The breakfast buffet at the Sofitel is amazing. Coffee in general in Morocco is excellent. I am totally addicted to my morning cafe au lait. The Sofitel serves better versions of every food item we have had at every other breakfast we have consumed in Morocco. Additionally, they have bacon and ham and smoked salmon and a macaroon tree. They make a yummy rose flavored yogurt served in cute little yogurt jars. For some reason, the waitress doesn’t respond to David but brings me everything I ask for, puts a pillow behind my back, serves me at the buffet. That’s a switch!
The only downside is the vibrating thump of god-awful Euro tech trash music. I guess they don’t want folks to stay all morning.
We take a petite taxi ( petite taxis transport within a town, grand taxis transport between towns.) our driver is crazy. Cutting off other vehicles. He lost his hubcaps eons ago. A lot of road rage.
He drops us off at the entrance of the Medina. We immediately find a new throne for me, my old one stayed with Said and Fattah. At the bookstore, we find Arabic children’s books, but no Harry Potter for Alice and Ben.
The shoe department gives way to leather shops and they are followed by jewelry, lamps and home decor. The route we pick moves us from there into food and fish then clothing, and hardware. The Médina is a shopping area for locals and has few tourists, it may be the time of year. We have a nice long talk with a shopkeeper named Josef who has brothers in San Jose and Vancouver. He says it is too late for him to immigrate. Exhausted, we find everything on our list except a hamsa door knocker. Sitting on my throne, I am approached by a scruffy, wiry, little guy. This is the exception. When I am enthroned, most people are very respectful and realize I need to take a rest. Not Mohammad. He finds a Hamsa door knocker for us at a locals hardware stall, negotiates a ridiculous price, walks us to the bank with us to get money to pay, stops traffic so we can cross the street, hails us a cab (trying to.get a cut from the taxi driver in the process) gives me a smooch on the top of my head when he tells me he is an old man and I let him know I have six years on him, and asks for a cadeau for his children.
The taxi driver exhibits a common driving behavior I have noted, If the road is empty, drivers navigate right down the middle of it, straddling the center line. Our driver’s cab is much cleaner than our first taxi, so I don’t mind the 3 extra MAD -about thirty cents- that he charges. Why sweat the small stuff?
Back at the hotel, I try out the 2 outdoor pools and settle on the chaud indoor pool. It’s huge and warm and I have it to myself! To get to the pool, I have to pass through an area where there is a Halloween party going on for young children. Face paint, costumes , candy and sweets everywhere and children shrieking and running around in a sugar frenzy. The only sign of the holiday I saw.
The sugar issue is an interesting issue here. Moroccans eat a lot of sugar. It is in many dishes, not just desserts. Honey is heavily used and dates are a common ingredient and snack. The teeth of Morocco reflect this plethora of sugar. Being a Muslim country, people do not drink. Yet dialysis clinics abound, I wonder how the daily diet now compares to precolonial times?
We had a lovely dinner at the hotel. Sofas instead of chairs, Excellent Moroccan cuisine… early to bed.
Tonight is the last night of our tour.
Retracing our route through the Argan fields we come upon the archetypal scene of goats in trees. On closer inspection, they are tethered on the Argan branches which are buttressed to support their weight. A little man is collecting a fee for this fantasy. Our driver, Said, tells us that this is not this man’s land and that the goats are not even local. Local goats are black. Fatah gives the man his opinion.
We head north through the pastel covered hills and farms of dessicated prickly pear cactus and plowed barley fields. The rains should start mid November. California farmland is irrigated, we scarcely give a thought to what it is like to be dependent on the heavens, except when we are inconvenienced by having to replace our lawns with drought resistant natives.
The highway we are on is excellent. As the advertisements for McDonalds become more numerous, we know we are getting closer to Casablanca. Haven’t seen a single Starbucks, but Pizza Hut and Burger King are a presence in urban areas.
Casablanca is bustling with construction projects. It takes us so long to get to our hotel, and then so long to check in, we forego a visit to the grand mosque. Our hotel is very au courant. The toilet and bidet are in a separate glass enclosure within the bathroom. The pool is a roof-top-view-of-the-city-with-surrounding-bar kind of place that plays Euro techno music. Not feeling it for doing my water PT. It is located in sort of a high tech industrial area, For our last supper we go to Luigi s. Its a sort of upscale pizza place with great food.
It’s been great to get to know Fattah and our driver, Sayd. There were a lot of distinctive personalities on board. Garrett aka Sweep made everything easier for everyone. Laurie cut through the bs and saved me several times. We had a weaving expert, an African drummer and old soul, a gourmet cook, some inveterate travelers and some just nice people. Wharever, theh balance seemed to work and no one killed anyone else. I had one melt down due to lack of sleep and a lot of hobbling around due to my wonky back. David was referred to as the Professor.
After speeches, thank yous, and hugs, I retreated, with relief, to my room to rearrange the goods I brought and the goods I bought. Going to have to buy another suitcase, because of weight. The spare duffel I brought just isn’t substantial enough.
LOVE THIS PLACE!
Had a lovely breakfast on the rooftop terrace overlooking the Atlantic. Took the ELEVATOR up. No treacherous winding stairs with rope handrails corkscrewing up to the heavens or down to eternal damnation.
The sea air is like mothers milk after the stark, minimalist, and arid atmosphere of the interior of this stunning country.
Fattah took us to a silver place he knew where the silver was guaranteed to be silver. They were very nice and had reasonable prices for new merchandise.
The streets are alive but not threatening. Tourists from France seem to predominate.Surfers wind their way through alleys toting their boards. Looking like ducks out of water, groups of Americans with Gate 1 Travel are toodling around en masse behind their flag waving guide like so many children on a field trip. The cats seem to be healthier here. Probably all the fish. It is a very active seaport.
Toya has recommended two shops for jewelry here, Galerie Aida and la Fibula Berbere. After much searching and help from Fattah, we find the Galeria Aida closed because the owner is Jewish and it is Shabbat. There is an active Jewish community here that outnumbers the Christian community. Garrett and Laurie happen upon shabbat services at the old synagogue near our hotel.
La Fibula Berbere is open. Monsieur Abdenbi Adnani of the blue eyes and his son Josef are in the shop. David quickly loses interest and goes off to find a tea tray. The dance begins. He starts bringing out bracelets that he thinks will interest me based on his first impression. In my approximation of french, I tell him that what he is showing me, although beautiful, is more my daughter’s taste. I tell him my friend Toya has recommended that I see his collection. He wants to see a picture, he remembers her, and pulls up a picture of her on his cell and makes several compliments on her demeanor and taste. This moves the dance to the little adjacent room and the treasures start being laid on the table from hidden bins around the room. I show him the enameled piece I already have. This opens more magic bins. Tea is ordered from next door. I am his new facebook friend, and he mine. Finally, I start picking pieces I think might be in my price range. He gives me the written price on a lime green post it. I remove one piece. He offers to add coins to the piece I already have. I thank him but demur. This leads to a discussion of the little milagros that Toya collects in New Mexico and out comes another bin. We finally draw the dance to a close, pictures are taken upon David’s return, my purse is heavier but my wallet lighter.
We meander through the Medina heading vaguely for the hotel. David finds a few more things as I wait on my throne he has so gallantly been toting. He is on the hunt for a tray. He asks the price of a teapot. The proprietor quotes him a price. Not knowing of David’s fluency in Arabic , another customer comes in and also asks the price. She is told a price one third that of the amount quoted David. You just have to shrug it off.
So much is left unexplored. We run into Garrett and Laurie who direct us around the corner to the hotel. Laurie looks refreshed and rested, she has just come from a hammam and message.
We return to the dampness of our hotel. The central courtyard is open to the warm fog and sea air. The cool shady interior and stone rez de chausee lack the heat to evaporate the moisture. It particularly bothers David who, like me, has no window to the outside.
After a swim in my bathtub, dinner is at a tiny seafood restaurant run by two brothers that we fill completely. The seating is in a u shape, so it feels like our last supper. All is good
We didn’t quite race out of Marrakesh, although that would have been our inclination. We had to stop at the airport first. David had a pre-paid debit card that he had been sold when we had landed in Casa Blanca. It didn’t work. He couldn’t get any money at ATMs and he couldn’t use it to purchase anything because they neglected to give him a pin number. We had stopped at the issuing bank but they politely fobbed the problem off on to the money exchange that had sold it. They, of course, are only located at airports. On a positive note, Fattah straightened it out, David got his money, the Marrakesh airport is lovely, and there were great WC’s in the airport parking lot.
We went to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains once again. This time for a very special reason. Fattah had invited us to lunch at the home where he was born. His mother, with the help of some village women and relatives, had prepared a feast of traditional foods including bread baked in the outdoor fourno. She was very organized and the house, which was a gathering place for Fattah’s extended nuclear family, easily accommodated our small group. Banquettes, in richly patterned and colored brocades lines the shiny walls, contrasting with the alternating black and white marble tile squares on the floor. The food was the best we had on our trip. I would love to have recipes for all that was served. Dozens of salads and vegetables followed by a chicken couscous with barley. A cauliflower-zucchini mash was particularly incredible. After lunch the group, with the exception of moi, walked around the property. Fattah’s mother, as per custom, tried to gift every item we admired. Our habit of complimenting others on their possessions nearly emptied her house. We finished up with tea and almonds grown in the family orchard. The almonds are not watered, as a result they are smaller and more flavorful than California almonds. All the produce in Morocco tastes like produce did when we were kids, before the advent of commercial farming. Because it was Friday, Fattah’s father (a retired school principal) left before the meal was served to answer the call to prayer at the village mosque.All-in-all, a special and lovely experience we were fortunate to be part of.
The land this year was much drier than the previous dry years. Global warming is impacting agriculture worldwide. Impoverished and marginal countries are especially feeling its consequences as traditional methods of providing food and shelter are challenged and people are migrating from rural areas to cities.
We were next treated to a tour of the house Fattah is building in the area his wife’s family is from. It is situated on a hill to capture the breathtaking panorama of the arid foothills as well as the welcome breezes sweeping up from the valley. Fattah has introduced some distinctly California ideas into his creation as well as drawing on the traditions of the region. The walls surrounding his property are rammed earth. The olive orchard and fruiting trees he has planted are flourishing with a drip irrigation system he installed. The house is double walled to stay cool in summer and retain heat in winter. The cross ventilation makes the most of the afternoon breezes and the windows are all double glazed. The floor plan is very Moroccan, with large public spaces. It will be fun to see the finished creation.
Leaving Fattah’s, everyone was soporifically dazed from our large feast. We made it through the Argan forest breathing the stale, air conditioned air to the Women’s Argan Collective just in the nick of time. Yes, goats are allowed to climb the trees after the nuts are harvested as a kind of pruning activity. No goats don’t digest and defecate aged Argan nuts to produce the highest quality nuts. No, there are not enough Argan nuts to account for all of the products labelled as such. No, not all women’s collectives are women’s collectives. The success of the original women’s Argan Collective led to many imitators. We rushed to make our purchases after experiencing the smell, taste, and feel of Argan. The smell of roasting argan is rich and soothing. As we were there at closing time, we witnessed a few males picking up their spouses. It was clear who still wore the pants, even in this utopian example of economic progressiveness.
We trucked on to Essouria. We could breathe again. The sea air and sea gulls made this laid back town seem familiar and welcoming. The sight of the Atlantic and the rocks and beach and tidepools and boats clinched the deal.
Our hotel/riad is adjacent to the ramparts in the medina. It has that crusader/medieval times atmosphere.I soaked in the largest bathtub in the world, big enough to hold a crusader’s horse, electing to skip dinner in order to recharge in the soothing medium of warm water. Fattah sent dinner to my room, I was content.
Riad Anjar is beautiful, but deadly. The surfaces are slick, and under the surface, things aren’t quite ticky boo. I can’t get the toilet to stop running. The shower floor is like an ice rink, the steps out of the little swimming pool in the courtyard are so high that flopping out on ones belly like a stranded fish is really the only option. Safety is not a consideration, just aesthetics. My real issue is the constant new age spa music piped through the premises, or why god made ear plugs.
We start the morning off with breakfast on the rooftop terrace of the riad. We are then introduced to our portly guide for the day, Said. Maybe he will move at a reasonable pace. We lumber off to a mosque that we cannot enter. Next on the agenda is a palace no longer in use but with sections that have been restored for tourists, it is lovely and there is no one there cheapening the experience by hawking trinkets. Garrett decides to fill the void by standing by the front gate and requesting entrance tickets of the visitors. Hilarity ensues.
Next we go to a souk spice shop. Laurie and I elect to sit this one out and people watch from those ubiquitous plastic garden chairs found worldwide. My folding stool, Fatima’s Throne, has disappeared. Marrakesh is surprisedly clean for a large city. There are beggars, but they are not aggressive, like India. We didn’t see any homeless. The community has a responsibility to take care of their own. The country seems industrious, and there is an order to things. We watch the tourists, shop keepers, and locals in our field of vision and chat with a man from Croatia. Our compatriots emerge, with herbal remedies for whatever ails ya. Said, the tour guide, will eat well tonight. I’m not sure bringing unidentified leafy matter across the US border wins an award from Rick Steves as travel “must do” of the year.
Students are plentiful all across Morocco. They go home for lunch, Mom is there waiting with a hot repast. Even on country roads, we see boys and girls walking along the side of the road with their book bags midday.
We go to a little fast food restaurant in the souk. They serve the best homemade yogurt I have ever had. It is hard to describe why. There is a sweet tanginess to it.
Our next stop is the Majorelle Gardens. They were saved and restored by Yves St Laurent and are absolutely stunning. The blue of the structures and accents is known worldwide for its intensity. The garden is packed so every view is inclusive of other viewers viewing the same view and taking a picture invariably includes another viewer doing the same. An exercise in collective isolation. Within the garden is a small but comprehensive Berber Museum. The collection of jewelry is beautifully displayed and overwhelming in its variety and quality.
I return to the riad for a hammam and a message. The hammam room is small and darkish. This is a private hammam, not the traditional group affair in public hammams. I was scrubbed and oiled from head to toe. The attendant kept a blob of black soap on her wrist, a bucket of warm water next to her, and a sandpaper-like mitt on her hand. Every crevice was scrubbed at least twice. Standing, lying on my stomach on a stone bench and then lying on my back. It was a unique experience. Sort of felt like a horse getting brushed down. Left both squeaky clean and oily at the same time. Then it was off for a very soothing message. The price for both? About $70.
Dinner was in the riad, on the terrace upstairs. A trip to the square was on the agenda after dinner. Being relaxed from my treatments and in pain from my sciatica, I opted to pass on the merriment, and have an early night.
We get up early to go to the Medina. I don’t quite make it and spend the morning next to the pool trying to connect to the internet. The “wee-fee” is sporadic. And I don’t really accomplish much, but it is a lovely morning and the birds and the cats are happy.
The road starts climbing steeply towards the 8000 foot pass we will cross. The colors etched into the striated sides of the rocky mountains are subtle and exquisite. The greens of the landscape are infinite in variety, particularly the dusty green so favored by California plein air painters of desert landscapes. Prickly pears abound. Roadside displays feature wildly dyed geodes and leaded tangines. The altitude is getting too high for palms. These are the high Atlas mountains. Life is hard here. The Berbers are a strong people. The alphabet of the Berbers is graphically appealing and reflects their strength.
After a rousing rendition of Marrakesh Express, we lunch at a butcher shop at the top of the pass. We have become accustomed to the sights and smells of life basic. Sheeps’ heads are strewn on the floor. We walk by them scarcely looking down. The restaurant itself is on a beautiful terrace, away from the shop and reached by a footbridge across a ravine. BBQ is what’s for dinner, or lunch in this case. Needless to say, it was great.
As we are about to leave, we get word that the road is closed for two hours. Roadwork is being done on the west side of the pass. And horror of horrors, there is no place to shop.
We are soon on the road, descending rapidly towards the lush and manicured streets of Marrakesh, watching with trepidation as drivers play chicken on the windy mountain road. We drive by golf courses and gated communities. All very tidy.
Our riad is located in the Medina. It is an oasis of calm. Getting there was treacherous, killer motor cycles zoom by while the pedestrians plaster themselves to the walls of the alleys. After an odiferous assault on our inhalation systems from the fumes, we slowly get back into single file and remain alert for the next assault. The riat is owned by Emmanuella, an Italian woman, it is AD perfect. This is a soft interpretation of Moroccan in bieges and blacks and golds. Just gobsmacking gorgeous. The riad is also the owner’s home and reflects her exquisite taste.
Dinner is across the alley. There is an interesting Mediterranean menu. All is delicious, batting 100 today on the food front.