Morocco – Digestifs

Hey, Nice Ass: A donkey in the medina in Fes, working for the man.

I’ll be writing a lot about our trip to Morocco, and in greater detail, but for now I just want to get down some quick impressions. I’ve been back a week already, but yesterday was the first day I’ve felt 100% normal. I’d been in a jetlag-induced stupor, aided and abetted by dreary April showers, and that feeling I get when I come back to the USA and am ready to bask in her glorious comforts. In particular, the bathrooms in America are without peer, and nowhere does one appreciate them more than in a land where one must pay money to use a hole in the ground. (Our hotels, thankfully, had flushing toilets.) I don’t know which great American spearheaded the modernization of our nation’s commodes, so I’ll just assume it was Teddy Roosevelt. Seems like something he’d be proud of.

Beyond that, the Carioca and I had a whirlwind adventure in Morocco. We landed in Casablanca, hopped on a train to Fes, then onto the Sahara, the Rose Valley, through the High Atlas Mountains, into Marrakesh, and finally, back to Casablanca. This was all in a week, and we arranged everything ourselves. In retrospect, I think it would’ve behooved us to hire a guide. We stayed in some great riads and casbahs, and traveled without incident, but a guide would have helped us find the best places to shop, fended off obnoxious street hustlers, explained to us details about culture, people, nature, and the like, and pulled over for us to stretch our legs whenever we wanted. Luciana and I used buses, taxis, and trains, which were clean and efficient enough. But the next time we visit a country this foreign, we’ll pay for a guide or a tour.

We were in awe of the Sahara and a little beside ourselves to have set foot in it. The desert is not our favorite ecosystem or climate (it seems unnatural not to sweat, and it’s too cold at night), but the sheer enormity of the Sahara (of which we only experienced about a millionth) is enough to humble anyone. Watching the sun rise, set, and rise again, was jaw dropping; it was like a gigantic Communion wafer astride the open palms of the vast African sky. (The first part of that simile was easier than the second.) When we got to the dunes of the Sahara, we were already exhausted by the busy medina of Fes and in need of some emptiness. After a day in the tranquility of the desert, we were ready for craziness again.

The medinas of Fes and Marrakesh were bewildering, exciting, frustrating, exhausting, and amazing. Thousands of kiosks hawking ceramics, shoes, djellabas, spices, daggers, flowers, meats, hooves, rugs, goat’s heads, CDs, trinkets, jewelry, etc., etc. Everywhere, hustlers and schisters looking for tourists to ply. Snake charmers and cobras, monkeys, mopeds, donkey-pulled carts….every second there was something to dodge or someone to shoo. To buy something – to actually engage in negotiations and willingly pay for a good – required serious attention, resolve, and savoir faire, not to mention time. It’s much more work than shopping on Amazon.

Nevertheless, most of the people were more than hospitable, even those hoping to snag a few extra dirham out of us with a sale. Once we adjusted to the level of persistence, we were able to take it all with good humor and shed the local touts like Barry Sanders en route to the end zone. (Any end zone.) We very quickly learned to stop answering the obligatory first two questions from any stranger, 1) Where are you from, and 2) How long have you been in Morocco? To say “New York” and “one day” was to have dollar signs tattooed on our foreheads. Better to tell them we’re from Krypton but were rocketed to Earth and raised by Berbers. He was going to tell us about the rug he has to sell anyway, so what’s the difference?

Anyway, we had a great time, though it was more an adventure than a day at the beach. (Coming up for our next trip: a beach.) Like I said, I’ll write more, as we have plenty of stories to tell, including one about a missing heirloom, a wild goose chase, cryptic instructions delivered via pay phone, a mysterious gentleman named Abdul, and a nondescript, black automobile. Entanglement in international adventure and intrigue! For now, I’ll close out by saying I’ve really got to hand it to the Coca-Cola company. Of course we know Coke is more abundant than air molecules, but the amount of signage and logos in Morocco was still impressive. There isn’t a single business selling a fig or a sandal without a Coke sign hanging in the store window, from the Sahara to the Berber villages of the Atlas Mountains. Come to think of it, the Atlas Mountains looked a lot like where they filmed that commercial in the ’70s with all those singing hippies…

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