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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Imperial Cities of Morocco


What an amazing 10 days we had in Morocco!  We managed to make it to several cities that we hadn't seen before - and discovered that they all have their own charm, excitement and tradition.  The people were helpful, delightful and cheerful.  The sounds of prayer call, the smells of the dye vats and leather and the sights of roman ruins and majestic gates all added to the intrigue of berber life contrasted with imperial rule.  Morocco has it all, coastline, desert, ruins, mountains, oases, and each corner offers up something unique.

As part of Oussaden Tours (NY) Familiarization trip, Corinne and Natascha set out to travel Morocco with 7 other travel agents and our tour director, Lahsen from New York City.  Jamal from Marrakech was our patient and thorough guide, reciting Morocco's history, way of life and beliefs with much clarity.  In 6 days we visited 5 imperial cities to learn about their importance in Morocco's history. 

Casablanca's immense iconic mosque of Mohammed V sits on the edge of the Atlantic, a serene and shady spot for a pilgrimage or a picnic.  We found our way through the Kasbahs (fortified cities) in Rabat, the cool blue reflecting the tranquility of ancient times in this bustling capital of the country.   The Hassan Tower and tomb of Mohammed V were testimony to the importance of Morocco's past rulers in modern day life.   The Gate of Meknes is said to be the loveliest in the country and this happens to be the wine growing region of Morocco - some nice crisp whites and ros├ęs to add to the experience!  Nearby were the Roman Ruins at Volubulis, the tomb of Moulay Idriss, the founder of Islam, and the modern installment of the ski town of Ifrane.  

We both loved the first Imperial city of Fez as it offers a calmer, less touristy option to Marrakech.  We walked from one end to the other through the city divided in two, hence the name FES or 'axe'.  Twisting and winding our way through the unending 9000 alleyways of the souks, where people sold there wares, from cow tongue to turkeys, wedding decorations to jalabayas.  We even tried our hand at carpet weaving!  Children were everywhere... Corinne was delighted to chat and laugh with them in French.
Next we had an unforgettable drive over the Atlas Mountains to end the Bin-Ouidane Reservoir.  This dammed river was our breathtaking view while we stayed at the Widiane Spas and Suites.  This accommodation spans the reservoir and offers pontoon tours to view the stars, all the while getting a massage!
Back out of the mountain range towards Marrakech we stayed for a few nights experiencing the Jmaa al Fnaa or busy... busy square.  Everywhere you look there are snake charmers, monkey handlers, henna tattoo artists and makeshift dentists willing to pull out a tooth for 50 dirhams, about 5 euros!  After an evening dip in the hotel's lovely pool, we said goodbye to our US travelling companions to start a new adventure, a private tour into the Sahara Desert.
Leaving Marrakech we took off over the southern chain of the Atlas mountains to Ouarzazate, a place where several movies have been made.  There are two major film studios, both having taken part in movies such as The Gladiator, the Mummy and Lawrence of Arabia.  One could get lost in the Taourirt Kasbah.  This was the most interesting of the ancient fortifications, belonging to a Paschaa or government official.  We made a new friend, Karib who showed us around the complex chambers, kitchens and hammams or baths. 

Our next adventure required alternative transport as we arrived in Zagora for our dromadery trek.  We were to trek to a bivouac, a group of tents near M'Hamid on the Algerian border.  Our camel driver slept on the sand with the beasts, our dromaderys showing brotherly love as one bit the other in the behind.... twice!
Around the campfire we drank tea and heard the sounds of Berber song from our guides under the moonlight.

Back to Ourarzazate and an early flight to Casablanca had us re-encounter civilization in a hurry....though we were still dreaming about the magic of the desert and Berber way of life...



VM Travel plans to revisit these Imperial cities with all types of curious travellers.  Come join us!  Life is too short not to have this much fun!

Natascha