April 7, 2010
After about an hour and 40 minutes we finally started to creep forward. When we finally passed the accident, there were two cars completely crushed under the weight of a loaded 18 wheeler sand truck that was now half on the guard rail and half on its side. It was a five car crash with a couple of fatalities.
April 8, 2010
At around 12:30, the second call to prayer was heard, so Kamal left us for about 20 minutes in the Nejjarine Museum so he could go to the Mosque. The call to prayer evokes feelings depending on where I am at the moment. When I am sitting on the rooftop terrace, it feels peaceful and spiritual. When we were in the streets, with thousands of men shoving you to get to the mosque, it felt very threatening and scary. That was actually one of our scarier moments, getting caught in hundreds of men rushing out of a mosque. I felt like I was losing Kamal, and Robin had a hard time keeping up behind me. We felt like we could get trampled, and there were also thousands of bees mixed in with the crush of people. It was a frightening moment.
The highlight of our day was lunch with Kamal’s family. It was his father-in-law, sister-in-law and wife, none of whom spoke English. The house was three rooms total with a small kitchen. Five people lived there. They all sleep in the living room. It was lined with couches, one was bright lime green.
We had vegetable stew with cous cous in a giant tagine. They gave us plates, laughing, because Americans aren’t big on the communal eating. It was comfortable and nice, even though we were a little squeamish about the food issues (what water were they using to cook? etc.) Even though they didn’t speak English, everyone smiled when Robin was peeling a piece of fruit that shot out of her hands across the room. Then she did it again five minutes later when the pit shot out and rolled under the couch. We all had a good laugh. Robin was also cracking me up because she would say “Salaam” to everything. Salaam means “hello” and she was really meaning to say “shookran” (thank you). The meal with the family was the highlight of our day.
From there we went to the Koranic University which was built in 852 and is still used. Again, we were not allowed in but can take pictures from the doorway. Woman and men have their own separate areas. All over the Medina are these small wooden doors which lead to the Koranic schools for boys. The doors to the residences are also very interesting. There are two large metal rings each with a different ringtone. One is for male members of the family, and the other is for males that aren't members. If a man comes to the door that is not family, the specific ring gives the women time to hide. It’s the same for the balconies. The balconies only overlook courtyards inside the homes, so that women can't be seen. On the outsides of the Riad there are wooden, oval protrusions with very small wooden holes for the women to look out. But if you go into the “Mellah” (old Jewish quarter) they have beautiful outside balconies with window boxes, because those women weren’t bound by Islamic law.
Then we went to the Medarsa, which is another school (again, boys only) between Koranic school and University. This particular one was built in the 1400’s. As we were looking up at the beautiful cedar woodwork, the call to prayer came on on the loudspeakers right above us. It was very loud, but the perfect place to hear it. Kamal also translated some of the Koranic verses for us.
We finished up the day bombarded by smells. First, it was the tanneries. Thank God today (Friday) is Holy day, because hardly anybody is working. Had the tannery been in full production, I think I would have thrown up. They give you a handful of fresh mint to hold under your nose, and I never removed it for a second. It was gross with the sickening dead animal smell of the hides. I really could have done without, especially because they really take you there to pressure you into buying leather. We left there and almost immediately went to a small spice souk. Kamal’s wife works there and it smelled a thousand times better! We bought some Argan oil that is native to Morocco and becoming very popular in the US.
Our evening ended with an excellent dinner at the Riad. We ended up inviting Blanca to join us, a Spanish woman who was traveling alone. We gave her “A House in Fez,” which was the book we read before coming to Morocco that made us feel like we already knew the city. I am happy that she has a guide for tomorrow. I wish I had her courage to travel alone, but at least we are here!
middle atlas mountains
April 10, 2010
Today was our ten hour drive through the Middle Atlas Mountains. Even though the road was worrisome at times, I’m glad we did it rather than the boring seven hour highway drive. The frightening part: narrow two lane roads with motorbikes, donkeys, people walking, bicycles, carts, and sheep all on the right side -- while 18 wheelers were coming at us on the left side going 70 mph! Our driver, Reduoane, (or “Red Wine” as Robin calls him) was very conscientious and careful. Even though it felt like we were going too slowly at times, I was grateful for his cautiousness. We are extremely happy with the tour company we used, - Journey Beyond Travel.
One of the first places we went to was the town of Ifrane. In contrast to the poverty you see everywhere else, this town looked like you are in a village in Switzerland. They had Swiss chalets, immaculate sidewalks, and quaint cafes. The town was originally built by the French, who wanted a mountain escape that reminded them of Switzerland. Only the wealthy go there now, mostly people from the United Arab Emirates.
From there, we went up a steep one lane mountain road into the cedar forest. We stopped at this tourist area, where there are hundreds of Barbary apes. Because they are fed by the tourists, they come right up to you. Robin bought three rocks for $24. They were originally asking $42, but I made her barter with them. Of course, that was a huge profit for them since they just picked them up off the ground and polished them. Then, when we went back to our van, there was a monkey on the roof! Red Wine had to shoo him off.
It seemed as though all the men were sitting in these downtrodden, filthy cafes, while the women were working in the fields or washing clothes in trash strewn rivers. The few men we actually saw working were sheep and camel herders, but for the most part it was the women that were working. This pattern was repeated through dozens more small towns, each seemingly more impoverished than the last one.
We finally arrived in Marrakesh some ten hours later. We had listened to the same CD (with maybe five songs) the entire time. It was in Arabic, but Robin said one song sounded like “she waaannttts what she waannnttts” over and over again. As we drove into Marrakesh, palm trees and luxurious hotels lined one side of the street, but with depressing poverty on the other side. Definitely a street of contrasts!
April 11, 2010
Our first stop was the Majorelle Gardens. It was a smaller garden that had been originally been built in the early 20th century, but had fallen into disrepair after the original owner died in 1962. It was eventually purchased by Yves St. Laurent, and is now a small but colorful and beautiful garden. It had many, many cactuses with large brightly colored pots throughout. The buildings inside were cobalt blue. It was so nice to see color again, after the ten hours of depressing, dusty, concrete buildings of the day before.
From there we went to the Bahi palace. It was starting to feel like “if you’ve seen one ancient mosaic palace, you’ve seen them all.” Same blue tiles, cedar woodwork, Koranic verses and keyhole doorways. After that, to the Saadian Tombs. Again, more of the same. This time, the mosaic covered tombs were on the ground. Because they were flat, people were walking all over them. I saw one guide yelling at them in what sounded like French. But I did understand one word – “respect.”
Then we started walking through the Medina. Much more crowded than Fez, but mostly tourists. If we had been concerned about not being covered up enough, that was put to rest in Marrakesh. Women with skimpy tops, short shorts, and boobs hanging out. We even saw a shirtless man, I think he was American. We finally had the courage to wear our short sleeved shirts, because it was much hotter here.
EVERY single photo I took in the Medinas (old walled cities) of Fez and Marrakesh were with my camera down by my side. If anyone caught you taking a picture, they would scream at you. However, I think I got some great shots of the people and culture. But that's not including the 500 deleted photos of the sidewalk, the wall, someone's butt, or the inside of my jacket!
Our first stop in the Medina was lunch at the Earth Café, Morocco’s first vegetarian restaurant. They said it had been recently remodeled, but was still a hole in the wall. However, the food was excellent. We had a vegetable pastilla and a stir fry.
Even though I wouldn't have minded stopping to look and/or buy, we didn't even dare to look. Even if you just look at something, you are immediately surrounded and pestered to buy. Plus, we just hate the bargaining part. We even went to the fixed price store, but the prices were completely outrageous.
Our tour was supposed to last until 5 PM, but at 3 PM we asked Mohammed if we could go back to the Riad. It was hot, dusty, and dirty, and we had stepped in enough animal shit, urine, and spit. Our beautiful Riad feels like a sanctuary amid chaos. So we sat and had tea and wonderful conversation with a different Mohammed, who is the Riad house manager. We talked about what seems to be the Moroccans favorite subject - American politics. I think they're more knowledgeable about it than many Americans!
Just before dusk, we ventured out on our own for the first time since arriving in Morocco. We immediately found out that two women are treated differently when they are out alone than when accompanied by a man. We were stared at often. But our final destination can only be 'experienced' at sunset (and later), which wasn't included in our tour. That destination was Jmaa el-Fna. It's a large, Unesco-protected World Heritage square lined with restaurants and shops. The center has a circus-like atmosphere..... acrobats, monkeys, snake charmers, drummers, dancers, and food stalls. We were walking in the center of the square and were suddenly about 20 feet from the snake charmers, with cobras dancing and their tongues hanging out. I had read on the internet before we left that the 'charmers' stick a snake around your neck and then make you pay to take it off. Since I'm snake-phobic, I became terrified that someone was going to stick a cobra around my neck, so we walked around the edge of the square and stayed out of the center.
We were looking for a place to eat, but not really that hungry. We ended up at a restaurant called Argana on the 2nd terrace, so we could watch the craziness from above at a safe distance. We tried to split a dinner, but the waiter was extremely rude with us. We're not really sure what we did to him; I'm sure it was because we were two women. (SIDE NOTE: Cafe Argana was bombed by Al Qaeda one year later in April 2011. Seventeen people were killed).
But that was not to be! As we were walking out, I snapped a picture of some drummers from very far away. But one of them saw me, and chased me down to get money for taking their picture. (You can see that he is looking directly at the camera). I threw a coin in his hat, but then he got nasty with me that it wasn't enough. He harshly grabbed me by the arm, but Robin turned around and forcefully shoved him back. He then finally retreated.