Magnificent Morocco: Part 1


Ever since I was a small child visiting Epcot Center in Florida with my family, I have been mesmerized with Morocco. It was one of the first countries presented in the World Showcase of Epcot, and it is still the only specific African nation there. I also later learned from a behind the scenes tour that the Moroccan pavilion was the only one not at least partially funded by a corporation, but was instead funded by the King of Morocco. He even sent his own craftsmen to ensure the work was done correctly on the buildings!

Other than my fairly regular visits to this small piece of Morocco in the middle of Florida, I did not have any other real connection to the country. I vaguely remember my family’s trip to Europe in the mid-80’s and that we had talked about going to the Canary Islands (which are just off the coast of Morocco), and that my father had wanted to go to Gibraltar (again, not far from Morocco) when we were in Spain, so there was at least a small chance we would have set foot in Morocco. But it wasn’t meant to be, and we ended up not going to any of those places.

But one day, as often happens to people who have decided world travel is an integral part of their lives, I decided I was going to go on vacation there. This day just so happened to be in the autumn of 2005 and I had recently moved to Brazil for work. For those of you not geographically inclined, Brazil is not exactly close to Morocco. But it is closer than China, which is where I had moved from! And I had enough miles with Delta to purchase a flight from Brazil to Morocco, so it seemed like the perfect Christmas holiday trip for me to take.

Of course, as often happened at that time of my life when I did not have as many responsibilities as I do now, and I assumed that money grew on trees, my trip expanded into a truly Marco Poloian adventure that would encompass not only Morocco, but also parts of Western Europe and the US. But I will leave those parts of the journey for another time, and will focus on the magical land of Morocco for now.

I actually ended up not flying to Morocco with my air miles. That honor was bestowed upon Amsterdam. Instead, I came into Morocco via ferry ride from Malaga, Spain. I landed in the city of Tangier, at the northern tip of Morocco. I had heard stories of how Tangier was famous for its crime and overall seediness. While I was actually quite intrigued to see what reality was versus what I had read and heard, I wasn’t intrigued enough to actually spend any time there. Instead, I went straight to the train station and got a ticket to begin my Moroccan adventure in the city of Fes.

I had used the Lonely Planet guidebook on Morocco as my main planning source, and it had quite a bit of advice and suggestions on rail travel through the country that was helpful. One thing that definitely stuck out was the scams that people would sometimes try to take advantage of tourists with. One of these scams related to one or two people befriending you on the train and then telling you about this wonderful festival taking place in their hometown and asking if you wanted to get off at the next stop and go with them to it. Those adventurous travelers who joined them often found themselves being robbed shortly afterwards (or something like that…).

While I have been taken advantage of as a tourist plenty of times over the years, I do my best to not put myself in danger. So when my friendly cabin mates told me about this wonderful festival taking place in their hometown and asking if I wanted to get off at the next stop, I politely declined and told them I already had reservations with a hotel in my destination and couldn’t change them. They tried to convince me, but I stood firm and they (it was two men, but one man was the main instigator) eventually left the cabin, supposedly to get off of the train.

I thought it was extremely funny when I ended up running into my new “friend” while wandering around a touristy area in another city in Morocco several days later. He was also quite surprised when I spoke to him and asked how the festival was and why he wasn’t at home celebrating…I guess there wasn’t as much money to be made there as there was trying to take advantage of the naïve!

My trip was fairly straight forward, as I had picked four different cities to visit, mostly based upon what I had read in the guidebook. As mentioned, my first stop was Fes and I was not disappointed. The name made me think of the hat often seen in pictures and movies of North Africa, and seemed an intriguing place to begin my journey.

The medina was quite nice and the walled city and friendly locals made it a lovely introduction to the country. I only spent a couple of nights there though; as the additions to my original itinerary meant that I could only spend a week in Morocco. The next stop was Meknes, which is just west of Fes. I chose this city specifically for the nearby ancient Roman ruins in Volubilis.

Check back next week for Part 2 of my Moroccan adventure!

Next: Travel Through the Eyes of an Author

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