Morocco – Part 2

Last week you read about the beginning of our Morocco tour! The food was good, plentiful and tasty. Next morning, we toured the city of Marrakesh, an oasis and royal city founded by Berbers over a thousand years ago. Blue blooming trees lined the street into the city. I loved it! I was surprised by an old Jewish quarter. It was very clean in comparison and their flag with the ‘Star of David’ was almost the same as the flag of the country since it also had the same star. I did not know that. The visit of a Berber Market was frightening. Hundreds of entertainers, magicians, snake charmers, monkeys, begging children and thieves tried to get the purses. They would take your camera if you tried to shoot a photo since they believed you would steal their soul. If you paid – the soul was saved! We quickly retreated, found a terrace café on a roof, had a cola and shot pictures long distance. We encountered a woman nursing her child when walking along a small path back to the bus. The baby was approximately eight months old and kept suckling but looked at me when I stopped. It stretched the little hand out to beg. They learn early. A boy, ten years old, told us he makes more money on a day than his working dad does in a month. Asked to leave us, he said, “no, don’t pay, talk, I to learn English”.

Next was Casablanca, a very modern city with wide streets and a large, beautiful Mosque. We were allowed to see part of it and our tour guide pointed out the incredible tile work. We drove by the bar where “Sam” had played the piano… Casablanca is the largest and an important harbour city on the Atlantic. We visited one of the souks in the old part and were warned again to hold on to our purses. Imagine narrow dirty pathways, loaded donkeys and their owners yelling “Baluk – attention”, begging women, pickpocketing kids, “shlepper” offering to save you from getting lost; people pulling at you from all sides, hundreds of small stalls but overflowing with wares. With help of the tour guide I bought a silver necklace with the “Hand of Fatima” for good luck. To gain respect you have to bargain, it is part of their custom. I enjoyed the smells of spices, was intrigued by the colorful silks, and couldn’t resist buying a few meters for a dress. To get it made at home cost more than the material. The seamstress told me it was ‘fake silk’- but at least it was washable. Famous brands, from t-shirts to purses were cheap, everything was fake!

The longest day trip with 380 kilometers was along the coast to the capital city of Rabat. The brief city tour next day was almost overwhelming. We saw the Royal palace, the Hassan Tower built during the twelfth century with an incredible view of the big wall around the Medina (city center) with the narrow lanes and typical Moroccan shops. We had no time to linger and after the next two hundred kilometers we were in Fes, one of the four Royal Cities. I liked Fes best. Three parts of the city were built during different epochs. The famous ‘Blue Gate’, the great walls and many Mosques in and around the old parts were fascinating. Of special interest were the paint pots in one particular area. Workers were busy to tint all kinds of products. I later fell for the beauty of a heavy brass platter with inlaid little flowers on enamel and the star of the Moroccan flag in the center. I didn’t even realize it was the Star of David until Margo pointed it out. It was done by the famous artist who had fashioned the wonderful golden gate for the king’s summer palace.

Our last stop was in Meknes, a city of two parts: the old and the new city. Meknes was the former residence of the kings. Thick high walls surround the old town with the ‘Great Mosque’, the narrow bazaar alleys, and the wonderful ‘Bab Mansour’ leading into the Kasbah and the Imperial city of Sultan Moulay Ismail. It is a monumental gate, completely tiled in green and gold. It was finished by the Sultan’s son Moulay Abdallah in 1732.  An inscription (translated) on top reads:

“I am the most beautiful Gate in Morocco. I’m like the Moon in the Sky. Property and Wealth are written on my front.”      

 

 

 

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Morocco – Dreams of Mosques, Souks and Camels

Ever since I saw the movie “Casablanca” I wanted to go to Morocco. A few years before I realized that dream, I had been in Tunisia. The main memory of it now is a visit to a “Camel Market”. People would buy and sell live chickens, goats, dogs, cats, and wonderful hand knitted rugs plus unbelievable junk. When I asked why the chickens were “live” they said because they don’t have fridges. They keep them until they want to eat them. I was surprised by a huge mountain of buttons. Yes, buttons of all kinds, small ones, big ones, colourful and plain ones. The seller said, “I found them all…”

Do you want to buy a camel? “Don’t come too close,” warned the owner of an extraordinary white one, “it may spit at you.” We asked, “How much is this white one?” The ordinary camels cost about 220 Dirhams. “Oh”, was the answer, “the white camel cost as much as a good wife” – and he pointed to me.

A good wife? Yes! Young men had a tough time to get a wife, especially if they had set their mind on a particular one. The girl’s parents would lose a worker and they needed to be compensated – handsomely!

Casablanca! “Play it again, Sam…” Remember? My dream to visit Morocco came true. I joined an organised eight-day bus tour. We flew from Munich to Agadir, a place with wonderful beaches and lots of hotels and RV grounds for European holidaymakers. Our group was picked up at the airport by a tour leader and a comfortable bus. We were briefed and told some horror stories about masses of children attacking a man with a rental car. We were not to open our purse when children were begging, no matter what. We drove 250 kilometers towards the High Atlas Mountains. Suddenly, someone spotted several camels. Everybody started yelling “stop” to the driver because we wanted to take photographs. With “come right back” he opened the door. We ran towards the camels when a few children popped up. Most of us snapped a picture and returned to the bus, followed by the camels. One unlucky woman was attacked by more than a dozen children since she had tried to give them money. They were trying to take the purse, the camera, and her clothing. The native bus driver, the tour leader, and all men from the tour hurried towards her and in no time the children were gone. We had no idea where they were hiding. There were no bushes! The woman had lost her purse with some money and her camera, luckily not her passport. We had learned a valuable lesson. She was badly shaken.

Approaching a hotel in the middle of nowhere, we expected a comfortable stay because the big sign had five stars next to its name. It took quite long to sort out the rooms. Finally, we were given a key and told to be on time for supper in a special dining room at eight PM. We had almost 1½ hours to get settled. Waiting that long for food when you are hungry? More than enough time to shower, get changed and relax a bit.

I shared a room with Margo. We found it on the second floor. It was furnished with two beds, crisp white bedding, a telephone on a night table, a chest of drawers, and a TV in a corner. The view was directly into the garbage collection area. The glass-less window was open but had wooden shutters set to let the light, the flies, and at night the mosquitos come in. While my companion used the bathroom, I checked out the telephone. No dial tone?  I pulled on the cord to find the plug. There was no plug at the end. O.k., I thought, we don’t really need a phone. Next, I tried to switch the television on. Dead? Again, I checked the cord and found the same result. No plug. That moment, Margo called “Giselle, I can’t flush the toilet. There is no water…” I rushed in; she was embarrassed because she had a smelly job to flush away. I figured the water was switched off – turned the screw under the tank and, viola, there was water! We closed the lid and let it run. She had undressed for a shower. I gave her privacy. Then, another scream:
“Giselle! There is no towel!” Only a thin, ironed cotton square you actually would use as a mat was all there was. I told her to use it. I ran downstairs to the reception. They gave me another of the same kind. Oh my God, what a hotel! Opening the door on my return, water came running out. The shag carpet in the little hallway was soaked and squished under my feet. The water had also run into the bedroom that sported the same kind of shag carpet. Margo stayed in the shower while I shut off the water running over the rim of the toilet. Since the telephone was just an ornament, I ran downstairs again. Frantically, I told them about the flood and asked for help. It took a while until a girl came with a pail and rags and tried to dry the bathroom floor. We had to make do with the squishing carpet for the night. The toilet tank had to be shut off after each use. When we finally got dressed again to go down for dinner, I went to the reception desk. The people were very friendly and now not busy. I asked them,

“Who gave you the five stars for your hotel?” Surprised, and with considerable pride, the man in charge said, “Well, we did!”

Figures! More to come next week…