Tazara Railway and Victoria Falls

Tazara stands for Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority, originally this 1800 km track was built by Chinese in 1970’s. This journal entry is from my trip from Dar es Salaam to Victoria Falls in autumn 2010. (Reblog with more images)

On the journey somewhere in Tanzania.

Sept 26 — First day in Dar es Salaam, or “Dar” as locals call it. City is by the sea, there are few restaurants and hotels, but not as much as one could expect from the size of it. This was once center of German East African colony. British annexed it during First World War. Some buildings e.g churches are from that period, although most seem newer. Population is mix of Muslims (city was found by them, and has easy access from Middle East), Christians that came during colonial period, and Indians, also relatively close. Nowadays Chinese seem to grow their presence in this part of world. New cars and motorbikes are Chinese, infrastructure projects also done by them. Dar is biggest city and main port of Tanzania. It’s also industrial center of this otherwise rural country. There are also tourist attractions near by, Zanzibar for example. @ Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Views from Dar es Salaam harbor and fish market.

Sept 27 — Managed to find myself way forward from Dar. Solution is Tazara train from Dar to Capiri-Mposhi, near Lusaka in Zambia. From there Victoria Falls should be relatively close. @ Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Oct 2 — Tazara is around 1800km track built by Chinese in 1970’s. Chinese letters come by everywhere, in buildings, machines. 40 years ago during cold war, Africa was divided into two sides like rest of the world. Zambia had copper available for world trade, but difficulties delivering it abroad. Mao’s China stepped in to help with African comrades, Tazara railway was largest single foreign-aid project undertaken by China at the time.

Our train left 12 hours late from schedule! At night, we thought there was riot breaking out at the station. People were protesting delays, everyone exhausted and angry of waiting. Heard two possible causes for the ordeal: technical problems with the old train, and politics of two jointly operated railway, between Tanzanians and Zambians. Eventually train got rolling, and has been going steadily ever since. Train is nice way to enjoy views of African countryside, relax, read and just hangout more freely than in sardine can of a bus. @ Train from Dar es Salaam to Capiri-Mposhi

Views along the route.

On every station people were selling fruits and food for the passengers.

Oct 4 — Our trip has progressed nicely, two full days in train from coast to inland. Irony of long delay in the beginning, was that train could have not arrived better time in early morning. From Lusaka I got nice impression, and would not mind to stay there a while, unless transit didn’t arrange so conveniently. Bus to Livinstone started interestingly, preacher marching in our bus back and forth and waving his bible. He shouted to us about dangers of AIDS, poverty and other things people dislike. Finally after couple hallelujahs he collected alms, thanked and left. Blessed trip indeed! Least from quick glance from bus, Zambia seems more industrious than Tanzania did. Roads are better, houses in good paint and modern equipment in agriculture, machines instead of human and animal labor. Been meeting interesting travelers from USA, Australia, Japan and of course Africa. @ Bus from Lusaka to Livingstone

In Livinstone.

Oct 5 — Livingstone is small Zambian town at the Victoria Falls, and has managed to turn its tourism revenues in favor for local community. Main street can be seen in 10 mins, but there is basically everything one can ask for: markets, banks, post office, few bars, restaurants etc. Streets are good, road was excellent all the way from Lusaka, town is clean.

Zambian-Zimbabwean border.

Falls themselves are just as stunning as one might expect. Peak of rain season is in April, thats when water masses coming down from cliffs are in their biggest. Rocks are reverberating due to falling water. Now in October it wasn’t bad either, one can go walking to rocky upstream, go swimming in natural pools that river has carved. Some pools are only few steps away from two hundred meter fall, it’s surreal feeling to go swim in them. Falls are by the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, both sides have great views. At the entrance there is statue of Dr.Livingstone, founder of the falls and African explorer, big hero of his time. He eventually died in this town because of Malaria, and buried in England in 1870’s. @ Livingstone


Kilimanjaro Climb Diary

Diary from camps along the climb highest mountain in Africa, autumn 2010. (Reblog with more images)

Crossing Kenyan-Tanzanian border.

Sept 18 — After a ~6 hour bumpy drive from Nairobi, I crossed Kenyan-Tanzanian border and arrived to Arusha. Moshi and Arisha are two towns at the foot of Kilimanjaro mountain. Road was very bumpy and both we and our bags were jumping along the way. While road was bad, views were interesting. Never seen African savanna before. Tomorrow begins my 5 day climb to Kilimanjaro, tallest mountain of the whole continent. @ Arusha, Tanzania

Climb beginning from densely forested foot of the mountain.

Sept 19 — We came in the morning from Arusha and started climbing Machame route which is second hardest way to top. Wish I brought enough clothes with me, temp here in 3000 meters is already close to 0 at night. Most of todays climb was in the rainforest, but first camp is just where forest ends. Track was well maintained, should be doable also in rain season. @ Machame gate to Machame hut

Forested low slopes of mountain.

Sept 20 — Nights up here are really freezing, which probably is not surprise to anyone but me! Second day climbing wise was tougher than first but still manageable. Climb took only 5h today, and we started early so had plenty time once camp was reached. Second camp is in more open ground than previous, more space for tents, but winds are stronger. Had a problem getting sleep previous night, hope this is better. @ Machame hut to Shira hut

Arid lava fields and rocky towers.

Sept 21 — Its 2.30pm and am sitting in my tent after climb today. Route was mix of up and down hills and crossing volcanic valleys. Descending was real pain for knees, 0.5-1 meter jumps all the time. Anyway, it went fine without incident, but my back pack felt heavier than before this trip. Nature is simply beautiful and worth all the trouble. Looking at fantastic volcano moulded valleys, cliff walls and towers makes sometimes feel dizzy and risk of losing balance. @ Shira hut to Barranco hut

Having break and rest in between climbs.

Sept 22 — Today was most exhausting day so far, 8hrs of rising and descending hills surrounding the mountain top. We finally reached Barafu hut from where we start climb to top at midnight. Muscles are protesting, but guess one more day is fine. Kilimanjaro, even from this high elevation at 4600 meters looks majestic and remote, impossible to reach. Views from this camp are best so far! Tomorrow after reaching peak, we have last camp, oh I miss it already! 🙂 @ Barranco hut to Barafu hut

Views at the top, around 6000 meters.

Sept 23 — Kilimanjaro is conquered! We reached Uhuru peak at 5985 meters when sun was rising (~6am), after exhausting climb in a dim moon light. Wind and cold top were merciless! Climb would have been tough for anyone, but scenery was breathtaking: gigantic ice glaciers, valleys and volcanic rock formations, curved horizon with cloud mattress reaching somewhere very far! Mountains peaking through floor of clouds, and this all painted in orange, red and yellow colors of rising sun! During climb some people could not handle the exhaustion, and had to turn back. I never done such a climb before, worst was the feel of sleepiness and dizzy head, from lack of oxygen, so that sense of balance gets numb and prone to errors. All I could do was to take smaller steps, and breath high pace like when running. It seemed to work, so remaining challenge was physical load and cold. After reaching the top and awing the scenes, we descended halfway to Mweka hut for last camp. Trees are already growing on these heights. It will be nice to have shower and shave tomorrow after 5-days 🙂 @ Barafu hut to Mweka hut

Sunrise at altitude where horizon is curved.

Sept 24 — Back from Kilimanjaro, and am staying one night in Mochi. Tomorrow bus to Dar es Salaam starts its way at 7am, but been now used to very early wake ups in mountain. Due to cold it simply was not possible sleep enough. Returning from mountain didn’t have any surprises, legs are still like on fire. Looking back, what would I do different before heading to mountain: 1. Travel agent. I used Kenyan one. Moshi or Arusha have tour operators to choose from. These two towns run climbing business and there is also plenty of accommodation available. I’d come directly here. 2. Gear wise I wasn’t prepared well enough. My boots, jacket and clothes were ok during day time. But at higher, and at night just too cold. 3. Tips. Porters (person carrying items for tourists at Kilimanjaro national park) are paid low salaries by travel companies, and tips from tourists mean a lot for them. I had surprise last day when my tips were protested, and had to go for ATM for some more.

Descend has begun.

A final comment. Yesterday in Mweka hut one porter died due to heart attack probably resulting from carrying heavy loads on high altitudes. Man was 6 years younger than me. Its the darker side of Kilimanjaro tourism, work of a slave like porters call it themselves. Kilimanjaro is natural park, without roads for vehicles or even donkeys. All is carried by people. And so they carry things like sun stools and beer for tourists, and get paid few dollars for this crazy job @ Moshi, Tanzania

Road to Lhasa

Road trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa and visit to Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, winter 2010. Reblog with more images.

Nov 21 — Our bus trip to Tibet started yesterday at 5.30am from Kathmandu, and by noon we had reached the Nepal-China border. Driving serpentine roads on incredibly steep mountain sides was an experience. Road had suffered from land slides during monsoon season, it was usable but very slow at parts. Border checks in Chinese side was something of a reminiscent of a former eastern block and Soviet Union: two baggage x-rays, full hand check on all bags and staring contest with immigration officer. Tibet is special region in China, foreigners need special permit to enter country, and are allowed to travel only in guided groups. Border personnel were especially curious about travel guides, checking them thoroughly. Maps or flags of Tibet and Taiwan, or photos of Buddhist monks could not pass the screening. Monks are only intelligentsia Tibet has, and thus considered a threat to central government in Beijing.

In Debating Courtyard, Lhasa.

Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Xigatse.

After border, there was still good while of driving before day was complete. Chinese built road in Tibetan side was far better than Nepalese. We finally arrived guest house in Nyalam (@3600 meters) around 6.30pm. Accommodation was very basic, outside it was around -5 Celsius and our rooms had no heating. Blankets were plenty and warm. Am having soft spot to such rough and utilitarian accommodation, sleep in isolated mountain village, dogs barking in dim, cold and smoky streets outside. @ bus from Nyalam to Xigatse

Scenery on road to Lhasa.

Nov 22 — Xigatse (@ 3800 meters) is Tibet’s second city after Lhasa, and location of large Buddhist monastery of Tashi Lhunpo. Visit was fascinating experience, Xigatse’s history as religious center dates back least 1000 years, and its been seat of Panchen Lamas almost as long (Panchen Lama is second in rank after Dalai Lama, in Tibetan Buddhism). Nights again, very cold. @ Xigatse

Potala Palace seen in Lhasa downtown.

View from Potala Palace. Cameras were forbidden inside.

Nov 24 — Arrived to Tibetan capital today around 6pm after drive from Gyantse, another small town on our way. Sights during drive across Himalayas have been breath taking all the way from Kathmandu. Scenes look sometimes like from Mars, everything is barren and brown. Topaz blue lakes, undeveloped shores, no sign of habitation anywhere only few yak’s searching for food in distance. Snow copped Himalayas surrounding the horizon in every direction! Summertime valleys are green and lush, different scene witnessed by us.

Lhasa is undergoing rapid development. Railroad to Beijing has been recently completed, and Chinese government is attracting workers and companies with lucrative tax breaks. Over 75% of city population is Chinese. @ Lhasa


Nov 26 — Two days in Tibetan capital is over, and am only wishing having couple days more. Most of time was used on planned visits to monasteries etc. but there was also little time to just idle and watch the Tibetan life go by. Potala Palace tour was controlled walk through, cameras weren’t allowed inside. But building, rooms and items had original character and feeling in them. Little seem to have changed since Potala was seat of Dalai Lama’s who were ruling the country (current 14th Dalai Lama exiled to Dharamsala, India in 1950’s).

Views from Lhasa.

Tibetans are people with rich and ancient culture. They are positive and strait-forward people, got only good impressions during my visit. Exchanged many smiles, hello’s (tashi delek), and curious looks while walking at streets of Xigatse, Gyantse and Lhasa. My faith is on them. Like so often in history, iron fists cannot hold grip forever. @ Lhasa

Photographic Homage to Barcelona

There’s something in Catalonian sun on winter. It don’t seem to wear out as day progresses. Going out in late afternoon it feels just as fresh as when you first left in the morning. December weather is mellow. On a sunny day noon one can go about without a jacket.

I’ve arrived for my first trip to Barcelona and spend a new year in the city, and coincidentally chose apt book for travel reading: In 1937 city had a visitor, an author who’s pen name would later be known by the world. He wasn’t a normal tourist, but in Catalonia on a personal crusade against Fascism. Explaining the importance of defending the Republican side:

“Moreover, there was the question of the international prestige of Fascism, which for a year or two past had been haunting me like a nightmare. Since 1930 the Fascists had won all the victories; it was time they got a beating, it hardly mattered from whom.”

Harbor seen from Mount Montjuic.

Streets at night.

He arrived some months after anarchist and leftist militia had wrested control from old autocratic and clerical establishment in the city. This militia would then be part of bigger game of Spanish civil war, Republican side (supported by Soviet Union and Mexico), fighting against Fascist side (Germany and Italy as its main backers).

Barcelona Cathedral.

The cathedral was constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries, with the principal work done in the 14th century.

Column of Columbus.

From the pages of Homage to Catalonia, opens up a view of anxiety, uncertainty, political scheming and propaganda. But also small moments that matter more than they might, little joys of life. Authors winter in the Zaragoza front (see progress of front lines in Wikipedia) is chilling and hostile place. Daily routines include fighting the hunger, collecting firewood and killing louses that find their way everywhere. Barcelona 80 years later couldn’t be more different: wealth, welfare, civility, and exodus of tourists.

Barcelona streets.

Despite the polar opposites of then and now, couldn’t help to notice some parallels as well. Catalanian sense of independence is still strong, and has again surprised the ruling elite in Madrid. Independence movement has been on the news as central government has tried to quell the peaceful demonstrations and even elections. At the time of writing this, one leader of the movement has fled to Belgium, another one thrown to prison in Madrid (recent story in The Guardian).

Democracy is all nice and dandy, until people vote wrong.

The author in question was of course George Orwell. The book, Homage to Catalonia, was about his experiences in Spanish Civil War soon after returning from the revolution and a half year trench life. I both admire and envy Orwell’s literary style: compressed, yet far aiming and accurate though. Comparing to his better known classics, to me Homage to Catalonia feels most honest. It feels like unpolished blog post, written soon after the strong personal experience. At parts, Orwell is duelling with contemporary journalists, whom he thought had reported false information to English audience. Like his other books, Homage to Catalonia was hard pill to swallow by the authorities because of the criticism towards establishment.

La Rambla. Main promenades at the center of the city.

Book was published at the time when the outcome of the war was still hanging in the air. By the time of Orwells death in 1950, it had sold just under 1000 copies. Today it’s well worth reading, from historical aspect, from getting some insights about the Catalonia, and, well, because Orwell is Orwell 🙂

Old man and the sea.

Little green parrots can be seen everywhere in the city, often screeching from the trees.

Personal impressions about the visit: Bitter sweet stench of marijuana hovers by every now and then. City is very international, and not only the tourist crowds. Chinese seem to own and operate many bars in downtown. Indian and Pakistani have specialised as grocery store owners. Some streets and metro stations have been occupied by Africans selling t-shirts, sneakers and fake Ray Bans. Architecture is mix of tradition, La Rambla has the vibe of Champs-Élysées of Paris. And modern skyscrapers by seaside make you feel like in gulf countries such as Dubai or Bahrain. Mediterranean water is bright green, sandy beach is nice and long. Popular spot even now in January.

Relaxing at National Art Museum.

Further reading:

Placa de George Orwell, Barcelona downtown.

Leica Photography In The Tropics — Then and Now

This is a camera geeking post!

After introduction in mid 1920’s, Leica photography became synonym for more agile and reactive way of taking photographs. It made possible to use a camera in situations and locations that hadn’t been considered with earlier equipment. Bit like iPhone of its day, Leica camera defined a before-and-after point in photographic world. Lets travel back to 1937 and take Leica into a jungle! Quotes bellow are from book The Leica Manual, Willard D. Morgan, 1937.

Kilimanjaro national park, Tanzania.

“Several years of photographic work under difficult tropical conditions … a 600-mile trek across the Central African Highlands in the middle of the rainy season . . . 400 miles by dugout canoe in the humid swamplands of southern New Guinea . . , and the highly variable conditions encountered in the uplands of Fiji and the Solomon Islands, have satisfied me of the singular advantages of the Leica camera, and the Leica method in general, for hot-country work.

One virtue which the Leica possesses is: It is the only camera I know of that when in use is sufficiently sealed to guard the film inside from moisture. Practically no humidity, I find, penetrates the closed camera. If the film has been cared for properly before and after use satisfactory results are certain. Nothing can happen to it while it is in use.”

Infrared photos taken with Leica M8. Victoria Falls at Zambian-Zimbabwean border. Iguazu Falls at Brazilian-Argentinean border.

“My own methods of caring for film under tropical conditions methods which have proven completely successful are these.

I purchase all the film I need before leaving home. Even the less durable grades of super-speed pan will, I know from experience, last at least a year, if one takes care. And, so far as the tropics are concerned, I distrust the mails.

Some travelers order film to be sent out to them at various stages of their voyaging. The idea seems reasonable. Fresh film, straight from the factory, it should be fine. It is, unless it happens on the way to have had a long trip through tropical waters in the mail room of an average steamer. I have been in those mail rooms. They are usually amidships near the engines; near the equator their normal temperature is often well above 120(F). And somewhere, in the midst of it, someone’s film is simmering. For the same reason I allow no cases containing film to be taken to the baggage room. They stay with me in the cabin.”

Irrawaddy, main waterway of Burma.

“Film should be carried in a steel African uniform box. Boxes made in England for use in Africa and well worth the high price one pays for them boxes guaranteed airtight and watertight. I have one which is large enough to hold, except for the cameras themselves, all of a rather extensive photographic equipment. It is roughly the size of an ordinary suitcase. And one should improve it in one particular which the makers overlooked. African uniform boxes are painted black when one gets them. Mine is now painted with a white enamel. When, as it often is, the box is being carried in the sunlight on the top of an African’s head or a South Sea Islander’s shoulders, the difference in the interior temperatures between a black box and a white one is decidedly perceptible. And very important.”

Leica Manual — A Manual For The Amateur And Professional Covering The Entire Field Of Leica Photography by Willard D. Morgan; Henry M. Lester. Source.

Mayan temple complex in Tikal, in the sea of Guatemalan jungle.

Khmer temples in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Taj Mahal, India.

50 years later, African uniform boxes and steamers had largely disappeared. But world of photography was still analog. Gunter Osterloh, Leica M Advanced Photo School gives few tips about problem fungus can cause to photographic equipment. Quote:

“Long visits to areas with a hot and humid climate expose the entire photographic outfit to the risk of fungus growth. Film, lenses, leather cases, all of them can be damaged by fungus. The more frequently we expose cameras, lenses, and accessories to fresh air, the lower the risk of fungus formation. Fungus growth is much more likely to occur when the equipment is not used very often.

Film react even more sensitively to a hot and humid tropical climate than cameras and lenses. Problems result from the absorption of humidity by the film, causing it to swell and to stick to the inside of its cartridge, for example, or to the take-up spool of the camera. The emulsion may then be torn from its support during the winding or rewinding operation, destroying any pictures that may have been taken on it. Bits of emulsion that remain behind (mostly in the vicinity of the pressure plate) will foster the growth of fungus.”

Leica M Advanced Photo School, latest edition is on Amazon.

My own experience echoes Osterloh. When living in Thailand I foolishly left my equipment into a closed bag for few months. After finally taken out, outer lens elements were already growing fungus, but it hadn’t penetrated inside yet. Watch out especially with expensive gear such as Leica’s!

Golden Triangle seen from Thai side, at the confluence of the Ruak River and the Mekong River. The location is border tripoint of Thailand (behind), Laos (right) and Burma (left).

Lets go forward 30 years to 2017. World has largely shifted from analog to digital (film is also experiencing a resurgence like vinyl records and tube radios). Photo can be shared instantly and without costs across the globe. Democratization of photography has progressed also further. Where there was perhaps one Mr. Morgan to hundred thousand who didn’t own any camera, and one Mr. Osterloh to ten thousand the same. Today, thanks to phone cameras, figures are opposite.

What else to consider today, if heading somewhere warm and humid? Past several years I’ve been lugging my Leica and other cameras into tropical countries in Africa, South Asia and America. Couple points to take into account:

– Obviously our dependency on electronics has become a norm. Batteries for the camera and other equipment, and needed accessories (chargers, adapters) all add weight to the backpack. Same goes with storage and backups. Connectivity with the rest of the world. Editing and sharing work on the go.

– Electronic dry boxes are nowadays affordable and a cheap insurance against the fungal growth. The device contains a small cooler, which removes moisture from the air by condensing it out. Consider them if you live in tropics for longer periods of time. Silica gel bags are alternative for those who have to change location frequently.

Sunset at Vinales, Cuba and Vang Vieng, Laos.

– Digital sensor is more vulnerable to dust than film. Sooner or later spots start to appear on your photos even if you are careful when and where changing lenses. For a long trip, sensor cleaning solution is must have backup, least for me.

– Developing countries often have shoddy power grids. Leaving a gadget plugged in for long periods risk it to power spikes that can fry delicate electronics. Cameras that can share same batteries reduce need for constant charging. Wall chargers disconnect the device from direct connection with grid.

Then and now, many things are different but some similarities also do exist. Leica’s still a specialist tool and costs a fortune!

Further reading: Article by The New Yorker from 2007.

Moroccan Inland

Moroccan inland. This is second part of travel journal documenting trip around Morocco. Coastal regions in the first part can be found here.

December 2016. Marrakech. Djemaa el Fna square is an old Berber marketplace. It is intermingled with nearby souk’s, and a heart of the city. Snake charmers, touts, sellers and performers are attracting locals and tourists alike with their shows, stories and music. Both the market and souk’s are integral part of old town, and judging 100+ year old photographs, has not changed much in its general outlook. Large minaret of Koutoubia Mosque is towering nearby and providing scenic background of all the hustle and bustle in the square.

Saadis were Moroccan ruling dynasty in 16th century and Marrakech was their capital. This was the time when Ottoman Empire was pushing its borders from the east. Saadian Morocco became a region of contest between Ottoman expansionism and emerging Portuguese and Spanish Empires from the north. Christians had recently completed the Reconquista, the occupation of lands from Muslim Moors in southern part of Iberian peninsula.

Ruins of El Badi Palace, Marrakech. Atlas mountains can be seen in the horizon.

For Ottomans, Morocco was a distant land. Besides some military expeditions, occupation was never really attempted. Having a neutral state next to Ottoman North African coast was enough, and achieved with means of diplomacy and military support. Portugese crusade by king Sebastian I ended in defeat in Battle of Three Kings, 1578. Saadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur aided by Ottoman’s, decisively winning the battle. For Portugal, result was an unmitigated disaster. Despite the lack of a body, Sebastian was presumed dead, at the age of 24. In his piety, he had remained unmarried and had sired no heir. With the ransom money from Portugese, Saadi’s set out to improve their capital in Marrakech. El Badi Palace was largely funded with Portuguese gold.

Saadian Tombs were burial site that may have been used also before the period. Earliest known burial dates from 1557 and all the main buildings were constructed under Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur (1578-1603). Sultan was powerful ruler who fought several wars and started large building projects around his country, especially in the capital Marrakech.

Another Moroccan strongman, Ismail Ibn Sharif laid a bitter siege of Marrakech during the civil war in 1677. After siege, his forces sacked the city and destroyed many of its prominent buildings, including El Badi Palace of former rulers. It was perhaps superstition kept the burial ground in tact. Instead, entrances to Saadian Tombs were sealed up silence fell down for centuries.

Tombs lay hidden and forgotten until 1917, when they were discovered during a French aerial survey. Photographs revealed there was something at the centre of building complex, that nobody at streets knew and could not see. A new passageway was built from the side of the Kasbah Mosque. The tombs long neglect as well as dry climate ensured their preservation. Today Saadian Tombs have been fully restored to their original glory, and are not to be missed if visiting the city.

Another place worth the visit in Marrakech is Bahia Palace, it bears similar name as nearby ruins of El Badi, but is newer and was not destroyed during the turbulent history.

The Bahia Palace is a palace and a set of gardens located in Marrakech. It was built in the late 19th century and the name means “brilliance”.

Palace was built by grand vizier of the sultan for his personal use, craftsmen from Fes were brought to ensure the prominence of the building. The harem includes a vast court decorated with a central basin and surrounded by rooms intended for the concubines.

Menara Gardens, Marrakech.

Complex of souk’s is large and varying, and in Morocco its second to none except perhaps the one in Fes. Souk has spread through the medina and its hard to tell when one ends and other begins. On sale are literally everything, from modern plastic stuff made in China, old antique collectibles, Berber carpets and clothes, spices, fruits and food. Buildings are mostly in low height, also in new town adjacent to the medina.

While air is cold and one can see breath in the morning, its dry and sunny at day, laundry dries fast outside. Summer in Marrakech is a different story, temperature will raise above 40 Celcius!

Views from Marrakech souk and medina.

Leather tanneries of Marrakech. Google “Marrakech tannery scam” to avoid expensive “guided tour” by touts loitering and waiting for unaware tourists.

January 2017. Ouarzazate. Came today from Agadir to the edge of Sahara. Views are arid although true Sahara begins further south-east in Mhamid oasis town. Trip went fine and views from front of the bus were interesting. Had a dinner in tajine joint at the back alleys, went sleep early and tried to stay warm. Room is absolutely freezing, but least the WiFi works pretty well. In morning, sun fails to warm even at 10am although Saharan light is radiant. In the afternoon wind raises and brings dust from the desert, corners of my old hotel begin howl.

Aït Benhaddou is a ksar along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. Inside the walls are half a dozen merchants houses and other individual dwellings. Aït Benhaddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and several films have been shot here.

Bus through the Atlas mountains. Serpentine road is traversing the mountain region at above 2000 metres. Average elevation of the snow-covered mountains lies above 3000 metres. Passengers are having motion sickness, not having strong stomach myself either. Am leaving the region with a bit of sigh. There was whole world am feeling of having barely scratching the surface.

January 2017. Fes.

While approaching Fes in the afternoon, rainy weather, and sloping green fields and agriculture made me feel like traveling somewhere in France. Fes is ancient city with rich history behind it. It rivals Marrakech in prominence as centre and former royal capital. Medina resembles European medieval city, rather than African. Cold and rainy winter weather does its part to bring the image to mind. One can really photograph and walk oneself to exhaustion in narrow streets and alleys. Visual bombardment is coming from all directions.

Large Fes medina at night.

The University and Mosque of Al-Karaouine. It is the oldest existing, continually operating educational institution in the world and sometimes referred to as the oldest university. The Al-Karaouine mosque-madrasa (religious school) was founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859AD, which subsequently became one of the leading spiritual and educational centres of the historic Muslim world. For such a historic sight, its a shame its closed for non-Muslims.

The Bab Bou Jeloud is a gate that leads to the old medina, and a local landmark everyone knows.

Leather tanneries in Fes.

January 2017. Chefchaouen — blue city.

Chefchaouen is a small picturesque town in the Rif Mountains, around 700meters above sea level. Its also called blue city, for its trademark colour that is painted every house in historic part of the town.

There are several theories as to why the walls were painted blue. One popular one is that the blue keeps mosquitos away. Heard the same story also elsewhere in the country where blue is the favourite colour, so it may hold some truth in it.

Travel practicalities in Morocco.

Trains in Morocco are reliable and affordable method of traveling, going from centre to centre. If choosing a bus instead, use established bus companies of Supratours and CTM. Just walk by the touts loitering at the entrances of bus stations. Their “service” can end up to a no-name company not driving to centre (despite what they agree to get your money), but instead leaving you by the road at city outskirts before continuing next destination. Happened to me once in Agadir.

How to catch a taxi correctly is easy to forget when actually doing it: Before jumping inside, have proper change because driver will pretend of not having a change for tourists. If still not having the change, ask driver about it before letting him to start driving. Moroccan drivers usually accept using their meter, but sometimes claim its broken and negotiate price instead. Again, agree price before sitting inside and go. Dont wait until you have arrived, then its too late.

Couple lines from Wikitravel Fes matches my experience as traveler in Morocco.

There are many other scams and annoyances trying to get you into a shop/restaurant/hotel with various degrees of lying in the stories people make up. If in doubt, be independent and look for yourself e.g. whether the hotel you want to go to is indeed closed or under construction. This is unfortunately one of the sad things about Morocco, that you get to distrust every one, even those people who are genuinely friendly and hospitable, because sometimes this is only a facade.

Even if some slight annoyances can be expected down the road, no country is perfect. Morocco is welcoming, safe and developing country with lots to offer for curious and open minded traveler. Go see it yourself! 🙂

Kingdom of Morocco

Travel journal and photography of two month journey around Kingdom of Morocco, north-west corner of Africa. December 2016 to February 2017. This first part consists of Moroccan coastel cities, from Gibraltar in north, to Agadir and Essaouira in south. Part two dives into Moroccan inland.

Morocco is part of Maghreb. Greater Maghreb is defined of the region of Northwest Africa, west of Egypt. The traditional definition as the region including the Atlas Mountains and the coastal plains of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.

North African native Berber heritage have influenced distinctively Moroccan history and culture. Arab’s conquered the region early 8th century AD, but it was far away from centres of Arabia, Baghdad, Damascus and later Istanbul, and soon country break away to its own course. Successive local dynasties overthrow the Arab rulers and formed powerful regional empires of their own, such as Almoravids (10th century) and Almohads (until end of 13th century). Ottoman Turks and Europeans started arriving around 16th century.

With Arabs, bazaars common in Mid-East spread along the North Africa. Here they are called a Souk (find more about bazaar’s in Persia here and here).

Other common terms traveler soon will come across are: Ksar (fortified village), Kasbah (walled building where prominent local leader or tradesman and his family/court lived. A kasbah walls were high and usually without windows. They were often built on hilltops and/or near the entrance to harbours), Medina (labyrinth like old town), Riad (mansion, characterised by an open central garden courtyard surrounded by high walls. Recent times, old riads with good location have seen renovation and building boom around Morocco. These exotic houses are refurnished as hotels and houses for rent).

Tajine and Couscous. The main Moroccan dish most people are familiar with is couscous, the old national delicacy. Beef is the most commonly eaten red meat with a wide selection of vegetables. Chicken is also often used in tagines, or roasted. Both dishes are served in tangia, an urn-shaped terra cotta cooking vessel. It is also the name of the stew cooked in the pot.

Atlantic shores of Rabat.

December 2016. Rabat. As taxi from airport approach my apartment, warm 17 degrees wind, moist sea air from Atlantic were telling that chilly Europe was a thing of a past for now. Temperatures in coastal Morocco vary between 15-20 at day time at winter. Inland at night, temp can drop as low as freezing the water pools on streets.

Rabat is walkable developing city. Atlantic shore is magnificent with house size waves pushing against coastal rocks and wave breaker. More calm and pleasant waters can be found at river side of Bou Regreg, where fishermen are fixing their nets and boats, and people doing relaxing walkabouts at the shores.

Kasbah of the Oudaias is dominating the river mouth.

French coffee shops. Having a morning coffee in downtown cafes has quickly become my favourite past time during early morning. Coming here and sip the strong Moroccan drink, watch and chat with others, customers having their morning cafe noir and watch news on tv, reading papers, chatting. Waking to streets outside, traffic humming by and children walking to school, businesses opening.

December 2016. Casablanca.

City has given name for Hollywood block buster by Warner Bros Studios, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Today, center stage of the movie, Rick’s Cafe Americain can be visited by film noir nostalgia craving travelers.

Modern day Rick’s Cafe interior.

Casablanca is largest city and commercial center of the country. Although early settlements go long back in time, city really started as its current for in late 18th century. French style venues are long and wide. Building base is often not older than perhaps 100 years, although medina exists here too. Traffic police can be seen on foot on many street crossing and controlling busy traffic that passes by. Driving style on streets is fairly organised, although pedestrians are expected to give way to cars. Signpost and plaques are usually Arabic and French only, also in museums. Words boulangerie, patisserie, glacier, croissant, baguette come by everywhere.

Downtown Casablanca.

The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It is the largest mosque in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world.

December 2016. Agadir.

Agadir’s is prosperity is emitting of being holiday and retirement destination. People arrive with family and friends, spend time relaxing at sun and sea and doing beach activities at day, clubbing and dining at night, and shopping in between. On its back streets and suburbs, poverty manifests itself in various forms. Agadir is fairly liberal city in Moroccan terms. Rhythms from salsa class are waving hips near the beach. Twenty meters apart devout Muslim men are doing their afternoon prayers, while bikini girls play beach volley and people are sipping caipirinhas like its Fortaleza Brazil. Winter morning light is strong and bright but air is cool. Jackets should be kept on while walking outdoors.

January 2017. Taghazout, north of Agadir. Atlantic waves are inviting surfers from over the world to enjoy waves. Small town has long since changed from sleepy Berber village to international Mecca for wave hunters, hipsters and nomads. All along the coast north from Agadir, large building projects are sprawling.

January 2017. Essaouira — town of trade winds.

Mogador island is the main island of the Iles Purpuraires near Essaouira. Island and its protection from Atlantic waves the reason why navigators have appreciated Essaouira as a natural harbor.

Essaouira medina.

Had a wonderful stay in Essaouira. The medieval town was originally founded by Portugese in early 1500’s. This fact is emphasised for tourists but not much from Portugese history is left standing today. Walled medina by the coast is two hundred years younger and built by local rulers. Nevertheless medina is the main drawing force to the town. Relatively compact and walkable in size, narrow labyrinth-like design provide fascinating experience for travellers. Corridors often lead to dead end at someones front door. Tunnel like streets are passing under peoples houses. Fishing harbour is another place not to miss. Every sunset fishing boats return from the sea with the daily catch. This ignites nervous activity in the harbour, as fish is processed and sold to local businesses and restaurants. It also awakes army of seaguls that have been impatiently awaiting the day. Irresistible smell of fish ignites chaos from the skies.

Hotel Des Iles, where Jimi Hendrix arrived to experience Essaouira in the late sixties.

February 2017. Tangier.

Tangier is probably oldest still habited city of Morocco. Wikipedia:

The history of Tangier is very rich, due to the historical presence of many civilisations and cultures starting from before the 5th century BC. Between the period of being a strategic Berber town and then a Phoenician trading center to the independence era around the 1950s, Tangier was a nexus for many cultures. In 1923, it was considered as having international status by foreign colonial powers, and became a destination for many European and American diplomats, spies, writers and businessmen.

American Legation in Tangier. Morocco was first foreign country to recognise independent United States of America. Legation complex contains the two-story mud and stone building presented to the United States in 1821 by Sultan Moulay Suliman. It is the first property acquired abroad by the United States government, it housed the United States Legation and Consulate for 140 years. Today building houses a museum with interesting display of exhibits from the past centuries.

Today, city is well connected to Europe, regular ferry lines operating to port of Tarifa in Spanish side of Gibraltar.

Sunset in Rabat.