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Morocco through the Lens


Workshops are in the planning stage for 2011

See below for 2009 Trip. Email wrightimages@hotmail.com

 for details

In conjunction with Intrepid Travel http://www.intrepidtravel.com/

 

 

This trip place in September/October 2009 with 12 photographers from the UK, the USA and Canada.

 

Ait Benhaddou


 

 

 

 

 

From the Intrepid Website:

What better place for a photographer than colourful Morocco? Produce some amazing shots on this unforgettable adventure from Casablanca to Marrakech, taking in a wealth of terrain from ancient cities to spectacular mountains and gorges - and of course, the endless dunes of the mighty Sahara Desert. This is a rare opportunity for both experienced and budding travel photographers to document rarely visited locations, with expert photography instruction on hand. With a whirl of amazing sights and experiences in store, keep your finger on that shutter button!

This trip is organised with the needs of the photographer in mind. There are a number of early starts as we aim to help you take pictures at the best possible time depending on the light. Sometimes these early starts will be optional, at other times they will be fundamental to the trip.
These trips are not designed for those who are absolute beginners or who are completely unfamiliar with their cameras. You should have an SLR camera or a good SLR-type camera, which offers you control over the aperture and shutter speed. A range of lenses, or a zoom lens will also offer you more creative opportunities.

If you have a tripod and a flash we would suggest bringing them as well. Unless you know every feature on your camera, you should also consider bringing the manual. It is not necessary to shoot digital, but this will obviously offer you the ability to review your work and get feedback on the road.

The focus of the trip will be a mix of technical and non-technical techniques to get the best out of your travel photography, including exposure and depth of field, as well as composition and portraits. Most evenings we will have a talk on some aspect of photography and there will be a review at the end of the trip, for those who have shot with digital. The most important thing you can bring is enthusiasm and a desire to improve your photography.

Itinerary - brief outline - see below for fuller description

Day 1 Casablanca

Your picture-perfect journey begins in sophisticated Casablanca.

Days 2-3 Chefchaouen

Get up early for a guided tour of the recently restored Hassan II Mosque, which boasts the world's tallest minaret. Then travel on to charming, mountain-fringed Chefchaouen. Roam the area with your camera to capture mountains, picturesque blue-washed houses and the ancient medina.

Days 4-5 Fes

In Fes, you'll photograph scenes that have remained almost unchanged for centuries as craftspeople ply their trades in the medieval medina's tiny laneways. Amazing city vistas can be had from the Merenid tombs.

Day 6 Midelt

Look out for Barbary apes on the way to the Middle Atlas mountain range. Visit a carpet and embroidery workshop that employs local women.

Day 7 The Sahara

Enter French Foreign Legion territory and snap panoramas of palmeraies and kasbahs, then ride a camel through the giant Erg Chebbi sand dunes for a memorable night of feasting and song by an open fire. This is a great chance to test your night photography skills.

Days 8-9 Todra Gorge/Dades Gorge

Carpet Weavers, Todra Gorge

Watch the sunrise over the dunes, before heading to astounding Todra Gorge with its crystal-clear river. Explore the area with your camera at the ready before taking a 4WD off-road through starkly beautiful mountain scenery to Dades Gorge. Make the most of the afternoon light, as the sun paints the mountains and rocks a rich red.

Day 10 Ait Benhaddou

The country around Ouarzazate formed the stunning backdrop to movies such Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and Star Wars. Now it's lights, camera, action for you too. Visit the Near East Foundation's nutrition programs then drive to World Heritage-listed Ait Benhaddou, a beautiful clay kasbah rising above a rocky plain. Practise your food photography as our local friend (known as the Moroccan Russell Crowe for his movie appearances), demonstrates traditional home cooking.

Day 11 High Atlas Mountains

Drive and hike through mountain villages, reaching spots that few photographers have explored and meeting and photographing the local Berber people. The village of Imlil occupies such a spectacular location that it once 'played' Tibet in Martin Scorsese's Kundun

Villager, Imlil

Days 12-13 Essaouira

Fittingly, Essaouira means 'image', and you'll stumble across plenty of picture-perfect moments in this seaside artists' town. The ramparts make an ideal vantage point to capture colourful fishing boats scudding across the bay. If a windswept beach walk is too energetic, visit a local hamam bathhouse for a relaxing massage or feast on platefuls of freshly caught seafood.

Days 14-16 Marrakech

A More Detailed Outline

More images follow the text, illustrating the wealth of photographic opportunities in Morocco

Day 1 Casablanca

Salaam Aleikum! Welcome to Morocco.

Day 1 is arrival day. Travellers arrive from all corners of the globe today so there are no formal activities planned, but we ask you to arrive by 6:00pm for an important briefing from your group Leader and photographer, Ian Wright. Check with the hotel to find out exactly where this important meeting will take place.

Your leader will collect your local payment today. Please make sure you arrive in Morocco with your money ready since you will not have access to any Euro currency once you arrive. We require Euro notes/bills in large denominations only. Unfortunately we do not accept coins.

Our journey begins in the busy port of Casablanca. Modelled after Marseille in France, Casablanca has since become much busier than its parent. With its art deco buildings, Hassan II mosque, French-colonial buildings, mix of architecture, the old medina and its great restaurants, there is plenty to keep one busy in and around the city.

As we do not spend much time in Casablanca we recommend you book yourselves an extra day to enjoy the sights.

Days 2-3 Chefchaouen

Early in the morning we'll take a guided tour of the Hassan II mosque. Perched oceanside, the mosque was completed in 1993 after years of work by around 30,000 craftsmen. The mosque was the late king's most ambitious project and was funded by public subscription - all $800 million of it! Only the mosques at Mecca and Medina are bigger, while its 200-metre-high minaret is the tallest in the world.

Leaving in the late morning we travel in our private van (approx. 5 hours) to the picturesque charming town of Chefchaouen, set in a wide valley and surrounded by the Rif Mountains. With its blue and white houses and evocative atmosphere, this is a wonderful place to chill out. We arrive in time to take a stroll through the ancient medina.

Day 3 can be spent taking advantage of the colourful setting with your camera. Options include hiking in the Rif mountains, shopping in the medina, or attempting some street photography.

Days 4-5 Fes

We take a private bus on the morning of day 4 to Fes, stopping en route at the Roman ruins of Volubilis (approx. 2 hours). A local guide will take us on a walk back in time as we explore this ancient hilltop city, one of the Roman Empire's most remote bases, which remained affluent until the 8th century however the structures remained in tack until they were damaged by an earthquake in the 18th century after which much of the marble was taken for constructions in nearby Meknes.

We jump on the bus for a short drive to Fes (approx 1 hour), the most complete medieval city in the Arab world. The most ancient of Moroccan imperial capitals, Fes exists suspended in time. Descending into the labyrinthine alleyways of the Medina is like taking a step back to the Middle Ages. At night, we may head to the Palais Jamai for an evening drink. Watching the sun set over the huge medina while a dozen prayer calls vie for your attention is an experience you're unlikely to forget!

For the travel photographer, Fes remains a fascinating living museum where getting lost is half the fun! On Day 4 our local guide will help you take in more of this frenetic city. Be sure to start at the Merenid tombs to be rewarded with views of the city not found elsewhere. Don't forget the medina and the many craftsmen, who will only be too happy to sell you their wares, as well as the tannery and the Medersa Bou Inania, the most beautiful and photographed of all Merenid monuments. In the evening, feel free to round off the day in a hammam (local-style bath house) leaving your cameras at the door.

Day 6 Midelt

Day 6 sees us heading towards the Middle Atlas Mountains and the territory made famous by the French Foreign Legion. Our route takes us through cedar forests, home to the Barbary Apes, and into the valley between the Middle and High Atlas mountain ranges. We continue to Midelt (approx. 5 hours), which is overlooked by the Djebel Ayachi, a 3,700m peak. We visit the Kasbah Myriam, a carpet and embroidery workshop run by Franciscan nuns with the aim of providing sustainable employment and healthcare to local Berber women. The wares they produce are beautiful and of high quality, so it's the perfect place to buy a memorable souvenir. Here we can enjoy our first views of the mighty High Atlas Mountains from our hotel- on a clear day of course.

Tonight we stay in a large hotel in twin rooms with attached bathrooms. Rooms include air conditioning, and the hotel has a swimming pool. Breakfast is included for Intrepid travellers.

Day 7 The Sahara

On Day 7 our private van will take us towards the Sahara Desert (approx 5 hours) and we have many opportunities to stop and photograph the panoramic views of the kasbahs and palmeraies before we head to Erfoud where we can sample the local specialty, kahlia. This is also a good opportunity to buy a sesh, or turban, which will come in handy for the desert safari shots.

From here on, it is a short drive (approx 1.5 hours) to the town of Merzouga and the stunning sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. We store our large bags here and load our day packs and ourselves onto our camel transport and head off into the sunset for a memorable night in the Sahara at our desert camp. There will be plenty of time for photo stops. Upon arrival we'll be entertained by the locals and feast by an open fire before falling asleep under the Saharan stars. This is a good opportunity for learning how to overcome some of the challenges night photography can present.

Days 8-9 Dades Gorge

The morning of Day 7 begins with an early wake-up call to photograph the sun rising over the dunes. We then head back to a local auberge to refresh ourselves before returning to our private van for the drive (approx. 5 hours) to the stunning Dades Gorge.

On the way to Dades Gorge we make a stop to visit the 'Association IGHIR centre des Handicaps' in nearby Tinerhir. This wonderful association helps disadvantaged locals develop their skills through embroidery, pottery and tapestry. Its a fantastic insight into their lives and their hopes for the future.

Dades Gorge is a massive fault in the plateau dividing the High Atlas from the Jebel Saghro, with a crystal clear river emerging from it. The afternoon is free to explore and photograph the beautiful local 'palmeraies' or perhaps relax by having a dip in a nearby pool.

On day 8 take a 4WD off piste (approx. 5 hrs) to the beautiful Todra Gorge. The journey is through some of Morocco's wildest mountain scenery and is a photographers delight!. This valley is flanked on both sides by high limestone cliffs and bizarre rock formations. There are many options to trek in the area. Why not enjoy the late afternoon light when the sun turns the mountains and rocks into a rich red.

Day 10 Ait Benhaddou

In the late morning of Day 9 we say goodbye to the enchanting Dades Gorge and drive (approx. 3 hours) to Ouarzazate.

The very name Ouarzazate has the ring of a desert outpost. It evokes memories of foreign legions, austere mountains, wide open spaces, valleys of palm trees and tiny irrigated fields. Our scenic trip offers a glimpse of times gone by in the ruins of ancient kasbahs. Ouarzazate is the film capital of Morocco, with everything from 'Lawrence of Arabia' to 'The Mountains of the Moon' and 'Star Wars' being filmed here. The studio outside town is an impressive sight that, time permitting, we can visit for a guided tour (not included). The Kasbah Taourirt and its Glaoui Palace have recently been restored and has been used as a movie set on many occasions. The Ensemble Artisinal nearby gives us an opportunity to view some of the handicrafts made by the local Berber communities. Providing us with many different opportunities for photographic pursuits.

After lunch we drive on (approx. 40 minutes) to the Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou - one of the most beautiful in all of Morocco and recently classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mostly uninhabited, the fortified village is a fine example of clay architecture, featuring in numerous films such as 'Lawrence of Arabia', 'Sodom and Gomorrah', 'Romancing the Stone' and, more recently, 'Gladiator'.

Centuries ago, Ait Benhaddou was an important stop for the caravans passing through as they carried salt across the Sahara, returning with gold, ivory and slaves. You are free to explore the maze of streets at your leisure, or soak up the atmosphere from the poolside terrace as you watch the sunset over this magnificent site. We have the opportunity to join a cooking demonstration of couscous and tajine at our local friend's house, Hassan.

Day 11 High Atlas Mountains

The morning is free to take more shots of the famous Ait Benhaddou Kasbah before journeying onward (approx. 5 hours) over the spectacular Tizi-n-Tichka Pass (2260m) to the scenic Toubkal National Park.

Our route takes us along a road that hugs the side of a broad valley, its bottom a wide bed of shale. Not far out of the market village of Asni, surrounded by high walls and cypresses, we will come to the restored Kasbah Tamandout (owned by the famous tycoon Richard Branson). The road passes through its lion-guarded gates. Further up the valley is the hilltop hamlet of Aksar Soual, also known as 'Clintonville' after Hilary Clinton who visited her niece here in 1999.

The road comes to an end at Imlil, a small town nestled amongst the High Atlas Mountains. We have time to either hike the surrounding mountains and visit nearby villages or simply chill out in the gardens of the hotel enjoying the views. The best village to experience the Berber culture is the nearby Aremd (a 30 minute hike away). Aremd, is perched on a great rocky outcrop above the main village of Imlil and features panoramic views of the mountains, valleys and waterfalls. The scenery is so impressive that film director Martin Scorsese chose Imlil as one of the locations for 'Kundun', temporarily transforming the kasbah into a Tibetan monastery.
If you are not that fit, no worries, there is always the opportunity to climb by up by mule. There are options for longer guided treks for people that are interested.

Regardless of your level of fitness the gentle pace of Imlil and the Berber world are open to you. It is a special place beyond the reach of the modern world - an opportunity not to be missed! There is an opportunity for the guys to enjoy a hammam or local style bath and for the ladies to get a traditional henna decoration on their hands or feet.

This is an extremely rare opportunity for the travel photographer to visit a place few do, with expert photography instruction alongside.

Days 12-13 Essaouira

After spending the morning hiking, exploring or relaxing we leave the valleys of the magical High Atlas Mountains behind, and head westwards (approx 5 hours) towards the windswept Atlantic Coast and Essaouira.

The name 'Essaouira' means image; appropriate since Essaouira resembles a perfect photo. Its charm is undeniable: within the stone ramparts you'll find whitewashed houses with bright blue shutters, art galleries and wood workshops. This laid-back artists' town was once a Portuguese trading colony, its foundations laid out in the 18th century by a French architect held captive. It was also home to sizeable British and Jewish populations. The town faces a group of rocky islands and is surrounded by an expanse of sandy beaches and dunes.

Although no longer a trading centre, Essaouira is still a fishing town. Its pretty harbour is filled with tiny, colourful boats which go out early every morning for the day's catch. Visitors who have been seduced by its charms including Orson Welles and Jimi Hendrix, who (according to local legend) spent much of his time here in the 1960s. Recently, film-maker Ridley Scott chose the ramparts as an important location for his film 'Kingdom of Heaven'.

While in Essaouira our local guide takes us on a walking tour through the town (approx. 3 hours) teaching us about the history and preparing us for any shopping you may indulge in tomorrow!

Day 13 is a free day to soak up Essaouira's romantic ambience, and browse the plentiful shops and intriguing art galleries that make this little town a particularly pleasant place to unwind for a few days. It has a growing reputation for its unique art and is becoming even more famous for its burled thuya wood - delicately formed and inlaid in tiny shops built into the thick walls of the Portuguese ramparts. The scent from the oils used to polish the richly-coloured wood permeates the air. Everything in the small centre is within walking distance and the beaches are quite clean. Don't miss the opportunity to go to a hammam to be spoilt with a good scrub, a mud pack and a relaxing massage with Argan oil. A freshly-cooked plate of the day's catch is highly recommended. Essaouira has also become famous for its windsurfing. If you prefer, a stroll along the long, sandy, windswept beach is another option.

Days 14-16 Marrakech

On day 14 we travel by local bus to Marrakech (approx. 3 hours) and Morocco's most alluring city. After settling in to our hotel we can join the thronging crowds and enjoy dinner at the ultimate el fresco experience of the infamous Djemaa el Fna. This is undoubtedly an unforgettable introduction to bustling Marrakech where we can wander around the singers, drummers, dancers, snake charmers, fortune tellers, tooth pullers, storytellers, jugglers and even old medicine men, altogether who make up what has been dubbed the greatest spectacle on earth.

On Day 15 we take a walk though the Medina and its mosaic of souq's, each devoted to a separate trade: pottery, woodwork, copper, leather, carpets and spices - a wander among them is a sensory delight. The rest of the day is free to seek out some of the the numerous monuments of Marrakech, such as the well-known Koutoubia Mosque and its superb minaret - famous throughout the Islamic world and the 'sister' to the Giralda in far-away Seville, to the lesser-known tropical gardens of the French Painter Jacques Majorelle (now owned by Yves Saint Laurent). There is the Palais Bahia, a superb example of Muslim architecture, and the ruins of the Palais Badi, reputedly one of the most beautiful palaces in the world in its time. The Saadian tombs are a recently uncovered gem of the Medina. All of the above can be a challenge to locate, but that is all a part of the experience of exploring the phenomenal Medina's of Morocco!

Day 16 is departure day and we say 'Ma'Salama Shukran Bizzaf' for memories that will last a lifetime. There are no activities planned for today and you are able to depart the hotel at any time. Check out time from the hotel is at 12 noon. If you are departing later, you can arrange luggage storage at the hotel.

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