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  • Gregory T. Wilkins

Morocco, Africa (2016)

1 December 2016

I began planning for my trip to Morocco a year ago. No, I began chatting it up then and did not get to the nitty gritty until I returned from Dhaka, Bangladesh in May 2016. This will be my first time on the African continent. It is a place I have yearned to visit, but I was sidetracked to closer excursions in the Americas. I decided I would visit here after spending considerable time in Muslim countries in the last few years. Morocco is especially intriguing because of the ancient culture, a mix of old and new, beautiful UNESCO sites, amazing food, Berber history, etc, etc. It is a place that lures you in, tangles you up within the labyrinth of streets and alleys, and captivates your senses, awe and wonder. Almost 34 million people inhabit the nation. Its capital, Rabat, and largest city, Casablanca, conjure up images of Hollywood films with desserts, camels, and serpent teasing fools. The place is so much more than the mythology. The full Arabic name al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah (المملكة المغربية) translates to "Kingdom of the West"; although "the West" in Arabic is الغرب Al-Gharb. I will fly into the ancient capital, Marrakesh, and will be staying in a riad within the ancient medina. My itinerary will be as follows:

* December 7 leave the USA and fly to Marrakesh via Chicago/London * December 8 arrive to Marrakesh in the late evening; stay at Hotel Sherazade, Derb Jama 3, Riad Zitoun el Kedim, Tel. +212 524-429305 * December 13 arrive to Casablanca; Hotel Central, 20, Place Ahmad Elbidaoui, Ancienne Medina; Tele: +212 522-262525 * December 15 arrive to Fes; Riad Noujoum Medina, 4 bis Derb Al Horra Talaa Kebira, Fes El Bali; Tele: +212 674-828781 * December 19 arrive to Meknes, Riad Bab Berdaine, 7 Derb Moussa, Ancienne médina; Tele: +212 619-215900 * December 22 arrive to Rabat; Medina Surfing Association, Farran Znaki 3 rue pote maoune, Avenue Laalou; Tele: +212 664-850232 * December 26 arrive to Tangier; Medina Hostel, rue abaroudi n 14, Old Medina, Tele: +212 623-080668 * December 30 Marrakesh; stay at Hotel Sherazade, Derb Jama 3, Riad Zitoun el Kedim, Tel. +212 524-429305 * January 4 return to USA via Madrid, Dallas, MSP * January 5 arrive to USA * January 6 back to work At this time, I am planning to take local trains from city to city. It appears to be relatively easy, better than a bus, and has some of the best trains on the African continent. It is also very affordable. I plan to fly into Marrakesh, and the following day visit the train station to make my purchase. I am hoping I can buy all of my train travel at once. If not, when I arrive to each city via train I will make my travel arrangements for the next city before departing to my hotel/riad/hostel. This has worked in the past in other countries I have visited, and I am going to trust that this time it will work well again. Only time will tell and will be flexible with the process. It has to be better than when traveling via train in India. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The King of Morocco holds executive and legislative powers, especially over the military, foreign policy and religious affairs. Executive power is exercised by the government, while legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, the Assembly of Parliament and the Assembly of Councillors. The king can issue decrees called dahirs (royal decree) which have the force of law. He can also dissolve the parliament after consulting the Prime Minister and the president of the Constitutional court. It is the 5th largest economy in Africa, and the average citizen makes $10 to $12 USD/day--around $300/$400 each month. December 8, 2016 -- Departure to Morroco, Africa

I left Mankato at 12:30 p.m. with Land to Air and got to the MSP airport at 3 p.m. with a departure at 4:30. The plane was to fly MSP to Chicago, Chicago to Heathrow, and then on to Marrakesh, Morocco. All was well until I got to London. I disembarked and went to the reader board to find out which terminal my plane was to depart. I had heard  that this airport was a monstrosity and wanted to get to my gate without killing myself. I snaked my way through the tunnels and found the board, but my flight was not listed. I thought I might sit and wait, but I decided against that idea b/c other later flights were listed until 7:00 p.m. It was 8:30 a.m. and with so many flights surely mine would be listed? I wound my way back through the labyrnith and found an airline assistant. I explained to her my scenario and was told it was rare that there were no connections listed. She pulled up my information on her tablet and discovered that I was not to go from Heathrow but rather Gattwick. Gattwick?! She asked what time my connection was, and I told her 1:30 p.m. If I hurried I would make it w/o difficulty. She told me I would need to exit through customs and go by Central Bus. I breathed a sigh of relief that I actaully picked-up an passport entry card when I was on the plane. I found my bag at the carousel and dosie-doed through the line to passport control. While there, there was a small squirmish from an African man who insisted he was being maltreated. Everything stopped as he rose his voice and hollered with tempers flaring and fingers pointing. Security came quickly and wide-eyed tourists went ahead with their business. I meanwhile waited patiently with the security officer, as he explained that this guy just made his travel from the airport that much more difficult b/c security has no patience for such nonsense. I asked at the information desk how to go about getting a bus transfer. I was told I would have to meander through the underground and back up again to find the Central Bus Station. The other blessing was the bus station was located at the airport. I made my way through the zigzag hallways as well as up and down escalators and back and forth again before finding my way to Central Bus. It was cost me 25 pounds for the one-way fare. By this time it was 9:30 a.m. and one hour was over without little accomplished. I was told the bus might take 2 hours b/c there was a crash on the M4. I waited until 10 a.m. for the next bus which meant I would get there by Noon with a departure at 1:30 p.m. Hopefully little would happen between here and there as I had a plane to catch. There was not much to see on the road bewteen airports except for a small herd of sheep grazing along the highway. We fortunately got in to Gattwick quicker than anticipated and had plenty of time to get my ticket, get through security, and to my gate for departure. Security is a little different here. You wait in a line and then cue behind numbers in row along a conveyor belt. Roughly 8 passengers take their items and place them into storage bins--coats, belts, jackets, computers and liquids less than 3 ounces. The belt scans the items as you get  into the x-ray machine. Clear glass puts everything into view as you wait on the  other side. If nothing is  detected it goes down one avenue, if not it goes into another with a hand inspection with you by your goods. Fortunately, I was able to get through without any drama. Once you get into the main hall, all tickets do not have gate numbers on them. This leaves passengers in a lounge area with food to purchase on two levels. The place is indeed need of a makeover as it reeks 1970s. Chairs line up in several rows with a reader board with airline and location spread along one wall. It is two screens and roughly 12 lines on each side. When they are ready for you, the board will light up with gate information. Passengers have 30 minutes to get there. And when it posts, it is a mad dash down the hallway for departure. It was good to have gotten to Gattwick with time remaining. The downer was my eyes were heavy with sleep and didn't dare nod off for fear of missing my connection. I fought off the fog the best I was able with an occasional head nod.

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We arrived into Marrakesh 10 minutes before schedule. I sat on the aisle seat and was ready to be off the place as the couple I was sitting next to a couple of kissers who made out for what seemed like the entire flight. My seat was at the back of the plane and lucky for me the back cabin door opened for quicker de-planing. Getting through security was significantly quicker than I had imagined it would be. I got $100 US dollars exchanged with a $9.47 dihram to $1 USD exchange--typically airport shortage as I am sure that in town I can get more than 10 to 1. Exiting the airport I did not see my driver so I settled in and kept my eyes open while fighting sleep.

Before I left the USA, I sent the riad my picture and name so that they would not have any challenges locating me. As the plane was early it would have to be a wait and see game. Before I knew it, he was here--a scruffy, friendly man with basic English and smile that went from here to eternity.

A few things struck me--  the new airport wing looks fabulous, the roads are in very good shape, the streets are cleaner than I had anticipated, traffic was not horrendous, and there was a slight smell of wood burning in the air. It feels very 2nd World; let's see what remains when the layers are pulled back.

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I am glad that I paid 150 dirham for the airport pick-up. I had read about the medina twisting and turning, and this is very true. Trying to find my hotel for the first time would have been mind boggling, especially on 4 hours of sleep and trying to fake a smile through it all. My driver knew all the hiccups and got me to my place w/o any difficulty. The alleys are so slim, no cars can pass which in reality is a blessing as it keeps the noise down.

My riad, Hotel Sherazade, is a hop and skip from the square --Djemaa el-Fna. My riad is within the medina and belonged once to a wealthy merchant. The current owners have renovated the space and have a very good job modernizing it. For $180 dihram I would have a private room on the terrace. This works out well too b/c the wifi is on my level and won't have to leave my room to get access. Breakfast is served for an additional $50 dihram but figure I can find a better deal on the street or market place.

Check-in was quick and easy. A tiny sliver of a stairway meandered me up to the terrace with a timed French styled light on the wall that would get me safely up before automatically turning off. Double wooden doors with interior curtains greeted me as I found my way into a brightly painted yellow room with colorful cement floor times, a full bed with traditional cover, red drapes, and traditional Moroccan light hanging from the ceiling. This would be home for the next 5 days and 4 nights.

I quickly made my way back down the stairs and inquired about train travel. Would I need  to get my seat in advance or would the same day be okay? I was told same day travel would not be a problem and a taxi would be able to get me there for around 20 to 30 dihram. Walking would take 45  minutes to an hour.

Before getting some shut eye I wanted to see some action. I exited the raid, took a left, and then a right, and headed out of the arched gateway and into the Djemma el-Fna. Squwacking of instrumental horns with snake charmers blared in my ears, the husttle and bustle of throngs of people, twinkling candlelit lanterns, and the sounds of drums lured me further into the chaos. Looking around for my bearings, I wanted to make sure I would find my way back--red/white checkered wall, Cafe France on my right, beggars to my left. Before gettting sucked into the vortex, I decided to lay low and test the boundaries before being sucked into the sea of entertainment. I order for $10 dihram a hand squeezed, pomegranate juice and sipped it slowly. I was going to sleep well tonight. December 8 - 11 - Marrakesh, Morroco

The week has just begun and already losing days of the week as the time on my computer is different from my watch and the actual day (Sunday?) is lost in my mind with all the confusion. I blame the fogginess on the medina's labryinthal alleys and the congestion of the el-Fna, I can't recall if this is my last night in Marrakesh or the next. Trying to get the correct date has been challenging as I try my Arabic with a smile and a pleasant soul tortured with patience. (tomorrow = ghedda, yesterday = lbareh, day = nhar, Saturday = nhar ssebt, Sunday = nhar lhedd, Monday = nhar letneen) Smiles and head nods and 5 minutes of kindness from a total stranger, I believe today is the 11th and not the 12th as I had imagined. If that is the case, I have one more night here in Marrakesh before taking the train to Casablanca. To be on the safe side, I am going to confirm at the front desk of the riad. Marrakesh being a major tourist hub has benefited me as there are signs in multiple languages-- Arabic, English, German and French. On the street some business people are also able to speak Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, and Japanese and will go through the myriad of possibilities until they find the one they can use to sell you a pair of shoes or scarf. Once you leave the city center, this changes quickly to French, Arabic and one of the several Berber dialects. I have not butchered the language too badly as I still have my head and have not had my tongue cut from my mouth (just kidding of course). Most historical monuments and mosques are within the ancient medina. It is behind a large wall that encircles the area--think of it like behind fortress walls from the ol' days of kings and queens. If you get lost (which I am prone to do because of my poor lack of direction and chasing pretty, shining things), ask someone for the Koutoubia Mosque or Djemaa el-Fna. Even not knowing Arabic, a simple smile and pointing with a question mark in your voice, folks can the drift of what you are seeking. It hasn't failed me yet. My first day I woke early and got to the Bahia Palace before it opened. People were scampering about to get to work, and I sat along the avenue to watch the parade go by. One can learn a lot by just watching. For ex., stay to the right of the road when walking or you will get plowed down by a moped or donkey cart as well as have some nasty words and devil's eyes glared at you. One too many tourists haven't learned proper street etiquette and sure they will catch on quickly or be the brunt of distasteful Moroccan jokes. And can you blame them? Even I scoff under my breathe out of frustration by just observing this foolishness. Bahia Palace, a.k.a. the Beautiful, took 14 years to build. It was started in the 1860s and took another 6 years for it to be embellished with painted ceilings, mosaic floors and walls, and stained glass windows. Inlaid woodwork, fanciful doors and shutters are at every bend and turn. I can only imagine how majestic it must have been when the place was furnished if it compares to the ornate edifice. In 1908 Pasha Glaoui invited the French troops to stay within these walls. Three years later, the French booted out their host. So much for being a guest, huh? The palace is large with only a portion of the 150 rooms open for public viewing. You can see rooms where the harem once lived (4 wives and 24 concubines) and where court was held. The Vizier's favorite concubine, Lalla Zineb, lived in an especially spectacular room with stained glass windows covering an entire wall and casts colored shadows down the walls when the sun beckons. The marquetry is especially gorgeous with rose bouquets painted on the ceiling with larrge doors that open to the manicred gardens. The Vizier was not liked by many people. He was once a slave and his hard life beckoned the wrath of those who had hurt him. Even before he was dead, his enemies and his wives stripped the palace bare of valuables. As someone who loves vibrant color, design and details, I marveled at the artistry. On and on the painted ceilings and mosaic floors go. Every twist and turn is another gorgeous thing to behold. I can only envision what the place must have been like in its heyday. They don't build buildings like this any more.

After seeing the palace, I went through the Mellah. This is the old Jewish neighborhood and lived peacefully with their Arabic neighors for centuries; most Jews left in the 1960s. This also where the spice market continues to be housed after the Jews left the area. It is here too that the synogue remains as well as the Jewish cemetery (miaara), which is connected to the Arabic cemetery. One section in the Jewish cemetery is of particular interest when over 500 children died from cholera. Their graves are unmarked but rounded, whitewashed markers cover the area as far as the eye can see. *************************

I snaked my way around the fortress walls to the Kasbah area to visit the Saadian Tombs. If you get lost just keep asking and you will meandor to what you are seeking. The tombs are not easy to spot. If you get lost, go to the Kasbah Mosque. The minaret will be seen in the distance. The tombs are located on the side of the mosque and will be missed if you are looking for a sign. A small opening within the wall will lead you down a narrow hallway before opening to a large interior space. Saadian Sultan al-Mansour ed-Dahbi imported Italian marble and many artisans to construct this magnificent space. The largest chambers is held up by 12 pillars with pure gold and decorative plaster work. He died in the early 1600s, but several decades later another sultan walled the mausoleum up to ban the former sultan's memory. A very samll passage from the mosque to this site was the only way into the space. In 1917 they were redicsovered by a aerial photograph. Even in Al-Mansour's death he played favorites with 170 chancellors and wives surrounding the outer rooms and even closer trusted Jewish advisors who sat closer to him than his sons or wives. ***************************** The muezzin wakes the neighborhood with the first prayer at 5 a.m. with the adhan across the city. I toss in my sheets as the local mosque is my neighbor and we share a communal wall. The speaker is pointed toward mecca, and I too say my thanks to the Creator as I nestle the blankets closer to my chin and bury my head under the covers. The chill of the Atlas mountains cools the city. I set the muezzin on snooze knowing that the next call to prayer will be at 7 a.m. I rise by 7:30 a.m., shower in the communal bathroom, and pull my shirt collar around my neck to keep the cool air from finding its way to my chest and slip my sport coat on top. The chill will pass soon enough knowing that by 11 a.m. I will be wishing I didn't bring my jacket. The weather reminds me alot of California--cool morning, warm afternoon, and chilly evenings. Kareem is not at his front desk post in the riad, and I meet another well informed person to inquire about my interest to see the Ali ben Youssef Medersa. I would have to find my way through the souks and with gentle "bon jours" ask the locals to help me to my destination. Even when you thought you have gone too far, keep walking. Look for a high wall with fanciful lights. The medrasa is the oldest and largest university in Morocco and opened in the 14th century. Quranic learning was the focus but they also taught science, literature, and other subjects. It is aligned with the Ben Youssef Mosque that is still in existence. At one time it was one of the largest universities in Africa housing approximately 900 students. 130 student dormitory quarters surround the majestic courtyard. Ornate carvings surround the walls and contain no representation of humans or animals as required by Islamic law and consist entirely of inscriptions and geometric patterns. It is gorgeous to behold! The Hispano-Moreque ornamentation is mindboggling-- five-colored walls, stucco archways with Kufic letters that shape into leaves, curved mihrab with Italian Carrara marble. It is a must see!


Note: if anyone guides you through the neighborhood, they will expect a tip. I am not a fan of this gesture. They want 10 to 20 dihrams. I always beg the pauper and show that my pockets are empty with only a few dihrams. They usually leave in a huff and no longer your "best friend". Oh well, such is hospitality. ************************************

The Badi Palace was built in the 16th century by Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour. Once glorious and magnificent, much of what once was is no longer. The intricate carvings and mosaic are a thing of the past, but if you watch the video at the site it will help recreate its splendor. It was built with ransom money paid by the Portuguese from the Battle of the Three Kings. It is still used for ceremonial purposes by the King of Morocco. The place took 25 years to build. Constructed using some of the most expensive materials of the time, including gold and onyx, the colonnades are said to be constructed from marble exchanged with Italian merchants for their equivalent weight in sugar. The original building is thought to have consisted of 360 richly decorated rooms, a courtyard (135×110 m) and a central pool (90×20 m). Walkways connect the courtyard with the pools of water that appear to hover on the surface with fruit trees and gardens nestled with in the quadrants. Sultan Ismail Ibn Sharif stripped the building of its contents, building materials and decorations, to was used in the construction of his new palace in his new capital at Meknes. It would be nearly impossible to reconstruct this building as it once was in his zenith. I can only imagine the oppulence. Here too rests the minbar. This is where the Imam speaks from during Friday prayer. It was in use for 6 centuries. It is made of cedar wood with intricately laid marquetry as well as gold and silver calligraphy. It was made in the 12th century and restored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Most minbars are kept behind doors in the mosque and then pulled out by men with large ropes as it is on wheels. This one was special in that it came out from behind the closed door via hidden pulleys giving it a mysterious and awesome wow experience.

Costs: large, homemade piece of bread from street vendor - 2 hand squeezed orange juice from street vendor in el-Fna Square - 4 Bahia Palace - 10 Saadian Tombs - 10 kebab from street vendor with bread from street vendor - 5 Medrasa - 20 tangine with beef and veggies - 50 (lunch at artisnal craft center) lamb cpouscous - 35 (dinner in el-Fna Square) Bahia  Palace - 20 2 homemade danish - 10 2 scoops of handmade coffee ice cream - 12 Moroccan soup, fresh handmade bread, cheese omlette, assorted olives with tip = 30 necklace with bone beads that are hand carved - 50 December 12, 2016- Ville Nouvelle For some reason my sleep schedule is off. I usually have no problem adjusting when I go over; it's usually returning to the USA I have the most difficulty. This has not been the case for Morocco. May be it has to do with the muezzin waking we each day at 5 a.m. and again at 7, the chill in the air when the sun goes down as I settle into my bed sheets, or simply trying to get comfortable in a bed I am unfamiliar. All the same, when I do rise all is well and raring to go for a day of adventure. I don't feel tired; it's just that I know I am not resting to my fullest. What got me going today was my trip to Ville Nouvelle here in Marrakesh. There is the old city (Medina) and the new city which is right next door. The Medina is pulsating with tourists while the Ville Nouvelle is for well to do city folks--think Starbucks, McDonald's, and 2nd world shopping mall. I was going to visit Jardin Majorelle, the home of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge. The easy way to get there would be to take a taxi; the challenge was not to take a taxi but rather a public bus. The buses hover around the Koutoubia Mosque as well as the taxis. Taking a taxi would cost about 20 dihram and a bus 4. Why spend 5 times as much when you can travel like a local? The trick would be finding the right bus and knowing when to get off. Fortunately for me, Marrakesis are friendly folks. The bus schedule has since changed when the Lonely Planet guidebook was published. It was definitely not bus 4 or 12. I went from one bus to another and was told it was number Canz? Canz? Canz...what was canz in French? I know the number. I knew it had something to do with the number 5 but wouldn't recall. I counted on my fingers---un, deux. trois, quatre, cinq, sis, sept, huit, neuf, dix. But was canz? I went to a school girl who was like 8 years old and asked canz? She had no idea what I was talking about so I counted in French 1-10. And then canz? Canz? I then said something like, "Cinq et cinq is dix. Que es canz?" She had no idea what I was saying and wrote done number 66! I sad no, no...canz. She pointed to a bus and motioned to ask the driver. And so I did. I asked, " Canz and then in English what is canz?" The driver smiled and laughed and said, "15". Yes, 15, quinze! Not much later a woman with a hump on her back asked in English, "Do you know the number quinze?" My reply was, "Yes, 15". She pointed to where number 15 was to pick people up on the street. A head nod and a couple of smiles later, I was off to the bus stop for #15. Oh what a way to start a day. And you can betcha bottom dollar, I won't forget quinz. About 15 minutes passed and #15 came to the curb. I paid my 4 dihram and said to the driver Jardin Majorelle? He nodded. I sat in the very front seat and had the pitiful lost puppy dog look in my eyes as we hurtled down the street--turn once to the left, casual right, and in my head seeing the grocery I took a mental note (must get cookies for a snack). We arrived not even 15 minutes to a corner with a gas station and he smiled. He turned and said, "Jardin Majorelle". He pointed at me to take the back door exit of the bus and to walk to the corner. And sure enough in bold letters was a sign for the garden - WINNING! I went down the street for about 3 blocks and took another left. I knew I must be in the area because horse carriages with red and green buggies lined the street. And again on the left was the entrance to Jardin Majorelle. I was proud of  my negotiating skills. YEAH! In 1964, Yves Saint Laurent moved to Marrakesh. He began updating the space and to preserve the location by its previous owner, landscape painter Jacques Majorelle, He painted from the 1920s-1930s and is forgetten as an artist, Majorelle was the son of the Art Nouvelle ebeniste from Nancy, France-- Louis Majorelle. Though Majorelle's gentlemanly orientalist watercolors are largely forgotten today (many are preserved in the villa's collection), the gardens he created are his creative masterpiece. The special shade of bold cobalt blue which he used extensively in the garden and its buildings is named after him, bleu Majorelle. The garden has been open to the public since 1947. Since 1980 the garden has been owned by Yves and Pierre. After Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden. On the site also hosts the Berber Museum. It has a beautiful collection of jewelry, garments, and tools. What is equally impressive if not more so than the museum is the cacti garden that was started by Majorelle. What I find interesting is a country that is inhospitable to homosexuality, wraps their arms around the patron son--perplexing and intriguing indeed. *************************************** NOTE about Majorelle's father and his son's childhood home in Nancy, France: In 1898, Majorelle hired Henri Sauvage, a young Parisian architect, to collaborate on the building of his own house, known as the Villa Jika (after the acronym of Majorelle's wife's maiden name), but now popularly known as simply the Villa Majorelle, in Nancy, France. Majorelle, like many industrialists in Nancy, located his house across the street from his factory, but in a relatively new area of town, the large parcel of land which it occupied made it seem like a veritable country estate. His house and factory were located on land that was given to him by his mother-in-law, Madame Kretz.


The three-story design for the villa represents the true flowering of Art Nouveau architecture in Nancy, with multiple bow windows and floral motifs covering the exterior. Majorelle himself produced the ironwork, furniture, and the interior woodwork, such as the grand staircase. Majorelle located his own personal studio on the third floor under a gabled roof, and included a huge arched window combled together with spandrels that evoke the branches of a tree or flower. If I get to France, I must check out this home. I am told it is stunning!


COSTS: public bus - 4 (return, walked back to Medina) Oreo cookies - 17 cheese fries, beef sandwich and drink - 39 Jarin Majorelle admission - 100

December 13, 2016 - I woke to the sound of muzzenin's first call in the stillness of the morning. Nothing stirred, not even the terrace cat who shares the roof with me. 5 a.m. is dark in the streets as the moon hovers above the el-Fnna. I paid for my stay the night before to save time and to quickly be out the door, and as soon as I reached the Medina gates, a taxi was waiting. It was too early for the buses to be running and was told before the sun was up I would pay more for a taxi. I was swept away in a jiff as we made our way through Ville Nouvelle in minutes flat. I was one of the first to fill the modern, train station hall. I paid for my ticket and assured what platform I was to leave from and secured a seat by the door so I would not miss my train. I wasn't sure what would be in store--civilized proceedings or a mad dash of first come first served. As soon as doors opened, I was up and off to find my way to my car. Everything was calm, cool and collected--no Delhi dash here in Morocco. I paid for a first class ticket to insure a seat by the window and to be extra positive all would be well as this would be my first time on a Morrocan train. (I remember the time I paid for first class in Agra, India and it was worthless b/c of a student police exam and everyone packed the cars, regardless of ticket or cast class.) It costs $5 more than a standard ticket and worth the splurge for the longer journey as I would have a cushioned seat and a relatively clean toilet. The lights were off in the train cars. I found a porter to assist me as he guided me to my seat via his cellphone light brightening our path. I told him in broken Franglish I was going to Marrakesh and wasn't sure where to stop. He promised he would find me to make sure I would not miss my station. And sure enough, when we approached the Casa Voyageur after leaving Casa Oasis, he found me and got me down the metal car stairs without any worries. Three plus hours and so far so good. There is a lot of open space - some dessert, some crop land with an occasional nomad in the distance - between Marrakesh and Morocco. The brick red earth goes on for miles. Simple houses and an occasional twig and plastic shelter breaks up the vista with sheep herders and government industrial projects. There are slums thrown in for whatever that matters and not much to see overall. It is better to get a nap in to catch up with early morning rise and shine. Casablanca is not a tourist destination city. It has character, but it is lacking a certain pulse. What I do like about it is it has a workers sensibility. It does not have a lot of glitz and glamour (don't tell that to the locals), but it shows signs of glory days when the Deco movement was in full swing and the French influence pulsated in the architecture-- baloconies, Deco lines, and wrought iron gates with fanciful grill work. Sadly, many of these structures have gone away thanks (or no thanks) to the wrecking ball. I can only hope that the government will do what it can to preserve the remaining few historical treasures. The city is the commerce hub of the nation with banks and businesses booming and busting. There is a distinction however between the haves and the have-nots. Those with heaps less are pushed to the aside in shanty towns that rival Third World developments. One does not have to go far in history to see the war on poverty become the war on terror. In 2003,13 suicide bombers blew themselves up in public places in Casablanca. It resulted in their deaths as well as 33 other innocent lives-- 25 Moroccan, 3 Spanish, 3 French, 1 Italian and 1 Belgian. The terrorists were youth from the worst slum areas just 30 minutes outside of the city and belonged to a radical Islamic group called the Salafia Jihadia. The targets were generally Jewish areas--restaurant, cemetery, community center but also the Belgian Consulate and a local hotel. 100 people were injured, 97 of them Muslim. By 2004, 2000 people were arrested in association with the bombings and more than a handful were found responsible. Not even 4 years went by when another attack was planned. 24 were arrested after their leader blew himself up at a local internet cafe, fortunately before any other lives were taken. Most of the men came from the same slums as the first attackers. Poverty is rampant in greater Marrakesh, and I have always claimed that it is poverty that draws people to violence for the haves rarely attack other haves. But in Marrakesh, 1/3 of the people live in poverty. It is not evident in the city center. Yes, there are beggars here and there, but nothing when compared to Delhi, India or Dhaka, Bangladesh. It is desperation they are clinging to as social justice and opportunity have escaped them. The horrific conditions these people live in is heart-breaking -- plastic and cardboard walls and roofs, no running water, sewage or electricity. It is squalor. Slums surround the metropolitan outskirts, and you get a small glimpse when taking the train into the city. To make matters worse there are no schools and no work which results in desperation acting out in extreme acts--often violent. When you feel you have nothing to lose, there is everything to gain from notoriety and bringing attention to the situation. Anger and frustration turn to hate and acts of terror. *******************************

The Hassan II Mosque is the shining jewel of the city's crown. Heralded in support of the King's 60th birthday, it was completed in 1993. The mosque sits prominently by the ocean and is the tallest building Morocco with the minaret reaching 210 meters. It is Earth's 3rd largest mosque and can support 25,000 worshipers inside and 80,000 in the courtyards and surrounding yards. The floor in the basement reveals the ocean below and on good days the roof is retrackable letting in the light and breeze. It is so large it can fit Paris' Notre Dame and Rome's St. Peter inside. It took over 6,000 artisans to carve the wood, plaster work, and marble mosaics. It is so large, I can't even get the entire picture into my camera frame.


COSTS: Riad (Hotel) Sherazade, 5 nights with airport pick-up and taxes - 1050 laundry - 30 first class train ticket from Marrakesh to Casablanca - 148 taxi to train station from el-Fna in the early a.m. - 50 taxi from train station to Medina - 40 (I should have paid less! I should have gotten it for no more than 20.) 2 French danish - 30 3 scoops ice cream (cafe, caramel, chocolate) - 10 egg sandwich with fries - 9 2 nights with breakfast at Hotel Central in the Medina - $68.84 (hotels and expensive here)


December 14, 2016 - Casablanca Oh the joys of walking through the Medina and trying to find something inexpensive to eat; I know there must be food that is affordable without the tourist prices b/c that is where the locals live. Few have expendable dollars and so for me its about getting a bite without breaking the bank. And I found it, a small hole in the wall no bigger than the average closet with a grill that makes all kinds of fresh sandwiches. Well, eating is easier said than done. I could make a wild guess what the menu was stating through my smattering of French but couldn't make it all out b/c the other half of the menu was in Arabic--all squiggles and dots. It was divine comedy. Or to bastardize Bill Shakespeare....to eat or not to eat, that is the question. I relied on the good ol' finger pointing game. I saw chicken and liver parts in a metal pan, and I was going to go for the chicken. I pointed to it in the glass case protecting it from the dust and grime of the Medina street. The guy behind the counter smiled and asked me something in French and then in Arabic with a question mark on the sides of his lips. He spoke to me, and I had no idea what he said. My reply was the universal word "Sandwich"? To make things more comical, he said something back to me and I had no idea what he was saying. I just grinned and said "oi" a lot while nodding my head. He could have been saying, "You are a dumb ass American aren't you?" And I my parroted response was "yes", while grinning from ear to ear. At some point between sandwich and plucking like a chicken I knew I was not going to be getting a chicken sanwich but rather one made of eggs. I guess I said or pantomimed something right that made sense about a chicken. He broke some eggs and put them into a tub and beat them. I was not going to stop him b/c the point of all this to eat. It would not be the flesh of a chicken but a scrambled egg inserted into bread with lettuce and spices. To top it all off was a serving of popping hot fries rolled up in gray colored paper with wasabi sauce on the side and the top of the paper folder over so that the sauce would not spill out. No ketchup was in sight so I figured this is the way the locals ate them. He asked me something in Arabic like, "Here or to go?", and I said with my thumb up, raised eyebrows and twisting of my lips while motioning to the door--to go. The best part was I got it all for 9 dihram! *********************************************** One thing I will say for the French, they left the Moroccans a love for croissants and well made fresh bread and homemade jelly. There is something mouth watering about a piping hot loaf of bread. I also like the French influence on the architecture with balconies, wide boulevards, and lovely gardens.

********************************************** And there she was, a young woman no more than twenty walking towards me with her hair disheveled and a sad look upon her face. There was something not right about her. Was it her walk? Her stature? The way she bent her head and glared at the sidewalk while muttering inconceivable words? It was then that I saw it. A clear plastic bag tightly held firmly in one hand. It appeared to hold a milky like substance, a pussy film or murky liquid. She brought it to her mouth and closed it around her lips and nose as she inhaled deeply--1, 2, 3....4. Her soft brown eyes rolled back into her head. She was huffing. Getting high and escaping from her current predicament, and my soul ached for her. I wished there was something I could do to lift her up and cast out her demons, but there was nothing to be done. It was seconds in passing that felt like days as the distance between us was more an outstretched arms length versus being more like miles as she and I were were sharing space but on different planes. I could only imagine her past. No words were spoken, but as she lingered, I said a prayer under my breathe that she might find joy and peace in an unjust world. Glancing upward, I caught an elderly man watching as he shook his head in shame and spat at her feet, barely missing her mud caked slippers. En-shallah COSTS: Fried egg sandwhich with fries - 9 3 scoops of ice cream - 10


December 15, 2016 - Fes Storks fly overhead - necks craning forward, long limbs behind, an orange beak pushing forward like an vintage Edison record player needle to tunes unsung. Perched on minarets with enormous, twig nests they clatter in rhythmic dances as their bills resonate like percussion keeping a metronome pace to the onslaught traffic below; the Berbers would be proud. Meanwhile, days pass with few people noticing gangly chicks perched fledgling the edge of their nest--a tight rope of existence, flight or vehicular slaughter. Black wings unfold around their young, caressing but not too safely, because home must be one day be abandoned. What will papa bring back -- insects, fish, reptiles or amphibians? And like many before me, I continue on not knowing the outcome--extinction or life effervescent. **************************** I was able to catch a morning train from Casablanca to Fes. Hailing a taxi was an ordeal as few want to take a traveler who refuses to pay 50 or 70 dihrams, knowing the true cost is only 10. I settle for 20 knowing it won't break the bank and drivers have an advantage on me. I knew the 40 I paid 2 days ago was exorbitant. I breathe in and stay focused. I went first class because it would be a four hour journey. An over stuffed cushion beats hard plastic on one's derriere. My compartment has a total of 6 plush chairs, 3 facing each other. I was fortunate to get a window that had a table by it. Mirrored walls and a sliding, plexiglass door separate the cabin from the car's hallway. A toilet was at the end that drained right to the tracks and off to one side where passengers smoke---both smelling like shit. I went in and out of light sleep and daydreams during my excursion. Nothing special to report...same ol', same 'ol. *******************************

"50 dihram", the taxi driver pronounced as I coolly brushed him off with a half hearted laugh. "50?", I said. "No way!" and countered with 20. "40," he quickly came back and I did not wince. "No, 20", was my reply. He said, "no", and I walked away replying, "There are plenty of taxis in Fes", and did he want my business or not (knowing secretly I did not want to have to do this all afternoon). He returned with a sharp, "40", and I upped it by 10 with a counter of 30. We settled on 35. All that for a car ride. Egads! I loathe taxi drivers and having to negotiate a fair price knowing 10 dihram is the going rate. Why pick-up a local when you harassas a tourist?


******************************

My riad is not down the famous Blue Gate entrance. I was to enter from the side, Ain Azleten. Follow the signs I was told in an email reply I sent to Riad Noujoum. The first sign one was easy enough to catch above the archway entering the Medina. From there I went too far. How hard could it be? I hadn't even turned down another alleyway yet and was still on the same fairway but couldn't find my breadcrumbs. I was directed twice by shopkeepers and still no luck. When there it was around a corner and sharp right, Riad Noujoum. If it was this tricky trying to find my accommodations, I can only imagine how ridiculous it is going to be to meander through the souk. A young boy laughs at me and tells me, "Good luck! There are over 900 streets in the Medina", and he scampers away. When I check-in I was informed by the house manager to not wonder down twists in the road, only stay on the main thoroughfare. I feel like I have fallen down Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole. Oh dear God, what have I gotten myself into?And to make matters worse, my sense of direction is horrendous. 4 nights, I keep telling myself....4 nights. Will I find the exit out in time?

******************************** Over 1.1 million populate Fes. Old and New medinas host the city's inhabitants with the "new" Medina being more than 700 years old. 1200 years of existence and many lives later have come and gone through these ancient walls. Somehow the market and houses stay erect but wonder about their vulnerability as some are kept up with wood column braces. I can imagine the ravage a fire would do to these spaces as some alleys are no more than an arms length between them and the majority sharing walls. One spark and up in smoke; fire engines could not fit down the lanes and through the ancient archways. Founded in the 9th century and home to the oldest university on Earth (University of Al Quaraouiyine), Fez reached its height in the 13th-14th centuries when it replaced Marrakesh as the capital until 1925. The original Medina was part of the Idrisid dynasty dating between 789 and 808 A.D. Large massive fortified walls surround the city and even to this day separates the old from the new medinas. It is medieval town that pulsates with activity and is regarded as one of the world's largest pedestrian zones. Fes is the 2nd largest city in Morocco. It is the Mecca of the West with Muslim pilgrims coming through Africa to worship here. It is also known as the Athens of Africa.

COSTS: taxi to train station in Casablanca - 20 first class train ticket from Casablanca to Fes - 174 2 nights in Hotel Central w/ breakfast (Casablanca) - $68USD taxi in Fes to Medina - 35 (ripped off but at least moved away from 50) 4 nights at Riad Noujoum w/ breakfast - 1080 minced meat sandwich in Medina - 10 hand-stitched scarf/table cloth - 130 coke - 3 Medrasa el-Attarine - 20 Nejjarine Museum of Wood - 20 Madrasa Bou Inania - 20


December 16 - 18, 2016 - Fes, Where's Waldo It is the labyrinth of over 1000 lanes and alleys that is mindboggling; it is one of planet Earth's largest pedestrian areas. A few streets have a name (main thoroughfares) but many don't. It is the constant twisting and turning of up and down cobbled stone lanes that all begin to look the same at every cross point. Don't use the souk stalls and what is being sold in them to be of any assistance because once they close their doors for prayer, you will be looking at wood and metal shuttered entrances with few distinguishing marks. One carpet stall begins to look like the next. Think of it as if you were walking within an ant hill and trying to find your way through. Where's Waldo? The average asking price for a guide is 250 dihram which I think is astronomical knowing the average daily salary is 1/2 that amount. But if market rate is demanding that and men are making bank, I don't blame enterprising guides to take full advantage of unsuspecting tourists with a wad of cash in their tightly held fist and are willingly giving it away. But not I, I will settle for finding the marble under the cup versus giving away my hard earned cash. I will get lost; I know that. It's part of the adventure. Let's hope I can do it with giggles and happy feet. I decided to live on my wits end, pleasant spirit, and Arabic shukrans (thank yous). As long as I am back before the sun goes down all will be well as I am told that there are sometimes naughty characters lurking in the shadows straight from Hollywood casting. I will pray for guidance and good energy, inshallah. My riad is close to the madrasas. Looking at a map, how hard can it be to find as it appears to be only a hop and a skip away? Mind you, I have never been one for maps. I tend to give directions by visual clues, but that is nearly impossible within the medina. I will either be laughing in joyful hysterics or belly aching in anguish by mid-day. No matter, just keep breathing as there is an end to every tunnel. The journey begins with one step. To make matters more complicated, it is raining. I loathe inclement weather and chill in the air. The Atlas mountains are to get 6 to 8 inches of snow and without fail temperatures are going to dip. (Never believe primary school teachers when they say Africa is hot and dessert like as they have probably never out of the good ol' USA let alone through the perilous Altas mountains.) I thank the gods that I brought my Patagonia jacket and down vest as well as pocket sized rain gear. They will come in handy today as well as my travel umbrella I bought last year when I was in New Zealand. ************************************************ I arrive to Nejjarine Musuem of Wood Arts and Crafts before the massive doors of wood and steel are open. I rest against the outer wall and hover the edges to dodge raindrops. The metal details of the door are impressive as well as the hinges that resemble fatimas (the evil eye). This museum opened in 1998 after the building was renovated (costing $2.5 million). It was formerly a fundunq, a storage area for traveling salemen with lodgings above the ground floor. The space is nice, but it is not as impressive of a collection as I had hoped I would see. From there I got quite lost when trying to find the Madrasa el-Attarine. A madrasa is a place of learning, but this one has since stopped formally teaching and is open to the public to view. It started in 1325 by Abu Said, a sultan, and was a separate annex to Kairsouine Mosque. The zellij is outstanding (tile work). I am told it is as impressive as Madrasa Bou Inania. Which I plan to visit later in the day. The name of the mosque takes its name from the spice and perfume souks that surround the area. Madrasa Bou Inania is significantly closer to my riad and is regarded as one of the finest examples of theological colleges in Fes. It too was built by a sultan, Bou Inania, in the year 1350. It took 7 years to construct. Upon entering the first thing you may witness is the masssive brass doors with huge knockers. While it is no longer a theological school it is still used for Muslim prayer. This madrasa is also the only one in Fes with a minaret. The architectural style in these madrasa is known as Marinid. In the 14th century, Fes became a refuge for Jews. They created neighborhoods called Mellahs. They are throughout Morocco. Many Jews left the Mellah for Jerusalem in the 1960s. Some remain in Morocco but have moved out of the neighborhood into the newer sections of cities. I visted my first mellah in Marrakesh and have since gone to each area when I have come to a new city. I did not have the opportunity to visit the synogogue when I was in Marrakesh. Fes has two, one in the cemetery and the other (Ibn Danan) outside the gates. It was built in the 17th century and was restored in 1999 by UNESCO and other funders from around the globe. I expected the Torah to be behind the area where the rabbi speaks but in this room it is along one wall with large wooded doors. In the basment is a washing area (mikva) where married, Jewish women would go during their menstral cycle for ritual cleansing 7 days after their period. *************************** You can but a riad for $150,000USD which comes with furniture and staff. Many French have invested money into the medina. The man who owns this riad rearely comes to visit. I wonder how he manages a business from such a distance? COSTS: Jewis synagogue - 20 loaf of bread - 1.5 boy guide in Mellah - 5 halal sandwhich - 1.5 halal sandwich 7 December 15, 2016 Storks fly overhead - necks craning forward, long limbs behind, an orange beak pushing forward like an vintage Edison record player needle to tunes unsung. Perched on minarets with enormous, twig nests they clatter in rythmic dances as their bills resonate like percussion keeping a metronome pace to the onslaught traffic below; the Berbers would be proud. Meanwhile, days pass with few people noticing gangly chicks perched fledgling the edge of their nest--a tight rope of existence, flight or vehicular slaughter. Black wings unfold around their young, caressing but not too safely, because home must be one day be abandoned. What will papa bring back -- insects, fish, reptiles or amphibians? And like many before me, I continue on not knowing the outcome--extinction or life effervescent. **************************** I was able to catch a morning train from Casablanca to Fes. Hailing a taxi was an ordeal as few want to take a traveler who refuses to pay 50 or 70 dihrams, knowing the true cost is only 10. I settle for 20 knowing it won't break the bank and drivers have an advantage on me. I knew the 40 I paid 2 days ago was exorbitant. I breathe in and stay focused. I went first class because it would be a four hour journey. An over stuffed cushion beats hard plastic on one's derriere. My compartment has a total of 6 plush chairs, 3 facing each other. I was fortunate to get a window that had a table by it. Mirrored walls and a sliding, plexiglass door separate the cabin from the car's hallway. A toilet was at the end that drained right to the tracks and off to one side where passengers smoke---both smelling like shit. I went in and out of light sleep and daydreams during my excursion. Nothing special to report...same ol', same 'ol. ******************************* "50 dihram", the taxi driver pronounced as I coolly brushed him off with a half-hearted laugh. "50?", I said. "No way!" and countered with 20. "40," he quickly came back and I did not wince. "No, 20", was my reply. He said, "no", and I walked away replying, "There are plenty of taxis in Fes", and did he want my business or not (knowing secretly I did not want to have to do this all afternoon). He returned with a sharp, "40", and I upped it by 10 with a counter of 30. We settled on 35. All that for a car ride. Egads! I loathe taxi drivers and having to negotiate a fair price knowing 10 dihram is the going rate. Why pick-up a local when you harassas a tourist? ****************************** My riad is not down the famous Blue Gate entrance. I was to enter from the side, Ain Azleten. Follow the signs I was told in an email reply I sent to Riad Noujoum. The first sign one was easy enough to catch above the archway entering the Medina. From there I went too far. How hard could it be? I hadn't even turned down another alleyway yet and was still on the same fairway but couldn't find my breadcrumbs. I was directed twice by shopkeepers and still no luck. When there it was around a corner and sharp right, Riad Noujoum. If it was this tricky trying to find my accommodations, I can only imagine how ridiculous it is going to be to meander through the souk. A young boy laughs at me and tells me, "Good luck! There are over 900 streets in the Medina", and he scampers away. When I check-in I was informed by the house manager to not wonder down twists in the road, only stay on the main thoroughfair. I feel like I have fallen down Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole. Oh dear God, what have I gotten myself into?And to make matters worse, my sense of direction is horrendous. 4 nights, I keep telling myself....4 nights. Will I find the exit out in time? ******************************** Over 1.1 million populate Fes. Old and New medinas host the city's inhabitants with the "new" Medina being more than 700 years old. 1200 years of existence and many lives later have come and gone through these ancient walls. Somehow the market and houses stay erect but wonder about their vulnerability as some are kept up with wood column braces. I can imagine the ravage a fire would do to these spaces as some alleys are no more than an arms length between them and the majority sharing walls. One spark and up in smoke; fire engines could not fit down the lanes and through the ancient archways. Founded in the 9th century and home to the oldest university on Earth (University of Al Quaraouiyine), Fez reached its height in the 13th-14th centuries when it replaced Marrakesh as the capital until 1925. The orginal Medina was part of the Idrisid dynasty dating between 789 and 808 A.D. Large massive fortified walls surround the city and even to this day separates the old from the new medinas. It is medieval town that pulsates with activity and is regarded as one of the world's largest pedestrian zones. Fes is the 2nd largest city in Morocco. It is the Mecca of the West with Muslim pilgrims coming through Africa to worship here. It is also known as the Athens of Africa. COSTS: taxi to train station in Casablanca - 20 first class train ticket from Casablanca to Fes - 174 2 nights in Hotel Central w/ breakfast (Casablanca) - $68USD taxi in Fes to Medina - 35 (ripped off but at least moved away from 50) 4 nights at Riad Noujoum w/ breakfast - 1080 minced meat sandwich in Medina - 10 hand-stitched scarf/table cloth - 130 coke - 3 Medrasa el-Attarine - 20 Nejjarine Museum of Wood - 20 Madrasa Bou Inania - 20 December 14, 2016 Oh the joys of walking through the Medina and trying to find something inexpensive to eat; I know there must be food that is afforadable without the tourist prices b/c that is where the locals live. Few have expendable dollars and so for me its about getting a bite without breaking the bank. And I found it, a small hole in the wall no bigger than the average closet with a grill that makes all kinds of fresh sandwhiches. Well, eating is easier said than done. I could make a wild guess what the menu was stating through my smattering of French but couldn't make it all out b/c the other half of the menu was in Arabic--all squigggles and dots. It was divine comedy. Or to bastardize Bill Shakespeare....to eat or not to eat, that is the question. I relied on the good ol' finger pointing game. I saw chicken and liver parts in a metal pan, and I was going to go for the chicken. I pointed to it in the glass case protecting it from the dust and grime of the Medina street. The guy behind the couter smiled and asked me something in French and then in Arabic with a question mark on the sides of his lips. He spoke to me, and I had no idea what he said. My reply was the universal word "Sandwhich"? To make things more comical, he said something back to me and I had no idea what he was saying. I just grinned and said "oi" a lot while nodding my head. He could have been saying, "You are a dumb ass American aren't you?" And I my parroted responce was "yes", while grinning from ear to ear. At some point between sandwich and plucking like a chicken I knew I was not going to be getting a chicken sandwhich but rather one made of eggs. I guess I said or pantomimed something right that made sense about a chicken. He broke some eggs and put them into a tub and beat them. I was not going to stop him b/c the point of all this to eat. It would not be the flesh of a chicken but a scrambled egg inserted into bread with lettuce and spices. To top it all off was a serving of popping hot fries rolled up in gray colored paper with wasabi sauce on the side and the top of the paper folder over so that the sauce would notspill out. No ketchup was in sight so I figured this is the way the locals ate them. He asked me something in Arabic like, "Here or to go?", and I said with my thumb up, raised eyebrows and twisting of my lips while motioning to the door--to go. The best part was I got it all for 9 dihram! *********************************************** One thing I will say for the French, they left the Moroccans a love for croissants and well made fresh bread and homemade jelly. There is something mouth watering about a piping hot loaf of bread. I also like the French influence on the architecure with balconies, wide boulevards, and lovely gardens. ********************************************** And there she was, a young woman no more than twenty walking towards me with her hair disshelved and a sad look upon her face. There was something not right about her. Was it her walk? Her stature? The way she bent her head and glared at the sidewalk while muttering inconceivable words? It was then that I saw it. A clear plastic bag tightly held firmly in one hand. It appeared to hold a milky like substance, a pussy film or murky liquid. She brought it to her mouth and closed it around her lips and nose as she inhaled deeply--1, 2, 3....4. Her soft brown eyes rolled back into her head. She was huffing. Getting high and escaping from her current predicament, and my soul ached for her. I wished there was something I could do to lift her up and cast out her demons, but there was nothing to be done. It was seconds in passing that felt like days as the distance between us was more an outstretched arms length versus being more like miles as she and I were were sharing space but on different planes. I could only imagine her past. No words were spoken, but as she lingered, I said a prayer under my breathe that she might find joy and peace in an unjust world. Glancing upward, I caught an elderly man watching as he shook his head in shame and spat at her feet, barely missing her mud caked slippers. En-shallah ************************************************ COSTS: Fried egg sandwhich with fries - 9 3 scoops of ice cream - 10 Tags: casablanca, egg, morocco



Ville Nouvelle - Marrakesh, MoroccoDecember 12th, 2016Current Location:Marrakesh, Morocco December 12, 2016 For some reason my sleep schedule is off. I usually have no problem adjusting when I go over; it's usually returning to the USA I have the most difficulty. This has not been the case for Morocco. May be it has to do with the muezzin waking we each day at 5 a.m. and again at 7, the chill in the air when the sun goes down as I settle into my bed sheets, or simply trying to get comfortable in a bed I am unfamiliar. All the same, when I do rise all is well and raring to go for a day of adventure. I don't feel tired; it's just that I know I am not resting to my fullest. What got me going today was my trip to Ville Nouvelle here in Marrakesh. There is the old city (Medina) and the new city which is right next door. The Medina is pulsating with tourists while the Ville Nouvelle is for well to do city folks--think Starbucks, McDonalds, and 2nd world shopping mall. I was going to visit Jardin Majorelle, the home of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge. The easy way to get there would be to take a taxi; the challenge was not to take a taxi but rather a public bus. The buses hover around the Koutoubia Mosque as well as the taxis. Taking a taxi would cost about 20 dihram and a bus 4. Why spend 5 times as much when you can travel like a local? The trick would be finding the right bus and knowing when to get off. Fortunately for me, Marrakesis are friendly folks. The bus schedule has since changed when the Lonely Planet guidebook was published. It was definitely not bus 4 or 12. I went from one bus to another and was told it was number Canz? Canz? Canz...what was canz in French? I know the number. I knew it had something to do with the number 5 but wouldn't recall. I counted on my fingers---un, deux. trois, quatre, cinq, sis, sept, huit, neuf, dix. But was canz? I went to a school girl who was like 8 years old and asked canz? She had no idea what I was talking about so I counted in French 1-10. And then canz? Canz? I then said someting like, "Cinq et cinq is dix. Que es canz?" She had no idea what I was saying and wrote done number 66! I sad no, no...canz. She pointed to a bus and motioned to ask the driver. And so I did. I asked, " Canz and then in English what is canz?" The driver smiled and laughed and said, "15". Yes, 15, quinze! Not much later a woman with a hump on her back asked in English, "Do you know the number quinze?" My reply was, "Yes, 15". She pointed to where number 15 was to pick people up on the street. A head nod and a couple of smiles later, I was off to the bus stop for #15. Oh what a way to start a day. And you can getcha bottom dollar, I won't forget quinz. About 15 minutes passed and #15 came to the curb. I paid my 4 dihram and said to the driver Jardin Majorelle? He nodded. I sat in the very front seat and had the pitiful lost puppy dog look in my eyes as we hurtled down the street--turn once to the left, casual right, and in my head seeing the grocery I took a mental note (must get cookies for a snack). We arrived not even 15 minutes to a corner with a gas station and he smiled. He turned and said, "Jardin Majorelle". He pointed at me to take the back door exit of the bus and to walk to the corner. And sure enough in bold letters was a sign for the garden - WINNING! I went down the street for about 3 blocks and took another left. I knew I must be in the area because horse carriages with red and green buggies lined the street. And again on the left was the entrance to Jardin Majorelle. I was proud of  my negotiating skills. YEAH! In 1964, Yves Saint Laurent moved to Marrakesh. He began updating the space and to preserve the location by its previous owner, landscape painter Jacques Majorelle, He painted from the 1920s-1930s and is forgetten as an artist, Majorelle was the son of the Art Nouvelle ebeniste from Nancy, France-- Louis Majorelle. Though Majorelle's gentlemanly orientalist watercolors are largely forgotten today (many are preserved in the villa's collection), the gardens he created are his creative masterpiece. The special shade of bold cobalt blue which he used extensively in the garden and its buildings is named after him, bleu Majorelle. The garden has been open to the public since 1947. Since 1980 the garden has been owned by Yves and Pierre. After Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden. On the site also hosts the Berber Museum. It has a beautiful collection of jewelry, garments, and tools. What is equally impressive if not more so than the musuem is the cacti garden that was started by Majorelle. What I find interesting is a country that is inhospitable to homosexuality, wraps their arms around the patron son--perplexing and intriguing ideed. *************************************** NOTE about Majorelle's father and his son's childhood home in Nancy, France: In 1898, Majorelle hired Henri Sauvage, a young Parisian architect, to collaborate on the building of his own house, known as the Villa Jika (after the acronym of Majorelle's wife's maiden name), but now popularly known as simply the Villa Majorelle, in Nancy, France. Majorelle, like many industrialists in Nancy, located his house across the street from his factory, but in a relatively new area of town, the large parcel of land which it occupied made it seem like a veritable country estate. His house and factory were located on land that was given to him by his mother-in-law, Madame Kretz. The three-story design for the villa represents the true flowering of Art Nouveau architecture in Nancy, with multiple bow windows and floral motifs covering the exterior. Majorelle himself produced the ironwork, furniture, and the interior woodwork, such as the grand staircase. Majorelle located his own personal studio on the third floor under a gabled roof, and included a huge arched window combled together with spandrels that evoke the branches of a tree or flower. If I get to France, I must check out this home. I am told it is stunning! COSTS: public bus - 4 (return, walked back to Medina) Oreo cookies - 17 cheese fries, beef sandwich and drink - 39 Jarin Majorelle admission - 100 Tags: marrakesh, morocco, pierre, ville nouvelle, yves saint laurent



Marrakesh, MoroccoDecember 11th, 2016Current Location:Morocco, Africa December 8 - 11 The week has just begun and already losing days of the week as the time on my computer is different from my watch and the actual day (Sunday?) is lost in my mind with all the confusion. I blame the fogginess on the medina's labrythinal alleys and the congestion of the el-Fna, I can't recall if this is my last night in Marrakesh or the next. Trying to get the correct date has been challenging as I try my Arabic with a smile and a pleasant soul tortured with patience. (tomorrow = ghedda, yesterday = lbareh, day = nhar, Saturday = nhar ssebt, Sunday = nhar lhedd, Monday = nhar letneen) Smiles and head nods and 5 minutes of kindness from a total stranger, I believe today is the 11th and not the 12th as I had imagined. If that is the case, I have one more night here in Marrakesh before taking the train to Casablanca. To be on the safe side, I am going to confirm at the front desk of the riad. Marrakesh being a major tourist hub has benefited me as there are signs in multiple languages-- Arabic, English, German and French. On the street some business people are also able to speak Spanish, Chinese, Portugese, and Japanese and will go through the myraid of possibilities until they find the one they can use to sell you a pair of shoes or scarf. Once you leave the city center, this changes quickly to French, Arabic and one of the several Berber dialects. I have not butchered the language too badly as I still have my head and have not had my tougue cut from my mouth (just kidding of course). Most historical monuments and mosques are within the ancient medina. It is behind a large wall that encircles the area--think of it like behind fortress walls from the ol' days of kings and queens. If you get lost (which I am prone to do because of my poor lack of direction and chasing pretty, shining things), ask someone for the Koutoubia Mosque or Djemaa el-Fna. Even not knowing Arabic, a simple smile and pointing with a question mark in your voice, folks can the drift of what you are seeking. It hasn't failed me yet. My first day I woke early and got to the Bahia Palace before it opened. People were scampering about to get to work, and I sat along the aveneue to watch the parade go by. One can learn a lot by just watching. For ex., stay to the right of the road when walking or you will get plowed down by a moped or donkey cart as well as have some nasty words and devil's eyes glared at you. One too many tourists haven't learned proper street etiquette and sure they will catch on quickly or be the brunt of distasteful Moroccan jokes. And can you blame them? Even I scoff under my breathe out of frustration by just observing this foolishness. Bahia Palace, a.k.a. the Beautiful, took 14 years to build. It was started in the 1860s and took another 6 years for it to be embellished with painted ceilings, moscaic floors and walls, and stained glass windows. Inlaid woodwork, fanciful doors and shutters are at every bend and turn. I can only imagine how majestic it must have been when the place was furnished if it compares to the ornate edifice. In 1908 Pasha Glaoui invited the French troops to stay within these walls. Three years later, the French booted out their host. So much for being a guest, huh? The palace is large with only a portion of the 150 rooms open for public viewing. You can see rooms where the harem once lived (4 wives and 24 concubines) and where court was held. The Vizier's favorite concubine, Lalla Zineb, lived in an especially spectacular room with stained glass windows covering an entire wall and casts colored shadows down the walls when the sun beckons. The marquetry is especially gorgeous with rose bouquets painted on the ceiling with larrge doors that open to the manicred gardens. The Vizier was not liked by many people. He was once a slave and his hard life beckoned the wrath of those who had hurt him. Even before he was dead, his enemies and his wives stripped the palace bare of valuables. As someone who loves vibrant color, design and details, I marveled at the artistry. On and on the painted ceilings and mosiac floors go. Every twist and turn is another gorgeous thing to behold. I can only invision what the place must have been like in its heyday. They don't build buildings like this any more. After seeing the palace, I went through the Mellah. This is the old Jewish neighborhood and lived peacefully with their Arabic neighors for centuries; most Jews left in the 1960s. This also where the spice market continues to be housed after the Jews left the area. It is here too that the synogue remains as well as the Jewish cemetery (miaara), which is connected to the Arabic cemetery. One section in the Jewish cemetery is of particular interest when over 500 children died from cholera. Their graves are unmarked but rounded, whitewashed markers cover the area as far as the eye can see. ************************* I snaked my way around the fortress walls to the Kasbah area to visit the Saadian Tombs. If you get lost just keep asking and you will meandor to what you are seeking. The tombs are not easy to spot. If you get lost, go to the Kasbah Mosque. The minaret will be seen in the distance. The tombs are located on the side of the mosque and will be missed if you are looking for a sign. A small opening within the wall will lead you down a narrow hallway before opening to a large interior space. Saadian Sultan al-Mansour ed-Dahbi imported Italian marble and many artisans to construct this magnificent space. The largest chambers is held up by 12 pillars with pure gold and decorative plasterwork. He died in the early 1600s, but several decades later another sultan walled the mausoleum up to ban the former sulatn's memory. A very samll passage from the mosque to this site was the only way into the space. In 1917 they were redicsovered by a aerial photograph. Even in Al-Mansour's death he playd favorites with 170 chancellors and wives surrouding the outer rooms and even closer trusted Jewish advisors who sat closer to him than his sons or wives. ***************************** The muezzin wakes the neighborhood with the first prayer at 5 a.m. with the adhan across the city. I toss in my sheets as the local mosque is my neighbor and we share a communal wall. The speaker is pointed toward mecca, and I too say my thanks to the Creator as I nestle the blankets closer to my chin and bury my head under the covers. The chill of the Atlas mountains cools the city. I set the muezzin on snooze knowing that the next call to prayer will be at 7 a.m. I rise by 7:30 a.m., shower in the communal bathroom, and pull my shirt collar around my neck to keep the cool air from finding its way to my chest and slip my sport coat on top. The chill will pass soon enough knowing that by 11 a.m. I will be wishing I didn't bring my jacket. The weather reminds me alot of California--cool morning, warm afternoon, and chilly evenings. Kareem is not at his front desk post in the riad, and I meet another well informed person to inquire about my interest to see the Ali ben Youssef Medersa. I would have to find my way through the souks and with gentle "bon jours" ask the locals to help me to my destination. Even when you thought you have gone too far, keep walking. Look for a high wall with fanciful lights. The medersa is the oldest and largest university in Morocco and opened in the 14th century. Quranic learning was the focus but they also taught science, literature, and other subjects. It is aligned with the Ben Youssef Mosque that is still in existence. At one time it was one of the largest universities in Africa housing approximately 900 students. 130 student dormitory quarters surround the majestic courtyard. Ornate carvings surround the walls and contain no representation of humans or animals as required by Islamic law and consist entirely of inscriptions and geometric patterns. It is gorgeous to behold! The Hispano-Moreque ornamentation is mindboggling-- five-colored walls, stucco archways with Kufic letters that shape into leaves, curved mihrab with Italian Carrara marble. It is a must see! Note: if anyone guides you through the neighborhood, they will expect a tip. I am not a fan of this gesture. They want 10 to 20 dihrams. I always beg the pauper and show that my pockets are empty with only a few dihrams. They usually leave in a huff and no longer your "best friend". Oh well, such is hospitality. ************************************ The Badi Palace was built in the 16th century by Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour. Once glorious and magnificent, much of what once was is no longer. The intricate carvings and mosaic are a thing of the past, but if you watch the video at the site it will help recreate its splendor. It was built with ransom money paid by the Portuguese from the Battle of the Three Kings. It is still used for ceremonial purposes by the King of Morocco. The place took 25 years to build. Constructed using some of the most expensive materials of the time, including gold and onyx, the colonades are said to be constructed from marble exchanged with Italian merchants for their equivalent weight in sugar. The original building is thought to have consisted of 360 richly decorated rooms, a courtyard (135×110 m) and a central pool (90×20 m). Walkways connect the courtyard with the pools of water that appear to hover on the srface with fruit trees and gardens nestled with in the quadrants. Sultan Ismail Ibn Sharif stripped the building of its contents, building materials and decorations, to was used in the construction of his new palace in his new capital at Meknes. It would be nearly impossible to reconstruct this building as it once was in his zenith. I can only imagine the opulance. Here too rests the minbar. This is where the Imam speaks from during Friday prayer. It was in use for 6 centuries. It is made of cedar wood with intricately laid marquetry as well as gold and silver calligraphy. It was made in the 12th century and restored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Most minbars are kept behind doors in the mosque and then pulled out by men with large ropes as it is on wheels. This one was special in that it came out from behind the closed door via hidden pulleys giving it a mysterious and awesome wow experience.

Costs: large, homemade piece of bread from street vendor - 2 hand squeezed orange juice from street vendor in el-Fna Square - 4 Bahia Palace - 10 Saadian Tombs - 10 kebab from street vendor with bread from street vendor - 5 Medrasa - 20 tangine with beef and veggies - 50 (lunch at artisnal craft center) lamb cpouscous - 35 (dinner in el-Fna Square) Bahia  Palace - 20 2 homemade danish - 10 2 scoops of handmade coffee ice cream - 12 Moroccan soup, fresh handmade bread, cheese omlette, assorted olives with tip = 30 necklace with bone beads that are hand carved - 50


December 22 - 25, 2016 Taking the local train in Mekenes to Rabat, I arrived in the morning knowing I would get to Rabat a little after the noon hour. The capitol city is bustling with energy and more traffic than I would prefer. I am staying the Rabat Surfing Association. It was started by professional, Moroccan surfer Abdel Elharim; he is rated as the best surfer in Africa. The accommodations are closer to the outerwall than anticipated which will aid me finding my way out of the maze--knowing I am still going to get lost. I must admit however the place is a bit disappointing. The building reminds me more of a flop house than a riad. And for the price I am paying to stay here ($20/night with breakfast in a bunk room for 4 people), I have had better stays throughout my Moroccan experience up to this point. The cheaper rooms are $15USD but hold 9 people. I figure the fewer possibilities of snoring guests the better and will take a gamble on the smaller space. This will make for an interesting few days. Let's see where the adventure goes next. (So far, I have been the only person in my room---winning! I am told that will change on  my 3rd and 4th night.)

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Rabat, the capitol of Morocco, is the 7th largest city center hosting almost 600,000 people and adding the surrounding communities--2.1 million. Located on the Atlantic Ocean and by river Bou Regreg, the waves come crashing against the coast and against the light house. The City of Sale is on the other side of the river. I am told for 50 cents you can take a row boat across which I definitely will during my time. (I later found that it is 5 dihram round trip, after paying too much for the trip over.) Combined, these two cities once hosted pirates that scoured the Atlantic Ocean for treasure ships finally ending their escapades in the mid-1850s. Now, these two cities are linked via a tram for 6 dihrams. What I like about this city is that is laidback and not in your face with aggressive selling in the souk, You can stroll through the medina without a care in the world, knowing that you will no be barraged by hawkers of cheap jewlery and carpet salesmen. And it's this leisurley passing that I will come to miss when I return to Marakesh in a week.

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Historically, the Roman and the Phoenicians used this area geographically as a trading route. Chellah a.k.a. Sala Colonia was once a Roman town that bustled with activity. Muslim conquerors named the area Sala and the name remains. Romans were here first, then the Marinids. Berbers at one time came here to also bury their dead. Christianity was here by the 2nd century. Romans occupied this city in 40 AD and remained until the 1100s. It was in the 14th century that the Merenid sultan Abou al-Hassan built a necropolis on top of the site and surrounded it with a fortress. The fortress is currently being renovated and has scaffolding surrounding the outer wall.The ruins today are unamazing compared to others here in Morocco (namely Volubilis) but still interesting to see so many layers of history linked with different faiths. What is easier to discern are the Muslim minaret and complex. Arched pillars surround once used rooms and now is home to nesting storks and the wildlife. To one side is also the tomb of Aboual-Hassan Ali with his wife.

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In Islam it is forbidden (haram) in the Holy Q'uran to make anything that depicts animals or people. It is a form of idolatry. I would love to have a conversation with someone here about art. At the Modern Art Museum, there are many depictions of people--some nude. I wonder how the people see this exhibition, especially since the work is of women modernists. I would have made the assumption that people would be livid. Then again for 40 dihram may be few even know what is on the exhibition walls as the average Moroccan would not spend this kind of money to see art. (For ex., the entry fee to the madrasa is 10 dihram.)

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Seagulls dot the Bou Regreg river as it joins the Atlantic Ocean. The gentle surge brings a variety of sealife to the ocean floor as fishermen haul their nets with their morning catch. Shades of brown and rust red with white buoys ride the waves and are guided to shores to be dried by the morning sun. Bright blue boats gently grace the waters edge as bearded men with dark chocolate skin spread their morning bounty for sale in the souk. They haggle among themselves comparing prices and catch. Between finger pointing and pleasantries, we communicate that I want to go to the other side. An older man with a toothless grin and 5 o-clock shadow reaches out his calloused hand as he balances the boat resting his foot along the cement dock. Teetering to find my seat along the boat edge, I grasp my backpack close to assure that it does not get wet. I sit back and breathe in the salty air as it stings my nostrils and waters my eyes. The journey is less then 3 minutes from one side to the next. I gladly pay the ferryman knowing that the money goes directly into his pocket versus taking the city tram for 6 that fills the city's coffers. Sale is overshadowed by its neighbor, Rabat. It is a quieter town with conservative views. 900,000 people strong the neighborhoods fall behind giant fortress walls that were built in 1260 by the Merenids to protect the town from roving pirates. Settled in the 10th century, inhabitants left Sala Conlonia for this area along the water. Sale is also the home to independence fighters freeing Morocco from the French.

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Christmas eve brings travelers from Finland, Germany, U.K. and the USA together. Strangers united through Christmas, we gather along wood tables to sing songs and tell stories of childhood memories. Leading this forward is crafting, as Charity from the UK announces that there is no Christmas without snowflakes. Paper is a scarcity, and I suggest we find old magazines to tear the pages from. A socialist paper called "New Statesman" becomes our investment as pages are pulled and cut into squares. Reaching back to kindergarten, no one recalls how to make snowflakes so we make our own version version with paper folds as Charity brings her small cutting scissors from her toiletry bag. I ask if anyone knows how to make 3-D ones, and I faithfully lead the way as they are amazed at the treasure that is unfolded as twists of paper and tape take on a character of their own. This will be our holiday...oh the joys of memory making.

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I walk the city in the early morning as the place is crickets on a Sunday. The beaucrats are snug in their beds. As few Muslims celebrate Christmas, there is little merry making. The occasional European that passes me in the streets gives me a Merry Christmas. I return the message and continue on my way.

I decide to return to the Saint Peter Cathedral to see if they might be holding mass. Arriving by ten, the place was quiet, but this time the front doors were open. (I arrived here 2 days ago and nothing was open.) I walk in and have a look around. There are few people here, and I ask a young person in Franglish if they are holding mass today. I was told it would be at 11 o'clock. I decided to wait and pass the hour in silence and meditation. The main window above the alter is fantastically colored with bright reds, blues and golds. It shows Mary below and above her Jesus is surrounded my angels and God above him as he holds Jesus on the crucifixion. There are additional stained glass windows above where the congregation sits that are also brightly colored and below them are the stations of the cross done in mosaic. While I am not Catholic, it feels good to be in a place with other Christians. Many of those that are here are black African and the sanctuary is dotted with white faces. The people, especially the women, are in their refinery with gorgeous tye-dye dresses and some men are wearing the same pattern in their shirts. Long braided hair is cast down their shoulders or perfectly perched on top of their heads like a halo. The pews fill. There are probably 300 or so here with some standing along the sides of the church. Women sit in the back arranging oranges onto straw baskets as a man passes out the service program on a large, white piece of paper that is larger than 12" x 14" written in French on both sides. Children patter and giggle up front all dressed in red tops with white stockings. They sing several songs with their parents holding cellphones and ipads recording it all as they stand to one side. The congregation give a hearty applause. When the congregation sings "Angels We Have Heard on High" to a African beat with drums, electric organ and guitars, the people sway in unison and raise their arms and hands in celebration. It is fabulous! (In my mind I wonder why the organ in the loft is not played--maybe it is broken or no one knows how to play it?) ****************************

When I asked, I explain to some Millenials that are here in my hostel that I am not traveling with a cellphone, and they retreat back in fear. Perplexed and bewildered, they question me as to how I stay connected. I tell them my computer, and that is only after I get back at night so I can write my blogpost and download pictures. They wonder why in the world I would travel without one. I tell them that I am here alone and who would I want to connect with anyone being so far from home. And if I needed help, I would talk with someone on the street. They tell me they use their phone for music, taking pics of sites and selfies. When they are "bored" they crawl on Facebook. Bored? How can they e bored in a country that is not your own? The city is there to explore in all its vastness. They don't understand me and my ol' fashioned ways, and I clearly don't know why they want to be cut-off themselves from the here and now versus falling into an internet abyss that numbs them of authentic experiences. I think they reach to their phones like an alcoholic to a cocktail.

COSTS: taxi in Meknes to train station - 9 train to Rabat (2nd class) - 69 3 nights in Mekenes with breakfast at Ryad - 792 shared taxi to Volubilis and Mounlay Idrisis - 100 (alone would have been 400) 5kg of laundry - 50 taxi to medina - 10 4 nights with breakfast at Rabat Surfing Assoc. in a shared 4 bunk space - 800 (paind 680 as remaider was on credit card hold for my room via the internet) key deposit - 50 Museum of Modern Art - 40 sfenji (doughnut) - 1 silver circle ring with tourquoise - 120 (originally wanted 150) sandwhich with fries 12 2 Poms softdrinks - 10 Chellah ruins - 10 powerchord for computer - 20 tangine with Coke - 32 2 pairs of leather slippers (purple and black) - 160 silver and turquoise pendent - 200 handcard bone box w/pin cushion- 40 hand carved wood head - 30 Sale Madrasa - 10 2 handmade danish cream puff scones w/chocolate  3.5 2 handmade cream puffs - 4 boat ride from Rabat to Sale - 5 (too much--it should be 2.5) boat ride return to Rabat - 2.5 Sheshkabob sandwhich - 13 large Coke - 5 1/2 pizza royale - 20 December 26 - 29, 2016 - Tangier I was the first to wake from the surfing association and the riad was quiet. I got two tangerines for my train journey and made my way through the mysteriously, silent souk as it is usually alive with activity. Getting to the main road, I walked up along the fortified, burnt umber walls and then took a left to the palm lined avenue to Rabat Ville train station. The locals were up and scurrying about to catch their morning commute. There was a frantic pulse in the air with men and women getting to work and poor women making their way down stairs with babies firmly tied to their backs and both hands clutching sacks. I had over an hour to wait, but I much rather be here early than having to feel pushed for time and patience. And so I showed my ticket to security and made my way to platform number 2. Two trains were to come before mine, and I sat back and watched the day break into morning. I decided to go first class because the journey would be over 4.5 hours long. A little extra comfort on the derriere and more leg room goes the distance on such a long excursion. I was in car #1, compartment #1, seat #11. A scruffy man with bad cell phone etiquette was sitting in my seat, and I paid him no attention. Putting my duffel above my head and my backpack on the adjacent side, I sat in another seat. The compartment held 6 seats, and including me, five would be occupied. The man with the bad phone etiquette over extended his welcome by taking up another seat with his books and papers. I was unimpressed. I slept through the majority of the trip. I woke each time Mr. Bad Etiquette's phone rang as he spoke loudly with everyone in the compartment looking up at him with a menacing glare. He was clueless to grimacing stares and our consensual disapproval. To make matters even more uncomfortable, half way through the trip I believe he was watching porn on his phone. I caught him placing his black, padded jacket over his trousers as he glared at his screen and the protrusion from beneath his pant zipper became engulfed. I saw his hand appear to make suggestive moves around his crotch as he sank more deeply into his over stuffed chair. He breathed in deeply. I was not amused. I couldn't believe he was doing this in a train car full of half asleep people, as well as an elderly women next to him. Glancing upward, he noticed me looking at him as I caught his eye. He had that "kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar" look as he quickly tried to pass innocence by shutting off his phone, pulling his fingers from beneath his coat in a fidgetingly sorta way while quickly diverting his eyes. *************************** Tangier sits on the western side of the Rock of Gibraltar, separating Spain from Africa. It is here where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day you can see one coast from either country and for $35USD you can take ferry across. (I thought about taking a day trip but with $70 round trip there are other  things I would rather do with my hard earned dollars.) The Tangier port sprawls across the water holding back the sea with a cement jetty and large boulders scaling to the water. The city conjures up Hollywood images of spies, writers, and diplomats caught in espionage and back room dealings. It is said that Tangier got its name from the mythological daughter of Atlas--the supporter of the heavens who carries the Earth on his shoulders. Others stated it comes the Semitic word meaning harbor, tigisis. The Door of Africa stands wide as people have come and gone over the centuries from this port. And even today, civilization passes through from either side-- Europeans to Africa for holiday, and Africans seeking marriage and business opportunities in Spain. (I am particularly amazed by how many Africans here come from Camaroon.) Romans, Byzantine and the Sultan Ismail Moulay have all tried to claim this land as theirs. Each had risen and failed as she cannot be forever conquered--rather constantly evolving into something new and different. Even today, Tangier is on the verge of something new. It will be interesting to see what the future may behold. I must admit though, I have no interest in sticking around as the place lacks an authenticity I was hoping to see. Even more surprising is that it appears to lack art spaces--symphony, dance, fine and performing art. Artists are here but tucked in back corridors and souks versus performing spaces. The city is at a crossroad of cultures and economies that collide while each trying to make their mark. Sadly it looks like cement is the winner, as buildings and roads create havoc on the view pushing ever closer to the sea. NOTE: It was here too that the United States under President Washington made its first claim aboard. In 1821, the U.S. Legation came to Morocco as it was a gift by the sultan legitimizing the U.S. as a country. *********************** Why would anyone in Morocco want to be a Christian? The churches are always closed, except for mass. At least if you are Muslim, you can visit a mosque 5 times per day. The buildings are also more fabulous than their Christian counterparts. ************************ The men are off to prayer at the mosque. Throngs leave their shops open and head down the street. A simple broom across the doorway or a sheet over homegoods leaves things to rest until the shop owner returns. Few if any women are inside the mosque as they are at home taking care of the house and children. If men are not in the souk or office working, they are in the cafes drinking tea and eating harira. I am told their wives throw the men out of the house for peace and quiet. This may not be entirely true but morsels of truth lie within the crumbs. ************** Alibaba is what the men in the market call me because of my goatee. They pat me on the back and give a belly laugh. They want to know where I am from and begin guessing with Spain, then France, then with a question mark--England? Each time they ask in the language of the country they are hypothesizing. I tell them I am from the United States. They tell me I don't "look and act like an American". I take that as a compliment. I want to ask them further what an American looks and acts like but decide to refrain and sidestep the question all together. I definitely know that I am not like most who pass through the medina. I try to keep a low profile knowing that even I still stick out despite my sincere tries to fall between the cracks. (I have dollars in my pocket and can purchase fancy cookies.) I don't flash designer clothes, large overbearing sunglasses with a name scrawled on the side and glass lens, and giving airs while carrying over stuffed shopping bags and talking loudly on my phone or spiraling into a zombie cellphone trance while staring blindly at a screen. I wear black and gray trousers and button down shirt. It is my motorcycle boots that give me away. My boots have taken me around the world several times. They have kept me from being bitten by poisonous snakes, have traversed rushing waterways, pulled through rainforest mud, and climbed deep canyons and river banks. I have re-soled and heeled them several times. The leather is beginning to show signs of wear. It is cracking along the worn wrinkle in the bend of the toe. I wonder how much longer they will last as it is time for them to be re-heeled once again. May be one or two more lives? If I am lucky, three? Time will tell. Not bad for a thrift store purchase 7.5 years ago for $10. As the old adage goes...these boots are meant for walking.


COSTS: 1st Class train from Rabat to Tangier - 153 taxi in Tangier to Medina - 50 harira (soup) - 6 bag of churros - 2 2 cheese rolls wrapped in dough, chicken wrap and one Poms - 21 almond bar with cream - 60 cable chord - 50 chicken wrap and beef pie - 10 6 fancy handmade cookies/bars - 21 harira (soup) - 5 salad and hummus with bread - 25 fancy cookie - 3 3 tangarines - 1.5 box of market cookies - 8.73 2 chocolate bars - 19.85

December 30, 2016 - January 5, 2017 - Almost Home


My time in Morocco is drawing near to final curtain -- applause, bows and fading lights. I am waiting in the wings not wanting to miss my cue as the limelight will quickly fade. And even though I will return again, the appeal for a reprise is already on my step. I know the choreography and trust the score will be familiar when I take the stage again. Alas, I should enjoy the here and now and not let the next few days pass without glory.

There are still things I want to do-- artisinal markets, souk, hamam, savory flavors and scents, etc. So with that said, let the final songs be sweet as I near the end of a rewarding experience.


The muzzenin beckons the city to prayer. A chorus of minarets echo in the distance and merge with the constant pace of a place that is quick in commerce, fast in haggling, and on the verge of cultures colliding while sometimes mis-stepping near collision. (click the embedded video above) It is the call to prayer, the salah, that brings us to the now, and in that moment I too say a silent mantra of thanksgiving. Walls and barefeet on finely woven prayer rugs may bring some to pleasantries, but I celebrate the goddess within as the whirlwind of activity surrounds my very being. There is peace in the chaotic as I push the elements aside and focus on my breathe...subhana rabbiyal A'ala (Glory be to my Lord, the Most High).


In the morning before the day begins to break and the sky opens pushing away the night, the call to prayer comes early. The mosque is literally right outside my door with the amplified speaker pointing toward mecca. Salat al-Fajr is the prayer before sunrise. It is this first call that I think of as my morning alarm clock knowing that I will reset it to snooze as another will come again before it is time to rise from my slumber. I stir in my blankets and wrap myself tightly in my cocoon thanking the Creator for my blessings and tribulations. It is a gift to travel, and it's this gift that I hope I can grow from and leave a small part of myself behind making the planet a little bit better than how I found it.


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Bleating sheep playfully dart between olive and tangerine trees. Shephards grace the fields watching the flock. Another day passes. Simplicity.


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It makes my heart heavy to see the maltreatment of animals--particularly around the Jemma el-Fnna in Marrakesh. Snake charmers, macaques (monkeys), and horses entertain the flock of tourists but at what cost? The monkeys are stolen from their mothers at a very early age from their natural habitat in the Atlas mountains. They are kept in small cages with a chain and collar around their neck as tourists pose with them on their shoulders and heads for that "treasured" selfie while giving several dihram to the "owner". And if the monkey does not follow the command, it is yanked, scolded, and punished. The snakes, often times cobras, have had their fangs and venom glands removed, sometimes their mouths are sewn shut. They spend 10 hours approximately being passed back and fourth for selfies as they tireless lay around tourists necks, coil up on the pavement, and appear ready to strike as horns are blown by musicians. The serpents look exhausted.


The horses line-up around a circular drive; they are attached to buggies, a.k.a. caleches. The buggies are ornate with fresh red and green paint, brass lights and siderails, and over stuffed seats. Some of the horses rear back and toss their heads in discomfort as their bit appears to fit too snuggly or possibly from bad teeth. What is more concerning is the horse cobbler who re-shoes the horses. I watched him one afternoon for over 2 hours working with the horses. If a horse did not cooperate during the re-shoeing, he would take the handle of his hammer and bask the horse in the head. I reared back in disbelief when I saw this behavior. It made me quite uncomfortable. Did other tourists not witness this? Yet, they blindly pay their fare for the ride along the cityscape.


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It was then that everything came to a screeching halt, as all heads quickly turned to the sound of skidding tires on worn pavement. And it was there he remained--body broken, people running to his aid, and a loud city that came to silence. He winced in pain as his body attempted to coil into the fetus position. He pulled the helmet from his head, and it was then that I had to cast my eyes away. Brains protruding from the side of his scalp with blood gushing, staining the pavement with horrified onlookers gasping in astonishment. Police drew with chalk on the road where he remained and where the car hit him. His scooter was brought to the sidewalk as daily life continued with buses, cars, and horse drawn carriages meandering around the scene and people with nothing else to do (I in that collection) watching in amazement as prayers were cast. This was no way to begin 2017. Peace be upon this soul.


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A small window was at the entry as I stepped down into the men's hammam within the medina and paid 10 dihram to enter. There are two hammams within walking distance to my riad, and I selected the one closer to the outer bab (gate). Before I went I asked advice from the riad staff on costs. There are some private hammams that cost $30 to $40 USD. This was not what I was seeking. I wanted a local hammam with neighborhood people. Some hammams are also attached to mosques and are closed to non-Muslims. I was told it would be 10 dihram to enter, 5 for the checked bag attendant, and 50 for a grommage (scrub). I was also instructed to leave any valuables at the riad and take only enough money for the hammam.


The bathhouse I went to welcomed me; as the door attendant pushed the entrance open, I could immediately feel the heat resonate within and the smell of dampness in the air. I was given a bucket with a scoop and was motioned to sit and take off my clothes. Rows of white tiled benches lined the perimeter. It was a large communal changing room with tier seats. I had brought with me in my plastic bag two towels, shampoo, and an extra paid of underwear. I was informed that in Morocco men leave on their underwear, take off their towel from around their waist when they go into the interior bathing area, and to wear water shoes or flip flops. (My Turkey experience was different; you get naked and they provide you with a cotton wrap.) I disrobed and wrapped my towel tightly around my waist. I placed my clothing into the plastic bag and gave it to the attendant with a 5 dihram fee to assure its safety.


I was escorted into the interior behind a large rolling door. There were three rooms with the largest being at the end and the other two with men and boys scrubbing and washing one another. Little ones slid across the slippery floor as they frolicked in delight and fathers scorned them with harsh words for misbehaving. Not speaking Arabic, my assistant motioned me to lie on the floor. With his hands he placed them palm to palm and turned them upside down two times and then pointed at me with ten fingers and then flopped his hands back and fourth again like he was a making a a grilled cheese sandwich. I interpreted this as meaning 10 minutes on the floor on my front and then ten on my back. I could feel the heat of the space relax me--2 1/2 story domed ceiling with small preformations.


Echoes of conversations filled the void and bounced from wall to wall. (In the back of my head I thought this would be a great place for a cello recital.) The men on either side of me washed, and I could feel the hot water along my back and sides as they rinsed the soap from their bodies and made its way toward the drain in the room's center. I had taken my long hair from my clasp and could feel it dance in the stream like seaweed along the bottom of an ocean moving with the tide. Breathing in, my nostrils smelled the sweetness of the argan and olive oil. Tiny droplets of water formed along the ceiling and would gracefully fall on my chest and alongside my shoulders and hands.


As promised, twenty minutes later an older man came and took my bucket. He rinsed it with hot water from the spicket in the tiled wall. Returning, he pulled my body to the center of the dome and with his cotton mitt splashed water from my head to my toes. Taking his hands he motioned me to sit upright as he spread my legs and stretched me forward by holding onto my wrists and with his feet against mine leaned back as my body naturally was pulled forward against his gentle tug. He then had me lie on my stomach as he placed his weight on my back, legs, feet and arms. Taking the soap he lathered my back, arms, legs, hands and feet. With the cotton glove, he began to scrape me (yes, scrape) taking what felt several layers of dead skin off my body. It felt almost like sandpaper--pleasantly painful. I could feel my skin open as it began to slightly sting from the soap. No words spoken, we would turn my body from side to side as well as raise my arms overhead to remove the filth.


My helper then returned to the hot water and filled his buckets. Returning he poured them on top of me while washing away the dead skin from chest, back, legs and arms. He then poured cold water on top of me and then another bucket of piping hot. He then said, "finished" in perfect English.


I returned to the outer changing room, fetched my plastic bag and changed back into my clean undies and street clothes. I paid another man 50 dihram to give to the man who washed me, and he then demanded 100 more. I told him no and pulled emptied pockets from my trousers. I was glad that I got advice from the riad before I went on hammam costs. He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly, and I was off to home for a good night's sleep.


COSTS: ice cream cone on street - 2 breakfasts - homemade bread, jam, butter, freshly squeezed OJ, croissant, mint tea - 23

cotton scarf (2) - 40 (20 each - black & white) churro - 3 cotton scarf

20 (red) wash 2 items - 20 (pricey!)

kilm and leather artisnal bag - 700

embroidered cottton shirt - 80

embroidered black cotton robe - 100

goat leather bag with fur, braid and horn - 200

black cape with hand embroidered edge and hood - 400

goat slipper with rubber bottom - 80

3 necklaces - 60 (20 each)

brown beaded necklace 20

2 tangarines - .87 (less than 1 dihram) mint tea in box 13.50 5 nights Hotel (riad) Sherazade -

900 breakfast - homemade bread, jam, butter, freshly squeezed OJ, croissant, mint tea -

23 tangine with lamb, sparkling water + tip

44 hammam 10 grommage

50 hammam bag check

5 breakfast - homemade bread, jam, butter, freshly squeezed OJ, croissant, mint tea - 25 with tip bus to airport - 30




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