What’s that Smell? Communal Ovens, Morocco

Narrow winding streets define most of the cities in Morocco, at least in the warrens of the medina passageways. The medinas are the oldest walled areas of North African cities. Purposefully designed with tangled winding paths, intended to slow down ancient invaders if they breached the high stone walls of the medina. In Fez, the medina is over 1200 years old and has some of the most beautiful gates in Morocco.  In many of the cities or villages, the tight paths only allow foot traffic, some permit donkeys and in Marrakech, one needs to dodge scooters and a random horse carrying propane tanks. Bellmen use enormous wooden carts to transfer luggage from a street through the circuitous paths to hotel doors.

Chefchaouen Al-Haouta Oven 1540

Moroccans developed a specific cuisine known for a combination of pungent spices. I didn’t visit any supermarkets, I did peek into small single room shops along the path of my Nineteen Day Camel Caravan, and of course, sampled the tremendous towers of spices and olives in the souks. Most Moroccans in the countryside live on what their seasonal gardens produce, making their own olive oil in the fall, grinding wheat into flour in winter. The outdoor markets are bursting with a variety of freshly slain animals hanging from hooks, stacks of fresh fish fill the seafood markets, neatly arranged piles of vegetables reward daily shoppers. Jars of freshly preserved lemons, beautifully arranged glass vessels of green and black olives flavored with chunky black peppercorns. The elegance of the display is as significant as the freshness of the produce. Most locals shop every day for fresh ingredients.

On my previous visit, I hadn’t seen a communal oven or faraane. In the numerous neighborhoods of Morocco, there are five places open to the local public: mosques, schools, public water fountains, hammams, and communal ovens. Follow the scent of a wood fired oven or keep an eye open for the small kids with wooden paddles of dough headed to the local oven. Chefchaouen, the famed Blue Pearl village has multiple public fountains and communal ovens. Many of the small homes in the medina don’t have the luxury or space for an oven, they deliver their molded dough to a baker at a communal oven, reducing the need for burning wood in summer in their home and the location provides the perfect space for meeting their neighbors. For a small fee, the professional baker cooks the loaves and pastries, often delivered on oversize trays. Centuries have passed preserving this practice, the locals dressed in hooded djellabas, and in November, a heavy wool fabric, looking more like snuggly night shirts with a tasseled hood.

Small entrances to the Communal Bakery belie the size of the massive wood burning ovens just steps from the entrance, whatever remaining space holds racks of freshly baked bread or dough waiting to be slid into the ovens. The intense aroma of baking bread may lead you directly to a communal bakery. Communal ovens have been an integral part of traditional neighborhood Morocco society for centuries, a treasured link to the past.

Perhaps the only thing more important than the warm fresh bread itself is the significance of sharing it with another. In Moroccan culture, bread is considered nothing less than sacred. For many meals, it replaces the fork and knife, scooping up juicy Tajine morsels and sopping up the vegetables with bites of bread.

Moroccans love their bread; it is served at every meal, mostly small round loves sprinkled with seeds and very light flatbread, made with white or wholewheat flour with a thick crust.

Always piping hot and served with honey or homemade jams. You will see bread sold everywhere, in round loaves, stacked baguettes, platters of freshly baked bread. Bread is a community commodity.

Public fountains, seqqâya, are scattered about the medinas, some small homes may not have running water, in Fez, there are over 60 public fountains. Many are found near the mosques, which is usually the central area of a medina.  In Chefchaouen, look for the ancient water systems, small open pipes which delivered water from vast canal systems engineered in the 1400’s. Many of the fountains are ornate basins built against a wall with several spigots, elaborate tiles adorn the walls.

Tribal Off the Grid Epic Adventures

Punch Magazine once profiled my firm in their magazine: Going Above and Abroad. The editor concluded the piece with this: If there are cannibals, she is going to visit!

As time passes, a mishmash of age, pandemic lockdown, wisdom and breaking body parts has me noodling a long list of must go to travel locations: Cannibals would be on the list, my National Geographic Lindblad Expedition to the Marquesas was an epic adventure, it was pre-knee replacement which potentially downed me from days of canoe paddling a leafy river to see the Mudmen of Papua New Guinea, bouncing into a Zodiac and hiking to Tigers Nest in Bhutan!

Relish a few of the adventures on the top of my list with one of our extreme adventure teams.

This 14-day adventure itinerary covers the Highlands and remote areas of the Upper Sepik. You’ll have the chance to meet the legendary Mudmen, observing their rituals, and trek up the country’s highest peak. A four-day canoe adventure will take you past the incredible sights and sounds of villages and forests that line the country’s longest river, the mighty Sepik River. A Sepik canoe adventure includes spending several nights in humble abodes in local village. Finish off with some beach time in the white sands of Louisia.

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The Sepik River occupies a special place in Papua New Guinea. It is probably the most known region in the country. The people along the river depend heavily on it for transportation, water and food.


Crocodile eggs are a precious commodity together with crocodile skins, highly praised internationally for their quality. The tribes living along the Sepik River are well known for their impressive, intricately carved spirit houses with soaring gabled roofs called haus tambaran now used to debate village matters. The Sepik people are also world-renowned for their elaborate wood carvings, including shields, masks, canoes with crocodile-head prows, suspension hooks for food, spirit house posts, orators’ stools, ceremonial hooks and drums known as garamut. The carvers are greatly respected by their tribes.

I’m certain if you sip coffee at your local cafe, none of the locals will ever provide as much intrigue as these natives.

Highlights: Meet the legendary Asaro mudmen and learn about their fascinating history; Trek the country’s highest peak, all the way to its Base Camp; enjoy a languid four-day Sepik canoeing adventure; relax on the pristine beaches of Louisia; get well-acquainted with Louisia on a full-day tour, with activities that include the local Tapioca dance, visits to local villages, and a boat trip to nearby islands. Bed down for the night at Kiriwina Lodge.

Intrepid travelers send dates! My knee replacement is now at ‘intrepid’ level!

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Additional Papua New Guinea – Goroka Festival This 14-day itinerary, built around its main highlight, the Goroka Cultural Show, takes you deep into the culture of Papua New Guinea. You’ll be entertained by all kinds of varied traditional local dances put on by different tribes decked out in vibrant ancestral dress, while also meeting with local chieftains, and local villagers who will welcome you with grand smiles. You’ll arrive a visitor to Papua New Guinea, and leave a friend.

Highlights: Exclusive meetings with village Chiefs; get a front-row seat to one of the country’s most entertaining festivals; watch traditional village life as you drift by along the river in a wooden canoe; sip fresh, delicious Goroka coffee.

Enticed? There’s more! Can I tell you about the Gulf Mask Festival in PNG?
Location: The Gulf Mask Festival is held in the Gulf Province located on the southern coast of Papua New Guinea, in a small village of Toare.

While Gulf isn’t an entirely isolated province, it’s a remote region located on the southern coast of Papua New Guinea. Barely served by roads, river and sea remain the main means of transportation. But even with the sea access, small boats stay ashore for about half a year. The southeast trade winds blowing directly into the Gulf bring heavy rains, make the sea rough and the journey dangerous. This remoteness has contributed to the uniqueness of the Gulf culture.

Toare village, with its blue sea and white sandy beach, is an idyllic location. Listen for the growing rhythmic drum beating a signal to start. Proudly wearing the best of their exquisite traditional attire and elaborate masks, the dancers entertain in an assembled group.

Papuans in the Yahukimo Regency Photo attributed to Frans Huby

In PNG, each tribe has its own distinctive attire and ornaments, or bilas. The Huli are known for the wigs made from their own hair. Large round hats made of moss, plants and hair are the identity of people from the Enga province. The Western Highlanders take pride in towering feathered headgear and vivid colors of the body paint. The Chimbus are recognized by giant headdresses made of bird of paradise feathers, an ornithologist’s nightmare. The Elema, the coastal people of the Gulf province, have the trademark too, their intricate masks.

With its stylized facial features, the Gulf masks show diversity in style, shape, colors and size. Ornate, large, tall or narrow, the masks are made of natural materials. Bark cloth, known as tapa, is stretched over a split-cane frame, sewn with plant fibre and painted with natural pigments. Although large, the masks are light-weighted allowing the men to wear them for long hours. It’s a mid-day and the sun is restless. And so are the masked men, who don’t stop their frenzy dancing on the beach, with their eyes staring through masks’ tiny gaps. It feels ancient and tribal. Not so long after, the men representing characters from local legends make the public giggle and laugh with their blunders and silly gestures.

Besides the masks and clay, many men only wear bark loincloth and arse gras, a bunch of leaves stuck into a belt to cover the backside. The women aren’t more dressed up either. Bare-breasted, with big kina shells dangling on their chests and wearing colorful grass skirts decorated with small shells, they are swinging their hips to the beats of kundu, PNG traditional drums. Made from sago palms, the grass skirts are the object of pride of local women.

Websters definesIntrepid:fearless, unafraid, undaunted, unflinching, unshrinking, bold, daring, gallant, audacious, adventurous, heroic, dynamic, spirited, indomitable; brave, courageous, valiant, valorous, stouthearted, stalwart, plucky, doughty; informal gutsy, gutty, spunky, ballsy.

Such an interesting captivating Journey ! Postcards soon, I hope!