A lot, all at Once

A restless night – the result of a chorus practice session late in the evening that included a seemingly unending string of critiques and instructions on notes and pitch – a certain feeling of incompetence – the sense that it is becoming more and more difficult to improve in spite of my persistence. It can stop feeling like fun sometimes. Then, I was waking up to news in the morning that all hell had broken lose on the home front in India. And the unsettling news in this regard continues to arrive. But, fortunately, life also has other more positive facets to it that I can grab and hold on to, to pull the mind to a decent place. And time will inevitably move on.

It was a beautiful day for our Sunday morning walk. The chill in the early morning air as we started off on the trail from Riley’s Lock was bracing. It felt good to be out in the outdoors on a sunny morning. The temperature was reasonable – in the high 40s. There was only a very light breeze. There was not a cloud in the sky. The spring growth was beginning to show on some of the trees.

The water levels in Seneca Creek and the river were high because of recent rains. The surface of the water was blue in the morning light.

Beside the trail were fields of flowers of the invasive Lesser Celandine,raising the question in certain minds as to whether these plants would be an acceptable replacement for lawn grass.

Bluebells, Grape Hyacinth, Dutchman’s Breeches and Periwinkle were in various stages of bloom near the trail.

And I was armed, for the first time on our Sunday walks, with a camera fitted with the two lenses that together provided me with 800mm of zoom capability (equivalent to 1600mm zoom on a 35 mm camera!). Sweet! The lighting conditions were perfect for the use of said setup. I could hold the heavy lens steady for long enough time in the bright sunlight to get some decent pictures. It was a learning experience. I could get closer to the birds more than ever before. This is a red-headed woodpecker (I have a picture taken from closer up, but I prefer this one for perspective),and this is a tufted titmouse.

There is less cropping of pictures required when zooming in to the far away ducks, and the resolution of the pictures is still quite good. These are probably red-breasted mergansers.

I can also give shape to and identify very distant objects. My guess is that this aircraft was probably flying about 5 to 6 miles high. The livery belongs to Allegiant Airlines. The airline exclusively flies Airbus aircraft today.

Even the still objects that are not too far away can be observed from a different perspective. The blooms that have fallen on the trail are another sign of Spring.

Part of the fun of using this new lens is in the learning experience.

Unexpectedly Cold Weather

Checked out the weather last Sunday morning with the hope of finally being able to go outside to do some exercise after having spent the later half of the week without any. But the weather gods had other plans. Things seemed to be going backwards instead of forwards. The information at the weather channel website indicated that it would feel like 18° F that morning because of the wind! The actual temperature itself was going to be below freezing through the morning. The fact that it was going to be sunny did not seem to be a significant enough factor to overcome the negative ones. There was a last minute change in plans. I had to motivate myself to run on the treadmill instead of staying with our routine of going to the river. That worked out well enough. I managed to run a good distance – greater than than what we usually cover while walking. Expended the calories. Even got the timer on the treadmill to turn over – something that has happened only once before.

The exercise on Sunday was required because the days before that had been a disaster in this regard due to various factors. A vaccination shot during a doctor’s visit in the middle of the week had an unexpectedly severe side effect on my physical state that took a little while to overcome, and then the weather was damp enough that one was motivated to simply stay in bed and not do anything. There are times like this in life, and one just has to power through until you get to a better place.

It continues to be cold early in the morning, but it is warming up nicely during the day. And it is also nice and sunny outside. Back to walking outside!

Carrying Some Weight

It was 33° F and cloudy last Sunday when we started our walk at Whites Ferry. It is the time of year when we are looking forward to the coming of Spring, but the weekend was certainly a step back in the wrong direction in this waiting process. The fact that it was a cloudy day did not help in any way.

I took my new toy out on the trail for the second time!

My explorations of the A/V world have now taken a back step to my newer hobby – photography. Just like with the A/V stuff, photography can be an expensive undertaking – depending on how much you are drawn into the inner workings and details of the craft. In fact, the instantaneous and somewhat spiky impact on expenses that one can encounter in this hobby can be quite significant when compared to the any of the financial impacts that my A/V interests used to have.

Having graduated through the many years from point-and-shoot cameras to mirrorless cameras, I now have the ability to experiment with lenses of different capabilities. Thus it was that I finally gave in to temptation and bought myself a 400mm zoom lens (equivalent of 800mm zoom on a regular 35mm camera). It put us back a pretty penny – but at this time of ones life, this is more of a psychological barrier to its purchase rather than a practical one. The psychological barrier was also overcome by the offer of a free extender lens that when added on to the lens that I was purchasing could double its zoom capability.

The new lens is big and heavy, but it is manageable when one is walking. It is not practical to carry it when one is running. It has got a big enough circumference that the body of the camera has to be supported by the lens when it is attached to it. It is also unwieldy enough that swapping out lens when one is walking is going to take some practice. There might also have to be an investigation of easier ways to carry the lenses while traveling. And unless I get a better backpack, I am going to have to limit the number of lenses that I carry with me on certain expeditions.

But, for the moment, I am enjoying some of the early samples of the pictures that I am able to get. The resolution that I am achieving and the details I am seeing in some of the pictures I have taken so far is something I am enjoying.

When we were walking along the canal last weekend, an older gentleman, who we had first noticed staring at us it a curious manner when we first passed each other, stopped to talk to us on our way back to Whites Ferry (from Dickerson). He had probably been drawn to the huge lens hanging around my neck. He asked us if we had seen the bald eagle and its nest. He pointed us to the culvert from which we would be able to see the nest. Since we were familiar with the area, we were able to locate it when we stopped to look for it. With the help of my lens, I could zoom in on the location and get a snapshot. It was a Sycamore tree on an island in the river.I could barely make out some movement in the nest through the lens. Perhaps if we had waited long enough, we would have seen some more action. We will have to return some time. Bald eagles are monogamous, and they tend to return to the same nesting spots year after year.

I should also note that the presence of the new lens seems to catch some people’s attention as we are walking. It identifies me as a birder, even though any serious birder would probably laugh at my abilities and skills in this regard. The weekend earlier, a gentleman had noticed the lens and told me where I could see peregrine falcons. This is a heavily cropped version of the picture I got.

It was as if the bird was keeping an eye on me from across the river. In fact, I could see its eye!

New Toys

When I was young, I used to spend my spare money on music. It started out with albums recorded on vinyl, then there was the expansion to cassette tapes to record albums borrowed from friends, and then, in my final move, by the time I graduated with my doctorate degree, I also graduated to digital audio on CDs. It was a long time ago. I still have a massive collection of albums in all of these formats. Music was perhaps my most significant monetary indulgence. Through my growing process, I went through three iterations of good amplifier systems and speakers – each acquired after some serious research into the technology.

But there also existed another side of my genetic makeup and upbringing that would tend to pull me back from this hobby. Money was not to be wasted. It has been many years since I upgraded anything in the home entertainment system to the extent I used to be tempted to do when I was younger. Technology has left me behind completely! Everything is dated. I have no capability for using the newer digital audio/video interfaces that are available on devices to their best advantage. I never bought into Blu-Ray or HD-DVD even though the kind of work that I used to do was foundational to the development of these technologies. We still have a DVD player in the house that is decades old, but that is it! HDTV did come to the house early only because I worked on the technology. Surround sound technologies have advanced significantly since my time.

And music is also delivered to me through newer means these days.

Having said all that, I have to happily acknowledge that the music of the old days is still in me – even though I have mostly tended to neglect its presence. It was just recently that I found myself in the kitchen with my smartphone and tiny Bose bluetooth wireless speaker, listening to classic rock being streamed to me from a Spotify account. The conditions for listening to the music were not that great. I was listening to monoaural sound whose fidelity was less than ideal due to lossy digital compression techniques being used, and it was being played through a tiny listening device – not exactly the conditions under which one listens to rock music amplified for its full impact.

But the circumstances did not seem to matter. I was taken back to the old times. I was cooking up a storm to the beat of Deep Purple and Machine Head.

I could still feel it in my bones – never mind the new technology.

The familiar lead-ins…

The beat, almost hypnotic, slowly building up – the rhythm taking over, the body moving to the music on the kitchen dance floor – occasionally with spatula or knife in hand. Can spices and the cutting board be tackled when in a groove with some degree of serious headbanging going on?

Awesome base lines, guitar riffs that seem to go on forever, out-of-the-world chords from the electronic keyboard wailing away, the urgent and high-pitched voices of the singers, a perfect percussion keeping up the beat and preventing it from careening out of control – a potent mix – familiar patterns emerging…. WOW!

The hand gradually moves to the volume control buttons on the playback device – higher and higher it goes – damn it, how can one listen to this stuff without blasting it through the speakers!

The familiar verses emerging from my inner space – Come on, come on, lets go space trucking!

For that instant in time, I was transported to a different mental space. It is more than just a happy moment.

And I wondered, how could anybody not be moved by this sound – and especially in the kitchen while cooking…

And then I am back to my sane place, to the understanding that every generation probably thinks the same way about their own familiar music. I am indeed listening to grandfather rock!

The irony is that one is in much better shape to indulge in the fantasy of high-end A/V equipment during these later years of life, but the mind has moved on to a different state of equilibrium directed by practical matters of daily life. And frugality continues to be part of my DNA. You might be tempted to think that this is an indication of maturity. That is arguable. One can occasionally break out of ones state of equilibrium – one can be taken back to the carefree space quite easily without the encouragement of drugs and alcohol. It is OK I think – as long as variances can be managed.

I still have my vinyl, cassette tapes, and CDs – some of this stuff not touched for decades. I am tempted to once again listen to what I have been missing. What long dead neural pathways in my brain will be brought back to life one wonders.

And then there are the other new toys and indulgences that one has been drawn to in the later years of ones life. I smell another blog!

After Alaska Airlines planes bump runway, a scramble to ‘pull the plug’ | Miami Herald

As we learned from the Boeing 737MAX disasters, the use of software in commercial flying is still a very tricky business.

After Alaska Airlines planes bump runway, a scramble to ‘pull the plug’ | Miami Herald

After Alaska Airlines planes bump runway, a scramble to ‘pull the plug’ | Miami Herald

I assisted Carter’s work encouraging democracy – and saw how his experience, persistence and engineer’s mindset helped build a freer Latin America over decades: The Conversation

I assisted Carter’s work encouraging democracy – and saw how his experience, persistence and engineer’s mindset helped build a freer Latin America over decades

I assisted Carter’s work encouraging democracy – and saw how his experience, persistence and engineer’s mindset helped build a freer Latin America over decades

Though some may disagree, I believe that he was one of our good presidents. History will tell…

A Winter Morning Sequence

I have spent the last few months with a focus on finishing a task – that of documenting our trip to Morocco last year. It took me longer than I expected. Now that I have finished off that self-assigned task, my mind can transport itself more efficiently to the other random stuff that I used to muse about. In fact, there were happenings that I did not talk about between the Morocco trip and today because of my focus – things that I might have had something to say about under “normal” circumstances. After all, a lot of time has passed since last September, when we made the trip to Morocco. I had to make the emergency trip to India last November. I was back home from that trip in time for the weekend in the Cacapons, to be followed the by Christmas and New Year. Our chorus had its outdoor holiday gigs during that time. I resumed my volunteer work soon after my travels. And we also resumed our winter outings along the Potomac River and the C&O Canal as soon as things settled down sufficiently for us to be able to do so.

Yeah, interesting stuff, at least in my mind, was happening – but the mind was otherwise occupied. Never mind that the freshness and the afterglow of the Morocco experience was wearing off slowly but surely, I had to complete the task I had set myself. That task is done for the most part now – except for the completion of my photo galleries in this regard.

I might have already mentioned this in some earlier blog, but winter mornings can be spectacular in our neighborhood. For one thing, since sunrise happens at later hours of the morning in winter, one has a chance to observe the dawn of the day in more of its fullness. I think that the angle of the rays of the sun hitting our latitudes early in the morning at this time of year also contributes to our colorful experience. (The light has to travel longer distances through the atmosphere for longer periods of time during winter sunrise, and less of the visible frequencies of the spectrum survive these longer distances.)

Anyway, here is what one winter morning looked like with the passage of time.

Early appearance:

After a little while:

The color changed to a more orange hue before it all slowly disappeared:

I think that was well worthwhile for me rush to the bedroom window with my camera early in the morning to capture what was happening in the sky!

Casablanca, Our Last Stop

We left Essaouria early in the morning.We had a long drive ahead of us, and the rest of the day after our arrival in the city was the only time assigned for a tour of Casablanca. It was quite obvious that Casablanca not meant to be a highlight of our visit to Morocco. It did not bother us that this was the case since we had already explored the heart and soul of the country over so many days. (I will note that Rick’s Cafe, a popular destination for tourists to the city because of the movie Casablanca, was not even on the itinerary!)

Our departure from Essaouria actually ended up being a little later than planned since our luggage was late being delivered from our rooms to the bus. Youssef explained that hotels were short staffed because of the effect of COVID.

There had been a overwhelmingly positive response when Youssef asked if folks wanted to see the movie Casablanca on the bus. (I might have been the only one who said no!) The blinds were all drawn to darken the interior of the bus as the movie was played during the morning drive. I had to pop my head behind the blinds to look out and take some of these pictures.

I enjoyed listening to the dialogue in the movie even though I was not watching it. There are so many memorable lines!

Since this was our last day together in Morocco, we started saying our farewells to the people who had taken care of us during the tour – our driver Youssef, and our helper Rashid – at our stop for lunch. Youssef and Rashid had kept us out of trouble, and had gotten us, and our luggage, safely and securely to all of our destinations. They had done a remarkable job!

The land looked flat and dry as we got closer to Casablanca. There were rolling hills and farms. We could see donkeys, and occasional cows and horses. There were no camels here – like in the eastern parts of the country.

Things began to get quieter on the bus as we approached the city. In the short period of time that we had been together we had gotten to know most of our fellow travelers, and we would actually be missing many of them as we departed for our individual destinations.

The city of Casablanca was given its name by Portuguese in 1500s. The original name, Casa Branca, translates to The White House. The city was abandoned after an earthquake and rebuilt by the locals with the name Dar al-Bayda, which also means The White House. The city has suffered occupation by a few European countries during its existence, including the Spanish, and even the Vichy French during WWII.

Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco. It is considered the economic “beating heart” of Morocco.

As we were entering the city, we drove next to the beach and a posh section of city. That whole area looked very clean.

The first stop in town was to take a walk along a section of the Boulevard de la Corniche next to the sea. There was nothing culturally or historically notable. It was more of a break from sitting in the bus – to stretch our legs.

The lighthouse in the distance in the picture above is called El Hank. It is the tallest lighthouse in Morocco.

After the walk, we were driven further north towards other parts of town. Casablanca was looking like a very modern city so far.

Our next stop was at the Hassan II mosque. This picture was taken as we approached the area of the mosque.Hassan II is the biggest mosque in Morocco. Unlike most mosques in Morocco, it is open for non-muslims to visit. It was built during the years 1986 to 1996. Because the government lacked sufficient funds at that time, its construction was funded by money contributed directly by the people. Folks received a receipt for their contributions, no matter how small it was.

I learnt that the three spheres on top of the minarets of mosques were meant to represent three religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Some mosques have a 4th sphere (for the important books of Islam), and others 5 (for the pillars of Islam).

We were scheduled to just see the mosque from a distance, but some people were also interested in seeing the inside of the mosque. Youssef had heard the message and internalized it, but he also was constrained to follow the itinerary that had been set for the tour.

Our next stop was the Notre Dame De Lourdes church, built in 1954 by the Franciscans. The sides of the church were of stained glass.We were told that there was a depiction of Satan on one of the stained glass windows. (I do not remember now why that piece of information was considered significant enough to convey.)

We were told that there are still Franciscans in Morocco, and that they do social work. There was a chorus practicing in the church while we were there. They looked like visitors from other parts of Africa.

Christians live under certain constraints in Morocco, and their numbers are small. They are not allowed to proselytize.

Later on in the evening, we did pass another massive cathedral building that has not served its original function for many, many, years. The building stood out against the background of the blue of the evening sky as we drove by.

We church was located in the Habous quarter of the city. (Habous means endowment.) This area was developed for needy people during the last century. The architecture is typically Moorish. Property in this part of town is now apparently considered highly desirable in spite of its origins.

The palace was supposed to be close by but it was not on the itinerary.

Before we checked into the hotel, Youssef made a last minute arrangement for some us to see the inside of the mosque. What a guy! We were squeezing in some time to try to get back to the mosque. It was touch and go, but we got there on time. He twisted enough arms so that we could buy the entrance tickets on our own quickly at the last minute, and then jump onto electric carts that would take us to the mosque itself in a timely fashion.

Once in the mosque, we rushed off to find a tour group with a guide who was speaking in English. Unfortunately, our guide was not easily understandable – in fact he was indecipherable!I have to point out that there were at least a few women in our tour group who chose to wear a shawl over their heads as a sign of respect. I thought this behavior was commendable.

The building was immense. The roof can be opened to allow the air from the outside to enter and circulate within the building. The movable roof is operated electrically.We went down to the basement of the mosque where they have the area for people to do their ablutions before prayer.

This picture is of one of the entrances to the mosque.The door is massive!

Youssef was waiting for us with the bus after the tour of the mosque, after first having dropped off the others who were not coming on the tour at the hotel. We were taken to our hotel. There would be a dinner that evening to celebrate the end of our time together.

We drove to a restaurant for the farewell dinner. Many people dressed up for the event. We stopped at Mohammed V Square on our way to dinner. There were a lot of people out on the square having fun. A person dressed in a gold covering sat on a bicycle pretending to be a statue!

A tram line ran on the road next to the square.

On the other side of the road was the new Opera House, still under construction.

Again, my impression was of Casablanca being quite a modern place.

We continued to the restaurant after the break. We had to walk the last few yards to the restaurant because the road was blocked off on account of an accident.

The dinner was a relaxed affair. The musician who was entertaining us was singing songs that we could also join in. One of our friends from Arizona pulled out her smartphone to get the lyrics to the songs and also started singing beside me. That was fun. At some point, a couple in our group decided to dance to a Latino song that was being sung. They managed even though there was not much space for them to move freely.

We had to depart the restaurant much too early because people had flights to catch soon after returning to the hotel and picking up their luggage, i.e., they would not even be occupying the rooms in the hotel for the night!

There was a feeling of sadness as we began to make our way back in the bus to the hotel, and as we said our goodbyes and left each other’s company for the last time at the hotel. In a matter of a couple of weeks we had all become connected in some way.

And what about Youssef, our tour manager! What an amazing person. He managed our large group seemingly effortlessly, but there was so much of coordination work that he was constantly doing behind the scenes. He never showed a moment of frustration or impatience, always had a smile on his face, and took care of us individually, answering our every question, and going beyond the call of duty to satisfy our desires and needs. What a sweetheart. During the bus trip back to the hotel, he wished the group adieu, thanked us for visiting his country, and asked us to talk about his country and let others know about his people.

Youssef was there the next morning at 4:30 am, with some packed breakfast which he had made last-minute arrangements for with the hotel, to send us off on our way to the airport. We are going to miss him.

We were on our way out of Casablanca even before the sunrise.

Onward To Essaouira

We were to leave Agadir for Essaouira today – after just a one night stay (as opposed to our usual two nights in most of the towns we stayed at). We were scheduled for a later than usual start for our travels for the day.  There was time for a walk along the beach in the morning. It was a clear, cloudless, sky. The surfers were out there.Some others were exercising or taking walks.There were what looked like fishing boats in the ocean.

Some magpies had landed up close to us as we were hanging out next to the beach. I don’t think we have ever had them come this close to us in the past. The blue color behind the eyes was striking.

Breakfast in the hotel was a disappointment after the experience in Marrakech. I tried the fresh fried crueller – did not like it very much.

After checking out and boarding the bus, we were surprised to hear that we would not be leaving town just yet. We were to be dropped off at the entrance to the marina, the place we had walked to the day before,and would be given relaxation time for an hour, to hang out on the promenade. This was somewhat disappointing since we had already walked to that point the previous day. We had to occupy ourselves some other way.

We started out walking within the marina itself.The kasbah on the mountain is located very near the marina.We had previously inquired with Youssef about climbing up to the top of the mountain. He must have thought us crazy – perhaps he had never heard such a request before. We were dissuaded from that attempt without any hesitation.

After the visit to the marina, we walked on the promenade along the beach to the other end of the road beside the promenade.This is a picture of our tour group.

And then we were on our way to Essaouira. We were stopping at an argon oil processing place on the way. This part of Morocco is the only place in the world where the argan tree can grow freely. They have tried to cultivate it in other places without success. Half of the argan oil produced is shipped to Israel.

We were told that Essaouria is recognized for its seafood. The sardine dishes are supposed to be well known. We were given a warning about some of the seafood restaurants in the city. Apparently they show you the fresh fish that they say they will cook for you, but they then swap it out before cooking your meal.

It was a long drive up the beautiful Atlantic coast. There were a few people on the beaches. Also, a few surfers. Little coves appeared along the way.

The road occasionally meandered away from coastline where the remnants of the High Atlas mountains approached the waters of the ocean.Eventually we we got back to the coastline.

Sometimes we were in the mountains for extended distances, still not too far from the shoreline. The soil is light brown and looks very dry. The vegetation is sparse, mainly argan trees.

We are on the lookout for goats on trees!

We had a long lunch stop, evidence still of how relaxed the pace of the trip had become at this point. The place we stopped at was not prepared to handle the numbers of us when we landed up – in spite of Youssef having called them up ahead of time with specifics of some of the orders that could take a longer time to prepare. Youssef had to also fill in as waiter and server – services which he did with good cheer! He tried to keep things moving along, somehow managing to keep his wits about him without appearing flustered.. Some people had ordered goat or lamb tajines. It looked like a helluva lot of food, but also mouthwatering! I had to survive on my mixed grill plate.

As we left the restaurant, Youssef mentioned that places like the one we had just eaten at had suffered because of the COVID pandemic. They were having difficulty restaffing.

We continued our journey at a relaxed pace after lunch.

There was much excitement when we saw goats on a tree and managed to pull over to the side of the road to observe them more closely. The goatherd who was shepherding his flock to a safe area beside the road was really nice about a bunch of us strangers, random tourists from some distant land behaving in strange ways, being there and distracting his goats.We were able to get pictures while Youssef conversed with him.Note that this is not the classic picture of goats on a tree in Morocco that one finds on the Internet. Those pictures are usually taken from a distance from the tree, and show the whole tree full of goats. Sometimes, unfortunately, this kind of setup may be created just for the entertainment of the naive tourists.

The relaxed drive continued – with the dry land, the argan trees, the goats, and the donkeys relaxing under the shade of the argan trees along the way.

The next stop was at an argan oil cooperative operated by women. It was on the outskirts of the city of Essaouira itself.

After showing us how the argan oil was extracted, we were taken to a showroom where the focus was more on the beauty products that the cooperative made using the argan oil. There was some joking around about how young the argan oil products could make you look!

We drove on to the hotel. It happened to be next to the beach.

We had the rest of the today to ourselves before it was time for all of us to go out to dinner together. We will do a walking tour of Essaouria with a local guide in the morning tomorrow.

The hotel room itself looked small but nice, but closer examination revealed that the good looks could have been covering up some issues, including the possible presence of vermin, one sample of which I proceeded to squash under my foot and dispose outside the room.

The sun was setting as we set out for dinner.

The restaurant we were going to was next to the beach and close to the hotel. We walked to it.

I felt compelled to have the fish for dinner. It was sardine!

I was surprised with the presentation of a birthday cake at the end of dinner!Youssef had been planning this for a while, and the celebration had to be delayed from my actual birthday because we had not had the chance to meet as a full group for dinner earlier. The cake was beautiful and tasty. It was made by a friend of Youssef’s. We were stuffed because we had also gotten dessert with our meal.

With some prompting from across the table, we started singing When I’m 64 (even though it was not my 64th birthday). It was unofficially a party! I found out at that moment that one of our fellow-travelers was also in a barbershop chorus. We ended up trying to sing some barbershop standards with two voice parts (instead of the standard four). The electronic pitch pipe on a smartphone is handy in such a situation! It turned out that the gentleman I was singing with was somewhat new to the craft. The effort was a lot of fun nevertheless.

I found out the next day that one of our newfound friends from Missouri had been a barbershopper earlier in life, singing in a chorus with the Sweet Adelines. She said that she was going to try to join a barbershop chorus once again!

How about that! Barbershoppers are not that rare a breed!

Next morning, our local guide, Rashida, walked with us from the hotel to the area we were visiting that day.
Youssef had deliberately picked a female guide for us – just so we would have a different kind of experience.

We walked through the area of the port first.  The fishing boats were all blue. We were told that it is the Jewish color. The fish you see in one of the pictures below is sardine. There were cats and seagulls around attracted by the smell of fish.

We had a group picture taken before we left the port area.

Our next stop was a big square next to the port, on the way to the fort and medina.We took a short break over there.

We heard about Gnaoua, the music of this part of Morocco. (The name is spelt in many different ways, it seems!) They have an musical festival in the square every year, including international participation. I could use my imagination about how the square would have felt with the crowds and the live music. You can also find videos on the Internet.

We next visited the fort. We walked up the ramparts – on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

We then proceeded to the medina. Here are some pictures:

We walked through the fish and spice section of the medina, the location of the “buy your own fish” restaurants, some of which we had been warned about earlier.

Along the way we were pointed to a few other recommended restaurants. We ended up having dinner at the restaurant seen in the picture below, and ending up sitting in the very area of the restaurant where the camera has been pointed to in this picture.

There are apparently three Jewish areas within the medina. We were told that at one point there were more Jewish people in Morocco than Muslims. There are 4 synagogues in town, two still operational. This is the entrance to one of them in the medina.Our last stop before lunch was at a jewelry store featuring silver filigree work done by people with physical challenges.

The area around the store was colorful.

We had lunch with friends at an outdoor restaurant next to the big square. We had crepes. I ended up eating too much!

We went back to the medina for a dinner at Il Mare restaurant overlooking the ramparts of the fort and the Atlantic Ocean.We were seated with our friends on the terrace.We watched the sunset while having our drinksand food.Entertainment was provided by a local artist and his apprentice who danced while spinning a tarboosh on his head. Gnaoua music was being played. The beat is percussive and gets you into a groove. The music is in fact hypnotic and can apparently cause the musician to go into a trance!

The apprentice approached us during a dance, and, while I was not looking, placed his tarboosh on my head. I was supposed to make the tassel rotate with the movement of my head. It was a complete failure. Teresa, on the other hand, was pretty good at it. She kept it going for a short while.I have been listening to some Gwana music at home. Here is an example. This is a video from the Internet of some performers dancing to the music in a restaurant. Read the section on Gnawa music in this article if you are more curious about it. The three-string camel skin bass instrument is called the hajhouj. You can see the use of the heavy castanets, called krakebs, in one of the pictures I posted above.

The musicians continued their entertainment well past the sunset as we enjoyed the food and the drink – and the moment. We were seated in what well might have been the best place to experience and soak in this experience of Essaouria – including the new friendships, the beauty of nature on the seashore at sunset, and a new musical encounter! And it was a unique component of my own personal adventure of life. It was the highlight of the day for me, and a moment in time from this trip, and my life, that I hope will stay with me in my memories till the end.

We walked back to our hotel after dinner, first through the medina, still open for business,and then through the empty streets next to the beach.

It had been another full day in Morocco. We have only one more day of touring left to do in the country!

You can read the next blog in this sequence here.

On To Agadir

This was the day we departed Marrakech and headed out ot Agadir, a resort town on the Atlantic Ocean (according to Youssef, known for its surf). The tone of the tour was changing. We were going to be hanging out by the beach rather than spending time exploring the culture of the country.

This was the scene outside our hotel in Marrakech as we boarded the bus for departure. The person who had been selling pictures the day before was back.Our bags were also being checked to make sure that nothing was left behind. We usually stopped for one day (two nights) in towns along the way. Instead, we had had an extended stay of two full days in Marrakech because of the nature of the city. And we were about to limit our stay in Agadir to one night.

It was all quiet on the bus during the first part of the drive. People are chilled out after the many days of traveling. Eyes were closed as people snoozed.

The countryside that we were initially driving through was dry and almost featureless.Hazy mountains began to appear in the distance as we continued our travel to the west.

We eventually entered the area of the High Atlas mountains. We were now driving through a region of mountain ridges and deep canyons, with dry river beds below us.There was evidence of layering of rocks of different colors.
Then we were on the plateau. Cream colored rock had long changed to a reddish tinge.

The speed limit was 75 mph on the limited-access highway (with tolls) that we were on! The road was marked as the A3. I suspect that this section of the highway has been finished only recently.

I also noticed that it was quite cold and windy in the mountains. We had to drive through a long tunnel (called the Zaouiat Ait Mellal Tunnel) in a section of the highway.

In certain sections we could see the regular National Route 8 Highway (N8) running close to us. (The map in the Wikipedia page for N8, at the time of posting of this blog, is problematic even though the description is probably correct!)

We descended out of the mountains as we got closer to our destination.
This was the first time we began to see argan trees in large numbers. They only grow in this part of the world. We were going to hear more about the trees and their use the next day.

We saw goats on a argan tree, a phenomenon that is apparently unique to this part of the world – but I could not get a picture from the moving bus. Youssef had promised that if we did not get to experience this phenomenon, he would climb a tree himself, along with our driver Youssef and helper Rashid.

We arrived at Agadir early in the day. We were given an introduction to the place as we approached the town:

Although there had been settlements in the area much earlier, the town was officially created by Portuguese in the early 1500s. The locals ousted the Portuguese soon after that. The Sousi people went on to form the Saadian dynasty that ruled Morocco as a country soon after. The Saadians and Alawites have ruled Morocco starting in the 1500s.

Agadir used to be major port for exploration by the Portuguese. These days it is being developed for tourism. It is the largest resort town in Morocco. We noticed that most of the tourists from abroad were from Europe.

The city of Agadir is the home of the Sousi Amazigh. The Amazigh still form the majority population of the place. Agadir is now known nowadays for their canned sardines. An earthquake destroyed city in 1960. It destroyed the medina. It was not rebuilt.

We were supposed to go to our hotel after arrival in the city, but since there was time, and Youssef had some concern about the weather later, he made the decision to take us directly up to the kasbah on a mountain top nearby.

(I have talked about the nature of the inscription on the mountainside in a previous blog.)

From pictures that I have seen on the Internet, it appears that the kasbah has undergone an extensive renovation recently. The walls used to be of a different color.

We could not enter the kasbah, but we got nice views of the city and commercial port from there. You can see the beach that Agadir is known for in the picture below. You can also see the Agadir marina to the right of the same picture.
There is a another port to the right of the one above. I only got a picture of this second one as we were descending from the mountain. The port in the picture below is also used by the Moroccan navy.

A cable car ride has been opened up recently from the bottom of the hill to the kasbah as a new tourist attraction.

We headed out to our hotel after taking in the views from the mountain.

We checked into our room at the hotel only after lunch. For the sake of convenience, we had signed up to get all our meals while staying in Agadir from the hotel. We ate in a cafeteria, with food stations and dining tables spread out all over the room. The place was quite busy with other tourists when we entered. The food was OK, nothing to write home about. The one beer that they had came out of a tap from a dispenser for the drinks. It was awful!

It was an adventure finding our room in the sprawling complex.

We had made the mistake of picking our luggage up from the lobby rather than having it delivered to the room. We wandered around with our luggage looking at the signs outside the building at the entrances that indicated what rooms that entrance gave access to. We had an interesting but confusing interaction with an older gentleman in a corridor along the way. He wanted to help us with our luggage. He only spoke french, which we did not. He even offered to carry one of our bags, even though it was not clear whether he knew where our room was. We declined his help. We did eventually find our room on our own.

The room was OK – probably a typical setup for a beach resort town. Before we settled in, the maids had to rearrange the beds into the configuration that we had signed up for. There were some minor communication issues in this interaction that were overcome.

I took a nap in the afternoon. We went for 5 mile walk along the promenade later in the day. We walked all the way to the entrance to the marina. We enjoyed the leisurely walk. We had all the time in the world.

After we returned to the hotel, we retired to the lounge to have some drinks. Many of the drinks were covered by the bulk payment we had made up front for our meals – but not all. I gladly parted with a few extra dirham to imbibe a Scotch Whisky – the first time I had had the opportunity to do so during the whole trip. We chilled in the open area near the bar as others in the group joined us. For the first time during the tour, we had Youssef sit with us for a little while.We listened to some music being played at one end of the room.It turned out that the gentleman playing his guitar had some music playing in the background for accompaniment that felt rather significant to the overall sound. How could one gauge his actual skill in this situation? It felt a little like cheating in the end. (This was not the last time we experienced “live” music in this manner in Morocco.)

We watched the sun setting from the space just outside the the lounge.After that, we retired to the cafeteria with our friends from Arizona for the buffet dinner. I ate lightly. Long gone are the days when one felt a sense of obligation to try out as much of the foods offered at a buffet as possible just because of the concern about not getting what one paid for.

It had turned into a wonderful and relaxing evening. As we were lounging about in the open area of the hotel, hotel staff approached us a couple of times to inform us about an entertainment program that was about to start at 9:00 pm. I suppose that this was part of the resort experience. We decided to retire to our room instead.

As you can see, we spent a minimal part of the day with organized tour activity. As I noted in an earlier blog, the pace of the tour was slowing down. The cultural aspect of the visit was definitely not the major theme that day. We were here to have a beach resort experience!

You can read the next blog in this sequence here.