It occurs to me that I really am possibly the worst blogger on the planet. Considering that I haven't yet blogged about January's trip to Utah, May's trip to my beloved Italy, or my ongoing fine art horse photography project, it's possible that SquareSpace might just chuckle and boot me out of their kingdom next month when I renew my subscription to their service. So let's get to it and dash through a last few images and stories of Morocco.
I was going to write a detailed and complicated post on food and culture but two weeks of travel in Morocco didn't inform me enough to write authoritatively on either. Instead, I thought I'd share with you only what I learned and experienced while I was there, with no side notes from Wikipedia. It seems a bit more honest to me that way.
Being mostly a solo traveler while I was there, I had plenty of time to wander and make images of the Moroccan people. Or actually, mostly of the Moroccan men. There weren't a lot of women in the public spaces I visited. When I realized that most of my interactions were with (very friendly) men, I asked about this and apparently, that's the way it is. Traditionally, the women tend to stay home and the men tend to work and be out in public. Plus, the women who are out in public are relatively shy about being photographed, and I respected that.
In addition to "ride an Arabian horse on the beach," (which I can not wholeheartedly recommend unless you are an expert rider and speak Berber, which is likely going to be the language of the guide that takes you out on your ride), I wanted to learn to cook tagine. Luckily, there was a lovely cooking school, Madada, around the corner from my hotel, and a yoga friend and I signed up to make lamb tagine. We finely minced garlic and onion with the smallest, dullest paring knives that you have ever seen, under the disapproving glare of the chef, one of the only Moroccan woman I interacted with. Her sidekick was a British woman who acted as her interpreter and also took us to the spice market for a tour and lecture, while our tagines cooked. It's inexcusable that I can't remember either of their names. The British woman was married to a Moroccan man and their little girl, who was home-schooled, played with the kitties in the street next to Madada. The food we cooked - if I do say so myself - was delicious. I'd planned to buy a fancy painted tagine while I was there but learned during the course that the plain clay ones were best for cooking, and I could likely get one at home, in the US.
One of the things I want to mention about the Moroccan people is that they are incredibly hospitable. I stayed in three and four star riads (hotels) but was treated with million star hospitality. You know how some American hotel chains give you a warmed up cookie when you arrive, and you eat it standing up while you check in? In Morocco, I was ushered to a small upholstered seat, offered freshly-brewed mint tea, poured with a frothy flourish, plus a tray of miniature pastries, and encouraged to relax. There was no rush to swipe credit cards or to bustle me up to my room. And, since I was returning to the first hotel that I stayed at, again at the end of my trip, the management didn't even finalize my bill when I left. They wished me a pleasant journey to Essaouira and told me we would handle it when I returned.
In Essaouria, after I fell head first off of a galloping horse, the hotel had an English-speaking concierge doctor arrive less than 15 minutes after I limped to the front desk and asked for one. They also filled my pain prescriptions and delivered them to my room in less than an hour. Everyone at both hotels where I stayed was spot on with even the smallest details from what drink I liked in the evenings (vodka tonic) to my room number (so they could charge my drink). The attention was so personalized that I started to wonder if certain people had been assigned to look after me during my stay. One young man even invited me to visit (stay at) his parent's home, if I had time during my trip. Imagine that happening at the Hampton Inn?
As I write this, I can think of so many other stories from Morocco that I could share with you but instead, I think I'll just encourage you to go to Morocco. Here are a few things I learned on my trip that will help you plan and enjoy your visit even more:
- Pack light. Dress modestly but don't worry about being too covered up. Western women aren't expected to dress the same as Moroccan women. Do bring a hat and a scarf - mostly for the sun but perfect in case you do need to be dressed conservatively.
- Slow down. There's a lot to see but it's not a foot race. Don't skip the opportunity for a mint tea or an orange juice or a bite to eat from a food stall.
- Hire a private guide. Ask your hotel to suggest someone. While a slow pace is great, getting lost is just a waste of time. Especially in Marrakech, I highly recommend a private tour guide.
- The MAD is a closed currency which means you can't order it ahead of time. You can go to a currency exchange at the airport but it's a complete rip off. I suggest getting just enough to pay your driver and then finding an ATM or cash point as soon as you can. The exchange rates, even with your bank fees, are much, much better.
- If you go to a hammam, even one specifically for tourists, be prepared to be very naked in front of a lot of people. Some of the girls on my trip loved their hammam experience, and went back several times but once was enough for me. I get massages regularly here at home and while I love experiencing rituals from other cultures this one disappointed me.
- Shop carefully. The souks are literally stuffed with enticing things to buy and on Day 1 of your trip you will want to buy all the things. On Day 8 you'll realize that you are seeing many of the same things over and over again and on Day 12, you'll regret everything you bought on Day 1, because you'll have finally found that perfect tiny little shop that sells the best slippers (spices, argon oil, blankets, leather bags, etc).
- Go to the desert. I didn't (because I fell off that darn horse) but you should. Ask at your hotel to find the right guided trip for you. Some of the overnight trips to the desert are to "tent cities" and some of them are you, your guide, a camel and a tent you pitch when you get there. Guess which one I'd do?