Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cities of Morocco: Not a Single Camel

From the natural surroundings of Chefchaouen, we dove straight into the cities of Morocco. We began the major city tour in Fes (sometimes spelled Fez). Cities have numerous interesting sites and history, though many also come with the unwelcome harassment of people who follow you and then demand money for getting you to where you were already walking. This means that when a kind person offers help (which is frequent in Morocco), you curse at them and walk away quickly. In any case, here are some city pictures.

In Fes, hotels are more expensive. The hotel pricing schemes in Morocco are worthy of an economics PhD. They vary dramatically by city, with no obvious link to supply and demand and not necessarily to quality. In Fes, we saw rooms that we wouldn't keep a pet in for the same price as the place we stayed, which was the poshest place we have stayed yet.
We went to visit the Medersa Al-Attarine, which is an Islamic school in Fes. The main courtyard that is open to the public is beautiful and ornate. While work has obviously been done over the years to maintain it, it is essentially original, unlike most of the heavily restored work we have seen.
This is a close-up of the mosaic work. You can generally tell how important a place is in Morocco by the quality of the mosaic. The bus stations, for instance, are also all mosaic, but it looks like they brought in a class full of first graders for the day to do the work. This one looks more like they paid someone to do the work.Mules and donkeys are very common in the streets of Fes and many other medinas (the walled part of a city that mostly has small walkways to keep it cool). This is because they are cheaper than cars and they are able to get through the small alleyways of the medinas where cars cannot go.
Fes has the largest tannery in Morocco. They start the tanning process by soaking the hide (sheep or cow mostly) in a solution of water, salt, and pigeon poop. That's right--pigeon poop. The ammonia causes the hair to fall out, which is then washed and used for stuffing. The hide is then washed before being dyed it the pits to the right below. They do different colors in different weeks, with red and brown being the colors the week we were there. The hides are then dried in the sun.
While it doesn't seem very smart to us, the method of dying is to have a guy jump around in a pool of dye with the leather. They say that the dyes are all-natural and they told us what creates the colors (red is from poppy and brown from henna), but this still wouldn't be my job of choice. Workers at the factory get paid a whopping $5.00 per day.
It isn't just the hides that need dyed. So does the yarn that they make from wool. This job looks just about as safe as jumping up and down in the pool of dye, though these guys at least wear gloves.
The streets are filled with mosques that we can't enter because we are not Muslims. You can often tell how religious someone is by the shoes that they wear. Because you must remove your shoes to enter the mosque, a religious person that goes to mosque every day will invariably have shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
After Fes, we headed to Meknes. Meknes is another of the four imperial cities, meaning that the king has a palace there. This is Bab al-Mansour, considered one of the fanciest-pants gates in all of Morocco. Behind it a ways is the king's private golf course surrounded by 30 foot walls so that no one can see it...
In Islam, it is considered rude to have a big, ornate tomb. So, they are all like this one with a simple marker. However, if you are special, it is apparently perfectly appropriate to have a palace and/or mosque built around your simple marker.
A popular carnival game, often played on the main squares, is to try to loop a round hoop at the end of a fishing line over the top of a bottle of soda. You get a couple minutes of trying for a few cents. If you are successful (which we saw only once), you win the bottle of soda. The lines for these games were always so long that we did not partake.
In Rabat, the city is separated by a "river" (more of a large creek) from Sale, a smaller town on the other side. One bridge connects them, but it is far more fun to pay people to row you across (25 cents each). Here is Tara enjoying her time in the rowboat.
One of the nicest parts of Sale is that it allows you to look back at Rabat. Rabat has a couple of very nice attactions, one being the Kasbah, or fortress of the city. The Rabat Kasbah is one of the few that has a large population living inside. It also happens to sit on a cliff.
The other main attraction in Rabat is the Hassan Tower. In the 1100s, some ruler decided that he was going to build the biggest minaret in the world. It was an ambitious project since it would still be one of the largest had it been completed. Sadly, he died and the new administration had better things to waste money on, so they stopped it at the height it was. Hundreds of columns are next to it from an old mosque. The last couple kinds have been buried in the same park.
On to Casablanca. But first, a special thanks to Hamid in Rabat, who was an amazing host for the couple of days we visited. He showed us some of the best the city has to offer. Now, back to Casablanca. We searched in vain for a half day for the Jewish Museum, which only the tourist office had heard of, but didn't know the location of. They suggested taking a taxi, but about 20 taxi drivers later, we gave up. So, off to the Hassan II mosque. Hassan II was the king of Morocco until 1999 and this mosque is his legacy.
Built between 1987 and 1993, it is the third largest mosque in the world and has the largest minaret. It can hold 20,000 men and 5,000 women (who have to go to special balconies). This is the bottom of one of the women's balconies, which are all ornately carved.The cost of the mosque is a secret, but is estimated at around a billion dollars, maybe two. Surprisingly, the architect is not Muslim, but was a friend of the king, so the king paid him some insane amount to design this mosque right on the ocean. It is also the largest mosque that can be entered by non-Muslims. Here is the main chamber:
Underneath the mosque, they built a hammam, or bath. They have never opened it to the public, however, because it is too popular as a tourist destination. This is the main pool of the baths.
Here Tara and I are outside the Hassan II mosque. As our tour guide said, "Before this mosque, tourists had no reason at all to come to Casablanca. Now they have to stop to see the mosque." That sums up Casablanca perfectly. For all the romantics out there and lovers of the movie, I suggest not getting your hopes to high for the city if you decide to visit.
After Casablanca, it was on to Marrakech (sometimes also spelled Marrakesh). The main attraction of the city is the night life around the main square, the Djemaa El-Fna. Dozens of full scale restaurants are set up in the middle each night and taken down by morning. Hundreds of nearly identical stalls sell dates, nuts, apricots, and figs at usurious prices to unsuspecting tourists. Here is one such stall:
The walls of the kasbah in Marrakech are home to many storks. The walls are in a state of disrepair, which along with the fact that the city seems to be about 50 percent European tourists at any moment, makes me think that if you want to invade a major Moroccan city, Marrakech is probably your best bet.
From Marrakech, you can see the lovely Atlas Mountains, still covered in snow at this time of year. Marrakech would go up to about 80 during the day and then fall to the high 50s at night while we were there. Not a single camel anywhere.
When in Marrakech, we found the Jewish cemetary. The caretaker was very nice once Tara said she was Jewish. He let us in to look around and told us that there are now only a couple hundred Jews left in Marrakech. Apparently, a lot of them went to Israel after it was formed. Some of the graves date back 1500 years.
In the early 1900s, they discovered the Saadian Tombs from a royal family in the 1600s. How you suddenly discover such an ornate set of tombs in the middle of your city after 300 years, I don't really know. It's like losing the Empire State Building, only to discover 300 years later that there is a quarter mile high building in your city. In any case, you can read about the tombs here if you like.
At the tombs lived a cute tortoise who moved with lightning speed (for a tortoise). I believe he would have easily defeated the hare in a race. Tara took approximately 150 pictures of him (or her--sexing turtles is notoriously difficult).
Well, that about does it for the cities of Morocco. Next we head to the coast and down to the desert. Deserts always remind me of dessert, and so I think the trip to the desert should be really great.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you're enjoying Morocco. I had the same reaction to Fes...the people who harass tourists are really persistent and annoying... if the laws permitted it, someone could make a killing selling mace or chloroform spray to tourists.

    How are you traveling between the cities?