Four years ago Jay and I spent the first half of March in Morocco. Our niece Rachel was living there after a year in Rabat as a Fulbright Fellow and loved the country so much we wanted to experience it for ourselves. The country inspired our glass designs for several years, mainly in our use of color and expression of the vibrant culture and our adventures.
We spent four days in Rabat exploring the medina, captivated by it’s painted walls, decorative doorways, fountains, food stalls, and colorful wares. Olives, dates, spices, oranges and shebbakia (deep fried pastry ribbons dipped in hot honey and coated in sesame seeds) tempted us. Camel meat was also available. Many stalls specialized in wearables: woven silk scarves, babouches (leather slipper-like shoes), jalabas (loose-fitting garments), and wide women’s belts. Others carried thuya wood objects, hand-made ceramics, tribal hats and musical instruments. One day we walked to the Sala Colonia ruins (100 BC) and the Merinid necropolis (1284), and watched storks building nests atop the Zaouia minaret, ruins, and tree-tops. It seemed incredible to walk among the ancient ruins! We ate wonderful Moroccan tagines except on Friday, a day of prayer, family, and couscous in Morocco.
After four days Air France finally sent our luggage over and we could go on to other parts of the country. On the crowded train to Fes we stood until a couple separate seats emptied. The rest of the ride gave me an opportunity to practice my petit understanding of French and learn some history from a young woman as well as her modern perspective. In Fes we encountered an afternoon downpour and hail storm and wandered around the ancient Fes Jewish quarter while trying in vain to find our way into that city’s maze of a medina.
The following day we continued our journey south. In the Middle Atlas mountains we saw villages with one-story tan brick and clay buildings, and small cities with salmon color clay, trimmed in butter yellow and light bluish green. At Midelt, with its Berbers, orchre buildings, and mix of donkeys and trucks, our driver announced, “Where we start the Sahara.”
The nine-hour drive ended at the Auberge Kasbah Mohayut, one of a string of inns along the high dunes on the western Moroccan Sahara. The Kasbah Mohayut was built of pise (mud and straw) with some stone and stucco. It was inward-oriented like a typical Morocaine dwelling, with rooms surrounding courtyards. Jay and I enjoyed being welcomed with mint tea, we relaxed in the garden, and we luxuriated among Moroccan artifacts indoors and out, even in our room. We ate well and slept well both at the auberge and during an overnight camel trek into the dunes. Watching the sun set over the dunes, listening to Berber music around a campfire under a canopy of stars, and sleeping in a Berber tent were a magical experience.
As we retraced our route north we learned a little about Toureg (Berber tribe) culture and visited a mosque and mausoleum. Another stop overlooked a turquoise reservoir. Along the way we recognized heritage sites we’d read about: ksour (walled desert compounds) falling into decay because the government cannot afford to preserve them. We also noticed Berber shepherds’ tents and a sheepfold in the fields.
Over the next few days we explored the Fes medina before a drive north toward Chefchaouen and the Rif mountains. Flooded, washed-out roads forced a retreat. Our driver shared an Arabic saying that roughly translates, “I want and you want, but God does what God wants.” At least we got see some of the “breadbasket” region where semolina fields produce wheat to make couscous. In a drizzle we visited the ancient Roman ruins at Volubis until we were too wet to any longer enjoy studying mosaic floors. Then we descended to Meknes to explore yet another medina. Every one has its own character.
One more day in Rabat gave us the opportunity to participate in Mass at Cathedral Saint Pierre, finish shopping for gifts in the medina, and visit the Oudaia Kasbah, a 12th-century fortified community where people still reside. We strolled the Andalusian Gardens along with families and couples, and walked narrow streets lined with buildings lime-washed in white and blue. During dinner that evening the call to prayer from nearby mosques sounded especially full and melodious.
Recalling these sounds and scenes is still delightful. There may still be inspirations among our photographs. However another trip to another place this year will surely send us in new directions.