Saturday, December 5, 2015

An Adventure in Argentina

After 10 years of collaborating with Cecelia and Mel Jurgens to offer Sketchbook Workshop Tours around the world, this year’s Adventure in Argentina sadly missed the Jurgens family as they mourned the loss of Mel, husband and father and a solid support for our artist friends!
The artists theme was always present during the tour as former students of Cecelia and new beginners encouraged each other to capture the beauty of Argentina in their sketchbooks. A few days in Buenos Aires had us visit the colourful barrios of La Boca and San Telmo for tango in the streets and artisan fares! A guided walking tour of downtown Buenos Aires including the Plaza de Mayo, the Casa Rosada and San Martin’s tomb in the Cathedral  was followed by a lunch in the famous Tortonis. Here we discovered how grande a grande cerveza really was!!
After a couple of days in this city of 16 million we were whisked off to the tranquility of the La Cantera Jungle Lodge at Iguazu Falls. And yes, we got totally wet as Romina guided us along the upper and lower catwalks on the Argentine side of the falls and gleefully set us off on the Grand Adventure boat ride in the deluge of these massive water falls – one of the wonders of the Natural World.   

Another short flight took us to Salta, one of Argentina’s northern provinces with a strong Inca influence. One cannot imagine the intense colours of the mountains in this province. Some of us enjoyed capturing these ocres colours in our sketchbooks and all enjoyed Andres Hoy’s informative tour of the El Esteco winery!  Cafayate is the small microclimate of Salta’s wine production specializing in Torrontes and Tanat at high elevations. All yummy! As was the food!
Some of our guests delighted in consuming  beef specialities from all parts of the animal – inside and out in the typical Argentine Parrilla. Others tried goat and alpaca along with other delights of the Argentine meat based diet! Salad? What is that?
North of Salta in the Andes, Pumamarca in the province of Juyjuy was a highlight. We followed Leo our guide to the top of the Red hill for spectacular views of this little pueblo with its market and the hill of seven colours. Some of the group managed to find local music in one of the outdoor restaurants while others shopped for local artisan gifts. 

Soon we were back in Buenos Aires for some museum days, the Palermo gardens and a delightful Dinner Tango Show at Café de los Angelitos! A few adventuresome souls learned how to tango with Trini and Juan Carlos and then were swept off their feet in the oldest tango hall in BsAs,  Confeteria La Ideal as they put their steps to practice with the tango escorts!

Thanks to the whole group for pulling together in the spirit of the Jurgen family to make this another delightful experience for all!

Capture Morocco

Did we capture Morocco or did Morocco capture us?! This fall 12 adventurers from Canada set foot on Moroccan soil to experience this exotic country! Some were trekkers, some were photographers – all friends and students of Shannon Brunner, photographer from Saskatoon, Sask.
The Royal Air Maroc direct flight from Montreal had us in Casablanca in no time! Casablanca is a large commercial port but we managed to find lodging on the outskirts of the city close to the beach. Atlantic ocean waves disrupted the hundreds of pickup soccer matches which lasted until dusk –ending only when the sun set in the horizon. We travelled along this stunning coast past ancient portugeuse fortifications to settle on a local beach for the afternoon, some of us swam, some hiked and enjoyed the company of Moroccan families on the beach! For lunch? Sea urchins for those that dared! Local fishing activity kept us entertained for most of the afternoon. Once in Essaouria – yes we did practice saying this a few times – we meandered through narrow ruelles lined with artisan shops and fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing  against the ramparts of the Riad Mimouna. Zac, our French Moroccan guide gave us a quick tour around the port to experience the hubbub of this fishing port where the catch of the day was offered up by competing kiosks. The one that captured our attention was the one that offered a cold beer option – only 1 mind you as it was not usually the custom. We were reluctant to leave this delightful village, but the Berber villages of the Atlas mountains were calling us! On our way inland towards Marrakech we visited the Argan Oil Women’s cooperative to learn why that oil, indigenous to Morocco is so darn expensive! 

We spent one tranquil night in the Imlil Lodge in the mountains. The higher altitude was chilly at night, but the wood burning fireplace and a beef tagine dinner had us tucked cozily into our beds early to prepare for the hikes the next day. The Mt. Toubkal group had an early start and managed the refuge quite easily, however weather moved in and the ascent to the top – 4167 meters was impossible despite their efforts. Those who participated on the Berber Village Hike had perfect weather and a delightful time with the Mt Toubkal Guide.

After the tranquility of the countryside the medina of Marrakech was busy and noisy – particularly La Place FNA with its snake charmers, watermen and musicians filling up the square as dusk fell. Around 4 pm the food kiosks were set up to offer kebabs, soups, snails and other specialties to locals and tourists alike. Highlights of Marrakech were the Majorelle Gardens, The Médersa Ben Youssef (14 century university) and the Berber pharmacy for spices and pigments. The courtyard at the Riad Catalilna was a welcome refuge after a busy day of bargaining the berber way!

At this point a few guests left the tour but a core group continued into the desert with the first stop in Ouarzazate, the Universal studio of the desert. Then on through more interesting landscape to the gateway to the desert Zagora and the garden Riad Lamane. Our day in the Bivouac of the desert was proceeded with the buying of turbans and learning to tie them before mounting the dromedaries (one hump camels) to trek across the desert at sunset- a photographer’s paradise!

It is said that Morocco is a country that travels within you. Clearly the Moroccan people and the diverse countryside touched the hearts of our travelers!
Thanks to Shannon gathering her group of friends to enjoy this adventure with us. 
See more photos of this tour on our Shutterfly Album