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Morocco (1991)

a travel blog by shoshtrvls

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Day 1

Malaga, Spain

Arrived in Malaga and am currently waiting for the bus to Algeciras. Almost missed the trip altogether ... ticket from LA to NY was for Friday a.m., not Saturday! And, the Saturday flight was booked. Fortunately, the ticket clerk took pity on me and found me a seat -- an aisle even! (Although in the back -- no reclining, screaming kids, and all out of food).

Barely made the connecting flight to Madrid -- getting from one JFK terminal to another could take all day. Got stuck in a middle seat but generally the flight was OK.

Caught an earlier plane to Malaga -- absolutely empty and I still had to check my bag. But the timing was perfect as I need wait less than 1-1/2 hours for the bus to Algeciras (no train). Hope I can catch a ferry to Tangier today, as spending the night in Algeciras does not sound too appealing.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on May 19, 1991 from Malaga, Spain
from the travel blog: Morocco (1991)
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Day 1 (Continued)

Algeciras, Spain

The bus ride was enjoyable enough -- cramped but nice views of the beach most of the way. It's amazing how much building is going on -- and all the "for sale" signs are in English!

We arrived in Algeciras at about 2:30, in plenty of time to catch the 5 p.m. ferry. Along the way I met Fath, a researcher from Marrakesh who lives in Brussels, and another Moroccan and his mother. Fath and I spent time talking while waiting for the ferry. The ferry eventually left the port at about 5:30 p.m. I slept for most of the 2-1/2 hour trip.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on May 19, 1991 from Algeciras, Spain
from the travel blog: Morocco (1991)
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Day 1 (Continued)

Tangier, Morocco

At the other Moroccans suggestion, I stayed at the Grand Hotel Ville de la France -- a bargain at 165 dh. A nice place -- somewhat old, but with nice, quiet gardens and all the amenities of home and then some (a bidet for example).

I was, of course, approached by a guide (Abdul? Ahmed?) and decided that his services could be used. We walked around the Medina a bit, went to the obligatory carpet shop, and then to a restaurant where clearly all the guides brought their tourists. It was expensive and inhabited by one large group of Germans and three brits from Gibralter ("Gib" as they say) for the day. We shared some wine (they were on their third bottle) which needed to be considerably watered down. Whether it was their accent I don't know, but I understood them less than I did the french-speaking Moroccans. While I was tempted to party with them after, I was much too tired and instead went back to the hotel to sleep.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on May 19, 1991 from Tangier, Morocco
from the travel blog: Morocco (1991)
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Day 2

Tangier, Morocco

I slept well, waking about 8:30. Eventually, I got up, checked out of the hotel, and made my way to the tourist bureau, who gave me a map worse than the one in the guide book.

I was hassled by a few men, but nothing like I had been led to believe. One guy (waiter at Forbes birthday) did take me through the Kasbah even when I told him I would not pay him and would not look at any carpets.

I then made my way through the Medina, finding myself among the poultry stalls, spice baskets and a very pungent fish market, eventually arriving at the train station, where I purchased my ticket to Fez. I then went walking along the beach, with the camels, and back, where I ran into the guy from the boat. I am now sitting in the Cafe de Paris having a coke.

I am both relieved and disappointed with Tangier. Relieved, because the harassment has been minor and I feel that I can take care of myself. Disappointed because Tangier is far from exotic. The markets have little of interest to offer; the Kasbah has nice views but none of the real beauty one finds at, for example, the Alhambra. While I'm sure that some of this has to do with the amount of money spent by the government, much of it does not. Crumbling walls are only so interesting. (There is a blond sitting to my right also writing in a diary). In short, this is not the hell-hole that Lonely Planet claims, but also not particularly interesting or exciting, none of the smells or sights of someplace truly interesting.

(When do people eat here??)

Leaving the cafe and heading toward the hotel I was stopped by the "guide" for the three Brits. He insisted I could not get lunch at the hotel and took me to a small restaurant in the medina. I paid 22.5 dh for good meat and fries -- probably still a rip-off but much better than the tourist trap last night.

Then, of course, he took me to his rug shop. I did see one I liked and told him that I would buy it when I cam back, if I felt the price was fair ($400 down to $250 by the time I left). I don't know if he believed me.

Anyway, I'm now sitting by the hotel pool, listening to the wind blow through the palm trees, preparing to head for Fez.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on May 20, 1991 from Tangier, Morocco
from the travel blog: Morocco (1991)
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Day 2 (Continued)

Fes, Morocco

The train from Tangiers to Fez took about 6-1/2 hours. While there were other budget travelers on the train, I did not meeet them. Instead, I med Mohammed (everyone here is named Mohammed). He apparently works as a machinest for the railway. In any event, he spoke good English. We discussed places to go, things to see, etc., and we shared a cab to a hotel he suggested - Mounia. New, nice downstairs, ok rooms, but no hot water (despite a red tap). Had a horrible dinner at the hotel and went to bed. (Mohammed offered me a spare room at his place, which I rejected).

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on May 20, 1991 from Fes, Morocco
from the travel blog: Morocco (1991)
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Day 3

Azrou, Morocco

The next morning, I did myself proud. After flatly rejecting a "grand taxi" to Azrou for $300 dh, I made my way to the collective station and eventually was traveling to the souk in Azrou like a real Moroccan! Some of the passengers spoke moderate french -- sometimes I didn't understand and sometimes I just said so, because not all the comments were ... gentlemanly.

The ride took about 1-1/2 hours, through very pretty hillside areas and through two "new" towns, Immouzer (?) and Ifrane. Clearly these were for the wealthy to escape the city.

The souk at Azrou was very interesting, somewhat like a flea market, but with horses, mules, cows, sheep (lots of sheep), a magician, some circus games and plenty of chickens thrown in. I shared tea with a rug salesman who did not try to sell me anything and had lunch (bruchette in bread) with a french professor who kindly paid without telling me (and the stall owner kept his word). I'm not sure how this compared with Pisac, Peru. Surely the "crafts" were not there, but neither were the tourists. I probably could have gotten a good deal on a rug but didn't know or care enough.

Later, in the artisan's shop, I met a Moroccan, Samir, and his German wife, Heidi. We looked at the rug making and they offered me a ride back to Fes, which I jumped at.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on May 21, 1991 from Azrou, Morocco
from the travel blog: Morocco (1991)
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Day 3 (Continued)

Fes, Morocco

Samir and Heidi definitely took me under their wing.

First we stopped for lunch at Immouzer. Then it was tea at their Uncle's house just outside the old city. Then it was to the museum to see carpets, but also nice silver and gardens. We then drove to an overlook for a magnificent view of the city before parking the car and winding our way through the Medina. (Main gate) Along the way I learned an important lesson about Moroccan men -- they don't care if the women wait. Thus, Samir spent much time stopping at shops and chit-chatting with friends.

Eventually though, we came to the house -- a door opened into a tiled courtyard. The house had 3 floors, the bottom appeared to have sleeping rooms and the kitchen, bath, etc. The next had the same. The third had a sitting room where we drank coke and talked, before going to the roof with a wonderous view of the city. Eventually, a little brother took me back to a taxi stand.

Waiting for me (1 hour early) at the hotel was Mohammed. I showered and changed and then we left. His house was quite a distance, at the very edge of the new city. Everyone was friendly but no one spoke English or French -- for 1-1/2 hours I just sat there while Mohammed helped his brother with his homework.

At about 9:30, his mother brought out some good soup. His sister and I finally spoke some, and eventually he took me home, giving me shopping advice along the way. Unfortunately a boring end to an otherwise great day.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on May 21, 1991 from Fes, Morocco
from the travel blog: Morocco (1991)
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Day 4

Fes, Morocco

Jallil, Samir's brother, picked me up around 8:00. We first went to the house and then Jallil took me around the medina. Of course, he spoke no English or French so communication was difficult. Also, those buildings which the guidebook said were spectacular were all closed for renovation, including the Bou Inania.

We returned to the house for lunch, being in part a cock purchased in Azrou. Then I went with Heidi and Samir's sister Leila to the hammam. Afterward, Samir's younger brother and his friend (who spoke good French) showed me some other parts of the city -- the palace and the mellach. At some point we also went back to the uncle's house and looked at the carpets Samir had bought during his stay.

Dinner was steamed meat, again at Samir's -- by now I felt like a regular part of the family.

While I found the Median interesting enough, with mules pushing their way through the streets, cats running each and every way, and beautiful water fountains at each turm, I must admit that it lacked a certain exotic feel such as that in Kashmir. And for all Jallil's help, I did wish I had an English-speaking guide to explain things to me. However, this was more than made up for by the hospitality offered to me by Samir's family. Their home was a comfortable resting place in the middle of busy days.

I was also glad for the opportunity to go to the hammam with Heidi and Leila. It certainly was a fascinating experience -- women of all shapes anad sizes grabbing buckets of both hot and cold water to make the perfect temperature. The heat was almost refreshing -- like feeling my skin breath. Going from the hot rooms to the colder ones, or bathing in the cold water, was wonderful -- again, a great respite.

After dinner, Samir took me to a friend's shop. His friend, Hassan, was really cute. And I could not help but buy -- at prices much too expensive. I bought a camel hair blanket and some exquisite fabric which I will never use. But I also saw the shoemakers, so I believe that I bought good quality stuff, the fabric in particular. (NOTE: I'm writing this 16-1/2 years later and I *still* haven't used that fabric -- but I do have it) Again, I returned to the hotel fully satisfied, if not a bit poorer.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on May 22, 1991 from Fes, Morocco
from the travel blog: Morocco (1991)
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Day 5

Fes, Morocco

The next day Samir picked me up and I learned it was some sort of holiday, so changing money was done in the Hotel Fez -- very nice. Then to the train station to purchase a ticket -- Samir talked me into buying one for the 1 a.m. train.

Anyway, after taking care of business, we again went to the Medina so I could use up my film as Samir and Heidi wanted to borrow it in the afternoon to take pictures of carpets. This time I took photos of the markets, mules, picturesque squares made for tourists, even the mosque.

Again back to Samir's for lunch -- hamburger meat rolled into little finers and eaten with the ubiquitous (and delicious) break. Afterward, a nap and Samir took me to a little resort area (Ein Chekaff?) where Jallil, Hassan, Samir and I sat in the shade drinking and smoking hash. We also stopped at the Kasbah, stuffed with people shopping, and I saw the Palais Jamai and visited a leather shop.

Then we met up with Heidi and the rest at the museum, and finally Tareq (their son) took a liking to me. Afterwards, a cafe at a nearby hotel.

We then dropped Heidi off and drove around a bit before stopping at a cafe near the gate. Dinner was brochettes and a talk with an Aussie girl. Jallil then took me back to say good-bye to the family. We drove to the fort. After we were supposed to see belly dancing but missed it. Finally to the train station where Samir asked me for $300 dh. It somewhat spoiled the last three days and I told him I didn't have it (which was true). Besides, I had paid more than my share for various drinks and coffee, dinner the evening before, as well as $100 dh I had given him the day before (which was probably spent on Hash) as well as a roll of film. I didn't feel bad, although Jallil and the younger one who actually did all the work probably saw none of it.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on May 23, 1991 from Fes, Morocco
from the travel blog: Morocco (1991)
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Day 6

Marrakech, Morocco

The train ride was a dismal affair -- a very slow train, seeming to stop every time someone stood by the track and waived. Also, a 6 a.m. change in Caza didn't help. I finally arrived at about 11:30 a.m. and promptly checked into what must be the second most expensive hotel in the city (next to the Mamounia) -- credit cards accepted (running short of cash).

After a relaxing bath and short nap, I left a message for Fath before venturing out to the Djeema. Immediately beseiged by an "official" guide, I accepted his services. They weren't really needed; as it was Friday, only the marketplace and souks were open and these I could have handled on my own.

The Djeema was everything I expected, and I must return. The souks lack the charm of Fes, but deserve another look. I did see some nice pieces. However, the guide was good for at least one thing -- a restaurant. As I site here in the Restaurant de la Paix, among fountains and trees, I feel like I am in the mediterranean. The food is wonderful, the setting magnificent, and the prices right (although expensive for Morocco). Curiously, everyone here is speaking French -- a sign, I sppose, of wealth and upper class, but somehow distressing, as though Arabic was not good enough.

I think I will stay in Marrakech tomorrow (Saturday) and on Sunday go to Setti Fatima. Monday I will trek until my feet fall off (because I can't continue to pay for this hotel), returning Friday and then back home.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on May 24, 1991 from Marrakech, Morocco
from the travel blog: Morocco (1991)
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