Sunday, May 13, 2007
Vacation writeup, Part III – On Friday morning, we went out to Tameslohte, my friend Rob’s site. I’m glad we went there – first of all, he and Rose are my best friends here and I’m glad my family had a chance to meet both of them and vice versa. Second of all, I hadn’t been to his site and I was interested in seeing his space and his life. Third of all, after seeing Sefrou and Azrou, with their background of mountains, green, and nice buildings, it was good for my family to see a Peace Corps site towards the other end of the spectrum. As Rob described it, his site is unbeautiful. Small, flat, dusty – when I first saw TimHdit I remember thinking I had finally gotten to the Third World, and Tameslothe has that feel too. No town to speak of (though I didn’t see the whole thing, and we didn’t get to the souk, even though it was souk day). Rob’s apartment has some charm, but it is more typical Peace Corps with the ponges and mattress and piles of books on the floor (my brother-in-law did comment on how neatly-folded his clothes were) and again, it was good for my family to see that. It was a short visit – he was going away for the weekend and we had a full day planned – highlighted by a ferris wheel ride for Joe, Sabrina and Valerie. His town is known for its moussem, or religious festival (I think I read that in the hotel literature) which features a fantasia, white-garbed men on horses riding and shooting rifles. The moussem was just getting started, so it had the rides, but not much else. I do want to see a fantasia before I leave Morocco! Maybe Rob’s site next year?
This might have been my favorite day of the trip – maybe because it was the only day of seeing something I hadn’t seen, or maybe because of where we went – I would love to go back. We went into the High Atlas, into a valley surrounded by red mountains (Pam described Marrakesh as Scottsdale-like and this as Sedona-like). Terraced hillsides with red-earth towns. To Imlil, the gateway to Mt. Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. A cute town that I would like to see more of – but we were whisked onto donkeys (or were they mules?) for a ride up to Kasbah Toubkal. This modest resort, high up, is also a celebrity hideaway written up in Newsweek. It may be affordable enough for normal people though (i.e. not my sister and not a Peace Corps volunteer) – we had a relaxed lunch there and then took a short hike among flowering trees and big rocks - if you had plopped me down there I wouldn’t have said I was in Morocco – and then we met the donkeys for the trip back down. My sister and brother-in-law walked, but I was happy to ride. Still haven’t been on a camel but now I have been on a donkey (or mule). I would love to go back to that area to hike some more – maybe even climb Toubkal? There are supposed to be many nice places to hike in Morocco but I especially liked that one! It was my favorite day, but my least favorite evening – I had a headache and had to lie down for most of it. Luckily – at least that luckily that day; the rest of the time I was ready to play – my nieces preferred listening to a CD of Harry Potter to playing games with their aunt.
The next day was for Marrakesh! Maybe because it’s far for me, I really want to go back to Marrakesh and get to know it better. But maybe because it’s Marrakesh. I feel I know my way around Fes now (not that I’ll ever find the scarf weavers again, but in general)…Meknes warrants more exploration…but Marrakesh I want to experience more. This was probably the biggest sight-seeing day, maybe because Moulay, our guide, is from Marrakesh and wanted to show it off. First, the Koutoubia Mosque. Then, the Bahia Palace, which I had not been to last time – painted ceilings and tile and interesting rooms and exotic history (the harem!). Across from that palace, there was an herbalist – we interrupted the planned itinerary to stop there and ended up with all sorts of oils and potions, all-natural ancient remedies – argan oil for all sorts of good-for-you things, ghassoul (a clay) for hair and face, an oil that you rub on your forehead when you have a headache and your headache disappears in two minutes (if only I had had it the night before) and more. A step up from Amanda’s medicinal herbs cooperative, and a place I would like to go back to (stock up before I leave the country?).
We then went to a fancy restaurant for a leisurely lunch – too leisurely for my sister. Joe came up with lyrics to the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” – Pam don’t like it, sittin’ in the restaurant, sittin’ in the restaurant – which generated much laughter (later), and is now in our trip repertoire (last year I wrote “Snow White” to the tune of “King Tut”). And then it was back to the medina! To the Jemaa el-Fna – I had avoided the monkeys, snakes and storytellers when I was there with Rob, but we did the obligatory pictures – that is, of the ferris-wheel riders. I didn’t need to pose with a monkey or a snake, nor did my sister. We had a walk in the souks too, and some shopping, but again, more time there is called for! Inshallah….back to the hotel for a nice swim in the hotel pool. Why did it take me a couple of days to swim? Oh, I love to swim!
Essouaria is a beautiful fishing town on the Atlantic coast, one of those places that they say is magic, and I was happy to see it on our itinerary but somehow knew that it would fall out of the mix – two-and-a-half hours from Marrakesh, and therefore too far for a day trip for this crew. It’s also too far for a Saturday night trip for me, though I have been looking at the schedules lately to see if I could make it work. We have a couple of long weekends this summer and I’ll try to make it then, or wait until I build up some vacation days. I was disappointed that we didn’t go, but I had somehow known all along that we weren’t going. Instead, we shifted from tourist mode to resort mode, spending most of the day at the hotel. But first, a horse and buggy ride – caleche, if you will. We passed the artisana and I wanted to go in – we were in a rush, so I didn’t take pictures that would have been useful for my display-suggestion project. Oh well – will have to go back! It was more important that I get some poufs! On to the Jardin Majorelle. Still stunning with that cobalt blue! And entirely different flowers were in bloom from when I was there in February. I would like to go back every season and see how it changes – that’s a good goal, huh? More – it was the first garden that my nieces have enjoyed! A major turning point in See the World Tour history? Then we went to the Menara Garden – this is a big basin with a view of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the background – one of the postcard shots of Marrakesh. But not today – wind, chill, no mountains, and, as we were rushing back because we were cold, rain – one of the 20 days a year it rains in Marrakesh. I’d like to go back to the garden, especially for a fireworks show they have there nightly in the summer. The Agdal gardens are supposed to be nice too, and were on our schedule, but were closed because the King was in town. The King! We had a great buffet lunch – Joe told me to have an extra dessert because he sensed – quite rightly – that it would be a while before I have something like that again. Pam and Joe went back to the medina, but the girls were ready to go back to the hotel, so I went with them for a quiet, rainy afternoon. Khalid (the butler) made a fire for us and we played some games.
That day marked a shift from tourist mode to resort mode – it was relaxed, with not a full agenda, and the rest of the trip was centered around the resort as well. On Monday morning we went on a hotel excursion to Nectarome, the organic herb farm where the hotel’s products are made, and got a tour and more lotions and potions. Back at the hotel, Sabrina and I went on a bike ride! Oh, I have missed being on a bike too! Still not quite ready to go in Azrou, but if I lived in the warm, flat south I’d be on my bike all the time. And then a long swim in the pool.
Tuesday morning I had a self-styled triathlon – walk around the hotel grounds, swim in the pool, and eat breakfast (I thought about biking but would have been pressed for time) and then it was time to say farewell. Pam, Joe, Valerie and Sabrina went off to London to see “The Sound of Music.” I had my own driver and my own drive home, via Metro (I had asked to go to Marjane and this one was on the way – not the same, but I still stocked up on some necessities). The drive was only about five hours – compared to endless for the bus ride. So not bad at all – maybe having a driver is another thing I need to have in reserve for when I need to feel like a real person. It’s certainly not very Peace Corps.
It was a great trip – nice to show Morocco to my family and to see some new things. Now I am eager for more visitors, eager to return to some of the places we saw, and also eager to see other parts of the country! The See the World Tour may even return to Morocco next March (maybe even to the Amanjena, they liked it so much)! I will see my family in June when I go to Reunions, but then not again until next March – that will be the longest stretch of time without seeing them. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, now they’ve had a first-hand look at what my life is like and have met many of the people important to me. My sister has sent several e-mails saying that she misses the simple life here. Some days here aren’t easy, but I do appreciate what I have here. In a sense I was going non-stop since I arrived here in September, and it was nice to be on vacation – that refreshed me and gave me energy for the stretch until the next one!