Monday, November 22, 2010

Morocco Cueta to Fes

Traveling through Morocco so far has been like traveling back into time. Donkeys, camels, and goats walk freely in the streets, houses are created out of brick, most no more advanced than the ruins of their past. Their artwork is both stunning and beautiful. Today's Morocco is changing fast, but still has lots of culture left to share.

The people so far have been very friendly, the northern mountain sides more lush then I ever could have imagined, and the quiant towns filled with as much culture as I have ever seen. Some towns have been like a time capsule, preserving the past.

The first town I camped in was a cute mountain town, called Chefchouen. The town reminded me of the beautiful photogenic towns on the Greek islands. No doubt having been influenced with the same Mediterranean style of small meandering streets, with many levels, ocean blue doorways and windows, stunning arches, and white adobe walls. I could spend a few days walking the streets photographing the buildings, but instead I as engulfed with a more amazing experience.

As I walked through town early in the morning, I noticed every house had a sheep tied up in the front, like a family pet. As the day went on though, I watched family after family killing the goat and together preparing it for their meal. As you look down over the small town tucked into the mountainside, every building top, back yard, and street corner, had a family preparing a goat. It was a religious tradition that every Muslim in the world celebrated on that day. So many goats where being killed that the streets were running red with blood, even though they are very careful keeping the place clean. It was an amazing experience to watch each family member having a different, yet important job in the process. It wasn't easy watching them slit the throat of the goat and watch him die, but it allowed me to realize how easy we have it back home. From talking to locals, they said that it was a tradition followed since Abraham gave their God, a goat as a gift. So every muslim kills a sheep in that honor and shares it with family, friends, and even the poor. Noone in the country goes hungry on that day. Some families let me photograph the killing, some waved their finger and told me to leave. Either way it was an amazing experience to have witnessed.

From Chefchouen I continued through the Rif Mountains and made my way to the large town of Fes. If you love Moroccan pottery and rugs, mosaic tiling, and high quality leather, you would love this town. The Medina, is one place in town you have to visit while you are here. Without a guide you would easily get lost in the maze of streets, but it's the maze of seeminly endless streets to travel down that make it such an experience. It made the streets of Venice seem easy to navagate. If you want to get a feel of what life was like hundreds of years ago, for Moroccans, it has been preserved in this place. I have never seen anything like it on my travels. So much goes on it that part of town. Keep your eye out for mules and carts racing down the narrow streets. Markets full of anything from spices to meat parallel the streets. Tiny businesses are run in closet size spaces, Mosques are on every other corner. After a few hours you feel like you are really back in time.

Another tradition I couldn't miss is relaxing in a local Hammam. Similar to a spa, you visit it to relax and clean your body. You sit in a big steam room full of other Muslims and wash your body with only buckets of warm water. Once you clean your body and open your pours you have someone scrape your body to get rid of any dead skin. I have to admit I didn't go as far as having someone scrap my body, becaue every guy in the room was using the same luffa . I was feeling completely out of place, but it was a pretty funny experience. I got just as many stares walking in my shorts and towel for an hour through town, to make my way back to the camp ground.

Driving over the Rif Mountains

The local garbage truck
Sheep tied in front yard before being killed.

Business in the Medina

Local kids playing soccer in an open parking lot.

Traditional sandals.

Traditional way of making leather. Looks like hard work

Looking out over the Medina from a roof top

Family skinning a sheep
Markets are a fun place to visit in Morocco

local transporting some hides from all the sheep that were killed.


It's taken a while to send off another blog, because I have been traveling through the mountains of Morocco. Finally found some wireless Internet, at a nice hotel in Rabat.

My trans Africa trip started off with some excitement. While on approach to the airport in Gibraltar, a freak wind gust and rain storm almost sent our plane twisting into the ocean. Great flying by the captain and a last second thrust of the engines sent us climbing back into the sky. It shook up the passengers pretty good, I had a great view of the ocean since I was sitting on the wing and could have sworn our wing was pretty close to touching water. I was told the airport is the 5th dangerous airport in the world, because the huge rock face, which the town of Gibraltar surrounds, creates challenging wind gusts that bounce off the cliff face. Plus both ends of the runway drop off into the water. On the second approach we landed safely and the passengers all started clapping. I was excited because if we couldn't have landed on that approach we would have to fly to another airport and I would miss out on Gibraltar.

Gibraltar is a small point of land at the bottom of Spain, measuring only only 6.8 square miles.  It is controlled by the UK, because of it's location along the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea.  To enter the colony, you have to actually cross the airport and active runway, making it the only airport in the world where pedestrians can walk on an active major runway.   A four lane highway cross the airport making it unique.

Gates on both sides, let people know about incoming planes, like an incoming train. Sometimes police have to force people off the runway who aren't paying attention and are to busy taking pics of the incoming plane. I heard of one story in which a man thought the run way was a parking lot and drove down the runway parking at one of the terminal gates.

Click this link for Top 10 most Dangerous Airports in the World

At the base of the rock of Gibraltar is the town.  30,000 people pack into a small area.   There are lots of great stores and restaurants, but the most amazing feature of Gibraltar is the huge rock.   The locals just call it "the rock" or "Gib" for short.  It once was called Mons Calpe, one of the Pillars of Hercules.

It's a short hike to the top, that gives you stunning views of the surrounding area.  You can see the African Continent in the distance on clear days.   Those who are less adventurous can take a tram to the top.   Where they can explore caves,  photograph the only wild monkeys in Europe, or visit the gift store.  

Gate for the cars and pedestrians, so they don't cross when a plan lands or is taking off.

Monkeys have taken over the look outs. Brought over as pets from Morocco,  they now live on the mountain side.

You can take a tram to the top, a taxis, or you can walk. Walking was more fun, but as you can see isn't the easiest way to the top.

Gibraltar from the ocean as I was heading to Africa

Panoramic of Strait of Gibraltar. African continent on the left, Europe on the right.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Trying to find the Ice in Iceland

Iceland is about the size of the state of Kentucky. It is the world's 18th largest island. Lies just below the Arctic circle just east of Greenland, on the mid-Atlantic ridge, where two plates are spreading. Although it is called Iceland, warm currents keep the temperatures higher than would most areas this far north. So the island isn't completely covered in Ice like you would think. The rumor goes that the first Scandinavian who sailed to the island came across some frozen sea ice, so he named it Iceland. There are glaciers and ice fields on Iceland, which could have helped with the name sticking, but warmer winters keep snow fall from accumulating.

Greenland to the north which is covered in ice thousands of feet thick, is said to have been given it's name as a trick to get people to visit it. Iceland is highly volcanic, experiencing an eruption on average about every 5 years. They say an eruption could happen on the biggest volcano on the island any day now. Early in the year a volcano eruption on the island disrupted flights throughout Europe.

The capital of Iceland is Reykjavik. pronounced, Rey k javik. It's a very beautiful town with lots of cute shops. One of the smallest capitals in Europe, it has lots of European charm. The first day was rainy and stormy, the original forecast was for it to stay like this all week. But the next day the skies cleared.
Reykjavik's tallest building and biggest church. Old whaling ships, rusting in the harbour. Whaling has been a big tradition for Icelanders, but pressure from other nations have all but eliminated it. Some whales are still hunted but only a small percentage of what they used to take. So no need for the Sea Shepard.

To get a real feel for Iceland you have to drive through the country side. It's landscape is as rugged as they come. The highlands are mostly devoid of life. Only small brush and tundra grow. Rocky lava beds stretch for as far as the eye can see. Not the best place to want to hike.Because of the volcanic activity hot spots are all over the island. Strokur geyser is the most famous in Iceland and one of the world's tallest, just shorter than Old Faithful in Yellowstone. It erupts every 5-10 minutes in one big blow, so you get lots of chances to see it. The English word geyser originated from the Iceland Geyser. The great geyser in Haukadalur valley is the oldest in the world.
Pictures from my point and shoot camera, don't capture the power of the eruption. Just before the water is sent skyward, a huge water bubble forms that is impressive to photograph. I captured much better pics with my professional camera. File sizes are to big on my professional camera.

View from path leading to the Geysirs.
A lot of Iceland is flat, The country side torn and molded from the powers of fire and ice.

Gullfoss Water fall.

Wind made the spray from the water fall, freeze to the path leading to the falls, making it a fun ride down.

Although, there wasn't much snow, it was still cold. The air temperature was below freezing and a constant 30-40 mph wind made it nippy.
Driving along the southern part of Iceland.
Very beautiful scenery.

One of the most popular sites visited in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. The bluish waters have attracted people from all over who want to bath in the mineral rich waters. The water is excellent for people who have psoriasis. The lagoon isn't a natural occuring lagoon rather the product of a geothermal engery plant that uses the heated water from the lava just below the surface to produce electricity, then dumps it out in a pool. A few locals began swimming in it and relized what a great thing they have stumbeled upon. The secret didn't last long. Now the lagoon is a full out spa with restuarant and swim up bar. On a cold day you definetely have to go for a soak. Just rub the mineral rich glay,which they provide to you, all over your face and sit back and relax.
This area of the lagoon isn't open for swimming. The cooler temperatures allows you to see the beautiful blue color. The side you swim on was very steamy, since the air temperature was below freezing. If you want great photos visit in the summer when the air is warm.

While the air was below freezing the water was a relaxing 98-102 degrees. Enjoying the warm waters on a cold day.
They have puckets of white clay, that you can cover your face with, good for the skin.
The lagoon has one big pool with smaller pools connecting to it. Steam baths, showers, and saunas surround the area.

Iceland uses geothermal energy to produce electricity.

Steam rises from a hot spot on the island.

Coastline south of Reykjavik

I didn't get to see a lot of Iceland. Wish I had more time. I definitely want to come back see more of the north and eastern parts. I did get to try puffin for the first time in my life. It was actually really good, at least with the sauce I had on it. Oh and to answer the questions I keep getting from my guy friends. The girls in Iceland are hot, and like outsiders.