This trip was intense, and that is exactly why I’ve made traveling a priority in my life. As a photographer, and as a human, when I travel I find that my senses are heightened in a way that I often lose when in my routine of errands and emails, bed time stories and bus stops. Morocco is a country where every experience feels amped up in some way. The smells are strong – lamb tangines with cinnamon and clove, the ubiquitous sweet mint tea, and the smell of sandalwood burning in the markets. The colors are explosive – pink clay homes, brightly woven rugs, yarn hanging overhead saturated with indigo and amber, the endless yellow orange of the Sahara dessert dunes against the bright blue sky. The movement is frenetic – trying to cross the busy streets of Marrakech is comical as cars, vans, taxis, thousands of motorbikes, horse-drawn carriages, mule carts, and pedestrians all compete for space. There is much less general societal order in Morocco than in the United States so the transition to quasi-organized chaos can be very jarring and disorienting. The landscapes are expansive and impressive. Through the course of a few days, and in some instances just a few hours, we drove through snow-covered mountains, deep rock gorges, and sweeping sandy desert. Seemingly every surface is covered with intricate carvings or colorful mosaics. I’m drawn to pattern and geometric shapes in my art so this was one of my favorite qualities of the country. One of the hardest parts of the trip for me is how heavily targeted foreigners are. The main square of the Marrakech medina is Jemaa el-Fna and it exhibits all the qualities I spoke about – there are fragrant food stalls, snake charmers, a steady beat of drummers, colorful wares and more packed into a relatively small area. It’s overwhelming for sure and during our first walk through the square we had monkeys literally thrown on us, which was funny, but even though I knew in advance to look out for this trick, we still ended up having the monkey handlers take pictures of us with our phone and then hold the phone hostage until we paid them enough money to get it back. Meanwhile I had a woman grab my hand and start applying henna even though I asked her not to and then she demanded to be paid for the service that I had declined. It was hard for me, and pushed me to my limits, but whenever we had more personal interactions with the locals they were overwhelmingly positive. Our experience in the Sahara desert was particularly memorable and lovely. We had an awesome tour company (a highly recommend Moha and his team: http://www.mohaventura.com/) and the night we spent eating, drumming, and talking under the stars with our Bedouin hosts was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Those are the interactions with the Moroccan people that I will remember and choose to focus on.
We spent one night in Istanbul Turkey on the way to Africa and the small taste I had of the city definitely made me want to return. Everyone we spoke to and interacted with was very friendly and accommodating which was all the more poignant considering the extreme crisis the country is in dealing with the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis on their border. This was also the first time I heard the muslim call to prayer and was struck by the haunting beauty of it. It’s a sound I’ll never forget. The few photos below from Istanbul are of the Hagia Sofia mosque, the underground Basilica Cistern, and a street scene in the Sultanahmet district.After arriving in Casablanca and getting on, and subsequently thrown off, the wrong train we took a 4 hour train ride inland to Marrakech.
I highly recommend our Riad, or traditional Moroccan residence, and one of my favorite moments of the trip was watching one of the bazillion stray cats slowly fall off the courtyard roof – photo below! Riad reviews here: Riad La Terrasse des OliviersExploring Marrakech is a study in contrasts. Lush gardens surrounded by crumbling alley-ways. Donkeys parked beside autos. Live chickens being brought to market and land snails sold for snacks down the street from a fancy French restaurant.The aforementioned monkeys. I was happy about it…until I got sad about it.We left Marrakech after two days and started our trek east to the Sahara. We passed through at least 3 distinct climate zones on the drive and even got stuck in the mountain pass for an hour while a large truck got pulled through the snow.The next few photos are from Aït Ben-Haddou, an ancient ksar or walled city that has since been the scene for many hollywood movies including Gladiator, Babel, and Kingdom of Heaven.We stayed the night in the Dades Gorge and our Riad was built right into the side of one of the massive rock faces. The scope and scale of these rocks isn’t adequately captured in these photos.We got on our camels in the west Sahara desert near the border of Algeria. Camels look cool, and are relatively comfortable to ride, but they’re generally pretty cranky and unpleasant animals.We were treated to a wonderful traditional meal and played drums around the campfire in the evening. I took photos and we stayed the night in chilly but comfortable tents before riding back just after sunrise.We had one more day exploring Marrakech and ended the trip with a visit to massive Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It was fascinating to learn more about the Islamic faith and the story behind one of the largest and most expensive mosques in the world.For all you photo-nerds out there, I bought a new camera, a small mirrorless Fuji XE-2. It was perfect for this trip, small and inconspicuous enough to allow me to grab street shots while giving me the image quality I wanted. The camera also generates its own wifi so I was able to beam photos directly to my iphone to post on Instagram. I highly recommend going the mirrorless route if you’re looking for a versatile camera you can grow with.
So thankful for this trip, for my patient boyfriend who dealt with a few travel-induced freak outs, and for the credit cards that allowed me the experience! Final note, we flew Turkish Airways and I highly recommend the airline for both price and overall quality. If you’re looking to do some international travel on the cheap check them out because they’re offering some pretty crazy deals to encourage travel during all the strife over there right now.
Thanks as always for looking!