Note: A slightly different version of this piece was first published on the travel site Journey Beyond Travel
On our first afternoon in the Tangier medina, a soft-spoken, bespectacled old man invited my wife and me to step inside his carpet shop to have a look. When we showed interest in a small piece, he suddenly vanished, to be replaced by The Closer”the younger and rabidly aggressive owner of the store. After being served mint tea and then cajoled, manipulated, pressured, and begged for far too long, we finally stumbled out, exhausted. Undeterred, we continued our walk, dodging one shopkeeper after another, each shouting: English? Espanol? Just have a look! Continue reading “A Week In Tangier”
In the last thirteen months, I had the opportunity to spend more time traveling than in the previous thirteen years. Four months abroad! Three continents and seven countries! Travel by foot, boat, car, train, bus, airplane, and animal!
I’m sitting in the back of our taxi as we drive, looping inland and then back to the Atlantic coast heading north from Essaouira. We’ve just begun the seven-hour drive to Salé, where we will spend our final night in Morroco. The sky is overcast. Forests of thuya wood stretch from both sides of the road, as far as the eye can see. As always, Yvonne is sitting in the front seat so that she can talk to the driver in French. I am half-listening, half writing.
The trees become scrub as we get closer to the sea. Unburdened donkeys graze by the road, no work this morning. Small herds of sheep and goats populate the hillsides, their keepers always nearby. Low stone walls make corrals for the occasional horses or cows. We mount a rise in the road, and suddenly the ocean appears, calm, the beach an endless stretch of sand. Continue reading “A Bientót, Morocco!”
It was so windy in Essaouira the evening we arrived that my hat flew off of my head as I exited the car. That much wind was exceptional, but it isn’t called the Windy City for nothing; this coastal town and its tradewinds are world-reknowned for kitesurfing. The typical weather during our visit was cool and overcast in the morning, even foggy sometimes, while afternoons were sunny and breezy. It was much more like San Francisco than hot Casablanca, which is 200 miles north. Continue reading “Jimi Hendrix, Where Art Thou?”
We went to bed around midnight in Chefchaouen, only to be awakened at 1:30 AM by the loud, rhythmic banging of a drum. It started in the distance and slowly got closer. I looked out the window just in time to see a young man jogging by, banging his drum on the run. A woman across the street was looking out her window also, smiling and watching the drummer as he disappeared and his drum faded into the distance. Finally, the 1-man parade ended as I heard the final drumbeat.
But about 15 minutes later, just as I was falling back to sleep, the muezzin in the mosque next to our hotel called out for several minutes. Loudly. After that, we didn’t awaken until around 8 AM, despite an alleged call to daybreak prayer. Continue reading “Ramadan”
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”
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”