Morocco 2017: Part 3

Where does the time go?? Like, really! I have been home two weeks already. Haven’t done much in that time other than work. I was sick the last couple days but I think I have whipped it. Finally am mostly unpacked. Though I have to repack to a trip to my sisters the end of the month. 

So we left off where I was leaving the Gorge. Such lovely, peaceful country. We head back to the main highway and work our way west, toward the coast. Beautiful mountains surround the Road of 1000 Kasbahs. Our drive follows a low river.  You  see green surrounded all around by dry, craggy hills. At one place we stop at a Berber village. Here mud houses are build into the hillside with their goat and sheep herds high on the slopes. 20170414222835It was wonderful place to see this traditional village. A local even invited us in for tea. It was fantastic. You could really see how these people live and had lived for many, many years. We stop at only a few of the 1000 Kasbahs and marvel at the architecture. There are little bit of history in each of them. Low doorways give you easy access to your enemies’ necks and high stairs keep the animals on the first floor. At Ait Benhaddou, we learn that they started putting the granary at the top of the hillside fortified city (as you can see in the picture). This was to keep the crops safe from bandits. Ait Benhaddou is also known for the many movies that were filmed there such as Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia. Many of the Middle Eastern movies have scenes from this area in Morocco. We continue to Marrakesh, the heart of Southern Morocco. We cross the 3rd highest mountain top in Africa. There was still snow on its slopes. In the lower levels of the mountain you see herds grazing and crops growing. Even here in the middle of nowhere people are making a livelihood. The colors are amazing.

Marrakesh is a huge city that all of a sudden pops up. We drove, for what felt like forever, then here we are! It is busy; lots of cars, horse, mules, bikes, and scooters. All moving in some coordinated rhythm that I can’t see. Our driver drops us off for the last time and we make the short walk to our Riad. A riad is like a mansion that has been turned into a hotel. The front door is flush with the alleyway and we have a bell boy who greats us at the door. We are shown to our room, which opens to an open-air square. The details and design are overwhelming as always. IMAG1281We take a guided walk through the medina and if we didn’t have this guide I know we all would be lost.  There are venders everywhere and people pushing and vying for the best view. It is a little overwhelming but the excitement of it all makes it fun. We eat in the square that night. People trying to convince you to eat at their restaurant is a little foreign from the way it is in the states. The food, as always, is fantastic. The next two days we are left on our own. I, of course, spend this time shopping and wondering around the area.   20170417155501The day before I leave, though, I wanted to spend in Essaouria. This is the coastal town about three hours west of Marrakesh. One of my fellow travel companions join me and we begin the trip that morning. Our driver was a little crazy. He was older and just not completely there. I was worried that my fellow companion, a tiny women, was going to kick him out of the vehicle and take over. However, in due time, we made it there. Essaouria is a lovely coastal town with the normal, slower, Island Time. Everything works a little slower on the coast–any coast. We walk through their medina and then out to the pier. There are battlements with canons around the docks and we are able to walk around the top of the walls. We, well she, eat seafood that I am sure was fresh caught that day. Then we stroll along the beach and put our toes in the ocean and wander until we need to meet our driver.  A great way to end a most wonderful trip.

The next morning the lovely bell boy, who I do not think sleeps, helps me to meet my driver for the airport. My flights are easy and on time. I make it into Amsterdam ready to explore but, of course, this is where my good luck starts to fail.  I get off the plane to clear customs and people are pushing and touching and way up in my bubble. It makes me anxious. If you move that extra 3 inches (into my space) you will not get through customs quicker. I make it through and then inquire with an airline agent if I can check my bag now (16 hours early) and they say I should be able to. Well, Amsterdam has a wonderful automated bag checking system. Wonderful if you are not over weight or checking in early. It took me 45 mins to find out that I couldn’t check my bag that early. So, frustrated, I go to look for my hotel ride only to not find one. So I take a taxi, the most expensive taxi ever, to my hotel. There I am told they don’t have an airport shuttle. I showed him the website that said the hotel did. “I’m Sorry,” was my reward. After I got into my room I take a moment to recollect myself then go hunt for food. Here too, there were people trying to get you to eat at their restaurant and I was to negotiate a pasta dinner with a beer. Yummy. I wander around some more and find the bus stop for my morning ride to the airport. Much more relaxed and rested I take my last flight home. It was so nice to see my kitties and sleep in my bed but I would go back in a heartbeat. Morocco was, and is, worth seeing. These people, shunned because of the world’s conflict right now, are the most kind and welcoming people you will meet. I had many offers to come back and visit their homes and be personally guided through their world. It is something I will miss. Their hospitality, I will try to copy in my own life. And one day make my way back to Morocco.

 

Morocco 2017: Part 2

The story continues with us traveling to Chefchaouen; the Blue City. It truly is the most beautiful shade of blue. To come into the city is rather uninspiring. You pass a very well preserved Roman ruin in Volubilis. 20170407165746It is fantastic to see each room still standing, plumbing that still works, and the Victory gate. You feel that you are in Northern Italy instead of Morocco. Mountains and vineyards dot the landscape. You come around a bend and there below you is Chefchaouen. It doesn’t look blue until you are in the city, from far away its white. Once you get into the city you find only the old parts are painted this blue. I am unsure as to why but I do know that blue means dead ends. We had my favorite meal here- the best food in all the trip. It might have taken a scary trip through stairs and alleyways but it was totally worth it. Leavening was sad but we were working toward what I had most looked forward to; Sahara. Traveling to Midelt really took you into the Morocco you think of. Craggy hills and barren lands filled the vista. You can tell you have left civilization behind as green started to disappear. And all of a sudden, in the horizon, red hills which turn into sand dunes. It is almost a let down. The sand dunes are magically there in the middle of nowhere. I expected a work up to the sand but nope there it is. Our  drop off point is still on rough, rocky ground. However, spend an hour on a camel and you will forget that you are walking distance from a hotel. It was amazing to ride into the sunset. The camels tied to one another made a train around dunes and valleys until we came upon our camp. It was very modern for sleeping in a tent. Before sunset we climbed the closest, largest dune. If you aren’t expecting a workout you will be horribly surprised. I nearly gave up half way up the hill. It was deceivingly hard. However, up on top you imagine you are a scout for the tribe. Sand and stars are your only company. You can hear the drums from the camp’s music. It really takes you back 1000 years to when this was a way of life. All too quickly dawn comes and we move to our next location. In M’goun Valley we stay at a Gite or family home (turned into a hotel). The family still lives there and they are very welcoming. One of the many cousins take us on a hike to the next village. We follow paths that wind between family crop fields bordering a low river. I surmise this river, the fields, and path have been here for hundreds of years. This is a livelihood that hasn’t changed just because tourist are around. People still herd their flocks and wash their clothes in the river. It became my second favorite place. (I think, Chefchaouen is my favorite)

Morocco 2017 : Part 1

This trip was my first on my own. I went with a tour group that puts together people and books everything. It is so nice to have someone take the stress out of planning.  I couldn’t have picked a nicer location. MOROCCO!

I began my trip with a 5 hour drive to the airport. It was easy traffic and I made good time. I wasn’t nervous or stressed. I parked and checked in and boarded so easily that you wonder where all this good luck came from. My flight gave me time to catch up on some movies because I was too excited to sleep. I had a layover in Paris and was disappointed that there wasn’t more things in their international terminal.  I attempted to nap while I waited for my next flight. It came quickly enough and I was on my way to Casablanca! Customs went easy and my bag was waiting when I got through. Always a good thing! Once through security, however, I could not find my driver. For about 15 minutes I was in near panic as I tried to figure how to get to my hotel. He finally showed up and got me on my way to Casablanca.

The hotel was quaint and I was rooming by myself. Lucky me! I hadn’t paid the extra fee for single rooms and had expected to room with someone.  20170406101934We met our group and leader and got our orders for the next day. There is not much to see in Casablanca because it is really an industrial city and not touristy. However, the Hassan II Mosque was humbling. It is magnificent and the perfect way to start the trip. The building is detailed beyond imagination and it is very humbling to walk, barefooted, in this holy place. The entire building is immense, as you can see from the tiny person in this picture.

We soon moved out of Casablanca towards Rabat and Meknes.  As you drive you see livestock just picketed on the side of the road eating. 20170406223524There were many people in the fields tending their crops. And green, green things everywhere! When I think of Morocco I think of hot, sandy landscape. How wrong I was! Morocco is anything but dry and barren. Flying into Morocco you see green and the typical square patches of crop fields.

The lush wheat or barley fields could be seen all over the landscape.  I was informed that each field was owned by a family and they, generally, worked them by hand, hoping to produce enough to survive the winter.  20170406223615I had the impression this is how things had been done for hundreds of years.  I remember a field off by itself on a hillside. The wind was playing and tickling the grasses. And they danced and shimmered in such a magical way.  Alive and happy to reach toward the sun.  It was surreal.

Rabat,  Morocco’s current capital city, used to be an old Roman settlement. You can see Rome’s influence in the many pillars and mosaics. The Kasbah (literally “walled city”) is a step back in time. Behind these walls lives an older civilization with traditions many hundreds of years old. You wander around blind alleyways and through a maze only a local knows how to navigate.20170406223544 The blue reminds you of the ocean or sky and the white shows their Arab heritage. It was a lovely walk through this Kasbah. The people were friendly and kind. No judgment or resentment. I was secretly excited to wear my head scarf. However, it wasn’t needed. I never received angry looks for being uncovered. The hospitality of these people is beyond words.

The Medina in Meknes was also a window into a different era. There were piles of spices, olives in many flavors, and fresh meat hanging in vender stalls. It made you feel like the old world was still alive. Many times with a warning of “Balak”  to move out of the way, people with large hand carts, mules, or horse moved through the narrow alleys taking wares to and from stalls. The press of people and the shouting of sellers could be very overwhelming. I was approached many times to look at a vender’s good but never hassled to buy. But I did buy. 20170407115040

After so much traveling in one day and taking in all the sights I was very glad for my bed. The beds in Morocco are firm, very firm. Something to keep in mind if you like a soft bed. I slept very well regardless.

Please stay tuned for more of my awesome Moroccan adventure.

Personal Strength

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I am scared, or rather I could be scared. I am going to a foreign country, by myself, with no other contact then the tour group I am using. I will be gone about two weeks traveling in a country who’s personal believes are far different from my own. I have every right to be scared.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” –Frank Herbert: Dune

It really hit me a couple of days ago what I was going to do. This trip is a huge undertaking. However, instead of panicking I reminded myself all the hours of research that has gone into this trip. Hours researching the tour group, the culture, the language, food, etc. I have probably spent more time researching then I will be on my trip. That is OKAY! In fact, that is perfect. By giving myself all the information I can find, I will be able to enjoy the trip.  Now thinking of this trip I feel only excitement and the normal anxiety that comes with traveling.

I feel that more people should put the time and effort into learning about their goals and adventures. Perhaps if we had more information at our disposal we would make better judgment calls. It also helps to have an open mind too and a willingness to experience the world around you.

So as I board my plane to fly to Morocco keep in mind that I probably wont be able to post a whole bunch or respond to comments. However, I will post pictures asap. Send me happy thoughts and prayers as I embark on this most excellent adventure.