Thursday, May 22, 2014

Art Adventure in Morocco

Art adventure in morocco
At the beginning of May twelve creative women from Western Canada joined Calgary artist, Karin Richter on an Art Adventure to exotic Morocco, the country that travels through you! Leaving snowy Calgary for +30C temperatures was a bonus, but our discovery of colourful Morocco with its gentle, happy people warmed our hearts to the point where we were reluctant to leave!
During our 2 week visit our charming French/ Moroccan guide, Zac and our dutiful chauffeur Adboul were there with water, a helping hand and big smiles as they greeted us with “Salem Alicoom” and we responded, “Alicoom Salem”!!!  They delighted in sharing all the positive aspects of their country, Morocco.
We did travel through Morocco – starting with the modern metropolis of Rabat, home to  King Mohamed VI and the capital of Morocco. The ocean and seafood awaited us for the next few days as we hugged the coastline south to Essaouria where the ocean waves rocked us to sleep in the Riad Mimouna  This former Portugeuse port with its blue fishing boats discharging the morning catch is a photographer’s delight!  Fresh fish, natural color pigments and argan oil were on our shopping list!  Chris soon learned that anything could be shipped home.

Reluctantly we left the ocean for busy Marrakech!  ! We were sad to have Diana leave us in Marrakech just as the group was starting to gel.   She had signed up for a textile tour  – not nearly as fun as ours of course!  First stop – the Place or FNAA!  As a group we wove among the snake charmers, storytellers, orange juice vendors, henna designers to temporary food stands that created a cloud of BBQ smoke over the whole FNAA.  Zac had us try some of the spicy tea before he led us into the souk for a taste of what we would see the next day!  We almost lost Pat in the souk as she had her wallet out for every vendor! Then she would consult Zac to see if she made a good buy!
Marrakech certainly deserves more than the 4 days we gave it – not enough shopping time!  We did venture out into the Ourika Valley for a day of sketching  in the berber villages, some of us indulged in a real Hamam, we took a caleche (horse and buggy ride) to the Majorelle Gardens for more sketching, we visited the lovely Bahia Palace and yes, got lost in the souk!!  How many times did Lucille, Michelle and Karin circle around the Cafe Arabe??? Our Riad Catalina in the middle of the medina was a safe haven for our return from the busy alleys lined with donkeys and scooters!   Nadia and her staff surprised us with a different tagine every evening!  Sharon was a true Moroccan! She had a tagine everyday!!!


Our trip into the desert was special – everyone in awe of the picturesque countryside, with the berbers carrying on their simple, serene daily life which, for us was like a step back to Biblical times. It was apparent that the Moroccans hold family life in great estime and everyone has a role to play in that family. Along the DRAA valley – a long oasis of date palms- we witnessed everyone’s contribution – young boys tending sheep, women with a load of straw on their back, old men riding donkeys loaded with sticks. Near Ouarzazate the Film city of the desert we visited the Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah which has been the backdrop for many desert films like “ Lawrence of Arabia”.  After yet another Moroccan salad lunch Zac herded us into the Kasbah village for a quick peek only to discover  that one of his brebis (sheep), Karen la grande was oblivious to his herding and decided to go her own way to capture that perfect photo! Soon we were rounded up in our 17 passenger van with Abdoul for a short drive to Ouarzazate.


 The next day we continued our journey to Zagora the gateway to the desert where we relaxed in the oasis Riad Lamane for a couple of days to get used to the higher temperatures – now getting up to +35C.   The ceiling decorations in the dining room and the “tent” accommodations held us spellbound with the brilliant colours and tassels. More shopping for berber rugs and jewelry! We all bought a turban to tie on our heads during our dromedary ride and we assumed berber names for our stay in the desert! Now that was a challenge getting our tongues around some of them!!! Betty simply called herself “ J’ai oublie” until we reminded her that she was Naida.


Everyone’s comfort on the dromedary – or camel was not evident. Our chef  Karin Richter was happy that it was only 1.5 hours long!  She decided to ride side saddle to elevate some discomfort but her gate was a little wonky for the next few days!  Liela on the other had was so comfortable on the camel and so appreciative of the tranquility of the desert that she could have made the 52 day trek to Timbuctou no problem (macain mouchekill)! Our arrival at the Bivouac, a tent village amongst the desert dunes and tamaris trees was a scene out of Arabian Nights!  Sala and his team treated us to patisseries (much to Karin’s delight), a tagine meal (viande with dates) in the eating tent and musical drumming on the desert floor.  Zac shook up the sand by inviting everyone up to dance! The full moon kept us all awake – not to mention the chorus of snores resounding from the tents. Some of us chose to sleep outside under the stars.
Another dromedary excursion to see the sunrise was enjoyed by all who managed to mount up again, then some zen time to sketch our magical setting before heading back to reality.  To shake off the desert sand the Riad Lamane in Zagora welcomed us for a dip in the pool and lunch in an air conditionned salon.  We headed back up the Draa Valley lined with date trees, then over the volcanic pass to Ouarzazate to relax and reflect on our desert experience.  Repacking was in store for our free day in Ouarzazate, although we did manage to visit a lovely Kasbah in the center of town and sneak in another “shopping” trip to a broderie for some handwoven linens.
Early to bed for some of us as we had an early flight to Casablanca the next day. Abdoul had driven the road from Ouarzazate to Casablanca the day before so we were happy to have him pick us up at the airport to visit the Hassen II Mosque and escort us to a beach cafe on the Atlantic Ocean for our final meal together. A special moment was held for Abdoul and Zac as we thanked them for looking after us so well in Morocco!
At the airport, it was like nobody wanted to leave!!! Hugs, kisses and proposals for marriage (hey Linda) were handed out as we reluctantly said goodbye!  Until next time Inchallah!

As Karin Mattiessen (Aicha) puts it, Morocco is a country that intrigues you, awakens the senses and nurtures your soul..... I will return again on day!

Shukran Chris for the photos!!

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