Saturday, June 05, 2010

Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech, Morocco
Monday, May 31, 2010

Salama sent an email message that our driver would pick us up at the pier at 7:00, and we were the first ones off the ship. We saw a line of cars and vans picking up passengers, but our driver was not there. Some other passengers were also missing their drivers and we learned that there was a hold-up for some reason, and some drivers were not getting through the gate to the pier. After 15 minutes, we saw a line of drivers coming to the pier, and our driver was the first one. His name was Yassin. We hopped in, and off we went to Marrakech.

The day was cool and clear, and the humidity was low. It was a perfect day. Bas had looked up the forecast temperature in Marrakech, and he reported a temperature of 100 F was forecast. We were dressed in cool clothes, ready for the day. We also knew that we would be inside the air conditioned van, so we were not concerned. It felt good to be in Casablanca again. We were in a hurry to get through the traffic and get on the road to Marrakech, but we faced morning rush hour traffic as people were on their way to work, and the going was slow. I enjoyed seeing the wide boulevards lined with palm trees, and I enjoyed seeing the different manner of dress of the women. We saw women completely covered except their eyes, and we saw women wearing jeans and tops, with no head scarves. Our driver, Yassin, proudly told us that Morocco is very tolerant of all manner of dress; he said that many women wear western-style of dress. We saw many women in slacks of one type or another (lots of jeans), but no dresses or skirts and blouses.

After half an hour, we exited Casablanca and entered a toll road to Marrakech. It was smooth sailing from then on; there was little traffic on the road that was completed only seven years ago, in 2003. The scenery was very flat farmland; rolling hills and dark, rich soil. The scene was very pretty, and it was unchanged for almost two hours until we reached the river; after that, the land was quite different -- very arid and rocky and not used much for farming. We saw many small herds of sheep, goats, and some milk cows. With each herd, one or two herders were present watching over them. We never see herders with herds of animals in America, so the sight was interesting. After the river, we also came upon very small walled towns, and Yassin said that the towns were inhabited by poor farmers and sheep herders. Every one of the towns or buildings had electricity, and many buildings had a TV dish on its roof.

After three hours, we reached Marrakech, and it was very different from what I had imagined. Marrakech is a very flat town, and it is very modern and very prosperous. As we entered the city of one million, we saw many new apartment buildings and many new homes. I was expecting the city to be a “red” city, with buildings the color of the “red” soil; however, the soil is not as red as I expected, and the buildings are a reddish tan color, rather than the deeper red color I had expected. Marrakech seemed very French to me with its wide boulevards and many buildings with balconies. The city feels very modern, and Yassin proudly boasted that Marrakech is the most modern city in Morocco; “Until you have seen Marrakech, you have not seen Morocco,” he said. Although most women wore head scarves, few of them wore abayas, and almost none had their faces covered. Motor bikes were everywhere, and were a menace in traffic, but cars were also everywhere.

We picked up Salama at a hotel, and we went directly to the medina. We entered through the Bab el Jdid gate and walked to the Koutoubia Mosque, which dates from the early 12th century. Yassin then drove us to the “back” side of the souk area, where we visited the intricately ornate Ali ben Youssef Medersa, the former Islamic school. What a beautiful marvel that building is. We then entered the souks, where we spent most of our time in Marrakech. Salama led us through one area after another, and we took as many photos as we could take. Salama had told us that if we wanted to take photos of people, we should ask them first; some would permit photos and others would not. Some would ask for a small amount of money for a photo, and Salama agreed to give them a coin each time we asked him to. We also gave coins to some of the ones who agreed to let us photograph them. We got dozens of photos of the souk and of people in the souk. We hope some of the photos will be good.

After a time, Salama took us to a Berber rug weaving store, and we looked at many beautiful rugs as we drank soft drinks. After a time, we worked our way through the souks to the great square in the medina, Djemaa el Fna, where we bought some dates, which were incredibly delicious. We then sat on an upstairs outdoor balcony restaurant and drank soft drinks as we watched the scene below. Snake charmers, fortune tellers, monkey trainers, and all sorts of people selling all sorts of items. It was truly a carnival. Many people said that the square is far busier and more interesting in the evenings. Our time was drawing short and we had to leave much too soon. As we exited the medina to join the van, we looked down many streets to see one incredible view after another, and we knew that we must go back to Marrakech to absorb the city more fully. Salama took us to one last gate, the beautiful Bab Agnanou, for a photo, and we had to leave the medina to head back to Casablanca. We dropped Salama back at the hotel, and we were off.

The drive back did not seem as long as the drive over, but it lasted more than three hours. When we got back to Casablanca, we had time to drive by the great Hassan II mosque for a photo, and then Yassin returned us to the ship. The day was truly great, and we must return to Marrakech some day.

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