Our trip to Morocco was like a seven layer cake where the planes, trains, and automobiles were the big fat cake layers and the Oooooh we’re in Morocco was the hint of sweet in between each. We spent a lot. of time. on trains. On transportation, in general, actually: from Paris to Tangiers, then to Marrakech with a side trip to (near) Zagora, then back to Marrakech, to Fez, and back to Tangiers and Paris. Need I say ouf!?
People say they “love traveling,” but traveling – those transportation legs that come before and after and in and around and under and on top of touring (often housing those grouchy moments that don’t get captured in your photos) – can be grueling and draining.
But a layer cake wouldn’t be cake without them* and, in this case, the travels were definitely part of the experience. I’ll say no more than that one train – which happened to be the only one we needed to be on time – ran into a herd (flock?) of sheep. Yeps, it did. As the lady who kindly explained the delay to us in a mix of French and English said, “It shouldn’t be too long. They just have to get the horns and things off the front of the train.”
There was only one other crisis and I suppose every trip has to have one: Within an hour of arriving JP realized he’d left his phone in the taxi that brought us to our hostel. We raced back to the airport on the off chance the driver would pass through again. By the time we got there around 9pm, the airport and its parking lot were nearly empty, with only a couple of taxis left sitting at the exit. In what turned out to be an impossible stroke of luck, ours was one of them and, even crazier, JP’s phone was still on the floor in the back seat.
Aside from these minor mishaps, on the Oooooh we’re in Morocco side, there are plenty of souvenirs worth holding onto:
Mint tea and tea sets
There was so much bread that we were ready to swear off of it by the end of the week. After doing a bit of research, I think what we tasted was (not all pictured): Khobz (something like a pita), msemen (like a folded, pan seared crepe), batbout (reminded us of English muffins), harcha (a semolina flatbread, similar to cornbread), and beghrir (like a pancake cooked only on one side).
For those who know how repulsed I am by visually bumpy things, you’ll see why I had an easier time eating camel spleen than the nubby tendrils of the beghrir. Fortunately, once it was spread with honey and rolled up I didn’t have any issue with its taste or edible texture. JP, on the other hand, had the opposite sentiments.
Street Food: sometimes grisly, always tasty
Snail soup, couscous, dried fruit and nuts, rabbit and chicken tagines, fresh pressed orange juice, kebabs, and that viscera sandwich.
I have no idea if it has a real name, but it was made of all kinds of adventure. I went bold and got the mix of everything, which included liver, heart, kidney (all from I don’t know what animals), tehal (camel spleen), and – because why not? – chicken.
Everything was grilled with onions and some sort of spicy seasonings, all served on a sub roll. JP and I both agreed this 10dirham (appx. 1€) meal from the little snack stand near the Bab Boujeloud gate in Fez was our favorite meal of the trip – and would have been our favorite meals if we had discovered it before our last night.
Did someone say cake?
Chocolate will always be my sweet tooth’s true love, but a few years ago I become enamored of desserts made with sesame after tasting a Pakistani sweet (I never did find out what it was, but it looked like peanut-sized, rolled sesame seeds) at a friends’ house. So many of the treats we came across in Morocco consisted of a combo of these with honey and/or almonds, other favorites of mine. Needless to say, I took advantage (but not pictures; that’s why there’s only this underexposed and blurry one).
The desert Berber camp
We didn’t make it quite far enough into the Sahara to see the rolling golden dunes you imagine, but what we did get to see was worth the long drives there and back. We made a pit stop for a tour of Ait Ben Haddou, a fortified city along a former Berber caravan route (and where scenes from movies like Gladiator and Babel were filmed).
The camel ride I can’t say was a highlight, but it definitely left an impression on all of us. Literally. On the babymakers.
Watching the sun set, moon rise, stars come out, and sun rise again over the desert, though, would indeed fall under highlights.
The color, chaos, and characters of Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fnaa and the souks
Perhaps the most lasting and most unsettling memory is that I often felt like we were people-seeing more than sightseeing. Although to some extent that’s always the case in traveling and touring, that everything was so catered to tourists getting to see “real” Moroccan life and artisanship made it feel oddly voyeuristic to be snapping photos of people and shops going about their daily business — like a strange human zoo that neither side admits is contrived.
Doors and mosaics
Many of the doors were closed to us non-Muslims, so it was fortunate that they were so lovely on their own. We were able to go into the elaborate Palais de la Bahia and the now-eviscerated Palais el Badii in Marrakech, both of which were striking in their own ways.
Going lazy on the conclusion here and will just leave off with saying it was an interesting trip (mostly in good ways) that I couldn’t be more glad to have taken. Now to figure out where in the world to obsess over next!
*It’s a weak analogy, I know – of course the cake layers and the frosting are delicious – but my internet’s being fritzy and I’m just trying to get some documentation of the trip up here for, well, Mom and Dad, mostly.