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Trip Report Kasbahs, camels, and couscous - 12 days in Morocco

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Since there’s not a clamoring for information on Morocco on fodor’s and because there have been a few very thorough trip reports recently, I’ll try to keep mine short & sweet.

When I began planning 2 years ago I knew we didn’t want to do an independent trip involving renting a car. I was fairly certain I didn’t want to go with a tour group either but I did investigate a few. The rep at Odysseys Unlimited pretty much talked me out of their trip – even though the price was so good I was seriously tempted – because they have an average traveler age several decades beyond my husband & myself. The bigger tours also stay in hotels rather than riads and staying in beautiful riads in Fez & Marrakesh was high on my list of trip musts.

I came across several reports on tripadvisor where people had used Journey Beyond Travel and it sounded like just what I was looking for: a custom tour not in a group, not escorted by a guide but meeting with one in each city if we wished, staying in wonderful riads, and the opportunity to visit in people’s homes along the way. It worked perfectly for us and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Because of Iceland’s volcanic ash our flight from Philadelphia was delayed several hours and we were not at all sure we’d even get to fly – several airports in Europe had closed that day. The delay caused a sprint through CDG in Paris to make our connection and a one day lag in our luggage catching up to us in Rabat – very minor inconveniences compared to the havoc the volcano caused a few weeks earlier!

In the airport at Rabat we had our first lesson in English not being spoken by many. Somehow (arrogantly, I know) there’s the assumption that in the larger cities and especially among people dealing with foreigners (customs personnel and airport baggage claim employees) English will be spoken. Not so much. After a protracted, partially- mimed interrogation by the customs official as I struggled to explain what ‘accountant’ meant I realized that paying more attention in high school French classes would’ve been wise. The same language disconnect occurred when trying to explain our suitcases were missing, what they looked like, where to reach us the next day in Rabat, etc. I do try to learn a few phrases in a language before visiting a country but I just don’t have enough French (or Arabic!) to really converse. Our great loss and embarrassment – it’s a big disservice and disgrace that schools in the US don’t focus on languages more than they do.

Having someone waiting for us at the airport was a nice welcome after the bits of confusion on arrival and Hamid turned out to be not only a great, safe driver but a very nice guy, in general. We enjoyed spending time with him during our drive around Morocco. Having someone to point out different sights – explaining what we were seeing – taking us on little detours to see things we never would’ve found on our own – not having to navigate and try to follow maps on (sometimes) unmarked roads – not driving on the sorta scary Tizi-n-Tichka pass – having someone to deal with police at roadside checks – not having to worry about what we’d do if we got a flat tire – these are some of the reasons we loved Hamid!

After our arrival in Rabat we drove to the medina and then walked through the winding alleyways to check in at the Riad Kalaa. It was lovely – a central courtyard with trickling fountain, flowering trees, brightly colored cushions and lanterns – our room had 20 ft ceilings, gorgeous décor, a bathroom with a huge sunken tub, marble mosaics, and a big comfy bed. Our welcome of mint tea and cookies was just what we needed to energize us before heading back out for a tour of Rabat.

JBT had arranged a half-day tour with a guide. We visited the Oudaia Kasbah with its narrow blue & white painted alleys, the Andalusian gardens, huge gates, & Cafe Maure with heaping plates of cookies overlooking the Atlantic. From the café we watched the boys playing soccer on the beach. Something we’re not used to seeing where we live – lots of families out enjoying the day together – moms, dads, and kids hanging out in the parks, and in the gardens. It was a Monday & I asked if it was a special day or holiday and our guide said no, it was this way every day.

We drove through a pretty valley to the Chellah Necropolis with its Roman ruins of Sala Colonia and the remains of the mosque, tombs, shrines, and religious school where tons of storks are now nesting. We watched young couples buy eggs to feed the ‘sacred’ eels in a fountain which are said to help women become pregnant.

Stopped at the Hassan Tower and Mausoleum of Mohammed V. The mausoleum is lovely – carved marble, mosaics, stained glass and costumed guards at the 4 entrances.

After returning to the riad we were shown to the restaurant where we were to have dinner since Kalaa did not do dinners on Mondays: Dinarjat. It was another opportunity to curse ourselves for only speaking English but we muddled through the explanation that our riad was paying the bill (it was not easy) and managed to order fabulous tagines and Casablanca beer. One semi-funny thing, I ordered a ‘chicken tagine’ and it was served as 2 pieces of chicken on a plate – no veggies, couscous, etc. – just chicken. Good chicken, but just chicken. My husband ordered a ‘7 veg tagine’ and got 7 huge, almost whole vegetables (whole squash, whole eggplant, big carrots, whole potato, whole pepper, etc.) on a mound of couscous. The difference in the two was comical and I was happy to help him eat his mega-meal. It was a great dinner and fun to do the whole hand-washing ritual at the table.

Part of our arrangement with JBT was all dinners were included and were (except for this first night) taken at the riads where we stayed. That worked really well for us – we had amazing food at each place and it was very convenient to not worry about finding restaurants each night. Also not having to have cash on hand for those expenses – it was nice to have one less thing to think about. We’re not foodies and trying different restaurants is never a goal of ours in travel – maybe for someone else eating at the same place two nights in a row would be boring.

We found our way back to the Kalaa & enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep, thus ending our first day. So much for a short & sweet report – I’ll try to be more concise from here on!

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