Saturday, October 27, 2007
On with the vacation description! After a leisurely riad breakfast, we headed for the Museum of Archaeology. Most of the museums in Morocco have been so-so – this was the best I have been to – a good collection, nicely displayed. Most of the contents were taken from Volubilis – amazing what those Romans were able to create, and what was preserved. What made it special, though, was the tour guide who took us through the room of marble sculpture and the room of bronzes. Even though he spoke in French, we understood him. He was particularly proud of the sculpture of the Berber youth, pointing out its nose – and then we realized the tour guide had the same nose! Also gave us a lesson on the Roman gods. Meanwhile, the items themselves were also impressive. This one was worth it. We then went to lunch at “Toast,” not its name but that’s what all the volunteers call it – for GAD or any other gathering in Rabat, people usually congregate there for breakfast (it’s around the corner from the hotel where PCVs usually stay) and order that item off the menu.
Then we went to the Chellah - after which the Hotel Chellah, our first stop in Rabat as trainees last September and where I stayed for the warden meeting, is named. It’s a fortress-like place with some old Roman ruins (Sala Colonia was the original settlement in those days) and then I want to say a Merenid necropolis, or maybe Saadian – I could look it up for anyone tracking the Moroccan dynasties. Going into any casbah or walled place, you don’t know what you will find on the other side – this was unexpectedly tranquil, and interesting with Muslim ruins atop Roman ones, and a nice garden and view across the river and valley. Another good stop.
On to the pottery cooperatives in Sale, Rabat’s sister city. Sale is one of the pottery centers of Morocco but its clay is not as good as that of Fes – and I think the Fes designs are better too. There were lots of stores, some with working potters in the back, but no raw clay as I’d seen at the Fes potteries, so some of the preliminary steps must take place elsewhere. I’m glad we went – it was interesting – and it made me want to buy more Fes pottery before I leave! Our last stop for the day (this is all Day 2!) was the Jardin Exotiques, one of those places that looked interesting in the book and is hard to get to without a car, so it was an opportunity to take advantage of having a car. A nice international botanical garden, with numbered paths to follow (though we did not), rope bridges and the like. Martha and Susan had stopped in Paris on the way to Rabat and had Moroccan food – so for dinner that night we went to a French restaurant in Morocco! It was magnifique.
The next day was my most disappointing, because I had misjudged how long it would take to get from here to there and we didn’t get to everything on the list (not that we got to everything on the list in any place, but had I known I might have skipped the first stops to make sure we’d see the last ones – though perhaps my traveling partners would have prioritized differently, now that I think about it). First, the Musee Belghazi, a family’s private collection – crafts and artisanal items, again one of the better museums I have seen here. Then we stopped at a lake where over 200 species of migrating birds stop – we had actually looked for it near dusk the day before, a better time for birds, but didn’t get to it – saw some birds but not an overwhelming number. Still, it was a nice spot. There’s another lake nearby which is another birder’s paradise; I may go this winter to see the flamingoes. It was an option on this day too but we pressed on. To Larache – another one of those Atlantic seacoast towns, where we had lunch. Larache’s claim to fame is nearby Lixus, with Roman ruins – much smaller than and not as elaborate as Volubilis but something that sounded interesting based on other PCV descriptions and photos. I may have to go back for that one too – we drove by, saw what we could from the bottom of the hill (the interesting photos I had seen involved climbing it) and pressed on. Took the road to the Neolithic stone circle…I had gotten a description from a PCV who went and had read about it in two books, all of which gave me the impression that it wasn’t TOO far from the turnoff. We kept driving and driving and it was more important that they see some of Asilah, so we finally decided to turn around, having no idea how close we were. This I would like to go back to but I don’t know if I will – so many other places to go…. Asilah was, of course, worth it – still delightful, colorful, compact, clean, charming. I had spied a Berber ring there last time and had some non-buyer’s remorse – it was still there! Non-buyer’s remorse taken care of. Susan shopped for shoes and got a lesson in bargaining. We walked around the medina and once again went to the ocean to look for the sunset (both here and in Rabat a little too cloudy). Then it was on to Tangier! So – flamingo lake for another day, Lixus and the stone circle maybe for another time, and not enough time in Asilah, but as I look over what I just wrote, it was a good day.
Our Tangier hotel, the El Minzah, was one I knew Martha would like the moment I stepped in there with Rose in August, ostensibly to scope it out but in reality to use the facilities. Luxury and elegance. Where the spies used to stay and now the celebrities do. The restaurant in the hotel is supposed to be one of the best in Morocco, and we ate there two nights in a row – couscous with chicken, carmelized onions and raisins, and pastilla, a sweet/savory pastry, phyllo-like dough filled with chicken and ground nuts. As for our day in Tangier itself – first we went to St. Andrew’s Church, as Rose and I had done first. This time was different – as happened last time, we met Mustapha, the caretaker. But between then and now, I had read Michael Palin’s “Sahara,” chronicling his travel documentary; he too had met Mustapha, who has worked there for 45 years. So that made us one degree of separation from a Python! Also, it was interesting being in the church with Youssef – I am not sure he had been in one before. We went on to the medina, where we did more shopping; no museums and no casbah this trip. Instead, we took advantage of that car again and drove to Cap Spartel, the northwest point of Africa – so now I have been to the northwest point and the southwest point, the Cape of Good Hope. We also went to the Grottoes of Hercules, with their much-photographed (so we did it too) outline of the shape of the continent of Africa – got there just at the time the tour book recommended, late afternoon. On the way there we spied some camels – definitely not native to the area – and on the way back we stopped and Martha and I did camel rides! I thought we wouldn’t get the chance, since we weren’t going to the desert! I must say, it was quite a thrill! Yes, I do get thrilled easily sometimes – but it was nice to be by the ocean on a ship of the desert, and to lend even more surrealism to it, the person leading us around was text-messaging the entire time.
On the way back into town, we stopped by the Phoenician tombs – these weren’t in any book, but Rose, Rachel and I happened upon them last time. Rectangular holes in a rocky outcropping – Rose knew they had to be graves and the El Minzah hotel map finally told us what they were. The site was also a beautiful place from which to see Spain and Tangier – a nice stop. Our next destination was the El Minzah spa! We had massages in mind but what I really needed, perhaps more, was a pedicure. Morocco’s summer is tough on the feet. Turned out there were no available massages; pedicures meant to be, Martha and I both had our feet done and had a chance to talk (wouldn’t have with massages) and Susan took a long bath in the suite. I had my chance for a bath there too! I’m really okay without a bathtub but whenever I see one I try to partake now!
Wednesday was the day I thought would involve a lot of driving (turns out that Monday did too…). First, we went to Tetouan, which I had not visited before. This is supposed to be the most Andalusian of the Moroccan cities, with Spanish architecture, tiles and balconies, and the Ville Nouvelle was indeed delightful to stroll. First, though, we went to the Artisana – Morocco’s first. The showroom was nice – maybe a little bigger than Azrou’s and more brightly lit, though I think the variety of items in Azrou is about the same if not even better. We visited some of the working artisans – a leather cooperative, where Martha helped to sew stitching on to something and we got some leather boxes, and a men’s weaving cooperative. The looms men in Morocco use are completely different from the ones women use (horizontal rather than vertical) – as are the resulting weavings – here, finer threads, resulting in blankets and Rif-style sleeveless outerwear. The scarf place we visited in Fes had the same kind of looms, used by men, and the red-and-white striped bread cloths that Rif women wear around their waists are also woven by men. I’ll have to find out why. We then went on to the Tetouan medina, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. We walked through the food stalls – pretty amazing when you first see them (for example, chickens so fresh they are still alive). I took pictures from waist level, surreptitiously, and amazingly, some of them came out. It was a nice but short visit, and I hope to get back to Tetouan for a weekend sometime – it’s far but doable from Azrou.
On to Chefchouaen! Not that one couldn’t spend a weekend there, as I did, but a couple of hours was good too, and even though it never felt crowded when we were there in the summer, it was nice to feel we had it to ourselves last week. Still a beautiful city in a stunning mountain setting, with its blue and its doors. We walked to the spring, where we watched the women washing their things in concrete basins fed by the source, and then we walked down the hill along the stream (which I had not done last visit) – a beautiful walk. The drive to Azrou (the anticipated long drive of the trip) was somewhat stressful due to thunderstorms and some mini-landslides (or whatever you would call dirt and rocks washed over the road), but we made it home and had (thanks to Youssef’s language skills with ordering, because I wouldn’t know how to do it, but it might be a good thing to learn) take-out from the rotisserie chicken place! It hit the spot.
I’m about halfway through with my trip recap– so, once again, to be continued, most likely when I return from Rabat! In the meantime, I had a fun day with Kellye today, going to the artisana and the carpet shops of Azrou, after a nice coffee with Youssef this morning; first time I have seen him since the trip! I mentioned missing Martha and Susan but I had missed him too! And I called my niece Valerie for her birthday, another highlight of the day - talk about people I miss!