Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Morocco - sights, sounds and smells

I am writing on the plane just as we leave Marrakech for France. I think that this has been the most amazing trip of our lives thus far (and you all know that we have had already had some pretty amazing adventures). Why you ask? I don’t know if I can capture it in words as it is a feeling and experience that doesn’t exactly translate but I will give it a try.

Perhaps it is the contrast to other realities. It is a country of sounds, smells and sights. We experienced cities such as Fez and Marrakech, many oases, Rif and Atlas Mountains and many parts of the Sahara desert. I am adding many photos for those who a have not seen them on Facebook.


the "dyeing" street in
Fez medina.

leather dyeing

spices in medina
Smells...the mint tea everyday and everywhere.  How gracious are the people to invite us to sit and sip this tea at every occasion. There was a slight incense smell in all medinas (central old parts of each city). Normally I am bothered by the smell of incense but here it was mild and pleasant. Because of my personal choice of food I suppose we missed a few different smells but each vegetarian tagine we ate had the smell of different North African spices.
Olives every day.

typical veggie appetizers
Roman ruins at Volubilis
Sights....the visual experiences were even more varied because of both the scenery and the man made artisan products - tiles, leather, fabric, clothing,  jewelry, woven Berber rugs and much more. I chose to continue my “drawing a day” and captured some of the things I saw each day. I often noted the similarities between Mexican handicrafts and those of Morocco. I loved the beautiful and graceful Arabic writing and learned to write my name. We saw so many things growing; dates we picked off trees, olives, pomegranates, almonds, figs, clementines and apples.
Susan in arabic


Chefchauen, the blue city


Ifrane, a ski village on the way to Midelt
And the sounds....they range from the VERY noisy Médina in Marrakech with motorcycles weaving in and out of the narrow streets to the complete silence  of the desert. We stayed the night in the Sahara at Merzouga and we were up in the middle of the night to witness the stars and the complete silence. The second opportunity was to sit in the sand dunes at sunrise for this same silence. Between these extremes were the snorting camels, Arabic music in the car with singer Abd Halim singing “Habibitee” which became our favorite song and background conversations going on all the time in either Arabic, Berber dialects or French.

Dates galore

Berber rugs

Berber tent in the desert

Fun with Hami
our "tent" in the Sahara desert
My curiosity was peaked early in the trip to try and figure out the Islamic religion of the Muslim people. I must admit my ignorance before traveling of this religion and it’s people. We had conversations with strict Muslims, more liberal Muslims, Berbers who are all Muslims as it is the religion of the country and those Berbers who might say they are Muslim but who practice their own indigenous religions from the time before the Muslims settled Morocco. We visited Roman ruins who were there way before the Muslims. Sometimes I wish I had paid a bit more attention to World History many years ago but suspect that I might have forgotten some. No history is the same for all people as it written by those in power. Having traveled in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador I always am struck by how the invaders are quick to take the power from the indigenous and it seems to usually be through religion.
Sunset on camels on the desert

Heart shaped sand dune

my name in Arabic

Without going on and on, I will end with my favorite parts of this 15 days. Without a doubt it was our driver, now friend, Cherif who was there for us at every moment. He hand held me across the chaotic streets of bigger cities and took us on a special adventure to a little village to buy fresh dates off a tree. We remarked that we felt like we were buying drugs as we wound through narrow alleys and into a private home. He knows his country and was happy to share that love with us.
A view from Hotel Maison Amazigh
in Dades Valley

The family at Maison Amazigh

The Berber symbol Amazigh
meaning "Free People"

On the long walk to the Berber cave

Sheep and Fatima
outside Berber cave
in the desert

Mom and her children
outside the cave

I asked questions to those who were willing to answer...about women and about their clothing (hajibs). Unfortunately I didn't really get to know any women well enough so I was getting a male perspective. This perspective was also connected to how devout was the person giving me opinions. I could see the difference between the big cosmopolitan modern city of Marrakech which was more Berber and the smaller Fez which is more Arabic.

There were several auberges that stood out - Maison Zoula and guide Hami who took us on our long walk along the river Ziz to several oases. He joined us the next day on our 4x4 trip into the desert. After explaining to Hami about our volunteer experiences in Mexico he inspired me to possibly help organize friends who might want to travel to Morocco and charge a little extra to donate to his Oasis to Oasis project for children’s education. So, let me know if you plan a visit to Morocco and we can help to make this happen.

Another special place was Maison Amizagh in the Dades Valley. There one of the brothers took us on a 14k trip into the mountains to a Berber family living in a cave.

And the story goes on and on but I will end here with these memories and grateful to have had the time, money and health to have this experience. I am grateful as well to my loving habibe Ricardo for being always at my side.

Thank you again for traveling with us.
Much love from Susan  سوزن

Ricardo's thoughts about Morocco.

After a trip in such a varied and exotic country as Morocco it would be very difficult for me to explain my many experiences in a few words but I will give it a try here.

dates growing on palms
This place is truly an Islamic country where one will hear the calling of prayers five times each day...Allah Akbar, etc. which makes one stop and listen and for me to wonder how this practice affects one’s sense of the present. Every time I heard the calling of the prayers I paused to listen and I can only imagine how the Muslims were feeling.



We have traveled to mountains, deserts and many oases and the people always call themselves Muslim but with whole different cultures and intensities of faith. The two main cultures are Arabic and Berber.  Berbers were the original inhabitants from time recorded. Muslims all believe in the stories of the Old Testament and of course their Koran which is believed to be sent to them straight from God. They date their lineage to Abraham. What strikes me is how all three religions believe in the same one god and still want to fight each other. To me this is a strictly political problem and probably not religious to any extent.
Djemaa El Fna square

We were able to spend  good time with many Moroccans who were very willing to express themselves in beliefs and culture. What I learned was that what we learn from the news media is nothing like what Islam is all about. “Go figure.”

This is a trip that needs to be guided due to the language and varied distances between the different locations unless you speak French which is the common spoken language.  If anybody wants to learn more about my experiences in Morocco I would be happy to share conversation over a cup of mint tea.

Final day with Cherif and Saoud.
Along with all of the adventures that Susan, my HABIBITEE, my love and I have had here in Morocco, I need to mention our fabulous driver and teacher Cherif who was always protecting us with his watchful eye and who became like a family member after just a few days. This trip would not have been so successful without him.  He spoke English well and was very proud of his Morocco.

We hope to return someday to recapture this special beauty again. We hope that you enjoy the photos to see the different colors of Morocco.

Sending love,

PS - Arabic (and French) words that I enjoyed using on this trip:

Choukran -  Thank you - merci
La choukran - no thank you - non merci
Inshallah - god willing - si dieu le veux
Bismillah- in the name allah - Au nom de dieu
Salam  alechom-hello/greeting/ hi - bon jour
Habibittee (f)....habibi (m)-my love - mon amor
Minfadlick-please - s’il vous plait
Maktoub - it is written