Week 121 July 23, 2016

Me to the internet at our AirBnB: “Lebas aleikum?”
     The internet at our AirBnB to me: “Lebas.”
That means in Moroccan Arabic that the internet is better here than last week! In reality I asked how the internet was, and it said it was fine. If you would like to, you can have another look at Week 120 now to see the full array of photos I would have posted but for the internet… but in doing that, it made this week’s post a little late.
As we drove this week to Merzouga to begin our camel ride to a camp in the Sahara desert, we came across what appeared to be clouds that turned out to be a fierce sand storm! At times the only thing we saw out the front window was a sandy haze. Shrubs in the wind – partially obscured by blowing sand – appeared to be walking, while empty soft drink cans summersaulted end over end beside rolling tumbleweed. We have no idea how Mustapha, our driver found his way to the stables, but he did, and safely!  
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At our nomads’ compound – which they call an auberge – for hotel, heavy raindrops joined the swirling sand. We waited out the storm with “Moroccan whiskey” which is mint tea, but the decision was made to ditch our original plan to ride by camel caravan to overnight in the desert. We were told that this sort of storm could last for days. So, we missed seeing the sun set over the Sahara, but, we were privileged to survive not only a sand storm but also witness a rainstorm in the African desert. 
The wind and rain abated, resumed, and eventually abated again, while we were entertained by two extended lightning storms throwing jagged forks in the distance. We sat outside well into our evening of delicious dinner served outdoors, and more meaningful conversation about human rights and politics. We four tourists slept without further storm conditions on mattresses on the roof of the auberge, which seemed to be not out of the ordinary. Our rooms, which had the delightful scent of freshly burned incense, were still too stifling hot, even after leaving the all the doors and windows open.
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We awoke to our alarm at 4:30 for our dromedary ride – dromedary is the right name for these enormous animals because they have only one hump. I named mine Hob, for Love, in Arabic, then Loren named his Bob. We learned that all dromedary rides are given on males, the females are protected for reproduction. I was impressed by how gentle and calm these animals are. I experienced a relatively smooth ride, despite some shifting sands underfoot, and especially in the early morning pitch darkness. The sky slowly brightened and we witnessed a delightful sunrise near the camp where we would have stayed overnight, before our single file return ride to the auberge. I believe the artists for the character E.T. must have used the faces and personalities of these docile creatures as a model in their design…
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Just as the name Anasazi is considered derogatory to Native American Puebloans, and Negro is offensive to African Americans, native Moroccans prefer to be called Amazighen over Berber. Berber, though still heavily used, originally meant Barbarian – for simply “other than Greek” in ancient times, but since it has developed a poor connotation. This will likely take some time to be eliminated from use. From the Sahara desert, we drove to Gorges Todra, also known as Gorgeous Gorges. Todra means water, and water is life. It rained here – yet more water, then it slowed enough for us to take a drive into the gorge instead of our intended walk, as there was the possibility of flash flooding. But that was not actually an issue, so we walked back most of the way, with Mustafa kindly following in the van for safety.
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This week we tasted our first fichi d’India – the delicacy also known as prickly pear -or- tuna -or- paddle cactus fruit, which the locals say is helpful as an “intestinal” remedy. Regardless, it was a juicy, citrus-like treat with seeds. We found tables laden with them along the streets and in all the souks in Morocco, with a man at the ready with his knife to peel one for us should we want to buy any of them.
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We stopped briefly in Quarzazate, which translates to without – quar, problems – zazate. How I wish that were so in all of the world! From there we drove to our accommodation in Aït Benhaddou on the Quarzazate River. Along the way we chanced upon a real live snake charmer, and Loren and one of the girls took him up on having the snake draped around their necks. Once settled in at our accommodation, we all hiked to the top of the nearby fortified city for great views and opportunities for understanding more of the casbah habitation of the days of old, as well as seeing part of where Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator were filmed.
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Here, as with many of our three and four course dinners, Loren and I drank “Moroccan champagne” meaning sparkling water! There are very few restaurants that offer alcohol, wine or beer on the menu. After all, this is an Islamic country, where the faithful abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages. Younes, our guide, has taught us a little Arabic, and here he is isolating the spelling of just the word Shokran said show-kran – Thank You, from the rest of the words on a sign which said Thank you for your cooperation. I even remembered to start looking at the Arabic letters starting on the left and reading right!
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We had our longest drive day of the tour, which included going over the High Atlas mountains on our way to Essaouira for two nights on the Atlantic Ocean. Once there we visited the medina, the beach and harbor, and simply rested in this very popular town, as the cool ocean breezes draw the locals from Marrakech where the summer heats rise well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit until very late each evening. The idea of protection from the evil eye is as important in Morocco as I understood it to be in Turkey. Women in the mountain villages are able to withstand the intense heat in their all black hijab – head scarves, and djellaba – full length robes, in that they believe the black helps to ward off the evil eye.
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Now we are already back in Marrakech. We had a city walking tour of gardens, the palace, medina, souk and main square. I learned more, for example that the many eight pointed stars in the decorative mosaics around the country that I have become so enamored of, as well as the unique shaped windows and doors – a familiar sight of rounded and coming to a point at the top, and rectangular at the bottom, are also protection from the evil eye. We learned that the many geometric shapes in the designs seen in so many places are representative of Allah – God, in the abstract.
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Our small tour group had our farewell meeting, then we enjoyed watching a little of the Olympic pre-trial competitions together, which was reminiscent enjoyment as the football, or what Americans would call soccer, game we watched together at the start of the tour.
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In our 15 day tour of Morocco, and at our AirBnB in Marrakech we have felt very welcomed. We have seen so much of this country in this short period of time. We visited most of the major cities, traveled over parts of the High Atlas, Moyen – or middle, Atlas, and the Anti – or small, Atlas mountains, which separate the Mediterranean Sea from the Sahara Desert. We have stayed in charming villages, visited with some of the locals, and relaxed by the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
We had the pleasure of traveling with two beautiful young women, and were guided and driven by two generous in spirit native Moroccans. Just as we found of our 75 days in 11 countries in south east Africa earlier this year, as well as with most of our over two years of journeying, just 15 days in north Africa’s Morocco feels like a whirlwind visit, giving us only a tiny sampling of all there is to see, do and people to meet. It was most definitely a worthwhile experience. Now we have been to 12 of Africa’s 54 countries… and we will go to another few new – well, to us, countries in Eastern Europe, beginning with Romania, then to Croatia and others in the Balkans.
One final thought this week – I am learning that there seems to be at least one common theme among long term travelers. That the reason to get away is to be able to ponder, reflect, or think more clearly. This is noted in some of Graham Nash’s lyrics to the song, Marrakesh Express with these words:
“Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind, 
   Had to get away to see what we could find.”
For me, I most appreciate being on this journey because I am learning things that I never made time for learning while living at home. And, visiting in person brings a place to life for me. Loren has discovered and repeatedly says when asked about the “best” places we have seen, “It is inside myself.”
PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have decent internet coverage, we may not in the countries that we are visiting in the next few weeks. Please check back, I will post weekly when and as often as I can.

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