Friday, December 27, 2013

A Visit to Fossil Factory - Rissani, Morocco

The rocks are wet with water to make the fossilized critters visible
The fossils in the rock become visible when splash with water
Rissani is a remote desert town in eastern Morocco, near Erfoud and according to the 2004 population census, it had about 20,000 people then. It is not far from Erg Chebbi, the magnificient desert.  After traveling a few miles in the region of Er-Rachidia, we made a brief stop at one of the fossil factory to see some interesting fossil crafts which will actually make very nice souvenirs to carry home.  They make all sorts of goods from small figurines, ash trays, plates, mugs and  to huge items such as tables, sinks, bathrooms  and home decorative items.  

The guide explained that the desert area of Morocco was once a sea more than 400 million years ago.  When the sea receded, the critters died and later became fossilized.  Today the fossilized rocks are mined and it becomes a growing popular industry in this part of Morocco. Some of us bought pendents, rings and very small items as souvenirs - anything bigger than that can be quite heavy to take home.  You also need to be careful with the authenticity of the fossilized products as there have been instances where fake fossilized items made from cement and shaped in moulds are mistaken for real. 

Trilobite Fossil
Several artifacts made from fossil stones
Fossilized Squids
They call it - Desert Rose
Moroccan Amonite
The guide showed us some fossil stone blocks
Beautiful plate from fossil rock

The Artisans of Fez - Fez, Morocco

Carving on a gold plate

The man patiently working on his piece

Rambling in Fez medina would be more meaningful if we understand the history as well as the culture of the locals.  Fez is more than just a religious city, trade and artisans flourish from medieval until today.  It is a paradise of artisans and traditional authentic crafts is all over the Medina.  If you have a lot of time, it would be wonderful to explore the Medina and get yourself lost among the 9,000 little shops but if time is your biggest constraint then hiring a trusted guide is the best option. We tried both, getting ourselves lost in this medieval walled city as well as hiring a professional guide.

We were lucky to have an excellent guide, Khalid, who introduced to us several crafts and artwork available in the city. We stopped to have a glimpse of some artisans working on silver, gold and camel bone.   The artisans are very skillful as they have inherited the trade from one generation to another for hundred of years. The medina though congested, is divided into various sections
Lovely intricate design on the plate

Unlike our earlier experience of getting lost in the crowded Medina, this time with Khalid, we moved from one section of the souk to another with great ease but sharing the narrow streets with the donkeys can be hard. When we heard men shouting "Belek, Belek!" surely behind us will be the heavy laden donkeys trying to make their way.  

Very effective time management - in just half a day, we were able to get to most part of the Medina. We went to the metal section, the tannery for the leathers, the food section, textiles section, copper and wood section. Several names of the sections in Arabic were mentioned by Khalid, like Attarine,  Daraqqin, Saffarin and I lost count of them.
We bought this beautiful piece as a wedding gift for a friend

Copper, silver and gold plated plate for the wall decoration
Beautifully decorated pieces
The chest box is made of camel bone and wood
Mirror decorated with camel bones
Hand-crafted tombstone 
The man working on the tombstone
Beautiful jar made from pieces of camel bones
Hand-made cooking pots

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Baiturrahman wa Baiturrahim - Banda Aceh, Sumatera, Indonesia

Baiturahman Mosque entrance from rear
Baiturahman at night
Baiturahman is the biggest mosque in Banda Aceh and amazingly, this mosque built in 1612 and some claimed 1292 has survived through several calamities including the massive 2004 tsunami with only minor damages. During the Dutch invasion in 1873, the original mosque was razed to the ground and in 1877 the East Indies Governor General extended an olive branch when he offered to rebuild the grand mosque.  Designed by an Italian architect in the North Indian Moghul style, the mosque was finally completed in 1883 and not surprisingly, many Acehnese hesitated to pray at Baiturahman - most likely to show retaliation towards their conqueror. 

Today, this mosque is a dominant landmark in Banda Aceh and in 2004, when the town was struck by the tsunami, many locals took refuge in the mosque.  This mosque has survived from several quakes and even after the tsunami, it suffered very mild damage.  Almost every nights of our stay in Banda Aceh, we were here, assimilating ourselves with the locals and some did realize that we're not one of them. In Ramadhan, every night, they have talks delivered by the local scholars and most of the time the 2004 tsunami is reflected in their sermons and the people are reminded of a bigger calamity is yet to come. When I glanced through the crowd around me, I once again imagined...these people must be in their teens and twenties in 2004.

In Ramadhan, the mosque is filled with the locals 

Terawih in the women's hall
There are many pillars in the mosque
Everybody dispersed after the prayer
Taking a rest after terawih prayer
The beautiful exterior of the mosque is clearly visible even at night
This picture is taken from Medan Hotel, Aceh

Completely refurbished 

Baiturrahim is an old mosque of  Ulee Lheue in the settlements of coastal Aceh which were largely destroyed by the mega earthquake which unleashed the 2004 tsunami. A port town, Ulee Lheue was completely swept away by the tsunami and only a portion of the Baiturrahim Mosque was spared. Due to its close location to the sea, this mosque was seriously damaged during the tsunami.  Today, the mosque is completely renovated and like Baiturrahman, this mosque has its historical importance among the locals. The Dutch burned the mosque in 1873 and since then the mosque has undergone several rehabilitation phases to accommodate the increasing members of its community.  

In 1981, this mosque received aids from the Saudi government to enlarge its capacity; from a mosque which could hold prayers for 500 people, it was renovated to accommodate more than 1,000 people. But two years after its completion, earthquake struck Banda Aceh and the mosque's structure survived with severe damages to its roof.  Floods, earthquakes and the unprecedented tsunami has battered this mosque but still today it stands tall to serve the community of Ulee Lheue. We spent some times observing the mosque's interior and exterior and wondered what's next for Baiturrahim!
The interior of the mosque
The white wash exterior gives the mosque a fresh look after the tsunami

Visitors from other parts of Indonesia taking a break


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dining Aceh Style - Banda Aceh, Indonesia

I find it difficult to eat when everything in the restaurant menu is on my table!

Small shrimps fried with garlic, shallots and green chilies taste delicious
Indonesian cuisine is full of diversity, largely influenced by its geographical and ethnics factors. Although some of the dishes resemble Malaysian food but the uniqueness of the Indonesian food differs in terms of its ingredients and blend of spices. But hot and spicy is still the key element of Indonesian food.

We were invited for iftar at a local Aceh restaurant in Banda Aceh. While waiting for iftar, I stared at all the dishes on the dinner table. I'm hungry but there is no way that I could eat all these food! "Do you cook like this at home" I asked Ika. "Oh..no" she replied "but during gathering or any festive occasion, we do cook as many dishes as possible" she continued. I counted the dishes and there were about 20 of them and I was told, there will no charges for the untouched dishes. I wondered, "How would they know that the food is not tempered?" Misbah told us that the restaurant workers would somehow know!

"Ayam Tangkap" (Catch the chicken)  - taste real good
The call to break fasting in Banda Aceh is the siren, loud enough to tell everyone that it is time to eat.  Among all the dishes served, "Ayam Tangkap" (English translation: Catch the Chicken) is the "star" of the night. One actually has to rummage the pieces of chicken in the piles of curry leaves and pandan leaves...interesting! Simple but tasty, and within minutes the chicken is gone. With very short dinner time and the Magrib prayers to catch we end up eating just a few dishes.  It was a good experience with Aceh food and as a result, we were in search of "Ayam Tangkap" everyday and everywhere in Banda Aceh for the next few days!

Crab in thick spicy sauce
Among the dishes served

I counted them - about 15 dishes
Almost everything on the menu was laid on our table - Banda Aceh
Patiently waiting for the iftar time
This is our iftar in Takengon
From bottom right - Prawn, Chicken and Beef and the potato cutlets