Ouarzazate

I know you are probably wondering how in the world to pronounce the name of this Moroccan city. Well, wonder no more. “Ou” sounds like our “W”, so when you come to Morocco and want to stay near the movie set for Game of Thrones, book a riad in “ WAR-za-zat”.

We spent two nights in Ouarzazate, staying at the beautiful Dar Kalifa. During the 1900’s our riad was the court house of Pasha Glaoui. This very powerful Bedouin chieftain was France’s ally against Sultan Mohammed V, and was instrumental in getting the Sultan exiled to Madagascar in 1953.

Unfortunately for France and the Pasha, the Sultan was beloved by many Moroccans. His removal resulted in unrest and uprisings in Morocco. As a result, de Gaulle reinstated Mohammed V (who changed his title from sultan to king) in 1956; simultaneously Morocco gained its independence. Pasha Glaoui had clearly made the wrong choice. So what became of this traitor? He traveled to Paris, knelt at the feet of in submission to Mohammed V, who forgave him. Their actions reunited the warring factions and made it easier for Mohammed V to regain his throne. Glaoui died of cancer in 1956, Mohammed V died in 1961.

I have to admit, it was pretty thrilling to think about all the history that must have taken place within the walls of our riad. It isn’t easy to find—you walk along some narrow passages to get there, but it is worth the walk to discover this spectacular dwelling.

Be forewarned: there are MANY steps in Dar Kalifa, and they all seem to be a different size.

Can you guess why Ouarzazate’s nickname is WallyWood? The dramatic scenery and the perfect lighting from sun filled days have made it a favorite spot for film makers.

Many of the locals work as “extras” in movies like Gladiator. Our local guide, Mohammed has been in several movies. Here’s his picture, so you can look for him in Season 4 of Game of Thrones.

Mohammed with his visual resume

Mohammed never had the opportunity to attend school. He spent his childhood ferrying tourists across the river on his donkey. Although he was never taught to read and write, he became fluent in English, French, Spanish and a few other languages, by listening to tourists he transported. I find that amazing—what an impressive and intelligent man!

Mohammed’s children: 2 girls, aged 13 and 6 and 1 boy aged 10, all attend school, and are teaching their dad to read. Mohammed told us he thought his family was complete, but his “coronavirus baby” arrived 8 months ago!

Most tourists visiting the area want to spend time in Ait Benhaddou, stopping at one of the two studios in town. Before Covid, Mohammed told us during high season Ait Benhaddou received more than 1,000 tourists per day.

Instead, we visited Asfalou Village, for what OAT calls “A Day in the Life”. There, we spent the morning with an extended family, visit their home, learning how the women make bread and the men make bricks.

For the afternoon, we visited the Women’s Association, a beneficiary of the Grand Circle Foundation. The Association’s objectives are to build women’s self confidence and to empower them. The women learn to bake cookies, which are sold to hotels and to tourists. We sampled some during our visit and they were so delicious, we all bought more.

While there, we all decorated our bodies with henna—even the men.

But the highlight, for me at least, was playing dress up. Unfortunately, my first choice for spouse was feeling under the weather that day, so I had to go with a substitute for this Berber wedding.

For you movie buffs, I’ll end with a list of some of the movies and TV shows filmed in this area.

  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Sodom and Gomorrah (1962) The Man Who Wished To Be King (1975)
  • The Message (1976)
  • Jesus of Nazareth (1977) Bandits, Bandits (1981)
  • The Diamond of the Nile (1985)
  • Killing is not playing (1987) The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
  • Tea in the Sahara (1990) Kundun (1997)
  • The Mummy (1999)
  • Gladiator (2000)
  • Alexander (2004)
  • Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Babel (2006)
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
  • Game of Thrones (season 3, 2013)
  • Game of Thrones (season 4)

For the curios—the photo at the top of this post shows the artist doing paintings using a sort of “invisible ink”. Be heats the paper over the flame to make the colors appear. This “invisible ink” , used for secret messages sent during French occupation, has been repurposed!

The Sahara

Once again, my image of what the Sahara Desert would be like only slightly reflects reality.

I didn’t expect to find this very productive farm amidst sand dunes.

The farmer’s father, once a member of a nomadic tribe, used ancient techniques to find water. The family hand dug two wells: one with salty water and the other with “sweet” water for drinking. They combine water from both wells for irrigation and livestock.

Farmer and friends. How many do you recognize? One outfit (caftan and scarf) was purchased in the Rissani market for about $20 US.

You might recognize Goldie from an earlier post. She given to me by Bonnie, my grand-niece, before the start of our trip. Photos of Goldie’s escapades have been making their way back to Massachusetts on a regular basis.

As you can see, one of the farmer’s goats was quite taken with Goldie.

Our camp was very comfortable. Although we didn’t have Wi-Fi, cellular service surprisingly, is available in the desert.

I expected the sunrises and sunsets to be jaw dropping, and they were. What I didn’t expect was to be drinking wine while watching the sun go down.

Mike went to another dune to take this shot of our group
Kris, Burke and Mike after the sun had set.
Sunrise, by the camp

Of course, a visit to the Sahara wouldn’t be complete without a camel ride.

Check out the eyelashes!

But who would have expected to find this swimming pool in the desert?

For 100 dirhams you can use the pool, get a non-alcoholic drink and use a towel.

We also visited another nomadic family. Unlike the farmer, this family doesn’t own the land they are living on.

According to Moroccan law, if someone can find 12 witnesses to attest that the family has lived on the land for 10 years, then the squatters become landowners. The catch? The 12 witnesses have to be around when the 10 years commence.

Say good-bye to Goldie. She found a new little girl to love.

There is so much more to say about this incredible experience, but I’m going to stop now and invite you to put the Sahara on YOUR bucket list.

On the Road to Rabat

I love that OAT allows their guides the flexibility to modify the itinerary. Yesterday, instead of driving directly to Tangier, we took the scenic route. We returned to Tetouan, driving through the lovely modern section, then along the coast, stopping in the resort of Smir.

It was off season, so all the shops and restaurants were closed, still it was easy to see why Smir would be a popular vacation spot. Sadly, the self cleaning, solar public toilet was also closed, so no video of its operation. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

Until this trip, I had no idea that Spain retained control of two cities in Morocco. Ceuta is almost directly across from Gibraltar, so ships passing through the Straits have to pay Spain for the use of that passage. We were able to see Ceuta off in the distance from a roadside stop, but weren’t able to visit this heavily guarded border.

The other Spanish city, for those with inquiring minds, is Melilla. You can Google it.

We stopped to catch a glimpse of the Rock of Gibraltar, but it was only visible through binoculars, so again, no photo, but that’s okay, because Tangier is more visually compelling.

Morocco is definitely a country on the move. Their new port in Tangier is the largest in Africa and is shipping out huge quantities of cars every day. We were able to view some of the Renaults and Peugeots manufactured in Morocco from a distance.

Our drive took us to the very windy spot where the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean meet. Dave’s elf hat was on his head long enough for this shot to be taken before it went sailing over the cliff. And yes, it WAS a very steep cliff, but fortunately Mostafa is athletic, and heroically retrieved Dave’s hat.

Before the trip, I’d been warned that Tangier was dirty, crowded and a somewhat scary place. That may have been the case years ago, but it was not our experience.

Relaxing in the square in the medina

We walked up a very steep hill to visit the old Portuguese fortress and were rewarded with several spectacular views.

On our way to the fortress
Tangier’s old port can be seen from the fortress

Morocco really treasures their long, positive relationship with the USA. Our visit to the American legation offered further proof.

I sure hope this comes up as a trivia question one of these days!

As usual, my posts lag behind our experiences. Tomorrow we leave Rabat for Fes. Forgive any typos…no time to proofread.

From Bariloche to Puerto Varas

We were forewarned: this OAT trip would include several long travel days, some by plane, some by bus. Today’s transfer from Bariloche to Puerto Varas was expected to take from 8 AM to 4 PM, including the border crossings. We need to pass thru security for BOTH Chile AND Argentina, and depending on the mood of the guards, that could be brief or it could take hours.

Our route. Laura thoughtfully marked it with yellow “stickies” We started in the lower right hand corner and ended in the left lower corner, going up and around.

But that’s okay. Days in transit allow us to see the country and decompress. Our time in Bariloche was so jam packed, a day to chill was most welcome. The beautiful pool, spa and terrace at our hotel? I had no opportunity (and no energy) to try them

During our stay, we were treated to two very interesting lectures. The first, a talk by Hans Schultz about Nazis in Patagonia, was fascinating. The second took place the next morning. We learned about the “people of the land” from a member of the Mapuche tribe.

I can’t do either speaker justice blogging from my iPhone, so those stories will have to wait till I get home. I’ll also be sure to include the stories our local guide, Fernando, told us during our bus ride. Coming attractions include highlights of those two lectures plus stories about a Texas cowboy (Jarod Jones) the famous bandits, (Butch and Sundance)and a local boy(Ernesto Che Guevara).

But let’s get back to our second day in Bariloche . After the Mapuche talk, we ALL decided to take the optional trip: a float down the Limay (Crystal) River. Our group of 12 is very cohesive and very active. We all are opting to do EVERYTHING together!

Could that be a Moai atop that mountain?

Mike and I went in different rafts so we could photograph each other and our friends.

In addition to gorgeous scenery and crystal clear water, we also saw beautiful birds, like this kingfisher that Mike photographed.

I was never fast enough. My bird photos are mainly empty branches!

We were told that at the end of the trip, we would have a “snack”. Well, that “snack” turned out to be delicious quiche, the very best empanadas we’ve had (so far), delicious fried dough pastries, breads and jams, AND a wine tasting.

Next stop, horseback riding at a family owned ranch.

Mike’s horse allergy meant that we had a skilled photographer taking shots of our group.

By the end of our ride, we were all pretty hungry. What could be better than authentic Argentinian barbecue of beef, lamb and chorizo.

What is Mike doing? He’s throwing meat on the roof of the barbecue.

Why? To get this bird to come out of the tree so we could photograph it.

Fortunately, he stayed still long enough so that even I could photograph him!

By the time we returned to the hotel, I was as too tired to take advantage of the two for one drinks at the hotel bar!

What about that long ride to Puerto Varas? It wasn’t boring at all. The scenery was beautiful, plus Laura had a few surprises for us.

First was our celebratory drink when we crossed the border into Chile. Their Dulce de Leche is their equivalent to our Bailey’s Irish Creme.

Then, our lunch stop provided more than just great food. It was also the site of a self described car museum.

But it was so much more! There was also a model train village and ancient household tools that made out grandmothers’ lives “easier”

An old fashioned wringer washing machine

My favorite part, however, was hanging with this sweet little guy who wanted me to admire his hot wheels collection.

Can you figure out why I decided to end this post?

Santiago, Day Two

We started our second day in Santiago by congratulating ourselves on our wise decision to take it easy on day one. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for a pair of weary travelers.

First on our list was La Chascona, one of the three homes of Pablo Neruda. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who he is. I certainly didn’t, and this is the second time I’ve been in Santiago. Not only was he a Nobel prize winning poet, but he was also a politician, and a very quirky collector. What did he collect, you ask? Well, clearly houses, given that he had three of them, all kinds of art, books, knickknacks and women. I’ll let you read about the women and all the steamy stuff on your own. I’m doing this post on an iPhone so have to stick with the essentials, because I am so high minded.

La Chascona is now a very well run museum, complete with a short, but very informative video about Neruda’s life. You also get one of those “press the button” audio guides, which explains what you are seeing as you move from room to room. What makes this house so fascinating is it was built according to Neruda’s specifications and it is multi level.. Big deal, you might be thinking. LOTS of houses are multi level. Yes, but do you have to go outside to get from one level to the next?

No ranch style living for THIS aging Chilean!

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house, but I was able to get this shot of the dining room from outside. The table is very narrow, to facilitate conversation and extends almost the entire length of the room.

What I loved most about the dining room is something I unfortunately couldn’t photograph—the back wall. The left side was occupied by a hutch containing china and crystal. what looked like paneling on the right was actually a door to a secret passageway, with a spiral staircase leading to Neruda’s bedroom. The treads on the staircase were so small, I was afraid by very tall, very big footed husband wouldn’t be able to climb it, but he did. For him, the outside staircases were far easier to navigate.

See, I wasn’t kidding about multiple levels!

La Chascona is close to Cerra San Cristóbal, so even though we fully expected it to be a tourist trap (thank you, Esther, for the warning)it made sense for it to be our next stop. We rode the funicular to a viewing area for a look at the HUGE metropolitan area of Santiago. I knew the city was big, but didn’t know HOW big till then.

At the summit is an enormous statue of Mary. It appeared some sort of religious service was taking place there, so we climbed the 6o steps (yes, I counted) to ride the cable car. Although you get even more views of the city, to me it wasn’t worth waiting in line. And yes, the hill IS a bit of a tourist trap, although most of the tourists appeared to be South American.

On our return trip, I noticed a couple of clearly North American ladies in our funicular car. What are the odds, that among all the thousands of visitors to Cerra San Cristóbal, those two random strangers we encountered would be two of the other five travelers on our OAT trip? A quick question got us the answer. It was 100%. They too had come in a day early, and had been touring via the Hop on Hop Off bus.

Returning to the hotel, we met the remaining three OAT travelers who had arrived at the normal start date. Our guide took us on a short walking tour, which ended at Chile’s “ground zero”, the Plaza de Armas, where the Spaniards initially settled. At one corner of the square is a statue of the Moche’s leader, Caupolicán,

and diagonally across is Pedro de Valdivia, the Spanish conquistador.

Isabel Allende’s wonderful book “Inés of My Soul”, gives a historically accurate, but fictionalized account of the founding of Chile, as told by Inés Suárez, the only known female conquistador, and mistress of de Valdivia. It is well worth reading.

Our day ended with a fabulous welcome dinner at Casa Lastarria. We were the only patrons because we were dining at the ridiculously early hour of 7 PM, to make it easy to get up for our 6:45 AM departure for Easter Island.

Pisco Sours for all!

And if all goes well, my photos will upload.