|Morning view from our room in Chefchaouen|
Don't believe everything you see or read about the Arab world. Some places, like Morocco, defy the stereotypes, and we've had a delightful time learning this first-hand. It is modern, relatively clean, beautiful, and friendly. It's a land of geographical, cultural, economic, and cultural contrasts. Oh, and did we mention beautiful?
We feel very safe here wandering the streets after dark. Moroccans like Americans. In fact, in 1777, in a "Treaty of Brotherhood," Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize our independence. Women drive cars and motorcycles, have free access to birth control, serve as mayors and members of Parliment, and don't wear full Hijabs. (Most, however, choose to wear head scarves.) The country is 95% Sunni Muslim, but pretty mellow about it and tolerant of others. Unlike other Arab countries, there are no religious police or political prisoners, and so far, we've seen little--if any--military presence like we do in other countries. The people here seem to revere their highly educated King Mohammed VI and his enlightened economic policies. In our opinion, the policies would be even more enlightened without all of his many palaces.
Just one night and a few morning hours here, but that was enough. We toured the world's third largest mosque, stocked up on beer and wine, and then headed north to the Rif mountains. Our definition of hell is a large city in a developing country, especially these days with epic traffic jams.
We base camped three nights in this beautiful mountain city known for its distinctive blue-washed buildings. It was a huge caravan crossroads 600 years ago because of its water supply and proximity to so many other places. It's quite a place, and photos just don't do it justice. We stayed in a 400-years old hacienda, wandered the narrow alleys and took a day trip to have a cooking lesson and lunch with a relatively poor family in the countryside. What a fun and tasty experience!
This is a UNESCO world heritage site on the Mediterranean Sea with a big Spanish influence on architecture and language. We had a local guide. Good thing, as we would have been hopelessly lost in the narrow alleyways of the medina (the ancient walled city, founded in the 1400's.). This was the day before Aid Al Adha, a major religious festival throughout the Arab world, and we encountered mobs of people stocking up for the five day holiday, buying new clothes, food, and fancy sweets. Sheep were in high demand, costing about $200-$300. We heard a lot bleating and saw a lot of reluctant sheep being dragged to their ultimate doom the next day (Friday). Before heading back we enjoyed an amazing seafood feast on the Mediterranean. The ride back through a spectacular gorge and mountain pass over the Rif mountains was so spectacular that none of us fell asleep.
It seemed like a neutron bomb hit Tetouan, Tangier, and everywhere in between. We were told it's like that most everywhere in the Arab world. Everyone was at home or in the mosques. Sheep throats were slit, and the carcasses were hung to age for a day or so. We managed to find a resort hotel to serve us coffee and sandwiches enroute to Tangier. About the only people we saw along the roads were desperate migrants from the rest of Africa, hoping to make it to Europe or find work in Morocco.
After settling into a very nice hotel on the waterfront with the Spain coast in view, we toured an even older medina, about 3,000 years old, with another local guide. We saw a lot of sheep hides in garbage cans and boys and young men roasting the hair off the sheep heads so that they can be cooked in tangines tomorrow. Tangier is modern and cosmopolitan, long a favorite of writers, The Rolling Stones, James Bond scenes, and Spanish tourists.
On to Rabat, the capital city
Saturday, we head to Rabat where we will meet eight other travelers for the main part of the trip. We've had so much fun together. Our close-knit group include: Janice, a child rights lawyer from Detroit; Maria, a retired US State Department political officer, Vanessa, her sister (loudly pronounced See'Star) and cattle rancher from Puerto Rico, and Diane, a psycho therapist from Oakland. Our guide, Nory, is the best. He's a Berber from Morocco, and he met his Dutch wife on one of his guided mountaineering trips in the Atlas Mountains several years ago. He commutes from the Netherlands to guide these trips with Overseas Adventure Trawvels (OAT).
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