After four hours on the train, we arrived in Marrakech and quickly found a room at the Riad Amir Victoria Hotel inside the medina. Medina's are the ancient walled cities within a city where the narrow streets create a labyrinth that cannot be navigated without a good map. Our map was provided by the hotel left much to be desired so we soon found ourselves wandering around for an hour before finally succumbing to the indignations of paying some young boys to lead us back to our hotel. It was an embarrassing situation for we, ocean navigators, but not uncommon since there are a number of pre-teens making a few dollars this way, kinda like caddying. I can only assume the streets are designed this way to confuse conquering armies.
The medina (the arabic word for town) is the area that attracts tourists. First there is the opportunity to seeing a city unchanged in structure for thousands of years. Schools, mosques, moped repair shops, meat markets, fruit and vegetable stalls and other shops that support the locals, line the streets and I call them streets only in name because most would be impassable for a normal sized vehicle. All of this coexist with shops focusing on the tourist trade selling carpets, leather goods, silver, baskets and the like. In the large open square that dominates the medina you will find snake charmers playing their flutes for large black cobras, fortune tellers, henna tattooing, monkeys, and food stalls servicing local cuisine. And while you're walking around a drum corps will be pounding away and dancing, combing the crowd for money. Sounds pretty romantic and exotic so far.
Well the other side of this coin is that in the narrow passageways you run the risk of being run over by mopeds that travel down the alley ways at top speed sometimes driven by 12 year olds. Why are they driving fast? Well, its the flies. If you're in a section that sells fresh meats or produce the vendors are continually swatting flies with a horse tail swatter, without much success, I might add. Careful where you step because there is donkey or horse dung everywhere. It is hot and everything is a hassle. What is with that incessant drumming? I'd give them money to stop. You can't find your way and you can't take a taxi and people constantly want to take you on a tour of one of the tanneries. Come on, nothing smells worse than a tannery and you have to wonder where all that toxic effluent goes. One last little bit on this rant. Moroccans dress conservatively, it is their culture and religion. Despite this modesty in dress you see them continually picking their seat. And men are in the habit of scratching their private parts in public and when women feel the need to spit, well, they spit. That man resting with his face toward the walll, he's not dizzy, he's relieving himself. I hesitate to shake hands with people because you know that one of those fingers have been way up their nose. Anyway I guess we've seen enough of these markets on our adventure and this one is just a little too agressive for us at this late stage in our travels. Four years ago and we would have goggled at the cultural experience and besides I like to eat my pizza without beggars stopping by my table.
It was 40 years ago that Marrakech Express was a popular song but today the medina is filled with aging European tourists not hippies. So if we were ever to visit again (not likely) we would stay outside of the medina and only visit for a short time in the late afternoon.
Outside the medina the infrastructure of Morocco says "open for business". The highways and trains and bridges look to be expanding and housing is under construction for the growing middle class. There is also a growing market for vacation or retirement homes for Europeans. But there are problems. First the primary export of Morocco is phosphate, a mineral that environmentally is best left in the ground. Second the population is growing rapidly with a large percentage under 20 and very high unemployment. About forty percent of the population is illiterate so that leaves tourism as a major industry attracting well over a billion dollars a year. The constitutional monarchy (now there's an oxymoron) controls commerce by issuing licensing and permits to a large web of family members. The king is beloved by his countrymen and ......okay, okay enough.
We are still in the marina waiting for the right time to cross to the Canaries. At this time of year a large collection of boats has gathered for the ARC, an organized rally for boats crossing the Atlantic. The anchorages are crowded and the marinas are full so we are quite happy to bide our time at our inexpensive marina in Rabat.
We have also been enjoying the company of our friends Xavier and Camille and their two sons Matthew and Anthony. Xavier has taken us on a tour of the historic spots in Sale' and Rabat and Camille has taken us to the medina in Rabat for a morning of shopping. Last Sunday they brought a Moroccan meal aboard Shiraz and we had a very pleasant afternoon. The meal was excellent and we very much appreciate their friendship and the time they have spent with us. They have greatly enhanced our trip to Morocco by providing us with information and experiences we would not otherwise have had. And since they are French we have made up for the fact that we didn't stop in France when we where in the Med.
We are beginning to enjoy Rabat. We have our favorite bakery for breads and pastries, we can walk to a very modern supermarket and we are within walking distance to both the Sale' and the Rabat medina's. The local medina's provide a much different experience than the one we experienced in Marrakech. You can actually look around, pick things up to take a better look without that signalling a committment to buy. Everyone is friendly without being pushy.
Well it looks like the right weather for our passage, so we'll see you in November.
Wait, wait just one more land trip before we leave. No trip to Morocco would be complete without a trip to Casablanca. In one day we were able to catch a train to Casablanca and visit the third largest mosque in the world and pay homage to Rick's Cafe. This of course is not the original Rick's because that Rick's was built in Warner Bros. back lot.
I could quote a number of statistics about the Hassan II Mosque but the most unique feature of this enormous building, completed in 1993, is the 100 ton retractable roof. Yeah ,just like the retractable roofs at the US houses of faith in the NFL. One of the reasons that the building is so large is that every area must be built in triplicate; men, women and the royal family. It's a magnificent building with the highest religious minaret in the world and well worth the day trip.
At Rick's we drank an expensive beer and watched the movie with our traveling companions of the day Wayne and Doanne from the beautiful SV Bali Hai III. This is the fifth anniversary of the resturant and a place where only very wealthy Moroccans can afford to go. We had a great lunch at a nearby seafood resturant before heading back to Rabat.
To view the set of pictures taken in Morocco then just click on the "smiley face"........