Morocco & Al-Andalus 1
Morocco & Al-Andalus 1
Journal kept by Susan Hanes during a five-week trip to Morocco, southern Spain, and Portugal from April 4 to May 10, 2011. Photos by Susan Hanes and George Leonard, copyright 2011.
Morocco & Al-Andalus 1
Morocco & Al-Andalus 1
Morocco & Al-Andalus April 4 - May 10, 2011
Oneâ€™s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. -- Henry Miller
V. 1 1
During the 800 years between the Islamic conquest of the Christian Visigoths in 711 and the completion of the Reconquesta in 1492, the Iberian Peninsula experienced a particularly intense era of religious interaction, with periods of both prolonged peace and bitter fighting. Evidence of the influence of the three monotheistic faiths upon each other is demonstrated in the art and architecture of that time. By visiting Morocco, southern Spain, and Portugal, we hoped to trace the path of religious influence from Islamic origins in the ancient cities of the Maghreb to communities in Al-Andalus, and thus to gain a sense of the interaction between Jews, Christians, and Muslims during this volatile and variable period of integration and conflict.
Monday, April 4
Rick bundled us into a taxi at 11:20, bound for the Thompson Center, where we arrived just as the Blue Line was approaching. Stepping on the train, I shifted into my “neutral mode.” Took off at 1:38 on US Airways for a choppy hour and a half flight to Philadelphia. A two-hour layover gave us enough time to walk the distance from Terminal A to Terminal B and order a Pinot Grigio in the lounge. US Airways 740 departed at 6:30 for Madrid; I was hopeful that my glass of wine and a sleeping pill would allow me enough rest to keep up with Jake’s optimistic itinerary as soon as we landed.
Tuesday, April 5
I was able to get four hours of sound sleep in spite of two crossings of the Jet Stream that brought mild turbulence. Tea and biscuits served as a crimson sunrise appeared on the horizon. Arrived at Madridâ€™s Barajas Airport at 8:00; shuttle to Terminal 4 where we had a five-hour wait until our 12:50 Iberia flight to Marrakesh. Jake went in to shave while I tried vainly to add to my four hours of sleep. Passive waiting time as we were unable to do any of the little errands we had intended to take care of, as SIM card and ATM. Long walk to our gate at the end of the terminal; bus to our plane, an Iberia Nostrom regional CRJ. A bumpy ride, but amazingly, I slept the
whole of the two-hour flight. The Marrakesh airport arrivals area was comprised of a series of deserted reception rooms; we saw a lone currency exchange and thought we had better take advantage of it, exchanging a hundred dollars at disadvantaged rates. However, after we got our bags and entered the main departures area, encountered a plethora of services where we were able to get a SIM card, buy bottled water, and use an ATM. Picked up our car from Thrifty: a silver Toyota Corolla with 55,000 kilometers on it, not exactly new, but fine. Stopped for gas and proceeded on the road to Essaouira, a UNESCO seaside town on the Atlantic.
The satellite dishes of Marrakesh
Although we initially encountered a good deal of traffic, the road turned from a two-lane road to a four-lane divided highway, and we made excellent time on a far shorter route than we had anticipated. As we neared Essaouira, descended to the coast, passing shepherds bringing their flocks down from the hills for the night. Also saw numerous argan oil cooperatives along the road, as well as cactus and olive groves. Entering town, Jake found a parking lot adjacent to Orson Wells Place, (memorializing the filming of Othello fifty years ago). Secured a porter with a hand-drawn cart who carried our bags down a narrow passageway to the Villa Maroc, located in the medina. More than a riad, it was more of a grand old house. We checked in and were led up several flights of stone steps to our rooms off
the third floor courtyard, consisting of a sitting area, bedroom, and tiled bath. We set off immediately to explore the seawall and ramparts of this charming seaside town. Locals in colorful djellabas and western tourists were out in droves to take in the sea air, shop for wooden trinkets made from local thuya wood, or enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Up on the ramparts overlooking the rocky shore, families vied with seagulls for space atop the cannon to watch the sunset. As evening approached, we returned to the hotel where we enjoyed a cozy supper by the fire in a small sitting room. Tuna pie, fresh whitefish in a tagine with onions and dried raisins, and crepes in a hazelnut sauce, accompanied by a dry white wine made a tasty dinner after an very full day.
Essaouira A UNESCO Site
Wednesday, April 6
The gentle call to prayer of the muezzin was the first sign of daybreak. Soon after, a cacophony of bird calls—the tweeting of sparrows, the hooting of owls, and the cawing of gulls—made sure we were wide awake. Breakfast in one of the small sitting rooms, with fresh juice, breads, and confitures. We loaded up, again with the help of a porter who transported our bags back to the car, and were on the road by 9:15. Retraced our route yesterday for 25 kilometers before turning north at Ounara on the N 1 toward El-Jadida. The two-lane road is about 20 kilometers inland and is lined with trees as it passes through a rolling countryside. Herds of sheep and goats, led by men and boys, could be seen along the way. Donkeys with saddle baskets were ubiquitous as well as small carts drawn by horses. The countryside was green, although not lush, and it was market day in several of the small towns we passed. Arrived at the coastal town of El-
Jadida at 12:30; negotiated a place to park next to a stop sign (same shape and color but in Arabic) by paying a man to watch the car. Hustled through the rampart gate of the old Portuguese city to get to the cistern before it closed at noon. Although we had less than fifteen minutes there, we marveled at this vast underground tank where 25 stone pillars support a network of arches. A large opening in the center allows the sun’s rays to filter in and reflect off the pool, revealing an eerie image of the arches in the water. Spent an hour walking the ramparts and enjoying the views of the outer fishing harbor. A friendly shop owner approached us and offered to show us a local cooperative bakery and a Portuguese house that was used in the filming of Othello; we repaid him by briefly visiting his shop of local handicrafts. Back to the car by 2:00, we easily found our way to the A 5 and the A 3, the two autoroutes to Rabat.
el-Jadida A UNESCO Site
Followed Hassan II Boulevard to its intersection with the Almohad walls; a willing fellow showed us a place to park and helped carry our bags a couple of blocks into the medina to the Riad Oudaya, at the end of a narrow alley. We were greeted by an attractive young woman who spoke English about as well as I speak French. She showed us upstairs to our rooms, again consisting of a bedroom, sitting room, and an ornately tiled bath. Walked down to the Oudais Kasbah, overlooking the Atlantic and set above this bustling capital city. Walked the cobbled alleyways along whitewashed walls and blue-trimmed windows. Family groups and couples were beginning to gather to watch the sunset. Noted that no more than a third of the women were wearing headscarves or traditional robes; often we would find a woman in a tee shirt and jeans walking arm in arm with one dressed in a bright kaftan. Stopped to watch a couple of men playing a form of checkers, although they were not too happy to have spectators. Took our lives in our hands crossing the wide and busy road to get back to the riad. Early dinner in one of the small open sitting rooms off the courtyard: Moroccan salads and fresh fish, and a bottle of red wine from Meknes. Mint tea and almond cookies topped off our meal. Then to bed to try and catch up with our sleep. 18
Kasbah des Oudais
Thursday, April 7
Shared a high-carb breakfast with swarms of mosquitoes. Just before 9:30, walked through the medina as it was coming to life; tradesmen were sweeping in front of their shops, women were carrying water in plastic buckets; the sound of sliding corrugated steel indicated that the day’s business was about to begin. Stopped to take photos of piles of figs and dates, bins of olives, and baskets of dried herbs. Asked about the slabs of green sludge that we saw at several places; learned that it was savon noir, a substance smoothed on the body and then rubbed in with a loofah in the hammam. Exiting the medina, walked through the newer portion of Rabat that looked much like a French town, with numerous cafés and patisseries. Walking out of our way to Place Abraham Lincoln, passed embassies and Art Deco buildings before coming to the Esplanade of Yacoub el-Mansour Mosque, once a mammoth structure built by the Almohads in the 12th century. Now only remnants of its 441 columns remain; they were once over 20
feet high. The Hassan Tower stands at the end of the plaza. Although it was only built to 2/3 of its designed height of 845 feet, it is nonetheless impressive. At the other end of the plaza is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the father of Moroccan independence. Brightly dressed guards, some on horseback, others standing at the entrances, allowed us to take their photographs. Designed by a Vietnamese architect, the handsome structure was built in 1971 with the help of 400 Moroccan craftsmen. Were accosted by various vendors as we departed, succumbing to a henna application on my hand in order to get a photo of the tattoo artist, and overpaying a waterman decked out for the tourists to take his picture as well. Did avoid buying the cheap necklaces, however. At a nearby hotel, secured a taxi to Bab Mrisa, the harbor gate, built in 1260. On the way, noticed the sleek new Hassan Bridge going up, which will extend the modern trolley system from Rabat to Salé.
Mohammed V Mausoleum
Started walking towards Salé’s mosque and medersa, but under the misapprehension that it closed at noon, hailed a “petit” taxi to take us into the upper portion of the medina. As we began our exploration, were approached by a young man who became our unofficial guide for the next hour. Abdul allowed us to look in the windows of the mosque, which is closed to non-Muslims. After I recited the Shahadah in Arabic, La Ilaha Iill Allah Muhammad Rasul Allah (which I learned at school in Karachi), Abdul joked that I should be able to go inside. He waited outside while we toured the superb 1341 medersa. Leading us down the narrow lanes of the medina, he took us to the walls overlooking a Muslim cemetery where we climbed up and took pictures of the view back across the river and the Oudayas Kasbah. At that point, we took leave of our friend Abdul and found a taxi to take us back across the river to Rabat and the necropolis at Chellah. Enjoyed our conversation with the driver, who discussed the extremes of wealth and poverty here, but asserted that Morocco is no Tunisia nor Libya, as the Moroccan people are free to speak their minds. He dropped us off and we entered the
grand Marinid gateway where we were transported into a peaceful garden strewn with 12th century walls, ruins, and tombs; we saw egrets nesting in the minaret and the nearby trees. As we left Chellah, there were no taxis visible, so we began what turned out to be a very long walk to find the archeological museum, which was not properly marked on our map. With the help of several kind people, we finally located it on a side street. Although touted as the most extensive collection of archeological artifacts in the country, we found the museum to be disappointing. Shared a petit taxi with a young man who worked for the British Consulate; after he hopped out, we drove on to the gate of the medina and walked the short distance back to our riad; I was impressed at Jake’s directional skills. A much-needed tea break in the courtyard and a little down time before dinner. Home-style meal of chicken and vegetables and a bottle of Meknes wine, topped off with mint tea poured by Bedea, our smiling hostess. After figuring l’addicion this evening in anticipation of our early departure tomorrow, we met Bedea at our door and exchanged smiles and kisses.
Friday, April 8
Left the riad at 8:30 with the help of Aziz who toted our bags to the car. Missed the turnoff and were forced to join the traffic crossing the bridge to Salé; doubled back and got on the A 2 autoroute to Meknes. As we drove through gently rolling hills, thought that the landscape looked much as it would driving anywhere in the eastern US. Nearing Meknes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the hills grew more dramatic and we saw herds of sheep grazing in the distance. When we reached this once glorious Imperial City, parked near the gigantic Bab Mansour (which was in the shade, making photographs unimpressive), entered the medina, and found the Bou Inania medersa, with its delicate zellij tile and intricate stone “embroidery” above. In order to see the Imperial City, secured a caleche for an hour to tour the city,
created in the mid-seventeenth century by the Alaouite dynasty that still rules Morocco. The royal palace in the Imperial City is occupied by King Mohammad VI who hosted Prince Charles and Camilla in Fes two days before our arrival. Our carriage ride around the ramparts of the city featured the large eel pond and the massive granaries. Drove on to Volubilis, about 30 kilometers north of Meknes, to tour this UNESCO Roman site set on a hill near the holy town of Moulay Idriss. Excavation work, begun in the 19th century, has dated the earliest human traces to 6000 BC. It was hot work making our way through the profusion of rocks, columns, arches, and mosaic fragments. As this was a Friday, family groups were happily picnicking in the shade of olive trees.
Meknes A UNESCO Site
Volubilis A UNESCO Site
Rather than retracing the way to Meknes, we drove further north and then west to Fes, arriving around 3:30. Drove up to the Merenid Tombs for a panoramic view of the city. Attempted to find the medina gate closest to our riad, but had to accept the invitation of a man on a motor bike who led us to the Bab Djedid. We made a call to the Dar Seffarine and Sebastian, the manager, came and took us deep into the medina. Near the Kairaouine Mosque, we were led to a most unlikely door down a dark alley, behind which is the former home of a wealthy imam, meticulously restored by its architect owner. The city of Fes maintains that the home was constructed in the 11th century but the owner thinks that it was built in the 14th century. Whatever the case may be, it is extraordinary. We have a suite on the second floor off a central courtyard with beautiful woodwork, zellij, and carved plaster. The walls are three feet thick; the windows at least 12 feet high with ornamental iron grills. We relaxed with mint tea
and chatted with Sebastian, who told us he was born of Chilean parents but was brought up in Colorado and has lived in Morocco for more than ten years. Not trusting ourselves to find our way out of the medina to the petit taxi stand at the Bab R’Cif, enlisted the help of Zuhair from the dar (house) to walk us there. Paused at Seffarine Place where Zuhair pointed out the Kairaouine Library, one of the oldest libraries in the world. Taxi to La Maison Bleue in the Batha section of Fes, where we enjoyed a four-course Moroccan dinner with wine, seated at a low table in another beautifully-restored house. Were particularly intrigued by the musician who entertained us with spiritual songs of the Gnaoua African tradition that he played on a hajouj, a stringed instrument made of camel skin. Taxi back to the R’cif; tried to find our way to the dar and almost made it; had to call Zuhair only when we missed the final turn. I can’t imagine tackling the medina without a cell phone!
Dar Seffarine 51
For Fez is ancient and noble, a voluptuous and subtle charmer, overpowering the soul â€Ś Nina Epton, Journey Under the Crescent Moon
Saturday, April 9
Late communal breakfast in an upstairs room off the roof; shared the table with guests from Belgium, New York, and the UK. By the time we got there, it was pretty picked over; we will be earlier tomorrow. Set out at 10:30; after last night, had a better idea where our dar is located. Climbed the length of Talaa Kebira, which was extraordinarily crowded with women in kaftans holding children’s hands, tradesmen rushing back and forth, groups of young people, and lines of tourists, all jostling for space and trying to avoid the overloaded donkeys that carried everything from spools of unworked metal to canisters of propane. Often we had to stop and flatten ourselves against the wall to avoid being run over. The medina is shaped like a bowl, so that walking uphill carries you out and walking downhill brings you into the center. On the way, we made sure to see the Medersa Bou Inania, as it is the only religious building in Fes that non-Muslims are allowed to visit. We decided that it had nothing over our Dar Seffarine. Across the alley we looked up at the ancient water clock, located behind 13 heavily carved windows; it no longer
functions and how it worked remains a mystery. At the heart of the medina we got a glimpse inside the doors of the Kairaouine Mosque, founded in 857 and the fountainhead of Morocco’s religious life, governing such Islamic dictates as the timing of Ramadan. We joined the scores of tourists gaping through the gates and trying to take pictures as the holy men patiently complied. Ran into Sebastian, who led us to an ATM set back from the main passageway and away from prying eyes and sticky fingers. He then pointed us in the direction of the tanneries, telling us to go to Number 10 and ask for Ali Baba (yes, really!) in order to gain access to a rooftop overview of the tanning and dying operation. There we saw workers toiling over the ancient caldrons of multicolored dyes, as they have since the 13th century. At Place Seffarine, we sat at a café and sipped warmish Cokes that still tasted good, with the sound of the metalworkers clanging in the background. (The medina consists of multiple districts whose names are defined by the crafts that were worked there in the Middle Ages and in many cases, still do.)
Returned to Dar Seffarine and asked Sebastian about an antiques shop he had mentioned. Quick as a wink, a man named Hassan came to the door to lead us there. Wow; there was no earthly way we could ever have found it ourselves; we twisted and turned a dozen times before we entered a narrow passage and arrived at the door of Les Mysteres de Fes. Located in a 13th century dar with extravagant interior decoration and owned by the same family since 1922, the shop had a remarkable collection of treasures for sale. Abdul led us through rooms of antiques, answering our questions and encouraging me to try on various Berber necklaces, several of which were embellished with Arabic inscriptions. Was intrigued by an interesting slender silver device with a small hand and a ball-like affair at the end; asked Abdul if it was an Ethiopian
ear pick (my father was once given one). He told me no, that it was a holy Talmud page pointer. Saw several things we liked, but decided to wait to buy anything until we had a chance to discuss them. Hassan led us part of the way back and seemed surprised that we felt comfortable going the rest of the way on our own. At sunset, enjoyed Moroccan rosĂŠ wine on the rooftop with two groups of guests from the UK: Kathryn and Chris from Kent, and Karin and her two daughters, Sophie and Hannah, from Norfolk and London. No one had said anything until Kathryn brought out a bag of nuts to share. Suddenly we were all old friends. Dinner was at 8:30; Moroccan dishes served family-style at a long table on the patio. Great conversation with Sebastian, our new UK friends, and Elsie and Bart and their two children from Belgium.
Chez Dar Seffarine
Fes from Dar Seffarine
Sunday, April 10
Late again for breakfast, missing most of the other guests; met Jonathan and Sue and son Alex from London who arrived last night. Found an ATM at the Bab R’cif and ran into Karin and daughters and Kathryn and Chris as they prepared to leave Fes. Upon Mohammed’s recommendation, took a petit taxi to Fes El-Djedid (the “new city”) and the mellah or old Jewish quarter. Explored the Hebrew Cemetery on the edge of the mellah; the tombs’ white paint is peeling and stained and a good number are only unmarked lumps of concrete: the graves of the victims of a typhus epidemic in 1924. We walked through a large arch into the souk, where stalls sold primarily clothing and shoes, and followed the narrow lanes through the quarter, getting ourselves fairly lost until a little boy guided us out to the main road, accepting a few coins in payment. Hailed a taxi and shared a ride with a Moroccan woman, abandoning the car a short distance from the Bab R’cif in a big jam-up. Stopped at a café on the Place that had red plastic Coca-Cola tables, chairs, and umbrellas and ordered two Cokes; waited ten minutes while someone scurried off into the medina somewhere to find two Cokes to serve us. After some backtracking, located the Dyer’s Souk 68
where we found men washing and drying bundles of golden brown wool; were hoping to find lots of colors but apparently there is only a color of the day. Back at our dar, asked Mohammad how to find the antiques shop we had visited yesterday; he drew a great map and we impressed ourselves when we found the place. Abdul greeted us warmly and we took our time looking around again. Ended up buying an old writing box made of brass and copper and decorated with carved Arabic calligraphy. Abdul promised to give us an excellent price and we left satisfied with our transaction. On the way back, followed the wall of the mosque all the way around, stopping to peek in at the doorways when we could, and taking pictures of the interesting doors when they were closed. Watched the sunset from the roof of the dar with the other guests; balanced the ambience of old Fes with various technological devices as we solved Bart’s need to close his office inbox while he is on holiday. Dinner on the patio again: an excellent homemade bastila and salads and lively conversation that became serious when the talk turned to the Arab uprisings in the Middle East; Sebastian added a Moroccan perspective to our discussion about the future of North Africa.
Heb rew Cemetery
Monday, April 11
This morning, we were first at the breakfast table. Said good-bye to the Belgian family, Elsy, Bart, Victor, and Elly Leemans, and exchanged emails; my list of new friends to contact once we get home is growing. Sebastian accompanied our payment of the bill by playing flamenco guitar and then walked us down to the Râ€™cif and saw us off 10:00. We followed his directions through the attractive modern district of Fes and an hour later, reached Ifrane, a small â€œpocket of Franceâ€? with fairytale chalets set in a cedar forest. It is the premier Moroccan non-water resort; even the king has a palace there. Followed N 13 along a high plateau marked by rocks and newly greening pasturelands and saw patches of snow before descending into Midelt. Herds of sheep crossed the road in front of us on several occasions. From Midelt, ascended over Tagalm Pass (6300 ft.) and descended again into an arid valley spotted with palms, skirting villages constructed of primitive
bricks made of unbaked mud and straw, known as pise. Reached Erfoud at 4:30 and determined that the least distance on non-paved roads was from there. At the direction of a policeman, located the road and after 18 km. saw a sign for the Kasbah Derkaoua where the road ended. We followed a gravel trail that steadily became less distinguishable and even less traversable. Tried to keep our direction toward any greenery in sight but sand pits and huge bumps and holes sent us back. The terrain gave us no sense of the way. With a bit of luck, arrived at the kasbah at 5:30. We were immediately packed into a 4 X 4 and driven out to the tent encampment near the dune of Erg Chebbi. What we found might have come straight out of the Arabian Nights. Numerous tents circled a fire pit, with rugs set out over the sand. Our timing could not have been better, as tonight it is just Jake and I and the stars and the quiet talk of the Berber men who are taking care of us.
Tuesday, April 12
We were awakened at 5:30 by Ahmed, who gently flapped the rug that served as the door of our tent. It was time to get ready for our sunrise camel trek to the dune. Our eveningâ€™s rest was abbreviated not only by the early hour but by a persistent wind that really kicked up the sand in our little encampment. Trusty flashlights in hand, we stumbled down to the WCs at the end of the camp; what had been a flat carpeted pathway had become a rumpled mass of rugs and sand. At 6:00 we met Mohammad, our camel driver, who settled us on the backs of Jimmy and Ali Baba for a thirty minute ride into the night. It was very windy and I was glad to have wrapped my hair in a long headscarf. We arrived at the base of the giant dune and left the camels to graze on some scrubby brush while we climbed to the top. There was a lot of slipping and sliding on the loose
sand; Mohammad gave us a hand, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that he dragged us up behind him. We sat on a blanket and watched the blowing sand change the shape of the dune in the growing light. Mohammed pointed out the mountains of Algeria in the distance. As we watched the sun come up over the dune, were delighted to discover that the blowing sand had created a magnificent sunrise. A little girl approached; we thought at first that she was just coming by to be friendly but she was selling little crudely made toy camels. Of course we had to buy one, as well as a fossil that had been polished into a small egg offered by Mohammed, which Jake used as his methodology for tipping. Rode our camels back to camp and had coffee and toast before driving back to the Derkaoua where we checked into a room and took showers.
Learned that there is an easier path (comparatively speaking anyway) from the kasbah to the main road, so decided to explore the area. Headed southeast to Merzouga; drove along the hamada, a dreary, flat expanse of tiny fragments of black rock. Out of this dark plain rise the red dunes of Merzouga, creating a truly surreal landscape. The town of Merzouga was interesting only in its location at the foot of the dunes; we departed quickly as we encountered a series of men who tried various ways to get us into a handicraft emporium (“Just come and sign our book,” “Are you mad at us?”, and the always familiar, “You only look; you don’t need to buy.”) Backtracked to Rissani and followed the Ksour Road, a circuit of numerous ksars, or small fortified earthen villages, set picturesquely among dusty palms. The area is known for the fossils extracted from nearby quarries, so we stopped briefly at a large operation that sold items from giant marble sinks embedded with fossils to tiny disks made of spiraled ammonites. Feeling the effects of our disrupted sleep last night, drove back to the kasbah and sat out by the pool until the bugs chased us in for a nap. Wine and dinner on the patio. Were the only independent guests; a large group of British and American ornithologists shared a long and convivial table.
Wednesday, April 13
Breakfast at the same table on the patio; toasted baguette, rolls, pound cake, and msammen (fried flatbread). Have found the Moroccan breakfasts tend to be mostly bready carbs. The fresh orange juice makes up for it, though. On the road back to Erfoud by 9:00, driving west 162 km. through Tinejdad to Tinehir. Proceeded north up the Todra Gorges at 11:30. Drove 24 km. along the narrow, winding road, passing continuous villages and the ruins of kasbahs set against vast overhanging cliffs. We reached the narrowest section of the gorge, where 1000-foot cliffs towered above a narrow defile populated by tourists and souvenir stands. Returned by the same route, reaching Tinehir at 1:00 and proceeded west another 46 km. to Boumaine where we again
drove north, through the Dades Gorges, for 32 km., encountering extraordinary rock formations and ascending high above the gorges by a series of hairpin curves. I took pictures while Jake tried to keep us on the road. As we retraced the way back to Boumaine, persuaded Jake to stop at a roadside shop that turned out to have a nice collection of Berber art and jewelry. I had the chance to look around by myself; a proprietor only showed up once I brought Jake back in with me. Bought a silver necklace and an old sugar hammer, both with typical Berber workmanship. Joined the N 10, the major road towards Skoura, thinking that it would be a pleasant drive. Although the road was straight and had little traffic, the scenery was flat and drab and totally uninteresting.
Arrived at the Kasbah Ait Ben Moro at 5:00; the property dates from the 13th century and has been lovingly renovated by Spanish ex-pat Juan Romero. Aziz, the desk manager, greeted us and gave us a choice of rooms: we chose a suite on the top floor of this authentic kasbah, even though it meant a climb of 30 steep stone steps. We have a sitting room with fireplace (recently used) and a bedroom with a nice cross-breeze. The walls are of pise and the ceilings of woven straw over massive natural beams. Doves roost in the window ledges; a female lays on her two eggs in a nest to the left of the bathroom sink. Arranged with Aziz for a guided walk through the nearby palmery, where we saw people at work on their small plots, growing onions, wheat, and corn. The sections are separated by irrigation ditches fed by a natural spring
with the help of collected rainwater and wells. Walked around the outside of a giant kasbah in the center of the palmery, part of which is new, part old, and part original. Interesting to see how modern building techniques have adapted the old to create a more permanent structure. Ismail explained that the â€œnewâ€? pise is only a thin shell of mud and straw over concrete. Loved the peace in that oasis, with the green of the crops and the palms contrasting with the red of the buildings and the dusty irrigation canals. Did not see many people out; some children tried to give (sell?) us some small camels woven of palm fronds and women were congregating by the now-dry riverbed. Enjoyed drinks on the terrace of the Ben Moro with two women from Denmark and a French couple, followed by a tagine dinner.
Journal kept by Susan Hanes during a five-week trip to Morocco, southern Spain, and Portugal from April 4 to May 10, 2011. Photos by Susan Hanes and George Leonard, copyright 2011.
Traveling is not just seeing the new; it is also leaving behind. Not just opening doors; also closing them behind you, never to return. --Jan Myrdal