Spring time in Morocco (May 5 - June 4)



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May 5, 2015 - Flying Victoria-Seattle-Paris-Casablanca
Because we came home from Asia early this year, we've had terribly itchy feet. So we're going to Morocco for a month.
As usual, we are self catering this tour... TripAdvisor - Booking.com - AirBnB - Lonely Planet... are our research and booking resources.

May 6, 2015 - Casablanca finally... - 2 nights here
Travel time, 26 hours, door to door. In Casablanca, our "Beautiful Suite" booked on AirBnB.com was a delightful 7th floor sanctuary. Easy access to the new (2012) city wide tram system made the tour de ville super easy. Our hosts Yves and Bridgette were wonderful. We were lights-out-tired quite early.

During the night I felt something soft and furry slither across my face (not Bob). As I started to come awake I thought what the heck is this in the night? Then the purring started and I realized that it was a kitty cat. Love it. I picked him up and carried him to the door and threw him unceremoniously into the main apartment. I guess he came in the window... I then wondered if he was a neighbourhood cat and I was keeping him captive. Later that night he pushed the door open twice more... purring and kneading my pillow. The next night he actually pushed open the window, he was a neat cat with a big heart.

Next day we started at the amazing Haasan II Mosque. Spectacular example of Moroccan craftsmanship. (Check the link for some staggering details.) Met 2 lovely Ethiopian/American ladies on the mosque tour and spent most of the afternoon cruising the Marche Centrale and walking through some of the more renowned art deco architectural streets.


May 8, 2015 - Asilah (4 hours by train north of Casablanca) - 2 nights
Said goodbye to our "Beautiful Suite" and caught the 2nd class train 4 hours north to the delightful seaside town of Asilah. We were there 4 years ago and are looking forward to some great seafood.

Joann just returned from an intense Moroccan cultural experience... a visit to the local Hammam.

I decided to try out the local Hammam (Morocco's version of the Turkish Bath). What a wild experience. First I purchased some soft black olive oil soap and a scrubbing mitt from the kiosk at the entrance. Next I walked into the changing room and noticed about a half dozen or so older women behind the counter. Paid a little and they motioned for me to undress. As I undressed a woman of about 250 pounds stripped out of her djellaba (Moroccan kaftan) and voila I understood she was going to be my masseuse and scrubber.

I walked into another very noisy, steamy room full of women and girls in panties. When world's collide. Everyone was sitting on the floor scrubbing at their bodies and women were throwing water over their children's heads while they screamed in frustration. Really echoey room with conversation, buckets of water being filled and local women chatting away.

My lady gestured for me to lay down on my mat (which I had brought) and drape my legs over her legs and away she went with the rough glove exfoliating my skin everywhere and I mean everywhere. Yanking at my panties here and there, pulling them down to scrub my derriere, and I wondered how my elastic was going to hold up under the treatment. Half the time our bodies were entangled and at times as she was scrubbing my arms my hands ended up under her huge breasts. What a hoot!

I felt like a fish out of water. So we continued this bizarre ballet till she stopped and started to throw water over my head and all over my body. Meanwhile I am checking out all the other women and I am SURE they were doing the same. What a great cultural experience to see how these ladies and small girls lived. Right beside me were two young women, about 16 who shyly smiled at me as I was being flipped over and over. There were some enormous women there who obviously love the fantastic Moroccan bread and olives. Women who felt comfortable in their own skin as this was everyday life for them. Finally my lady gestured for me to go back and get dressed. She followed me out and slipped her djellaba back on and I towelled off and put my clothes back on. I staggered out into the sunshine with a brightly shiny clean and slightly red looking body.

Fun to take a leap and try something new.


We were informed by Sally the manager at our accommodation that we could listen to Andalusian music down in the harbour that evening. Northern Morocco has a lot of Spanish influence. So after dinner we found our way to a little tea shop lean-to up against the medina rampart surrounded by a make-shift fence of rattan. Really looked quite rough. We sat down and ordered mint tea and the men around us started to ask us questions in french. They seemed quite interested in our life in Canada. My french is improving with all my conversations but really is quite basic but I get by and learn new words and learn some Moroccan too! We settled in with about 20 or so local men all sitting around trying to be surreptitious about smoking kef (marijuana) no alcohol as they are Muslims. We sat in a haze and were offered the pipes often. The dozen or so musicians arrived promptly at 9pm and the crowd had grown to about 50. Over the next 3 hours the crowd grew to over 100. (all men except for 4 western women) The music was hypnotising, utterly wonderful. We loved the deep male voices singing devotional music peppered with the Moroccan instruments. There was one fellow who came in with alto crescendos (very reminiscent of the famous Cheb Mami from neighbouring Algeria). The men came to this gathering from all around the north of Morocco and you could see they were so happy to sing along, we wished we knew the words. It was a fortunate serendipitous experience!! Lucky us! Fun. So nice to be so welcomed by everybody. My only regret is that Moroccan women were not enjoying this experience.


May 10, 2015 - Tetouan - 2 nights
From pretty Asilah we taxied into the Tanger airport to pickup our rental car. Cruising through Tangier was nice and easy thanks to our GPS. Tangier looks like a city of high rises.

Leaving Tangers we passed by the main ferry port on the Mediterranean. Wow gigantic! Saw many migrant Africans trying to hitch a ride. Continuing along the Mediterranean coast there where huge developments of non stop fancy swanky condos, if you like beach and condo life, then this coastline is for you but not for us.

Finally arrived in Tetouan after somehow snaking through a local market (we wondered if we could even get by as the road kept narrowing) down the hill and stopped to call our host of Dar Rehla. Dar Rehla was a Airbnb pick in the heart of the medina. (Tetouan's medina is a UNESCO World Heritage site) The manager, Ibrahim, met us at the carpark (which was really dark and kinda scary) and escorted us through the maze of the medina to our new home. Everywhere in Morocco you pay to have someone protect your car.

What a fantastic location! Our terrace room overlooked the medieval medina all the way across the valley to the towering mountains. Behind us cascading up the hill was more of the same incredible views. We were mesmerized with wonder and were so happy to be there. Our accommodation was marvellous, spotless and tastefully decorated with Moroccan art of all kinds. Lovely lighting during the evening looking down from our vantage point in the Dar (smaller version of a Riad).

Our hosts were so sincere and welcoming. We felt like treasured guests and were treated like royalty. Honestly this Dar was so lovely we couldn't believe our good fortune and only 30 Euro per night including a really huge and delicious breakfast. We were served eggs, Moroccan breads, flatbreads dripping with butter and honey, yoghurt, coffee with hot milk, homemade jams like strawberry and apricot, fruits, the best fresh orange juice in the world and big smiles. So nice to linger over breakfast and feast your eyes on the views. We usually skip lunch as you can imagine.

Stepping out of the door from this tranquil environment was an assault on the senses. Wham! Right into the medina pathways with sellers every step but no pressure at all. Immediately a very old man insisted that we enter his house to see where he lived, what a treat. We then took a photograph of a tiny barber shop and voila we became friends with Joseph and would continue to sit in his barber chairs every day to converse in french and partake in a pipeful of kef. A little further on the patisserie seller offered us 2 free small chocolate covered almond treats (which we continued to buy every day... smart man).

The medina was so wonderful with lots of 2nd hand sellers in our area. What a hive of industry with everything for sale and the winding lanes every which way. Getting lost is just part of the trip and all you have to do is ask for one of the 7 gates to kinda find your way again. Love, love love the experience.

As soon as you step outside of the gates (Babs) you immediately feel like you have time travelled to Spain. The Spanish architecture is really something else. In the evening one of the main streets turns into a promenade with hordes of locals. The men sit outside the coffee shops facing the street everywhere. No alcohol so the beverage of choice is coffee with hot milk or mint tea loaded with tons of sugar. Woman and men do not mix at these cafes... definitely a man's world... the men chatter and have fun in the cafes and the women push babies in buggies down the street while holding hands with their older children.


May 12, 2015 - Chefchaouen - 2 nights
Took the road less travelled to get to Chef. Skirted the Mediterranean then head south down a secondary valley road. The drive was very pleasant as we drove through some small villages trying not to hit any goats or mules along the way, a chance to see a different lifestyle. Stopped for gas and on the counter for sale were at least 20 different types of utterly delicious looking pastries... the Moroccans have maintained that French legacy and really know how to bake!! Such temptations are everywhere.

Pulled into the parking lot in front of the tourist filled Paradon Hotel. Nothing has changed in our 4 years absence. Maybe more tourists winding through the medina... definitely more Moroccan tourist. It certainly wasn't as cool a last time... we arrived to very uncomfortable 33C... and NO AC in our budget hotel.


May 14, 2015 - Fes - 5 nights
Enroute to Fes the GPS lost it's mind. We taxed it's ability to "recalculate" every time we took another road less travelled. The further south, the hotter it got. We were told the previous days in Fes had been in the 39C range. Not looking forward to this...

Arrived hot and wasted but at the exactly correct location. Dar Kenza was fabo... the interior was cool and our palatial room was even air-conditioned. We were in heaven as it was spotless, beautiful and decorated in a most Arabian nights way. Extremely good value including a wonderful breakfast of omelet, orange juice, home made jams, several breads, pancakes, fruit and lovely coffee with warm milk. This breakfast is everywhere in Morocco... forget the calories as they include really super buttery crepes too!

Anyway the location was excellent for discovering this amazing medieval city. Just imagine 1/2 million people dressed in hooded djellabas walking down all these small little alleyways and tunnels, sometimes it felt like Starwars or Mad Max, so exotic! NO CARS as this is a pedestrian city with only mules and donkeys carrying anything heavier than the porters could handle. You have to be careful when they come up behind you! The medina is total eye candy. Moroccans love to eat and everything is for sale from sheep's heads to pastries dripping in honey, to fantastic fruit and everything in between. Many areas are devoted to certain professions. Loved the men hammering out copper pots, big muscled arms and loud hammering sounds ringing out. Lots of people working on looms making cloth or carpets. People hammering out the Moroccan teapots that are everywhere. Women embroidering. Such hard working people. Really reminds me of rats in a maze as it is so easy to get lost here and I guess that's part of the fun!

A few words regarding Moroccan culture... it's definitely a man's world here but then when I least expect it I get that opinion thrown back at me. Like today in the Dades Gorge. We could hear some live Berber music floating down the valley, so we headed out to see where the musicians were, the drumming sounded great. We found a wedding party having fun and walking along the edge of the chasm singing, clapping, dancing, hand drumming and the women trilling their tongues and making that middle eastern sound. Everyone was joyful! Women and men having fun in the sunshine with music in the air. The bride looked quite beautiful in white with small glittering bangles across her forehead and some very lacy white overlay on her white djellaba She had lots of make-up and henna designs on hands and feet. Made us happy to see them and I encouraged Ali-Bob-A to dance a little with them which they loved. Bob is such a free spirit and most people appreciate his cheerful fun attitude. Great way to bridge cultures.

As Moroccans DO NOT want their pictures taken I did not and will have it to remember that little scene of celebration. Most of my photos are of people in the distance or scenery but oh, I wish I could show you their faces especially the old wrinkled men and women with their pointed hooded djellabas and holding long walking sticks. Anyway, the wedding party somehow managed to all squeeze into the van, really, they must have been sitting in each other's laps. Off they went to their home in the Valley of the Roses where we would follow the next day.

Moroccan men really live in a different world to women. They joke and laugh,hold hands and punch each other while they drink coffee or mint tea in the zillions of cafes all across Morocco. Remember, as Muslims, alcohol is not allowed so they drink their mint tea and play Parcheesi with each other. They throw their arms high into the air as they toss the dice and exclaim in loud voices that they are winning or have bad luck (I can only guess). They love to talk to me in french when I join the cafe but women never visit and I've never seen any women other than tourists in the cafes. The women are at home with their children or strolling along with baby carriages.

In the evenings after dinner we sit in the crowded plazas with the women who let their little terrors scream around having fun. Lots of toddlers in one group crying as their knees hit the pavement. Tweenies shyly checking out the boys and the young toughs in their gangs and of course the women cradling really young babies. Bob finally got up and shook up one little kid/gangster who, along with others, was stealing some food from a vender (the women near us were grateful that someone finally stopped them).

The women are gentle and shy and it's nice to have the contact as we share our Werthers candies and they offer their food to us. We speak to many men who want their daughter's to get an education and have a different way of life. Often though marriage is very strict with no dating beforehand. We've seen men and women work together well and it speaks of progress towards equality so things are changing but so very, very slowly. I have been given liberty that many Moroccan women will never have. One lovely friend I've recently met said that when she told her father she wanted to work outside of the home he was totally against it but now he is quite proud of her.

So attitudes do change and it's good that many Moroccans are open minded and want more for their girls and women. Gotta laugh as one man said to me that "women are getting lazy as they often are not baking bread in their home and are buying it!" I smiled and said that I did not bake bread and he didn't have anything else to say on that subject. He probably just thought that I was lazy!

Went to the tanneries... you are given piece of mint to hold under your nose as you enter the viewing area... the smell is out of this world! The hides are soaked in large earthen vats full of cow urine mixed with pigeon shit to create a very alkaline solution. Wow... too bad I can't imbed the smell in this description as it is unbelievably putrid. The men are actually in the solution up to their thighs and it must be a terrible health risk. These coveted jobs are passed down in the family. I now own a lovely deep chocolate brown coat.


May 20, 2015 - Dades/Valley of Roses - 2 nights
Dades Gorge
The Dades Gorge is utterly amazing landscape. The colours of the mountains are so orange and the land formations remind me of moonscapes. Your jaw keeps dropping with the beauty of it all and of course some of the raggedy roads keep you on the edge of your seat. We stayed at a simple little place in the middle of a steep gorge and we looked out onto a pretty little gurgling river. Our room was at tree-top so we could hear and see lots and lots of happy little birds.



Valley of Roses
Sounds so delightful doesn't it? This valley produces 4,000,000 kilos of petals annually for the perfume market. The roses were brought from Saudi Arabia many years ago and they thrive in this valley. 3,000 kilos of rose petals are needed to make a single litre of rosewater and the total harvest only yields 1,400 litres, making the finished product very expensive. The rose harvest festival is the first weekend in May of each year and the young girls dance with ribbons in their hair.

We stayed at the far end of the valley (26km from the turnoff) at Kasbah Chems. Said (Sayed) and his brother, both young entrepreneurs, have built this Kasbah on the side of the hill with one of the best vistas I have ever seen. Overlooking lush emerald green trees along the riverbank up to red rock cliffs towering over us and finally to the snow capped Atlas mountains in the distance. We loved looking down on the mud villages. Evidently the mud/straw walls wick the moisture, are cool in summer and warm in winter. The family made us feel so welcome and we had some great conversations. The food was awesome, Moroccans sure enjoy good food and in huge quantities!

Everywhere you go in the Moroccan dessert you see houses with surrounding walls in many shades of orange, dark red and ochre. Sometimes you jut see walls in the middle of nowhere... Said informed us that land is free in the hinterland... you just ask the local village elders and you are given it, but you delineate your property with a high wall. Also keeps your mules, donkeys, goats and horses in one place.

The road in here was wild! I was glad to be on the uphill side of the road but of course I knew I would be on the cliff side going back (strange how that works). It's not wide enough for two cars so you have to edge off the road when another car comes by. Bob is a great driver thank goodness! Driving along was like going back in time, seeing the way people live in small mud hut villages. They work here in this valley growing roses, almonds, figs, walnuts and veges. Such utter beauty it was breathtaking! Pictures will not come close to really seeing this masterpiece so why not visit yourself?

Some people work as guides for folks coming here to go trekking into the mountains.

Others distill and sell rose water or rose related products. Often it's the women who work in a collective and create these lovely scented soaps, lotions etc.


May 22, 2015 - Skoura - 1 night
A short drive to Skoura. We stayed at the Kasbah Dar Essalam 4 years ago. Nice people just starting their business at that time. I did a small website for them. So we called and they had a vacancy. Parts of the Kasbah are in a little need of TLC but the surrounding gardens have matured nicely... it's a true little oasis now. Glad to see them making headway.


May 23, 2015 - Taroudant - 2 nights
We went for a horse and carriage ride recently in a small city (they are the cheap taxies of that particular medina) and it was great until we tried to visit the local tannery. Our horse kicked both his back feet up into the carriage and refused to go as he could smell death. Our driver had to get out and grab his reins and I hoped we wouldn't be in a runaway buggy (I am a big chicken)! Guess I shouldn't have worried about the buggy and focused more on the vegetarian pizza (smiles). After 3 weeks of Tagines we were craving alternate food and for some reason thin crust pizza was usually good, at least the other 2 times!


May 26, 2015 - Essaouria - 8 nights
Been looking forward to our return (after 4 years) to the seaside community of Essaouira... part expansive sandy beach and part old walled Medina and picturesque working fishing port. You should see the amazing catch as the fishermen return in the late afternoon along with hundreds of seagulls flying overhead or walking around gulping down fish guts! The dockyard is busy with repairs and it is so "everyday Morocco" You have never seen fatter seagulls in your life.

I was telling our friend Billy about Bob's journey through some back roads whilst recovering from his previous night's thin crust pizza. (we had separate ones) We had a 5 hour drive through very rural Morocco (our choice) but really no toilets around (smiles). His driving kept getting faster and faster looking for some kind of cafe with a toilet! Billy's return email made us laugh out loud...

OK now on to your trip Bob, how many times have I told you, 'Avoid Moroccan Pizza Stands!' And assuming it was vegetarian what the hell made you sick? I'd take up a steady diet of Goat if I were you, they know how to cook that! Hope it all passes soon.(ha ha). Oh what a riot you guys looking for a 'toilet' in the back country, how many times have I told you Bob, pack the porto-potty!
The donkeys, camels & horses you reference, are they wild and just roaming desert or domesticated? Hard for my brain to process fences in the desert. The Spanish, French influences mixed with Muslim heritage sounds beautiful in what appears to be a beautiful part of the Mediterranean. Is the desert sand or like Arizona'ish rock? The pictures didn't show much sand.


The nomads travel with their animals so in the desert it looks like a postcard with camels trekking across the rock and sand. No fences required as most animals are tethered. Never seen so many donkeys and mules in my lifeā€¦ everyday transport.

We were moving here and there quite quickly for 3 weeks so it was nice just to hang out in beautiful Essaouira.

Went for a walk down the beach after breakfast and met a camel named Timbuktu and his handler. Got to pet his soft head and he was so gentle and didn't try to spit or bite me (unlike the time we went camel riding in the desert 4 years ago). At the far end of the beach there are camels and horses for tourist to ride. Camel riding is extremely uncomfortable by the way! But oh so fun to get on and rise up on spindly legs and pretend you are Joann of Arabia! Camels are so fascinating.



We were 8 days at Essaouria and then head back to Casablanca for our last 2 nights. Dreaming of coming home to sweet Victoria and our own king size bed.