Morocco

Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Traveling the train through clear Moroccan skies
Ducks and pigs and chickens call
Animal carpet wall to wall
American ladies five-foot tall in blue
~Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Marrakesh Express

One of the reasons I love travel is to be kicked in the nads….metaphorically speaking, of course…sending me stumbling, teary eyed into a new reality where I am overwhelmed by the unexpected, shocking my consciousness into a state of acute awareness forcing me to take in my surroundings with all the wonder of a newborn laying eyes upon its mother’s smile for the first time. I find joy in being unsure what I will experience when stepping off the plane in a new country. I enjoy having to walk off balance, breathing in new aromas, being slapped in the face by new weather patterns, hearing a new language with rhythms that confound my ears, immersing in a confusing culture that redefine my notions of the way things are ‘supposed’ to be.nads….metaphorically speaking, of course…sending me stumbling, teary eyed into a new reality where I am overwhelmed by the unexpected, shocking my consciousness into a state of acute awareness forcing me to take in my surroundings with all the wonder of a newborn laying eyes upon its mother’s smile for the first time. I find joy in being unsure what I will experience when stepping off the plane in a new country. I enjoy having to walk off balance, breathing in new aromas, being slapped in the face by new weather patterns, hearing a new language with rhythms that confound my ears, immersing in a confusing culture that redefine my notions of the way things are ‘supposed’ to be.

Before living in India for 18 months, most countries I visited were, to some measure, nad kickers (even merry old England where I was the recipient of queer looks when I asked for a slice of cheese on a chicken sandwich). Compared to the functional chaos of India, every place I have visited since seems tame, subdued, gentle. Morocco was our first African country and our second predominantly Muslim country. I was hoping the mysterious Morocco I had seen in film and heard in song would be an adventure similar to India.nad kickers (even merry old England where I was the recipient of queer looks when I asked for a slice of cheese on a chicken sandwich). Compared to the functional chaos of India, every place I have visited since seems tame, subdued, gentle. Morocco was our first African country and our second predominantly Muslim country. I was hoping the mysterious Morocco I had seen in film and heard in song would be an adventure similar to India.nad kickers (even merry old England where I was the recipient of queer looks when I asked for a slice of cheese on a chicken sandwich). Compared to the functional chaos of India, every place I have visited since seems tame, subdued, gentle. Morocco was our first African country and our second predominantly Muslim country. I was hoping the mysterious Morocco I had seen in film and heard in song would be an adventure similar to India.

This was not the case when we entered the country through Casablanca. There were no camels, Humphrey and Ingrid were long since dead, few men with long beards, fewer women wearing a hijab. It felt like we were still in Chicago albeit a bit warmer than when we left half a day previous.

Yousef & Me

Still, it was an exciting country. There were many experiences in Morocco we relished, only one coming close to the nad kicker status I crave, only one inspiring to the point of jaw-dropping awe. And it was only my wife experiencing the awe because I was laid out with the flu for two days in a stifling tent with barely enough strength to ward off the incessant flies never experiencing the spectacular waves of soft, color changing sand contributing to the vast and invigorating and mysterious Sahara desert.nad kicker status I crave, only one inspiring to the point of jaw-dropping awe. And it was only my wife experiencing the awe because I was laid out with the flu for two days in a stifling tent with barely enough strength to ward off the incessant flies never experiencing the spectacular waves of soft, color changing sand contributing to the vast and invigorating and mysterious Sahara desert.nad kicker status I crave, only one inspiring to the point of jaw-dropping awe. And it was only my wife experiencing the awe because I was laid out with the flu for two days in a stifling tent with barely enough strength to ward off the incessant flies never experiencing the spectacular waves of soft, color changing sand contributing to the vast and invigorating and mysterious Sahara desert.

The places we wanted to visit were separated by great distances. So, we decided to hook up with a private tour company. It was me, my wife, and our driver, Yousef, for the entire 10-day trip. He was awesome and helped with translations from English to Arabic and other local dialects. This came in especially handy when I had to see a doctor with whom I did not share a common language.

Eats

Our first meal was lunch at a seaside restaurant in Rabat. The amount of food on the plates astonished us. When served we thought, how can anyone eat so much food in one sitting? And we thought this would be a vacation where we added inches to our waistlines. Thankfully, not all meals were as massive.

Tagine is a common dish with varieties all over Morocco. I ended up eating quite a bit of the Chicken tagine enjoying the nuanced flavors in each location. The best was at the Riad in Fes. Surprisingly, to us, pasta with red sauce was a common dish in the country. We ate it once while in the campground in the Sahara. It was the evening’s meal.

No meal was complete without a cup or two or three of the mint tea. It’s a staple in Morocco. You can find people drinking it anytime day or night with our without a meal. The pouring is also part of the ceremony. The tea pot is held high with the tea pouring in a long stream.

The Riads

Most of our lodgings were in Riads, traditional Moroccan houses with an interior courtyard that had been converted to guest houses. From the outside, a riad is nondescript, plain, tall walls without windows to see in or to see out. One wonders how pleasing, natural light can enter. They are almost mini fortresses but without the peepholes to point guns at oncoming enemies.Riads, traditional Moroccan houses with an interior courtyard that had been converted to guest houses. From the outside, a riad is nondescript, plain, tall walls without windows to see in or to see out. One wonders how pleasing, natural light can enter. They are almost mini fortresses but without the peepholes to point guns at oncoming enemies.

Entry is through a door, generally made of glossy wood ornate in a way that seems out of place with the unremarkable, windowless walls. It’s as if someone wrapped a gift in a beaten up old box then added a delicate bow.box then added a delicate bow.

Inside is a completely different story. It was ugly duckling transformed into a beautiful swan. They were quaint, beautiful, and hosted by warm, welcoming people. At one time, the riads were homes typically of the wealthier populace. It was an authentic, uniquely Moroccan experience.  The rooms themselves were on the small side but the size was more than offset by the roof terraces giving a broad view of the cities, the inner courtyards, and the quaint dining rooms holding but a few people where we were served delicious food.ugly duckling transformed into a beautiful swan. They were quaint, beautiful, and hosted by warm, welcoming people. At one time, the riads were homes typically of the wealthier populace. It was an authentic, uniquely Moroccan experience.  The rooms themselves were on the small side but the size was more than offset by the roof terraces giving a broad view of the cities, the inner courtyards, and the quaint dining rooms holding but a few people where we were served delicious food.riads were homes typically of the wealthier populace. It was an authentic, uniquely Moroccan experience.  The rooms themselves were on the small side but the size was more than offset by the roof terraces giving a broad view of the cities, the inner courtyards, and the quaint dining rooms holding but a few people where we were served delicious food.

A Mosque, A Mausoleum, & Ancient Ruins

What do a Mosque, a Mausoleum, and Ancient ruins have in common? At one time, the Ancient Ruins were also beautiful and ornate creations. In the distant future, the Mosque and Mausoleum will also become ancient ruins. It’s inevitable. Entropy will have its way. Decay settles is and, like cancer, eats it’s way through the healthy buildings until once ornate structures built to last forever crumble and are covered until they are unearthed by a future people, a future race to be rebuilt to a shadow of their original grandeur.do a Mosque, a Mausoleum, and Ancient ruins have in common? At one time, the Ancient Ruins were also beautiful and ornate creations. In the distant future, the Mosque and Mausoleum will also become ancient ruins. It’s inevitable. Entropy will have its way. Decay settles is and, like cancer, eats it’s way through the healthy buildings until once ornate structures built to last forever crumble and are covered until they are unearthed by a future people, a future race to be rebuilt to a shadow of their original grandeur.

Given an either/or choice between visiting ruins or modern structures, I would probably choose the ruins 6 out of 10 times. I enjoy the sacred aura emanating from the ancient structures. It’s a different aura than that radiating from modern structures, buildings still in the throes of youth. The former are venerable, learned, more subtle requiring a keener focus to sense the slowly decaying vibrations. And there is the illusion of time. The ruins feel like they will be gone tomorrow while there seems to always be time to visit a modern structure.aura than that radiating from modern structures, buildings still in the throes of youth. The former are venerable, learned, more subtle requiring a keener focus to sense the slowly decaying vibrations. And there is the illusion of time. The ruins feel like they will be gone tomorrow while there seems to always be time to visit a modern structure.venerable, learned, more subtle requiring a keener focus to sense the slowly decaying vibrations. And there is the illusion of time. The ruins feel like they will be gone tomorrow while there seems to always be time to visit a modern structure.

Hasan II Mosque

Our tour of the Mosque was from the outside looking in. There was a tour of the inside but we missed it without really worrying figuring we could get inside tours of other Mosques. Such was not the case. Nonbelievers were not allowed into any of the Mosques we saw in Morocco. It’s not a policy I agree with but one I have experienced with other world religions. At the magnificent Meenakshi temple complex in Madurai, India, a temple with roots reaching almost all the way back to the 6th century BC, we were forbidden from entering certain Hindu only sections.

Previous Mosques I had visited in Istanbul were round in their superstructure with round minarets. I expected the same in Morocco but all the Mosques were constructed with right angles, squares, rectangles, cuboids. Goes to show one should travel and leave expectations behind.

The doors were another dimension. Graceful, angular, sexy. Gorgeous with all their stylistic additions added by artisans.

Mausoleum of Mohammed V

There are two entrances to the Mausoleum. Both are guarded by soldiers on horseback. Two stationed at each entrance with an awning to protect from the sun and a sand pit to isolate their hoofs from the hard cement.

There are four doors entering the tomb. Each door is guarded by a soldier. Inside, a soldier stands in each of the four corners. So far, there are 12 soldiers guarding the tomb of a dead man. I think they were more to keep people away from what looked like a gold covered casket than they were to protect the remains of Mohammed V.

Part of the surrounding grounds are ancient ruins. Long unused pillars in linear arrays lined much of the open space with partial brick walls forming the barrier. It felt at once old and young, ancient and modern.

Chellah

Not far from the mausoleum was Chellah, an ancient Roman fort. There were some good sized structures still partially intact and a lot of low-lying walls that used to be rooms.rooms.

Storks, harbingers of luck, and their massive nests were common at the tops of some walls. They are said to bring harmony. These birds are protected in Morocco.

Volubilis

Volubilis seems to be in the middle of nowhere on a great plain with views well into the distance. Why an advanced civilization would build here was beyond me especially since there was no water anywhere near. Perhaps there was centuries ago but now there was none. And it was in a very hot place. We were there in October which is relatively cool. I can’t imagine being stranded way out here in the heat of summer.

The three most prominent memories I took from Volubilis are pillar lined streets, arched doorways, and intricate mosaics. The main road is lined with tall pillars, centurions standing at attention as one walks down the main thoroughfare. Either end is attended by an arched entry gate.

There was a building with about 10 arched doorways. These were tall. Three or four people tall and a couple of people laying down wide perfect for mass entry and exit from the building. Perhaps it was a government building or a place of worship or a place to frolic. Whatever, they were impressive and reminiscent of the repeated arches at the Hassan II Mosque.

Due to dust from the surrounding plains covering the ground, the mosaics were not as colorful as I would have hoped. One gentleman with a strong German accent accompanied by his wife and daughter pour some bottled water on the horse riding mosaics showing the color hidden beneath in all its richness. It was a trick, he said, he learned on another tour. I was amazed that the tiny stones still held so much color after a couple thousand years. Oh for a bit of rain to wash the grime away so all the mosaics could pop.beneath in all its richness. It was a trick, he said, he learned on another tour. I was amazed that the tiny stones still held so much color after a couple thousand years. Oh for a bit of rain to wash the grime away so all the mosaics could pop.

Chefchaoun – The Blue, Blue Maze

Chefchaoun was not part of the original tour package. Having seen some pictures of the blue city, we arranged for an added day to ensure it was part of our itinerary. Before getting some information from a guide on our second day there, we frequently walked up streets that dead ended while wandering the narrow, undulating, winding ways. We were rats navigating a maze. Our guide informed us, if the street is painted blue, it’s a dead end. The unpainted ones were through ways. This tidbit of local knowledge buoyed our solo navigations.through ways. This tidbit of local knowledge buoyed our solo navigations.

The walls are painted blue four times a year ensuring a visual freshness. The city is also known for doors, blue doors, ornamented blue doors, decorated blue doors. I could easily have spent the entire two days photographing the blue doors. (I have a thing for well crafted, wooden doors).

We ate dinner at the city center. It was about a 15-minute walk from our riad. Without sky for navigation and not a single straight street, I was unsure of the path to and fro. My wife, however, who tends to be directionally challenged had no problems getting to either location. Something about the layout feeling like the town in which she grew up.

We ate dinner facing the streets, watching the people, listening to the many languages, the dialects, the sartorial choices. The people are smiling emitting waves of energy. They are high on life as alcohol is a rarity in these parts. The verve emanating from the people invigorate me. I love being immersed in the global village.

Narrow Streets of Cobblestone – Fes

We stayed in the old part of Fes, the section founded around 800 years after the death of the Christ. Not very old by European standards but ancient by US standards. Getting there we traveled through new Fes, a city that would look at home in just about any part of the world with modern cities, a city with tall buildings and wide streets. A city unlike Fes with narrow streets of cobblestone most too narrow for cars but perfect for two-footed ambulations.

We were not able to take the car to our riad. So, from the city gates, our hosts came with a wheelbarrow type cart to transport our luggage to our accommodations. This was the oldest and biggest riad in which we stayed extending three stories into the sky. The roof top provided an amazing view of the night time city lights.

Old Fes was another place we had a guide for a few hours. Without him, we would have taken days to cover the same ground and spent much of our time lost in the labyrinth in the clutches of the Minotaur Lost for neither of us brought a thread to help retrace our steps to the entrance.

Highlights of the Fes Tour

The narrow streets are easily covered up high to keep out the rain so many sections found us walking in shade giving an almost eerie feel. One street was so narrow, my shoulders nearly brushed the opposite sides. It seemed more like we were walking in hidden passageways of an old castle with recessed and hidden doors than walking in streets. There were homes and shops just the other side but the thought never occurred until we walked through one small door into the open space of a large riad turned into a restaurant. The bland book cover obscured the fascinating story within. The dreary looking exterior hid airy space, shining wooden furniture, and mosaic tiled walls.

Central to old Fes is a Mosque. We were not allowed to enter but were allowed to peak through the one open door through another and saw some people in prayer. The outside of the Mosque was ornate and boasted some amazing doors.

Fes is known for leather. We watched some of the labor intensive process from a factory balcony. Definitely not a job I want. We were hoping to find leather goods at a decent price. Fat chance!  Even after negotiating, an important skill I learned living in India, the prices were at least 3x what I could get in the states. I left without any leather goods.

 

The Sahara & Sickness

The Sahara, the ultimate sand desert, was to be the gem of our trip. I have long been a desert aficionado preferring it to jungles, to forests, to mountains. Over the past years, my wife has grown fond of the desert. The sand dunes in Death Valley hooked her. The Shara would prove to build it into a passion for her.

The Shara was the location we both eagerly anticipated for the months coming up to the trip. We were scheduled to stay in a luxury campground in the heart of the desert enabling us to walk from our tent directly into the vast reaches of sand. And for my wife, this dream came true.

We arrived late in the evening and could see the sand dunes, giant waves in silhouette. By the time we four wheeled to the campground, the sun had set. We were led to our gorgeous tent with Moroccan rugs, electric lights, and a fully functioning bathroom with shower. Later that evening we had a meal of spaghetti. We picked up a bottle of wine on the way but neither of us had a taste for it that night.

Just getting the wine was an ordeal. Morocco is a mostly dry country. Our driver took us into a little speakeasy type bar with a few patrons watching TV and drinking to pick up a bottle.It seemed on the seedy side.

We chose red. It was stored in a refrigerator like the ones in a convenience store where pop is stored. He took our money got us the bottle. As we approached the door to exit, he gave the bottle to me. He had no desire to be seen with a bottle of wine in his country. It all felt like we were back in the US Prohibition era.

I woke up the first morning to shoot the sunrise but found myself feeling under the weather. My wife told me to go back to bed and wait until the next day to watch the sun rise over the pink sands. I agreed.  A few hours later, I awoke with a fever, the flu and my back seizing so bad I needed help simply to get out of bed. Then the floodgates opened in the lower regions.

I spent the entire day in the tent flipping between sleep and sweat and nausea and diarrhea while fighting off the incessant flies drawn to my sweaty, feverish body. Eventually, the campground people brought me a combination air conditioner fan, of which I only used the fan, to blow the flies away.

My wife returned every so often to help me get to the bathroom. One time I fainted and she needed to call for help to get me up and back to bed. I was completely helpless and relied completely on her continued acts of kindness.

We left late on the third morning. I was in so much pain, I needed the help of two people to get me into the car. Once in the car, I laid on my back with eyes closed. I caught the merest glimpse of the sand.

I was pretty much laid up for the 2nd half of the trip, 5 good days and 5 miserable days. I was finally able to eat and walk on my own the last day for the flight home. We never got to drink our wine to the setting sun with our bare feet in the sands so she gave the bottle to a couple at the campground. Being sick in the Sahara was a definite kick in the nad experience but not the type I was seeking.

My wife did have time in the desert. She took a few walks and an early morning camel ride. Her camel was blonde.  She experienced both the rising and setting of the sun with long shadows. She experienced the intense brightness of the midday sun. She told me stories of how the sand changed color from pink to red to brown to white and back again to salmon with the setting sun, about its softness, about the exquisite solitude, about being able to hear one’s heart beat in the stillness. When she told me of her experiences, there was and continues to be a far away look in her eyes as if she had undergone a mystical experience.

 

Marrakesh

We were in Marrakesh for a day but I never saw any of it. I was stuck in my room. My wife took a guided tour and said it was an interesting place especially the main square where a lot of people hung out.

We will be going back to Morocco again. We will return to immerse ourselves in the rolling sand waves of the Sahara and to delve into the nightlife in Marrakesh.

Street Life Photos

People are people wherever we travel. I like photographing them in their native places in native garb going about their daily lives. I have found, we all have the same desires – health, happiness, a good life for our family. There are some differences in the way we define these things and some nuances as to how we go about reaching these but, in the end, we are all the same at the core.

 

Flowers Photos

There were quite a few flowers in bloom but the harshness of the light meant it was difficult to get the photos I wanted. These are a few of my favorites.

 

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About David A Olson

I often find my mind wandering to various subjects, subjects that make me stop and think. The blog, Musings of a Middle Aged Man, is a catalog of those thoughts I muse upon as I search for significance in life. I am the father of 3 children and the grandfather to 2. I spend my days working for a medium sized multinational corporation where I am an Agile Coach. I view myself as a Servant Leader, have a passion for leadership, particularly, in helping people develop their individual leadership skills and abilities. In October 2012, I went to India on business. After a week of being there, I still had not talked to or texted my 7-year-old grandson. He asked his mom, "Is Papa dead? He hasn't texted me all week." To facilitate communication now that he and I no longer live together, I started a blog for us to communicate. It's titled, "Correspondence Between Luke and His Papi". In April 2013, I moved to Pune, India on an 18-month delegation. It's an adventure that was 1.5 years in the making...The experience is captured on my blog, "The Adventures of an American Living Abroad" My two latest blogs are "The Learning Leader", a topic I have been studying since 1990, and "Lipstick on a Pig", a foray into the fashion sense of this middle aged man.
This entry was posted in Africa, Casablanca, Chefchaouen, Fes, Marrakech, Merzouga (Sahara), Morocco, Rabat. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Morocco

  1. Pingback: Belizean Waters | Adventures of an American Traveler

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