26 Feb 2014
Dec. 26, 1992- Well the trip did not begin as I had expected. At JFK airport we were informed that the flight was overbooked, so I managed by arranging a flight with Kuwait Air to London and then on to Morocco with Royal Air Maroc. The 6 hour flight to London was long, but the 8 hour layover made it seem short in comparison. I asked if it was possible to leave Heathrow to sightsee in London but I was informed that it would be impossible. Finally, my flight was called and I boarded flight AT 917 with RAM to Casablanca. Three hours by plane was almost a relief following the past 14 hours.
Dec. 27, 1992-Casablanca is incredibly gorgeous at night from the air. You are able to truly get a sense of how large a city it is. Abdel and Chakib met me at the airport. It was such a relief to see them after such a long day. Yawn. The very first thing that struck me was that all the car headlights were yellow instead of the familiar white and that the speed limit posted was 100 km/hr. Once at Abdel and Chakib's home I was finally able to meet their brothers Mohammed and Nabil. They spoke very little English and I spoke no Arabic but we were able to laugh together bridging any culture gap. I also met Abdel's aunt and his sisters Samira and Ilham. That night to welcome me to their home, the men gathered around a low round table in a beautiful room filled with mosaic and carved plaster ceilings. We shared soup and salad of potato and lettuce, followed by a platter of lamb. Finally, I slept.
Dec. 28, 1992- I awoke today at 11:00 am Morocco time and walked, literally, into a different world! Chakib and I walked to a small market for a newspaper, then returned home for mint tea and pastry with butter and honey. Delicious. After a very late breakfast, we got into the pick up truck and headed to the beach. It's winter here, although T-shirts are plenty of protection from the 70 degree weather in Casa. The blue green ocean and many minaret of the city surrounded me in the unfamiliar, but I enjoyed the new beauty to me. Upon arriving home, we were greeted by 3 whole chickens with olives and fresh baked bread, prepared at home and backed at the community bakery down the street from their home. Now I relax and wait for Chakib to return home. Into downtown Casablanca tonight. Tomorrow we begin our journey!
Dec. 29, 1992- How could I forget! Last night, while downtown, Chakib got us into the Mosque of Hassan II, the 3rd largest in the world which was under construction. He told the man at the gate that we were with the construction company and that the supervisor would be very upset if he found out that we were stopped from entering. The mosque was truly incredible! It was the largest, most detailed building I had ever seen. The massive roof was on rails and slid open to reveal the blue sky above. Today we left for Marrakech! We drove through Berrechid, a newer city but still quite small. We stopped here for breakfast of coffee, bread, butter and something sweet. We returned to the road to Settat. The land is very flat with many farms. Signs along the road in Arabic say, "Speed will make you die!" and "Accidents are prohibited". The road to Settat is a narrow 2 lanes, so every minute you have cars driving AT you, interesting. I am getting strangely used to this, my heart rate now stays below 100 bpm. The land is a deep brown. We have passed many people riding on donkeys and are now passing through the small village of Guisser. There has not been rain here in quite some time leaving the earth very dry. (Bob Marley~ Legend is our soundtrack today!) In the distance I can see the Atlas Mountains. We stopped at a small farm and I started to take a photo of a small Moroccan girl, maybe 2 years old, but she began to cry so I stopped. I picked an orange from a tree and ate it, amazingly sweet. We then continued on to El Kelaa des Sraghna in the Tessaout area. Along the river there was a small detour around a road repair crew. Chakib said that he had once ignored the detour signs, on another trip, but was stopped by the crew angrily. They told him he could not pass. Thinking on his feet, he told the angry men that he was with the company that was making the road, how dare they stop him!. They apologized repeatedly and let him quickly pass.
It's 12:40 pm Tuesday, the snow covered peaks of the Atlas are about 3 miles to our south now as we drive towards Marrakech. They have an ominous look to them. Chakib and I will cross them tomorrow, in our Mitsubishi pickup- God willing as Chakib would say. The first thing we did in Marrakech was to take care of the essentials. We found a 2 star hotel called The Koutoubia and lunch at an outdoor cafe. After a delicious lunch we went to La Menara Gardens. At the Gardens we were stopped by 2 policeman, who informed us that it was illegal for a Moroccan to show a foreigner around the city without a license. They told us a story about 2 Moroccans who offered to show a foreigner the city and then robbed him of his leather coat. When the officers saw Chakib in a leather coat with a foreigner he was immediately thought guilty. They told him that the person who did this would get 5 years in jail.. YES JAIL!! I was beginning to wish I had paid closer attention to the roads from Casablanca.
They eventually let us leave and gratefully and quickly we exited the Gardens headed for the Medina, the old walled city. We arrived and immediately had our second incident of the day, bumping a car as we parked. Oh well, the day kept on. It was very cold and cloudy and Chakib said that when it is cold in Marrakech it's snowing in the Atlas. Which may not bode well for we cross them tomorrow! Walking downtown was adventurous, almost leaving us hit by motorcycles, donkeys and cars. We eventually found another outdoor cafe where we ordered Tangine, a mixture of ground lamb, scrambled egg, spices, onion and bread as a spoon with Coke to drink. We returned late to our hotel on Rue Yugoslavic after wandering lost through the serpentine roads in the old city. Tomorrow we cross the Atlas for Ouarzazete, through the Berber villages and the desert, Bonne Nuit!
Dec. 30, 1992- It's about 7 am, we have left the hotel and are driving directly at the Atlas mountains, the sun has just risen and I have had my bread and cheese for breakfast. We sidetracked in search of coffee towards Ait Ourir. This road is amazing!! You can smell the olives in the air. I took several pictures of the mountains and some local children between Ait Ourir and Taddert.
We climbed to 2260 meters to Tizi and stopped for mint tea at the peak of the pass. It was snow covered and people were still working to clear the snow from roofs and the pass. On our descent we came across an Italian couple that had broken down. Chakib stopped and began to speak to them in French and when he realized they were Italian he immediately switched to Italian. He repaired the car and we were all back on our way. We stopped at a road side pull off and Chakib bought us some quartz so we would get a good price! It had been painted purple and gold to make it look even more vivd, but although the paint was fake the quartz was beautiful and real.
We returned to the road and continued on to Ait Benhaddou. Crossing the small stream and holding to branches we reached the only entrance to the ancient walled city where we were met by a young boy named Abdelhkall who lead us through the Kasbah. Through old buildings and along dirt paths. It felt as a scene from the bible as he lead us into a small passageway that lead to his home. Chakib asked if we might see it and he generously said yes, leading us into his very humble home. Inside we met his mother standing in a very dark room lit only by small holes in the ceiling which created skylights. The walls were made of clay, mud, straw and small stones. It was divided into small rooms one of which formed a primitive kitchen with a wood fire which his mother used to prepare meals. We thanked the small family in the small home and left to explore the rest of the walled city. At about this time I snapped the shutter of my camera and realized that I had taken the last picture on the roll. I could not believe that I had left the pickup 2 miles back without another roll or two in the midst of the most incredible architecture, history and vistas that I have ever seen.
We eventually returned to the pickup the way we had come and continued on to Ouarzazete getting a room and meal once we had settled in. Later that day we travelled to another Taourirt Kasbah of Thami El Glauoi, a grandfather to Chakib and Abdel. The Kasbah was wonderfully colorful and lit. The windows on each wall creating a vantage point for the residents to observe the progress of approaching Caravans. The river we could see from here formed the entrance to the desert and the path we were to take tomorrow on our way to Er Rachidia. The nearby Lake named Taourirt as well creating an amazing vista to view the ending day, the sunset from here was tranquil and perfect.
Once back at the hotel I learned the hard way the old Arabic proverb, " Look before you leap!". I had gone to the front desk to call my mom in Pennsylvania. The manager let me use the hotel phone. We spoke for about 2 minutes, just long enough for her to know that I was ok and to tell her that I loved her. When we hung up the manager told me it would be 302 dirhams...$30.00!!! Next time I might opt for the postcard or snail mail, lesson learned.
Dec. 31, 1992- Ouarzazete to Er Rachidia. It is freezing this morning! The water's not as warm as in Marrakech, and it was cold there. The hotel bed last night had a sheet and 3 heavy blankets on it. I think we should've guessed that it would be a cold night. Well today is the last day of the year, I have enjoyed the getting there as much as the road there. Traveling the back roads of Morocco has been life changing and doing it with my friend Chakib has been amazing! I do wish that I could be with Laura tonight to celebrate New Years Eve. The desert and the road to Er Rachidia are intriguing but she intrigues me more. The road today runs parallel to the Atlas and passes through many small villages on the way through the Dades Valley to Er Rachidia at the edge of the Sahara and the border with Algeria. The Dades Valley was full of rose bushes that are used to make perfume. Along the valley there are many palm trees and villages following the path of flowing streams. We stopped in Erfoud and were immediately surrounded by many boys offering to provide us information about the area and places to stay locally. Chakib told them that he already knew "everything". We took more photos and then continued to Rissani. We visited the mausoleam of Moulay Ali Cherif, the grandfather of King Hassan II, where only muslims could enter, so I was just able to look in wonder at it beauty from the outside. While I awaited Chakib's return, outside I watched children playing with a balloon and the guard waving and throwing rocks at them and camera toting tourists to keep them away. I must say he was a damn good aim!
We jumped back in the pickup and headed into the desert. Surrounded by the arid landscape and grazing camels, we stopped and were surrounded by the absolute silence of the landscape. Here Chakib scared the #$@* out of me when he pointed to an open hole in the ground and then when I looked, he jumped and so did I, which was his hope. I had a coronary and he had a good laugh.
At the Blue Source, a natural spring, we watched as the sun set behind a grove of palm trees, creating a perfect ending to our travels though southern Morocco. Once the sun had set we returned to the pickup and paid the boy who had been watching our bags in the open back of the truck. In Er Rachidia we met up with Mustafa, the Chief of Police, who got us a hotel near the Police Station for New Years Eve. We celebrated in the hotel's dining room with 4 Italian women, 3 from Milan and 1 from Rome, also traveling through the country together. The wine was finished and New Years came and went with toasts and wishes of Bonne Annee but without much ado. Chakib had bought a bottle of Black Label whiskey to celebrate but it was a bit too strong for my taste. At 1:30pm, at the edge of the Sahara, I went in search of a pay phone to call Laura. I found one on the streets not far from the hotel and tried to call but the phone card I had purchased would not work. I went back to the hotel and fell asleep a little disappointed. BONNE ANNEE 1993
Jan. 1, 1993- Er Rachidia to Fez- Today our heads hurt a little and so we slept. Once on the road, we pointed the pickup truck though the mountains towards Fez. We passed through Midelt and, after passing along a large lake, the Ziz Gorge. The walls of the gorge were very high and cloud cover that day formed a roof to the gorge making it feel as though we were passing through a large outdoor cathedral. Passing through tunnels along the wall of the gorge we continued on through the Cedar forest to Ifrane, being too tired to continue to Fez that day. Ifrane looked like a Swiss town with European architecture, beautiful but out of place for a Moroccan town. We looked for a hotel but we could not find one in Jeff and Chakib's price range, so we were fortunate to meet a young boy who told us about families in town that rent rooms out to travelers, after checking with 3 of them we finally found one that had a room for the night. The home was small but cozy and they provided us a room upstairs that was very cold with low couches around the outside walls with cushions to sleep on. Chakib had gone to the market with the family's son to by food for them to prepare. I waited in the upstairs wearing every layer of clothing in a futile attempt to stay warm. Twice the power went out while he was away and the family brought up a oil lantern for light but was also useful for heat. When Chakib returned another family member had arrived and so they moved us from the frozen room to the one room with a wood stove. Out of the icebox and into the warmth. We slept like babies and awoke early for our trip to Fez.
Jan. 2, 1993- After three hours rising around Fez we finally found a 3 star hotel to use as a base. We made contact with a journalist guide who showed us around the heart of the old medina. There were not true roadways downtown, only a serpentine series of pathways, steps and doorways lined with store fronts. We shared the pathway with people and donkeys crouching into the doorways to avoid being trampled by the crowd of animals and people. We were taken to a ancient school where children studied the Koran and climbed to the rooftop on a ladder that revealed an amazing 360 degree view of the city. Moustafu, our guide, then led us to the dye vats for which Fez is famous. Animal skins are prepared here for use in clothing and accessories and furniture, the smell is overwhelming with pigeon stool used as a part of the process. European visitors were taking small bunches of mint leaves and stuffing them up their noses against the aroma. We returned to the truck driving to the gateway to Fez, one side tiled in green mosaic and one side blue. Finally driving to the cities outskirts to see the city from above. On the way back into the city we could see holes in the cliff face where people had lived 15 centuries earlier.
Jan. 3, 1993- Fez to Casablanca- Today the pickup took us through Meknes, Moulay Idriss and Volubulis, the ancient Roman city named for the purple flower that dots the pastoral landscape. Traffic lightened as we rolled toward Casablanca. We saw the old walled medina of Sale and through Rabat at night. Arriving back at Abdel's home to finish a truly incredible journey of 1820 km, made me so grateful for my Moroccan friends, new and old. Until Tomorrow!