Saturday, February 25, 2017

Morocco; hardship + time = adventure

First of all, this post is shamefully late as we were in Morocco in October 2016. As we are now traveling in Hawaii, I thought it best to get this post up on the blog! 

We arrived in late in the evening in Casablanca, Morocco by plane from Lisbon, Portugal. On landing we immediately picked up a SIM card in the airport, which was installed and set up but the very helpful clerk; instant calling, internet and GPS maps! We fondly recall the adventures of our early days of travel with our well worn lonely planet book, and internet cafes, to help us navigate foreign lands. It is almost too easy now with an unlocked smart phone and local SIM cards. We spent one night in Casablanca before taking the train to Marrakesh. We booked our tickets for the train right at the station and the tickets for first class (enclosed, shared cabin with air conditioning)  were very cheap. The train was comfortable, easy to navigate and provided a great opportunity to see the landscape. 

We were met at the Marrakech train station by a car from our accommodations Riad Star located in the bustling medina which is also a Unesco World Heritage site. The medina was founded in 1070 as the political, cultural and economic heart; it is the enclosed, central area of the city, filled with homes, markets, shops and restaurants, with narrow winding paths for pedestrians and sometimes donkeys and scooters. A Riad is like a bed a breakfast in a traditional house, which typically has an enclosed central courtyard/garden square for relaxing and which you can view from your window. Our Riad had a terrific rooftop patio which offered a great place to relax, sunbathe, watch the stars and listen to the melodic sounds of the call to prayer

We spent our days wandering the medina, checking out the gardens; Jardin Majorellele jardin secret and taking photos of all the cats! Every store and restaurant seemed to have a cat or two and many strays milling around. The locals spoke fondly of all the cats and provided food and water for both the shop cats and strays. One evening we were at the local cafe we frequented and the regular cat was doing her nightly dance begging for food. Suddenly her head shot up and she darted across the medina road towards a man walking in the crowd. He bent down and scratched her head and went about his way. The cat spent some time pacing excitedly back and forth, eventually returning to under our table. We were perplexed that she spotted this man in the crowd and ran to him with such purpose. A few minutes later the mystery was solved when the same man reappeared, and she ran to him again, as he put down a large bag of scraps for all the medina cats. We also learned that cats are quite revered in Islamic cultures; this article provides some history on the role of cats Cats in Islamic Culture. Many people do not have a lot of extra money but sill they try to provide the basics for the cats. Sadly there is a lack of spay/neuter and vet services. We made a donation to SPANA to support their work in spaying/neutering and providing vet care to the many strays.

A highlight of the trip was a day trip into the Atlas Mountains. We hired a driver to take us on a tour which allowed us to go at our own pace. We checked out a few local stores and artisans along the way and took in the desert scenery. The hike was picturesque with a waterfall at the top of the first section, and a mountain side cafe. The rocks were quite slippery but our guide was fully committed to ensuring that I did not fall, and literally held my hand in the most difficult sections. We decided to not venture on to the higher section as I was not eager to traverse the precarious hand made ladder that started the next leg.

As the title eludes to, Morocco also offered some more difficult travel experiences, but as time passes it turns into fond memories of adventure. We did fall prey to one of the common scams, the henna assault, in which a woman forcefully grabbed my hand and started applying henna while ignoring my protests and then demanding money. It was annoying but somewhat understandable as people are trying to survive; the minimum wage is about $300 USD a month, and of course many earn less than that. A nice shop keeper let me use his sink to wash off the henna. 

But mostly the difficulty was due to the trouble finding good vegan food, which often left us hangry (hungry + angry). We were also spoiled by the plentiful, flavourful, affordable vegan offerings of Portugal just prior to Morocco. (We were also surprised that Moroccan restaurants were more expensive than anticipated).  Over the last 24 years, we have travelled in more than 40 countries first as vegetarians, and for the last 7 years as vegans, and we found Morocco was uniquely challenging. I also had (incorrect) visions that falafel and hummus would be plentiful, like our experience in Jordan. In Morocco the staple dish is the tajine, a clay pot baked stew of meat and vegetables with couscous, and even when it is just vegetables it often has meat broth. With advance notice, our Riad did provide a welcome dinner of vegan tajine but day to day it was difficult to find good vegan food. We did use the trusty Happy Cow Vegan Dining Guide but the one vegetarian spot we went to was quite terrible. 

We took the train back to Casablanca for our last night. J smartly booked us into a posh hotel and we spent the entire time lounging in the pool (except for the spa massage and the delicious taco salad we found a the nearly mall). To check out my trip photos head over to;

A final note; Morocco, is the 6th predominately Muslim nation we have visited in our years of travel. And like everywhere, we found lovely people just trying to do their best (previous nations; Jordan, Palestine, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt). Don't buy into propaganda; Good people come from all cultures and all faiths (and non-faiths).