Suitcase and World: Memories of Morocco.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Memories of Morocco.

Every country I go to has something that makes it special.  For me, there is so much about Morocco that is special and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the time that I spent there.

We landed in Casablanca and immediately took a train to Rabat. Rabat was not on my original itinerary but I'm so glad that we went and spent time there.  It was first taste of Morocco and it hit the spot perfectly.  My favorite place was the Kasbah des Ouidias; I fell in love with the bright blue and white buildings.

I wasn't expecting much of Casablanca and there wasn't much to see.  The one place that did take my breath away was the Hassan II mosque.  Unbelievable how big the place is and yet with the tile decorations, it looked so delicate.

We did have a memorable moment, in of all places, the Cathedral.  It was creepy place actually because it was empty and filled with pigeons.  But it's there that Soon had his Tebow moment. I don't think that he had ever done the Tebow pose before he was Morocco and I don't think he's done one since he's been back in the US.

Of all the places we visited in Morocco, Fes was my favorite.  I loved walking through the souk;  crowded and noisy but ever so interesting.  I was totally captivated by the sights and the sounds of the men working in the tannery.  Talk about a dirty job but the end product is so beautiful.  I did make it home with a pair of babouches from Fes.  I couldn't wait to see Bab Boujloud.

We went there many times and I never got tired of seeing the gate that is blue on one side and green on the other.

I loved the beautiful zellij tiles that are so identified with Fes; there were so many beautiful examples at Bou Inania and the Nejjarine fountain.

I even loved the riad, Dar Sienna, that we stayed at.  It was so nice to have the entire place to ourselves, almost felt like our home away from home.

But the best part of the Fes were the people who took care of us while we were there - Ahmed, Sayeed and Sabah.  They were there every day to greet us awake in the morning and to check in on us at the end of the day.  Sabah even cooked Christmas dinner for us.


Unfortunately, Fes was also the place where poor Mildred fell and injured her ankle.  Though she was a real trooper about it, I think that being in pain made it really difficult for her to enjoy herself.  Aaron was a good caretaker and looked after her well.

Though it was only a day trip to Meknes and Volubilis, I really enjoyed seeing the two places.  In Meknes, we visited the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail and his stables at Heri es Souani.  From Meknes, we took a taxi to Volubilis.  The ruins are not expansive but they have some beautiful mosaics that still lie in situ.

The only place on my original itinerary that we didn't end up going to was Chefchaouen.  No reason other than none of us felt up to the 4 hour bus ride to get there from Fes and the 4 hour bus to get back.  Instead, we just chose to hang around the riad. After all the days of sightseeing, it was nice to have a day off, so to speak.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was our four day, three night tour through the Atlas Mountains. The first night was spent in a Berber camp in the Erg Chebbi which is part of the Sahara Desert.
We rode on camels out the camp as the sun set.  We  spent the night at the camp and rode back in the morning.  The color of the sand at sunrise is a brilliant orange....just spectacular.  Admittedly, it was a cold desert adventure since it was winter time. Luckily, we were prepared with warm clothing.

The Atlas Mountains themselves were amazing and it seemed like every few kilometers the shape and size of the mountains changed - some places, they were sharp, snow capped peaks and in other places, they were smooth and curvy.  

We did our share of offroading in the Atlas mountains.  For me, the most memorable ride was when we rode deep into the area where the Berber nomads live.  Standing in the harsh, rocky landscape, it was hard to comprehend how anyone could live there.  It was also here that I took this picture of our tour guide, Salah.  If you need a guide through Morocco, here's his contact information.

After I got back home, I was watching TV one night and during a channel surfing break, I stumbled upon a show called "Under the Sun". The show is hosted by a young Englishman named Nathan LeRoy and it basically focuses on organic, sustainable agriculture. On Verizon Fios, it plays on the Veria channel and I've seen episodes in the past. This particular episode was on Morocco and since I had just returned from there, it caught my attention.  A few minutes into the episode, Nathan mentions his guide's name, Essalah.  My eyes and ears perked up.  Could it be? Sure enough, when I saw the guide's face, I instantly recognized it was Salah!!  Later on that night, I sent Salah an SMS message telling him that I had just seen him on TV and he acknowledged that it was indeed him that escorted Nathan Leroy on his trip through Morocco.  Ironically, towards the end of the episode, I realized I had seen that particular segment before!  I never paid any attention to the guide and so it never crossed my mind that our Salah was the same as the one on TV!  Too bad because he took Nathan on an interesting and had I known, I would have asked for the same trip :-)

Watch Episode 1 and Episode 2, on the Veria website, if you want a quick tour of Morocco courtesy of Nathan LeRoy and Salah. :-)  Next best thing to actually being there.

Our trip through the mountains started with a quick stop in Ifrane.  Truly, it looks and feels like a village in Europe somewhere.  In fact, I had the best croissant this side of Paris, in Ifrane.

On our trip through the Atlas Mountains, we also saw plenty of oases and kasbahs on our ride through the mountain region.

Undoubtedly, the highlight was our visit to the famous ksar, Aït Benhaddou.

We had a bit of sea break with a day trip to Essaouira.  The trip two days after having been in Marrakesh and it was definitely nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  I really enjoyed walking the ramparts and soaking in the sun, the sea and all the gulls that hovered over our heads.

We arrived into Marrakesh after four days of being in the mountains and it was nice to be back in the city.   My favorite spot was Djemma el Fna.  Talk about crowded and chaotic!  My favorite time to be in the square was at night when the food vendors were in action.  It's so funny that a hot trend in restaurants in the US are *pop up* places. They've been doing this for decades in Djemma el Fna!

I loved exploring the nooks and crannies aka alleys all around the medina....even though it was frustrating how many times we got lost between our riad and the square.  Grrrr.....
I loved visiting and seeing all the cultural landmarks in the city, including walking through the wildly colorful Marjorelle Garden and marveling at the over the top architectural designs of the Bahia Palace.  The Julee jury is still out on the hop on, hop off bus ride, something I've only ever done once before and I don't know that I would ever do again so long as I can walk.

The big downside to Marrakesh were all the tourists.  The place was flooded with them and there many a moment that I wanted to stray off the beaten path just to escape the crowds. I don't think there is any such thing as peace and quiet in the medina :-(

I had long wanted to go to Morocco and I'm so glad I was finally able to plan a trip there and to be able to share it with my friends.  Thanks go to Soon for hanging around with me on the days that Aaron and Mildred chose to go on their own. 

This travelogue details my trip and includes a selection of the photos and videos that Soon and I took along the way.   Be forewarned that this is a long blog so to make it easier to navigate, I've created a "Table of Contents" (below) which has links to each of the postings. To read each blog posting, simply click the link for that particular posting. Click on the Back button on your browser to return to the "Table of Contents".

I hope you enjoy reading about my travels as much as I did experiencing them!

"Table of Contents"

"Pre-trip Planning & Research"