We are now back home in Daglan after spending the last week of February vacationing in the Kingdom of Morocco. It was the first time I had ever set foot on the African continent, but it was the second visit to Morocco for my wife Jan, who has raved about the country for years.
Morocco turned out to be easily the most “exotic” or different country I’ve ever visited, and one of the things that surprised me was just how French the people and customs are. (Quick facts: the population of Morocco is just over 33 million; and it became fully independent in March 1956, with the ending of the French protectorate.) Hence my title, the “French connection.”
While Arabic and Berber are the country’s official languages, French is spoken widely, and we used it frequently. Interestingly, we commented that many French-speakers in Morocco were easier to understand than some of our neighbours in Daglan, probably because they learned French in school, instead of picking up the language (and the slang, and the accent) from family and friends in rural France.
In any case, in this and the next two postings, I plan to give you a taste of the country and the places we visited.
We’ll start with the airport in Marrakech where we landed, having flown via Air France directly from Toulouse. The flight takes just a bit over two hours, so that part of the journey was quite easy. (Typically, of course, travel from Daglan is not all that straightforward. First we had to drive 30 minutes to Gourdon; then take the train for about two hours to Toulouse; then take a taxi to an airport hotel; and then spend the night at the hotel to catch a morning flight.) In any case, here’s the airport in Marrakech:
On the way to our resort, we saw the kind of mixed traffic you might expect — modern cars and trucks and buses, plus beat-up vehicles, plus pedestrians trying to dodge their way across busy streets, with bicycles and motorbikes everywhere, and quite a few carts being pulled by horses or mules. Or men.
But it certainly wasn’t the terrifying or chaotic scene that I’ve observed (at least on television) in some countries in Africa and Asia; and in fact, I think I could drive more comfortably by myself in Marrakech than in Rome.
Exotic? Indeed. Street signs are usually in both Arabic and French; the dress is obviously specific to Morocco; and you do come across camel drivers and snake charmers reasonably often. This man and his cobra were on display at our resort, entertaining a group of children one afternoon, but we also saw quite a few snake charmers in the main square of Marrakech:
A sight we both loved was the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, which lie outside Marrakech. When Jan was in Morocco some 30 years ago, her visit was in September, so the snow hadn’t fallen yet on the mountaintops. But for our February trip, the snow was still glistening.
In this next photo, taken from a tower on our resort grounds, you can make out the mountains in the distance, although they may look like fluffy clouds to you:
While we spent much of our time at our resort (a Club Med facility), we did get off the grounds to visit the heart of Marrakech, as well as the port of Essaouira, formerly a Portuguese stronghold known as Mogador.
Six of us made the day-long trip to and from Essaouira — the driver and our guide, with Jan and me, and another couple of tourists from Switzerland. Along the way, we made a few stops, first for some (truly awful) coffee. Then we pulled over to see a group of goats, who regularly climb the argan tree to eat its fruit; the nut inside provides the incredibly popular argan oil that is used both in cooking and to treat virtually every ailment known to mankind. Here are the argan-munching goats at work:
As we stood by the side of the road, a shepherd rushed over with a kid for us to admire. Here’s our fellow traveller, the woman from Switzerland, holding the beautiful young goat:
As we approached Essaouira, heading down from the hills toward the Atlantic Ocean, our guide stopped our van so that we could admire the town and its harbour in the distance. Strictly by chance (ha!) there were a couple of camels on the scene, just itching to have their photos taken with the tourists, and to earn a tip for their owner. Here I am, at a comfortable distance from the larger of the two camels:
Once we reached Essaouira, we headed for the harbour itself, and braced ourselves against some fierce winds as we looked over the fishing fleet:
We also took some time to watch boats being repaired, and some being built. The owner of this boat took the photo himself, and told us that it would six men a full year to complete the vessel:
As we neared the end of our visit to the harbour, we came across two fishermen who were cleaning squid — while being watched very closely by a patient cat, who was obviously hoping for a scrap or two:
And then we walked off to a hotel, where we spent a few relaxed hours with some tasty Moroccan rosé wine and perhaps the best meal of our trip — a delicious plate of nicely spiced and fried John Dory.
In my next posting, we’ll go into the heart of Marrakech itself.