This blog entry is a week late, I know, but I have at least enough to write about for two weeks worth of entries. I am sitting on an Alitalia flight to Rome, and this plane is one of the cleanest I’ve ever sat in. As I passed through the membrane between Mohamed V Airport in Casablanca and the vehicle, an unintentional smile creeped across my face. I was no longer automatically subscribed to butcher a native language to communicate. For a week, I am free from a prison that I’ve grown to love.
The last week of classes was quickly-paced, and I finally began to feel connected to Fes, especially the old city. After the end of classes, Danny, our friend Nimra and I took a cab into the city in hopes of finding La Terrasse, a well-priced but abnormally chic bar for Fes. We found ourselves lost in the labyrinth of the old city’s streets, and instead took dinner at Café Clock, where I was finally able to try the folkloric camel burger. It was delicious. After dinner we visited the riad that our friends are renting, and it was beautiful. I can’t explain to you how rent is cheap enough to allow four college-aged students temporary proprietorship of this place. For 300 dollars a month each, my friends are living in a five-story riad complete with traditional Moroccan mosaic tiling on every wall, table and floor. The property, until my week of traveling, was the most beautiful real estate I’d seen in Fes. On our last Fesian Saturday, Danny and I got cheeseburgers with good friends, and spent the whole night reclining in the plush couches of Bab-al-Hara, our favorite shisha bar. I learned from a friend that each bowl of shiisha is the equivalent of 1 pack of American cigarettes. Eek.
Come Monday, Mom and Robert arrived, Danny and I bid one another adieu, and I loaded my bags into our driver Munim’s van. We pulled away from the villa, and Munim took us to Riad Ghita, our hotel in Fes. Riads are different from hotels in many ways. Picture from the street, a line of inconspicuous terracotta walls facing the streets, punctured every couples of meters with alleyways. Follow a flight of stairs up into this alleyway and find a short metal door with a buzzer and a brass knocker. From the outside, Moroccan architecture completely conceals its internal beauty. Our Riad was amazing. I will try and post pictures sometime soon, but in the meantime imagine an indoor courtyard that is open to the sky, populated with birds, flowers, trees, mosaic tables and couches. In this courtyard, which all of the rooms which surround it face into on multiple stories, guests or residents sip mint tea and eat tajine, Moroccan salad, etc. My three days exploring Fes through the eyes of a tourist, with the financial means of my Mom and stepfather opened my eyes to the utter delectability of Moroccan food. When you do Moroccan food right- I am openly refuting my previous rejection of Moroccan cuisine- you start your meal off with four garnishes for freshly baked bread- a pepper and tomato salsa-esque sauce, cauliflower, lentil and cumin paste, carrots marinated in citrus and oil, the works. Then the main course is generally some sort of tajine- vegetables and meats marinated into a stew that is served in a teepee-looking pot. Dessert is always a bowl of apples or oranges and hot cups of Moroccan mint tea. So voila. In Fes I finally got to check out the Jewish Quarter, where we visited Morocco’s most famous synagogue, and we visited the center of Moroccan pottery. After three days in the city, we set our sights South to the Sahara.
The route we took South blew my mind, and proved my mental landscape of Morocco to be one enormous, naïve, unimaginative misconception. I will not even attempt to do justice to the beauty of the strikingly multifarious landscape, my pictures will do a measly job at rendering what my eyes tried to make sense of. Morocco has a landscape only second in diversity to America, not only bearing contrast between desert and ice, but also between igneous valleys with bubbling fresh creeks, vast veldt planes, steppe farmed agricultural planes, and thickly forested mountainous areas much like the Adirondacks.
We passed through citis that resembled French banlieues, Swiss resort towns. About an hour South of Fes, you begin to pass over the Lower Atlas Mountains, which show surprising traces of snow early on. Within an hour we might descend from the Middle Atlas peaks into a savannah plane, and then re-ascend to the peaks of the Upper Atlas. By the end of our first night of travel, we had arrived in Merzouga, the capital of the Sahara region, that resembles a mix between the border towns of Texas and Mexico and Key West. This region is famous for its fossil mines, as well as its bivouac encampments where tourists can camp out in the Sahara. Mom, Robert and I stayed in a Berber bivouac encampment only about a kilometer from the border between Morocco and Algeria. I was hoping to wake up to the ‘Ah Sedabenya’ song from Lion King, but still felt lucky when the desert came short musically.
We spent our second day traveling the Sub-Saharan, developing communities of southern Morocco, dense with men on bikes, teenagers playing pickup games of soccer on scorched patches of flat land, and incredibly dark berber women carrying babies in linen slings. Boys wore flourescent Adidas jumpsuits and drank coca-cola. At the end of our second day of travel, we ended in the Southern Royal City of Ouarzazte, the most modern city in the Sahara. Close to the city center are movie sets, that look like imitations of the Warner Brothers compound, but their walls are littered with Arab National figures such as sarcophagi. On this night, we stayed at an incredible golf resort in the desert run by these French billionaires, and the decor, food, etc. was a shameful breath of fresh air. Once again, photos to come. The resort is a few kasbahs (palaces, basically) situated on cliffs overlooking the Atlas Mountains behind an enormous, clear, blue reservoir.
Our final day of driving- each day took between 7 and 9 hours- brought us finally to Marrakech, which has become by favorite Moroccan city. The city is noticeably younger than the others that I visited- its streets are wider, there are more public gardens, more open spaces, better infrastructure, cleaner streets, more nightlife, it’s Morocco’s cosmopolitan darling. I couldn’t have been happier to arrive there. We stayed in Riad Dar Karma, this Riad that opened into two courtyards divided by a fireplace lounge and dining area. One courtyard contained a pool that opened up to the sky and a sauna, and the other opened up to multiple rooms. We spent our time in Marrakech visiting mosques, souks, drinking orange juice (the best part of Morocco), and swimming. The weather was sunny, and about as hot as the Sahara. We also visited the Jardin Majorelle- Yves Saint-Laurent’s private garden, which has been my favorite landmark so far in our visit. The private garden is a museum of exotic plants from every stretch of Earth, and is renowned for its vibrant colors. Photos to come, I’m not going to try.
This morning we took our final breakfast of crepes, fresh OJ, coffee, tea and yoghurt, drove to the Casablanca airport, and as I finish this post, I’m nearing my descent in Italy, nodding to Béyonce. I’ll probably have better internet access than I did for most of January in Europe, so I’ll hope to hear from all of you. Let’s see how European debt and wine treat my wallet. Leggo!