Morocco

Images of my 2013 Gasm Travels

Last year, I was able to travel to 3 countries: United Arab Emirates, Morocco and South Sudan. I went to the first two countries for my holiday break while the last one was for humanitarian mission.  It was my first time to visit these countries.

Here are the highlights of my visits:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

One of the things I really enjoyed during my trip to Dubai was watching the spectacular dancing water fountain outside the biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall and the world’s tallest man-made structure, the Burj Khalifa. Walking around during the day was not fun at all for me.  I got blisters from walking under high temperature (it was 50 degrees when I was there!).   The best way to see the city is through its metro.  Most of the metro stations are connected to malls and or tourist attractions.  It is the fastest and cheapest way of seeing the city.  As I wandered around, I was fascinated by the contrast of modern architecture to the traditional architecture.  Dubai’s modern architecture can be described as cosmopolitan with unique architectural designs made of steel, concrete and glass.  The traditional architecture uses limestone building blocks and muds as evident in the residential houses, mosques, forts and souqs.   I also enjoyed the various skyscrapers clustered in three different locations: Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Marina and the Business Bay district. It is advisable to see the skyscrapers during the day and in the evening.   Aside from the skyscrapers, Dubai is the quintessential home of shopping with so many malls to choose from.  I find electronics and jewelries more cheaper in Dubai than in other countries.  Although, there are also various attractions and tourist destinations within and outside the city,  I did a little exploring on my own and got way off the beaten track.  I discovered many unique places such as shops, alleys and secluded beaches.  My visit to Dubai is definitely one ‘gasm’ experience!

morocco

MARRAKESH, Morocco

My visit to Morocco is more of a photographic journey than a mere holiday trip.  In Marrakesh, I enjoyed staying at the Place Jemaa El Fna, the heart of the old Medina (old city). I spent more time exploring the main square and the nearby souks.  It was hectic and crazy, filled with motorscooters, donkey carts, horse drawn carriages, snake charmers, hash-sellers, fortune tellers, food stalls, cafes, vendors and tourists.  Once I was inside the walled city, I was engulfed in the bustle and flurry of the sights, smells and sounds of Marrakesh and the combination of stunning historical and cultural heritage.  I met a real herbalist and learned a lot about tea, spices and herbs.  Together with my travel buddy, we went on a food trip at the square and ate different variety of tangines, one of the most famous Moroccan main dishes.  We also had a day tour of the city through its city tour bus to see the contrast of the old and new medina.    The old medina has several architectural and artistic masterpieces from different periods in history while the new medina is more of a European modern district with 5 star hotels, big shopping malls, fastfoods and a variety of restaurants.

We also toured Essaouira, a charming and vibrant port and seaport town, about 3 hours drive from Marrakesh.  Despite the strong European influence, Essaouira was able to preserve its 18th century contemporary architecture in a North African context.  I particularly enjoyed walking at the Kasbah’s Sqala, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site which has a remarkable view of the port and the Atlantic coastline. I also got lost while wandering at the old medina and souks and ended up in a maze of blind alleys where I discovered some of Morocco’s best craftsmen.  Since I came from a landlocked country and living in hardship condition during my humanitarian mission, I spent more time relaxing at a seaside bar by the beach.   Essaouira is watersport’s paradise, a perfect location for kitesurfing and windsurfing.  With its subtle beauty, unspoilt sands and wonderfully slow pace of life,  Essaouira was a great relief from the madness of Marrakesh.

On the way to our Sahara Dessert tour, we crossed the picturesque High Atlas Mountains passing by the Col du Tichka with an altitude of 2260 m.  This part of Morocco looked like another country.  The landscape was amazing.  I felt like I was floating in the air while standing at the highest peak on top of the mountain.  Then we visited Ourzazate, the Gate of the Desert.  People here are mainly the traditional indigenous tribe called Berber.  It is a popular tourist town, home to the world’s largest film studio, the Atlas Film Studios.  Several Hollywood movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and The Mummy were shot here.  30 km away from Ouarzazate is the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, another UNSECO World Heritage Site in Morocco. Located at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the Ksar is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat with houses built entirely of earthen materials with rich red mud plaster.  The houses crowd together within the defensive walls with high angle towers dating from the 17th century.  Its stunning location was where one of the Star Wars movies was filmed.  Most of the tourists find it exciting to walk the same streets as their favorite movie stars once did.  This part of our trip was well worth every minute spent here not to mention the photographic opportunity in each and every corner of the Ksar.

Morocco

CENTRAL, EASTERN and WESTERN EQUATORIA, South Sudan

Although my stay in South Sudan was work related, I was privileged to be able to see three different states aside from its capital, Juba.  South Sudan was my first humanitarian assignment in hardship location.  To be able to serve the newest country in the world was a humbling experience, something I will never trade for anything else.  It was one of my best if not the greatest experience in my life.  For more of my humanitarian experience in South Sudan, visit this link: Wandering the Road Less Travelled: My Humanitarian Missions.

South Sudan

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Categories: Africa, Asia, Dubai, Morocco, South Sudan, United Arab Emirates | 4 Comments

An Arch Over a Passage

Last month, I took my holiday sort of ‘rest and recuperation’ leave after being deployed for 4 months for a humanitarian work in South Sudan.  I was contemplating whether to have a relaxing beach holiday in Mombasa in Kenya, have a safari/beach holiday in Tanzania or get lost in the craziness of Marrakesh in Morocco.  It was a tough decision but in the end I opted for the latter.

Why Marrakesh? Aside from it being in a different environment (though still part of Africa but more like being in an Arabic country than African), Marrakesh has always been a dream for most photography enthusiasts.  The chaotic, noisy and colorful souks are just one of the many reasons why Marrakesh is the place to go for a photographic journey.  Indeed, it was!

I found a hostel right in the old medina (old city) at the centre of the famous Place Djemaa el-Fna square.  Prior to my arrival, I planned to take loads of photos of the souks (market), crafts, food stalls, snake charmers, crowded square, vendors and local people…the way I expected to see at Marrakesh.  Indeed, on my first day, I found the old medina the way I expected it to be except for one thing…the Medina arches, the Arabic horseshoe arch design used in doorways and windows.

Ive seen different types of arches in Europe but mostly in historical old big buildings.  But I have never seen such kind of architectural design used in local households, street passageways, small businesses or shops and in market stalls.  It was so distinct that it is easy enough to be noticed everywhere you go in Marrakesh.  And so I made it a mission to take photos of different types of Arabic arches in and around the old medina.

Here are some of my collections:

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Aside from the doorways and windows, Arabic arch is also used to design the exterior walls of a building or as part of the structure itself.  I also found several unique and interesting wooden doors and windows which are either square or rectangular in shape and mostly painted with bright colors which are great subjects for photography too.

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As I went around taking snapshots of these Arabic arched windows and doorways, I noticed that even the passageway separating streets have also an archway built at the entrance.  Instead of taking a photo of the structure alone, I decided to add some elements on my composition.

First, I added the scenes from behind the archway to get a feeling of where it is located making the viewer to imagine what is going on beyond the image.

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Second, I added the element of movement by capturing people walking through the arched passageway.  People walking can make the viewer look at the direction of movement and into your main subject – the Archway.  It also gives a sense of busyness of the street or passageway.

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And lastly, adding images of the local people into your main subject gives a different context, making it more interesting than just the plain image of the arched doors or windows.  In this case, the colorful traditional dresses of Moroccans and their soulful photogenic faces add dramatic and or entertaining story to the composition making it a picture perfect photo.

Here are some of my best shots and my favorites among hundreds of snapshots of Morocco’s Medina Arch.

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Categories: Africa, Morocco, World's Unusual Design of Ordinary Things | Tags: , | 9 Comments

Morocco: Heritage and People

Moroccans remain as one of the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world.  While primarily it is dominated by Muslim Arabs and typically regarded as an Arab nation, Morocco is best described as a nation of both Arabs and its indigenous inhabitants, the Berbers.  The Berbers which means “those who are not Arab” have generally settled in the countryside and mountains.  However, in the past few decades, more Berbers moved into urban areas mixing peacefully among the Arab and small Jewish population.  Due to the many influxes of populations in Morocco, the country has experienced many cultural influences mostly from Europe, Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Classical Arabic is the country’s official language while Berber are generally used as a first language mostly in rural areas.  French, is Morocco’s unofficial third language widely used in education, commerce and government.  Spanish is being spoken by majority of Moroccans in the northern part while English is being taught in all public schools.

 

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Categories: Africa, Morocco | Tags: | 15 Comments

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