'Konichiwa' from Morocco!
Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
48Trip End Nov 28, 2006
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Arriving here, we thought we would hear a lot of 'Salam Walaykoom' (meaning 'peace be with you' in Arabic) but instead we are greeted by 'konichiwa/sayanara/origato' and various other Japanese words or phrases Moroccans seem to think they know! As in many parts of the world, they assume that if you're an Asian tourist, you must be Japanese!
Morocco is so different from southern and east Africa that we keep forgetting we're still in Africa! We started off in Fes, the oldest imperial city of Morocco. It's a very conservative city with an old feel to it, especially in the medina, which is the medieval area of the city surrounded by a wall. This medina is one of the largest in the world, with over 9000 alleyways that all seem to look the same...it's literally a maze! Lining the alleys are food markets and craft shops selling ceramics, pottery, woodcrafts, leather goods, and carpets. Here's a blanket being made from sheep and camel wool....
...and here is the rest of the camel being sold as dinner - nothing here goes to waste!
Our highlights in the medina:
- Bou Inania Medersa: This Islamic theological school is over 650 years old and has very elaborate Moroccan architecture. It was amazing to see the effort put into the tile mosaics, decorative plasterwork, and wood carvings. However, as with almost all religious institutions in Morocco, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the prayer hall, so we only got as far as the courtyard.
- Tanneries: Making leather is a tough and smelly job! Pits of brightly coloured dyes can be found in the medina where workers toil away preparing animal hides. We could hardly stand to visit the tanneries let alone imagine what it's like to endure a full day of the overpowering smell. The cocktail of ingredients used to prepare the leather include pigeon poop, cow urine, fish oils, animal fats and brains...ew!! That, mixed with the ever-present smell of donkey crap in the medina, had us longing for some fresh Canadian air (we would have even settled for some Toronto smog)!
- Donkeys a.k.a. the Moroccan taxi: the donkey is the hardest working animal in Morocco...overworked and underappreciated (we've seen many donkeys getting slapped around)!!!
From the medieval city of Fes, we moved on to the even older Roman ruins of Volubilis dating back to the 3rd century B.C. We were surprised to see that a good part of the ruins were still intact, including several mosaics.
Here I am working one of the reconstructed olive presses.
All aboard! Next stop Casablanca...
Whatever romantic notions people have of Casablanca are quickly thrown out the window (the movie "Casablanca" wasn't even filmed here) when they realize there is not much to see, except for one of Morocco's most important sights - the Hassan II Mosque, one of the few mosques in Morocco that non-Muslims are allowed to enter. It is the 3rd largest in the world (it can hold 25,000 worshippers) and cost more than half a billion dollars to build. They say 6000 craftsmen worked day and night to complete the mosque in only 6 years. We were completely blown away by how grand it looked, and it's hi-tech too...it has heated floors, an extensive but hidden sound system, and even a retractable roof!
While we have yet to sample the local McDonald's burger "the McArabia" (yes it does exist!), we've been getting our fill of couscous, brochettes (meat skewers), and tajines (stew of meat and veggies).
From here we're heading to central morocco to see the mountains and do some desert trekking on camel-back!