January, 2006


Morocco is not the kind of place that’s easy to describe in words and pictures. It’s a bit like describing a symphony or a car race the same way. But I’ll try :-)


So the first thing that should be noted is that Morocco is a Third World country with many of the amenities and luxuries that we’ve grown accustomed to not being easily found and often not found at all.


For just one example here was the panorama visible outside of my hotel room in Casablanca:



But who cares? You don’t come halfway around the world to nitpick over such stuff – or you shouldn’t. it’s all part of the fun and adventure of visiting somewhere very different than what you’re used to.


I knew before I arrived that Morocco was famous for peddlers of all sorts being pushy on getting you to buy all sorts of trinkets whether you had a need for them or not. And this part proved itself true before jet lag was over. An innocent enough request for the time turned into a conversation about where I was from and what many things to see in the area. Things like, I soon discovered, this guy’s uncle’s shop that specialized in jallabas, the traditional dress of the berbers.



Even though it wasn’t really my speed somehow I felt compelled to buy the thing and decided I’d be a little wiser the next time around.


Casablanca would be only my meeting point and within an hour or two of the jallaba-buying spree we were on our way to Rabat, seen below



This is the capital and residence of the king (yes, king!). the city is a little more downbeat than hyper-hectic Casablanca and included a few touristy stops like a walk through narrow, color-coded streets

The ruins of the southernmost Roman settlement:

The mausoleum of someone famous:

And the spectacle of seeing orange trees used as streetside decoration (they’re everywhere in the country):

Also by this time I’m noticing that cats are also everywhere and are a communal pet of sorts looked after by everyone. Interestingly, I hardly saw any dogs.

Food in Morocco is rather monotonous in variety but what there is is nonetheless delicious. Here I’m sticking to the old standby of brochettes which for some reason they don’t call shish kebabs, the Arab term that we’re used to!

I didn’t come to Morocco solo – I was part of a small tour. In fact, small enough that it would otherwise be called a private tour were it not for the fact that we had a couple of other tourers who for a number of reasons didn’t show up. So it was for the most part just me and my tour group leader and whatever local guide we happened to be with. Here the group leader, Christian, is negotiating a cab fare

And after much debating and solemn bantering we’re on our way to Volubilis, the ruins of a once-prosperous ancient Roman settlement about an hour north of Rabat.

Don’t miss the stork on the leftmost column. Like cats, storks are common in the region and these animals seem to really take it easy and hang out in their nests most of the day and pleasing themselves with the occasional and loud clack-clack-clack noise.

We make it to Fes, perhaps the most scenic city on the tour and to me much more interesting than world-famous Marrakech. The city is laid out in three distinct zones the oldest of which is composed of almost TEN THOUSAND crisscrossing alleys and pathways (they would call them streets but at a maximum of about 10 feet wide I think alley is a better term). It’s quite easy, and actually desirable, to get lost along these darkened alleys that feel like nothing else on earth of being somewhere truly exotic.

The alleys are not just passageways to apartments and so on but are lined with countless stores offering a repeating menu of shoes, food, metalware and similar items. Seeing sooo many of these little stores carry one of a handful of the same kind of item made me wonder how any one of them could make a living. The stores themselves were packed to the ceiling with their specialty.

One must imagine while looking at these images that the whole of the experience includes a visceral experience that includes wild smells and the noises of a million people talking and jukeboxes playing Moroccan ditties (or American rap). My guide casually leans over one hole in the wall to reveal not another store but a classroom stuffed with kids!

All of them, and teacher, seemingly occupying an area fit perhaps for a washing machine and dryer. Eventually the local guide takes me to the tanneries which is what Fes is most famed for.

Although I was told to prepare for an unprecedented shock to my nostrils it ended up being pretty mild on that regards. More of a nuisance were the leather goods peddlers doing their best to get me to buy locally made jackets and seat cushions. With a good deal of persistence and diplomacy on my part I was able to resist their efforts this time. Next on the itinerary was a spice-cum-drug stor. I noticed an odd jar some ways off that interested me more than the spices the owner was trying to get me interested.

To which with surprising nonchalance he tells me is opium poppies. “Good for nerves”, he says.

One leaves Fes southwestward into the mountains that divide the country. At higher altitudes one is forgiven for wondering whether we’re still in Africa. This image would seem to have been taken in any continent but

As one descends from these snowy altitudes the scenery gives way to an arid landscape. It probably says so right here on this sign except I’m not sure ;-)

And within a few hours drive, we’re in the real deal

The highlight of the trip would be a camel ride into the Sahara itself where you get to camp in a berber nomad tent. How cool is that?

The oddest thing about riding a camel into the desert could be the camel which is a very naughty, ornery animal that makes noises exactly as does Chewbacca; that is, if Chewbacca were gurgling and in a bad mood.

I too can look like a snobby desert dweller. See?

With the experience of staying a night out in the desert under my belt the next day we head back towards the coast. But we’re a long ways off from there. First we go through the village of Tineghir

 And on to Todras Gorge, a hundred-foot wide split in mountains as tall as the Empire state building.

Sedentary and unaccustomed to high altitudes though I am I chose to climb to the summit, a journey that took several very arduous hours. The summit was spectacular but in a way even more interesting would be a single nomad family that happened to live nearby in, literally, a cave.

Here a small member of the family plays while Dad carves out a new room

From the gorge we ride back over the mountains of the south Atlas range

And finally come across some greenery (here a an oil tree farm)

And on to the coastal city of Essaouira, once home to Jimi Hendrix and other era hippies

Once famed for its harvesting of sea mollusks that yielded purple dye it gave Hendrix the inspiration for his Purple Haze tune. It is also a city steeped in everything to do with fishing and the locals believe the color blue drives away the flies so it’s a predominant color in the city.

From Essaouira we headed to our final city destination of Marrakech but by then my camera’s battery had died L


Morocco is a great travel destination. Next time I go (for there will be a next time if I can help it) I will just make a point to learn some French to better blend in with ordinary Moroccans.