So here are a few thoughts on the trip, which was a great trip – very well planned and organized, seamless in fact. Hindsight always provides a few things I would have changed but there is not a long list by any means.
Starting with the best – driver Hamid Zerheri
You were right when you said we would love our driver and we did. I almost don’t feel comfortable with the title “driver” as he was so much more than that. Hamid is a great
ambassador for his country, an excellent teacher and guide. Patient when, at times, he must have felt as if he were herding cats. We made him laugh and he made us laugh every day as we blasted our way around the country. Hamid made us feel safe and well cared for. He was extremely well organized and watched out tirelessly for our needs and wants. This is not easy when caring for 6 strong-minded women with different needs and wants. At the end of the trip, when we were all a bit tired and some of us were recovering from stomach attacks, Hamid recommended we have dinner at Rick’s Café. We thought we would probably be sitting in a sea of tourists but it was in fact a lovely dinner, lots of fun, few tourists besides us – something I would highly recommend as an end of trip meal for other groups. Just another way Hamid can gauge people and be one step ahead of what he knew we would like.
Perhaps most important, after years of being subjected hearing a lot Muslim and Islam bashing, we saw first hand, in the form of Hamid, the guides, and hospitable Moroccans, what we knew intellectually and now know emotionally, that there was so much to admire about Moroccan and Muslim culture and people. The strides today in Moroccan economic development and environmental shine a harsh light on what is going in the US right now. Hamid got an earful of Trump bashing from us, which he took politely in stride.
I think in lots of ways Hamid made the trip great for us. We all miss him and think about him often. Saying goodbye and not knowing if we would ever see our new friend again was hard. He has a large heart and a gentle soul.
We had two especially excellent city guides – Califa in Fes and Mohammed in Marrakesh. Califa is very knowledgeable about history and was able to tell us lots in interesting ways without getting us confused. We liked his math lesson the best when he described Arabic numbers and calculation strategies, and then entered into a calculation competition with Gig. He won.
Califa showing the origin of Arabic numbers.
I won’t bore you here with more of the amazing moments and sights – what you already know about seeing a great country like Morocco but will move on to:
I wish it were possible to see the various and amazing artisans without feeling so much pressure to buy, which by the end of the day in Fes and Marrakesh got annoying. Even though Hamid and the others told us not to worry about walking away and not to feel pressure, we did. For me, it sometimes made it difficult to fully appreciate the craft work. My favorite place, where I felt the least pressure, was the weaving workshop in Fes.
I wish we had been able to meet and interact with Moroccan women. I felt as if I was learning about only half the country. Mostly we saw women’s backs and they moved through the medinas or served us suppers. We did meet a wonderful tourism intern working at the Chefchaouen riad. She was studying tourism and was so enthusiastic and bright and spoke pretty good English. Perhaps a female guide like her, if older women were not interested in guiding, for half a day to tell us more about the lives of women in Morocco or show us how women shop in the medinas would have been very meaningful. At least it would have filled in a blank that more than I felt. Unfortunately I was sick the day some of the group met the Berber woman weaver. Even with no common language, they came back to camp ecstatic about their time with her.
You warned us that we had bitten off a lot of the country to see and that meant several long drives. Our days were indeed very long, partly because we made Hamid stop so we could see this or take a photo of that or go to the bathroom but I wish we had more “down time”. I think even he got tired out by the end of the days, some of which did not end till 6 or 7 at night. The riads you chose we so wonderful – each one different – and it would have been nice to have time at the end of the day, before supper, to just chill out, write in out journals, read, or stare into space. We felt this especially in Skoura. We would actually have liked to spend a day off the road there to regroup after a difficult Sahara excursion [huge sandstorm, tummy bugs, heat].
Skoura was indeed an oasis and we could have used a full day there to regenerate our minds and bodies. This is hindsight of course. How can you tell how big a country is from just looking at a map? We figured to see all that we did and have some downtime we would have had to add more days, which we didn’t have. So it’s a dilemma we couldn’t solve. Maybe since we had so little time in Essaouira, we should have just skipped it. But then, would we have missed the drive from there to Casablanca, which was excellent. We wanted to see goats in trees and Hamid found them for us near Essaouria.
I wish we could have been to a museum or two, especially in the beginning to give us some context as to what we were seeing. The Berber museum that was part of the Majorelle Gardens is a must-see in my mind. Small, beautifully laid out introduction Berber culture. I am not sure what other places we should have considered. We were not looking for a huge museum trip but one or two would have been helpful. Guide books are not all that useful in helping to understand either the history or what to see.
In discussions amongst ourselves, we could not come to any consensus as to what we might have left out or added either on a daily basis or for the whole trip so we have no big revelations for you on that front. I, myself, got a bit overwhelmed by casbahs, huge gates and memorials. There again, we couldn’t agree on what we might miss. Given the amazing medinas in Fes and Marrakesh, we could have skipped the medina in Rabat and maybe Rabat completely. I am sure at least half of the group would not agree with me.
We all loved Chefchaouen, partly because it was small enough so we could actually walk about on our own and do a bit of exploring at our leisure. And then there was just the blueness of it.
Thanks so much for organizing an amazing adventure in a country so full of marvels.
(May of 2017)