Morocco Diary - March 5

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March 5

Up at 6:30 and down to breakfast at 7:30. Breakfast was pleasant: interesting flat breads, fresh cheese, hard cheese, figs, intense orange juice (like the oranges we’ve seen growing here, almost too orange—looked like papaya juice), hard-cooked eggs, and coffee. But the company was the greatest pleasure. We have been blessed with a truly enjoyable group of traveling companions.

On the road at 8:30. Past royal palace and Morrocan Mint. Saw lots of cork trees—Morocco is the fourth biggest producer of cork in the world. Two or three miles of cork tree groves. Bark can be cut off as soon as the trees are nine-years-old. The bark then grows back

Began to see vineyards. Muscat grapes. The French turned this into a wine-producing region, using local Berber labor.

Aziz explained about the problems that arose after independence in 1957, as the French encouraged many of the workers to come to France, to earn more money than they could in Morocco. They made a lot of money, came back to Morocco, and bought big houses, but the houses are mostly empty, because they find it hard to return to Moroccan society.

Gas is expensive, so most cars are diesel. Many Mercedes diesel cars, but all old—at least 20 years—so Moroccans sometimes joke that Morocco is the graveyard of Mercedes Benz. Because they are so common here, the locals sometimes call the Mercedes the German camel.

Morocco—one of the few African countries with rivers that flow all the time. Also has one of Africa’s largest aquifers.

Lots of standing water—heavy rains last night–everything looks very green.

Of arable land, 2/3 relies on rainwater, and only 1/3 is irrigated. Morocco is now at the end of a 10-year drought. The standing water is a welcome sight.

Lots of egrets.

Aziz says that, while Islam disapproves of alcohol, they feel it’s okay to grow it for travelers—and you can only sell if you say you’re selling to travelers. However, lots of Moroccans do drink—but only in bars or the forest, never at home. If you’re Moroccan and get caught drinking, you can go to jail for three months, because it’s against the law. A bar can be closed if it is found that they are serving Muslims.

Tiflet—Berber town–fairly new town—government encouraged nomadic Berbers to settle down, so services (schools, hospitals) could be provided.

Aziz says the prickly pear cactus is used as property lines. He told us they do eat the prickly pears, but not the cactus pads.

Everything is incredibly lush and green.

Pollarded trees along the road. Technique introduced by French?

Olive trees—50 percent of fruit trees in Morocco are olive trees. Meknes is a particularly important olive-growing region—since Roman times. Olive, along with date palms, are sacred trees. (Koran pictures birth of Jesus as occurring under a date palm.) Green, brown, and black olives all the same type of olive, just picked at different times (mid-November, late November, and mid-December, respectively)

Same method of pressing olive oil today as in Roman times. Olive oil is filtered through baskets.

Passed fields of lavender in bloom, then fields of yellow-flowered mustard plants.

Khemisset—another Berber town—streets lined with sycamore trees—farmers pay 1/5 of crop every year to support town, and Khemisset means 1/5.

Passed French Foreign Legion complex. Buildings topped by stork nests!

Morning break nearby. Aziz explained that the buildings were intentionally colorful—the ocher wash helped absorb sunlight – white buildings would be blinding—the ocher wash is an energy-saving measure, and in the sunny south, some color is required. Adobe tan is acceptable, as well.

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