Oh Morocco, as Jackson Browne says about the place "we've just had a taste of something fine"!. It's hard to summarize our last three weeks because we have seen things that we've never seen, eaten exotic foods, riden on a wide variety of animals and made many new friends along the way.
The country is the size of California and has high snow covered peaks in the High Atlas; rolling sand dunes of the Sahara; beautiful sandy beaches on the Atlantic and Mediterranean; cedar forests full of Barbery Apes; Roman ruins in Volubilis; miles and miles of rolling hills and rocky deserts with the soil the color of pink, purple and brown and with homes that blend into the landscape and shepards in jalabas (hooded robes) tending their flocks of sheep, goats and even camels; and palermies that are oasises in the middle of desert towns. Sprinkled in between all of the gorgeous landscape are cities and villages with medinas, kasbahs and thriving souks that are centuries old. Rising high at the heart of the towns are the minerets of the mosques that routinely call out the Islamic faithful to prayer. The Moroccan people have been friendly, charming, spiritual and proud of their beautiful country.
Our adventure started on April 1st with a ferry boat ride from Tarifa in Spain to Tangiers in Morocco. It's amazing how in 45 minutes you can be transported to an entirely different culture. We toured the lovely city and the following day took a train to Fez. The train was a great experience and the four of us were quite a site trying to figure out how to buy tickets and where to wait. A French or Arabic dictionary would have come in very handy here! This was a fun jump into the country and the train a great way to travel.
After arriving in Fez we arranged for a private tour of the ancient medina (built in the 8th century) with Ali. The medina in Fez is a fascinating step back in time and nothing can really prepare you for the sensory overload that you feel when you walk through one of the gates. No cars are allowed due to the narrow streets and over 150,000 people live inside. The streets are full of donkeys working and spiced food being cooked. The souks are divided by trade (metal, wood, clothing, food, meat (the cow brains on a counter were particularly interesting to the girls)). There is a working tannery that is the largest in northern Africa, many mosques and hammams (baths), schools, food stalls, weavers, and many homes.
Our second day in Fez we met up with our traveling companions for the next two weeks. What a fabulous group of Brits! We had the Fletchers (Jim, Carol, Kathryn and Eleanor) from London, the McSorelys (Adrianne, Jean, Rose and Charlie) from Yorkshire and the Shaws (Danny, Lyn, Lucy, Alex and Laura) from Birmingham. A wonderful group of interesting people and we all became fast friends. We drove miles and miles together in two vans driven by Amin and Abdullah and were led through it all by our fearless leader Radouane. Just thinking of them all brings a smile to my face.
We all spent two glorious weeks together and here are some of the highlights:
- riding camels in the Sahara, donkeys in the medina in Fez, mules in the Valley of the Roses, and horses in Agadir
- sleeping in hotels, auberges, a gite and even a tent in the desert
- the children performed plays for the parents both nights in the gite
- bargaining like Berbers for carpets
- visiting the Todre Gorge and Ait Benhaddou (an ancient kasbah that was used in Gladiator)
- our hikes in the Valley of the Roses
- sipping mint tea and eating wonderful food (and sipping an occasional beer and glass of wine)
- Lucy's dog bite in the medina in Marrakesh and the subsequent trip to a medical clinic for rabies shots (thanks for all you did Radouane!)
Whew! And I know that we left out some stuff but you'll just have to look at our photos when we return.
We said farewell to our new friends in Marrakech on the 17th and we are hoping they have been able to get home since they were delayed due to the volcanic ash from Iceland. The four of us headed to Agadir and are spending this week at a Club Med. This week has been restful and relaxing but we feel we could be anywhere in the world and the true Morocco is far away from here. With our suitcases full of clean clothes and our bodies relaxed we are heading to Athens on Saturday to start the Greece leg of our journey. We are all a little sad to leave because we have connected with the country but look forward to new adventures in other lands.