Thursday, July 28, 2016

SKOURA, MOROCCO: L'MA LODGE

I don't normally devote an entire post to a hotel-stay, but if there is ever a place where I wish I could spend another day or two (or ten), it is L'Ma Lodge in Skoura, a unique, well-designed riad that combines the best of Morocco with the best of France.

I must admit, when we arrived in Skoura and made our way to the riad via a narrow dirt road in what didn't look like the best of neighborhoods, then pulled up in front of a mud wall that didn't look very promising, I was feeling a bit disgruntled. I'd just spent two nights in a tent in the Sahara, for heaven's sake!

But like all our riad experiences, when the front door opened it was like leaving Dorothy's tornado-tossed little gray house and stepping into Oz, a metaphor I've used before but which was never more true than at L'Ma. L'Ma means "water" in Arabic and pays homage to the critical role water plays in this desert region. The owners are a French couple who had been living in nearby Ourzazate and had purchased the property and then built it from the ground up.

Rather than a single building with a central courtyard, the typical riad architecture, L'Ma is two stand-alone buildings surrounded by gardens and enclosed by an adobe wall, creating an environment meant for strolling, exploring, and relaxing. 

The lodge, where we checked in and where we ate dinner and breakfast, was a cross between a luxury ski lodge and a Moroccan palace:

It included several areas for lying lazily about, sipping juice and popping olives into one's mouth. Unfortunately, we arrived just before 7:00 p.m. and had plans for an early departure the next morning.

We made our way to the guest house, which includes four regular rooms and three suites.  I love the wooden railing on the stairs:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

MOROCCO: MERZOUGA TO SKOURA VIA THE TODRA AND DADES GORGES

It was tough dragging Bob away from the tents and the camels, but we had New Places to Go that involved a lot of driving--over 200 miles with several planned stops. He tore himself away, and we hopped in the car with our driver Aziz (the same driver we had from Fes to Merzouga) and headed off for more adventures.

It didn't take long to find the first adventure. Eagle-eye Bob noticed this sign, and while he cannot read French, he is awfully good a deciphering pictures, in this case a man milking a camel:

At Bob's bidding, Aziz made a U-turn and we drove through the gate. We looked around the complex and couldn't see any camels, so we were a little suspicious, but Aziz assured us that this was indeed a camel milk vendor:

We found three men sitting in the shade, with a woman in the background. Lickety-split, our friendly host was pouring us a glass of the stuff.  

Surprisingly, I had to work up a little more courage to drink this beverage than it had taken to sip the water from the well in the Erg Chebbi Dunes.
It was a) surprisingly cold and b) surprisingly tasty. It was quite a bit like cow's milk but with undertones of something else. Apparently it is very nutritious, much more nutritious than cow's milk:
Information from the Desert Farms website

Friday, July 15, 2016

ERG CHEBBI DUNES, SAHARA DESERT, MOROCCO: CAMEL TREKKING

When Bob was planning our Morocco trip and saw that it was possible to stay a few nights in the Sahara Desert (in a luxury camp that I might possibly go for) AND that he could book a camel-riding excursion, there was absolutely no holding him back. You would think that he had gotten camel riding out of his system on our trip to Egypt, where he rode a camel down from Mt. Sinai, and in Jordan, where we rode camels in Petra.

Apparently not.

Our camels were waiting for us at about 4:00 p.m.

Aw, gee. Isn't he CUTE?

Each one has his (or her) own personality. The bit was just a piece of rope laced through the camel's mouth and under the chin--no metal btis:

A sitting camel makes a convenient stool:

Sunday, July 10, 2016

ERG CHEBBI DUNES, SAHARA DESERT, MOROCCO: DAY EXCURSIONS: PART 2

As I noted earlier, I as concerned about what we would do for two days in the Sahara Desert. I had visions of wandering around, looking for shade. I shouldn't have worried. In my previous post, I covered six different places that our guide Hassan took us to. Here are a few more.

1. MOROCCO NATIONAL AUTO MUSUEM

One of the strangest, most bizarre places we visited on our entire trip was the Morocco National Auto Museum:
Like everything else in this region of the world, it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. And like so many of the places we visited in the Erg Chebbi Desert region, we didn't see anyone else visiting while we were there.

This 4x life-sized Jeep in front of the building gave us a clue about what was inside:

Over 200 vintage and modern vehicles, mostly four-wheel drive, were lined up in rows. The cars were from all over the world, including the USA, as Hassan indicates below:

Here are a few of my favorites:
Replica of Ford Model A; Drivetrain: Jeep Wranger; 2007, USA

Thursday, July 7, 2016

ERG CHEBBI DUNES, SAHARA DESERT, MOROCCO: DAY EXCURSIONS PART I



Other than pretending to be Lawrence and Laurie of Arabia, what does one DO in the Sahara Desert for two full days? Well, there is a surprisingly wide variety of things to see and do.

1. DAR GNAOUA (AKA "GNAWA")

Descendants of slaves taken from West Africa--Mali, Ghana, etc.--have established a little colony called "Khamlia" at the edge of the desert. I loved the wikitravel entry for this place, which at the moment I am writing this post reads:

You can take a promenade through the village, visit Berber family who will be happy for you. You are welcome also to visit the school, talk with children, play football with them. To go to the sand dunes is relaxing and exciting too. In opposite site is open area here and you can see even so far as to mountain. Of course, you will find here the famous music group Gnawa. Their music is ritual music and communicates with mystery. They will play for you anytime you wish. Take a tea and listen. If you have 4x4 you can go to M´Fis, it is mineral mines and it is very interesting to see, how the worker works there.


We were the only guests, and when we first entered, the walled village was eerily quiet and seemed empty--almost like a ghost town--but a very well-maintained ghost town.

We walked around the roofed interior perimeter, which reminded me of the cloisters walk in a monastery or convent. Hanging on the walls were several pieces of original art that I believe were for sale:

After a bit, a group of Gnawa men came out to do a private performance for us. These people are primarily Sufis, the mystical, ritualistic branch of Islam. Their culture centers around music and dance, and it was very fun to listen to and see several ritualistic numbers:
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