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Morocco Diary

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I write a lot about travel, culture, and history. People often ask me how I remember so much about the places I visit. The answer is that I write constantly while I'm on the road. I have notebooks for every trip I've taken. Photographs augment the info, and I always double check any facts I've written down (because even great guides or docents can get dates wrong sometimes), but it is essentially the notebooks--all written longhand -- that preserve the experiences.

Because I was traveling with a friend, I actually went to the trouble of typing up my diary from Morocco, which is why I'm able to share it here. I write a LOT while I'm traveling, so I'll be posting one day at a time. Hope you enjoy the trip -- but even if you don't follow me along the whole route, at least remember the lesson that writing it down doesn't just keep track of experiences, it actually makes them part of your thought processes. Writing longhand synthesizes information and puts it in your brain more than any other activity. So write it all out.

And do keep in mind that this is a travel diary, not a finished work. As a result, there are a lot of incomplete sentences, lists of impressions, and bursts of enthusiasm that one would not find in a polished travel article. Enjoy the trip. Morocco is amazing.

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March 4

At last, we’re in Morocco. After two frustrating days of ice storms, cancelled flights, and missed connections, we have arrived. Barb and I were met at the airport by a representative from the travel agency and put into a taxi to get us up to a place where we could connect with our group.

We had been surprised at how green Morocco looked from the air, and, once we escaped the tan-colored high rises of Casablanca, we were in the midst of a lovely and astonishingly green countryside. There were incredible flowers—fields splashed with color. Our driver said that March is the best time to visit Morocco, as everything is in bloom.

Eucalypts, goats, date palms, mansions, farms, and suddenly we’re in the midst of an urban area of surprising modernity. Donkey carts complicate traffic, but are picturesque.

Into the country again—cows, flowers, stone walls, hills, grass, and more flowers (yellow, purple, electric orange; small and at varying heights, from a few inches tall to a foot or more).

Surprisingly, occasional large stands of prickly pear cactus. What are they doing here? Is their presence an accident, or were they introduced intentionally?

Lush farms, sheep, broad river, minarets (usually decorated with green tiles—apparently green is a sacred color—and square, rather than round like the minarets in Turkey and the Middle East). Surprising number of hitchhikers—sometimes whole families. Palm-frond fences. Atlantic Ocean off to our left for a long while.

Quaint farmhouses with laundry hanging outside to our right, surprisingly sophisticated towns on our left. Wonderful contrasts.

Satellite dishes everywhere.

Bougainvillea and mimosa.

And into Rabat, past dealers for a range of cars: Hyundai to Mercedez, Renaut to Dacia (a brand with which I’m completely unfamiliar).

Hibiscus trees and shrubs. Most buildings are white. Blend of Western and traditional dress. City wall. Lighthouses.

At 1 pm, we pulled into a wonderfully weathered seaside restaurant—Borj Eddar—in an ancient, golden-stone building with a view of the ocean and the nearby walled city. Here, we met up with our tour group and our guide, Aziz. We shared this first meal with Reece and Cora, retired German professors (great for Barb, who is German). Others introduced themselves, but it will take a few days to attach names to faces.

Lunch: Bread and olives were on the table. First course was a saffron-colored fish soup served with flavored mayo, croutons, and shredded cheese. This was followed by a splendid plate of simply prepared fish: two grilled, whole, fresh sardines and two skewers of a flavorful white fish (Aziz did not know the English name), also grilled. This was accompanied by rice with raisins, barley with parsley in a tomato, and sautéed, julienned carrot and squash. Dessert: crème caramel. This was topped off with delightfully refreshing mint tea served in short glasses.

After lunch, we set off on foot to explore the walled city of Rabat, the capital of Morocco and one of the country’s four imperial cities. The city was founded in the 12th century. The fort here was the starting point for jihad against Spain. The city’s name is derived from the Arabic Ribat al-Fath, or “Camp of Victory.” After 1609, it became home to a large number of Andalusian Moors who had been driven out of Spain. It later became a pirate stronghold, base camp for the Sallee Corsairs, the most dreaded of the Barbary pirates. (Barbary comes from Berber, which in turn comes from the Roman “barbar”—the sound of a wild animal, and the source, also, of the word barbarian.)

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