Friday, September 20, 2013

Remembering Morocco ~ the afterglow

Thanks to its climate, geography and history, Morocco has become one of the world's top tourist destinations and enjoys a reputation for safety and hospitality. Each year millions of visitors arrive to explore the country's many attractions. But six months later, what remains of their visit other than photographs and souvenirs?   Australian traveller, Linda Ivezic, travelled around Morocco as a solo woman traveller and now reports back on the legacy of her Moroccan experience

Thanks to Morocco being easily affordable on my Australian wage, I was lucky to spend most of spring there earlier this year. I travelled on local transport, trains, buses and the wonderful Grande Taxis. I stayed in hostels when whenever possible, and bottom to mid-range hotels and riads.

I saw a lot of the country, (but not all of it) and became accustomed to so many things Moroccan. I've returned to my usual life in Maleny, a small country town in SE Queensland but often have thoughts on what I loved about Morocco.

Terrains varied: desert, mountains, forests, coasts but wherever I was, it was spring. The air smelled of orange blossom wherever I went. The food-growing oases in the desert country to the east; cities, towns and villages along the coast and inland; villages in the mountains, they all entranced me with the smell of orange blossom. I made sure I had at least one squeezed-on-the-spot orange juice every day, always a big glass for around $1.20AUD. The simplest of deserts was always on the menu: slices of oranges with cumin sprinkled over them.....delicious!

Every region I visited bloomed with spring flowers. There were poppies, daisies, fruit trees in blossom and all sorts of flowers I'll never identify.

I miss the muddy black coffee in the men-only cafes. As a Western woman I was treated with courtesy even though I was essentially entering male domains. I loved sitting street-side watching the ever-enthralling Moroccan street life, sipping my short black with 3 sugars or the wonderful Moroccan mint tea. I do miss their mint tea. I've grown a great batch of mint, bought gunpowder tea and sugar cubes. Next is to try to make the tea. I wish I'd bought a Moroccan teapot. Mint tea has to be cooked in the teapot over a flame.

I thought I'd miss Morocco's life in the streets. I would watch the crowds in the evenings, families, couples, young men and young women, they all spent their evenings walking their town squares, esplanades, parks, lookouts and shops meeting people they knew, stopping for a chat, children playing around them. Life is very public, the average family has little or no garden, they live several generations together, living rooms become bedrooms at night, they need to get out into the streets. We live our self-contained lives in our four-bedroom house on our plot of land, retreating to our privacy at the end of our busy days. We do lose out, I'm sure.

I'm lucky though, I've realised that life in a small town has similarities to the close street socialising of Morocco, the difference being that most of my meeting of people in the street is during the day. Certainly across the suburbs in Australia there's none of that public socialising that fascinated me everywhere in Morocco.

My view from a cafe in Marrakech
A whirling dervish spins his spiritual connection to God at the Sufi Festival in Fez, April 2013

My favourite city was Fez. I stayed there twice, for 11 days then 3 more a few weeks later. I spent my time in Fez in awe of its age and history, 1,200 years of Berber and Arab life. UNESCO World heritage listed, “the Medina of Fez is considered as one of the most extensive and best conserved historic towns of the Arab-Muslim world.” (UNESCO website). Each and every excursion into the streets of Fez is an adventure for the senses including the navigational senses! Getting lost in streets as wide as yourself is mandatory. Standing aside for mules laden with 150 kgs of gas bottles, or 100 goat skins; walking in amongst crowds of locals going about their lives in ways many generations of their forebears have done but with a mobile phone in hand; watching metal workers beating copper and brass into objects we see as beauty and ornament but objects of everyday use to Moroccans. Leather, pottery and ceramics craftsmen, carpet and fabric weavers are all working at their ancient skills following their family's footsteps.

I miss the convenience and practicality of Morocco's Grande Taxis. They walk all over our concept of “ride sharing”. They're all old model Mercedes Benz cars that don't leave for your destination until there are six passengers, two in the single passenger seat at the front and four crammed across the back. They can take you places buses and trains don't go, or just get you there more cheaply with more frequent departures. I remember a 20km trip costing $1.20AUD. I loved the challenge of finding the right Grande Taxi for my destination and, being at such close quarters, many people enjoyed a chat.

Off the beaten track in a Grande Taxi

I used this Grande Taxi several times both sharing and hiring for myself, to get to the starting points for several walks in the Rif Mountains, driven by the ever-courteous Mohammed.

I miss hearing Morocco's multi-lingualism around me. We are so spoilt and lazy in our mono-lingual culture. Moroccans have 2nd, 3rd and 4th languages. Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish are the main ones I heard around me. My rusty 40 year old school French suddenly became relevant.

Morocco is a land of colour, beauty, history and a culture very different from that of Australia. I saw how Islam is an integral part of the people's lives without the extremism of other Muslim nations. I had no problems travelling as woman alone. If you're looking for an affordable travel destination with a variety of possible experiences, I highly recommend Morocco.

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1 comment:

Mel said...

From one Aussie to another, this is exactly how I felt and what I experienced. Great writing. Brings back memories of an amazing country.