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Published: April 22nd 2006
Henna in Meknès
Winnie's and my henna-d hands
I am a bit at a loss as to how to put the trip into words or how to organize this update! Here we go I guess….
Winnie and I set off for our 11-day Morocco adventure with very lightly packed bags and a lot of gusto! We arrived in Marrakech (north-central Morocco) in the afternoon and as we walked down the stairs onto the tarmac all I could think was "I’m in AFRICA!"
The taxi ride was smooth and our French useful, and at last we landed in our hotel. They did not have a reservation for us so we had the choice of sleeping up on their roof or on a ‘couch’ thingy….of course we chose the roof. We dropped our stuff and headed out into the city.
First we headed out to the square in front of our hotel, Place Jemmaa el-Fna, which was a bustle of activity! There were stands of freshly squeezed orange juice, rows of booths selling yummy food, bands of drummers, men with snakes…..to say the least it was overwhelming! Our first meal of couscous preceded my new favorite thing: mint tea. They fill your glass with fresh mint and pour
in some good black tea, delicious in its simplicity.
Then back to the hotel and up to the roof! It was a cold night but falling asleep to the rhythm of drums, waking up at 4:30am to hear the call of prayers, and rising with the sun as swallows flew overhead made up for the chill.
Off to Fès! The train ride was 8 hours or so….bah humbug…but it allowed for some great people watching! No one was reading (55% literacy rate, books are new to this culture still and they prefer the TV which fits in better with their tradition of oral stories, this means the cities are cluttered with satellite dishes). Instead, the passengers gazed out the window or chatted with and helped their neighbors when needed. It was a long ride and we were thankful to have seats.
Fès was rather unsettling at first. Again our reservation was lost but this time we had to find another hotel. This meant walking around a tight medina with our big bags on our backs. As usual, it all worked out and we found an even better place to stay. Our time in Fès took us to
Terrace dinner in Fès
the leather tanneries, the largest in North Africa, and into a Berber weaving shop. Admittedly some purchases were made and our bags were no longer mostly empty.
A short train ride to Meknès brought us back together with a girl who was traveling by herself that we met in Marrakech. The three of us set out into Meknès to see what it held. It didn’t grab me as Fès did, so I was happy that we decided to take a day trip to Volubilis, a site of Roman ruins nearby. A wonderful side trip! When we came back into Meknès, we noticed that there was a lot of activity so we followed an enormous crowd and ended up in a huge festival! The Moroccans all had the week off to celebrate the birth of a prophet’s son so there was a huge gathering. A woman drew us from the crowd and offered to do henna on us. Getting henna turned out to be among my favorite parts of the trip because of the intimate setting with just women. It was empowering to be in a close group of women after seeing women covered from head to toe for a
Winnie on one of the little streets of the medina
week. We were the only white faces we saw for about 4 hours and we sat in a circle of women chatting away while the henna artists worked their magic.
We then hoped on a train for Rabat, and were thrilled to see the ocean! It was wonderful, we just walked around the city and enjoyed the views. There was a really impressive mausoleum there that was a great stop. We met some surfers and so we learned about the festivals and the school system in Morocco.
A 10-hour bus ride took us down to Essouira. The bus was so uncomfortable, but effective! It was again a great cultural experience. We got off the bus in Essouira and had to call our hotel so we went to a phone booth. This was a problem but people were so willing to help us. Two guys who helped us offered for us to meet them for dinner. We of course agreed. We met up and walked along in the market with them buying ingredients for our dinner. We then dropped the ingredients off with a man who made our tajine (a local dish) while we went and had tea. The
Here is where they dye the leather with natural dyes (green is mint, yellow is safran, red is poppy....)
tajine was incredible. It was fresh veggies and fish all cooked together with yummy spices, and we ate with our hands...a mess was made to say the least.
The next day these kind surfers walked us along the beach for quite a few miles to a neighboring town, Diabat, where Jimi Hendrix had lived, (and wrote his famous song "Castles made of Sand"), and Cat Stevens, too. It was a great walk and we had a lot of fun talking about Morocco and being Muslim. We then enjoyed sitting in THE castle made of sand and then strolled home. We had a snack and tried to teach them to eat with silverware since they wanted to learn, it was so funny! We all just crumbled in laughter, it is like someone learning to use chopsticks! They then challenged us to eat couscous with our hands as the Moroccans do. So we bought more ingredients and one of their mom's made us all couscous. Homemade couscous! It was too good to describe. We had to resort to spoons as eating with our hands was really ineffective, but amusing
To say goodbye we met the next day and they bought
To see the tanneries you have to go into a store and onto their roof....so then they kind o like it when you buy something, we were having a bit of trouble choosing!
sardines (on the dock, fresh off the boat) and veggies and we went to a place that cooks the fish on a grill and makes a salad. So we ate with our hands and tore the meat from those little fishy's bones! It was hard to leave because we really enjoyed them and the laid back way of life there, but Marrakech was calling.
More touring in Marrakech was really great, I had trouble transitioning into the bustle after our last town, but in the end I got back into the groove. The best experience there was a hamam. These are traditional bathhouses where women and men have different times to go in. On our walk to the hamam we saw a woman covered completely, even wearing gloves, which was a stark contrast to the nakedness we entered in the hamam! We were led into the bath house by this big beautiful woman who told us to take off all our clothes and then literally dragged us into a steamy room threw water on us and handed us some fish smelling soap which we rubbed on ourselves. Then one by one she took us and rubbed a pumice stone
This was the veiw from a little terrace, bustling in the markets, yummy fruits and veggies!!!!
all over us and then would flip us over or spin us around as needed even scrubbing our faces! I didn’t realize that I had never been clean before until this place.
In Rabat I noticed a French paper that had the headline “retreat of the CPE” which means that school will be back to normal in Paris and no more protesting....at least for a while!!! Hooray!
Hope all is well!!!! Love
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