I arrived into the port of Casablanca, Morocco on Thursday September 10, 2009; immediately as I watched the change in the color of the water in the Atlantic Ocean and saw the brown cloud hovering over the city I knew that I wasn’t in Spain anymore. It actually reminded me of the smell one expects while on the northern part of the New Jersey Turnpike, with a dash of industrial smoke thrown in. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will allow you, the reader to see for yourself and come to your own conclusion.
Once again, almost immediately after we cleared immigration, in port I boarded a bus for a 3 hour ride to Marrakech, our first stop was a “café stop” at a rest area. The women got in line on one side and the men on the other to use the toilet, to our GREAT surprise the toilet at this rest area was not much more than a hole in the ground. Some students opted to wait until we got to Marrakech; I quickly informed them that we would still be on the road for at least 2 more hours and who knew what type of facilities awaited us. I won’t bore you with the variety of facilities that I was exposed to on my 3 hour then later 9 hour countryside trip through Morocco, but let me just state that any port a potty at a fair would be a step up.
We arrived in Marrakech and were taken to one of the Medinas in the area then quickly escorted to the restaurant where we would enjoy our first Moroccan meal, and oh what a meal it was. Four courses starting with bread and a variety of appetizer types; a beet salad, potatoes in seasoning, shredded carrots in lemon juice, and eggplant something or other and something that looked like Pico de Gallo, then we had our main course of chicken that was falling off the bone and seasoned perfectly. It was DELICIOUS. We were all taken in by the food. That was followed up by desserts, a variety of pastries and then the piece d’resistance; the hot mint tea served in an oversized shot glass. One sip and I was ready to have an i.v. inserted into my right arm. I fell in love with Morocco.
After lunch we were left to our own devices to explore the souk (the open air market), but were warned that we should not go down too many side streets as we may get lost for hours. We headed out to the square and saw snake charmers, men with leashed monkeys, and cars, and motorbikes going every which way; a lot was going on. As quickly as we started to venture into the market area we heard an unfamiliar sound, it was the call to prayer. Being in an Islamic country was new to all of us, and none of us were familiar with this sound but I immediately understood what it meant. We watched and waited and then continued on into the market. As we started to shop we felt a cold wind blow through the market streets, it seemed almost as if we were in a movie, everything started to blow and then the sky opened up and for the next 25 minutes it rained, no, down poured. We stood under the cover of tarps and watched as shop keepers covered their goods with plastic bags and pulled down their tarps, some even closed shop all together. As the men came out of the mosque from prayer they too stood with us and watched, as the rain started to ease, we ran across the plaza to the natural shelter provided by the entry way of the post office. Our first day at the open air market and we were rained out. We boarded our bus and headed to our hotel.
That evening brought us to another area of Marrakech where we would witness a cultural show which included various Berber tribes singing and performing. We were escorted to this staged village (for a lack of a better word) where we were met with men on horses dressed in white carrying guns, we posed in pictures with women dressed in native garb, and walked through intricate courtyards and alley ways until we arrived to our dining tent where we ate another fabulous meal, which included the best cus cus I have ever had and once again the mint tea. I cannot tell you how fantastic this tea is; I just cannot put it into words. After dinner we stepped out to this grand arena where we watched a show which to this day is very hard to understand, but it included a belly dancer, a man playing with fire, men on horses racing each other and shooting their guns, and the cake topper was a couple on a flying carpet in the middle of the sky; we honestly did not know what to do with this. It was all too much too soon. Back on our buses and back to the hotel for a good night’s rest tomorrow would truly bring us a Moroccan adventure.