Morocco and Spain, 1999

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Morocco and Spain
My travels seem to always start with a disaster.  This time, Air France bumped me from a flight from Paris to Casablanca, and then lost my luggage for almost three days (I finally had to sift through hundreds and hundreds of lost bags to find my backpack).   I was forced to wear the same stinky clothes in hot, humid Casablanca for three days due to this unfortunate mishap!  Maybe this is fate's way of saying, "If you want this nice vacation, you're gonna need to earn it!"?

The people of Morocco were fascinating. They are a people of extremes.  Most of the people that I met were amazingly warm and hospitable, and thought nothing of walking several blocks out of their way to help me find an out-of-the-way bus stop or inviting me into their home for sumptuous tagine or couscous dinners.  The Moroccans are famous for this hospitality, and it is almost impossible to spend a day in Morocco without being asked at least once to share deliciously sweet mint tea.  They often reacted very pleasantly when I tried to speak Arabic, often getting very excited at the mere fact that I was making an attempt (I learned to order food, get a hotel, ask for directions, count to ten, use other useful miscellaneous phrases, and exchange pleasantries in Arabic).   I found myself really enjoying speaking what little Arabic I learned.

At the other extreme, a small percentage of Moroccans were manipulative, conniving, and nasty.   "Most Moroccans are really good people, but when they are bad, they are really bad.", remarked one traveler.  The people of Morocco also seem to have an an uncanny knack for bargaining, and are by far the best at trading and bargaining of any people I have ever encountered.  This seems especially true of the Berbers.  And finally, there seemed to be this underlying current of tension among many Moroccans.  Just about every day in Morocco, I saw at least one really heated argument.  I'm not talking about the very animated way that they speak, either.  I am talking about arguments with people shouting at the top of their lungs, frothing at the mouth, and in extreme cases, throwing things, pulling someone down the street by the hair, fistfights, or striking the other repeatedly with a large metal pole!!  I never have experienced this sort of tension in any other country.   In short, many of the people were some of the friendliest people I have ever met, and unfortunately, several of the people were some of the nastiest people I have ever met.

The country is beautiful and varied, with tall mountains, the Mediterranean and Atlantic Coasts, the desert, and idyllic fields of olive groves (they have the tastiest olives I have ever tried!), and beautiful waterfalls.  Cascades D'Ouzoud, up in the High Atlas Mountains, is the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen!! 

Although I genuinely enjoyed every city and town that I visited, I seemed to especially like the medium-sized towns the best, such as the coastal town of Essaouira (windsurfing, former hang-out of Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane, site of Orson Welles' film "Othello"), Chefchaouen (a charming, beautiful whitewashed Spanish-tinged town with a large square filled with cafes serving delicious tagines and pastilla, nestled in the green Rif Mountains), and Larache (lovely coastal town with beautiful beaches, cafes, whitewashed medina, and the Roman ruins of Lixus).  Chefchaouen and Larache had a very calming atmosphere, and I found myself able to relax and get to know both travelers and Moroccans even more.

The larger cities were riveting.  Marrakesh has Djemma Al-Fna, a large square that crackles with excitement in the evening when Berber acrobats, snake charmers, dramatic storytellers, henna artists, herbalists, percussionists, Berber mountain musicians, and jugglers descend upon the square.  You can even have someone pull your tooth here, should the need arise!    Food stalls cook up anything from delicious salads, tagines, and sandwiches to escargot and sheep's head, with delicious aromas filling the air.  And skirting the periphery of the square are over fifty orange juice stalls, stores, restaurants, and the rambling Marrakesh souks and medina (marketplace).  And speaking of medinas, the medieval walled city of Fez Al-Bali contains over 9400 cobblestoned streets, twisting and turning every which way.   Walking around each corner results in new sights and sounds, and especially in the case of the tanneries, smells (yick!). 

Tragically,  Morocco's King Hassan II passed away of a heart attack while I was in the imperial city of Meknes.  For the most part, he was a very well-loved king, reigning over Morocco for 38 years.  The next day, the streets of Meknes became a river of people, all singing, chanting, or weeping, hoisting banners and flags and pictures of the king in the air. It was incredibly moving, and is an experience that I will never forget. 

I spent about two weeks in Spain, going as far as Cuenca and Toledo in the middle of Spain, but other than that, primarily staying in the southern Andalucian region.   Spain was refreshing and beautiful.  I became especially infatuated with the town of Ronda, one of the pueblos blancos found in Andalucia.  To me, Ronda was like a storybook village come to life.  Incredibly dramatic, it is perched up on sheer cliffs which plunge hundreds of meters down below. The R’o Guadalevin divides Ronda, with the stone Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) spanning the gaping gorge.  Down below, the entire city is surrounded by beautiful olive groves and mountains.  Charming plazas filled with cafes serving delicious paella, ice cream, and Andaluc’an cuisine can be found everywhere, and the cobblestoned streets are filled with beautiful wrought-iron balconies, windows, and flowers.  I also really loved Arcos De La Frontera, a very small town that smothers another large bluff very dramatically, spilling down the sides of the bluff.   Very beautiful.  Other cities I visited included the tourist beachtown resorts of Cadiz and Marbella, and also the larger cities of  Sevilla and Granada.   Although Spain is very beautiful and enchanting, I did have the feeling that I was more of a "tourist" and less of a traveler while in Spain. 

While not as blatantly warm and hospitable as the Moroccans, I still found the Spanish people to be very friendly and helpful.  Many people in Spain only speak Spanish, in contrast to the Moroccans, who spoke Arabic and French, but also frequently Spanish, English, and Berber, slipping back and forth between several languages.   Consequently, like Peru, I often had to rely on my broken Spanish.  It was more challenging than Peru due to the rapid pacing of their speech and different pronunciation.  For example, "s" was frequently pronounced like "th", causing the speaker to sometimes sound a bit like Sylvester the Cat ("Thufferin' thucotash!").  Also, there was sometimes a tendency to leave off sounds or even whole syllables:  "Buenos dias!" would become "Bueno dia!" or "Bueno di!"  While visiting the amazing Alhambra in Granada, I met and spent the entire day with three very charming girls from Barcelona.   One of them spoke so machine-gun fast that even the other two occasionally had difficulty understanding her!

We tried something different this time.  A number of people suggested including some stories and descriptions of traveling from place to place to make the pictures flow together, so this is what we tried to accomplish.  There are a lot more pictures included here than on previous trips!  I hope you enjoy them!  We also have our new Gallery of Postcards new for your amusement!


Follow the camels...

Page 1 - Morocco
Page 2 - Morocco and Spain
Page 3 - Spain and Morocco

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