A March 1999 trip
to Morocco by Beth
Quote: Having no idea what to expect, I was thoroughly delighted with Morocco. Just a few miles off the coast of Spain, Morocco is its own world.
Another interesting stop was the mausoleum. I was there before King Hassan II died, and so it was just his father's casket in the mausoleum. The building is all carved plaster and wood inside. It is surrounded by guards and this is the only place I know of that you can actually photograph a guard.
Another classic Moroccan sight is the water seller. Water was so scarce that people would buy a laleful of water from these vendors. Now they are just for show. Moroccans can drink their water but don't try it yourself unless you want to get to know your hotel room a lot better.
Another typical Moroccan view is belly dancers. We went to more than one restaurant that included a show with dancers, traditional music and one with acrobatic performers.
A must-see in Marrakesh is le Jardin Majorelle for 15 dirhams. This garden is now owned by Yves St Laurent. Even though I was there when there were a few tour buses parked outside, it is spacious enough to still be a sanctuary from the city. The gardens seem to be influenced by every culture and are quite beautiful. There is a small art museum inside the grounds.
While Western influence is strong, walking past a school we hear a class reciting their Arabic. Women fully covered in Muslim tradition walk beside teenagers in Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger clothing.
Have a visit to the food markets -- seeing whole plucked chickens is a bit unsettling. Everything you can imagine is for sale, as unappetizing as that may be to some.
Women with tubes of henna may approach you to apply traditional designs on your hands and arms a la Madonna. The dye is squirted on in amazing designs and very quickly. Then, after it has a few minutes to dry the excess is wiped off. The dye wears off after several days.
A visit to the Hassan II Mosque is a must. Friday is the Muslim Holy Day so plan your visit for another time. The mosque took years to build and its location right on the water is amazing. The sheer size and amount of marble used to construct the structure is unbelievable. Tours include a chance to see the retracting roof, carving and mosaics of the main room, and visits to the various smaller men's and women's prayer rooms.
You name it, it's for sale. I got a great buy on leather -- be prepared to haggle. Your guide will probably take you to all of his friends' shops but don't let this deter you. I have heard that your goal price should be as low as one-third of what the salesman originally says.
My mom wanted to buy three dolls but a man just selling his goods out of a bag in the medina only had two. He promised to find us again with the requisite three dolls but we did not see him again during our time in the medina. However, hours later when we left our hotel to go to dinner he was standing outside waiting to sell the three dolls!
A visit to the tannery in the old Fes medina is another must-see. Again, we walked through cramped paths and up a tight staircase only to emerge on a deck overlooking the vats where leather is tanned and dyed. It's impressive -- but so is the smell!
Another visit we made in Fes was to a brass shop where a craftsman demonstrated his skill with simple tools. Designs in brass are evident throughout Morocco -- on palace doors and in mosques. I bought a plate which had the same design as one of the palace doors.
A word of warning -- one of the stands in the medina had a table of bloody sheep heads on display. I couldn't figure out the point and my guide said they are for sale. People boil the heads for food. The week I was in Morocco was the week leading up to one of their biggest holy days when each family sacrifices a sheep. So, we saw sheep all over the place -- on moped riders' shoulders, in car trunks and simply being led home for the feast. It was a little disconcerting to know that all of these animals were about to become dinner -- and I'm not even a vegetarian!