During my April 2016 trip to Morocco, we had big plans and lots of horses to photograph so we were on the road well, let's just say a lot. We were a bit nomadic in our travels which is fitting for Morocco. We started in Marrakech, drove from Marrakech to Essaouira, then back and, after a quick day in Marrakech, drove through the Atlas Mountains to the desert, and stayed for several days in a small village called Ourzazate. Then we drove back to Marrakech and two days later, I flew home to Chicago.
Normally you couldn't pay me to be on the road that much during a 10-day vacation - I normally like to dig in to really investigate one location - but we had a driver and a capacious van with plenty of room. I saw a lot more of Morocco than on my trip there last year. Since I often travel with my camera in my lap (really, I do) or very easily accessible in a small bag next to me, I was the annoying photographer always asking the driver to stop, just for a minute.
The lead photo is a goat. In a tree. I'd heard tell about these goats in trees but hadn't seen any on my 2015 trip and this year, I was determined to get the shot. As we headed out of Marrakech (first stopping at the airport to get someone's delayed luggage and then heading back to the hotel to locate someone else's lost iPhone), I leaned over the seat (annoying, I know) and asked our driver if he would be able to stop, so that we could photograph goats in trees, if we saw any. He told me emphatically that that wasn't done anymore. The Moroccan people don't really let their goats climb into the argan and almond trees and strip them bare. It's not good for the trees. Of course it's not, that makes total sense. Normally, I'm quite objective about these things and wouldn't want to photograph something set up just for tourists but we don't have goats in trees in Chicago and if we saw any, I was darn well going to get my picture!
Our driver knew just where the tourist goat trees were. He pulled off to the side of the road and I handed a few dirham (maybe about 50 cents) to the goat herders. After I paid, a goat herder tried to thrust a baby goat into my arms for a wee cuddle. It was super cute but also dirty. And smelly. And flea ridden. I declined. Politely.
While roadside rest stops in the US are contemporary, plastic-trimmed fast food places, in Morocco, they are quaint, rustic, hand-painted adobe. The toilets usually cost 1 dirham to use (about 10 cents) and may or not have toilet paper - or be actual toilets. In some cases, they are simply a hole in the ground, with ceramic divots to place your feet. If there is an attendant, and you pay your 1 dirham, they will give you a wad of toilet paper when you go into the stall, and again when you come out, to dry your hands after you wash them. If there is an attendant and you don't pay them, you get the evil eye and a very angry Madame! with an open palm as a reminder that you need to pay to pee. Since the average Moroccan income is about the equivalent of $3,000 USD, and a vacation there likely costs double that, if you travel there, I suggest you pay graciously before being asked.
Most of the rest stops also served coffee, had home-cooked tagines steaming over a brazier and had a somewhat dusty little gift shop. The orange and pink azaleas by the gift shop caught my eye at the rest stop in Essaouria since they were so delicate. The crumbling wall behind them was the perfect backdrop, too.
On our return trip from Essaouira to Marrakech, I asked if we could pretty please stop at the women's argan oil cooperative. There, a woman explained how they harvest, shell and make argan oil and the benefits of the oil. Unlike with most muslim women in Morocco, it is permitted to take pictures of these women while they are working at the cooperative. While one of the equine photogs I was with despaired about what an awful life shelling argan nuts all day would be, these women seemed happy to me. They had each other for community and were supporting their families. Most of them were also there for sad reasons - like divorce, abuse or the death of their husband - so when they smiled at me my heart strings snagged just a bit.
At the end of our guided demonstration of the cooperative, we were able to sample and purchase argan oil products. Last year I bought an amazing night cream which really helped my skin stay hydrated through the Chicago winter. The products don't have preservatives so I can't stock up and will just have to keep going back to Morocco every year to refresh my supply...
Interestingly, some of these rest stops will happily take US dollars or Euros. Canadian dollars and British sterling, not so much, but I was often able to pay for water and cappuccinos (both usually 10 dirham each) with dollar bills if the proprietor didn't have change for my 200 dirham note. That's only about $20 USD but they often didn't have the change in their cash drawer for that large of a bill.
On our way to the desert, to Ourzazate, we drove through the Atlas Mountains. It was an incredibly scenic drive and though hazy - as you can see from my images (yes, I used dehaze in Lightroom already) I wanted to stop every 5 seconds to take pictures. Driving through the Atlas was tricky because there are a ton of switchbacks and road quality is rough, as you can imagine, since Morocco is considered a developing nation. There was also construction on a good bit of the road. Some of our group - me included - were pretty green about the gills and it was great to get out, stretch our legs, have coffee and capture the abundant scenery.
Occasionally, on the side of the road in the Atlas, salesman would have trinkets and mineraux d'atlas displayed. Mineraux d'atlas are geodes. The purveyors often dye the interior crystals vivid orange, turquoise or purple. This gentleman approached our van when our driver slowed down. I was too busy trying to take his picture at first to really look at what he was selling. He did not want to have his picture taken so I snuck this one in using the driver's sideview mirror. Afterwards, as we were driving away, I looked at the treasures my friends bought. It subsequently became my mission to purchase a few of these beauties before heading home.
One of the images included in this post is even a selfie. Do you see it?
I love photographing shadows, patterns and textures and the roadside cafes and rest stops really delivered for me. Not only did they all have amazing panoramic views of clouds and mountains, they were lovely, multi-leveled structures with terraces, iron scrollwork and hand-made decorative pots. I fell in love with this staircase and the juxtaposition of the sharp architectural angles with the curvy, repeating shadows.
One of the best meals I had in Morocco was on the upper terrace at this last roadside cafe with the beautiful staircase. For 100 dirham each (about $10 USD), we were served spicy green and oil-cured black olives, traditional flat, round home made bread, vegetarian couscous or goat tagine, a drink and a platter of fruit for dessert. Our meal also included salade al la marocaine, which was usually very similar to this recipe, a mix of diced onions, tomatoes, salt and spices. Delicious!
A few travel photography tips for getting good images while you're on the road:
- When you start your road trip, don't be afraid to ask your travel mates and/or driver if you can periodically stop and shoot.
- It doesn't hurt to chat up your driver or tour guide either, to see if you'll be passing near anything worth taking a quick detour off the main road to see.
- Keep your camera handy. Don't pack it away in the back of the car or in a suitcase.
- If your camera is accessible, you'll be more likely to stay alert looking for opportunities to shoot during long days on the road.
- For this type of photography, I usually travel with my Canon 5D Mark III and 24-105 F4L lens attached.
- Keep an extra battery, memory card and cleaning cloth handy in your easy-to-access camera bag.
- Leave your lens cap off.
- Pre-set your camera so that you're ready to shoot immediately.
- I keep my camera turned on, in aperture priority set at F4, ISO 400 with autofocus and stabilisation both turned on.
- I can usually grab one quick shot with these settings and if there's time, adjust aperture and ISO and shoot again.
- Have your polarizer handy to enhance mid-day landscape, moutainscape and seascape images.
- Using a polarizer, a warming filter or both improves your RAW capture and give you more color and detail to work with when you post-process.
- Remember, you might not always be able to control when you get to shoot something but you can control how.
- Controlling how you shoot will help you determine your vision and how you post process.
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