Friday, September 16, 2016

MOROCCO: FINAL THOUGHTS

After a Big Trip like this one to Morocco, my husband and I like to sit down together for a final trip evaluation. We did that on the plane on our L-O-N-G flights (stop in Paris, stop in Detroit) home. With almost no editing (except for adding a few pictures), here are my notes.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT GEOGRAPHY:
* The Atlas Mountains, with their three levels (Anti-Atlas, Middle Atlas, and High Atlas), are a significant barrier and effectively separate the north from the south. Even today, roads seem tenuous--easily washed out by a storm or destroyed by a landslide.
* Road repair, similar to in the U.S., is a constant struggle, especially on the winding mountain roads. It's one of the few places we saw heavy machinery.
* Mountain roads have few safety precautions, such as barriers on the cliff side.
* Morocco has incredible diversity of terrain and climate zones in a relatively small area.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY:

* In some ways the technology was way behind, although everyone carries a smart phone, there are plenty of cars, and I've never seen so many satellite dishes. Still, it is as if they skipped over many parts of technological development. (No telephone land lines, for example.)
* There is a complete lack of farm machinery. Large areas of land are plowed by donkey and an old-fashioned plow. In fact, donkeys are EVERYWHERE.
* People in the middle of nowhere are walking alongside the road. Where are they going? Where did they come from?


OBSERVATIONS ABOUT TOURISM:
* Moroccans have a love-hate relationship with tourists. They seem to resent us being there but live off tourism dollars.
* Like everywhere else in the region, tourism is WAY down, which accounts for some of the extreme aggression of the vendors.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT RELIGION/CULTURE:
* This is the most observant Muslim country we've ever visited.
* Morocco has a very dominating patriarchal culture.
* We saw NO women shopkeepers or waiters and only a couple of women crafters, although we understand women do crafts at home, such as making rugs.
* The full veil of the Sahara region (all black with only the eyes showing) makes the women seem less than human, a real barrier to individuality.
* It was interesting to be evangelized by our guide Aziz, who at the end of our trip told us he hoped one day we'd see what is true and become Muslim. He rather smugly pointed out that many Christians become Muslim but that no Muslims become Christians.
* We were impressed by how devout our guides were. We saw Aziz praying in the Erg Chebbi Dunes and Abdul joining Friday prayer in Jemaa el Fna Square. Their devotion was very sincere.
 * The call to prayer is live and just a bit staggered, unlike the recorded and synchronized version in Jordan.
* Polygamy is still allowed but not common. It requires the consent of prior wife/wives. A man is not allowed to have a "favorite wife." All his wives must be treated equally.
* The divorce rate is about 10%, according to one of our guides, and many divorced women remarry.
* Aziz basically shut me up when we were discussing religion, but said he wanted to hear Bob's viewpoint. I got the feeling women talk about religion much, at least not with men.
* Aziz stopped the recording he was playing for us when it came to a part about women not being allowed to testify against their husbands in a court of law.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT MULTICULTURALISM:
* There is a very interesting mix of Berbers (natives), Arabs, and the French, and the latter seem to be regarded as pariahs.
* We were surprised there isn't more conflict between Arabs and Berbers. Perhaps Islam is the unifier.
* Moroccans are slow to acknowledge the past contributions of the French. Who can blame them?
* French influence is seen in the use of French as the official language for business and banking. It is also being taught in school.
* All three of our riads were run by French women. If there was a man there, he seemed to be secondary.
* We were surprised there isn't a more obvious French influence on food, art, etc. The French and the locals didn't seem to mix. Too much distance between social classes?
* The French people we interacted with, mainly in our riads, definitely looked down their noses at the locals.

FAVORITE FOODS:
* Sheep's head in Jemaa el Fna Square
* Cumin and salt mixture to dip lamb meat into
* Camel milk in Rissani
* Snail soup in Fes
* Lamb tagine with apples in Skoura
* Chocolate tart at Riad Laarousa
* Lamb served to us in a tent in Erg Chebbi Dunes
* Food in the souks and markets--olives, dates, nuts, figs
* Fresh orange juice everywhere, never more than $1.00 and sometimes only 40 cents.
* Grapefruit, orange, and lemon juice mixture for $1.00 in Jemaa el Fna Square in Marrakech
* Little flavorful bananas served for dessert
* Hot Moroccan bread with oil and salt at our cooking class (the only time we thought the bread was good)
* Line-up of preserves at L'Ma Lodge, and the real French crepes there
* The banana split at the French cafe in Jemaa el Fna Square

FAVORITE ACTIVITIES/SIGHTS:
* Storks everywhere, but especially in Marrakech
* Second camel ride out of the Erg Chebbi Dunes
* Beautiful gorge and houses in Tinerhir
* View of Aroumd/Aremd from across the valley during our walk in the High Atlas
* Moulay Idriss Shrine in Fes that we saw only from the outside
* The extensive Bahia Palace in Marrakech with the Biennial Art show in it--room after room of gorgeousness
* Introducing Aziz to "Marrakesh Express" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
* L'Ma riad in Skoura--the place we wish we could have stayed another day
* The abandoned and falling apart primitive mud village near the Algerian border
* The scent of orange blossoms, especially in Marrakech, that reminded us of California
* Herds of goats and sheep everywhere
* Barbary apes, although as an endangered species, it's hard to believe they aren't being better taken care of
* Stables in Meknes: quiet, eerie, beautiful light
* (Judy) Plush velour robes of women, especially the leopard prints and the red robes with large white polka dots
* Our first view inside each of our three riads: so ugly and dingy on the outside, so beautiful within
* Discovering hot milk as a substitute for green tea
* (Bob) Christian bringing a pot of hot milk to the roof in the early morning for Bob while he was watching the storks
* Synagogue in Marrakech
* Handwork in so many forms: Man coating inside of copper pots with tin; view of men sewing in shops; pottery, painting, intricate designs everywhere
* Donkey parking lot at Imlil Saturday market
* Goat heads on display at Imlil
* (Bob) Four-wheel driving with Hassan in the dunes
* Fire in our room the first night at Riad Laaroussa in Fes
* Snow-covered Atlas Mountains
* Green on ALL Fes minarets
* Cemetery in Fes and learning about Islamic rules regarding burial
* Popularity of the king--as in Jordan, his photo everywhere
* Ironically Christmas-y red Moroccan flag with its green star
* Story of current king sending ten faithful men to Mecca when he found them at the earliest prayer at the mosque near his royal farm just outside Fes
* Hooded cloaks of the Berber men--making them look like Obi Wan Kenobe
* Yusef's denial that sheep cheese exists and his insistence that labels claiming the cheese was from sheep were a lie
* "Thank you, you're welcome"--the standard way to say thank you. Sometimes it was just "welcome!"
* Bedouin camp we visited near Merzouga in Hassan's Jeep and the strips of salted chicken hanging from the ceiling
* Being dropped off in Merzouga to walk alone down the hot, dusty, vacant main street as if we were in a scene from The Twilight Zone
* Judy's camel sitting down with no warning and almost tossing her over his head

A FEW DISLIKES:
* Feeling like we were always being duped or that someone was making exorbitant amounts of money off us
* Relentlessness of two men in Imlil Farmers Market who wanted us to buy something from them
* Paying $40 for a guide to walk around with us for two hours in Imlil and Aremd
* Knowing our driver Aziz arranged said guide and took a cut, as he did everywhere
* Pushiness of Aziz regarding Islam and his unwillingness to listen to any kind of a response
* Driver who spent 45 minutes driving around Casablanca looking for our hotel
* Missing seeing the Mosque in Casablance because of said driver
* Our hotel in Casablanca--so far from everything, its general decrepitude and uncaring staff, the loud people next door who talked until 1:00 AM, and having to carry our luggage down five flights of stairs because of the broken elevator
* Blah, standard, over-priced lunches forced on us by our guides as we traveled--same salad, same mediocre tagines, same apple-orange-banana dessert
* (Judy) Way too much time in the car and way too many winding mountain roads
* Mediocre meal we made in our cooking class
* Aggression of snake handlers in Jemaa el Fna Square who took our cameras, shoved snakes into our hands, and screamed for more money after we paid them
* Super pushy salesman in leather goods store at tannery
* No AC turned on in the car, just an open window blowing in Judy's face, even in the Sahara region
* Prevalence (and awkwardness) of minted green tea and served everywhere we went
* Always needing small bills and coins but having trouble getting it
* The man raging quite violently at Air France agents in the Casablanca Airport

THINGS THAT SURPRISED US:
* Overall, we weren't that impressed by the food. We had a really good dish here and there, but we expected to love the food and were disappointed.
* Bob expected to love Ben Haddou and hated it, but Judy loved everything about it but the annoying vendors.
* We were converted to cumin not just as an ingredient, but as a dip for cooked meat.
* We expected more French influence on the food.
* The fez (hat) is not from and not seen in Fes. It is Turkish.
* We liked Marrakech as much as (or in Bob's case, more than) Fes.
* Traffic police were EVERYWHERE, and all of them used radar cameras. Bob would have gotten ten tickets had he been driving. No one who knows the system would DARE to speed.
* We ate a lot of beef but hardly saw any cattle. Where were they all?
* We saw a lot of goats but never ate goat meat.
* There are wells in the desert. and the water is only 7-8 meters down.
* Our sweet driver Yusef was screaming at someone on the phone while he was driving us to Fes. When he hung up he said "My boss" and shrugged his shoulders. It was a shocking shift to violence.


WHAT DIDN'T SURPRISE US:
* We came expecting to love the country, the people, the atmosphere, and the adventure. We did!
* We thought we might not have enough time to see everything we wanted to see. We were right!
* We would love to spend some more time in Morocco. 
* Bob wants to eat more sheep's head. Judy wants to buy some slippers. 
* We both want to go to places we couldn't fit into our itinerary, such as Chefchaouen, "The Blue City."
* We are SO GLAD we took this trip when we did!


7 comments:

  1. Nice summary. I'm glad you were persistent in finishing the Morocco posts. I liked Morocco more than I thought I would. From the standpoint of variety of culture, geography, foreignness to my way of life, things to do - I think Morocco may be my favorite trip destination. It does not have the familiar history of Israel, Egypt, Rome, Paris or London, which add so much to visits to those and other places, but for exotic-ness, it is tough to beat.

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  2. I am convinced that there have always been and will always be aggressive vendors in Arab souks. In 1972, I found aggressive vendors in Turkey, Lebanon, and Israel. They still seemed pushy in Istanbul and Ephasus ten years ago. One man spit on Shelley when she turned down one vendor and bought the same item from his competitor on the streets of Istanbul. The street vendors in Ghana could sometimes be very pushy. In all fairness, the Arabs don't have a corner on the aggressive sales techniques. I remember my dad (who loved to dicker) driving a very hard bargain with a man in Mexico who chased our car down the street when my dad walked out of his shop after his final offer. My dad paid the man after the hand tooled leather saddle was shoved through open window on our car. My dad was truly in his element in Arab souks full of aggressive vendors.

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    1. Yes, you are right. Is it cultural? Is it that westerners are perceived as being wealthy? What do you think it is? Some of the most aggressive vendors we've experienced, by the way, were on the walk from the parking lot to the Great Wall of China. Another was in Egypt where within within 30 seconds of entering a shop we were totally decked out in Egyptian outfits. Still, the experience at the farmers market topped even those. Two men relentlessly followed us around for 30 minutes, laying guilt trip after guilt trip on us. I LOVE the story about your dad!

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  3. By the way, I am sad to see the end of blogs about your fabulous visit to Morocco. I have enjoyed my vicarious wandering around the Atlas Mountains and the crowded streets of the larger cities. It is also fun to hear about the exotic foods (much of which I will never experience - even if I take my own trip to Morocco). Thanks for taking the time to share.

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    1. Thanks, Russ. I used to make scrapbooks of our trips. This is easier and much more fun!

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  4. I love your final summary. What a great and memorable trip! I'm looking forward to your next adventure.

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  5. I love this summary. What a great idea to get an overview of the lengthy trip with all sorts of different experiences. Thank you so much!

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