Salam – Hello in Moroccan! Thank you to all our family and friends who reached out to us again and again with all the turmoil in the world. We always so appreciate hearing from you!
We began this week still in Marrakech. One evening our AirBnB host and her partner made us our first tagine – a traditional Moroccan dish made in a unique cone shaped top pottery cookery and sold all over Morocco. We enjoyed the deliciousdinner with our hosts’ friends. Later we walked with her the long way to Jemaa el Fna – the large square in the Medina. We saw the main mosque lights, with a waxing crescent moon shining behind it. We were a bit taken aback by the crowds – partly because it was the first Friday night out after Ramadan, though it is not unusual to have such crowds on Fridays, or, to have such crowds every night. So, you can choose whichever explanation you like, depending on which person’s opinion you choose to believe!
We three enjoyed fresh squeezed orange juice from among the many OJ vendors. And we walked by the various meat stalls specifically to see the cooked sheep heads. Really! I could not and would not make a photo of them lined up with their mouths slightly open showing their little teeth… Then we went to a rooftop lounge for great panoramic views of the Medina, and we walked us through part of the Souk or Souq – the market, which reminded me of a more upscale version of one that I had walked through in Rwanda in December. As we walked back to the apartment, we enjoyed a snack of fresh dried apricots that Loren had bought, and along the way we came across a fun fountain.
I must correct myself about having my first Turkish Bath in South Africa in February. What I had was merely a steam bath, a timid plunge in a cold pool, and a short nap in a private cubby with a bed. This week I thoroughly luxuriated in a decadent Hamam followed by a massage. In a steamy room, my naked body was doused by the bath house woman using pots full of alternating hot, cool or warm water; then rubbed, scrubbed, doused again; lathered with mud, doused, shampooed, conditioned, and doused once more. After a shower, I rested on a leather lounge, sipping mint tea while watching entertaining Moroccan short films reminiscent of Bollywood style. Then I received a massage with oil and had a catnap before resting again on the lounge. Based on the description I gave Loren of my hamam in South Africa, he only signed up for a massage…
We then met our tour group who are just six people counting our guide and our driver. We left Marrakech, known as The Red City, early in the morning for Casablanca – The White City. On the way in the van, our guide who is a wealth of information about his native country, tried to teach us more Arabic words and phrases. With just two other travel mates, lovely young women friends from New Zealand – one on her way home from a work visa in London, the other about to begin a work visa in London, I have not hesitated to ask my many questions.
We have learned that Morocco has four Imperial cities: Rabat, Marrakech, Meknes, and Fes – meaning that at one time each was the capitol for a different royal dynasty. The current dynasty has reigned since the 17th century and Mohammed VI is King. He and his family are clearly beloved. During “Arab Spring” in 2011, he guided Morocco through a peaceful change of government to Monarchy with Parliament style government, and, the country has their first highly visible female royalty in Mohammed VI’s beautiful wife. There are many tributes to King Mohammed, his father, Hassan II and grandfather, Mohammad V around the country, and people seem expectant that the royal Prince, Hassan III, or dare I suggest perhaps his younger sister, will one day succeed the father.
The country proudly displays red flags with a silk green five-point star – red representing the blood that Moroccans are willing to shed for their country (which they have done with regard to the disputed border with land now known as Western Sahara to the southwest), green for peace, and five points for the five pillars of Islam: 1. There is only one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet, 2. Pray five times each day, 3. Fast at Ramadan, 4. Give Alms to the needy, and, 5. Make a Pilgrimage to Mecca – Hajj – at least once, but that is only if you are able and can afford it.
The name of the religion Islam means Peace, and this country truly feels peaceful, even in its largest city, Casablanca which is home to five million people. We visited the impressive Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Africa and 3rd largest in the world – after Mecca and Medina. This one boasts the tallest Minaret in the world. It holds 25,000 people inside and another 80,000 people can similtaneously attend services – broadcast by loudspeaker, outside. The interior is even more impressive than the outside, well, in a different way.
We also stopped outside Rick’s Cafe – of Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca fame… Then over dinner we had the perfect seats to watch start-to-finish the exciting finale of Euro Football – soccer, where Portugal beat France in an extremely close match that ended in overtime! I was just sorry to see injuries happen to several players.
We traveled on to Rabat – another White City. The cities are nicknamed for the mainly uniform color of the homes and buildings. For Moroccan Muslims, the outsides of their dwellings are supposed to be kept nondescript, to convey the equality of all. Inside they can decorate and differentiate to their hearts’ content. We had a city tour with a guide from Rabat – just as we had experienced during one part of our tour last winter in southeast Africa, our own guide was not allowed to show us around everywhere in Morocco – this allows the local guides of each city to have employment, and gives a bit of time off to our main guide. This city guide took us first to see the Mausoleum/Tomb of Hassan II, where we could look down into the chamber from a balcony..
He also took us to see Hassan tower, visit Oudaia Kasbah – castle or fortified walled city,
the Royal Palace, being on the same grounds as the country’s Pentagon and Royal Mosque,
and, Chellah of Oudaia – an archaeological site of ancient Moroccan culture and gardens.
There was a terrible earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 with a resultant tsunami that devastated several areas of Morocco…
“Are you then sure, the power which would create,
The universe and fix the laws of fate,
Could not have found for man a proper place,
But earthquakes must destroy the human race?”
“Lisbon Earthquake Poem” (1755)
On our way to Chefchaouen – The Blue City, we toured ancient Roman ruins at Volubilis, which, until the 1755 earthquake, were very well preserved. Here we had another local guide with a tremendous knowledge to share from, thanks to his master’s degree in history. This site was partly a Roman military retirement community. In addition to explaining the ruins, he offered interesting stories and tidbits like, SPA (think terme or hamam) is the acronym for Sanum per Acqua – health through water, in Latin of course; and, that originally the swastika symbol which is preserved in many of the mosaic floor designs in the homes meant Peace or Good Fortune too, I found online. At Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains we had a sunset view at dinner after a walking tour of the Medina. With a free morning Loren and I took the hike up to a mosque on a hill for great views.
That evening we had dinner in Fes with entertainment of musicians including one who played the Oud – sounds like rude, but there are no r’s in Arabic, drummers, a magician, belly dancers, and, with some audience participation, was as memorable as the Pastilla, a sweet chicken and honey dish in filo-like dough, a little like the Greek desert, Baklava.
The next day in Fes – often misspelled as Fez, we met our guide for a city tour. Another wonderful person, this woman’s name means Generous. She took us to see a different Royal palace with immense gold doors, the Jewish quarter with colorful products sold,
for the view from an old fort, to a ceramics shop, where the level of detail done by hand is incredible. I had a little fun with the mirrors on the wall for sale, that partially show the meticulous decoration,
then we visited the Medina and Souk. This medina is the largest in the world with 9,500 streets, and is very old dating from the 800’s! The streets are so narrow that only donkeys are used to transport goods. There are lots of goods for sale, from technogical to clothing, jewelry to meats, produce, souvenirs, artwork, crafts, anything you can imagine. We also saw the oldest university in the world, now a Theological school, founded by Fatima who was the wealthy daughter of a successful businessman. Also in the Medina are mosques, schools, residences, and places to eat, with so many intricate stucco and mosaic decorations, as we have seen all over Morocco so far. After lunch, we visited a tannery which smells I could have foregone, then a weaver of silks. We were happy for our dear guide after learning that she is four months pregnant!
Now we have driven through parts of the Atlas mountains, enjoying a morning walk in Ifrane and an evening hike in Midelt. The native Atlas lions are extinct in the wild, but we did get to see Margot monkeys in Ifrane. While some of the wealthier people build large cinder block homes, they only use them for special occasions – the prefer to live in the mud homes of their ancestors, because, unlike the cinder block homes, the mud homes stay cool in summer – without air conditioning, and warm in winter. We culminated the day for delightful tea with a local family before dinner.
Our hearts go out to the people in Bari, Nice and especially again to Turkey this week… where Loren and I would have been had we not decided to drastically change our plans. We had a meaningful discussion after dinner about extremism before waking up to the news of the attempted coup in Istanbul. One thing I am so aware of as we travel is how difficult it is to avoid miscommunication within the same language, much less across differences in language.
This evening we will ride camels into the Sahara desert for an overnight experience under the stars, because it will be too hot to sleep in tents!