Essaouira in Black and White

Charming blue doors and quaint harbour aside, Essaouira is a photographer’s dream.  On my first day there I had enough material to fill a book, perhaps even two.

And so I took a chance the next day and photographed everything in black and white.  I was delighted with the results 🙂

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Essaouira

I fell head over heels in love with Essaouira, the gorgeous seaside town that was the repite from the chill of my sojourn in the High Atlas Mountains and where lunch came straight out of the ocean.

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I could happily live in Essaouira with its orderly Medina and lovely eateries tucked away in the side streets. And the gelato sold on the Square, where I had the closest thing ever to Bangkok’s famed coconut ice-cream.

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The quaint harbour reminded me of Kalk Bay back home, but with a North African backdrop 🙂  It’s little wonder that Essaouira was chosen as a location to film Game of Thrones.

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I could do without the seagulls though.  Their loud shrieks throughout the night kept me awake. So did the accoustics in the Riad where the one towel they gave me was so thin it was fraying.

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Four years ago I made a rule that I will never visit the same place on my Bucket List twice because there are so many other places I still want to see.  I made one exception after visiting Chobe in 2015.  And I will make another for Essaouira 🙂

 

Rabat in the Rain

In central Casablanca we boarded a train to Morocco’s capital Rabat, stored our luggage at a cafe close to the station and set off on a circuitous route to explore the city.  It’s cleaner and more park-like than Casa, with a lovely harbour that’s filled to the brim with colourful fishing boats.  rabat-2-of-3In the background underneath the bruised grey skies you can see the whitewashed Kasbah where the heavens opened up and produced a flash flood that drenched my only pair of trainers and forced me to make my first purchase in a Souk – not a tagine or scarf of delicious fresh dates, but a Made-in-China-bought-in-Morocco umbrella for 30 Dirhams.  The stall owner could have charged 300 and I would have paid 🙂rabat-1-of-3It poured a second time as we were wandering around the Hassan II tower complex (below).  Worried about possible water damage to my camera, we fled back to the comfort of the cafe to warm up on several cups of cafe au lait before heading back to the station for another train journey, this time to Meknes.rabat-3-of-3I would have loved to explore Rabat a little more, but we only had the afternoon and the rain had other ideas.  As cosmopolitan as Casablanca, Rabat is a lot more elegant, better maintained and a lot less hurried.  The train station is central and most of the city’s highlights are within walking distance.  Next time I’ll take a raincoat and waterproof shoes 🙂

 

Sahara Sunrise

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I took over 1000 photos during a recent trip to Morocco, but if I had to chose only one favourite, it would be this shot taken at sunrise in the Sahara Desert.

For me photography isn’t only about skills and good cameras, but also about being in the right place at the right time.  This particular capture is the payoff for sleeping cold in a humble tent during the coldest Moroccan winter in a decade with the wind lashing the tent entrance throughout the night.  I had woken before most of the camp to photograph the sun coming up in the dunes when this small train of camels appeared out of nowhere and crossed my path.

This is what photography is all about 🙂

Crossing the Border without a Passport

Eight days across Southern Africa in an overland truck in December heat can tax even the most robust traveler.  Border crossings from one country to the next can also be challenging in southern Africa, even with the luxury of being from a SADC country which negates the need for visas when South Africans visit countries like Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Thankfully we sailed through the border post from Namibia into Botswana as the skies in this drought-ravaged region tried hard to drizzle.  Predictably though, as we headed from Botswana into Zimbabwe a few days later via the Kazungula border post and despite an early start, we stood around for what felt like forever as officials did the necessary paperwork manually.

Little wonder that this warthog snuck through the boom from Zimbabwe to Botswana while officials weren’t looking 🙂

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Not one to mess with officialdom after my brush with the law in Mozambique two years ago, my paperwork was of course in impeccable order 🙂

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Scenes from Stanford, the village around the Green

Stanford – only slightly inland from the coastal towns that make up the Overberg Whale Route – is the quintessential quaint country village.  Full of charm, artisans, crafters, arty folks and stunning eateries, life centres around the village green.  It’s easy to get lost there for a weekend and the Saturday market is a must visit.

Instead of taking the usual touristy snaps of churches and sunsets, I looked behind the scenes at what makes Stanford so appealing.

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IMG_8916The Stanford Table is among the delicious foodie places with it’s Tapas menu and interesting mosaic designs on the walls.  The freshly squeezed watermelon juice was that delicious I went out and bought a juicer – and of course some watermelons which were in season.

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Following local travel scenes for my upcoming trips using Travelogx

Clarens – Twinkle Town of the Free State

It was an unlikely place for a Capetonian to spend Christmas – in a tiny town in the eastern Free State that seemed at first to be nothing more than a flyspeck on the map – but when a trip to Namibia fell through and my sister suggested Clarens, the name did ring a smallish bell

And so I boarded a plane not knowing what to expect and headed for the sandstone hills tucked away in the the foothills of the Maluti Mountains near Lesotho.

Often referred to as the jewel of the Free State, this twinkling little hamlet surpassed any notion I may have had of a little hub of nothingness where the city-weary flee to retire.  It’s quaint, charismatic and picturesque, yet a surprisingly eclectic melting pot of modern and yesteryear which, combined with day trips to neighbouring towns – all within an hour or so travel by car – it’s a guaranteed  family holiday with something for everyone.

South Africans collectively joke about not blinking as you pass through our small towns in case you miss them completely.  The turnoff to Clarens from the R712 is no exception as there is ….. well ….. no warning at all.  To the unfamiliar, a small settlement hugs the land adjoining the road to Golden Gate from Bethlehem and if you aren’t paying attention you can easily sail past.

The turnoff to Clarens

As accommodation goes, Clarens has plenty to offer.  Although the local hotel is modern and right in the centre of the town (you can park your car and forget you have one until it’s time to head home), there are many holiday homes for hire all year round that capture the essence of life in Clarens, which we opted for.  The plots are large with rambling gardens.  Many back onto the surrounding mountains almost guaranteeing  surprise visits by the local wildlife.  I would wake to the sound of birds long before dawn and open the curtains as the rest of the house slumbered to take it all in.  I was rewarded one morning by a large sandy hare nibbling at the lawn who bounded out of sight before I could rub the sleep from my eyes and grab my camera.

Clarens is more lush than many Free State towns and this, combined with its mild climate, stunning scenery, tranquillity and easy access from Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Durban, make it the ideal weekend getaway.  The many sandstone buildings hewn from the surrounding hills, assortment of great eateries and collection of art galleries scattered throughout the village and surrounds add to the ambience and allure.

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Those who thrive on the visual are in for a treat.  The scenery aside, colours abound in the surrounding mountains.  The Rooiberge encompass the hamlet, glowing coral and fiery red in the sunsets while in the distance, to the southeast, the Malutis stand sentinel over the Kingdom of Lesotho in hazy shades of puce and grey.

For those who can’t just sit back and take it all in, Clarens is also the adventure-seeker’s paradise,  Name your poison – river rafting, abseiling, paintballing, hiking, rock climbing, enduro trails – and the nearby Golden Gate National Park offers a number of breath-taking hikes.  The Brandwag trail is the most scenic but don’t take it on after a buffet Christmas Lunch made by the village’s notorious Phatt Chef like we did 🙂

On top of Brandwag

Brandwag from below

Golden Gate National Park

Inside Maanskerm Cave

Bushman paintings.  Sadly many in the area have been defaced like this.

All in all Clarens is a treat for all the senses.

Historical Tailpiece:  As with many small South African towns, Clarens began as two neighbouring farms which were divided into erven (and sold for fifty pounds each according to the records).  Then in 1912 a commission named the village “Clarens” in honour of President Paul Kruger’s influence in the area.  (He spent his last days in exile in Clarens in Switzerland).  The establishment of the town coincided with the launching of the Titanic.  Coincidentally a rock outcrop  shaped like the bow of the ill-fated vessel stands sentinel at the entrance to the town.

Pastel Sunsets

With climate change you are never quite sure what the weather holds and often the seasons seem muddled.  I went up Chapman’s Peak hoping to capture another glorious salmon or brilliant red sunset typical of this time of year over Hout Bay.  Instead I found a gentle pastel array as the sun slowly disappeared from view,  It was balmy and blissful despite predicted heavy overnight showers and the gathering clouds.

A rhythmic flock heading from Noordhoek to Hout Bay.

Just before nightfall.