Star Date: April 2017
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"I want to die young…at a very old age!"(Karlyn's new motto! In their 70's, she and her husband found our website and they have been exploring the planet. A good example to us all! Keep young!)
North from Casablanca we explored the seaside port city of Tangier. It is located on the Maghreb coast at the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Many civilizations and cultures have impacted the history of Tangier starting from before the 5th century BC. Between the period of being a strategic Berber town and then a Phoenician trading centre to the independence in the 1950s, Tangier was a nexus for many cultures.
Rich in history we dove into the ancient medinas or souqs and got lost in the ancient walled hilltop fortress or Kasbah. Perched high above the town we tried our best to disappear into the maze of narrow alleys; one of our favorite past times. Cannons still aimed out of 6 ft thick windowsills, ready for an attack of pirates or invading imperialists.
We followed a sign to the Restaurant Marhaba Palace, a once vibrant Palace. The connected salons gleamed with sultanic décor, marble columns, chiseled plaster arches, inlaid mirrors, with sun streaming through the brightly colored stained glass windows. We were the only ones enjoying the ambiance. Soon a few men straggled in, tuned up stringed instruments and donned old fashioned costumes. Playing teardrop-shaped 'ouds', tubular drums and violins, their music melded the sounds of Morocco and Spain in an evocative Arabo-Andalusian fusion. We had a fun private concert while enjoying our traditional lunch.
Small shops hid in dark inviting doorways; selling everything from food to clothing (women's scarves and men's cloaks or 'jellabas') to antiques, to Berber jewelry, to steaming hot flat bread from earthen ovens, to Coca Cola. Small cafes or tea shops dotted the sidewalks.
They all rushed to Tangier. From the 1920s to the 1950s, when the Moroccan port city was a freewheeling “international zone” governed (barely) by a consortium of mostly European powers. It became a destination for many European and American diplomats, spies, writers and businessmen. Enter intrigue. Tangier attracted expatriates and travelers seeking illicit substances and activities in a palm-fringed seaside crossroads; where Africa almost touches Europe. Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress, and the billionaire Malcolm Forbes built palaces and hosted celebrities. Beat writers, from William S. Burroughs to Paul and Jane Bowles, wrote in a haze of drugs and booze. Reviled by this activity, the Moroccan monarchy let the city decay. By the 1970s Tangier was a seedy has-been.
Today the city is undergoing a turnaround. Prized by King Mohammed VI, who assumed the throne in 1999, Tangier is building a huge new port, a green seafront and Africa’s first high-speed train line.
Boulevard Pasteur, a.k.a. “Le Boulevard,” began our unpasteurized plunge into colonial-era Tangier. Lined with Art Nouveau and Art Deco edifices, this bustling thoroughfare is packed with small restaurants, clothing shops and banks, as well as a scenic esplanade offering Mediterranean views. Rue Magellan is a hot spot in the evening. It should be renamed Beat Street. Its hotels were favorites of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
Travelling in the Autumn we realized that the weather could change any minute and when the crisp clear days switched to cold rain we dodged through the side streets and found refuge with locals in cramped cafes serving thick vegetable and lentil soup; from a 3 ft diameter pot cooking over a fire on the sidewalk in front. Many a lively discussion was enjoyed and most of the time understood. We also found a bakery that served delicious Moroccan treats along with steaming hot tea or coffee. During that time we also perused many Berber jewelry shops, feasting our eyes on the enormous colorful beads worn over robes and fine Berber silver pieces decorated with coral or turquoise. I even had a favorite pendant, from Everest Base Camp in Tibet, carefully repaired by a man with only one eye - a tough condition for a jeweler. We learned much about the jewelry and history of the different pieces. The displays were a treat for the eyes. I have enjoyed collecting traditional ethnic necklaces throughout our journey, buying from the craftsmen directly or from cooperatives wholly benefiting the artists. Many an enjoyable hour worldwide has been spent sitting on a rug, with a group of ladies in a shop, creating necklaces from their unique selection of beads.
Allah smiled down on us, granting us supreme sunny days once again. We passed by Ceuta. An interesting north Moroccan peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean. A Spanish enclave since 1640s we met several Spanish couples who were living in Morocco but technically in Spain. We headed south towards the Atlas Mountains. The Atlas mountains are the highest range in N. Africa. Berbers call them Draren - Mountain of Mountains. Flat roofed, earthen and rock Berber dwellings cling tenaciously in steep villages, with irrigated terraces full of gardens and walnut groves.
The imperial cities and the plains below the middle Atlas Mountains are the breadbasket of Morocco with wide gardens, fields of golden wheat and groves of olives. We ended a glorious Autumn day in the unknown city of Rich. Not many travelers end up here and we were a real novelty. The town, almost deserted in late afternoon, sprang to life in the evening. We enjoyed a tasty dinner with the locals then shopped for fruit in the street stalls. Gigantic pomegranates, just bursting with juice, were being offered for a pittance. These healthy wonders of the fruit kingdom are perfect for dissecting and eating on a bus or train ride. At this elevation the sunny day turned into a freezing night quickly and snuggled under piles of blankets (always a condition of staying in a cold place) we knew it was time for these warm blooded Hawaiian 'woosies' to move on.
We headed south to the otherworldly walled city of Chefchaouen; nestled in Morocco's Rif Mountains. As well as its distinctive palette of light to bright blue, aquamarine, and white buildings this unusual place has been called a 'blue dream'. Walking the narrow back alleys painted in every hue imaginable, it really is as if walking in a dream. Supposedly this unusual coloring was introduced by Jewish refugees, who believed that the more you look at anything blue, the more often you think about heaven and God. The tradition caught on, becoming a signature feature of the old part of town. Interestingly the Hindus consider the color blue to be the holy color of the sky, the resting place of the sun and their god, Krishna. The Japanese consider the sky to be a blue sapphire. Symbolism in Nature is similar worldwide.
Called one of the prettiest towns in Morocco, the homes have Andalucían/Spanish influenced red tiled roofs and are perched on steep slopes under the looming mountains. All narrow roads lead to the main Plaza Uta el-Hammam. This sudden opening is filled with sidewalk cafes, strolling minstrels and little shops. The reddish hued walls of the 500 year old Kasbah castle or fort make up one side of the plaza. Climbing up to the Kasbah towers or the nearby Aladdin Restaurant's 4th floor, (don't miss) offers breathtaking views of the town and surrounding areas.
Nights were once again freezing and we crawled out from under our pile of blankets for a walk once the sun peeked over the mountains. Heading outside the walled city, through the heavy arch doorway, we made one of our best discoveries in Chefchaouen. The Jbala people, with their unique hats, walked down from the mountains for a weekly market near the town gate. What a colorful display of home grown Autumn vegetables and fruits. Everyone slowly warmed up, while enjoying a cup of coffee at a street cafe or haggled spiritedly over the best apples or squash. Many 'Merlins' in their 'jellabas' or hooded robes wandered the square while the women donned unique, colorful hats and scarves. For over 2 hours, not a single tourist in sight. Goes back to taking the time to wander the back alleys in search of the real Morocco or the real lifestyle of a country. Sure, we run into other tourists at the highlighted sights or attractions of a place, but try to veer off the tourist route whenever you can. The funny thing is that it is often just 200 meters away or the next street over from 'tourist central'! Go ahead, stay young. Explore!
And so it goes.........................................Next the Sahara Desert! The Sahara is the world's largest hot desert and one of the harshest environments on the planet. Join us as we ride into the sunset amidst the great dunes. Until then let's remember to keep young and live our lives fully before our number is up. Take care and Keep in Touch!
Love, Light & Laughter,
1 US Dollar equals 9.41 Moroccan Dirham
CTM buses or shared taxis, stuffed to the gills (with Gills), are available most places in Morocco.
Cooperative selling rugs and weavings from 90 different
people from the surrounding area. Worth a look.