morroco - Part 1 


well, the seema and susie road show is literally rolling right along here in morocco!  lord only knows what kind of "legend of the crazy american ladies" will be passed down from berber tribesman to berber tribesman thanks to us. 

we've rented a tiny fiat palio five-speed and have been driving it around the country for the last six days (no doubt doing horrific things to the clutch along the way).  so far we've put about 1000 miles on the car and we still have a long way to go.

while the palio is about the farthest thing from a 4-wheel drive vehicle you can get, we have done our best to convince our tiny white car that it has the soul of a range rover.  it did admirably in our off-roading saharan adventure when we drove 14 km in the dark during a wind/sandstorm (winds of probably 50mph) on a dirt path with only our teenaged berber "guide" to help us get to our berber tent.  he spoke almost no english or french and was not particularly confidence-inspiring which was a big problem for me as  i spent much of the 40 min drive silently making contingency plans for that inevitable moment when we realized we were hopelessly lost in the sahara at night (happily, we did have two cell phones and 6 liters of water between the 3 of us).  meanwhile seema drove hunched forward, squinting through the windshield while we both tried to spot the white painted sticks that were inconveniently planted about every 75-100m along the path.  seema, of course, thought all of this was quite "fun"... happily (big fat HOORAY!!! happily) we did manage to make it to our hotel/tent that night.  the wind died down, we were able to go out into the desert and look at the most amazing quantity of stars.  and then, after waking up at 5am, we rode camels out into the sahara to watch the sunrise over the erg chebbi dunes which is the largest massif of dunes in morocco - they're about 30km x 100km and some of the dunes are over 170m tall.  it was amazing.

while our trip began in casablanca, it is a big boring modern city and we had made no plans to spend any time there.  we left as soon as we got our car and headed east to the imperial cities of meknes and fes.  our hotel in meknes was an incredible riad (technically riad means "garden" and it refers to the garden in the center of most Moroccan homes, but it's come to also mean a traditional moroccan bed and breakfast) deep in the heart of the medina - we are both still amazed and impressed that we were not only able to find it but that we were able to negotiate the tiny windy streets of the medina in our car for three days (thank heavens the palio is so small :)

one day we drove out to see moulay idriss, which is a small mountain town that has only been open to non-muslims since 1912 (although they still are not permitted to spend the night) because it is considered one of morocco's holiest cities due to a tomb located there.  interestingly for us as drivers, it also had the narrowest streets we've seen yet here in morocco.  it was a big relief to successfully inch the car slowly up the steep, narrow streets, without hitting any of the donkeys, pedestrians, bikes, other cars and trucks that innocently came into our path.

that night we went to a hammam (traditional moroccan bath house) which the riad owner's sister recommended.  it was quite an experience!  needless to say, hammams are segregated - smaller ones have different hours for men and women and the larger one which we went to had one side for women and a separate one for men.  it's kind of a steam bath, shower room, massage place all rolled into one.  the main room was large, tiled and steamy.  pipes ran around the walls of the room and taps were placed about every 18" along the pipes.  we went in, grabbed a plastic stool, a bucket and a dipper and found two available taps to sit in front of.

being in the hammam explained many of the mysterious items seema and i had seen in the souk, including the buckets of sticky honey-like olive oil soap and the colorful plastic mats which women use to sit on instead of the floor in the hammam.  while there, we both signed up to be scrubbed by a loofah lady.  mere words cannot describe what it was like to be scrubbed to within an inch of our lives with a loofah with the texture of medium grade sandpaper.  neither of us has ever been so very clean in our lives!  (and we both still have some brush burns to prove it).

we've spent the last few days driving around the desert - lots of windy steep mountain roads (i saw our first car carcass in a crevasse today) and amazing scenery.  the plentiful, huge oases are the most amazing emerald green color.  the palms are typically under-planted with crops like wheat and corn.  and, often, there is an imposing, slightly crumbling ancient kasbah hulking nearby.  it's all pretty amazing.

happily, our only car trouble came, ironically, as we were pulling into a gas station.  apparently we somehow managed to drive a 6" metal spike completely into our tire (it's now tied up with dental floss and hanging from our rear view mirror).  the gas station men put on our spare for us and then one of them came with us down the road to the goodyear tire man.  there, for only 10 dhm (about $1.50) our tire was patched, our spare tire put back in our trunk, and within 45 min we were back on our way.  phew!

the people here are so nice.  everyone has been absolutely great - super helpful as we drive slowly around town asking directions hither & yon.  apparently moroccans also watch a lot of indian movies and everyone has been very excited that seema originates from the land of bollywood.

i've also happily discovered that many berber women are absolutely delighted to exchange their old, handmade, hand embroidered black scarf/shawls for nice shiny new ones.  i did a brisk business with a shawl shopkeeper in a teeny town along our route yesterday and left a couple of berber women in our wake who hit the jackpot with new shawls.

in addition to driving driving driving (we take turns) and seeing lots of gorgeous things, we've taken lots of time to sit and drink mint tea out of the ubiquitous moroccan tea glasses while watching life go by.  interestingly, so far neither of us has been impressed with the food we've encountered.  lots of overcooked vegetables and couscous.  we are absolutely mystified as to what the moroccans are possibly using all of the spices in the souks for.  to date it has most definitely NOT been in the food we've consumed!  but the dried fruit and bread are very good, we've become fast friends with harrissa (spicy red pepper paste) and brochettes (lamb kebabs, sometimes ground, sometimes not) and we continue on our quest for the reason why many people consider moroccan food to be one of the great cuisines of the world.

more adventures to follow :)


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