Monthly Archives: September 2013

Morocco Journal 7: Camels and Beach Life Essaouira


Last night at sunset I met friends at Beach & Friends Cafe, the last set of buildings on the Essaouira strand before leaving town and heading south toward Agadir.  It is where you can get a great seafood dinner with a good glass of vin ordinaire — red table wine — for a reasonable price.


The ocean view and camel entertainment can’t be beat.

It takes a brisk half hour walk from the Medina along the crescent shoreline to get there.  In the distance I could see the sand dunes rising and the outline of camels and horses.


I passed families strolling and tourists catching the last rays for the perfect tan.


Camels!  I have ridden elephants in Thailand but never camels.  A camel ride at sunset in Essaouira?  Why not!  The view is nothing short of spectacular.

It is not easy to get on top of a camel, even when they are sitting.  That hump is very big.  When I got situated on top of the Boucherouit rug that covered her back, I was pretty high up and the camel hadn’t even risen yet.  I was thinking, how will this animal get up without me falling off.


Hang on, the two young camel herders said in French as they motioned for me to grab both wood poles attached to the saddle.  With my camera and money bag dangling, the camel slowly rose and I swayed like I was on a small boat in rough seas.


As the camel made its way across the dunes, I looked out and imagined what Lawrence of Arabia must have felt like.  Then, someone told me he rode a motorcycle across the desert.

Most of the photos were blurry.  Have you ever taken a picture from the back of a camel?  Hah!  I surrendered my camera to the herder who assured me he would get great photos for an extra 100 dirham as he pointed the lens into the sunset and stepped back into the surf.


Do you recognize me?  These three women in a camel train ahead of me were on their way back to the cafe, too.  I managed to get one in focus, sort of.


And, I loved the experience!  Scary.  Thrilling. Definitely fun.


Morocco Journal 6: Essaouira Faces and Places

The melting pot of Essaouira attracts Anglos and Moslems from throughout the western and African world. This week I met a Parisian couple, both professionals, whose parents immigrated from Tunisia and Algeria.  Their gorgeous children captured my eye.  The mom of these children, Saoud, speaks four languages fluently — French, Arabic, English and Spanish.

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We are meeting people who have left France and the U.S. to find comfort and an easier lifestyle in Essaouira.  Many have been here since the 60s and 70s when pop-rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens visited.  Stardom is not far.


I also found delicious Italian food prepared by a Moroccan who has a 10 seat restaurant called Vague Bleu.  It’s on a little side street off the road to the Bab Marrakech (the Marrakech Gate) and recommended by ex-pats who have been living here for years — he from the U.K. and she from Long Island, NY.  The gnocchi topped with a pesto spinach sauce was heaven.  So was the aubergine (eggplant) rolls, tender melt-in-your mouth morsels of puree.

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And, the fresh fish topped with curry spice couldn’t have been more tasty.

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Our lunch companions included Parisian antiques collector Richard, local resident Rachid whose father was a silversmith, and a young woman with a great smile.  Je ne parle pas francais, I say, and launch into Spanish only some understand.

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Henna painting is a big thing here.  Street corner artists set up shop to paint fantastical designs on any part of your body.  Or, pick up a tagine clay cooker to bring home to prepare one of Morocco’s most famous pyramidical foodie dishes — veggies, seafood, chicken, lamb or goat — seasoned with cumin, coriander, cinnamon and peppers.

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Along the early morning avenues before the shops open, the egg man pushes his cart to vend brown, fresh from the hen goodness as shopkeepers sweep the 17th century cobbled streets to prepare for the tourists who are the town’s economic lifeblood.

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Our favorite morning past-time is to take a seat at a cafe, sip a rich cup of fresh ground and brewed Cafe Americano and people watch.  Maybe accompanied by a croissant filled with chocolate, too!

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About 70,000 people live in Essaouira and they need to eat.  (Once, 40 percent of the population was Jewish.) There are thriving fruit, vegetable, fish and meat markets intermingled with tourist shops selling Berber jewelry, handwoven rugs, antiques, pottery, and organic argan oil. Everywhere is a hammam or spa.

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On every corner there seems to be a patisserie or bakery offering delectable French and Middle Eastern treats made with figs, dates, honey and pistachios.  The French influence is strong.  You can’t go more than 20 feet without coming upon a creperie stand turning out handmade delicacies drizzled with chocolate.

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The people are warm, friendly and helpful.  We met Nora at the local coffee shop owned by her family.  In addition to serving an incredible cup of cafe Americano, she led us to her favorite hammam where we made an appointment for the real deal — the traditional communal (same sex) experience with body scrub, sweat bath, masque, massage and hair wash for under $25 USD.  My skin is now soooooo soft.

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What’s a babouche?  Pointy-toed shoes of course!  The traditional style for Moroccan women and men.  The original ones intended for outdoor wear are treaded with car or truck tires, I’m told, and last forever.  The ones for inside the house are more like slippers.  Then, of course, there’s the jewelry shopping and this happy salesman (above right) made the sale of a lovely Tuareg silver and carnelian pendant and was eager to show it off.

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I’ve not succumbed to the many sweets yet, but the temptation is very strong.   Now, I’m off for my morning cup of coffee.  Only one or two required.

Morocco Journal 5: Essaouira Blue

EssaBlue9222013_2-24On Morocco’s Atlantic Coast of North Africa is the old port of Essaouira (essah-wee-rah) also known by its Portuguese name of Mogador.  Founded by Phoenicians and developed by Moors, Essaouira is an ancient trading center where African, European, seafaring and nomadic cultures converge. 

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The Phoenicians came here for the murex and purpua snails that provided the purple dyes for Roman senatorial togas.  The snails were over-harvested and died out long ago. Jews escaped the Spanish inquisition and settled here to bring their skills in silver jewelry making and commerce. The French arrived in 1916 to establish a protectorate, and their language and educational system prevail.

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Today, Europeans get inexpensive direct flights from London, Paris, Rome, and Madrid for long beach weekend and shopping holidays.

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The seafood is fantastic.  Grilled lobster, crab, sardines, sole, bass, monkfish, octopus, squid, and shrimp are plentiful.  If you eat on the wharf, be prepared, though, to pay outrageous prices.  My lunch was 230 dirham, about $30 USD. I was really surprised, but I didn’t argue too much because the food was delicious, but I really should have settled on the price first.  I understand that’s it’s even expected to bargain with the food vendors!

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The blue fishing boats bring their haul in late morning and the chefs and cooks of the town come to the wharf to choose the best of the catch.  They make a seafood pastilla here that is a flaky butter pastry stuffed with scallops, shrimp,  calamari, and whitefish.

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The old city is built inside a protective high wall with ramparts.  Houses are stacked on top of each other.  We duck into dark, winding, narrow tunnels that connect the sections where people live with the main pedestrian commercial avenues.

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Motor vehicles are forbidden except for garbage collectors and motorbikes with attached truck-beds.  Men wheeling carts carried our luggage through the streets and down an alleyway to our riad.

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There are so many cats that I can’t imagine that there are any mice or rats here. The cats are fat and happy nibbling on what is cut away and left on the wharf.


This is a white city with touches of this extraordinary blue accented with yellow.  The more winding alleyways and courtyards I discover, the more intrigued I am with this place where many histories converge.

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Mexico is New Land of Opportunity Says New York Times

Professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and filmmakers from Europe, Asia and the Americas are moving to Mexico to find a business and creative environment conducive to self-expression and financial success.

As China becomes too costly for manufacturing, Europe too glutted with educated people and limited job prospects, and the United States closed to innovation without huge sums for investment, Mexico is becoming the new land of opportunity.

You can read The New York Times story here.

I have found this to be true for me, as interest and registrations for our workshops continue to grow.  As a destination to discover, Mexico has a rich cultural history, incredible arts and crafts, and a relaxed atmosphere that is conducive to self-expression.

Morocco Journal 4: From the Medina to the Palace

From North Africa, the land of coucous, tagine, lamb, prunes, dates, figs and apricots:  We moved from the cozy, neighborhood riad on a busy street in the Marrakech medina near the crush of the souq and Jemaa el-Fnaa square to an oasis about 15 minutes beyond the city center.

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The Mosaic Palais Aziza & Spa driver fetched and spirited us away in a new Rolls Royce to a neighborhood of gated palaces, mature date palms, lush gardens, climbing pink bougainvillea and aromatic jasmine.  We entered a refuge, a rose-colored enclave of repose and serenity.  Luxury and 5-star boutique hotel only begins to describe where I landed, thanks to Judith Reitman-Texier and skin care and lifestyle company La Bedouine.

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Marrakech is a desert sanctuary. Known as the Red City for her mandated salmon pink buildings, travelers come to experience her legendary romantic appeal, great craftsmanship, outstanding food, and focus on personal health.

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Spa life is an integral part of desert culture where both men and women of all economic levels take a weekly cleansing hammam.  Small guesthouses, luxury boutique hotels, and grand international hotels all offer spa treatment services. Here beauty is more than skin deep.  It is a meditation whose source comes from deep within for spiritual and emotional cleansing and purification.

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Mosaic Palais Aziz & Spa is a perfect spot for the frenzied.  There’s not much to do here except lounge on pristine white divans on a patio outside the room or at the pool and swim.  Take your time.  North Africa is slower paced, just like Mexico. Enjoy a spa treatment, take a turn in the fully equipped gym, and sleep at any hour of the day.  Reading a book seems to be the preferred entertainment for guests stretched out around the two pools.

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You can dine at two extraordinary restaurants where Daniele Tourco, director of food and beverage and chef de cuisine, ensures that guests have the best fresh-made Moroccan and Italian specialties.

Have you ever had scorpion fish?  Karim el Ghazzawi, President and CEO, recommended I try this last night.  Otherwise, I would never have ventured there with a name like that.  I know scorpions. I find them in my Oaxaca casita and I would never eat one!  I step on them.  But, the name belies the delicacy and Morocco is famed for her fresh fish and oysters.

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There is even delicious Halana brand merlot available at the hotel that is made in Morocco to sip at your leisure.

Arabian Nights architecture and decor, lemon, olive, date and pomegranate trees heavy with fruit surround me.  I’ve just emerged from a four-hands massage (imagine that).  I feel so fortunate to be here at this moment, far away from stress and the decisions at hand.

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I did venture out on my own on Day Two, stopping periodically to consult a map, with no difficulty.  Though Morocco is an Arabic and French-speaking country, I found myself able to get along in both Spanish and English, using Spanish as my primary language.  In tourist areas and hotels, most people speak enough English for basic communication.  

Now, for another glass of mint tea before dinner!  I’m six hours ahead of you.

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