Tag Archives: Americans in Morocco

Swimming pools, Argan Oil and Goats in Trees

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Swimming pools, Argan Oil and Goats in Trees

Marrakech Part 4:

The morning of our 5th day in Marrakech we checked out of our riad in the medina and headed out of town.  We booked our last couple of days in Morocco at a fancy resort.

Kenzi Menara Palace

Kenzi Menara Palace

Fancy hotels even give you free slippers!

Fancy hotels even give you free slippers!

Cathy, Jessica and Catherine spent the day with us as well.

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Leslie with my buddy Cathy

We checked in and changed into our bikinis right away.  Well, Mike wore trunks, sorry ladies!

Cool California girls in the sun

Cool California girls in the sun

The girls played in the pool while Mike, Cathy and I lounged in the sun. We visited and sipped our drinks under the warm African sun.  We savored our last day with Cathy as she would be heading off on an adventure to the desert in the morning.  They drove across the Atlas mountains to the end of the civilized world then continued on dromedary back.  Cathy is going to have to write a guest post so we can find out the details of their adventure! unnamed

Cathy, Jessica and Catherine's camel ride looks more authentic than ours!

Cathy, Jessica and Catherine’s camel ride looks more authentic than ours!

Our last day we enjoyed an amazing, exotic buffet at the Kenzi Palace. My favorite was a fruit spread that was made of mashed oranges, cinnamon and honey. I ate it on warm Moroccan bread. Heavenly!

To me no trip is complete without a good hike or even better, a really long trail run.  We spent the majority of our time in Morocco in Marrakech so we were ready for some nature. Abdul, our driver who took us to ride the dromedaries, picked us up at the hotel.  The plan was to visit a Berber village in the Atlas mountains and go for a hike. As we drove out of town Abdul explained that we were headed to the Ouika Valley. We drove for an hour to a Berber village called Setti Fatma which I imagined would be a remote, quaint little village. Instead, as we neared the village the road became dense with cars. We stopped at an Argan Oil Co-op where the women demonstrated how the argan nuts are cracked then ground and turned into oil.

Sky and Savvy sitting with the Argan nut ladies

Sky and Savvy sitting with the Argan nut ladies

Sit right here, I'll be right back with my samples

Sit right here, I’ll be right back with my samples

Our new friend, Ilham

Our new friend, Ilham

Our guide was delightful, the girls liked her immediately and they even let her braid their hair.

Looking at the Atlas Moutains

Looking at the Atlas Moutains

We bought several bottles of magical Argan Oil.  She promised that one was specifically formulated to clear skin blemishes.  I was skeptical but before bed that night Sky put the oil on a little patch of acne on her nose.  Amazingly after one application and a day of swimming in the sun the next day the patch had completely resolved.  Youth, the sun or the oil? Your guess is as good as mine.

Our next stop was a rug store.  Of course we were perfectly aware that our guide had a vested interest in our purchases and I had no intention of buying a rug but we were curious just the same.

Savvy with the rugs

Savvy with the rugs. Give her a job!

Buried in Rugs!

Buried in Rugs!

The man in the rug store showed us rug after rug but wouldn’t give me any idea of the prices unless I would choose one.  Strangely, it was very rushed and stressful.  Finally I told him that I liked one and he told me the price. It was outrageous and I suggested that we leave.  Suddenly the price was a 1/3 of his original offer.  I know that is typical but I was surprised. We left and I think our driver was a little annoyed with us.

Of course, Sky found a friendly kitty amongst the rugs

Sky, the cat whisperer, found a friendly kitty amongst the rugs

The “typical” Berber village turned out to be a typical tourist trap but it was still exotic to us and we enjoyed it.  We dined on a sandy bank of the Ourika river on plastic tables under colorful umbrellas.

Waiting for lunch on the bank of the ___ river

Waiting for lunch on the bank of the Ourika river

Cheesy strolling minstrels played for us and posed for pictures. 

Sky ate eggs and as usual, a pack of stray cats found her.

Sky is a cat magnet!

Sky is a cat magnet!

After lunch our hiking guide, Jamal was waiting for us.  He was a cheerful, 25 year old who spoke excellent English and even some Spanish.  Jamal told us he grew up in Setti Fatma.  He learned his English in school and explained that schools in Setti Fatma are taught in Arabic and French.  Anyone who attends school is fluent in both. He also spoke Berber but pointed out that he could not read or write the language of his ancestors as it has a different alphabet and it is not taught in the schools.  Jamal led us through a cacophony of vendors on the way up the mountain.

Up the hill past 100s of tables of stuff for sale.

Up the hill past 100s of tables of stuff for sale.

for sale

for sale

stuff

stuff

 

I love to shop but this was really too much even for me.  We finally passed most of the hikers and shoppers.

Up the trail to the 7 waterfalls

Up the trail to the 7 waterfalls.

Jamal pointed out the “Berber refrigerators”.  Cold snow-melt, running off the mountain keeps drinks cool in gaudy painted fountains.

The Berber Refrigerator

The Berber Refrigerator

Once past the many blankets and little tables of stuff for sale the only way to continue was to hop across streams and climb over boulders.  Now we were hiking!

Mike and Savannah picking their way through the rocks

Mike and Savannah picking their way through the rocks. Mike is always sure to be behind just in case someone falls.

Sky, Jamal and Savannah

Sky, Jamal and Savannah

What a view, see the village below?

What a view, see the village below?

We hiked for several hours and counted the 7 waterfalls. We were thankful that our girls had good stamina and balance. They could climb straight up the mountain. Much like this goat:

Moroccan goats can climb trees!

Moroccan goats can climb trees!

We came across one goat stuck in a tree.  He cried until his shepherd could climb up and help him out. Jamal was a great guide, he was patient and clearly loved his job.  He was in his element and let us know that getting paid to show foreigners his trails was a very cool gig for him.  The views were breathtaking.

Sky looking for the goats

Sky looking for the goats

We hiked back to town through another gauntlet of vendors.  On the way down the hill I bought some “Moroccan Nutella”, a delicious mix of honey, almonds and Argan oil.  The trail actually cut through restaurants where earthenware tagines roasted over charcoal bricks.  There were couches and chairs with plush, colorful pillows right on the back of the river.  Tourists from all over the planet lounged and enjoyed the Moroccan sun or slept in the shade of brightly colored umbrellas.

Siti Fatma

Setti Fatma

After the hike Mike and the girls had an ice cream reward.

Ice Cream by the river

Ice Cream by the river

Yum!

Yum!

Back at the car Abdul was waiting for us.  We settled in for the drive down the mountain back to the resort.  I didn’t feel like I had seen anything remotely near what life is like in a typical Berber village as promised by our guide.  I did recall that a well traveled friend warned us that we were not going to see the real Morocco.  I am certain that she was correct but we did see the side of Morocco that has embraced visitors. We didn’t see a single person that was unkind and everyone was genuinely welcoming, friendly and quick to share their culture.

We spent our last day in Marrakech by the pool.  We sat in the shade and I researched and wrote about our adventure.  Sky and Savvy swam and met some lovely girls, Georgia and Lexi.

Little girls all over the world play hand games.  They taught each other songs and will no doubt go home and share them with their friends.

Little girls all over the world play hand games. They taught each other songs and will no doubt go home and share them with their friends.

Lexi and Savannah

Lexi and Savannah

Best friends after a day in the sun!

Best friends after a day in the sun!

Our one selfie of the trip! Coronas in Africa!

Our one selfie of the trip! Coronas in Africa!

The next morning we flew back to Spain and when we got off the plane we all took a deep breath of Andalucía. Adventures are great but it also feels really good to get home!

 

Henna, Turtles and McDonald’s

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Henna, Turtles and McDonald’s

Marrakech, Morocco Part 2:

On our first morning in the medina we were jarred awake at 4:30am.  The Muslim call to prayer is a shock if you are not ready for it.  The Adhan is recited from the top of all of the mosques 5 times a day by a Muezzin and it goes on for several minutes.  The Muezzin is a special person in each mosque that is chosen for his ability to recite both beautifully and loudly.  This was once done just by reciting the prayer from the minaret in a big voice. Now, thanks to modern technology, a loud-speaker broadcasts it so that everyone can hear.  When it is heard it is time to stop what one is doing and get ready for prayer. In most cases at 4:30am this means to stop sleeping.  The mosque, (that may have been right outside our window), made a second call to prayer, the Iqama, at 5:30am as well. So, once my heart had stopped pounding and I had drifted back to sleep, it started all over again.  Now I don’t mean to be culturally insensitive. I do understand that this is very important for muslims; it was just a bit of a shock the first day. Once I knew what the sound was, it was far less startling the next morning.

It is lovely to be on vacation and not need to get the girls ready for school in the morning. We wandered downstairs for breakfast after 9am and Youssef was waiting for us . We had rghaif which is a rich Moroccan dough that is pan-fried and served with honey. We also had delicious coffee, hot milk, yogurt, pastries and fresh-squeezed orange juice.  IMG_9272 IMG_9273

The girls and I had noticed that there was a spa next door to our riad. After breakfast we decided we could use a bit of pampering and we scheduled pedicures. At the Heritage Spa we were welcomed with warm tea and led to a sitting room where we waited for our attendants.

Sipping tea

Sipping tea

Waiting for our pedicures

Waiting for our pedicures

Sky and Savannah were taken to a lovely little room where they reclined on a colorful bed of pillows. A fountain bubbled and whispered soothingly and soft Moroccan music played in the background.

Having pedicures in Marrakech

Having pedicures in Marrakech

I had also scheduled some waxing in addition to my pedicure so my attendant, Banan, led me down some stairs, then up more stairs to a separate, more private area.  I lay on a massage table while she focused a bright light on me.  She had an old-looking can of wax with thick honey-colored drips down the side. It sat on a grubby base that she gingerly carried over and placed next to me.  She carefully pulled some used-looking gloves out of her pocket and covered her hands.  She used a popsicle stick to dip into the rusty can and blew on the wax to cool it a bit before she painted my hair.  There was a lot of double dipping involved and I tried not to wonder how many other people’s sticks had been in that bucket of wax.  I really did want to get rid of all that hair so I convinced myself that nothing could survive in boiling wax however unsanitary the set up was.  I thought that surely I would get to go to the lovely room for a pedicure and a leg massage when the procedure was over.  Nope, still on the flat table she had me bend my knees to put my feet in a bucket of warm water, weird.  It was my first lie down pedicure.  Once my toes were done she left me alone without a word in my little room.  I put on a robe and wandered out to find my clothes and my children.  I found Sky and Savvy lounging on their bed of pillows while their toes dried.  Two little sultanas. I joined them and we compared colors.  No one offered to paint a flower on our toes and we all felt that the foot massage was little more than a couple of slaps on the bottom of our feet but all in all it was a pleasant experience and I did get a very complete, albeit somewhat scary waxing.

Moroccan Pedicures

Moroccan Pedicures

Next stop, the Henna Cafe. After the odd experience with our henna attack in the big square the day before we thought we should find a calmer venue for some “temporary tattoos”.  We noticed the Henna Cafe the day before on our explore about town.  We climbed a narrow staircase decorated with paintings and photographs from local artists. We passed a tiny kitchen on our way to the rooftop terrace. We sat in the shade and sipped tea and ate delicious food from tagines.

Tea was a bit different, not my taste

Tea was a bit different, not my taste

The food was fabulous! Definitely my favorite lunch of the trip.

The food was fabulous! Definitely my favorite lunch of the trip.

Sky and Savannah found small turtles roaming about the tiles.  The turtles were tame and ate table scraps. It was good entertainment while we waited for our food.

New friends

New friends

Sweet gentle Sky, animals always find her

Sweet gentle Sky, animals always find her

The girls chose their designs from a book and gentle Fatima skillfully painted them with her “homemade organic henna”.

Savannah and Fatima

Savannah and Fatima

After getting lost in the labyrinthine medina Mike was keen to check out the “modern” city, Gueliz. Youssef pointed us in the right direction and this time I downloaded a map. We were very careful to memorize landmarks and I promised Savannah that we would come home the same way we went out so that we wouldn’t get lost. She was skeptical but agreed to go.

Found a park on our way

Found a park on our way

Stop

Stop

I did wonder what the draw was to this part of town. I wondered just until I saw the McDonald’s, which of course Mike already knew about from his Africa McDonald’s App. As a vegetarian, it is embarrassing to admit that my husband has a deep-seated love for Mickey D’s.  So against my better judgement, it has become our tradition to visit one in every country.  It is amazing how we just happen to “stumble” upon them.  Mike was in beef heaven and was so happy that it was worth it.

So happy but a bit sheepish

So happy but a bit sheepish

Mike had a Hamburger Royal and Savvy had a cheeseburger.  Sky and I sipped vegetarian milkshakes. McDonald’s in Marrakech is wildly successful.  It was packed with people, lovely girls met us at the door and took our order on handheld computers.  We had to search for a place to sit amongst the local Moroccans.  IMG_9318We had definitely come across the modern Morocco. Beautiful, fashionable women in head scarves strolled next to friends in tube tops and high heels (I wish I had a photo of that!). Many women passed with their heads conspicuously uncovered, with long, flowing dark hair exposed.  The west has obviously affected this Arab country but it seems that it has been a peaceful transition.  Morocco was our first exposure to the Arab world. We learned from the locals that we met, that in their opinion, Marrakech is a progressive city that welcomes the Western changes.  There are many immigrants from other parts of Africa who on their way to Europe stop in Morocco. Many find it so agreeable and peaceful that they decide to stay.

Over the centuries, Moroccans have endured invasions by Arab, French and Spanish civilizations.  The indigenous Berbers have been in Morocco for over 5000 years. They have survived and today live throughout Morocco composing more than 40% of the population.  There are 35 million people in Morocco and the overwhelming majority are of mixed Arab and Berber descent so it is not surprising that Arabic and Berber are the two official languages of Morocco. What is surprising is that Berber was not recognized as an official language until 2011. The third, unofficial, language is French which is the language that is widely spoken in government and business. Moroccans easily switch between French and Arabic and we noticed that they frequently speak a combination of the two languages.  The recent history is that Morocco was occupied by the French and Spanish as a protectorate from 1912-1956. The French occupied most of the country while Spain occupied the northernmost region.  Mohammed V negotiated a peaceful transition in 1956 that restored Moroccan independence from both Spain and France.  The sultan agreed to transform his country into a constitutional monarchy where the sultan would continue to have an active political role.  His son, Mohammed VI, is the reigning king today. In 1999 at the age of 36 he became king when his father died.  Today he seems to be a popular and powerful king, not to mention fabulously wealthy. In 2009 Forbes magazine estimated that the Moroccan Royal Family had one of the largest fortunes in the world.  He is ever-present in Marrakech from his face on the Dirham, the local currency, to his ubiquitous portrait.  In 2002 he married to the most beautiful computer engineer in the world, Princess Lalla Salma. They share a son and daughter.

The Moroccan Royal family

The Moroccan Royal family (google images)

He is also known for creating a new Mudawana which is family law based on Islamic principles that grants more rights to women regarding marriage, divorce and property ownership.  I like to think that his lovely, well-educated wife had some influence on the new rights for women in recent years.

I got a bit carried away, but I do find the whole idea of royalty quite interesting.   After lunch we shopped in the modern shops where everyone spoke French and many spoke English.  It was relaxing not haggling over prices. We were surprised that in the stores that sold typical Moroccan clothing and ceramics that the prices were actually better in Gueliz than they were in the medina. Obviously in the medina the local merchants are accustomed to asking outrageous prices of the tourists.  Sky chose a beautiful blue outfit that was one long piece of fabric.  For the outfit and some golden shoes it cost the equivalent of about 40$. In addition, there weren’t the pressured sales pitches that we experienced in the souks.  Savvy found some sandals that she was happy with and we successfully found our way back to the riad.  Sky put on her new outfit and we had a fashion show.  We sipped mint tea and played cards until we collapsed. Another full day in the Red City!

Sky in her new Moroccan duds.

Sky in her new Moroccan duds.

Part 3 coming soon…