in Morocco


Tomorrow my plane leaves for Spain, then the next day to Miami. I am relieved to be going home. I am tired of dirty streets, broken pavement, Muslim dress, and the overall poverty. It will be good to be back in Madrid, then back in the clean USA. I am delighted that Leslie still cares for me after my 5 month absence. That’s a long time to wait!

I have been splurging and staying at a three star hotel the last few days while getting my bike packed. I had an unusual scam my first night: A well dressed clean cut man said “Hi” as I was walking and said he worked for the Amoud hotel (where I am staying) and said he was on his break. He asked me where I was going and I said a bicycle store to find a box. He walked with me to two bicycle stores and helped me find a box.

Then he suggested we have some tea. I agreed, it seemed polite. After a while he suggested that he talk to the manager about getting me a discount on the room, because we were friends. He then told me that the hotel needed Durhams, as most people paid with Visa cards. I said OK, I have Durhams. He then said that he would give me not 8 durhams, but 9 durhams as an exchange rate. I said great. He told me the bill would be 1900 Durhams, and said I should go to the bank and get the money. A red flag went up, and I said that I had the money already in the hotel safe. He then asked me to meet him at 11:00PM when he started working again at the front desk.

I said OK. I had him write his name on a paper. I went back to my room, and happened to look at the rate sheet on the door. It said that the rate was 450DH a night. Hmmmm, that’s 1750 DH, less than his “discount.”

I went down at 11:00pm but he wasn’t there. I asked about him, and the desk clerk said no-one by that name worked there! I told the clerk the story, and he looked surprised and asked “You didn’t give him any money did you?”

That was kinda close. I imagine he was going to appear in the lobby, take the money, give me a phony receipt, then vanish. At least I got my bike box!

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In Morocco, the McDonalds has a security guard. It is an upscale restaurant here, though it is no different than any stateside McDonalds. It is just so clean and organized that it feels great to be in one.

Security guard outside McDonalds in Casablance.

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The beach.

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Kick boxing in pajamas.

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The Hussan II Mosque, the largest mosque in the country. Part of the floor is glass and offers a view down at the sea. King Hassan II declared: “I want to build this mosque on the water, because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the Creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.”

A spotlight shines in the direction of Mecca at night from the top of the minaret.

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Rejection.

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Good landscaping is so very rare in Morocco. This was the mosque landscaping.

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Being an infidel and all I could not enter. Here is a picture looking in.

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Like all mosques there are no images of the Creator. Instead the building is decorated with complex designs

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patterns and colors.

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There is a lot of ongoing construction in Casa. Here seen from the mosque.

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I walked along the breakwater. It was working properly.

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I’d hate to see what would happen if this team actually caught something…

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Lunch anyone? (In french it means something like “The two nesting birds cafe”)

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I have made a list and checked it thrice. I am determined to get home and want no complications, surprises or delays.

02/29/2012 Essaouria


Ahhh, routine. Such a comfort to have one, such a drudge if you don’t change it. In the early morning I study, then head out for breakfast.

Crepes, delicious filled with honey and cheese.

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and orange juice. One for me and one for you.

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Then it’s off for a bicycle exploration. Yesterday I went to a neighboring town and ran into a group of Finlandiars. They were on a guided cycle tour where they ride a distance then stop, a van takes them and their bikes to a hotel, and then they come back the next day and start from the same place.

There was someone at the front leading them, and someone at the rear to help stragglers. They were proud and excited about their big adventure. I just smiled and rode with them, happy to have some english conversations.

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Then it’s back to the hotel to read and in the late afternoon off to the harbor to see what the tide has brought in.

The handsome gulls are everywhere. Their calls and flight fill the sky.

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Aliens die gaspng for water and are causually bought and sold.

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“When I grow up I’m going to learn how to pedal.”

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There’s a crush of boats.

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The lives of boats and fishermen are one.

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Let sleeping dogs lie.

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And then there’s a flurry of motion.

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Your’s truely.

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The timeless chores of fishing.

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A gull’s perspective.

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Time to fly.

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Shooting gulls.

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Sunset.

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And it’s time to get a sandwich and go back to my hotel to study. Ahhh, routine.

02/25/2012 Essaouria


It’s 180km, a two day cycle from Marrakech to Essaouria. There are lots of shops along the way selling Argane oil. This is a very expensive oil squeezed from these hard berries.

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But wait- there’s more to the story- and who put the goats in the tree?

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The goats climb the trees to eat the berries. The goats pass the berries through their digestive tract which dissolves the hull of the seed enough to make it possible to gather the dung, filter out the seeds, and press the oil.

He didn’t make that up! They’re tasty!

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Life on the ground.

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Essaouria is a walled city with a harbor. Here’s an entrance to the walled part of the city. Essaouria is a world heritage city.

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The harbor is one of the most interesting places. It is Morocco’s 4th largest port, but very small.

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Nothing wasted.

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Wooden ships are being built here. These craftsmen are carving a ships rib.

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A breakwater protects the harbor.

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It is a great hangout place

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for cats and bicycles and boats.

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Allways lock your bike.

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Cannon on guard.

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A glance through the wall

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and through the entrance.

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Blue Boat maintenance.

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Bleu boat at sunset.

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The fleet.

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There’s more to the city than blue boats. Get away from the tourist areas and you get Morocco.

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I considered cycling north to Casablanca where my flight leaves from. But a combination of things made me decide to stay here and to take the bus up. 1, I like it here. 2, No hotels in a days ride going up the coast. 3, My rim crack is spreading. 4. A 10 mph headwind blows pretty constantly. This area is known for that and is a good kitesurfing area.

So I am settling in for a week. It’s nice to be where I can hear seagulls.

02/22/2012 Jardin Majorelle


Today I popped off on my bicycleta to see the Jardin Majorelle, a “must see” in Marrakech.

Apparently all the tourists heard the same thing.

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The Jardin was begun in 1924 by a French furniture maker who came to Morocco to paint. Yves St Laurent purchased and restored the garden and opened it to the public. The blue color is the gardens signature.

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The pots are bright.

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There is a small but well done Berber museum which does not allow you to take photographs inside. But here is the outside.

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There are a lot of cactussss.

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That should be cactiiii.

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The blue is alluring and mysterious.

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Shadows and blue.

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Blue fountain.

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Everything looks great against this blue.

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Almost everything!

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OK, I’ve done the tourist thing and I have a routine worked out here. Time to move on. I’ll start for Essaouira, a world heritage costal town tomorrow. I think my rim will make it.

02/21/2012 Tourist in Marrakech


Today I set off to do the tourist itinerary.

We’ll start with the Koutoubia Minaret. It’s about 70m high and a great navigational landmark. It was completed around 1185.

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I think the cats hanging out in the Koutoubia mosque are equally interesting.

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Next we’ll walk through the Medina.

Donkey patience.

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If you want it, here it is, come and get it. But you better hurry cause it’s going fast.

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Medina road signs.

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A pleasant place.

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The Marrakech Museum is housed in the Ben Youssef Palace which dates from the late 19th century.

Ben Youseff Palce. There is a large open center courtyard surrounded by the rooms. There is even a private hammas (bath house).

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Ben Youssef Palace. I like it, but it’s not quite ornate enough.

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I hear earth tones are coming back.

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Big brass light fixture.

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Modern art in the Ben Youssef Palace Museum.

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Bat wings.

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Ben Youssef Palace

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This is the inside of the Almoravid koubba. It is the only remaining Almoravid building in Morocco. The Almoravid’s were Berbers who formed a dynasty in the 1100’s. It was only excavated in 1952, and was probably just an ablutions annex to the Ben Youssef Mosque.

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It had running water from 60km away up in the Atlas and this was the cistern.

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Next we’ll look at the Ben Youssef Medersa, a Koranic school established in 1331 but rebuilt in the 1560s, under the Saadians. Plain on the outside, it is highly ornate on the inside.

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Ben Youssef Medersa

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Door into courtyard.

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Over 800 students were housed here, and taught the Koran by rote. The tea would have been necessary, at least for me!

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View into the courtyard.

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I return to my room and take a nap to prepare myself for a big evening out in the Djemaa el Fna. It is almost better to sleep during the day, as nights are an echo chamber of nose blowing, coughing, peeing, cats and prayer yowling, and inconsiderately loud conversation and arguing.

No one knows how the Djemaa el Fna got it’s name. It translates to “assembly of the dead.” It is just a big square that fills up and empties out. It is used for demonstrations, and so was closed and made into a car park, but tourism fell off sharply, so..

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Orange juice and life at 50 cents an unwashed glass.

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At night the food venders get cooking.

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The snail vendors report business is sluggish.

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Everything seems to happen in a blur.

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At night it fills up and steam from the food stalls ignites appetites.

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My dinner, cost $4.50.

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This looked intriguing, so I thought I’d give it a taste. It turns out to be a sweet hot ginger tea served with a couple samples of nutty chocolate peanut butter balls. 60 cents. I feel a new addiction coming on.

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I really pull a late nighter and manage to stay out till 8:15. (umm, no, that’s PM, not AM) Ok, so I’m not a night owl. After awhile of looking at monkeys doing somersaults, dead and living and wooden snakes, children’s toys demonstrated by grown men, hillbilly musicians, and cigarettes sold individually, I decide I’d rather go read a good book. It’s very entertaining to some, but then I’ve got Charles Dickens and Richard Dawkins. That’s just me. (sigh)

Tomorrow I’ll explore the new part of Marrakech and the Yves St Laurent owned Jardin Majorelle.

A video clip


I am going to rest and eat and study today. I compiled this simple video this morning. Enjoy!

Here’s a larger size if you have the bandwith.

02/19/2012 into Marrakech


I have never seen a rim split like this before. Will it fail catastrophically causing my tire to blow out as I am descending?

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Will I be warm enough? It is below freezing now. Can I make it 95km to Marrakech tomorrow? What if there’s a strong headwind? Should I take a bus? I toss and turn, waking late in the day at 8:30AM. They say a coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man only once. After dying a thousand deaths, I resolve to be brave.

I dress in almost everything I have, pack and go out. An omelet is prepared for me. Tangine’s are cooking. Life is normal in Tizi n’Tichka.

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It is actually sunny and in the low 50’s Fahrenheit. I reduce the air pressure by half in my back tire and begin the descent. Within an hour I take off all the extra clothes, even my socks, and am cycling now in a shirt, pants and sandals. I check the rim crack frequently, and it appears to be the same size. I feel strong. My confidence grows.

Mountainside village.

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Cute home.

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The best house. Many rooms and right next to the pink Mosque. Location, location!

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The descent follows a river valley. It is a beautiful day and I am enjoying the ride immensely.

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Leaving the snow behind.

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With the great vistas and temps in the 60’s it is perfect.

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I stop and take a picture every couple of kilometers!

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Villages and agriculture occupy every ledge.

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Until finally I am in the plane below the mountains.

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I scoot the last 35 km into Marrakech. How do I find my hotel without a map in that maze of a city? I have the name and address written on a piece of paper. I ask 20 times, and eventually get there. However, do not expect me to ever ask for directions when I return to the States. Nope, this is a special exception to my manliness.

Marrakech is very busy, my hotel is reasonable at 80Dh a night. ($10) I am going to like it here. Food is everywhere and well priced, lots of interesting people, and so so much going on! Tomorrow we’ll see why Marrakech is so wonderful!

2/18/2012 Ascending the Atlas


I’ve been worried about today ever since I decided to head to Marrakech, because it meant climbing the Atlas mountains again. I was worried because 1, it’s cold; 2, there’s not a lot of hotels; 3, it is physically challenging. Leslie even offered to pay for my bus fare over the mountains as a Valentines day present!

It’s not hard to turn being scared into being scared and challenged. So I set off.

The road follows a river valley.

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Of course there’s lots of Kasbah’s, lived in,

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and eroded.

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I climb up into the snow zone. The sunshine is hidden in the white clouds swirling around the mountain peaks.

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Looking back as the road leaves the valley.

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Such expansive vistas! It’s Saturday, not a lot of traffic. I ride in the middle of my lane.

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At 7,400 feet. I started at 4,200 feet. There are a lot of climbs and descents.

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A frozen waterfall. It is quite cold up here.

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Did I mention switchbacks?

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But I made it 95 KM to Taddert. I am shivering cold when I arrive, but my shirt is still wet with sweat. I get my gear into my room, and go down and order a hot tea, just to wrap my hands around the pot and stop the shivering.

Here is the view of my town looking up the street.

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Looking down the street. This is the biggest town en route and there is one hotel in it.

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I’m lucky that the room is 80dh and the restaurant is fairly priced. The room is unheated of course. It is supposed to get to -3 Celsius tonight. I know what to do. Put on all your clothes, put the sleeping bag on the bed, and climb in. In half an hour I am warm all over.

It’s just under 100KM to Marrakech. A lot of that will be descent. That means it will be cold. When my legs get cold they get stiff making pedaling difficult. A bulge has developed in the back rim! I’ve had to loosen the back brake so much that it is almost ineffective.

Tomorrow, Marrakech! (fingers crossed)

02/27/2012 Exploring Ait Benhaddou


Ait Ben Haddou has been used in many movies, including Laurence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth, The Jewel of the Nile, and the Kingdom of Heaven. It was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987.

Though it’s impossible to know how old individual buildings are, the Ksar has been known to have been here since before the eleventh century. Above the ksar is an agadir, or fortified granary. It’s walls encompass a few acres.

I am fed a wonderful breakfast at my hotel, The Nomad, and set off early to explore the ksar.

Approaching from the town.

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Looking across the river.

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At the most obvious entrance I am hassled for 10DH “entrance fee” I talk to the guys for 10 minutes, explaining that I know there is no entrance fee. Eventually I pay it and walk in. Sometimes it’s not worth the hassle.

The ksar is made of piste, which is wet clay gathered from the river bank and put into a moving mold. Floors are created with logs and bamboo covered with more piste.

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Detail

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Looking up at a wooden door hinge.

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A pair of old shoes.

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Detail of a section showing Kasbah lifestyle.

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Door lock and key. See the matching holes? Ingenious!

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Wool combing.

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A family home entrance.

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The tops of the piste walls are protected with this cap. It is a layer of overhanging bamboo topped with more piste. The top layer is sacrificial.

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Note the wood hinges and knob.

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Looking at the top. We’ll be walking on that top roof soon.

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Decoration

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View

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The mysterious doors. What lies behind? The ksar was a treat to explore. There were only a handful of tourists.

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The ceiling of a tower.

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View ledge.

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The oasis.

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Detail. You never know what you are going to see when you turn a corner. A collapsed roof and ruin or a beautiful room.

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View.

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The top roof. Remember, it is 5? stories high, made of bamboo and clay, filled with holes, and often spongy. Don’t go here if you are overweight and wearing heels!

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The view from the agadir.

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My lunch, wow! The wife prepares the meals and has gone to culinary school. She is very pleasant. After this lunch I happily pay extra for meals here.

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02/16/2012


I love getting up in the morning and riding my bike down the road past things I’ve never seen towards places I’ve never been. Knowing this will end makes my time here more enjoyable. Like my son Drew said when looking at the leaning tower of Pisa: “Knowing that it will fall someday makes it so much more poignant.”

Emily Dickenson writes:

That it will never come again

Is what makes life so sweet.

Believing what we don’t believe

Does not exhilarate.

That if it be, it be at best

An ablative estate —

This instigates an appetite

Precisely opposite.

……………….

The oasis around Skoura boasts some nice homes.

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I’m especially enjoying the wide open vistas of the high desert.

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The city of Ouarzezate appears as I top a crest.

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This is Aït Benhaddou, now a world heritage site, formerly a stop in the camel caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh.

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The Atlas mountains backdrop Aït Benhaddou. A few families still live in the Ksar.

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The view from the roof of my hotel. Here I’ll rest and explore Aït Benhaddou tomorrow.

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