Monday, February 07, 2011

Ali Baba

And the Thief

Sahara Sunset

Sahara Shadows

Hinda's Caravan

Mohar, Berber Camel Guide

Going to Pray i n Rabat

Three Chefchouen Friends

Essouria Fisherman

Fes Crepe Maker

Pretty in Essouria

Chefchouen - The Blue City

Traditional and Modern Friends

Community Washing in Chefchouen

Riad Courtyard

View From Our Room in Essouria

Peter and Hinda's 50th Anniversary in Morocco

Anniversary trip blog January 2011
So here we are 50 years later about to start our anniversary trip. Our first stop is in Istanbul where we began this adventure a few days after we were married in 1961. Spent a wonderful evening with the friends we made in Turkey all those years ago, reminiscing and laughing a lot as we did when we were so young and away from home for the first time. Now we are older and wiser but still having fun and it was so good to be able to spend time with these old friends, each time we see them it is just like we were together a few hours before.
After a good night’s rest we left for Casablanca. We were met at the airport by our driver and guide who we would spend the next 16 days with. His name is Yusuf, a nice young man, speaking perfect English, knowledgeable about Morocco, and knew all the best coffee spots in every little town along our way. He gave us a driving tour of Casablanca then took us to our first hotel. Nice place on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
We left Casablanca in the morning for a little town, known as the blue town, named Chef Chouen. A charming place with all the buildings painted blue and white. On the way we realized that our romantic idea of what Morocco looked like was just that, a romantic idea. It is a very modern country with building cranes everywhere, modern buildings, new roads, modern transportation systems in the big cities, even a high speed train that will traverse the country at speeds up to 500 kilometers per mile. The countryside is mostly lush with many rivers and streams and farming is the main occupation. They grow lots of wheat and have the best bread we ever tasted. Of course, having arrived there from Kenya where there are no new roads, now new construction of anything modern and very little water, we were certainly more aware of how advanced and modern this country is.
We were also surprised that we could communicate in Spanish in this country that speaks Arabic and French. Turns out in a large part of the north part of the country there has been a big Spanish influence because it is so close and many people speak Spanish. We got along quite well in the north with our little bits of Spanish since neither of us speaks Arabic or French. Things would change as we headed south, and we found it difficult to communicate in much of the south where people did not speak anything but Arabic and French. We also found that most tourists were from French speaking countries and although there are more English speaking tourists now things are not geared toward the English speaking population. Of course, our limited language skills did not keep us from enjoying the trip or being able to shop and eat well in all restaurants. We decided we really prefer the food in the small towns like Berber Pizza, which is a large flat round bread stuffed with meat, onions, mushrooms and spices, baked to a perfect crust and savored at the roadside restaurant or the vegetable and meat dishes cooked in tagines, or the lamb chops grilled after you choose your lamb and amount of meat. Then top it off with French or Moroccan pastries and mint tea. Ummm good.
Spent the day walking around town with a guide who showed us the charming houses and winding streets. Relaxing day then stayed in our first of many riads. A riad is a bed and breakfast, formerly a large house, often located in the Medina, the old part of town and often behind the walls of the Kasbah. In almost all of the places we stayed we were treated extremely well and had our rooms upgraded since it was off season and we were celebrating a big anniversary. In most, we had suites with a bedroom, sitting room and bath with marble, granite and painted tile showers with lots of water pressure. The only thing we found lacking in the places we stayed was enough light, we think they were all using 1 watt bulbs. Never mind that I could never see what I really looked like after putting on my makeup in the morning, I just made sure not to look in the mirror again during the day and no one was laughing at me so, I guess it was ok.
We had a lovely time in Chef Chouen but discovered that the unscrupulous guide we used took us to an equally unscrupulous shop keeper who he must have had a deal with and in Peter’s attempt to keep the economy going bought a hamsa for twice as much as we should have paid. When our driver heard the story he immediately took us back, called the guide and had him go to the shop, return the hamsa and get our money back. How nice! Even though Peter continued to make sure the Moroccan economy kept going we think we did not get ripped off again. Or at least we don’t know it.
Wash day in town is a community event, all the women meet at the river where there is a special place built to wash clothes. They spend several hours visiting and washing, seeming to enjoy the company and making the task more interesting. They then carry the wet wash home on their heads or a cart and hang it to dry. Takes lots of time but certainly makes for good community interaction.
We then headed for Fes, one of the five imperial cities. Along the way we drove through beautiful country, lots of hills and valleys with trees and then saw the Middle Atlas mountains which made us think of home, snow covered with cedar trees, not as big as ours but beautiful. We spent 2 days in Fes in a lovely riad but it was so cold we wore our jackets most of the time. Spent the first day just wandering around by ourselves and the second day with a really good guide, Ali, who made sure we learned everything and were not cheated. Shopping again was the main event as we wandered through the narrow winding street of the Medina. We found the people of Fes very friendly, warm and anxious to help. It was a great place to visit.
Now for the highlight of the trip we headed for the Sahara and our night in the desert. Rode for a couple of hours in a 4x4, reached the desert and made acquaintances with our camels. Saddles were put on the camels and we got on, easier said than done, since once you are seated on the camel, behind the hump, he gets up back end first, so you are tipping forward and then he raises his front. Oh the ground looks so far away. The camel driver tells us that the camels have no names since they are work animals, Hinda chooses to name hers “Sweetheart”. We ride off into the desert and stopped in about an hour to view the sunset. It is truly beautiful. However, it is getting really cold, we need to put on our jackets and Berber turbans against the cold and wind. (see photos above of Ali Baba and the Thief). After sunset we continue to the Bedouin camp which was in an oasis with tents in a circle, bedroom, bathroom and dining tent. Our camel driver serves us dinner and after tea as it is getting late we head for bed. It is very cold but the blankets are heavy, so heavy it is hard to turn over, and we are warm enough. In the morning we get up to a lovely sunrise, breakfast and the camel ride back to the 4x4’s. What a delightful experience and thoroughly enjoyed by us. On our way back to the road we were surprised to see adobe huts with solar panels and satellite dishes on the roof. Everyone has their priorities.
Back in town we met Yusef and headed for Marrakesh, a really busy modern city with lots of traffic and modern buildings. Certainly, a city like many others and although we enjoyed our time there it was similar to many other places we have been.
Now for the next highlight, we spent a couple of days in Essouria, in a suite sitting above the Atlantic Ocean. Literally, had we jumped out the window we would have landed in the ocean. Essouria is a really nice coast city that is clean, friendly, modern and old mixed, good fish and a relaxing end to an unforgettable trip. We were lucky with the weather and sun kept shining while we walked along the beach.
A bit about the government of Morocco. This country has a King and although we believe in democracy, Morocco seems to be thriving under their King, he is young and has been in power for the last ten years. He is college educated in the USA and married to a commoner who is also an economist. He has made lots of changes to help women in the country, on the advice of his wife and is moving the country to have a thriving economy and a good infrastructure. There does not seem to be any corruption in the government and everyone we spoke to at various levels of the economy seems to like the King. He also is a friendly man who is often seen walking in town or driving his own car. Of course, he does have 32 palaces many with golf courses around the country but I guess if you are King you can have anything you want.
Back to the real world, we have arrived back to our Kisumu family and will stay for a short time and then return the the USA, happy and healthy. In Kisumu 2-1/2 year old Agnes has fallen in love with Hinda and the feeling is mutual. They put on makeup together, and have lots of fun.

Hinda will leave here on February 11, and Peter on February 28.
See you soon as we begin our next 50 years together. Let’s see how far we can get.
Hinda and Peter