It is back to work this week after a spectacular holiday break to visit Morocco.
I miss it already.
The Moroccan National Tourist Office and our excellent host Chakib Ghadouani had us on a whirlwind schedule, visiting various sites in the capital Rabat, including Mausoleum of Hassan V, the Hassan Tower, the Old City and Souk; Mazagan Resort near El Jadida, where I had a Moroccan spa massage; and the fabled city of Marrakech, where we shopped and took in the sights and sounds of the Souk and toured the Bahia Palace.
Excellent guides in Rabat and Marrakech, as well as our driver made the trip highly educational. As a government teacher, I was particularly interested in learning about Morocco’s relatively recent Constitution, the relationship of the King to the government and the people, and the legal systems (Morocco’s is very interesting).
Culturally, Morocco also was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Given the bad press around predominately Muslim countries, I had envisioned a fairly religiously restrictive environment. I found nothing of the sort. I saw synagogues and Christian Churches in the same general neighborhoods as Mosques. The calls to prayer are broadcast five times a day, as required, but I saw few actually stop to observe the call. Men and women alike were as likely to be in “western” clothes as traditional dress. In fact, as a percentage of population, I think I see more hijabs and veils on the streets of Dearborn, Michigan than in the urban areas of Morocco. It might be different in the countryside. The rural areas of the United States are more culturally conservative than the cities; I expect the same may be true in Morocco.
Weather for most of the trip was sunny and in the 70s (Fahrenheit), with no detectable humidity. Most of the trip, that is. On the last day there, torrential rains arrived in the morning followed by drizzle throughout the rest of the day. That’s why I’m in a raincoat and rain pants in the photo at left. While weather in the summer months can get very hot, the winter months have what I would consider perfect — dry and in the 70s.
While I had initial misgivings about a trip to visit Morocco from a safety and health standpoint (and in fact had several friends advise against going), none of my fears came even close to being realized. For foreign visitors, at least, Morocco seems a happy, friendly, safe place. I would return with no hesitation whatsoever.
I am already a fan of Moroccan food — there is a good Moroccan restaurant in Ann Arbor — so the cuisine held few surprises for me. It seems a fusion of “Middle Eastern” (as defined by the Detroit area restaurants of the same genre), French, Spanish and other Mediterranean influences. The seasonings in the ubiquitous chicken tangine include garlic, cumin, ginger, paprika, parsley, saffron, tumeric, olives and plenty of lemon. I am not entirely sure what some of the dishes were — or what the ingredients were — but everything was tasty and filling. I just decided not to ask, and just to eat. My favorite were the “cigars,” which are phyllo pastries filled with ground meats spiced with ginger, allspice, pepper and cinnamon. Everything was fresh and vibrant.
Bottled water was offered at every meal, and sold everywhere you can imagine. Sticking to the bottled water seems a good idea. But that is also true of at least one major American city, so there’s that.
A working knowledge of French might be helpful on the streets, but in the resort areas and better restaurants I think an English-only speaker could get by. The biggest hurdle to travelling on your own might be the traffic. It is insane, with bicycles and motorscooters dashing in and about at a frenetic pace. I think that if I had been behind the wheel, I would have been paralyzed.
In terms of expenses, I think visitors to Morocco from the United States will be surprised as how affordable it can be. An overnight stay at the luxury beach hotel/spa/casino at Mazagan can be priced as low as $176 a night. A round of golf at the excellent Gary Player course there is $60. The caddy fee at the two courses with caddies was $10. I left them a 100% tip and still felt as though I was taking advantage of them. A 380 square foot room with foyer, bedroom, bathroom, loggia and terrace overlooking a garden at the serene Villa Mandarine is $170.
At a local “diner”, I had a plate of beef cubes, eggplant salad, rice and bean soup for $2.50. It was delicious.
If you are looking for an “exotic,” educational, beautiful winter getaway, consider Morocco. I am ready to go back soon.
You will find all of the posts about The GolfBlogger’s trip to visit Morocco at this link.