Saturday, March 22, 2008

BBC World Service - Documentary Archive

BBC: The Kids Who Ran Iraq
I always thought one of the oddest aspects of the Iraq war was the appointment of 20-something to senior positions in the Iraq provisional authority. So I'm looking forward to listening to this from the BBC. Their blurb:
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 hundreds of young American recruits were sent by Washington to help run the Coalition Provisional Authority, the body set up to administer Iraq. The CPA's tenure was widely criticised, as were its staff who, critics say, were simply political appointees with little or no experience relevant to the massive task they faced. Five years on Pascale Harter speaks to some of the so-called Brat Pack of US recruits to find out if they feel proud of what they achieved.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Last Day in Morocco

Well I had a somewhat frustrating day. The two things I most wanted to see were both closed. First, I wanted to start the day by visiting the Archaeological Museum, which was hard to find since neither the taxi driver nor anyone in that neighborhood seemed to know where it was. I had to get out of the taxi and walk around for a while only to run into the same taxi driver again who pointed me the right way after he figured it out. But the museum was closed.

I then visited the Kasbah des Oudaias, where I was hassled quite a bit at the entrance, but I made it through the gauntlet and enjoyed a visit to the Jewelry museum, Andalusian gardens and le plateform. I noticed a few men dressed up as Gnaoui musicians who were trying to make money by posing for pictures with them. It's the second time I've noticed fake Gnaoui musicians in Morocco--the first time was in a kitschy restaurant in Fes. Anyhow I gave in to the temptation to get a picture with them.

I then visited the never completed Hassan Mosque and the neighboring mausoleum. After that I visited the chellah, which is an odd multi-cultural site with Roman ruins next to mosque ruins. After that I went to Sale, the neighboring town, hoping to get to the medersa before it closed at 4:30. Unfortunately the gardien left early for the day since tourist traffic is somewhat low. I was really looking forward to seeing the medersa, since medersas seem to be the most interesting buildings in Morocco. I wound up taking a long walk around the medina and then strolling across the bridge to Rabat while the sun set over the ocean. The beauty of the sunset resolved the tension of the day, but I did end up lost once I crossed the bridge. Fortunately a taxi wasn't too far off.

While in Sale, I had a pastry binge and after dinner here I had another one. I think I like traditional Moroccan pastries more than French ones, especially since they're similar to Indian nut-based pastries.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Meknes and Rabat

On my second day in Meknes I explored the medina. I did get hassled my a couple of people and more so at the end of the day, including one "guide" who wanted a 50 dirham tip for showing me around a two room "museum" that was a carpet shop.

I took a long walk from the southern end of the medina to the imperial city, and then returned to the medina and walked to its northernmost point from where I had a gorgeous view of the hills north of the city. Then I walked all the way back to the square, which, as the Rough Guide points out, is a bit like a small Djemma al Fna. The two major sites of interest that I saw today were the Bou Inania medersa of Meknes and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail.

I was worried about catching the train to Rabat on time, but I was one time and the train was delayed so everything worked out fine.

I was able to post a few pictures to flickr but then something happened to the memory card reader on the pc.

More Photos Uploaded

At my flickr page:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

In Meknes Now

And life is good. I visited Moulay Idriss and Volubilis today. In the evening visited another hammam and got another massage, although this was not quite as severe as the last one. Maybe Islamist terrorists just need to visit hammams more and they wouldn't be so uptight.
Since I'm not staying in the medina here, I have a lot of bakeries in the area, as is typical in the ville nouvelle of every Moroccan city. It's criminal how little pastry eating I've done while here so I made up for it a little after dinner tonight with some cookies and caramel mousse at a local cafe. Will try to get some more over the next three days.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Second Day in Marrakech

Yesterday was a casual day in which I tried to visit just two museums, but failed at both, which was not a big deal because I mainly wanted to walk around the market anyway. I did twist my ankle just outside the Belghazi museum, which was supposed to be open but was not, and although it didn't hurt at the time, it hurts a lot right now. Fortunately I was able to get a bandage and some ointment for it. I had one of the most lavish dinners of my life at La Maison Bleue last night. There were two Gnaoui musicians there along with an oud player.

Tonight I will probably have dinner at Palais Medina, which has somewhat louder entertainment. I hope it's worthwhile. It was recommended by my tour guide, who, I'm sure, gets some commission from this. I was hoping to hire Jai Chater Rachid as my tour guide based on a recommendation in a book, but Rachid is now in Marrakech, so I hired someone recommended by him named. Hassan. While Hassan was great at navigating the medina, he wasn't as acquainted with the historical and cultural details that I had hoped to hear more about. We saw virtually every site of importance in the medina. Unfortunately one of the two major medersas was closed. But Medersa Bou Inania was lovely.

Tomorrow morning I have to catch a train to Meknes. It's only about 40 minutes away.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

From Marrakech to Fes

Although my hotel in Fes has rather seedy rooms, I'm elated to find a cybercafe here with English keyboards.

It's 11 in the morning and I should be out looking at stuff but it's a good time to relax since I've been walking almost nonstop for the last seven days. It feels like I've spent 20 days in Morocco even though I arrived at 9 am last Thursday. I hired a guide to take me around Old Fes and New Fes tomorrow so I might just see a few smaller museums today and enjoy the cuisine.

Yesterday morning I took a rapid walk through the medine to see the four major sights that were pending on my itinerary--Palais El-Badi, the Bahia palace, the Saadian tombs, and the Dar Si-Said museum. Both the El-Badi and Bahai palaces were grand, but I enjoyed the other two sights more, especially since I love Moroccan doors and ceilings and the Saadian tombs and Dar Si-Said had splendid ones. I was also thankful to have both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet guides at hand. The Rough Guide noted that the gardien at the minbah at El-Badi might let you past the barricade if you are really nice; this is actually true.

I thought my Fes train departed at 2 so I got to the station at 1.30. It was actually a 3 o'clock train, but arriving early was good nonetheless because the availability of the Carte Fidelite, the discount card, is erratic and it gae me time to find the manager who issues those cards. I took a quick trip to the Menara gardens between 2 and 3; it was a bit too hot to enjoy the walk through the garden, but the pool was refreshing.

The train journey was quite pleasant; the trains are much cleaner than in India, bu the vibe is similar. People are friendly and share food. I shared the compartment with a stewardess, a businessman, and a couple of other people. Most of them spoke some English and I received some general advice on French pronunciation once again.

I'm not sure what I'll do today. I hired a guide to take me around the Fes medina tomorrow so I may explore a few smaller museums today and also get a hammam with a massage.

Photos Uploaded

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Darwin award for moi

I decided to go to Imlil in the mountains today and everything got off to a good start since I found a grand taxi to take me there in about one and a half hours. Started a hike down a trail and didn't realize that I reached the end of that trail so accidentally ended up continuing about another five km until I finally realized I was about a third of the way up Jebel Toubkal, Morocco*s highest mountain. Feel like this deserves a Darwin award of some sort.
Needless to say I was quite exhausted but not ready to quit so I hired a guide and a mule with muleteer to take me on another trail, but mule riding especially on the steep slopes and waterfalls was terrifying--in a good way.
Got a taxi ride back to Mkech. As expected the driver refused to let me put on my seat belt since Allah controls our fates. Fortunately he was a nice conversationalist and didn't fall asleep behind the wheel.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Day 4 in Morocco

Today has been a long and not entirely pleasant day. After discovering that I had travelers diarrhea, which incidentally comes right after travelers checks in a guide book index, I found myself getting assaulted by unnecessary tour guides again, and I ended up taking two detours. I'm pretty certain at this point that any Moroccan in the medina who starts talking to me is trying to make some money. I visited the major synagogue in the mellah as well as the Jewish cemetery. My "guide" suggested a 20 Dh tip for the (Muslim) caretaker of the synagogue, but a 5 Dh tip for the (Jewish) caretaker of the cemetery. Not sure if I should read too much into that.

I also visited the Jardins Majorelle, a rather large garden created by a French painter. It was a lovely break from the craziness of the medina. After getting lost on the way back though and doing far too much walking I discovered that my BoA debit card was getting rejected at every ATM here. I tried six ATMs and finally figured they had cut me off because of suspicious activity because I hadn't told them in advance that I'm going to Morocco. Fortunately I could call them with Skype which was especially nice given the 20 minute hold time.

The highlight of the evening was a hammam bath and massage. It was very good although I do think the masseuse came pretty close to tearing a ligament. Rested at the hotel for a while and considered spending tomorrow night in the mountains, but figured it wouldn't be worth the trouble. Besides I can get away from the craziness of the medina in my hotel courtyard. Even though it's just yards away from the main drag, it's quite peaceful. Had dinner at Argana overlooking the square. Ordered a pigeon pastille. Finally, took a walk through the Djemma, but at 10 pm there's not as much activity there. Of course, that's a good thing in some ways, but I was hoping to see the full range of entertainment.

So I'm off for a day trip to the mountains tomorrow; I will have to start the day by shaking off the Hindi-speaking hustler who has been shadowing me all day.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

In Marrakech

Arrived in Marrakech. Walked, walked, walked so I desperately need to lie down for a while. Some of the things I heard about this place are certainly true--nearly everyone is trying to make money by being a tour guide or even just giving you directions. The food stall owners in the square are creative however---they speak Hindi to attract Indian customers and they actually have a passable vocabulary and good pronunciation. The fresh fruit here doesn't look quite as fresh as that in Casa but I got some dried apricots. I also got some spice mixes from a place that looked like the Ikea of Berber pharmacies. To see pics --by other people-- of the three most interesting sights I saw today, go to flickr and search for musee du marrakech, marrakech medersa, and koubba ba'adiyn.

Friday, March 07, 2008

First day in Casablanca

Arrived in Casablanca
Got cheated by a cab driver on the way to the hotel
The hotel is great. The bellboy showed me how to get CNN international on the TV. I guess I can't really get away from Atlanta
Walked around and saw lots of art deco
Went to the precarious top of the cathedral bell tower
Tried twice but failed to catch a train to El Jadida
Ended up taking a taxi to the remote suburban Jewish museum instead, which was small but great--the only Jewish museum in an Islamic country. Great cab driver too. Taught me a little French.
Could not find a taxi back to the town center-don't know if it's part of the Jewish suffering experience.
Ended up hitching a ride on a moped which brought back memories of India. Driver said "Shah Rukh Khan" when I said "je suis Indien." Thus total time between arriving and hearing "Shah Rukh Khan": 8.5 hours.
Stepped into the medina and immediately got approached by a hustler who was reasonably interesting but got me to buy two things I didn't need. Learned some useful Arabic from him though and killed an hour or so. Then he ended up begging which was just absurd.
Then got a book to help me learn some French. There was actually one available here despite what would seem like a lack of demand.
Had a decent shawarma for a snack and now heading to the hotel for dinner. Will probably start the day tomorrow by visiting Hassan II mosque followed by El Jadida and maybe Azzemour.
Getting used to using Internet Explorer and Windows in French. Not too hard.