Posted on Jul 09, 2019
Morocco dances with exotic enchantment, taking journeymen on a magical ride through an ancient realm. Regal walled cities and ancient souks bursting with history and life, shimmering Saharan dunes await camel footprints, and quaint mountain retreats are doused in all shades of earthy tones. And that's just the start…
Minarets and fortress towers create an unforgettable skyline. Mountaintops separate lush valleys from desolate desert sands. The sweet ocean scent of the Atlantic blows through labyrinthine streets. The entire country is infused with old-world charm, each turn delivering unexpected spells.
But the dance that is forever etched into memory is that of a grizzly yet elegant Berber owner of a cavernous carpet and curio shop in Ourzazate. Upon entering his shop from the cold rain outside he was keen for us to sprawl on the pile of rugs and enjoy warm lemon tea. Essentially toothless he began to regale us of his decades ago travel to India and Afghanistan. Predictably conversation turned to Bollywood films and its sensual dances and songs. I played some tunes on my phone and suddenly he was on his feet swaying his Sufi robes and twerking to the beat. I mean, he was really into it and the sight was so endearing that all of the women in the store soon joined. I sat there taking this all in and capturing video snippets of this heart-warming episode. While we did end up acquiring some kilims and jewelry, the main event had unfolded unexpectedly before our eyes. I am still grinning as I write this.
Marrakech – ochre adobe walls, bougainvillea covered exteriors, create magnificent array of architecture set against the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas Mountains, reveals the city’s true nature – a luxuriant, sun-soaked oasis, heady with the scent of the jasmine and orange blossom that adorn its gardens.
In the sun-streaked shade within its walls, the medina’s teeming streets are alive with activity. A hubbub of voices calling back and forth, the air is filled with the fragrance of cedar wood and countless spices. Sounds, colors and smells unite to compose an astonishing sensorial symphony. Marrakech is a city of legend, inspirer of artists, fashions and events.
Must do - The Riads, age old mansions converted to boutique hotels are a sight to see. Intricately carved and ingrained marble with meticulously painted cedar beams are a hallmark within each room as they bring back to life the obvious splendor and opulence of long gone residents. One must stay in these Riads to get a sense of that glorious history. I expected all this though; what surprised me was its glittering and heady nightlife ending only once the sun began peeking over the horizon. And the open mindedness, hearty laughter and welcoming smiles were a hallmark that stayed with us through our journey.
Fez – is a place to get lost in. The most imperial of all Morocco’s cities welcomes its guests to experience an altogether unique art of living. It is nothing less than a living open-air heritage museum. Fez has guarded its splendor over the centuries, and kept its ancient stones vibrantly alive and its medina is as unique and authentic as it was over 1200 years ago.
A melting pot of so many succeeding cultures, Fez absorbed the very best from each, inheriting Arab nobility, Andalusian sophistication, Jewish ingenuity, and Berber tenacity. Its glorious past, its marvelously preserved material heritage, and the timeless aristocracy that lies at its heart are all part of the fascination that is Fez.
Must do - It is the magnificent profusion of its labyrinthine markets that are an irresistible and open invitation to discovery. We spent hours crisscrossing the narrow crowded lanes, pushing past handcarts and peeking into store windows as we meandered. The medina’s oldest tannery was an unforgettable sight, or should I say odor. Most of us gagged in spite of the fragrant mint handed out to neutralize the smell. Men toiled below in large tanks filled with animal skins as they were cleaned, cured and dyed. The gallery view immediately reminded me of a large Roman coliseum with all the feverish activity below. Buying a leather tote will never be the same.
Erg Chebbi – folklore says that a wealthy family refused hospitality to a poor woman and her son. God was offended, and buried them under the
mounds of sand called Erg Chebbi. So goes the legend of the dunes rising majestically above the twin villages of Merzouga and Hassi Labied.
Must do - in centuries gone by caravans crisscrossed the lofty dunes, today convoys of 4WDs churn up huge dust clouds as they race across the hammada in time for sundowners. Next morning we woke up in the dark braving the early dawn chill and clambered onto camel saddles. For the beasts and our escorts it looked like a walk in the park as they sang in their native Berber tongue leading us up to a high east-facing ridge. There we watched as the most glorious of all stars rose over the distant horizon creating a dazzling spectacle of colors on the dunes all around us. The star spangled skies and desert excursions are well worth this oasis stop.
Ait Benhaddou – enroute to and set amongst panoramic views of the Atlas Mountains and the adobe houses of its indigenous villages is the Ksar of Aït Benhaddou, an Arab fortress from the XI century, and its Kasbah. Its strategic location made it a mandatory stop for the old routes from Timbuktu to Marrakech.
Here in a hamlet at the foothills of the Atlas, was where my trip reached its proverbial peak. We stopped for a traditional green tea ceremony in a family dwelling. We were welcomed by the patriarch of the family accompanied by the sounds of giggling toddlers as they hid and peeked at us from behind their mother’s dress. As I made my way in, an old lady hobbled up to me and without a care in the world began speaking to me. I don’t what she said but it was the humility and pain that exuded from her that shook all of us. Within seconds she was grasping my hands in a way pleading for me to join. There was a hint of sadness yet regality about her. Dressed in royal blue that matched the gleam in her eyes she led me into the courtyard. I was shaking within myself and felt the overpowering emotion, as my eyes grew moist. I don’t know what she said but it was from her heart and in a strange way it was mysteriously uplifting yet humbling. For me Morocco and its people blossomed together, right here