Thursday, February 26, 2009


Today I have the loan of a laptop today, with an English keyboard. It will be easier to update my blog with this keyboard. I was tempted to edit my last one from Fes, but then thought it might be best to leave it since I talked about the keyboard issue.

Although I have enjoyed all the experiences in Morocco, I know I am a small town and open space person. The big cities are interesting and exciting, but my favorite experiences, so far, in Morocco have been Moulay Idriss and Chefcahouen. Moulay Idriss is like a small Mecca as the man who brought Islam to Morocco lived there and is buried there. Moroccan Muslims consider it a holy city. For those who cannot afford to make the trip to Mecca, seven trips to Moulay Idriss in a lifetime is a substitute. Before Arabs arrived, the Romans had a major city nearby, Volubulis, which we spent a morning wandering about in.

Several pairs of storks were nesting atop the old columns in Volubilis

In Moulay Idriss we stayed in a riad, a large home, once for someone wealthy. Today it is a small hotel, with the family residing in part of the home, and rooms for guests in the rest. The first thing that happens upon arrival is a glass of mint tea. I wasn't sure I would like sweetened tea as I have always liked mine Chinese style, just plain. But I quickly became enamoured of this refreshing and invigorating tea. To serve it correctly, it must be poured from high above the glass to make it froth a bit.

Among the things that happened at the riad was a demonstration of making pastille, a traditional Moroccan dish. But it is one for special occassions so is only available in a limited number of restuarants, without ordering in advance. It contains pigeon or chicken, almonds, spices which are wrapped in a very thin pastry. Often the finished pastry is topped with some powdered sugar and cinnamon. It is an excellent dish and our cook is noted for his specialty. He and his mother have been featured in TV cooking shows.

We spent a day wandering the narrow streets of the Fes medina, or old town. The medina includes the souk where there were piles of spices, dried dates, figs, apricots, olives, fresh vegetables and meat market.

We did have a guide in the Fes medina which is just about necessary. Hakima grew up in Fes, although the newer area, and still it took her two months of going with another guide to learn her way about , finding the various craft cooperatives. We visited the tanneries, mosaic and tile factory, weaving mill, copper shop, and rug shop. Most of my group are young and on very tight budgets. Of course I have limited space so cannot buy much. But looking was great fun.

Upper far right are the dyeing vats of the large tannery cooperative. On the upper left is a sample of mosaic tile work. Lower left is a detail from a traditonal carpet. Fancy brass tagine decorate a doorway (everyday cooking tagines are pottery) , and on the far right is a street shop typical of the older parts of Moroccan cities.
We had a half day stop in Meknes before catching the train to Fes. In the old medina we had camel burgers for lunch. Well, some of us did. The vegetarians opted for other selections. They were tasty, ground meat spiced with a typically flavorful blend of local spices, popped into a round, flat loaf of bread with grilled onions and tomatoes. (see picture in the post labelled "Fes.") In the meat market stalls had fresh heads of cows or camels to show what kind of meat they had for sale.
Now in Chefchaouen, I've spent more time on my own. The other nine members went treking in the mountains. Since they are young enough to be my kids or grandkids, I decided to stay behind. I probably got as much exercize but at a much slower pace. Chefchauoen is built on hills and the streets in the old area, except for a couple lower down, are stairways instead of streets negotiable by vehicles. I walked and walked, but came back to our delightful small hotel a couple times. That is because I decided to go the Hamman, the bathhouse. I needed to pick up my towel, fresh clothes, and marvelous lotions I had already purchased for the experience .

The hamman is a traditional Moroccan experience. Most houses did not have facilities for bathing. The hamman was a steam bath and area with hot water for cleansing, which is important as part of the purification process for worship. It is also, particularly for women, a social place. Since women, until fairly recent times, had little chance for socializing outside the home, two places provided that opportunity. One was the bath house, the other was washing clothes. The bathhouse has set times for men and for women except some larger communities that have separate facilities. Although many men in this town are multilingual, and I found many who spoke English, women may know only Arabic , Berber and often French. Because many of the Arabs who originally settled here were fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, there is also some Spanish language tradition. I don't know how many languages the women who were in the bath when I was there spoke, but clearly none of them knew English. But that was fine. There is a lot of communicating which does not require words. And among a group of naked women, there was plenty of laughter and helpfulness. I had no idea of the routine, how one did things there, but they handed me buckets, showed me where to sit, what to do. One woman began singing. Soon others joined in, but not singing together, but each taking a different part. I suspect part of it may have been creating verses as they went. And I suspect some of the verses were ribald, judging by the laughter.

It was delightful. An attendant rubbed my skin with special lotions and exfoliated all the dead skin with a rough mitt. Periodically she poured hot water over me as I sat on a mat on the floor. She shampooed my hair with some marvelous concotion. Then she gave me a short massage. The steam, the various lotions, the scrub, and massage left me feeling pampered and relaxed, and even though I could not understand the words, there was a feeling of commraderie which I enjoyed. Perhaps more than much of the group I am traveling with who are far younger. The group in the baths, although a variety of ages, reminded me of sitting in the baths with some of the old crowd at Tecopa Hot Springs.

I made friends with a Tuareg/Berber man whose command of English was superb. We sipped mint tea and talked for over an hour. Hamou is far from home and misses his family. He was showing me amulets (obviously it all started with a commercial basis), but he also massaged my hand and told me I was a strong woman and a nomad. At that point in our conversation I had told him nothing of my lifestyle. He had shown me some jewelry symbolizing the Tuareg and Berber people and one which was a symbol for nomads. He described nomads as being someone who may be Tuareg or Berber, but for whatever reason is away from his people, perhaps in a city. Anyway, I ended up with a pendant of the nomads. It seemed appropriate for me to have. I went back later just to visit and to take him a gift of a small dream catcher. He liked the story of the dreamcatcher which I thought he would after his explanation of the various amulets.

Ann, the Canadian in my group, and I did some laundry at the communal laundry area yesterday. We had fun as one of the woman showed us the routine. This town has a strong spring which runs through the wash house. Tubs hold water and there are stone wash boards. When you finish washing, you go further up to rinse in clear water. I don't know what impact the soap is having downstream, but the experience was enjoyable. Some women were washing their large carpets....stomping on them, using hard brushes, and then rinsing and hanging them on the walls of the bridge to dry.

Enough. I don't want to bore you. When I get home I'll post photos. I am having a great time photographing. After a long hiatus after Lin's death when photography lost its draw for me, I am again enjoying it. Good thing, my summer job at Yellowstone will be photo safaris instead of the standard tours I did last year.

Off to grab some lunch. Food in Morocco has been consistently good. We will catch a train to Tangier this afternoon. Hate to leave this town after two and a half days here.

Here are some additional photos of Chefchouen which, along with the Sahara, was my favorite spot in Morocco.

Above, our delightful small hotel in Chefchouen. Unlike many places where the common areas are wonderful and the rooms are "ho hum" the bedroom, which I shared with fellow traveler, Ann, was delightful. Same wonderful colors, artwork, and view of the whitewashed and blue town.

Homes have cookers for making couscous, tangine and stove top cooked items. But most families use a communal oven. The breads, cookies, and other pastries are made and home and carried to the oven to be baked. The baker pricks a symbol on the top of the bread to identify it and then cooks it. Later, you see people carrying home their bread.
On the steep, narrow streets of the medinas (the traditional older parts of the towns) donkeys are still a major form of hauling goods and collecting the garbage. Often the streets are so steep they have steps and vehicles cannot negotiate them. Here a burro brings sand and gravel for a project at our little hotel

Below is a typical street in the medina of Chefchouen. The blue and white colors are reminiscent of Andalusia, which is no surprise as the town was largely settled by Muslims and Jews fleeing Spain.

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