Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Sahara Desert

Aboard a camel, we approach the dunes of Erg Chebbi

The land around these huge sand dunes is flat as a pancake and bone dry. The palm trees appear to be engulfed by sand dunes. Likely the desert has encroached on them. This process is called desertification, a subject I plan to deal with in the next post.

Is this dragonfly alive or dead?

We were awakened (if we actually managed to sleep) to observe the sunrise over the Sahara. We got out of our warm bedding and climbed the dunes surrounding our camp. It is not warm in the desert at night. The dragonfly was likely just responding to the lower air temperature and would come to life once the sun rose, and warmed it up.

There is vegetation in the Sahara

If you, like me, assumed that the Sahara was only sand, it would come as a surprise to you to see that there are many clumps of grass to be seen.

Animal tracks

While waiting for the sun to rise I noted some tracks, but could not even imagine what animal might make them.

Shadows at sunrise

We were infatuated with the shadows and the lower the sun was, the longer the legs of our camels were! But it was difficult to take pics as camels do not give a smooth ride!

My daughter, and behind her, Lisa

This pic shows some of the vegetation on the dunes.

It was about 2 months ago that I was there. was such a great trip. I absolutely love reviewing my photos.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

To the East of the High Atlas Mountains

Well done Jackie! Yes, the Sahara Desert in on the lee side of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

So we were on our way to our camel trekking excursion when our guide stopped to point out this plant to us. It is an amazing plant as it was by far the largest plant around and the only broad leafed plant I had seen for hours.

Our guide told us it was called Calotropis procera. Today I did some research on it.

my daughter checking out Calotropis procera

Common names include Apple Of Sodom, Rubberbush, and Giant Milkweed. It is a member of the Asclepias family, and is related to the lovely orange flowered drought tolerant garden plant commonly known as Butterfly Weed. It is one of the few plants that neither goats nor camels will eat.

the flower buds

It seems it is being considered for cancer treatment. From the SciELO website:
"Calotropis procera, a wild growing plant is well known for its medicinal uses in traditional system of medicine for the treatment of variety of disease conditions that include leprosy, ulcers, tumors and piles... The milky white latex obtained from the plant exhibits potent anti-inflammatory activity in various animal models that is comparable to standard anti-inflammatory drugs... It has been well established through various experimental and clinical studies that drugs possessing anti-inflammatory activity also exhibit anti-cancer properties."
The dried seed pod

And from the Herb Society of America website:
" is a magnificent shrub, reaching 10 feet tall, with large silver-green leaves, clusters of waxy purple-tipped flowers, and inflated pale green seed pods. The pods split open when ripe to release silk-tufted seed to the wind. The latex is poisonous, containing digitalis-like compounds that affect the heart, and is used to make arrow poison. Medicinally, the acrid sap latex is used to treat boils, infected wounds and other skin problems in people, and to treat parasitic skin infestations in animals. It also yields ash for making gunpowder, and extremely strong fiber."

the seeds

There are a number of interesting comments from people growing it in Florida on the Daves Garden website. It seems that the plant is a favourite of Monarch butterflies.

What an interesting plant!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Onion Storage and Storks in Morocco

There are onions in there!

Our guide informed us that these structures are for onion storage. I use the word "structure" loosely as there are no walls. It seems the onions are carefully insulated (straw and dirt?) from the cold and wet so that they last through the winter and the season over which they are sold is therefore greatly extended. It was impressive to see the numerous neat rows with the yellow tarps.

Storks in Ifrane

Soon after the onion storage we started to see the storks on rooftops. I was totally smitten and took pics of every stork and nest that I saw! The storks are considered to be good luck so despite the mess that their nests bring, they seem to be happily tolerated, even in the upscale city of Ifrane, where everything is new. Kinda reminded me of Banff, in Alberta.

More storks in Ifrane

There is a ski hill near Ifrane, but on Feb 6 it was long closed. Spring has come much too early to Morocco this year.

Me on the left, our guide in the middle
and my daughter on the right

We really enjoyed our guide!

Morocco has the High Atlas, the Middle Atlas, the Anti Atlas and the Sahro mountain ranges. These pics were from the Middle Atlas, which usually receives plenty of snow, however not this year. After the mountain ranges a rain shadow effect kicks in in a big way. Anyone know what is to the east of these mountains?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Bahia Palace In Marrakech, Morocco


This tall poinsettia was growing in the garden of the Bahia Palace in Marrakech. It must have been 15' tall. A far cry from our little Christmas plants! As a grower of houseplants in a northern climate, I find it very amusing to travel to these plant's native lands and see the plant as it is meant to grow.

Banana Flower

A single large flower grows at the bottom of the string of fruit. I looked up banana flower on Google Images and it seems they are quite spectacular when open.

I am surprised that they point upwards rather than down. Moroccan bananas are smaller than what we get in North American grocery stores.

Interior of Bahia Palace

Every square inch of the walls were intensively decorated in this palace that is just over a hundred years old. The rooms vary in size according to the importance of each wife or concubine.

A fountain with floating rose petals

On our way to the palace we spied this fountain in the courtyard of a restaurant. The water was flowing and the sound was lovely. It was magical. Marrakech has thousands of roses planted in the parks of the city, particularly on the way to the airport.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Almond Trees Were in Bloom in Morocco

almond blossoms

I had spied many small trees in bloom as I travelled inland from Tiznit to Tafraoute. Some had pink blossoms, others white. I had wondered if either of them were almond blossoms and it turned out that they both were.

almond tree near Tafraoute

Not all of the almond trees in Morocco were as healthy as this one. Unfortunately many were much shorter and scrawnier.

The Tafraoute area (south of Marrakech) has an almond blossom festival every year, around mid to late February. I was there in late January so I missed it.

between Agadir and Marrakech

Travelling by bus from Agadir to Marrakech I was in awe of the almonds in bloom in the valley below the road. Unfortunately it is a little difficult to take pics through a bus window, while it was barrelling along.

A few days later I hired a driver and asked him about whether or not almonds self-seed themselves, as I am used to seeing fruit trees planted in carefully laid out rows, while these almond trees were helter skelter. But I was told that almond seeds do not produce a tree that will produce good almonds and therefore all must be grafted and then planted. So I think that some of the trees that are growing in difficult places (see up the hillside in the background of this pic) must be self-seeded and those growing healthily, though not organized, are grafted plants.

a typical shop, this one selling dates (many different kinds),
raisins, dried apricots, almonds, and garlic

I also found it interesting to note that almonds in Morocco are not cheap. In the Tafraoute area they were $9/kilo and in Marrakech, for the tourists, they were $13/kilo ($6/lb). In a bulk store here we buy them for $10/kilo.

Generally in Morocco the prices are not indicated. You must bargain. There is one price for the locals and another for the tourists. I have read that Germans, Americans and Japanese pay the highest prices!

What is unusual is that in Tafraoute and at the carts in the Jemma El Fna square in Marrakech, the prices of the dried fruit and nuts were clearly labelled.