Since my trip to the desert about a month ago I’ve been pretending to be a real traveler type of guy. It’s been a whirlwind. Two nice fellows named Joel and Reuben showed up at the British Language Academy from Canada and we traveled together with a Mancunian Brit and a Polish/Turkish Swiss-born volunteer to Marrakech, the cultural center of Morocco. The beating heart of Morocco is said to be the main square in Marrakech. At night one can see why it has been given that name. The music is intense and everywhere. We stood around and took in the massive energy being generated from every vendor, snake charmer, monkey owner, drummer, horse cart fellow and random person who felt like dancing or singing. I was first struck by the cobras coiled up under umbrellas on the sidewalk and people keeping monkeys with metal collars on long chains. The monkeys were wearing diapers and some held onto their own chains. Marrakech was overpowering and I felt more like a tourist there than ever before on my travels.
After Marrakech I was curious to see Fès, the place some call “The Athens of Africa” and headed off to the world’s largest car-free urban area. The streets of Fès are a maze of narrow, twisting alleyways lined on either side by houses or walls three stories high, sometimes filled with people and vendors and other times totally deserted. There I indulged in tagine, a dish often made of chicken, potatoes, tomatoes and spices served in a terracotta pot with a conical lid and eaten with bread and sweetened Moroccan tea on the side. I climbed above the medina to some tombs built by a previous Berber dynasty and marveled at the city stretched out beneath me. I had read about the incredible sunset from this vantage point, but left in daylight to heed the recommendation that tourists immediately evacuate the area by sunset to avoid being mugged.
After having my expectations lowered by discouraging comments from Moroccans I was without expectations while heading to Rabat, the capital city, with Joel and Reuben. Rabati people have the reputation among Moroccans for being untrustworthy and elitist. Maybe because of all the derision regarding Rabat I enjoyed the city immensely. The city was a welcomed break and minor paradise from my everyday life in industrial Berrechid. Rabat is clean and well maintained, boasting parks, green grass and palm trees with a fresh coastal breeze. We visited the mausoleum of the previous king of Morocco, Hassan II, and saw the spaces for the next twelve or so generations of kings that are expected to be entombed beside him. We walked to an ancient Roman city once called Sala Colonia when it was inhabited by humans. It now appears to be mostly inhabited by storks and ants. After exploring the ruins and filming the storks we enjoyed a boat ride on the mouth of Bou Regreg River where it mixes with the Atlantic Ocean.
After all of my traveling to major inland urban areas it seemed time to visit some of Morocco’s best nearby beaches. A group of ten volunteers and two students banded together one morning and boarded a train to Mohammedia where the beaches stretch out and there’s nothing to do but swim, play soccer on the beach and drink coffee. Still not satisfied with our day on the coast, the next day we headed a little farther southwest to El Jadida, a fishing village built by the Portuguese which housed the visual highlight of the last few months: the Manueline Cistern. For effect the cistern is filled with just enough water to reflect the arching ceilings and shafts of light. I was blown away.