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Saturday 22 March 2014

[Friday 21 March 2014]

Fez—Mid-Atlas Mountains—Marrakesh
Opera Plaza, Marrakesh

Day 81 Numbers 30; John 12
Today we leave Fez and drive up into the Mid-Atlas Mountains where there are villages that seem more Swiss than Moroccan! It can even snow here at either end of the season. The journey to Marrakesh, our final destination, will take around ten hours. However, this will include stops along the way, and quite spectacular, changing scenery. Do prepare yourself with a good book or magazine to read en route. We will spend the next three nights, on a half-board basis at The Opera Plaza Hotel, Ave Mohammed VI and Ave Hassan II, Marrakesh. Telephone from the UK: 00 212 5 24 35 15 15.

Janet struggled out of bed ca.5am, and I followed a bit later. It was still dark, but Mr. Blackbird was singing outside — having followed us, seemingly, from England! Janet finished packing, and we went down for breakfast. Then a final check round in the room to see that we’d got everything, then down in the lift, depositing our key-cards at reception, then out with our cases to the coach. We set off ca.7am. We had a refreshment stop at a Middle Atlas ski resort town that looked more Alpine than Moroccan (no snow at this time of year, though it was quite cool when we stepped out of the coach), and the party trooped into a café on a small square. I drank a cup of coffee, before having a short wander around to take some photos. Adjacent to the square was a small park, and round the corner from there on the far side of the park was a sculpture of a lion,[i] where groups of visitors were standing taking each others’ photos.

[i] This identifies the town as Ifrane, for a photo of the sculpture appears on the Wikipedia article.

08:23:50 A stop at Ifrane—

08:32:30 —for coffee

08:42:14 Ifrane

08:42:50 Sculpture of a lion in a park by the square

At one town we couldn’t proceed because they were having a fair or market day right on the road to Marrakesh, so we had to make a slight diversion.

09:42:00 Seen from the coach

10:49:52 Seen from the coach

10:52:22 Seen from the coach

We had another refreshment stop at a café — and just after we re-boarded the coach and set out again we passed a sign indicating that we were leaving “Centre de El Borj”.

11:10:44 Seen from the café during a refreshment stop

11:13:36 Seen from the café during a refreshment stop

11:14:10 A refreshment stop—

11:27:54 —at this location, seen as we were leaving

There was a “stretch your legs” or “take a photo” stop overlooking a blue lake with a very irregular shoreline. I wondered whether it was a salt lake because of what looked like layered deposits at the waterside.[ii]

[ii] From the map it appears to be “Barrage Al Hansali” — so the word “barrage” would suggest that it was a fresh-water reservoir.

12:32:50 Brief stop at Barrage Al Hansali

12:34:02 Brief stop at Barrage Al Hansali

It was warm in the town where we stopped to have a buffet lunch at a hotel, and when the guy came round clutching 24cl bottles of a strongish lager called Spéciale Flag I had one.

14:39:06 Lunch at a hotel in Beni Mellal

14:44:48 Cloud-shrouded High Atlas Mountains to the south of Beni Mellal

14:44:48 — detail

15:10:56 High Atlas Mountains seen to the left from the coach

Some of the terrain especially in the foothills had been very green, but after we descended into the plain on which Marrakesh is situated it began to be arid. We arrived at the Opera Plaza Hotel, Marrakesh, at 6.30pm, and were greeted in the foyer by a trio of robed musicians, dancing and chanting and making one hell of a racket as we dragged our cases in. The guy in the centre played a bass guitar-like instrument which doubled as a drum,[iii] as he swung the tassel on his fez round and round — the same type of instrument, and the same tassel-rotating, as on 19 March (14:35:32) in the kasbah in Rabat — and the other two played cymbal-like things.[iv] We were also offered glasses of mint tea, and I had one as we completed our registration forms. Janet had been apprehensive about the long coach journey today, but she managed it without getting ill — just weary.

[iii] Called a “Sintir”, “Guembri”, “Gimbri” or “Hejhou” on Wikipedia: “It is approximately the size of a guitar, with a body carved from a log and covered on the playing side with camel skin. The camel skin has the same acoustic function as the membrane on a banjo. The neck is a simple stick with one short and two long goat-gut strings that produce a percussive sound similar to a pizzicato cello or double bass.”
[iv] Called “Qarkabeb” (many variations of the name on the internet): large metal castanet-like instruments comprising a clashing pair of convex discs at each end of a short hand-held bar. Both players had two: one in each hand.


Copied photos and movies from the camera to the WD Elements HDD (19:04), dragged the movie clips into Windows Movie Maker (19:08) and edited them together, cross-fading between them, fading in the start and fading out the end — as Janet unpacked and had a “wash-and-brush-up”. Christine had told us that dinner would start at 7.30pm, but we would be sharing with another Riviera party and might prefer to avoid the initial rush by going a bit later. We, however, got down there a few minutes before 7.30pm, found that the buffet was available, and helped ourselves before anyone else (almost) got there. I found the choices limited and not very appealing — and not distinctively Moroccan — as indeed had been the case at the hotel in Fez. I had a half-bottle of Moroccan red wine. We left ca.8pm. Satisfied that the audio-transitions in the movie I’d made were hardly detectable, I saved it (20:14). Edited today’s photos with Photoshop (20:24–20:49).… Wanted to make playlists of the current Bible readings, but when I opened Winamp to try to do this, the playlist editor window was too long for the screen (I use a separate, larger monitor back home); the handle for adjusting the size, and the buttons for “New List” and “Save”, were off beyond the bottom of the screen and there was no way I could get to them. So I made playlists using Windows Media Player (22:04–22:27), which was very inconvenient, because every time I wanted to save one I had to specify the type of playlist file I wanted, and had to find the location in which to save it.

[Sunday 23 March 2014]

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