Saturday, June 24, 2023

Morocco Part 1

It’s the land of the Barbary Pirates, the Atlas Mountains, the clay pot tagines, and bottomless mint tea. We were there for 3 months and a week. 

From my diary: “It’s my 80th country! We left from Algeciras Spain and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 1.5 hours. Driving south from Tangiers, the gentle green rolling hills look like France with mild poverty.” 

Morocco started with a whimper, as you will soon read, but I left with more than one epiphany.

The top 2 lines are Arabic and the bottom 2 are Berber (Amazigh)

We parked right in the middle of the city. Good God. The Muslim wakeup call started at 04:00, and it went on for an obnoxious hour. They took a ten-minute break and I’m assuming it then converted to open mic and every man trying to get right with Allah started chanting. 

This is going to be a very long 3 months.

The souk in Rabat was our first. We’ve now been to so many we know this one was a runt by comparison. 

There is a street here that is congested with blind beggars. They don't rush up to you. They don't say a word. They just silently break your heart. So many of them. I wish I'd never walked that street. That isn't an easy memory to expel from one’s mind. 


I began the paperwork for my new passport at the US consulate. “Come back in 3 weeks? Sure, that’s easy.” We left after 1 night. Casablanca is just a big city. We found an outstanding resto and little else. The taxi rides were the most exciting. You want to roll down the window for some relief from your unbathed driver but you can't due to the billowing pollution. It makes for an eye watering ride. Aleja is famous for saying, “He smells like a homeless.” I doubt there are a lot of homeless but a lot smell like it. In fact, most of your time in Morocco will be spent timing your breathing. The wafting sewer smells are overpowering but the restaurants and bakeries smell so good. Timing the inhale is key.


We came here 3 different times. It’s where the Moroccans go for a beach holiday. We saw very few foreigners and devoured seafood as if the fisheries were about to collapse. I can recommend this place. In fact, I did – to my friend Matthew who flew in from San Diego. We spent a couple nights here together enjoying the lagoon by boat and walking the old ruins.

Matthew inspects the 300 year old cannon littered on the ground

Matthew on the dramatic coast


Call it whatever you want. When you put 4 vowels in a row no one is going to pronounce it correctly. We made 2 visits. If it’s not the best medina, it’s in the top 3. We rented a riad down the hall from Matthew and shopped, ate and walked the walled city which is just one large bazaar. 

I Do Haikus

Freezing in Europe.

I'm roasting in Africa. 

King of the complaint

That's a haiku. I can now whine in different iambic pentameters. Don’t even get me started on the bug bites. Be careful what you wish for. I wanted an end to the cold and I got everything that goes with it. Matthew brought my shipment of calamine lotion from The States. 

We went from the meat locker of Europe to the pizza oven of Africa. It happened fast.

Maybe Morocco is a lesson in searching for that middle ground. You want the wind, but not so much that it picks up the sand. There's a perfect velocity before the sand goes airborne. And without any wind, it's just deathly hot. You want authentic but that usually comes with reduced hygiene. You don't want the hawkers, but you love that fresh bread coming around. I know there is a lesson here but I just haven’t nailed it down yet.

Imi Ouaddar

A great place to hide from humanity in an enormous campground with lots of shade trees. There’s a waterpark & of course the beach, but we rarely left our 5 sq meters of campsite. We put out the awning, chairs, and hammock, made friends with the cats and cooked all our meals and enjoyed our self-imposed exile. Sometimes I just really need to not be a tourist. This lasted for a week and then we were ready for people again.


Now this was a real step back into time. Rarely do campsites get a perfect 5-star review. This place came very close. I wanted to see it for myself and it was Aleja’s birthday, so I had made an appointment to rent quads. The French expat hosts were very warm and their headman Hassan was a real treat. He walked us thru the olive groves and explained how the water rights worked. 

Those are 300 year old Portuguese walls

Hassan explains water rights

Shadows & Water Rights

We arrived at a wall, there were lines drawn in the dirt and every family in this small village knew whose line was whose. The shadows cast would move with the sun and when your line was illuminated the master water keeper would pull a sluice and the water would change course and irrigate a different field. Shadows & water rights. Primitive but it’s worked for 1000 years. 

The shadow casting wall of water rights

Inside the 3 story abandoned mud house

Typical alleyway in this ancient town

Ruins galore


More forced relaxation with our friend Paul. Paul might be the most interesting mash up of a traveler on the road. He holds a Bermudian passport and his vehicle wears an Andorran plate. We shared nightly bottles of wine and swapped road stories. We had previously met in Serbia about a year ago. 

Aleja finds the petroglyphs

I shepherd in my spare time

Tafraoute looks like Bedouins discovered Joshua Tree and sunk roots. Which is pretty much what happened. Daily, you are visited by people willing to deliver food, propane, water and laundry services. Then there are the auto mechanics who will do everything from body work to complete mechanical over hauls, as well as paint a fresco on your vehicle of camels and palms. The mountain will come to Mohammad. There is no reason to move the mothership. I did get some cosmetic work done on my bumper and our laundry washed. We hiked the hills and road the scooters into town. 

Cutest things ever

Where is Aleja?

We stayed a week and every evening one of 2 nice old men would show up and collect 15 Dirham ($1.50) for parking. One afternoon a young man came to collect the 15 Dirham. We paid and he left. An hour later the old man showed up. We showed him our receipt and though he trusted us, he said we had all been tricked and that if the man showed up again to take a picture of him. The next afternoon he tried it again. Here is the culprit. Don’t give your money to this man:


The souk is world class and should be enjoyed. The rest seemed hot and dirty. I fear I’m losing my patience with the third world. 

Our new friend John with Daisy the dog

Losing My Religion

Capt James Cook circumnavigated the planet 3 times. You can read his journals. On the first lap he wrote things like “Notice how ingenious the locals are to have solved this puzzle of irrigation.” By the 3rd sail around the globe, it devolved into: “The ignorant savages ….”. I think the people of Morocco are correct, mostly honest, hardworking and kind. Their culture is as valid as mine or any other. I think I’ve just lost my sense of humor regarding the undeveloped world. I’ve lived in it for 13 years now and I think I might be done. 

If the north is "mild poverty" than the south is "panoramic poverty". I don't have any statistics to back that up but based on my empirical evidence my guess would be that the closer you get to the big sand pile of the Sahara it's harder scratching an existence out of that unforgiving Earth and surplus is scarce. The thing both the north and the south of Morocco have in common is endless pollution. Trash abounds and the particulate count of what you're inhaling in the urban environments tastes appalling. Open sewers and cholera. Zero hygiene and parasites. Can I graduate out of this? I don't want this anymore. Giardia isn't an Italian flat bread. I don't want to see suffering anymore. I’ve had my fill of sick people who look 20 years older than they are and starving abused animals. I'm averting my eyes and packing my ears with gauze.

Ait Benhadou

This used to be a real village, now it’s a movie prop. It’s where they shot the first Gladiator and they are currently rehabbing the arena for the sequel due out next year. Everything from Lawrence of Arabia (1962) to Game of Thrones has been shot here. The locals have mostly turned this hillside enclave into art galleries and curio shops. A few still live here but most have moved across the river into new construction that isn’t built of mud. 

The arena from Gladiator

This guy had a few masks for sale and I asked him about one. He wanted $180. I was thinking I’d pay $10 max. The Moroccans try to retire on every transaction. I shook my head and backed up ready to leave. He moved in for the kill. After explaining how rare and exquisite the wood was, he then began with the provenance of its ancient lineage. My eyes remained dead. He said, “My best price is $80”. I took Aleja by the elbow and we walked away. “But maybe you have something to trade?”  He called out. I turned around. “Like what?” I asked. “I dunno. It could be anything. Anything at all. Maybe like a bottle of wine.” He went from $180 to $8. Let me explain.... When you buy alcohol here you are supposed to show your passport because they won't sell to locals. You have a huge bargaining chip if you're negotiating with a Muslim alcoholic.

The Other Side Of The Coin

We met a man named Mustafa who still lives in his ancestral home. We got off to a rocky start. 

Watch the above video a couple times as the image comes to life. 
So unique

The Pitch

Aleja wanted to buy some paintings for friends and family. Whoever the vendor, they are always reluctant to name a starting price, hoping that you will start above his low point and he can move you even higher. No matter your starting point, their next paragraph is a monologue on how his wares are made from the highest of quality: The finest fabric, the rarest wood, the most expensive indigo ink. Then, and only then, will you hear his counter. Smart. Except we don’t care about the highest quality. These are gifts. I’m not buying a piano. He got riled. There was a very long uncomfortable silence and he then ushered us to a back room and said to take from the walls. Aleja took 5 and he said, “Take 2 more.” She took 2 more and he said, “Take 2 more.” We looked at each other and she took 2 more. He said, “Take another.” She pulled another from the wall and he said, “Take one more.”  He asked if we were happy. We assured him we were and that he was a most generous man. I asked him if he was happy and he said, "I didn't do it for me or the money". He shamed us. It was a thing of beauty. I believe he saw the lesson wash over us and then his smile returned. As we were readying ourselves to leave with our degraded posture, he invited us up on the roof for the sunset. It was a full circle human interaction. Sweet, sour, shame, epiphany, then sweet again. Mustafa is the man. I love that guy.

Your man on point,

Captain Cook


Anonymous said...

The vibrant pictures transported us to that far away land which has always been so mysterious. Number One !

Eric D said...

Four vowels in a row. You had me geekin' hard at that line. Love the work bobby!

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