Category Archives: Morocco

From the medina to the docks

After breakfast we made our way through the alleyways of the medinaDSC02182 along the beach where kids were playing soccer (they mark the lines with a stick in the sand), DSC02186and on to the docks where sardines and other fish were for sale.  DSC02187We were scooped up by a weathered man who explained all about the fishing to us.  Le Capitaine Akbar was very engaging and obviously knew how to reel in the tourists, but we were happy to be reeled.  He explained how they went out at dawn with nets to catch sardine and how they had to go out for two days to get sharks.  He had a weathered notebook with colored pencil drawings of these activities which he used to illustrate his talk.DSC02189 At the end he good-naturedly asked for a tip, which we all scrambled to find and hand over.

The docks are so colorful they are almost a cliche, except for the fact that they are working docks with men building and repairing boats, unloading fish, and displaying them for sale.  And, of course, entertaining the tourists…DSC02193 DSC02192

Les Matins Bleu

DSC02180Our riad (guesthouse) is in the medina, the old walled city.  After we parked the car, we engaged a man with a two-wheeled cart to carry our luggage to the riad.  It cost 40 dirhams (the local currency, less than $2) and was well worth it, partly because the medina consists of small alleys and we might never have found our way otherwise.

After our long day, we roused ourselves enough to find our rooms at this beautiful place and roll down the street to a very nice dinner at this restaurant.  DSC02175We had various kinds of tagine – lamb, chicken, fish – and if I had been more awake I would have liked it even more.

The next morning we came down for breakfast in a nice room right by the reception desk.  The riad dates from the 17th century and was turned into a guesthouse only twelve years ago.  It has a central courtyard (though no fountain) and is most attractive.  This rug on the wall faced me at breakfast and may yet inspire a quilt.DSC02176


The courtyard is set with dining tables and beyond are sofas and low tables where you can have dinner if you like.  Here’s a shot of the courtyardDSC02179

and here’s a shot of the dining room ceiling, very old.DSC02178

A hard coming they had of it

How could I have forgotten our many interesting twists and turns on the way to Essaouira?  Another nice man directed us out of Sali, an industrial town with a very confusing center, but I think we might have turned off on to a minor road by mistake.  Soon enough the following road crew confronted us.DSC02172 DSC02171




An enormous trench on one side waited to swallow us up, and we obviously couldn’t go forward.  But at last the gentils hommes curled around us and went down the road, and there was only this horse and cart to wait for.  Soon enough we were on our way.

Casablanca to Essaouira

DSC02134I left the house at quarter to seven, rush hour traffic to National, easy flight to JFK and transfer to the international terminal.  A sandwich lunch and then Biffy, Ed and Joseph (their chauffeur of the day) showed up to much hilarity and amazement – are we really doing this?

We met the others while queuing for boarding passes.  Phyllis, Biffy’s friend, and her sister Marge, the organizer of the trip, are the two who lived in Morocco as children and have visited often.  Susan is Marge’s college roommate, and Anita and Karen are old friends who traveled with Marge in her travel agent days and went on to become friends with Marge.  It looks like a congenial group, and just the right size for easy travel and conviviality.

The security lines were long and tedious, but we got through and finally got on the plane close to 7:00.  A truly diverse set of passengers, many tourists but at least as many people returning home to Morocco and points nearby.  Unfortunately, a new version of the evil baby – this on screamed randomly, just enough to startle you awake – made for a rough night, not helped by the uncomfortable seats and extremely talkative neighbors.

But then we landed, to a cool, crisp dawn with palm trees on the horizon.  Picked up the luggage and the two cars (some time was taken up with these tasks),  and the first car hit the road.  Biffy is driving the Kangoo, an upright model with nice big windows for the tourists.  We made our way out of the airport and south from Casablanca to the coast.

The traffic was not too crazy, just a little, made more exciting by the often rough roads, with big potholes or worn tarmac or skimpy shoulders filled with ruts.  Add to this the occasional donkey cart, horse cart or motorcycle attached to an overflowing cart, random bicyclists and walkers, and the way is quite interesting.  At least they drive on the right!

We followed a secondary road down to the old Portuguese city of El-Jedida.  Here was our first meal of the day, fresh orange juice, coffee and petits pains as we sat along the promenade and the Atlantic beach.  DSC02138 DSC02143Our effusive waiter/owner Khalid was very welcoming in English and French (plus Arabic, Turkish and Italian, he told us) and waved us off with fond farewells.  Not before a visit to the bathroom, to which we were escorted by a lovely young woman.  A tiled room with a hole in the bottom, plus a spigot at squatting level, washbasin just outside and paper towels dispensed by the young woman just beyond that.  Shades of France in 1966, but spotlessly clean.

We walked from here into the medina, the walled old town, on the way stopping by this boat-building enterprise. DSC02144 Inside the medina, a World Heritage Site (check!), we stopped first at the old cistern, built in the 16th century, forgotten after the Portuguese left, and uncovered in modern times. DSC02153It’s beautifully atmospheric – we’ll have to watch Orson Welles’ 1952 Othello which was filmed there – and there’s a crystal clear reflection of the opening to the sky, which I think I finally caught.DSC02158

We walked along the ramparts, enjoying the views of boats, DSC02146the old building and the occasional satellite dish, then back through the town to the car.  On our way out we were a bit confused, and what should happen but that a nice man pulled up, asked where we were going and gestured to us to follow him.  Which we did, along a road that skimmed the beach and turned south. At one point he jogged right and we continued straight on, but he caught up with us again, led us farther, and then gestured to us to pull over.  He advised us with big smiles to go straight on (tout droit) and gently (tout douce) and with handshakes all around we said farewell.  And he was only the first of several gentils hommes we have met so far.

Our goal was the town of Oualidia, famous since the 1950s for its oysters which are farmed there.  We meandered through town until we came to one of the recommended restaurants and there, in the tiled room with blue paint and windows open to the blue sky, we enjoyed baked oysters (raw are a bit iffy) and sparkling water.  Delicious!DSC02165

Now we had to go on to Essaouira where we will be spending three nights.  Phyllis took over the driving while Biffy dozed in the back and I did my best to remember that I was navigating.  There are road signs but never route numbers so you simply look for the signs for the next town and hope for the best.  Along the way were the most spectacular (have I already used that word?  Get used to it!) views down to the ocean.  We saw lots of truck gardens, carefully fenced with reeds against the wind, with rich soil that produces the crops we saw being brought to the roadsides for sale.  Carrots, peas (perhaps), cabbages and who knows what else were beautifully displayed in roadside stands.  Meanwhile, the waves crashed on the shores below.  It was reminiscent of Big Sur except not so golden.

It was a long trek for the sleepless, but we finally spotted Essaouira.  Just as we turned onto the long downhill stretch to town, what should we see but gendarmes gesturing us to stop.  Poor Phyllis ended up with a speeding ticket for going the equivalent of 42 mph in a 36mph zone.  Life can be so unfair! But, again, the gendarmes were so gentils that it was almost okay.

We parked the car, engaged a man with a cart to carry our luggage, and made our way to Les Matins Bleus, our riad for the next three nights.

Morocco – the latest adventure

I’m heading to Morocco on just a week’s notice, thanks to a lucky break (for me).  One of the eight people signed up for this adventure had to bow out a week ago, and after some dithering I decided that I would say YES TO LIFE and go.  Pluses:  I have a current passport and a forgiving boss.  Challenges:  I have no map (hope to get one there) and only a week to bone up on a completely new culture.

Of course, as always the day before a trip, I am filled with anxiety, about those I’m leaving behind and about what I’ll encounter in the next two weeks.  (Everyone warns me not to let the camel spit on me, so it must be a thing.)  But I know from experience that once I get on the plane, even just from National to JFK, let alone Royal Moroccan Air to Casablanca, I’ll be just fine.  I can’t think of a better situation than this one – traveling to a new culture where I know only one of the two languages with my sister, my brother-in-law, and two people who grew up in Morocco.  It’s going to be great!  (That funny noise you hear is just my teeth chattering.)


p.s. To see the shared blog our group created, go here.