Saturday, November 26, 2016


Judy was pushing for a trip to Morocco and I was not excited about the idea. But I came around and we had a fabulous 11 day visit there in March 2016, one of our best vacations so far. In this post I give a day-by-day overview of the trip and links to individual posts by the two of us that go into more detail. We planned most of the trip on our own and had a car rented and were going to drive ourselves. Then we reconsidered after speaking with Naturally Morocco, a British travel agency, and had them line up our transportation as well as some of our guides. That was a decision we were glad we made, for the most part.
     Morocco 2016  (Judy)

We had a 3:45 p.m. flight out of LAX on Air France on a Thursday, had a layover in Paris, then arrived in Casablanca at 2:45 p.m. on Friday. Our driver, Yusuf, met us at the airport about 3:15 p.m. and we were soon on the road for Fez, a 181 mile drive which took about four hours. We were met by a baggagiste, near a small alley that opened into a maze of alleys in Fez, who carried our luggage. About 5 minutes later we were outside a non-descript door in a huge, ugly wall, wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into. The door eventually opened and we were led into a cavernous atrium filled with plants and trees and wonderful shadowed light that was Riad Laaroussa. We were given an upgraded room with a view over-looking the atrium, a wonderful fire going in our own fireplace and then a beautiful meal of lamb tagine in an eating room on the roof. One of the most beautiful and exotic places we've ever stayed.
     Morocco: From Los Angeles to Fes  (Judy)
     Morocco: Riad Laaroussa in Fes  (Judy)
     Riad Laaroussa - Fez, Morocco  (Bob)

Saturday morning our guide, Hassan, arranged for by Naturally Morocco, met us at the riad at 9:00 a.m. for a tour of Fez. We walked down small, winding alleys, to the Madrasa el Attarine, an old Islamic school, now a museum. More winding alleys to the Mausoleum of Moulay Idris II, where we gawked in through numerous entrances, but could not go inside. During our walking we viewed all sorts of shops selling food and arts and crafts. We were taken to a rug shop where we succumbed to a pretty good carpet pitch. Then Hassan took us to La Medina for lunch where we witnessed the first of what would become the routine, we ate on the roof while he and his tour guide buddies ate a comped lunch downstairs. After lunch we visited a leather shop over-looking the tanneries where we succumbed again, or I guess I should say I succumbed. Judy sat in another room looking in while I got a ninth degree sales job over a purse and wallet, or something along those lines. I'm not sure why we were paying Hassan, he was getting rich off commissions. We switched gears and were met by Yusuf again, who, along with Hassan, drove us up to some ruins overlooking the medina, to a pottery shop outside the medina (where we did not succumb), and then to visit the king's palace which is near the Jewish section. We had dinner at Riad Laaroussa again, a chicken tagine along with minced camel meat patties, something they went out of their way to do for me.
     Fes, Morocco: The Madrasa El Attarine  (Judy)
     Fes, Morocco: The Tomb of Moulay Idriss II  (Judy)
     Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss II - Fez, Morocco  (Bob)
     Fes, Morocco: The Medina  (Judy)
     Fes, Morocco: The Souk  (Judy)
     Fes, Morocco: Buying a Rug (or Two)  (Judy)
     La Medina Restaurant - Fez, Morocco  (Bob)
   Fes, Morocco: Merenid Tombs, a Modern Cemetery, and the Royal Palace  (Judy)
   Fes, Morocco: A Tannery, a Silk Shop, and a Pottery Cooperative  (Judy)

Sunday morning Hassan picked us up at 8:30 a.m. for a drive in a van to the Roman ruins of Volubilis. Yusuf was our driver. As we got to know Hassan and Yusuf better we had some fun conversations and kidded each other a little bit. Somehow the conversation turned to cheese and Yusuf refused to believe that cheese could be made of sheep milk. I thought then that I would send him some sheep milk cheese when I got home, but never did. At Volubilis we were abandoned to an on-site tour guide, I suspect Hassan was not legally allowed to take us around. It was a fascinating mixture of central buildings surrounded by the remains of home foundations. My favorite part was a marvelous mosaic floor with animals of Morocco, including the now extinct Atlas elephant and Barbary lion. Off in the van again to the nearby hill town of Moulay Idriss where we got to peek in at another mausoleum, this time the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss, the father of the man whose mausoleum we saw in Fez. This outside view in was from much further away and we did not see much. The most striking thing in town was the pastel colored walls and streets. Off in the van again to Meknes, where we enjoyed another roof-top meal, virtually all alone, at Restaurant Traiteur, while our guides visited with their fellow guides on comped food with most of the other patrons. More tagine lamb, mine with prunes and Judy's with vegetables. Then to the main square where I had some fun looking at the snake charmers, puff adders, but no cobras, then visited the Bou Inania Madrasa where we were on the roof when the Islamic call to prayer sounded out in various locations around the city. We visited the beautiful Dar Jamai Museum, the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, where we were actually able to go inside this time, the underground Prison de Kara and the royal stable where we had some of the most beautiful lighting for pictures I've ever seen. We got back to Fez after dark and Hassan surprised us with a visit to a stall selling snail soup, something I'd asked him about earlier. Then one more night at the wonderful Riad Laaroussa.
     Volubilis, Morocco  (Judy)
     North African Elephant  (Bob)
     Morocco: The Town of Moulay Idriss  (Judy)
     Idris and the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss  (Bob)
     Meknes, Morocco: Lunch, Gates, Snake Charmers, and the Souk  (Judy)
     Restaurant Traiteur - Meknes, Morocco  (Bob)
    Meknes, Morocco: Bou Inania Madrasa, the Dar Jamai Museum, and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail  (Judy)
     Islamic Call to Prayer  (Bob)
     Meknes, Morocco: Artisans, the Prison de Kara, the Granary, and the Royal Stable  (Judy)
     Snail Soup in Morocco  (Bob)

Azziz, our driver for the next four days, picked us up at the riad at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning. We had a long day of driving ahead, 296 miles (7 or 8 hours) up and over the Middle Atlas Mountains to the Erg Chebbi Dunes in the Sahara Desert. Our first stop was in Ifrane, at an elevation of 5,463 feet, where we saw a large Barbary lion carved in stone. We passed nearby Azrou, then traveled uphill to the Cedar Forest where we stopped to see and interact with wild Barbary apes, one of the highlights of the trip for me. We continued on and encountered mostly barren plateaus with large patches of snow. In Midelt, down in a plane, about 135 miles from Fez, we stopped for lunch at the Hotel Taddart, obviously designed for foreign tourists. I got a beef tagine with prunes and an interesting salad which included egg, cheese, corn, banana, orange, tomato, beet and tuna fish. Late that afternoon we arrived in Merzouga, on the edge of the Erg Chebbi Dunes. We met Hassan, the owner of Bivouac Merzouga Experience, who put us and our luggage in his late model 4x4. He traveled around the south side of the dunes and then took a tack directly into the dunes with the 4x4 fish-tailing through the sand. He kept going and going, up and over dunes, until he got us near the bottom of the biggest dune in the area. He let us out and told us to climb the dune to watch the sunset. Several camels with clients from one of his camps joined us shortly later and we had a great view of the setting sun and watching the impact of the sun on the surrounding sand dunes. That evening we were the only people in the luxury tent camp and enjoyed a fabulous dinner of lamb tagine. Our luxury tent included a toilet, a small sink, a trickle of a shower and a large bed, the floor covered in woven carpets.
     Morocco: A Lion, some Monkeys, a Horse, and some Sheep en Route to the Sahara Desert  (Judy)
     Barbary Ape or Macaque - Morocco  (Bob)
     Hotel Taddart - Midelt, Morocco  (Bob)
     Erg Chebbi, Morocco: Sahara Desert Tent Camping  (Judy)

Tuesday morning about 9:00 a.m., after a nice breakfast in the food tent, we got in Hassan's 4x4, along with Azziz who Hassan invited along, and set out for our desert day. We stopped for about 30 minutes in Khamlia and had a concert with the Gnawa musicians, refugees from Mali to the south. We visited the old village of Mtis, mud huts that looked uninhabitable, but a still functioning mosque was nearby. We drove east of the dunes, perhaps 10 miles from the Algeria border, visited a mine and stopped to inspect a functioning well. We visited a Berber woman's home, several stick-framed and carpet covered structures with carpet floors. We looked in her kitchen to find strips of chicken hanging from stick ceiling beams to dry. In the distance we could see Berber goat herders on the hard-scrabble desert floor. We viewed other desert camps from a distance and drove into downtown Merzouga, walking along an irrigated area with palm trees, fruits and vegetables, and then along the main street. We ate lunch under a large covered tent at the edge of the dunes and had a wonderful "stuffed pizza," bread with a filling of chicken and vegetables which was quite good. Finally, we met some other tourists just off the main road and had a 2 1/2 hour camel ride into the dunes to our tent camp. We had another dinner, this time with about 13 other guests in camp.
     Erg Chebbi Dunes, Sahara Desert, Morocco: Day Excursions Part 1  (Judy)
     Erg Chebbi Dunes, Sahara Desert, Morocco: Day Excursions Part 2  (Judy)
     Erg Chebbi Dunes, Sahara Desert, Morocco: Camel Trekking  (Judy)
     Bivouac Merzouga Experience - Morocco  (Bob)

Wednesday morning I got up early to witness sunrise from the dunes right outside camp. I got some great photos of other tourists jumping off the dunes with the sun coming up behind them. We were surprised to learn that we had a camel ride back out to our car. I was thrilled to be on the camels again. At the end of the camel ride we were met by Hassan with our luggage and Azziz and our car. We headed toward Skoura where we would spend the night. Driving through Rissani, we stopped outside a walled compound and went in to drink some camel milk. We sat under the over-hang of a large tent while the proprietor poured us milk from a large used plastic bottle. The milk was cool and sweet. We made a quick stop at the Moulay Al Sharif Mausoleum, for about ten minutes, then set off for the foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains. We drove part way up the Todra Gorge, outside Tinerhir. We got out and walked a short ways along a stream in the gorge. Then stopped at Anissa Restaurant, part of a B&B for lunch, where we had beef tagine, a small salad and oranges and apples for dessert. We drove another 33 miles to Boumaline Dades where we drove up the longer and more spectacular Dades Gorge, with some pretty spectacular switchbacks. Another 45 miles brought us to Skoura where we found L'Ma Lodge on the outskirts down a dirt road. The outside was pretty inauspicious, Judy mumbled something like, "what have you gotten me into," then we were wowed as we got inside the gate and looked at the beautiful grounds. We enjoyed one of our favorite meals that night, a lamb tagine with sweet apples that was incredible. The inside of the main house where we ate was gorgeous and our separate sleeping quarters was comfortable and nice. L'Ma is a gem we would recommend to anyone.
     Merzouga to Skoura Via the Todra and Dades Gorges  (Judy)
     Camel Milk  (Bob)
     Skoura, Morocco: L'Ma Lodge  (Judy)
     L'Ma Lodge - Skoura, Morocco  (Bob)

Azziz picked us up at 9:00 a.m. Thursday morning and we drove 28 miles to Ourzazaate where we visited the Taourirt Kasbah and then went shopping at a spot recommended by Azziz (Judy got a couple of necklaces). Then we drove another 11 miles to Ait Ben Haddou where we had lunch at L'Oasis D'Or where we had tagine of beef and chicken and a salad. Afterwards, we walked a short distance and then crossed a bridge over the mostly dry river to the Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah, set on a hill and mostly empty except for souvenir peddlars. This site of numerous movies was my biggest disappointment in Morocco. Then we set out for the long drive over the High Atlas Mountains to Marrakech, a distance of about 112 miles. The mountain drive was spectacular. We stayed at Riad Badi in Marrakech, very near the Jewish Quarter. We pre-arranged a meal upon our arrival which was an okay tagine of chicken.
     Ouarzazate, Morocco: A Movie Set, a Little Shopping, and the Tourirt Kasbah  (Judy)
     L'Oasis D'Or - Ait Ben Haddou, Morocco  (Bob)
     Morocco: Ait Ben Haddou  (Judy)
     Morocco: Driving Through the High Atlas Mountains and Riad Badi in Marrakech  (Judy)
     Riad Badi - Marrakech  (Bob)

Our best guide in Morocco was one we found on Trip Advisor and lined up ourselves: Abdul Aissaoui. He picked us up at 9:30 a.m. Friday morning. The nearby Jewish Quarter was our first stop and the Lazama Synagogue, now a museum, was one of my favorite venues. Next was the Bahia Palace, right across from our riad and one of the most beautiful places we visited in Morocco. We spent quite awhile there. One of the nice things about Abdul was that he really was there for us and not looking out for his pocket. I told him that I enjoyed eating unusual local foods and asked if he could find us something. He thought about it and asked if we would like to eat sheep's head. "Heck yes," I responded. The best and most memorable meal of our trip followed at Chez Lamine. We walked up and down this short street behind the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square, and saw lamb roasting in underground pits, roasted lambs laying on tables in front of stalls and lamb heads on pots outside several places. After lunch we walked through numerous alleys selling all kinds of things, then visited the Ben Yousseff Madrasa, the most beautiful madrasa of our trip. Finally, we explored the Jemaa el Fna on our own, visiting the snake charmers, then watching from a restaurant above as the sun went down over the square.
     The Marrakesh Express  (Judy)
     Marrakech, Morocco: Lazama Synagogue  (Judy)
     Marrakech, Morocco: Bahia Palace and Ben Yousseff Madrasa  (Judy)
     Bahia Palace - Marrakech, Morocco  (Bob)
     Marrakech, Morocco: Lunch at Chez Lamine and the Call to Prayer in Jemaa el-Fna  (Judy)
     Chez Lamine Hadj Mustapha - Marrakech  (Bob)
     Ben Youssef Madrasa - Marrakech  (Bob)
     Marrakech, Morocco: Edith Wharton in Morocco and the Cannons in the Jemaa El Fna Souk  (Judy)
     Marrakech, Morocco: Where's Waldo in Jemaa El Fna Square  (Judy)
     Snake Charmers in Morocco - Egyptian Cobras and Puff Adders  (Bob)

Saturday morning I got up early and went to the roof of the riad where I watched the storks on the nearby Bahia Palace walls which had about six stork nests. We were picked up at 9:00 a.m. by Azziz for a trip to Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains, near the base of Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in Morocco. On the way up, in Amizmiz, we stopped at a Berber market. It was fascinating, but also a little scary. We had several men follow us around and continually ask us for money. They followed us for 20 or 30 minutes. Azziz did nothing to rid us of this irritant. We were concerned that if we gave one money, we would be flooded with like requests. We saw lots and lots of local produce, butchered sheep and goats and a donkey parking lot where the locals who were visiting parked their donkeys. The locals were kind of wary and unfriendly. I was actually happy to leave. We got to Imlil and Azziz arranged for a local guide to take us on a hiking trip up to Aremd, the highest village before Jebel Toubkal, with fantastic views of the mountain, and back down again. Aremd is a spectacularly beautiful town and has been in a number of movies. After we got back to Marrakech we had Azziz drop us off at the Jemaa el Fna and we spent more time there, eating a sheep head late lunch at the same restaurant.
     White Stork - Morocco  (Bob)
     Morocco: Imlil Berber Market in Atlas Mountains  (Judy)
     Imlil and Aremd, Morocco: Views of Jebel Toubkal  (Judy)

Sunday morning we were schedule for a cooking class at L'atelier Faim d'Epices. Their van met us in the Jewish Quarter at 9:40 a.m. and we were driven about 20 minutes away. We were taught the common Moroccan spices and learned how to make Moroccan bread and a beef tagine with artichoke. It was a fun class, but our tagine was surprisingly poor tasting. After the class we were dropped off at our riad about 4:00 p.m. and were picked up by a driver about 4:30 p.m. for a 152 mile drive back to Casablanca and a flight out the next morning. We had a nightmarish drive to our hotel in Casablanca, the Maamoura Hotel. Our driver spoke limited English and did not know his way around Casablanca. We noticed we were driving around in circles as he looked for our hotel. I unsuccessfully tried to get him to call the hotel for directions. We spent 45 minutes in the area driving around before he found it. Unfortunately, our window to visit the nearby Hassan II Mosque had closed and we decided to stay in our room. We'd switched hotels from one near the airport to one near the mosque and we were now very unhappy, not helped in that regard by the run-down nature of the hotel, poor service and arguing guests in the next room through paper-thin walls.
     Marrakech, Morocco: Cooking Class at Faim  D'Epices  (Judy)
     Faim d'Epices - Marrakech, Morocco  (Bob)
     Morocco: Marrakech to Casbalanca to Los Angeles. Sigh.  (Judy)

We were picked up at 5:00 a.m. for a 30 minute drive to the airport. Our flight was delayed because of an apparent air traffic control strike in Paris, but eventually we left several hours late. In Paris, we had to show our passports to get off our plane, but we did make our Air France flight to Detroit, followed by a flight on Delta to LAX. The terrorist attack on the Brussells Airport happened shortly after we left, otherwise I'm afraid we would have had additional delays or problems in Paris.
     Morocco: Final Thoughts  (Judy)

Our best guide, by far, was the one we found on Trip Advisor in Marrakech. If I could do it again, I would arrange for our own guides up to Imlil and in Fez and to Volubilis and Meknes. I would also have taken a harder stance with our driver Azziz and the places he took us to eat. We addressed our issues with him early on and he convinced us that if he took us other more authentic places we would get sick. We backed down and now I regret that. We loved Morocco, one of our favorite trips so far. There was nothing really historically we were aware of that interested us, but the culture, the religion and the food were so interesting that it was much more fun than we'd imagined. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Alligator Salami

I had my second exotic salami from Exotic Meat Market and I've become a big fan of it. Salami is a cured sausage which has fermented and air-dried meat. Typical ingredients in salami include garlic, minced fat, salt, white pepper, vinegar, wine and various herbs. The raw meat mixture is usually fermented for a day, then stuffed in a casing and hung to cure. 
An alligator in Everglades NP.
Alligator salami
I previously tried river otter salami, and this time I had alligator salami. Unlike otter meat, which I was not particularly fond of, I love alligator meat, and correspondingly, the alligator salami was much better too. The otter salami has added camel fat, but the alligator salami is 100% alligator, with added alligator fat. Alligator is very mild, but the salami, with the added spices is much richer and stronger tasting, in a very nice way. The salami can last a long time before spoiling. I've been cutting off an occasional slice or two of the alligator salami for over a month and it still tastes wonderful. 
It is a great starter for someone trying exotic meat for the first time. No cooking is involved, it is relatively cheap, it lasts a long time and it has great flavor.