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Trip Report A Little Bit About Morocco

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We took a short, twelve day trip to Morocco last month, and I thought I’d write up a few notes.

First, to dispel a myth. Two widely traveled people whose opinions on such matters I value highly suggested I avoid taking Royal Air Maroc. However, I fly from New York and it is the only non-stop flight, so I bit the bullet and took it and . . . it was fine. Oh, the in flight entertainment is from the ’90’s, and the decor is a bit tired, but as for the horror stories of foul bathrooms and inattentive service -- that was not my experience. Legroom on the flight back was such that I was able to cross my legs even with the seat in front reclining! Also, neither flight was crowded, allowing a chance to stretch out.

Rabat -- we took the train here and stopped for two nights, catching up from jet lag and easing into Morocco. This is a cosmopolitan city with yet a few sights for the traveller. The Kasbah is a maze of blue and white painted buildings. The medina pales by the standards of say, Fes, but so do most. The Chellah with its Roman ruins and Islamic gardens is a pleasant place to spend a couple of hours. The difficult to find archaeology museum has a small but interesting collection, including some fine bronzes.

We also took the train to Fes, with its spectacular medina and souks. There are only two negative aspects, the clouds of flies, and the worse human pests, touts and faux guides. You can wave away the flies but the touts are more persistent. It’s a shame because they truly take away from a marvelous place -- a surviving medieval medina. So put up with them for a few days.

We hired a grand taxi and took a day trip to Volubilis, the provincial capital under the Romans. Like most Roman sites outside of Europe, it is not overrun by your fellow tourists, and you will enjoy the many on-site mosaics.

We also took grand taxis to Marrakech, with a one-night stop en route to visit a place of no interest to tourists, where a Peace Corps volunteer of our acquaintance resides. Grand taxi are Seventies vintage Mercedes Benz 240 D’s into which they stuff seven people: the driver, two passengers sharing the other bucket seat, and four on the rear bench. However, there is a simple remedy -- you buy out the additional seats. Thus our group of three travelled in comfort, if at double the reasonable price.

Marrakech appealed to me a little less than Fes because many more of its souks seemed given over to the tourist trade -- you won’t imagine yourself a thousand years earlier in time. The great square had its entertaining side, but was also infested with touts and touristy attractions such as snake charmers. However, there is a fine Medersas, two fine palaces, the Saadian tombs and fine views of the High Atlas range to divert you. And yes, some good shopping.

Our final stop was Essaouira which we reached by bus from Marrakech. There are one or two “comfort plus” buses a day, which seat you three across, and far more frequent four across vehicles. They’re both fine. We took the “Sopratour” line -- there’s a competitor named CTM.

Essaouira is a beautiful city on the coast, with dramatic breakers crashing on the rocks offshore. Orson Welles filmed scenes from “Othello” here. You can spend hours on the ramparts, and watching the sun set, and strolling the largely tout-free medina and souks. Well worth a couple of nights.

I see I have almost accomplished a miracle here -- a trip report with no mention of food. The food is very good but the finest meal we had was the simplest -- grilled fish at the port of Essaouira. You pick out your fish(es), which comes with salad and bread, add some fries if you wish, and settle down to one of the freshest seafood dinners of your life. Also, pomegranates were in season. Indulge.

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