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Morocco, For the Clear Moroccan Skies

After two weeks in Holland in the middle of wettest and coldest spring they had had in “106 years”, carrying my death of cold, I was ready for dry hot desert air. Morocco was just the place.

As is our norm, we flew Qatar Airways. There are certain advantages to staying loyal to an airline. We could have taken AirArabia, a low-cost, no frill but excellent airline, from the airport 2 miles from our house. We could have taken Emirates out of Dubai. But we stayed loyal to Qatar to accumulate more points and FF miles. This time we realized we had made a mistake.

All Qatar flights start or end  in Doha. That means you change planes in Doha. Changing planes in Doha is a bit of a hassle. Their new airport is not finished yet, and all the aircraft park a very long distance from the terminal. You take a bus from the plane to the terminal, check in for your connecting flight, then take another bus out to the new plane.   We are used to it, so we put up with it for the FF miles. However our flight out of Dubai was delayed more than an hour, and our connecting flight, Doha/Tunis/Casablanca would be gone when we got to Doha.

Of course we were not the only people inconvenienced by this. There was a large group of Africans who missed the only daily flight to Entebbe. They started raising a kerfuffle. Very loudly and phrenetic. I mean they almost did a war dance. I cannot really blame them, they were not getting out of Doha until the next night. None of them were Silver or Gold status flyers like my wife and I are, so they would not even get into the lounge.

When my turn at the counter finally came up a woman started helping me but was paying more attention to the tribal uprising than she was to me. I did something I rarely ever do. I turned into an ESThole. Being a graduate of EST means you never really forget what you learn there. The conversation with this woman went something like this;

“Hey, are you here to help me?”

“Yes”

“Then stop paying attention to that group raising the hoo-hah and look me in the eye when I talk to you”

She was immediately under my control, we both knew it.

“You are here to help me. That is your job. Correct?”

A rather demure “Yes”

“You made a commitment to Qatar, your boss and by extension to me, to satisfy my requirements. Correct?”

A very concerned “Yes”.

“So here is what you are going to do. You are going to get my wife and I, who by the way are both privilege club members and loyal to your airline, on the next possible flight or flights that get us to Casablanca. Not only that, you are going to upgrade us to first class”.

“I will need to talk to my manager about the upgrade”

“You do not want to do that because if you do, I will also talk to him and it will look like you forgot about your commitment to your customers and your job”.

“Yes sir”

“And you will let me use your cell phone to call our tour agency to let them know our new arrival time”

“Yes sir”

I mean it was like Jedi mind control.  She printed us upgraded boarding passes and pointed to the lounge.

The next flight out, with a connect to Casablanca (on Royal Moroc air) went thru Istanbul, and wasn’t for 6 hours, but it WAS the best she could do. We hung out in the lounge. We watched the Entebbe people try to get into the lounge. They never took EST, had no idea how to mess with the minds of others, so they had to go sit in the terminal for I am not sure how many hours. They were watched closely by the Doha Airport police.

I was nervous about our luggage, but I had bought travel insurance so at least I could get fresh underwear in Casablanca.

End of this story is we arrived in Casablanca a day late. But the folks at our agency (Kensingtontours.com, highly recommended) were Johnny on the spot, and we had no more glitches.

We spent the first night in a big hotel in Casablanca instead of taking a night train to our first destination, Fez

FEZ

Some people spell it Fes, but I think that is French, So I’m sticking with Fez.

 

tannery in Fez

The tannery in Fez. Fez is a very old city and this tannery has been here the whole time. As you can see it is open air, but they give visitors mint leaves to hold under your nose because sometimes the smell can be overwhelming. It was not so bad the day we were there.

The animal hides are first soaked inthese tanks for three to five days. The principal element in the vats is pigeon poop. Not city pigeons mind you. People in the country raise pigeons and collect the droppings to sell to the tanners;

The animal hides are first soaked in these tanks for three to five days. The principal element in the vats is pigeon poop. Not city pigeons mind you. People in the country raise pigeons and collect the droppings to sell to the tanners.

The next step is to lay the hides out to dry.

The next step is to lay the hides out to dry.

Tannery in Fez

Then the hides are died in natural colors. This tannery still does things the old-fashioned way. There are modern places that skip the pigeon poop and use artificial colors. Who would want that?

leather in Fez

There are something like 100 families who take the hides and make leather goods. They surround the tannery

 
leather in Fez

Of course on the way out, visitors must pass through shops where the goods are displayed. I must say that the leather, the tailoring and the prices were as good and better than anywhere. They have been at it since Roman times or before, so they know what they are doing.

 

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We got a mule to carry our leather goods back to our riad. The only sherpas in the Medina!

 

 

The Medina

We stayed in a Riad which is what a bed and breakfast is called in Morocco. They are refurbished Moroc homes. Mostly bought and reworked by French people. The entire Medina is a World Heritage site, which carries with that designation some important rules. Two of these rules that affect a person who wants to refurbish an old Moroc home are, no power tools and only locally made materials.

hotel room in Fez

Our room in the Riad was very comfortable and very Moroccon.

The Medina we stayed in was the old Medina. There is a new Medina, which is only 1000 years old! Medinas have very narrow paths, like the photo above depicts. They were built for donkey traffic. No cars. The paths twist and turn. A few actually lead somewhere. The rest are dead ends or twist back to where you were. You need to drop bread crumbs to find your way home.

donkey in Fez

Even the donkeys look lost at times!

sometimes you run into places like this. Here you take your bearings and mutter to yourself, "OK, five paths back and three to the left to get home.

Sometimes you run into places like this. Here you take your bearings and mutter to yourself, “OK, five paths back and three to the left to get home.”

When we decided to go to Morocco, I did a little research. I found myself interested in the Berbers. They came out of the Sahara and were the first settlers in the Atlas mountains and other areas of Morocco. Berber is the mother tounge of most Moroccans. Arabic and French are taught in schools. English is a distant 4th. If you decide to travel to Morocco, your high school French will do you more good than English.

One thing about the Berbers is they make marvelous carpets. I knew I could not come home without one. Fez, being our first stop, did not seem like the place to buy one. I wanted to buy one in a Berber village and cut out the middleman. Our guide had a different idea. “I will take you to the best carpet store in all Morocco. No pressure. You do not like, you walk out.” We know better than that. Carpet salesmen are slick. Just like buying a carpet here in the UAE, or on the subcontinent, as soon as you walk into the store they bring out the tea. I am fairly convinced the tea is spiked with a buy drug. The salesman gets nice and friendly and his staff starts whipping out carpets faster than a sand storm across the desert.

berber carpets

They bring out every color and style. They start with the largest and most expensive, They know you are traveling so they are sure to tell you that they can FedEx it to your home.

The salesman watches your reactions. He knows in minutes what you like or do not like and he barks orders at the hardworking staff to take some away and bring out more that he thinks you like.

Berber carpets

The back rooms have hundreds of carpets, and if you sit there long enough and drink enough of the spiked tea, you will see most of them.

carpet sales in Fez

Mary Ann started doing the walk while the saleman kept up the talk. When you buy a carpet, you take off your shoes and let your toes tell you if you really like it it. Mary Ann got fixated on this carpet.

Maybe he had a sale, maybe not. I was just a spectator. Then the afternoon call to prayer happened. I sort of wanted some time alone so Mary Ann and I could talk more. I told the saleman and the guide (who would get a commision if we bought something, good on him) “hey, don’t y’all gotta go pray?’ The guide said “I am already praying that you buy something”. I am not sure if it was the will of Allah, or the damn tea, but Mary Ann bought us a beautiful Berber carpet that now graces our living room.

We also took a cooking class from the Clock Cooking School. They are located in the middle of the market area in the Medina. We went out with the instructor to purchase everything we would need to cook.

miniature artichoke

Mini sized artichokes grow wil in Morocco. I for one had never seen wild miniature artichokes. They tasted wonderful

We were truly impressed with how fresh all the vegetables were, all grown in Morocco. The fruits were great also. The peaches were just plain peachy good. The chickens get killed right in front of you if you insist on the freshest. The butchers all had a cadre of cats sitting in front of them, hoping for a handout.

feral cats in Morocco

Please mister, please?

They are territorial, a group of cats does not allow a new cat to occupy their space. These cats are all feral, and you see feral cats all over Morocco.

camel butcher

One butcher sells nothing but camel meat, and he has the head of a dead camel hanging in front of his shop. Not something you see every day.

 

That is it for Fez. We saw other interesting things, as you will when (I hope) make your own visit.

Next? The Marrakech Express!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response so far.

  1. Joellen says:

    You two would be fun to travel with.

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