While travelling through Morocco last year we visited the beautiful and tranquil fortified town of Asilah. It's situated in the northwest tip of the Atlantic coast only 30km away from Tangier. The town has mediterranean whitewashed houses with blue coloured windows that may feel like out of a Greek island postcard!
Asilah was conquered by the portuguese in 1471 but later abandoned in 1549 because of an economic crisis. In 1692 the town was taken by the Moroccans under the leadership of Moulay Ismail, the town served then as a base for pirates through the 19th and 20th century. By 1829 the Austrians punitively bombarded the city due to Moroccan piracy.
Trying to preserve the beauty of the town and its history a major plan to restore it was undertaken in 1978. Today it remains a popular seaside resort for many Moroccans and Europeans. It hosts annual music and art festivals, including a mural painting festival. The food here is a delicious blend of Berber and Mediterranean influences and they serve a large range of mediterranean fruits and vegetables. You can find traditional dishes like the Tajine (slow cooked savory stew) showcasing their lamb, meat, rabbit and even camel! notoriously spicier than middle eastern food! Also, when in this coastal town, you cannot leave without trying their absolutely mouth watering seafood and local beer!
Luckily for us our friend Paula Urquijo lives part of the year in Asilah and helped us to get settled in our riad (traditional moroccan house) and made things easier for us in general. Things like getting around and bargaining in the local shops! You can do some extremely fine shopping if your budget allows you to. I'm talking bargains for some of the finest hand knotted moroccan rugs, dowry jewelry in antique shops, great local leather wallets, bags and jackets (make sure they don't smell a lot of them do!). An unwise shopper not willing to bargain might pay 10 times the price so don't be afraid to lower the price! Wandering the crowded alleyways can be a rush with all the smells, the sounds and the colours but if you are adventurous enough you might leave with more than what you expected!
After a long hot day of walking around and exploring every alleyway the town has to offer, it's time to enjoy a nice cup or two of delicious herbal tea in one of the many cafes. We recommend you find one that has live music. Berber folkloric music dates back 5,000 years and gathers influences from all over the north of Africa. It is with good reason that The Master Musicians of Jajouka did collaborations with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and with William Burroughs.
When photographing these places one must be very polite and first try and understand the culture. Know that the women don't like to expose themselves and that you need to establish some sort of connection first. You have to click with these people before you click with the shutter. For example the street vendor in purple, I took that photo after purchasing some spice and talking with her for a bit then I gestured politely if I could take a quick snapshot and she nodded affirmatively. Her eyes were closed as she was still talking but I feel that photo is good as she looks as if she was praying to herself. Of course there's a few moments that happen in front of you and you may need to capture it as quick as you can, like for example the woman waiting with the hand in her face and the photo of the pink ice cream truck that would have been quite a nice photo on it's own but as soon as the woman in pink walks into the shot the photo becomes much more interesting. So keep an eye out, Morocco is very photogenic.
Travel light! The versatility of a zoom lens like the Canon 24-105mm 4L IS and the luminosity and sharpness of a fast prime like the Canon 50mm f/1.2L is all you really need because remember, not all of the equipment in the world matters if you don't know how to look. So just react to what you see and take many, many pictures. Digital cameras allows you to do this and then do your selection and manipulation in post but from time to time we like to work with film. Somehow photoshop and the ease with which one can produce images has degraded the quality of photography in general. Having a film roll with 36 shots makes you think about your subject, composition and framing before you click. It also has that authenticity and warmth than only film can produce, so if you don't already own a film camera we suggest you try a disposable camera first and then see how it goes from there! Sending the roll to develop, or better yet, developing it yourself if you have the time and space! then the wait and expectation to see what you got! Old doesn't necessarily mean worse, in fact youd be surprised at the results! The photo below was taken with an old Pentax k1000 while visiting the viewpoint of the town just in time for school recess where girls and boys had some snacks before heading back to class. Lastly remember to enjoy your surroundings, take a moment to be there in that place don't just see it all through the lens.
Having the time to discover the Moroccan culture, their traditions and enjoying the rhythm of their daily life as Paul Bowles well describes it in his memoires, brings to every traveller the feeling one must stay longer and go further. One day we'll continue eastbound through the middle east and hopefully follow the steps of explorers like the courageous and adventurous Gertrude Bell. These writers inspire us to explore the breathtaking ancient world that awaits us. We hope you enjoyed this week's post remember to like and subscribe for more! Oh and share with all your friends!