Trip to Morocco

All of a sudden I understand all those moments in old TV shows and so on where people are invited over to the home of a couple or family who have recently been on vacation and subjected to a never ending slide show. We went to Morocco for my brother-in-law’s wedding, and added 10 days to the trip to see more of the country. It was awesome. And I want to show everyone pictures. And remember it as much as possible. Social media fills in now for the “slide show at our home” but not everyone I might want to share pictures with is on any/all social media platforms I’m on (and I posted only to Facebook [plus a few got sent through to Instagram and Threads], and only to friends there, while I was there, so an even smaller portion of people who MIGHT like to see pictures actually saw any).

So, this is my slide show / travel log.  And I made a public photo album with pretty much every photo either grown-up took, except ones with us/our kids in them.

Tuesday June 4: we got up very very early to drive our rented car to JFK airport and get on an 11am-ish flight to Casablanca. That all went very smoothly; it was midnight Morocco time when we landed, even though it felt like only 7pm to us. We got some Moroccan cash and a Moroccan ATM card (which I was very happy to have a few days later when trying to get tickets for a train at a machine that only took local ATM cards), waited what seemed like hours for our luggage, and found the driver Hannah had pre-booked online (Hannah did ALL the organizing for the trip and

did an absolutely A+ job. My role was mostly saying “that sounds good” and “everything will be OK.” The trip was great). He took us to the AirBnB in Casablanca. This is the photo I took from the balcony at 2a or 3a Morocco time. A lot of things cost a lot less in Morocco than in the US – a 3-bedroom very nice apartment was maybe $75/night, for example.  We (Hannah) had cleverly packed some ramen so we could have dinner at 2am.

 

 

Wednesday June 5: We woke up in Casablanca! We had lunch at very good restaurant and had our first taste of Moroccan food (we eventually got a little tired of lemon chicken & olives tangine, but it was delicious and I will be very happy to eat it again), saw the first of many many street & restaurant cats (we counted over 100 in Casablanca in less than 36 hours, and more other places). Then we toured the Hassan II Mosque, which we were told is the 3rd-largest mosque in the world (with capacity for over 100k people!), the largest open to non-Muslims (the two largest are in Saudi Arabia), and (according to the guide) the most beautiful. It was build only 30 years ago, and was truly stunning. We also (not pictured) saw a pretty funny interaction between a group of maybe 20 boys aged 8ish to15-ish and two security guards at the mosque. The boys (all but one) hopped over a barrier to access the sea on the other side of the mosque; the two security guards VERY half-heartedly tried to stop them – only the littlest and last was actually stopped from going over the wall with his friends (no pics of that). The walk back to our AirBnB took us through the souk/market; we felt/were very conspicuous as tourists/Americans, and we all were out of steam.  We had dinner that night at a more American-ish style burger restaurant.

Oujda: Thursday June 6 – Sunday June 9: Thursday We headed back to the Casablanca airport (this time by train) to fly to Oujda, on the other side of Morocco, for the wedding. Oujda is close to the border with Algeria, and much more isolated/rural and poor than Casablanca (though Casablanca had plenty of rundown buildings and so on too). We stayed in Oujda through Monday morning. The wedding was Saturday night; it started at 11pm and the EARLY bus back to the hotel left at 3 in the morning; the event wasn’t over until 6am. We went to the market in Oujda a few times, but were mostly in the hotel with the other non-Moroccan wedding guests/the groom’s guests. We had dinners there, and breakfasts, and hung out at the pool. I took a walk one day just to see what I could see, and we took an ill-advised group trip to the souk (it is not possible to navigate a Moroccan market with a group of 15+ people aged 14 to 84. You will spend far more time trying to negotiate where to go & not lose anyone than actually seeing any sights).

Fez: Monday June 10 – Thursday June 13: we took a 6ish hour train ride from Oujda to Fez. The trains run on time and are comfortable, but this one at least had only the lightest touch of air conditioning and it got pretty hot riding through the desert at mid-day. But we saw some awesome views, and were glad not to be on a little airplane again.  We stayed inside the medina – the old city – in Fez. It was built in 700 AD; no cars can access it – all the “roads” are for only people and animals. I found it amazing and also a bit claustrophobic – it’s hard to find your way around, it’s easy to get lost, and you can only ever see the street/alley/pathway you’re on. It very much felt like being in a labyrinth. Shops everywhere, street cats everywhere, amazing history everywhere. We stayed at a very old guest house – Dar Seffarine – with a ton of history, home-cooked delicious dinner each night, and really kind staff. They explained that these kinds of houses were designed with all the nice parts on the inside – you couldn’t even tell you were approaching anything in particular from the outside. The buildings all had central courtyards that were (or had been) open to the sky, with a slightly depressed area in the floor to catch rain water. They explained that families/groups would spend time mostly on the ground floor with high ceilings and open rooms in the summer, then the upper floors had low ceilings and small rooms to keep in heat. The buildings were open and airy, the streets (of the Medina; it was very different outside the medina) less so. The rooftops inside the medina were also really something. We visited the yarn-dying row in the old city, a pottery outside of it, a tannery, so many shops. We counted 220+ street cats.

Volubulis & Chefchaouen: Thursday June 13 – Saturday June 16: Chefchaouen is the “blue city” of Morocco; we were driven there by someone the hotel recommended. He suggested a stop in Volubulis, ruins of a city existed from sometime BC through 1100 AD; much of what we saw and what was documented was from its time as a Roman outpost around 200 AD. Then we went to Chefchaouen, which was the  most tourist-oriented place of our whole trip. It was open and airy and everything was blue and white (and occasional deep red) and really gorgeous, in the mountains. We saw a sunset from a mountainside over the city, walked around (without needing a guide!) and bought things to take home, and had a more relaxing time than in Fez generally. We counted 100+ street cats.

Rabat & trip home: Saturday June 16 – Sunday June 17th: We got a driver again recommended by our hotel to take us from Chefchaouen to Rabat; we stopped for lunch but didn’t make any other tourist detours. We went to the beach in Rabat and saw the sunSET over the Atlantic (not something you can do from the US) and had a breakfast (I took a picture of my favorite breakfast item, a fried bread thing), then took the train to Casablanca and then another train to the airport. We were all pretty traveled out by this point, but we had a great trip and everyone was a good sport throughout.

Overall reflections: something I think about every time I travel is how unusual the US is in that everything that almost everyone interacts with on a daily basis is less than 300 years old (newer on the west coast). It is really so different (and good!) to be in places where you can feel and see the continuity of history. I assume everyone reading this doesn’t need a reminder of the amount of violence and deliberate erasure that goes into that feature of the US. We were in buildings and places with history going back 1000, 1200, 2000 years.

There’s lots more – about how different poverty looks there than here, about the mix of new and old, shepherds crossing roads with their flocks, the extreme wealth on display at the mosque next to the disrepair and poverty visible in the market nearby. And about what it’s like to really stand out somewhere… still processing it all but wanted to put down the main things here now.