We spent most of a day driving through barren plains broken only by the occasional herd of goats and sheep, plus a visit to a fossil shop. We arrived late in the afternoon at a hotel in Merzouga, where we would begin our overnight camel trek into the Sahara Desert. Our tour guide, Ibrahim, said good night; a 4×4 drove us and another couple right to the edge of the dunes, where our camels were waiting. Continue reading “The Dromedarians”
Ibrahim picked us up in Fez, to begin our 11-day trip through the rural parts of Morocco. First to the Sahara Desert, and then to the mountains. No one is better-suited to be our driver and guide: Now in his thirties, Ibrahim was a nomad in the desert himself until he was 17 years old. One of 9 children, his childhood was spent tending his family’s flocks of goats and sheep. Camels were their means of transport as they moved from place to place, following their herds in the search for food and water. They lived pretty much as their ancestors had for hundreds of years before them. Due to drought, many of his family’s animals died. They sold what was left and moved to the village of Merzouga, which happened to be our destination at the edge of the Sahara. Continue reading “Ibrahim Of The Desert”
“Je ne comprends pas les plans, et je ne comprends pas beaucoup de français, so, est-que vous parlez anglais?” I actually figured out how to say that while walking to the Maroc Telecom store, without using a translation app! And don’t go commenting that the word “so” is English. I don’t care.
The last time I was in Tangier, I spent the entire week walking around and exploring. Now we were back for just 2 days, and today was Yvonne’s last day of work. The next day we were leaving not just for Chefchaouen, but also for the next phase of our trip to Morocco: Full-on vacation. So today, I took it easy. No exploring, no writing. But first, I had to learn how to renew our cell phone service; even Google couldn’t explain it to me. Continue reading “The Best Fish Restaurant Ever”
If Marrakesh was the “mother of all medinas,” surely Fez is the great-grandaddy. The oldest parts of the city are over 1,200 years old. It looks just like the movie versions of a medina, and for good reason: Nearly all movies set in an old North African walled city are filmed in Fez.
Huge throngs of people buy, sell, haggle, and walk on the cobblestone streets. In Fez, we jump out of the way to avoid not motorcycles, but big hand carts and overladen donkeys. There are no automobiles within the medina. When we arrived, a porter met us at our taxi with a big cart, filled it to the brim with our excessive luggage, and then pushed it on the ten-minute walk to our riad (an old mansion converted to an inn). Continue reading “Danny DeVito Street”
We reached Chefchaouen around noon, to begin a whirlwind 24-hour visit of the “blue city” on the eve of Ramadan. You enter by crossing over a small waterfall where women and men wash clothes with buckets and washboards. There are many myths throughout Morocco about why Chefchaouen is painted blue and white. The reality is that at one point in its medieval past, the Jews of the area were ordered to relocate within the walls of Chefchaouen for their own protection. They decorated their new town with colors that are still used worldwide in traditional Jewish décor. The Jews are gone (to Israel, mostly) but the tradition remains. Continue reading “The Blue City”
If all you have time to do is visit the souks and historical places of Morocco, do it! This is a beautiful country with a remarkable history, and any visit at all is worthwhile. But when you are only spending a little time in the most touristed places, it’s natural to get a very skewed view of Morocco because it seems like everyone wants something. “Come look, just take a look!” can get very tiresome when you’ve heard it 300 times during an afternoon in the Marrakesh medina. The surface view is so exotic for many westerners that it’s difficult to see what’s under it in a short time. Continue reading “Appreciating Morocco”
Since Yvonne had the weekend off, we could explore the medina together. Friday evening we had a delicious dinner of cous-cous and meat brochettes at the Jemaa el-Fnaa. Afterward, we wandered through the alleys. Even though it was nearly 10 PM, many of the shops were still open and we went for a walk.
We met a young man who was putting out food for a cat which was obviously sick; there are an enormous number of feral cats in Morocco’s cities. It turned out that the food was laced with antibiotic, and was provided to him by a veterinarian who distributed the food for free so residents could help the cats. As we talked, the vet happened to come through the alley. She grabbed the sick cat by the neck and put drops in its eyes, then walked a few yards and did the same with another cat she passed. Continue reading “I Almost Sold My Wife”
Well, not quite; the Fes medina is even bigger. Nonetheless, the Marrakesh medina is far, far bigger than the others we’ve visited. That first day, Yvonne and I wandered: Across the huge main square called Jemaa el-Fnaa, into a spice market and through alleys both covered and open, filled with shop after shop selling everything a tourist could ask for. If we were lost in the other medinas, we could just walk in a direction and we’d soon find an exit. But the Marrakesh medina is about 10 km in circumference; pick the wrong direction to navigate the maze and it could take hours to get out. Continue reading “The Mother Of All Medinas”
The train gets underway. As night falls, porters come around and magically convert our seats into beds. They make them up with sheets and light blankets. After a peaceful night of sleep, they come back in the morning to wake us up, and convert our beds back into seats. Another porter comes around with a cart offering breakfast. When we arrive, we disembark rested and ready for the adventures ahead… Continue reading “Don’t You Know We’re Riding…”
One of the joys of traveling is that because everything is new, it’s natural to be more present and open to what’s happening around us. But to be present in this way also requires slowing down. Here in Morocco where there is so much to see, I’m grateful to have enough time to slow down and just experience life. Though I started out yesterday afternoon as a tourist with a nice haircut, it turned out to be the richest day I’ve had here thus far.
After leaving the hair salon, I took the short walk to the corniche along the beach as the muezzin called the faithful to prayer, and waited to hail a taxi to the medina. On the narrow strip of grass sandwiched between the busy boulevard and the paved sidewalk, a man stood barefoot on an old piece of cloth. At first I thought he was talking to himself, but then I realized he was facing Mecca and praying. He prostrated himself several times, lost in devotion as the traffic whizzed by. In the U.S. we would think the man is crazy; here, it’s just life. Continue reading “Living In the Moment”