|Josiane Sadoun is shown on her recent venture to Morocco. As the surrounding photos will show, the country is a melange of landscapes and colors and filled with warm, hospitable people.|
Marhaba means welcome! I felt excited and anxious as I arrived at Casablanca’s Mohammed V airport. This was not my first time in Morocco, but the first time that no one was picking me up. I have never seen so many people and surely think they cannot all be here to greet us. I soon realize the people outside have come to the airport to welcome their loved ones returning from the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. It appears that the entire villages are waiting outside. When people return from their pilgrimage, they are called Haji, and it is a great honor. Cars are decorated and the mood is festive.
The 32-mile journey on a well-paved highway normally takes 30 minutes. After negotiating the price with the taxi driver (because in Morocco everything is negotiated), we settle in for what is supposed to be a quick ride to my cousin’s house. I can see from my window the organized chaos of cars, motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians and the occasional donkey cart. It is 6 p.m. on Friday and we are in the middle of rush-hour traffic in Casablanca.
The Kingdom of Morocco is in the northwest corner of Africa. It borders Algeria to the east and Mauritania to the south. It is only eight miles south of Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar. To the west is the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike strict Muslim countries, Morocco is a progressive country. Mohammed Vl, the 48-year-old king, has brought modernity to the old ways of Morocco. His wife, a computer engineer from Fes, is the first to show her face in public. She does not wear a veil.
Moroccans are warm, friendly and hospitable. Traveling around Morocco is easy and provides a cultural awakening. Morocco has deserts, mountains, beaches, kasbahs and souks. It is a choice destination for many Europeans, as it is so close, and yet so diverse. The best way to see the country is to hire a car and driver. Driving laws are not well observed, therefore self-driving is not recommended. Highways and main roads are well maintained.
Morocco has many options for adventure seekers. You can ski in the High Atlas, ride a mule over steep mountain passes, or trek through Berber villages. You can ride a camel in the Sahara to view the sunrise or sunset. There are several award-winning golf courses in Morocco that are meticulously maintained, the views are breathtaking, and green fees are a fraction of the charges at U.S. courses.
Fes, the city where my father was born, is the cultural and religious capital of Morocco. The medina of Fes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a fascinating walled maze of streets and alleyways where one can easily get lost. You can observe the limestone vats and natural dyes of the tanneries, where leather is dyed and aired out to dry—an incredible sight. You can also visit ancient universities, such as the one where Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher, taught during the Middle Ages.
Hammam (steam bath) means “that which spreads the heat.” The birth of the Moroccan hammam dates back to the famous Greek and Roman baths. A traditional Moroccan hammam is a must for any curious traveler. Your attendant will rub black soap all over your body. This traditional soap is made of olive oil and eucalyptus oil, rich in Vitamin E. This soap is necessary for your skin in preparation for exfoliation. Using a glove similar to a loofa mitt, the attendant slowly rubs dead skin and bacteria from the surface of your body. This treatment leaves you feeling smooth and invigorated.
Shopping in the souks (markets) is great fun. You can find almost anything you are looking for—plus many things you did not know you were looking for! You can buy rugs, brass and silver trays, tea glasses, caftans, spices, babouches (Moroccan slippers), T-shirts, toys, socks, undergarments, kitchen towels and more. Bargaining is an essential part of the buying process. Take your time, relax, and enjoy it.
Anyone who has tasted Moroccan food will agree it is delicious and flavorful. Meals usually start with a variety of colorful and tasty salads. Olives are part of every meal. Choose from succulent tagines (stew), grilled lamb or sardines, couscous, pastilla, harira soup, merguez or keftas—all traditional Moroccan dishes. A meal always ends with sweets and the famous mint tea, usually poured from high above the glass.
Our short week in Morocco was extraordinary and enriching. As our flight departed Marrakesh, my traveling companion and I had tears in our eyes. We were sad to be leaving such a beautiful place and grateful to have experienced such a mysterious and magical kingdom.