Okay, so I’m going to tell you a bit about my recent adventures in Morocco. What, you ask, does this have to do with silent films? Here’s the connection.
Way back in 1918, Douglas Fairbanks and Pauline Curley appeared in Bound in Morocco. Pauline is about to be sold into the harem of an evil sultan and Doug is imprisoned when he tries to rescue her.
Douglas Fairbanks (C) and Pauline Curley in Bound in Morocco.
Ninety-plus years later, during the last half of October, I found myself very much bound in Morocco. Actually, spellbound might be a better term.
I want to briefly tell you about our adventures there. Not much commentary, you understand. Too many details about someone else’s vacation can get boring — fast! The gorgeous scenery and hospitable people we encountered tell the story.
Charlie and I had been talking about Morocco for over five years. It was never high on his list. It was at the top of time. Early this year, Charlie came around, and we put plans in place. Here is the primitive map I drew for my journal. It shows our route.
Loaded with travel books, plans, and ideas, we flew to Rabat (the nation’s capital). Not directly from the States. We had a layover in Paris.
Rabat’s main drag was bustling with activity.
We found our riad with the help of a driver who met us at the airport.
Entrance to our Rabat riad.
Benoit, the man of the house, welcomed us with tea.
Our riad in Rabat, looking up from the courtyard.
Shortly, he took us up to the terrace. Our room awaited us.
Our terrace suite in Rabat, Morocco.
After catching our breathe, we went sightseeing. Before we got too far from the riad, we had to determine a landmark so we would remember how to find our way home. I chose a shop where three dress mannequins from the 1950s held guard. It was obvious they’d seen better days. If only those girls could talk!
Michael’s and Charlie’s angels. They pointed the way home.
By the time we hit the streets, the sun was beginning to set. Not much time for sightseeing The Kasbah was magnificent and stunning in the setting sun.
The sunset over the Atlantic closes out our half day in Rabat.
Early the next morning, we hauled ourselves to the train station for a three hour train ride to Fes. The sun rose to greet us on our way.
Sunrise in Rabat.
Never, in all my years of travel, have I experienced anything quite like Fes. All of my five senses were thrown into high gear. Visiting the medina (old city) in Fes, with its estimated 9,000 narrow streets and alleys, is like stepping back to the Middle Ages.
Fes as seen from a nearby fortress. The structure with the green-tiled roof is the medersa (mosque, cathedral, and school) and the center point of the old city.
Take a look at some of the streets. Did we get lost? You bet we did! I pride myself on my sense of direction, but the city was too much for my radar. It was only through the kindness of strangers that we made it back to our riad.
While many of the alleys were deserted, the souks were bustling with activity.
While we were in Morocco, Muslims were preparing to celebrate Aid el-Kebir, or Aid el-Adha. The holiday is as big as Christmas is to Christians. Eid Al-Adha commemorates Prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey God when he envisioned that he was to sacrifice his son. Muslims observe this day by slaughtering an animal (usually a sheep) and then offering much of its meat in charity to the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Fes was buzzing with the approaching holiday, which was just over a week away. Families were buying their sheep and all the necessities that come with preparing for the celebration: charcoal for cooking the meat, vegetables, spices, and such.
Vendors were selling charcoal in preparation for the upcoming festival.
Even the kittens who roamed the alleys were attentive to the possibility of getting a handout from a vendor cutting up chicken.
After several days in Fes, we met our driver, Ahmed, who drove us over the Middle Atlas to the Sahara. The terrain changed before our eyes.
Just south of the Ziz Gorge.
A palm grove and oasis.
Charlie and I pretend to take flight.
We made it to Merzouga just as the sun was setting.
Sunset over the Sahara.
The next morning, I couldn’t wait to wander out onto the dunes. No, I was not like Marlene Dietrich in Morocco. I came back!
After breakfast, we drove into Rissani and dove into the chaos of their big market day. While I’m used to seeing people on TV pushing and shoving at Walmart the day after Thanksgiving, I was not prepared for the determination to find that perfect sheep for the upcoming festival.
The donkey sale was much calmer.
Late that afternoon, we hopped on our camels and trekked our way into the desert, where we camped for the night. Have you ever ridden a camel? I love camels. My friend, Ann, loves them more than I do. When they walk along on level sand, the ride is tolerable. When they trot or walk downhill, they can quickly change your manhood into womanhood.
My view from the back of a camel. Notice my white knuckles.
The last time Charlie and I were on camels was in Egypt. This time, we were in a caravan into the Sahara.
Charlie and I are on the last two camels.
I slept under the stars until my cold feet told me to retreat to the warm covers of our tent.
The next morning, our guide roused us in time to see the sunrise. Priceless!
Sunrise over the Sahara.
Over the next couple of days, we worked our way south. Todra Gorge, Tinehir, Ouarzazate, and Taroudannt. We picked up rosewater and saffron along the way.
We also made a new friend — I will call him Rashid. He works as a desk clerk at one of our riads. Being a young gay man in a Muslim country is almost intolerable. He says there is no one he can talk openly with about himself. When he was 21, a group of classmates were reacting negatively to a story about same-sex marriage in the States. Hearing enough of their criticism, he said, “Well, I am one of them.”
To be gay in Morocco, said Rashid, is considered worse that pedophilia. A man can sleep with a thousand women and his status is still higher than that of a gay man.
This vibrant 24-year-old man has much give, but he fears he will never find a partner to share his life with. If he does, he is sure they will never be accepted by his family, his friends, his religion, and his country. I fear he may be right.
The seaside city of Essaouria was perhaps the highlight my time in Morocco. It’s an artists’ haven, a mecca for hippies in the 1970s. It’s the only place I have never been offered hashish as an appetizer. Oh, to be retired!
As a people watcher, Essaouira is my kind of town. From my table at lunch one afternoon, I was mesmerized by those passing by. Here are some of my favorites.
The big festival came on the day we arrived in Marrakech. Most everything was closed. The main square, Place Jemaa el-Fna, was a virtual ghost town.
We saw children roasting sheep heads over open fires outside homes. A bit odd to us Westerners, but it was fascinating to see the buildup to the festivities. The next day, men went door to door collecting sheep skins.
A cart full of skins.
After 14 days in Morocco, Charlie and I were a bit tired of tagines. We went looking for McDonald’s.
We also eased our tired, aching feet by buying a ticket for the hop-on, hop-off bus. At this stage in the trip, these two weary travelers called it the “hobble-on, hobble-off.”
So, which direction are these travelers headed next?
You can never tell about Charlie and me. One thing is for sure, I’m always looking for the open road.