Morocco totally exceeded our expectations. It is a feast for all the senses. It is a nation of proud, genuinely friendly and (except for motorbike drivers) very courteous people. It’s landscapes are varied and spectacularly beautiful—from coastal blue waters and white beaches, and rich, irrigated farmlands, and ubiquitous date plantations … picturesque villages, snow-capped mountains, rocky gorges, and Sahara dessert sand dunes. Morocco is a country of walled cities—not just its oldest (imperial) capitols like Fez, Mecknes, Marrakech, but also many smaller towns known as kasbahs—which are mostly enclosed within 20-40-foot-high stone or adobe walls. Approaching them is like entering a time machine and going back 6-15 centuries. To meander within each city is like peeling an onion layer-by-layer to discover a bustling medina (marketplace) of meandering alleys containing dozens of workshops, hundreds of stalls selling thousands of food or artisan products, plus several mosques, a beautiful medersa (religious school), and dozens of 2-3 story palaces of former nobility whose plain exterior walls give no hint of the awesome beauty of their interior courtyards or gardens, each with elaborate tiled or mosaic floors and walls, and cedar ceilings, doors, windows, and balconies intricately carved and/or painted with exquisitely complex Muslim geometric patterns. Many of these homes—known as riads—have been converted into bread-and-breakfast facilities, and we lodged in several. Then, outside each walled city is a ville nouvelle built by the occupying French half a century ago (aprox. 1906-1956), mostly in the art deco styles of pre-World War II. In addition, one encounters majestic palaces and gardens—some inside some outside the walls—of different dynastic kings who have each held sway for hundreds of years prior to and following the French. And if all this were not beautiful or historic enough, we were treated to a tour of the ruins of Volubilis, a Roman City of circa 300 AD with extant columns, walls, olive presses, irrigation and plumbing systems, forum, altars, courtyards, and even floor mosaics honoring the Gods.
Noteworthy too was (1) our camel ride in the Sahara to observe a dessert sunset, which included an overnight in a Berber tent (Berbers are among the oldest nomads on the planet) with local food (dinner and breakfast) and Berber music and dancing; (2) our overlap in the desert with an auto rally of 1,200 French mini-Renaults throwing up dust clouds as far as ten miles away; (3) in Maadedd, our visit to a modest Berber family’s 3-story home—a lesson in what you can do with adobe to shelter three generations of family plus a dozen sheep in the middle of a 700-year-old kasbah with a population of 10,000 inhabitants; (4) buying 600 million-year-old fossilized mollusks; (5) having a coke at the Gladiator Bar in Quarzazate, where dozens of historical movies were filmed—Ben Hur, Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, etc., etc.; (6) crossing the Atlas Mountains in snow at 10,000 feet above sea level; (7) visiting the exquisitely beautiful Jardin Majorelle in Marakesh, a lush overwhelming of the senses; and in Casablanca (8) the exquisite Hassan II mosque, newest and largest in the Muslim World; (9) the site of the Casablanca Conference, where the D-day invasion of Europe was planned by Churchill, FDR, DeGaulle, etc.; (10) the 2-mile corniche (beach road), playland of both local and European youth as well as Middle Eastern princes; and (11) two delicious dinners at “Rick’s Café”, a monument to the Bogart movie Casablanca.
Morocca’s cuisine is fabulous—served in ceramic steam-cooker dishes known as tagines. I pigged out on lamb, but chicken, beef, fish, and vegetarian options were delectable as well. Morocco’s breads are to die for–fresh, crunchy, and tasty. Fresh olives, almonds and dried fruit (dates and apricots) are ubiquitous. Most Muslims don’t drink alcohol, but for tourists modestly-priced, high-quality wine and adequate quality beer was still available in most restaurants we visited. I traveled with my own plastic flask of gin for nightcaps.
Our driver, Younes Lafhal, was superb. Considering that Morocco is a country of tail-gaters, Younes demonstrated lightning-fast reflexes as well as prudence in velocity and passing. More importantly, over ten days he answered hundreds of our questions, including matters relating to his family, religion, politics, customs, agriculture, history, sports, and philosophy of life. He was always punctual, good-humored, patient, and helpful. His recommenda- tions for restaurants, local guides, and tourist attractions were most satisfactory. He also saved the day many times as an emergency translator, He speaks remarkably good English.
John, March 2012