Morocco serves up a slice of history, hospitality

Morocco serves up a slice of history, hospitality
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Updated 03 January 2016

Morocco serves up a slice of history, hospitality

Morocco serves up a slice of history, hospitality

This was my first trip to an African country and I couldn’t have chosen a better destination: Morocco. It had everything I love — history, culture, old rustic buildings and lots of sunshine.
We landed in Rabat where the Salé Airport was so small, it felt like we had taken a step back in time. The security officer looked at our passports for a long time and then asked, what our nationality was, though our passports clearly proclaimed that.
The first thing I noticed about Morocco was that, it was generally clean and the people were very thin (In comparison, we looked like the ‘Incredible bulk’).
Morocco is a tourist friendly country which is well connected by trains, taxis and buses. The trains are inexpensive and clean. A trip from Meknes to Tangier (about 250 km) in first class cost $32 roundtrip. There are two types of taxis: The small ones seat only three people and count even a small child as one (My Moroccan friend told me, they even count a pregnant woman as two). There is plenty to see in Morocco. There is something for everyone. If you are fond of historical monuments, mausoleums and ancient souks you will be right at home in Morocco. It is amazing how the old and new blend and come together. You will find an ancient monument not too far from a modern McDonalds or Pizza Hut.
You can go hiking in the blue city of Chef Chaouen, go camping in the Sahara Desert or visit beaches in Agadir or Casablanca. There are plenty of affordable tours that you can book online. We found hotels to be more expensive (about 150 Euros a night) so we booked apartments online using Air B&B. We found apartments in Rabat, Meknes, Tangier and Casablanca between $75 to $95 per day. These apartments were centrally located, clean and came with a maid service. (And for $5, the maid cooked our meals too). You can also rent a room in a Moroccan home that is 100 to 300 years old and enjoy the history and hospitality for $50-$100 per night.
My favorite thing in Morocco was the ancient city walls. A drive through Rabat, Meknes, Fez, or Marrakesh and you will see these beautiful, majestic walls that are about 20 feet high. They looked like they were made of orange clay. They had beautiful, carved gates and towers. These walls had tiny holes which I thought were for the archers to protect the city. Then I discovered, the holes were made hundreds of years ago by the construction workers who used wooden scaffolding to build them.
I also loved the 2000 old Roman ruins of Volubilis. An hour from Meknes, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, these ruins are still majestic and worth seeing. Beautiful arches, artistic mosaic all bear witness to the amazing architectural prowess of the Romans. A great, vibrant and colorful place to visit in Morocco is the Medinas. All major cities have them. I loved the cobbled streets and the electric atmosphere in the bazaars. I was amazed at the thought that people have been coming to these places for the past hundreds of years. In the square outside the souk, there were musicians and acrobats, performing. There was always a snake charmer who carried a long snake and tried to get your attention, telling you to wrap the snake around your neck and take a picture for pocket change. I was always too scared, and screamed, making sure our paths never crossed. My favorite was this pair of little monkeys who sat huddled together in the cold in a market square at Meknes, wearing little cardigans.
I especially went to Fez to see what is considered to be the oldest university in the world — University Al-Karaouine. What I found most intriguing was that a woman Fatima Al-Fihri had founded it in 859. The university is still operational today. Some of the famous students who went to Al-Karaouine were Ibn Khaldoun the famous historian, geographer Muhammad Al-Idrisi, Jewish philosopher Maimonides and even a pope by the name of Sylvester II.
If you don’t speak Arabic or French in Morocco you won’t get very far. We relied heavily on Google translate, because one kid in our group was allergic to nuts. I was amazed that my very, broken Arabic which I picked up during my years in Saudi Arabia actually worked. I was able to tell a roadside bread maker to make a new one for me, “Mumkin itni sawwi khubs jadeed” and of course my favorite, Wallahi Ghaali ana miskeen that always got me some discount. (My confidence turned to embarrassment when I was trying to say, ‘I can’t hear you’ and said, ‘Maafi idhn’, and my daughter with a horrified look told me, ‘Mom that means, you have no ears).
Things are pretty inexpensive in Morocco. A kilogram of fresh beef cost $1. Delicious T-bone steak cost $12. And do not forget to haggle. If you are good, you can buy the stuff for 60 percent less than the original price. As our driver told us, ‘In Morocco everything is negotiable’. I totally loved Morocco... I saw my first olive tree and was surprised to see the olives are picked by shaking the trees hard. I learnt some interesting facts too like it is impossible to buy a gun in Morocco. If caught, with an illegal gun, the person could land in jail for life. If you eat in public in Ramadan, you can get six months in jail. Rice and gasoline are both expensive. A PhD student who we met on a train ride to Fez, said, “Eighty-eight percent of the people in Morocco make less than $2 a day. His dream was to move to the USA and asked us if it was safe for Muslims to stay there.”
And my favorite person in Morocco apart from our driver Adil and maid Fatima was the shopkeeper who spoke English, sold Indian Navratan oil, gave Pakistanis a thumbs up and said he loved Benazir Bhutto!

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