Sunday, May 13, 2007
Vacation writeup, Part II – For most of the winter, there was no rain or snow – it was cold, but there was sunny day after sunny day. My family visit coincided with the beginning of what seemed to be an entire month of cold rain, and it started as we were leaving Fes and headed for the mountains. Sure, the Moroccans thought they were lucky in bringing rain, and we have had rain on more than one See the World Tour trip, but it was a pity. This is a good tip for next winter though - it is noticeably colder in the mountains than it is in Meknes or Fes, so I should go on more day trips to warm up. Our first stop was Sefrou – my sister said they didn’t want to so much sightseeing (and there really isn’t much sightseeing anyway in terms of museums and historic buildings, compared to Europe or the U.S.); they were more interested in seeing what life here was like, and I am glad they had a chance to meet some of my friends. Our first stop was Sefrou, where my friend Rose met us at the artisana. My nieces fell in love with a rocking horse made by one of the woodcarvers there. After some family negotiation, Sabrina bought it with her allowance, and it’s in my apartment now. His name is Chestnut and he’s made of walnut. I have to figure out how to get him home, but I must say, he looks good where he is in my tiled room. I’ve gotten quite attached to him, even though my riding privileges were revoked (at first I could ride him whenever I wanted to, then once a month, then not at all, but I still have to feed him and water him). My sister said she always wanted a rocking horse. I, too, always wanted a rocking horse. Where do these ingrained things come from that only siblings share? We then went to the Sefrou waterfall, and we saw Rose’s house. It was all too quick a visit but I am glad they had a chance to meet. We stopped in Ifrane for lunch – and then the rain turned to snow. I learned that “Ifrane” means “cold” in Berber. I knew it was the Switzerland of Morocco and knew that my family would like the chalet-like architecture, but they had to see what they could from the car since the weather was so miserable! We had traveled there via the scenic lake route – which I would like to see again on a sunny day (although even in the rain I noticed that the scenic lakes are a little low, water-level-wise).
And then it was on to Azrou! First stop, my apartment. It has been chilly here since I moved in – I think I have mentioned that – but on that day it seemed downright cold. I had asked my sister to bring a few things – and then a few more – and it ended up that she brought a suitcase full of things (fluffy bathrobe, for example) – she dropped it off, and we left Joe in my apartment with the space heater and some tea, to use the internet. On we went to check in at the Panorama, the nicest hotel in town, but no Palais Jamai. We went straight to my favorite carpet store, where Sabrina and Valerie played with the kittens and we had tea with the son. I love bringing people there – it is so cozy and the owner and his son are so nice! Again, I am glad that my sister thought so too. Then we had dinner with my host family – they went all out to prepare a nice meal for us, even hiring a woman to do henna for my nieces, and I had explained the Moroccan way to eat, which my sister and nieces politely embraced. I think everyone was happy and really enjoyed meeting each other!
My guest routine varies according to the guest, but often we will go to the Escalade for pastries and then Café Bilal for coffee or juice (this is also something I often do with Amanda or other volunteers when they are in town), and the next morning we did that – again, so they could see my life. Then we went to some of the other tourist shops around the square. I had been afraid that my sister might not see anything she wanted to buy – but again, that fear was dispelled, and it’s a good thing she had the empty suitcase! We also went to the artisana and to my rock-carver, and all in all she bought shoes, clothes, wood, rocks, metal. At the artisana we ran into Barbara, the Ain Leuh volunteer, and saw more kittens; unfortunately my counterpart was out, but we met all of the artisans, and not only did my sister think the people of Azrou were incredibly nice, but I also think they showed her that they like and respect me, which felt good. Joe went back to the cold, cold apartment to work on the internet, and we left my nieces with Abdu and the kittens at the carpet shop while we did more shopping! We also met Amanda and bought some things from her medicinal herb cooperative. All this in the cold, cold rain! And it turned out that our tour guide is related to Amanda’s husband. I had hoped we would climb to the top of the Azrou rock and see the Barbary apes, but it just wasn’t a day for the outdoors – and my nieces wanted to spend more time with the kittens anyway. We picked Joe up and went down to the Auberge, where the Country Director was coming into town to meet with the trainees the next day (he didn’t do that for our training group because of the world-wide Director’s visit). I had heard that he likes meeting volunteers’ families – I assume that means parents of younger volunteers, but he ended up meeting with us; we chit-chatted for a while. And then we went out for pizza – Sabrina had been curious about the pizza here so we had to get some! After being in the cold all day, it was nice to take a bath at the hotel. I don’t have a bathtub at home, and I thought that was okay, but I think in addition to sitting by a hotel pool every once in a while it’s not a bad idea to seek out a bathtub every few months. Yes, I have my hot water heater, and I have learned to relax in the hammam though I still don’t like it, but – mmm, just thinking about a bath is nice.
The next morning it was back to Fes – the rain let up enough for us to walk around for a while, and we saw the tanneries and another part of the medina, including some weavers making finely-woven scarves – I would like to find them again but don’t know if I’d be able to. I can certainly wander around by myself and not feel intimidated, and I am familiar enough with part of it that I could find something again, but this part was new to me and we were in and out thanks to our guide. Because it was time to go to the airport and go on to warm, sunny Marrakesh!
We had lunch in the new part of town and were going to visit my friend Rob’s site but the road was blocked because the King was in town. The King! As if the whole country revolves around him. Oh – wait – it does. So we went on to our resort outside of town, the Amanjena, hands-down the nicest place I have every stayed (or any of us, for that matter). When you arrive, you step under a keyhole arch into on open room with couches and fountains filled with rose petals. A series of keyhole arches leads to a big basin, modeled after Marrakesh’s Menara Gardens (more on that later). We had a private villa with its own pool, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, chaises and a dining table and chairs by the pool, an outdoor gazebo, a “great room” living/dining area and a guest assistant (or butler, if you will) just for us! And two bedrooms, one upstairs and one down, so I shared with my nieces (as I had at the Panorama). Our bedroom didn’t have a bathtub, either, but it had a big shower. Sharing the room was not an issue, as it sometimes is, because there was so much common space – I think I sat in all of the different spaces at one point or another! Flip flops and Moroccan slippers and big straw hats and baskets to take home and wonderful soap and toiletries. The resort also had a big pool, a library with books and games (I took picture books of Morocco out every night – cities and gardens Matissse in Morocco and artisan products – can I count that as a workday?) and two restaurants – though after eating in one the first night, we opted for in-room (or outside, by the pool) dining for the rest of our meals there. I guess plenty of luxury resorts have the same sorts of amenities, but this also had a nice, relaxed feel to it – maybe because it is small and intimate, but there was something else about it too. My sister says that there are “Amanjunkies” who visit the various Aman resorts and I can see why. I had invited all of my friends in the Marrakesh area - Rob, Janeila, Connie and Dominique - to come to visit for a day but they were all going away for the weekend! It was a long weekend in Morocco – the Prophet’s Birthday (even though they don’t celebrate birthdays here, they celebrate the Prophet’s) and also the beginning of spring break in Morocco, so there were camps that YD was running and some of the SBD volunteers went to help out. Their loss – but mine, too – it would have been nice to see them.
To be continued….