Saturday, September 10, 2011


Morocco is beautiful.  It is also overwhelming to all of the senses and especially so, we found out, at the end of Ramadan.  Ramadan, for those who don't know, is the month long religious holiday wherein Muslims don't eat, drink or smoke from sun up to sun down.  This as you can imagine makes them grumpy.  Not surprisingly too, when it is over there is quite a lot of celebrating going on.  Somehow, when we where making our reservations, Peyton and I thought it would be a good idea to arrive in Marrakech for the end of Ramadan, which this year was also the end of August - in hind sight, perhaps not the best idea.

Marrakech we have come to know, is an overwhelming traffic nightmare of taxis (who will only carry 3 people, not 4), motor bikes and lots and lots of people all trying to navigate small twisting roads with no sidewalks, and this is true on the most regular of evenings.  The last night of Ramadan, I would compare to Christmas Eve in Manhattan, but instead in a third world country and with a unimaginable number of motorized vehicles coming at you from every direction  and at breakneck speed in a maze of tiny streets and tunnels.  That first night I felt certain we were going to die just trying to walk down the street.  (I have no pictures of this because I was too frightened to take out my camera.)

It might be news then that Morocco has been our favorite destination thus far.  First, it is the most unlike anything any of us has ever seen.  Next, it was never boring.  Our delight was initially due to the Riad (ancient house built around a courtyard) that we rented for 4 nights in Marrakech.  It was stunningly beautiful, easily ousting the house in Santa Cruz, Ecuador as our favorite place we've stayed so far.

The Riad in Fes (5 nights) was more monastic, with 24 steps between my bed and the bathroom, but still ridiculously beautiful for a house all to ourselves for less than $150 US per night.  Fes was happily less scary as motor bikes are not generally allowed in the Medina (old section of the city) so that the worst you had to dodge was a donkey cart or two.  In addition our Riad there had an absolutely unbelievable view from the rooftop terrace that we enjoyed most every day at sunset as soon as it would cool off enough.

Other than traffic in Marrakech, the most difficult part of Morocco was definitely the language barrier.  What we wouldn't have done to speak a little French, or Arabic for that matter - that plus the fact that they would only put 3 people in a taxi.  We really struggled with this - especially at first.  Eventually we learned to take two - Wilder and I in the first, and Mark and Peyton in the second and just pray we ended up in the same place.  We did this when we wanted to go to the new part of town for a non-Moroccan meal.  Mostly though we ate locally - cafes or even street food.  Mark and kids were fond of the "meat sandwiches."  I was tempted to try the boiled snails (you pull them out with safety pins) but I didn't.  Wilder did eat a camel burger that he said was quite tasty.  We all loved the fresh squeezed orange juice.

During this time I came to decide we are more accurately "living around the world" than we are actually traveling it.  We have settled into a pattern where we book ahead an apartment or house in a residential neighborhood for from 4 nights to 7.  There we move in and explore at a relatively leisurely pace.  A tourist schedule involving full days of sight seeing are just too taxing to keep up over the long haul.  We generally start by finding a grocery store and stocking up with ingredients for at least one home cooked meal, some breakfast supplies and plenty of snacks.  Then we venture out to explore in 2-4 hour increments.  At this pace we can keep up with it every day.

Our outings in Morocco mostly consisted of just wandering and getting lost in the Medina.  These are crazy colorful and vibrant neighborhoods that have lots of tourists yes, but even more locals who are busy going about their lives - lives that other than television and cell phones appear not that different than they have been for hundreds of years.  You see women buying all the supplies to cook the families meals from the vendors that line the lanes and kids carrying loaves of dough to the neighborhood oven to be baked.  Beautiful fountains made of mosaic tiles are used to supply water to the many homes that don't have it.  Hammans (neighborhood bath houses) are still used by many for communal bathing.  After 6 weeks without a pedicure, and feeling a bit ripe from the heat, I tried the more upscale tourist version of a hamman (wimpy I know).  It consisted of being slathered in black soap and scrubbed like a baby from one end to the other.  I don't think I have ever been so clean.

The shopping in the souks is world famous and we could see why.  It was hard to have no budget (or luggage space) for babouches (leather slippers), hand embroidered linen, hammered brass trays and lanterns and those incredible tile mosaics.  Well, actually Peyton did find room in her luggage for some slippers.  I stuck to buying things we could eat.

The local women wear everything from full traditional gowns and head covers to more modern pants and shirts, but most all of them cover arms and legs - even in the 90 plus degree heat.  Peyton and I struggled to look covered up enough not to draw looks while also not baking to death.  Many men wear gowns and leather slippers too, very often in a bright saffron colored yellow.  The guide books all said this color was reserved for men, but none of them said why.  I've been meaning to google it.

Our days are also filled up with laundry, school (or Facebook) and the business of finding and paying for trains and planes and places to stay.  We are particularly addicted to wifi for all of our devices (iPhones, iPods, iPad and laptops) and when we don't have it (our last Riad) everyone is grumpy.  Keeping in touch with our friends and family at home makes everyone happy.  There are definitely times when this trip feels more like an endurance test than an adventure, but there are other times when it feels like the most right thing in the world.  A couple of those for me were during the very scenic 7 hour train ride from Marrakech to Fes and at cocktail hour on the roof at sunset with one of the imperial cities at my feet.

Next we fly back to Madrid and take an overnight train to Lisbon (or Lisboa) Portugal.  We will stay there for a week in the town of Sintra, a historic village on the coast.

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