Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Splendors of Morocco

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

What comes to mind when someone mentions Morocco? Bogart and Bacall? Colorful street markets? The Sahara Desert? Here’s a few things you might not know about this fascinating area of the world.

A Moroccan textile market.

1) Morocco’s population of donkeys is key to its economy. Appalled by the condition of these animals, in 1927 a wealthy American woman donated money to found a free veterinary clinic that still operates in Fez today, which is called the American Fondouk.

2) People love to journey to Morocco for the food, a mix of European, Middle Eastern, native Berber, and other African cuisines. Pastilla, a meat pie encased in a phyllo-like dough, is a popular national dish. Click here to learn how to make your own.

3) Marrakech’s Koutoubia Mosque is also home to the first book bazaar in world history. Almohad Caliph Yaqub Al-Mansur, a great lover of books, built the mosque during his reign between 1184 and 1199. The books and manuscripts the Caliph collected, from the bazaar at the mosque and from other sources, eventually became the collection for Morocco’s first public library.

4) Morocco spends 20% of its national budget on education. Children aged 7 to 13 must attend school, and there are a variety of trade schools and public universities available for further education.

5) Morocco is world-famous for its intricately embroidered textiles. Click for an interactive online exhibition on Moroccan textiles from Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

Now is a great time to visit Morocco. Click here for more on travel to Morocco with Smithsonian.

What inspires you to travel? Please share.

Namibia – A Few Things

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

The quiver tree can live to be 300 years old.

Namibia, on the southwestern coast of Africa, is a place most of us haven’t yet visited. Here’s a few things you might not know about this exceptional country:

1) Namibia has not escaped unaffected from a worldwide profusion in jellyfish populations. In fact, jellyfish have halted seafloor diamond mining off the Namibian coast, as they have managed to clog sediment-removal systems. Jellyfish are part of Smithsonian’s 40 Things You Need to Know about the Next 40 Years.

2) Rather than performing for an audience, the !Kung San people from the northwestern Kalahari Desert region “play [music] for themselves, when the mood strikes them.” Click here to listen to the results, from Smithsonian Folkways.

3) Filmmaker John Marshall recorded more than 700 hours of footage of the Ju/’hoansi (zhun-twa-see) between 1950 and 2000, one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa. Read more about him in Smithsonian Magazine.

4) Namibia has the largest free-ranging population of cheetahs, whose genetic material is being used  by scientists from the Smithsonian National Zoological Park to help save this endangered species.

5) Bartolomeu Dias, the first European to travel to Namibia, arrived in Walvis Bay in December, 1487. We’ll  be stopping there on February 26, 2011, as part of our journey to South Africa and Namibia by Sea.

What makes you want to visit Namibia? Please share.

Splendors of Morocco – The Fabric of Life

Monday, July 26th, 2010
Moroccan textiles to be sold at a town market.

Moroccan textiles to be sold at a town market.

Strolling through a souk, it’s hard not to notice the intricately woven textiles of Morocco. The Smithsonian found these textiles to be so fascinating, they created an exhibit at the National Museum of African Art called The Fabric of Moroccan Life.

The traditional world of Moroccan textiles was predominantly filled with wealthy women, who learned to sew, embroider, and design as young girls. The women adorned themselves with exotic fabric and jewelry both to show their economic status and create their own style. What makes these particular textiles so unique is that Moroccan style borrows from various other cultures -  the dominant influences are Islamic and Berber, but elements of Jewish, African, and Mediterranean styles are also incorporated.

Once married, women would continue to embroider and might have joined harems where they learned and shared their technical skills and ideas with other women. Because these textiles brought critical income to their communities, women also enjoyed a certain amount of creative freedom.

If you were shopping at a Moroccan souk, what would you buy? Jewelry, blankets, artwork, clothing?

Shop at a medieval maze of souks on our Splendors of Morocco tour.

Tribute to the Sands of Egypt

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

The enigmatic Great Sphinx sits on Egypt’s Giza Plateau.

Kate Simpson is President of Academic Travel Abroad, where she began her career as a China Program Manager in 1998 after completing a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale and a post-graduate fellowship in Chinese literature. Kate loves to travel to hidden corners of the countries she loves most. Click here for more on Kate.

Dear Friends,

The tale of the Egyptian Prince Tutmosis III and his encounter with the Sphinx of Giza fascinates me. On a hunting trip in the Valley of the Gazelles some time before his reign, Tutmosis III decided to take a nap to escape the midday sun. He chose the shade below the head (the only visible section) of the Great Sphinx of Giza.

While he slept, the Sphinx spoke to him and told him that, if he dug the Sphinx out of the sand that covered it, he would be assured the throne of Egypt. So Tutmosis III set to work and excavated the Sphinx, the very first restoration of this site, undertaken circa 1400 B.C.E. The story of this dream is recounted on the stelae at the Sphinx’s feet. What captivates me about this tale is the fact that, even in 1400 B.C.E., the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza were already ancient, having existed since 2650 B.C.E., and that the protective layers of desert sand had already buried all but the Sphinx’s head over the preceding 1,200 years.Egypt’s ancient wonders abound, but it is not until you stand within inches of the deeply carved cartouches of Ramses II in Karnak or the stunning turquoise of painted vulture wings on Hatshepsut’s Temple, or the intricate delicacy of King Tutankhamen’s jewelry, that the impossibility overwhelms you.  How can such beauty have survived 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 years?

Vivid colors of a vulture’s plumage on Hatshepsut’s temple

Entering the imposing structure of Ramses III Temple, there is a series of chapels to the left.  Little color remains, and the carvings seem simplified, unremarkable.  It turns out, these chapels date to Alexander the Great’s time—circa 332 B.C.E. Modern, by Egyptian standards! Yet paling in comparison to the elaborate scenes of battle and power depicted on Ramses III’s own temple walls.

Deep in the Temple of Luxor (circa 1400 B.C.E.), past the small area that once served as a chapel for Roman soldiers during the 3rd century C.E., there is a shrine built by Alexander the Great, depicting the Greek king as a pharaoh. Here, you can stand between the outer wall built by Amenhotep III and the inner wall of the Greek shrine. Within a couple of feet of each other, the contrast is sharp: over a 1,000 years pass from the time the Egyptian outer wall was carved to the time the Greeks erect their shrine. Yet, Alexander the Great’s craftsmen lose this contest: their work appears amateurish at best.

Image of Ramses III on his temple

It’s not often that Alexander the Great comes across as lacking accomplishment. Yet ancient Egypt puts many more modern cultures to shame. Even the Romans, who seemed to lack the respect and interest Alexander showed Egyptian culture, appear boorish and uncultured in comparison. The Roman chapel within the Temple of Luxor is made of scavenged temple stones, betrayed by the upside down body parts and images carved on their surfaces.

Reflecting on all the perfection that bears tribute to Egypt’s royal ancestors, I can’t help but wonder what we have lost over time in sophistication, technique, and ambition. And I rejoice in the protective benefits of the sands of Egypt—without them, what treasures would have been lost to humankind!

For information on our educational journeys to Egypt, click here.

An Egyptian Family Odyssey

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
Enjoy riding camels with the whole family!

Enjoy riding camels with the whole family!

There is something exotic and adventurous about Egypt. Every child knows that in a desert somewhere in the North African desert, there are gigantic pyramids, “cursed” tombs, and an abundance of mummies. Exploring Egypt as a child provides an experience that lasts a lifetime, possibly resulting in your child becoming an archaeologist, historian, or diplomat.

You might not expect your mummy-obsessed child to want to  be a SCUBA diver,  particularly in the desert land of Egypt. But in locations like Alexandria and along the Nile River, archaeologists and environmentalists need to go underwater to do their research.

For environmentalists, there is the concern about rising sea levels, which would affect Egypt’s coastal cities and communities along the Nile river. For archaeologists, Egypt’s many shipwrecks and submerged buildings are of great interest, as they provide a record of Egyptian nautical history, as well as many stone and metal artifacts.  These kinds of materials do not deteriorate easily, and while underwater, objects can be preserved from wind, weather and war.

So even if your child wants to be a certified SCUBA diver, you may find yourself visiting her in Egypt someday.

Have you been to Egypt? What was your favorite highlight?

Take the whole family to Egypt! Our Egyptian Family Odyssey has dates available in 2010 and 2011.