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 curious—the photo at the top of this post shows the artist doing paintings using a sort of “invisible ink”. He 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 Again

Who knew that driving all day could be so delightful? The scenery between Fes and the Sahara is varied and spectacular. It also doesn’t hurt that the nine of us are traveling in a bus that could transport more than forty passengers. We are up high, so we all get panoramic views.

This photo was taken from the window of the bus.

We had several stops along the way, including an opportunity to stroll through a forest.

Mike provides scale, to give an idea of the size of this Lebanon cedar.

My favorite stop, however, was our visit with the Barbary monkeys.

Don’t even THINK about touching that tangerine!
This monkey was much friendlier. She was fine as long as I was at her level, but when I stood up, I frightened her and she scampered off.

The hotel where we stopped for lunch had this beautiful map, which included our departure and destination, and stops along the way. I’d mark our route out for you, but it is too difficult to do on an iPhone. But I’ll give you a rough idea of our route: we started at Fes, on the top, by the palm trees and ended in what the map calls ‘Arfoud’, (Erfoud) near the bottom. Ultimate destination: off the map on the bottom, near the camels.

Outside of major cities, Morocco has few traffic lights. Instead, they have numerous traffic circles, (if you’re from Massachusetts the correct name is ‘rotaries’. We Massachusetts natives have our own special language).

I particularly liked the circle in Midelt, which highlights their #1 product. Can you guest what it is?

If you guessed “surgical masks” , you’d be wrong. Mostafa had our driver (Mohammed) go around the circle twice so we could all snap a photo of the “Big Apple”.

Our stay was at a lovely hotel close to the Sahara Desert. Although I am so sorry for the Moroccans working in tourism, I must confess it HAS been rather nice having these beautiful hotels and pools all to ourselves.

Most people would be delighted to see that huge, luminous full moon. Not us. Why? We were hoping for dark desert skies for our resident astronomer’s lecture the following night.

If you’re wondering why in the world I’m blogging rather than experiencing the majesty of Morocco, fear not. This is being written while on the bus heading to Ouarzazate. I’m using Verizon’s Travel Pass for internet connectivity. And I’m looking up from my phone frequently. And yes, as usual, my blog is several days behind our experiences.

Fes: Did a Sultán Sleep Here?

There is oh so much to say about Fes, but it will have to wait till we get back to New Jersey. Instead, this post will focus solely on the incredible Riad Salaam Fes.

Although the neighborhood dates back ninth century, our riad is far more modern than that. Built in the seventeenth century, it is still owned by the same family. It WAS restored about thirty years ago, so like the country of Morocco, it successfully melds the old with the new. Even though the ceilings are high, and the courtyards cool the building, our room is equipped with air conditioning.

If you have ever visited the Alhambra, wouldn’t you agree that this riad resembles that beautiful fortress in Granada? The best part—our riad has all the modern conveniences, like up to date bathrooms and wifi.

It is not surprising that it took 16 years to complete the restoration. The attention to detail is mind boggling.

Check out our room. I ask you, is this not a bed befitting a sultan?

Half of the room. I couldn’t fit the sitting area into one photo.

Another modern convenience? A liquor license. Yes, in some Moroccan cities, you CAN enjoy wine and beer.

The panoramic view from the rooftop terrace, taken earlier in the day. No photos from our “happy hour”. By then, it was too dark and we were far too busy drinking to stop for a photo op.

You notice I said SOME Moroccan cities allow alcohol? Well, get ready for a story. When we arrived in Casablanca, Mostafa suggested that we buy wine there because it would not be available in Chefchaouen. Only problem: the Casablanca wine store was closed because of some sort of a COVID violation. Successfully reading the mood of the group, Mostafa went on a mission to get us some wine. On our way to Chefchaouen, we made a slight detour to Kenitra, coming up empty at three locations before Mostafa decided to change tactics. He started calling around to all his friends until he found one willing to purchase wine for us and deliver it to our riad. Is that not a truly dedicated and professional tour guide? We all feel very lucky to have him.

Bacchus smiled upon us in Rabat, where we were able to purchase a sufficient supply for our stays in the desert and Marrakech. Because both Rabat and Fes allow alcohol to be served, we couldn’t BYOB in those cities. Our Rabat purchases are sealed and stowed in the bus, to emerge as the need arises.

What better way to end this post than with a photo of Mohammed VI and his family?

So, did a sultan sleep in Fes? The answer is definitely yes. Not only was Fes once a capital city, but the King is here now!

Melbourne, Part Two

Okay, I’ll admit it, I felt really, really guilty, when I learned that while I was having a grand old time on the Great Ocean Road, my beloved husband was suffering in a Melbourne hospital, as I confessed in my last blog post.

After seven days in a town that is hotter than hell ( well, maybe not hell, but definitely purgatory), I feel my penance has been completed and I am free to share the rest of the photos from our glorious time in Melbourne.

Originally called The Sow and the Piglets, these rock formations were wisely renamed The Twelve Apostles, despite their originally being only nine of them. One has since crumbled, so now there are only eight. I spent most of my career in marketing, so hey, I get it. Nine was close enough, if you just round up.

Not surprisingly, the gambit worked, and the rest is history. The Apostles are definitely a beloved Australian tourist attraction.

The beach is lovely too, and if you are willing to walk down (and climb back up) eighty steps, you too can get your picture taken on this gorgeous beach.


I was definitely game. My favorite photographer was otherwise occupied, but one of our fellow travelers offered to take my picture. Foolishly, I neglected to check my phone until I got all the way back to the top, only to discover a technical glitch. No photo. Andy, who you will soon meet, wearing a bird for a hat, offered to go back down with me, so he and I got to climb down (and UP) 160 steps!


Given that I’m looking a bit chunky, that extra exercise was probably a GOOD thing!

Our stop at the bird hangout was great fun, although I will admit it’s a bit of a jolt when one of these guys unexpectedly lands on you, but Andy took it all in stride.

Paul, our tour guide, (shown instructing Jenny, a member of our OAT group) , kept us enlightened and entertained during our entire day together.

He told us The Great Ocean Road was built to employ returning war veterans. (Sorta like FDR’s CCC during the Great Depression).

About 3,000 former soldiers labored to build the road for almost thirteen years. Because of what we now call PTSD, dynamite couldn’t be used to break through rock; construction was done with pick and shovel.

This war memorial was built to honor the thousands who never came back from the war.

Other highlights from our time in Melbourne included a visit to the Mornington Peninsula, where we visited the Moonlit Sanctuary.

Unlike the Tasmanian Koala, this guy was awake. These animals sleep twenty hours per day, so somehow we managed to time it just right.

We didn’t have as much luck with the wallabies and kangaroos. They clearly were used to being fed frequently, and weren’t motivated to hop over for a snack. But the ducks and birds were quite happy to take a handout.

And this wombat? All we could see were his feet and hands! I think he had a “Do Not Disturb” tag hanging on his barrel!


Another notable visit was to the Abbotsford Convent. Now art studios and an educational center, it was once a “Magdalen Asylum” where up to 400 women and girls were sheltered. They were either orphans,”fallen women” or had no where else to go. They were also a source of free labor.

For “three hots and a cot”, they worked doing laundry for hotels and the weathy of Melbourne. As you might expect of a Catholic institution, prayer and chapel attendance were mandatory, as was penitence. This went on until 1975.

Today, the convent is beautified by art. I was particularly intrigued by these hand painted fabrics, which were very creatively displayed. I leave it to your imagination as to what this artwork symbolizes. It certainly has meaning for ME.

Here’s a close up of one of the fabrics. They were all different and were all exquisite.

Tomorrow we head for Sydney, our final destination on this slightly modified tour of our seventh continent, so I’ll leave you with one last example of what my new iPhone 11 camera can do.