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Sahara!

Posted by Jason del Sur in Europe 2009, Photo Albums
April 29th, 2009

Here are some photos of our road trip out to the desert near Zagora. The car ride took us most of the day included a gas scare. After the fourth gas station we passed with no gas, we were a little worried, but fortunateour driver knew there might be gas shortages so we still had some remaining when we found some petrol. Then coming up on dusk we left the car and mounted our camels (technically I think they’re dromoderies, but I don’t really know the difference. Something about humps).

We reached our camp just around dusk. After some tangine and mint tea, we were treated to a campfire and some “Sahara TV,” as our guide called it: the awesome Sahara sky. We were promised authentic music, but our guide and his sons were not exactly talented. With their bendir and plastic gascan darbouka, they struggled to keep a song. While I couldn’t understand the Arabic, I’m pretty sure he yelled at one of his sons for being unable to keep a beat. Shortly thereafter, all of us tourists attempted our own music around the campfire and failed miserably. Somehow of all the songs we all knew (ranging from Black Crowes to ABBA to Clapton) even with all our powers combined, we could remember nothing more than the chorus and maybe a few words of a verse.

But the darkness of the desert and the beauty of the stars made it well worth the trip. Then when I awoke in the middle of the night to relieve myself and walked outside the moon was shining in full force and lit up all of the dunes. A truely beautiful sight.

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Marrakech Photos

Posted by Jason del Sur in Europe 2009, Photo Albums
April 28th, 2009


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Here is the craziness that is Marrakech:

Jamming in the Djeema

Posted by Jason del Sur in Europe 2009
April 22nd, 2009

“Musician?” the bendir player asked me.

Finally, after seeing the market open and all the alleyways that had so scared me previous night transformed into shop after shop, I was coming to feel comfortable in the city. During the day, the medina of Marrakesh is overwhelming. The Djeeaa el Fna is covered in carts selling fresh squeezed orange juice, snake charmers, Gnawa musicians, and tourists. The souqs were a vibrant display of colors as what had previously been locked brown grates were now open displaying scarves, jewelry, shoes, clothing, and spices. The smells of Marrakech constanty bombard your nose. Some derbs (streets) smell wonderful: cummin, saffron, fresh olives, and meat mixing and melding into an olfactory wonderland. Other streets: urine and donkey dung making you wish you were back on the street with the fresh olive vendor. You are never sure what new scent would enter your nose as you turn the next corner. Or perhaps you would be startled by the honk of a motorbike as it manages to weave in between the children playing football and the live chickens waiting to be sold. The streets are perhaps two meters wide, just big enough that you can squeeze against the wall as the donkey carrying 20 tanks of gas saunters by.

At night, the Djemaa el Fna explodes in a burst of smoke as the dinner carts take over the square. Kebab, tangine, or goat head are all available. It’s difficult to find just the one you want as the workers are handing you menus and pushing you to sit at their tables. I had a goal of trying the goat head, but we never made it to that cart before we were seated. I think I’ll survive not knowing how it tastes.

Outside the dinner area, musicians and storytellers draw crowds into their circle. In these circles, you find few tourists, and those of us white people that stop to listen are immediately asked for money. I moved from circle to circle listening to the drummers. Some were much better than others. I finally settled on a group of 3-4 bendir drummers, a darbouka player, and an electric violin. A bendir is a frame drum (like a tamborine without the jingles) with a couple string snares across the head inside. And the oil drum top, which was used for a kind of flamenco-tap-stomp dance when they reached the fast part of the song.

As I was very impressed by their music, I of course gave them a few dirhem. One guy could tell by the way I was enjoying it that he asked if I was a musician. I told him I play drum set, as I could convey that with a simple gesture as opposed to explaining to someone who doesn’t speak English that I also do body percussion and drum on trash cans.

In the break after the next song, I asked if I could give the bendir a try. This naturally led to a drum battle, which I of course lost, having no idea how to play this drum–it requires a special balance and some finger dexterity that I lack. After the drum battle they had me do the oil can dance, which, I can assure you, is not easy when wearing sandals. Afterwards, I sat with them and watched as they continued.

In between songs, they would tell stories and jokes to the crowd. I’m quite sure many of them came at my expense. As the night went on, more people joined the circle, and the crowd began getting more into it. I soon saw that Moroccan have amazing rhythm. Even the young girl, Hanna, who befriended me there was clapping a three over two polyrhythm along to the music. (This observation was of course negated the next night while in the Saraha when (from what I could tell) our guide was yelling at one of his sons for not being able to keep a beat on the plastic gascan darbouka).

I shared mint tea with the musicians. We laughed as they joked about the one musician who resembles Barack Obama. If you’re ever in Marrakech, look for him and you’ll find this amazing group. If only I could speak French, I could have understood more, but I did understand “ami.”

(It’s a long one and pretty dark, but the best part happens around 9 minutes in when one of the drummer’s son get up on the oil can)

Barcelona Photos

Posted by Jason del Sur in Europe 2009, Photo Albums
April 22nd, 2009

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Marrakech Night One

Posted by Jason del Sur in Europe 2009
April 21st, 2009

The first night in Morocco Shawn and I landed around 11:30pm to the airport. After a day of recovering from the wedding and just enough sleep on the flight to make us groggy, we were exhausted and thus somewhat unable to properly deal with this new continent. We were hustled into a cab, I’m still not 100% sure it was legitimate, but it was standing near a sign saying “Taxi.”

We told him where we were staying and he definitely overcharged us, but we were too tired to haggle. He dropped us off at Djemaa el Fna, the main square in the old medina section of Marrakech. He told us to go about 50 meters in and we would find our riad (riads are houses built around an open courtyard. Previously owned by richer families, many have now been converted into guesthouses or hostels). We had an address, but had forgotten to print out directions.

By now, it’s 1am, the main market which we would discover the next day is shut down, so it’s primarily locals hanging out on the square. Many offered to help us find a nice hotel, but we had been warned that everyone in Morocco would want money for whatever minor service they rendered. We were definitely called racists a couple times for refusing their help. Obviously, we came to Morocco because we hate Morrocans. We were still convinced we could find the riad on our own.

Finally, after wandering around the square we eventually accepted help from one of the less sketchy looking people. We began following him. We walked along the square for a couple minutes until our guide turned down a small alleyway. I now know this is just the way the old cities in Morocco are built, but at the time I was convinced we was going to lead us to his friends and rob us.

We turned down another, this one even darker, alley. There were small lights along the way and many interesting doors leading to who knows what. The walls are tall so you are not able to look up to see any landmarks. Part of me knew we’d be safe, the man just wanted to help in return for a few dirhem. But there was another part of me that was scared for my life.

We arrived at the riad and Jafaar opened the door. It’s obviously common practice as Jafaar held the door open as our guide asked us for money. We gave him some dirhem (more than we should have, around 50dh, or a little over $5). We knew the conversion rate, but had yet to understand the actual value of a dirhem. Three (about 35 cents) gets you the tastiest orange juice you’ve ever had, lunch or dinner will run 40-60.

We had arrived and fell immediately asleep. We were now in the most foreign feeling place I had ever been (yes, even more than Cambodia).

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