Morocco Part 1

Day 97: June 17, 2018

We woke up at 2:30 am to catch our flight from Cairo to Casablanca. We ate the fruit in our room and leftover buns from the train. I FaceTimed my family who was having a family dinner. It was really nice to see them all and it made me wish that I was there. It was only a short chat as our shuttle to the airport was right there. It was a quick five minute free ride, but we tipped.

We went through the first bag scan. A guy kind of helped us through the first bag scan then expected a tip which we didn’t give. Last night when I checked in I noticed we were business class so we were able to use the separate line to drop our bags. We were given a ticket with “Daniel +1” marked on it for the business lounge. It had Danny’s name even though the tickets were in my name….

Another guy put our tags on our bags then expected a tip which again we didn’t give. We went through another bag scan then got our passport stamps. Next was the actual security check. We went through and walked very timidly to the business lounge. There was a space with couches and a bunch of food at a buffet. I asked how much for the buffet and he said, “All free”. I think my eyes went super wide. There were sandwiches, salads and pastries. Juice, water, soda, coffee and tea. I may have overdone it.

We went to the gate and sat waiting. They called business class and we jumped to the beginning of the line. On the plane, our seats were in the second row, two seats per row and so much leg room. We were given a fancy blanket and pillow then juice while we waited on the runway. We had a bag filled with toiletries and even slippers. Our lunch had a real table cloth and napkin. There was little salt and pepper shakers. Then later we were given free tablets and fancy headphones to watch movies. After a comfy nap we were given some snacks.

I looked up the price for the flight later and the business class was double the price of economy at $600 per seat. When we got off the plane there was lots of room to get your bag down and no one was pushing you. Sometimes on planes you feel like cattle, but business class is different. Seats like this will likely not come to us again so we soaked it in.

We had to wait quite a while in the line for customs, but then our bags were sitting waiting for us. We found our transfer driver. We were told to ask him who he was picking up before telling him our names which he did. We arrived at the hotel and were given tea and cookies as a welcome. We came up to our room and soaked in the wifi.

We went up the street to an ATM and found a grocery store to pick up some snacks. On the way back, we stopped at a cafe. The waitress spoke little English and we speak little French, but we understood there was no meals and only drinks. I had a tea and Danny had a banana juice. Then we shared a dessert. Casablanca felt much calmer than Cairo and more Westernized.

Back at the hotel, we looked into how I will get to Frankfurt from Spain in July. Then we went downstairs for the welcome meeting. We met our CEO, Yassine, and the others. There are lots of people from Canada which is cool.

We went for supper up the road. I had lamb couscous and the flavours in it were really amazing. Danny had seafood pastilla, a phyllo pastry pie. We watched the Switzerland vs. Brazil game of the World Cup and chatted about our travels.

Lamb couscous

We all walked back together to the hotel. All of sudden behind us we heard a girl scream once then twice. The German girl with us had her bag stolen out of her hands by two guys on a motorcycle. I thought I saw her spin out of the corner of my eye and thought she had been hit. Her and her boyfriend had all of their stuff in it: money, credit cards, passports and her cell phone. They were devastated and rightly so. We all stood in shock not knowing what to do or how to help. It made us all feel sick. We were feeling so safe and even more so in a group, but you never know when something like that could happen. It could have happened back home as well, but it’s much more devastating as a tourist. I wanted to hug them or do something.

We came back to our room still in shock and feeling upset. It was a big reminder to us that we need to be more vigilant. Our passports are currently worth a lot with the visas we have inside. Losing them would ruin a lot of our plans. I’m not sure what I would do if I was them. It’s an awful spot to be in and could easily have happened to any of us.

Day 98: June 18, 2018

We woke up and had breakfast in the hotel. Lots of carbs, even cookies, then half cooked omelettes. We left Casablanca and drove to Volubilis, a Roman ruin. Along the way we passed many olive and cork trees. Morocco is the third largest producer of cork. There are also lots of truffles growing at the bottom of trees. Dogs are used to sniff them out. The farm land is 70% wheat and barley.

Yassine told us about a book he had read about Moulay Ismail who developed piracy in the Mediterranean in the 17th century. This led to over one million white slaves in Morocco.

For 44 years, Morocco was under French “protection” until their independence in 1956. The current sultan, Mohammed’s family has been ruling since 1666 and is part of the Arab dynasty. He has put in place many social reforms including: women obtaining inheritance rights and the end to underage marriage. As part of the new constitution in 2011, the prime minister is elected rather than appointed. There are 37 political parties in Morocco.

There is a move to privatize the education system. The public schools are overcrowded with 50 students per class. Government officials are given full pensions after a five year term.

The Koran says that drinking alcohol is haram or not allowed (halal means allowed). Morocco is not as religiously strict as other Muslim countries, however, a Muslim won’t be given a receipt if they purchase alcohol. Morocco was the only African Muslim country not invaded by the Ottomans.

We met our guide at Volubilis and he showed us around the 42 hectare site. It was established in the 2nd century AD. The first house we saw was 1,000 square meters and an olive oil merchant lived there. The dining room had a mosaic of Orpheus, the god of music. Fireplaces were built under the baths to provide heating. Another floor mosaic showed Orpheus with a lyre in the tree of life surrounded by African animals.

Mosaic of Orpheus and the tree of life, Volubilis

The next mosaic was a pool with Neptune in the middle and fish around. The houses had communal toilets where families would sit together. There was also a reconstructed olive press. As we walked, you could see the storks atop the ruins.

Storks at Volubilis

Next was a temple for Zeus, Hera and Athena with an altar used for animal sacrifice. The basilica hosted the court of justice and was the political centre. There was a mosaic with a man riding a donkey backwards who was a Roman acrobat.

Mosaic of a Roman acrobat, Volubilis

We saw the washing machine, then an aqueduct that brought spring water mixed with human urine to wash clothes. We saw an atrium with a fountain, a cistern and jacuzzi, then an aquarium.

Jacuzzi, Volubilis

In another house there was a mosaic with twelve Hercules. The ruins were very similar to others we have seen, but I found the expanse of it quite amazing, especially when now it is in the middle of nowhere.

We returned to the bus and stopped for lunch at an association of women that is sponsored by GAdventures. We had tajine for lunch. Tajine is a dish named after the clay pot it is cooked in. I ate way too much, but the chicken was so delicious.

Following lunch, we had an Arabic lesson. We were taught that their language has only consonants and no vowels. She showed us how to spell our names. Sounds in my name don’t exist in Arabic, but below are the closest Arabic sounds. It was definitely the highlight of the day.

Kind of my name in Arabic

We drove into Fez and relaxed for a bit. We had a drink in the bar, but it was too smoky. Smoking was outlawed inside in Morocco in 1996, but no one enforces it. We came back to the room and went to bed. We were so full from lunch that we skipped supper.

Day 99: June 19, 2018

We were able to sleep in this morning and had breakfast at 8:00 am. The buffet breakfasts mean that I eat way too much. We got onto the bus and drove to the Jewish part of Fez called the mellah. Our first stop was Dar al-Makhzen, the Royal Palace built in the 14th century. It shows the Moorish influence in Morocco. Jews that came from Spain brought Moorish life including tile work.

Dar al-Makhzen, Fez

Fez was founded in 808 AD by a descendant of the prophet Mohammed. We drove up to a fort and were able to look out at the Fez Medina. We were told of the oldest university founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859 AD.

Panoramic view of Fez

We visited a place where they make pottery. We saw how they mixed the clay, molded it, placed it in the kiln, painted it and then sauldered on decoration. The paint colour changes when fired. I bought a vase that will take up way too much room in my bag.

Woman painting pottery, Fez

We entered the Medina through the food section which is closest to the gates for bringing the food inside. Inside we saw a large camel head which showed where you could buy camel meat. We visited a mausoleum for Idris II, the founder of Fez, which was quite beautiful inside.

Mausoleum of Idris II, Fez

We stopped for lunch nearby. There were Moroccan salads and I had lamb which was very yummy. For dessert there was watermelon and another delicious melon.

After lunch we went to a place where they weave fabrics and saw a large loom at work. They use agave silk made from the agave plant. The people at the shop kept trying to sell us things, but we weren’t interested.

Next we visited Chouara Tannery, which is almost one thousand years old. We were given sprigs of mint to offset the smell of the tannery. They call the smell Chanel No. 5. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. In the tannery, they use pigeon poop collected by the locals. It has ammonia in it to break down the hides. The red colour is from poppy, the blue from indigo, the yellow from saffron, the orange from henna, the brown from cedar wood and the green from mint. There were tons of shops selling leather products.

Chouara Tannery, Fez

After, we headed back to the bus. It was getting quite hot. We got back to the hotel and went to the massages we had booked. I had to get naked right in front of the masseuse then put on a little cloth thong. It was a very oily massage and the stones were very hot.

After our massages, Danny went up to the room and I went downstairs for my hammam. A hammam is a public bath. Naked again, I got into the steam room. It wasn’t crippingly hot, but I was pouring sweat. The lady came and took me to a marble seat outside. She shampooed my hair while I sat there. It made me feel like a princess. Next she took me over to a marble bed and exfoliated me with a mitt. Then she massaged with some soap. The other lady was done with her client so also came over and soaped me. She was moving over my stomach and said, “Bebe.” And I said, “No, I hope not.” It might have just been a food baby from the big lunch. Next they rinsed me off then I got into the jacuzzi. She came over and put her hand out in a claw shape so I did that with my hand. She started laughing. Finally I understood that I was supposed to sink more in the water then the jets hit my back. She massaged my feet for a bit. It was like being cared for by your mom when you were a child.

Next I got out and sat on the seat again. She applied a scrub then rinsed me off. I was able to have a shower then she brought over a towel and robe. I was told to sit and relax. Eventually I got dressed and went back to the room much more relaxed.

We went for supper to a cafe with the group to watch the Egypt vs. Russian World Cup game. We had Moroccan salad and a cheese crepe. We walked back to the hotel and packed up to leave tomorrow.

Day 100: June 20, 2018

Early morning. Up at 5:30 am to leave at 7:00 am. I tried not to indulge so much at breakfast, but I mean pancakes! We had a 10 hour drive to the Sahara. We drove through the Atlas Mountains and stopped in a town ranked the second cleanest in the world.

Further on, we stopped on the side of the road in the mountains to see a Berber family. There are 16,000 people living as nomads in the mountains. The mountains are dominated by the Berbers, who are non-Arab speaking people. This was a term used by the French to describe barbarians. The correct word is Amazigh. They dominate Northern Africa and typically have lighter skin. It is believed that they emigrated from Europe. In 2012, their language was recognized as an official language of Morocco. Although, people still cannot name their children Berber names.

Home of a Berber family, Atlas Mountains

The family we visited consisted of ten people. As we walked up the lady said to Yassine in Berber, “I haven’t seen you in awhile”. It is interesting the relationships that tour guides build. Yassine told us that not all GAdventures tour guides stop there.

The family works for a farmer to take care of the sheep. They are paid 5%. They spend half the year in the mountains then move to the lowlands in the winter. We saw their home that is heated with propane and wood. They are only allowed to cut trees at certain times of the year. They had a solar panel to provide light inside. We saw their oven outside where they make 5-6 loaves a bread a day.

Berber woman making bread, Atlas Mountains

We had bought groceries for a picnic lunch the day before. We had dried bread with cheese, tomato and cucumber. The Morocco vs. Portugal World Cup game was on in the restaurant and it was packed with locals.

We continued driving and stopped to look at an oasis of date palm trees in the dessert. There are 350 different types of dates with 18 varieties found in Morocco.

Date palm oasis, Morocco

We continued our drive to the Sahara. Then drove off the main road to a hotel right on the edge of some dunes. There was a locker room where we left our stuff. We went for a swim in the pool which was very refreshing in 36 degree heat. We changed to get ready for our camel ride into the desert at 6:30 pm. We only took small day packs.

Camel in the Sahara

The sun was still out, but it wasn’t as hot as I was expecting. We received a lesson on how to tie our scarves around our heads. My camel was quite uncomfortable as I kept sliding to the right. We road about 1.25 hours into the desert to a small camp. The dunes reminded me of Namibia and you couldn’t take a bad picture of them.

Danny riding a camel in the Sahara

We arrived and were super sore from sitting for so long. My back hurt as well. As we walked into the camp, Yassine told us to climb the dune behind the camp to watch the sunset. Danny went straight up the hill which was the hard way as the sand kept slipping. We reached the top of a small dune and I was dead. Danny kept going, but I sat there resting with some others. Yassine yelled for us to go higher. So I climbed up a bit more. Everyone else stopped, but by then I was determined to make it to the top. After every ten steps I had to stop because my legs were killing me. For every two steps you take you slide back half a step in the sand. When I reached the top I was parched so Danny came over with water and I finished the climb. We sat with the German couple and watched the sun go down.

Sunset in the Sahara

We climbed back down to everyone else then back to our camp. There were olives and nuts to snack on. We brought out our wine as well. We sat chatting with the group until the food came out. There was bread and beef tajine (beef, potatoes, carrots and zucchini). It was very tasty. Our hosts brought out some drums and played some songs while we danced. Danny even tried the drums for a bit.

Danny trying out the drums

We tried some free styling as a group which was pretty fun. At around midnight we got our mattresses and pulled them out to the sand. We laid down and fell asleep under the stars.

Day 101: June 21, 2018

I actually got a bit chilly during the night so I was glad that Danny had brought out two blankets. We had gone to sleep with none.

Our bed in the Sahara

I was up at 6:00 am and climbed a smaller dune to watch the sun come up. It was very peaceful. Danny came up then some others and we watched the sunrise.

Sunrise in the Sahara

Back in camp I did some yoga to prepare for the camel ride back and we were given some tea. We hopped back on the camels at 7:00 am and returned to the hotel.

Camels are very photogenic

Danny was not feeling well on the camel on the way back. When we arrived he puked everything up. We had some breakfast in the hotel and then showered. Danny was still not feeling well.

We drove about 30 minutes on the bus and Danny puked into a bag. Then we pulled over not too long after and another guy had to puke. Danny sat with his head between his legs for the rest of the drive.

We arrived in Todra at our hotel. Quite a few people weren’t feeling well. We are thinking it may have been a bit of heat stroke. Danny stayed in the room and I brought him up some rice. We had an omlette cooked in a tajine with bread and melon for dessert. It was very tasty.

Sick Danny

We had some free time so I called my parents. At 5:30 pm we left for a walk through an oasis where local farmers grow crops. Danny stayed and napped. The oasis is 40 km long. We saw many date palm trees. Many were burned to kill the insects that destroy the trees. They hand pollinate the trees in March and April then hand pick the dates. They obtain 60-80 kilos of dates per tree.

Date palm trees, Todra

We saw their irrigation channels which use spring water.

Irrigation channels, Todra

They had many alfalfa crops that are used to feed their animals. They change the crops based on the four seasons. They were just starting tomatoes and carrots. Stones were used to separate the field between families. There were olive, almond, walnut, fig, pomegranate and apricot trees along our walk. The root of the walnut tree is used to clean teeth. We passed some houses that were abandoned 30 years ago.

Abandoned houses, Todra

We also saw some donkeys and egrets. The farmers grow the food for self consumption.

Donkey, Todra

The area we walked through was just a huge garden. With all the trees, it was quite cool. I wanted to stay there and keep walking around. It felt very peaceful.

Farmer’s crops, Todra

Our bus met us and we thanked the farmer for the tour. We drove to Todra Gorge which is 25 km long. We walked along the narrowest portion for about 10 minutes. Parts of the gorge are 4 km wide. There is lots of rock climbing to be done there. A river runs at the base and many family and friends were there enjoying a meal along the river bank.

Todra Gorge

Back at the hotel, Danny was feeling a bit better, but tired and feverish. I went down for supper and the waiter brought Danny’s up to the room for him. We chatted at supper and when I came back up, Danny was asleep. Now bed time for me.

Our camel ride through the Sahara and night under the stars was definitely a highlight of our trip through Morocco so far. We are excited to see what else Morocco has to offer.


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