Megan contemplates camelThis post has been building up for a while – all sorts of thoughts, reflections, and good stories piling on top of one another and gaining coherence over the last 12 days in Morocco. Dave and I have just completed what seems to be the “tour” of Morocco: the circle from Casablanca through the cities of Rabat, Meknes, Fez, then up through the mountains to the edge of the Sahara, before heading back to the tourist capital of Marrakesh (via Oarzazate, the “Hollywood” of Morocco), and finally to the seaport of Essouira, made famous by Jimmy Hendrix (among others), although we have been told not to believe the local tour guides when they tell us that he wrote Castles of Sand here.


Arriving at Essouira, for us, brought a certain sigh of relief. We feel that Morocco has done us justice, so to speak, and we can now embark on our own journey. Ill-prepared as we were for Morocco – our original guidebook, borrowed from my Aunt Babs, did not offer any hotels, and our main guidebook was only obtained from Juan on the eve of our departure from Spain – we jumped in with a sheepish sense of duty and disorientation. Luckily, we have been met by a country very ready and willing to accommodate us, host us, haggle us, and charm us.


So, the news: I am still a vegan (except for a couple of french fries that I have my doubts about). Dave is still a vegetarian (except for his one foray into “tagine legumes,” which most definitely had some animal fat boiling at the bottom). We are both taking daily vitamins and eating lots of bread and avocado. We have begun our malaria inoculations, last Thursday, in fact, the morning of our camel trek and overnight in the desert – and we are proud to say that week one (for me) and week two (for Dave) have not produced any thrilling dreams, ahem, hallucinations to speak of. We have pictures enough to prove that we actually did ride camels, make Berber pizza over a fire, and sleep under the full moon on the edge of the Sahara. We will see what next week (and the 33 after) may bring.


The reflections: Following the “tour” has its positives and negatives, as one might expect. We are welcomed into each town by many hospitable folks who are eager to welcome us in many different languages, and offer us lodgings designed to meet our every need. This makes us very suspicious in our wanderings of any one who might inquire what our nationality may be. An interesting side note: we have never, not once, had the first guess be American, which means we are either hiding our heritage well or folks fear to insult us with that as a first guess.


Two other asides on the American note: most people do not seem to understand “Etats-Unis” until I clarify, America. However, most people do know Chicago right off the bat. We have not encountered much political discussion, although Dave often says, “Chicago, where Barack Obama is from.” My first overtly political interaction came last night, when leaving an Internet café in Essouira. The young man who ran the place guessed that I was English and when I corrected him, he asked me, “How about George Bush?” I probably rolled my eyes and got out half a sentence before he continued, “I like George Bush. You know why? He makes war and everything; he does what is good for America.” Astonished, I tried to get out of this conversation, but could not do so before he added that the person he does not like is “Condo,” i.e. Condaleeza Rice. I chose not to explore whether this has to do with gender or race, and his gestures were open for interpretation.


Following the tour makes life easy, as almost everyone along it speaks three or four of the following languages: Arabic, French, Berber, English, Spanish, Italian, and a smattering of Japanese (and probably others). There are also amenities a-plenty, everything that we could want along the way.


Lastly, following the tour makes the country feel small, somehow, as we overlap with other travelers and guides and the places that they promote. On the bus from Midelt, in the Atlas Mountains, to Rissani, en route to the desert, we had the good fortune to meet a pair of Japanese friends, Yoko and Yuji, headed in the same direction. We got along well and decided to aim for the same spot in the desert. We also met a particularly persistent guide, who jumped onto the bus at the second to last stop and began to encourage us to go to his desert auberge, Le Petite Prince. I was a little skeptical of this guide right from the get-go, as we had already received a card for the place from the owner of our last hotel, and subsequently been forcefully pushed to the same spot by another “friend” in the mountains.


The third Petite Prince pusher began working on us on the bus, staying on for the last 30 minutes of the bus ride, despite our repeated explanations that we had a reservation elsewhere. He dismounted the bus in Rissani with us, stuck around the bus station for 10 minutes while we purposely dawdled, and then followed us as we walked towards town, trying to ignore his many forms of persuasion. Still unable to shake him, we stopped into a café for a coffee and to wait for a taxi to come take us to the auberge of our choice. He stayed in the café at a nearby table for a full 40 minutes. When our taxi arrived, we were probably as happy to finally be rid of him, as we were to be on the last stretch of our journey to the desert.


Yoko and Yuji atop a DuneTwo days in the desert did us a world of good, despite being a full-blown tourist indulgence, complete with lessons in the Berber language, late night drumming and dancing, and the famous camel trek. Dave and I left a day before our Japanese friends, and made our way by thumb and grand taxi to the town, Erfoud, where we were to catch to seven-hour bus to Oarzazate.


We arrived a couple of hours early and sat down at a café by the bus stop to catch up on postcard writing. Lo and behold, no sooner did we sit down than were we saluted by the same young man who had haggled us for so many hours two days before. I thought, “Ah, a chance for reconciliation, now that the sale is off,” and I made small talk with him for about 20 minutes, during part of which I attempted to explain that Americans (and probably others) prefer the “soft sale” to the “hard sale.” Apparently, my pointer was lost on him or irrelevant, as he spent the next hours leading up to our departure attempting to lead us to his favorite souvenir shops in town. From all of this we learned that, in his own words, “Dave is not as nice as his girlfriend.”


Luckily, we have had two delightful reencounters to push that far into the past. Two days after the desert, Dave and I were settled in a lovely hotel in the old medina of Marrakesh, with a terrace for sunny breakfasts, views to the nearby minaret, and sunset watching. On our second day, Dave came back early from a day of sightseeing to find our Japanese friend Yoko on the doorstep of our hotel. She and Yuji had decided to take different paths for a few days, and we were lucky to spend an evening sunset and morning coffee together, solidifying the friendship.


The following day, yesterday, Dave and I headed on to Essouira, a three-hour bus-ride to coast. We again found a marvelous hotel in the old medina with a terrace overlooking the sea. I settled into the “chore” of uploading all of our photos, while Dave headed out to do laundry. Within moments of leaving the hotel, Dave ran into Yuji, our other Japanese friend, who had just arrived in town. Yuji ended up in our same hotel and we, again, shared a beautiful evening sunset, dinner, and morning stroll around the fishing port and beach. The end result was that, at 11 this morning, Dave sat alternately watching a youth soccer game on the beach and the waves, while Yuji helped me remember/practice writing Kanji in the sand.


Now, we are a couple of hours south along the coast, in a small town of Tagazout. I am writing from the comfort of the beachside apartment that is ours for the night for the negotiated price of about $20, listening to our landlady’s TV upstairs and the waves crashing outside. Dave has struck up a friendship with a young man who runs a souvenir shop down the beach, who is taking him to a local party. Having seen enough glimpses of male-only nightlife in Morocco, and with so much for the blog that I am about to burst, I stay behind. I want to write a bit about gender in Morocco, and a few other anecdotes, but perhaps it will have to wait till later. As Yuji said to us last night, “Good night, and good luck.”