Thursday, November 18, 2021
You can see all the photos in our Morocco Album
We originally were going to Morocco last October but the damn pandemic!
Two years later with no international travel we finally made it. But not traveling abroad for 2 years really left us out of sync - How do we pack? Where is my passport? Do I even still have that thing? COVID test??
Overall it was a good trip but Troy and I both agreed it didn’t rank in our top 10 countries we have visited. We recognize that’s kind of a snobby comment but after 60+ countries it takes a bit more to wow us these days!
A few things to share about Morocco
If you have ever been to a Muslim country then you are familiar with their call to prayer. There is something magical about hearing it. Maybe because it represents travel, I don’t know but I love sitting and listening to it. 5 times a day, surrounded by all the mosques, all of them doing the same call. Although in some cities, with the echo, placement of mosques, it sometimes it can sound more like a call to war! It is definitely something to experience as a traveler!
There is also really no night life. Being in a walled Muslim city where alcohol is not allowed, pretty much night life was going to bed at 9pm!
With Muslim countries, Islam is a part of their constitution so the laws/rules with Islam are everywhere. At a restaurant, if it serves alcohol, they won’t serve your drink until you have food on the table. Not just nuts or bread. If an appetizer is not ordered you won’t receive your drink until dinner is served. If everyone at the table has finished eating but one person still has their drink to finish, the waiter will leave one dirty dinner dish on the table because there has to be food with the drink. Even if that plate is empty!
We learned a 1 humped camel is called a Dromedary, not a camel. It is of the genus Camelus. So to call a 1 hump Dromedary a camel, you would be wrong.
First stop Casablanca. It is not really a destination in itself, just an industrial city and a waypoint for the rest of Morocco. Neither of us saw the movie so the Rick’s Cafe and anything from the movie was lost on us.
Our hotel was right on the beach which is on the North Atlantic (not the prettiest). Sunday had all the families out with picnics, playing soccer and locals selling tourists camels rides. We didn’t know if the beach front properties had fallen on hard times or if there had been major storms that came through in years past. There were a lot of ocean front buildings, water parks, swimming pools that looked as if they had been abandoned years ago.
One of the major things Casablanca is known for is Africa’s largest mosque - Hassan II Mosque. It has Africa’s tallest minaret and is the third largest behind Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. This is also one of the few mosques non-Muslims are allowed in (during very specific hours).
Rabat is the capital city and is “newer” then much of Morocco and home to one of the King’s Palaces. It was very clean and much quieter then Casablanca. There are two Kasbah’s - fortified cities dating from the 7th century - but both were closed for restoration. Not really sure why we came here. Maybe it was a way point to north Morocco or our guide wanted to show off their capital.
Chefchaouen (Blue City)
The drive to Chefchaouen in north Morocco was about 5 hours so most of the day was spent driving. However, on the way we came across a very large local day market. We lucked out because it’s only held one day a week and we happened by it on that day. When our driver asked if we wanted to stop we had to say yes! Downside to tourists being prevalent is locals are more aware of photos being taken of them. We either had to be very clandestine about it, pay for them (which is ok) or we chose to not take the photo. We ended up not taking any photos other than a horse standing on a thick carpet of chicken feathers.
Our driver accompanied us on walk around the market while taking everything in. It was a completely chaotic market with no semblance of organization - chickens getting slaughtered and sold, vendors selling large bins of olives, prayer rugs, bread, TONS of fresh vegetables, and hawkers yelling for you to buy their mosquito repellent.
The main part of Chefchaouen is the Medina which is the original fortressed city dating from the 14th century. There are several different theories about why the city is blue. One is during WWII the Jewish immigrated here and painted their houses the color of the sky which brought them closer to heaven. Another reason, which isn’t so poetic, is to keep the mosquitos and flies away! This is truly a maze of paths, walkways and stairs. Troy, who is known for his navigational skills, even got turned around and a little lost.
We had a guided walking tour with guy who hopefully didn’t have COVID. He liked to shout and spit historical facts at us really, really close!
Today was a long day of driving, almost 8 hours. Along the way we passed through the Middle Atlas Mountains and a mountain village called Ilfrane which is called the Switzerland of Morocco. We didn’t take any photos because, at the time, it didn’t strike us as anything photo worthy. If we had known that after these mountains we were going to be driving through nothing but brown and dirt and desert for days on end we would have taken photos to show the stark contrast within this country! We did come across a special monkey species, the Barbary macaque. They are only species of macaques outside of Asia and they roam the cedar forests of the Middle Atlas.
A few interesting facts about Fes:
Continuing on our drive
Heading south to the Sahara Desert, this is another long drive from Fes. On the way we stopped at a small village called Rissani where we learned how Madfouna, a Moroccan pizza is made. This starts by going to a butcher in a wet market. Slabs of raw beef hanging from the ceiling, the guy (with no gloves) touching everything from the raw beef to money, his cell phone, order pad, money he’s handing back to you, the plastic bag the raw beef is going in - basically everything. Anyways, he sends the beef through the grinder and puts it in a plastic bag with a handful of chopped onions, parsley, seasoning, almonds and a raw egg. This is to be the filling of our pizza. We take our bag and make our way a few blocks away through the mazes of vendors to the baker. They roll out the dough, dump our raw beef ingredients on the dough, put a top on, pinch the sides together to make a big calzone and send it to the oven for a half hour. To label the pizzas, they write our name on a pice of paper which gets baked into the pizza crust on top. 30 minutes later our pizza comes out of the oven and is boxed up in used cardboard that is bent and folded to make a pizza box. Wala - Madfouna pizza!
Another “fun” experience in the market was when we decided to buy a box of dates. Our driver had the vendor unwrap the box and the two of them sorted through the dates - touching EVERY SINGLE DATE- to pick out the small ones to be replaced with bigger ones from a huge pile on the vendors counter. Yea! We now have a box of dates that has been man handled by two people!
Along our drive we passed through countless small villages and old abandoned buildings. When I say buildings these are structures made out of adobe, not concrete bricks and rebar. Come to find out a lot of these adobe structures are old homes that people lived in over 250 years ago and left them to go live in a more modern building in the village. What struck us funny is these 250+ year old buildings are everywhere. But in the US, if a building was over 250 years old it would be preserved and made a museum or listed in a book of historical buildings.
ould have been guides ourselves. I think the most interesting part of the tour was watching other tourists get photos of themselves in the graveyard. But seriously, we took no photos in this city. I think I took one of a pile of olives so I guess we took one photo. The souk with it’s endless aisles of leather goods, pottery, shoes, scarves, metal lanterns was pretty cool but not a whole lot different then other souks we had been in. When we visited the Jemma El Fna market we quickly realized it wasn’t our jam with women grabbing me to sell me henna tattoos, guys approaching holding snakes and then the monkeys with chains on their necks just wasn’t cool.
One of the huge benefits of doing a private guided trip around Morocco was the opportunities we were given to meet local families. We stopped at a small village and we learned how to make tagine and the local bread with a Berber family. Berber is the indigenous people of Morocco. We had eaten a lot of tagine by this point in our trip so it was fun to learn how to make it.
It starts off taking your shoes off before walking on any rug. The aunt of the family, who is probably 90# and 4’9” showed us how to knead and roll out he bread. After rolling it out and letting it rise a short bit we took it to their outdoor bread oven which is a big brick oven with wood as the heat source. For the tagine we were not given a cutting board and I am not very good cutting onions and tomatoes without one. Somehow Troy and I go through this part without cutting ourselves, although to be fair the knife was pretty dull. In the tagine went beef, onions, tomatoes, spices, olives and garlic which then cooked for about an hour. My beef was pretty tough. I’m not an onion girl and mine had a TON of onions. Mine was definitely not the best tagine I had on the trip!