Thursday, September 27, 2012

#929 Fes, Morocco

I was first guided through the Old Medina in Fes by Hassan Radouane, the Moorish Art and Architecture professor at Al Akhawayn University. He was in the middle of several restoration projects and behind locked doors we saw amazing hotels, houses, hospitals, caravansarais, moques and bath houses in various states of re-repair. 

It was incredible to learn the history of how they created the magnificent muqarnas (plaster 3D shapes like stalactites), or how the plaster had to be wet to carve easily, the art of the jig-saw like tiles, what the various rooms and spaces were used for, and the architectural etiquette rules. Whether it was to create the home's peaceful cool oasis in the middle of the hot, dirty, desert-city streets with a fountain, or the two different door knockers for family and professional visitors (or women/men responses), the horse versus people doors, the meaning of the shapes and symbols, and the proximity of the bath house to the bakery in order to share the same fire.

The shopping was incredible -- little shops with beautiful blue and white pottery, old swords, junk shops, the ubiquitous Moroccan sahara scarves (which, when washed, turn everything the color of the dye!), and other crafts and souvenirs. The tannery in Fez is the size of several football fields, impressive with its bright colors, strong smells, ancient methods and gorgeous leather products resulting!

Oh, and the food... what I wouldn't give for some harira soup right now!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

#930 Shark and Ray Alley, Caye Caulker, Belize

Just off Caye Caulker, south of Ambergris Caye, in Belize's off-shore coral reef, is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, and one of it's special features is a snorkelling site called Shark (and) Ray Alley. The reason it is so called is because it's almost guaranteed that you will see sharks and rays when you visit! Beautiful nurse sharks either circle around you  or sleep on the ocean floor. Southern sting rays hide on the sandy bottom or float gracefully past. All this in only a couple of meters of water!

Some videos!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

#931 Kyaiktyo (Golden Rock), Myanmar (Burma)

One of the most sacred pilgrimmage places in Burma is a place called Kyaiktyo, where a precariously perched rock which has been painted with gold-leaf and people travel across the country to spend time meditating there. An amazing journey in itself, the collective travel and sense of purpose that accompany it make it collegial and full of community. Likewise, while the majestic vision itself perched high above a valley is a sight to behold, the people you watch and the spectacle are equally unique.

The area is a marvel of magic and devotion, religious iconography, excessive commercial development, rosaries sold aside toy rifles, people meditating, sleeping, and touching the rock (affixing more gold-leaf). The walk up is several hours long, and in a wonder of contrasts, passes through villages, past stupas, statues, shops and souvenirs.

The gravity-defying rock iteslf, with a 7.3m high stupa on top, is one of Myanmar's most sacred sites, perched on the edge of Mt. Kyaiktiyo (pronounced chay ti tyo). Legend has it that the rock can sit thus because of Buddha's specially placed hair inside the stupa. King Tissa (11th century) was given the hair by a hermit who had secreted it in his own topknot. The king was instructed to find a boulder that resembled the hermit's head, which was found at the bottom of the ocean, and upon reaching the mountain top, the boat turned to stone (which can be seen nearby).

Source: Lonely Planet Myanmar (9th Edition)

Friday, September 21, 2012

#932 Otago Peninsula, New Zealand

Can't believe this is only my second post about my beautiful home, New Zealand!

The Otago Peninsula will remain forever in my bones and soul. I have childhood memories of a crib (cottage) with stiff wooden kitchen drawers filled with someone else's cutlery, spartan 70's furniture, and a car load of groceries to ensure we wouldn't have to leave or starve. It was located on a freezing-cold windy stone beach at the end of a winding hilly track, surrounded by muddy green paddocks and the force of the southern Pacific on a blustery day. My brother and I played lots of cards!

There were other times, like when visiting Larnach Castle with my Nana, New Zealand's only castle, always a romantic historical place in my mind, but really only a big stately house high on a hill surrounded by trees, serving scones and tea. There was a tower, more of a stairwell really, but grand enough for untraveled me.

Otago harbor, like many kiwi harbors, originated when a massive volcano blew its top (and middle), and the hills are strewn with leftover rocks, which the stoic early farmers turned into quaint stone fences. Settled by hardy Scots who came from a similar climate, the region is rich with farmland, and framed by picturesque wild beaches and small towns. A view back to Dunedin on a sunny day is beautiful, and you can see where the dredges made a canal in the harbor. The small country road winds over the hills and there are no villages, only farmhouses, fields, and windbreaking hedges.

Map Otago Peninsula
Map of Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula from

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

#933 Essaouira, Morocco

Made famous by Jimi Hendrix, with his legendary castles in the sand disappearing along the beach from the main town. A 1970s hippy center where you can still experience exotic markets, quaint homestay hotels, surfing, and spicy Moroccan delicacies, it is along Morocco's southern coast, with an offshore island, miles of sand, and strong cultural heritage. Perhaps one of the historical 'barbary states' where the pirates searched the wild ocean for stranded sailors, it retains a strong Berber and Arab culture. It's old walled city has winding medina streets and stalls of leather, lamps, spices, nuts and souvenirs. The beach is superb, and the ocean breezes idyllic in a hot Moroccan summer. Watch the fishermen bring in their catch, climb over the old castle, ride a camel into the sunset!