Morocco Trip – Essaouira

The final destination of our Moroccan adventure was the lovely coastal city of Essaouira. We left the Atlas Mountains early in the morning after our one (very cold) night in the (well-hidden) Ait Souka guesthouse & headed back to Marrakech where we took the CTM bus all the way West to the coast.

Essaouira, which is still referred to in some places by it’s Portuguese name ‘Mogador’, was the exact opposite of Marrakech. Whilst Marrakech was busy, polluted & a hunting ground for the locals to exploit unwary tourists, Essaouira was calm, had lovely clean sea air & the markets were genuinely lovely to walk around. Whereas we didn’t buy anything from the pushy, rude shopkeepers in Marrakech, we came away with all sorts of things from their counterparts in Essaouira; tea (& a teapot!), spices, jewelery (after a lengthy haggling session where I walked out at least twice & eventually paid less than a 1/3rd of the asking price) & even a tajine (which just about fitted in my hand luggage). Ironically this wasn’t the shop we bought drums from.

Much cleaner than Marrakech as well!

However whilst Essaouira was a lovely place to walk around, it didn’t boast much else to do – in Marrakech we were spoiled for choice with museums, galleries, gardens & palaces, but Essaouira only has the one museum, albeit a very nice one. We stayed two nights & by the morning of the third day some of the shopkeepers were beginning to recognise us as we walked by!

One thing Essaouira had plenty of though, was fish. Neither of us eat meat but we do eat fish, so after 4 nights in Marrakech & the Atlas with not a single piece of fish to be found & living off of vegetable tajine & vegetable cous-cous every night, the abundance of wonderfully fresh fish was very welcome. In the main square there are a number of open-air grills, each with a huge display of fish from the harbor less than 250m around the corner. You take a tray, pile whatever fish you want onto it, pay for how much it weighs & a few minutes later it comes back from the grill. Even though the locals here were much friendlier than in Marrakech, a lot of these photos were still hipshots.

My hipshot technique still needs work…

But sometimes they come out okay.

All of the woodwork (doors, windowframes, etc.) is a beautiful blue, something to do with a blue dye they used to extract from crustaceans that lived on the rocks off the shore.

The expired Velvia came out red in the shadows again.

And the classic Essaouira shot, as seen in the Lonely Planet guidebook…

Lovely to walk around in the evening as well, though as with Marrakech everywhere closed pretty early.

The cat wouldn’t move out of the frame, so I included it. There were cats everywhere in Essaouira.

One final pot of tea :)

After our two nights in Essaouira we headed back to Marrakech for one last night, but any photos from then will be in the Marrakech post.

Morocco Trip – Atlas Mountains

It’s been a (long) while since I posted photos from Marrakech so I thought I would add a few from the rest of our Moroccan trip.

Our second destination after Marrakech was the Atlas Mountains, in particular a little village called Imlil (which is where the road coming from the East essentially stops). We planned just a single night at a guesthouse in the neighboring village of Ait Souka, as there isn’t really much to do in the mountains except marvel at the scenery, unless you’re an avid mountaineer. We set out from Marrakech a little after midday, expecting to arrive in Imlil before half-past one, find the guesthouse & then spend the rest of the day walking around the mountains. Unfortunately we booked the only guesthouse in the Atlas that had absolutely no signage on its exterior, nor on the road, so we wasted about 3 hours walking back & forth through the villages asking everybody we could find where we might find the elusive place.

By the time we eventually found it (just before we were about to give up & pay for a room elsewhere) there wasn’t much daylight left & it seems that (expired) Velvia doesn’t always play well in low-light (see the red tinge to the shadows?). Luckily we had already been walking around for 3 hours…

After dinner (at the one & only restaurant in Imlil) we started walking up the nearest peak, but the daylight didn’t last long. This was about as high as we got & with no artificial lighting even 1600 film at f1.7 didn’t stand much of a chance.

One good thing about nightfall in the mountains though, particularly when the clouds moved out the way, is how clear the stars & the Milky Way were. Of course I didn’t have a tripod & a cable release with me, but I thought it was worth an exposure or two just on the off-chance I could get anything – luckily the Pentax MV’s light meter can get confused by extremely long exposures & lock open, so even without a cable release I was able to lie the camera on its back on the little wooden table, set f1.7 & infinity & do an exposure for a few minutes. Not too shabby considering…

I’ll do another post for our third destination, Essaouria, in a bit.

Morocco Trip – Marrakech

During the inter-semester break in January I spent 7 nights in Morocco with my girlfriend (cheap flights via Ryanair). We were traveling with just hand luggage so I left the bulky dSLR at home & instead took the Canonet & a beat-up Pentax MV with a Chinese 50mm f1.7. The intention was to cut down on size/weight whilst at the same time remove the nuisance of carrying extra batteries or taking a charger & then having to worry about adapters. Not to mention that a scruffy looking old SLR doesn’t attract pickpockets & muggers like a huge dSLR!

This was the first time I had shot any film in quite a long time, apart from the test roll I put through the Canonet, but it was a nice change. All of the colour shots are expired Fuji Velvia 100F slide film (at least 5 years past its date but kept refrigerated) whilst the black & white consists of a single roll of Ilford FP4 (cheap from Boots) & several rolls of Fuji Neopan 1600 (cheap from 7dayshop). I’d never shot any of these films before & didn’t know how the Velvia would behave considering its age, but there were no disasters. Taking 1600 through airport xrays was a bit of a risk, but there doesn’t seem to have been any noticeable fogging, apart from maybe in some of the darkest shots.

All the processing was done by Peak Imaging. One of the reasons I never used to shoot slide or black & white is because places like Boots & Jessops charge a lot more for those than for normal colour negative, but Peak charge the same no matter what chemistry. I’m a bit paranoid about putting films in the post in case Royal Mail lose them, but if you take black & white to Boots they likely post the films to Ilford anyway.

Our first stop was the former imperial city of Marrakech. Overall we enjoyed the wide range of attractions (museums, galleries, gardens, etc.) but were a bit disappointed with how ‘touristy’ it was. The famous main square (Djemaa el Fna) & the markets (‘souks’) that surround it were a nightmare because of how harassing the shopkeepers & stall owners were, not to mention the near constant stream of mobilettes threatening to run you down. In the end we didn’t stop to buy anything & did all of our shopping in the much friendlier souks at Essaouira.

This is one of the quieter & cleaner parts of the souks early one morning; most stalls didn’t seem to get going until quite late in the morning.

Despite how narrow & busy the ‘roads’ can be, there were still cars & vans that make their way down. This was by no means the smallest place we encountered vans.

Some parts of Marrakech were quite clean & kept in good repair, like here on our way to the Musée de Marrakech, but other places were a far cry from this.

A nice change in terms of architecture from coastal Scotland!

Lots of lovely little alleyways to get lost in – getting lost is one of the most enjoyable things you can do in Marrakech, though I would recommend against doing so at night on the first day you arrive as we did…

The MV, despite being a cheap body that I bought on ebay for £10, having a shutter release button made from a screw superglued in place & light seals that are more mold & grime than foam, meters well in low light & extrapolates to very long exposures. However I had no idea how Neopan 1600 would behave in low light so most of the nighttime shots I took surreptitiously whilst walking through the souks didn’t relaly come out.

We ate at the food stalls in the main square on our first night, mainly because they were cheap (25 dirham (<£2) for vegetable couscous) & we hadn't had a chance to go to an exchange. If you're a vegetarian visiting Marrakech & want to eat local food rather than visiting the abundance of pizzarias, then you'd better be prepared for a diet of vegetable couscous & tagines.

One of the alleyways on the way back to our Riad, which was only about 5 minutes from the main square.

Another one of the alleyways – quite pleased with how well this one exposed. I suspect that the other shots out in the open that didn’t come out so well are because the camera’s meter was fooled by bright lightbulbs, exposing for them & but underexposing the rest of the image.

Rather tricky to focus quickly when it’s so dark…

This is the food stalls at the centre of the main square. It’s obviously not properly exposed, but gives a feel of how busy the place was.

One of the first attractions we visited in Marrakech was Ali Ben Youssef Medersa, an Islamic school attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque, where students would have memorized the Qur’an. The students’ dormitories were very simple, so I tried to do minimalist…

This wonderfully intricate (& extensive) tilework is at the Dar Mnebhi Palace. Unfortunately I had both the Canonet & the MV loaded with black & white film, which wasn’t the most sensible idea, though the FP4 brought out plenty of detail.

The ruins of the El Badi Palace weren’t particularly photogenic above ground, but some of the underground passageways had a certain charm to them, although I had to skulk about for a while until the other trippers walked out of shot.

After getting completely lost the first time we tried to find it (we actually ended up at an entirely different garden), we visited the Jardin Majorelle at the end of our 7 nights when we came back to Marrakech for our homeward flight. All of the stonework is painted electric blue, which was certainly different, as was seeing graffiti on bamboo… Unfortunately we arrived just as a tourbus was arriving, so I couldn’t take any wide shots without capturing a load of tourists in the frame.

This probably deserves explanation – they were cleaning one of the pools!

I’ll be making two more posts soon for the other places we visited in Morocco; Imlil & Ait Souka in the Atlas mountains & Essaouira on the coast.