Women working; smiling Moroccan children; Berber grandma
Mohammed Lansar is only
kidding. "In Morocco" he says, "Women work. Men think." No one in our
party is laughing and Lansar looks worried. Did the guide slip up? It was all a joke he
assures us. Yet after one day in this remote Berber town positioned in the High Atlas
Mountains, we notice it's the women trudging with sacks of straw, sticks, and vegetables,
while balancing babies on their backs. If they're lucky, a donkey plods along hauling
whatever they cannot carry.
|Contrast this scene with the big romantic and exotic cities of Marrakesh,
Casablanca, Fez, and Rabat, where the men wander the streets with one another, sit in
cafes without women, and appear to run the country from behind their demitasse cups of tea
"Mohammed, is it all right to take a picture?" someone
inquires. The tour guide looks uncomfortable as people try to catch the workers toiling in
the fields. Having mastered the art of dodging cameras, the women quickly turn their faces
away. Not so with the children who run gleefully towards us. As soon as our shutters
click, their spontaneity fades. "You have money?" they ask. "Un
stylo?" A pen? Someone reaches for a ballpoint, and everywhere there are youngsters
thrusting hands in our faces.
Women walking with child.
Berber souvenir stand.
|This signals the arrival of several townspeople with objects to sell. One has
Moroccan daggers made of alabaster, inlayed mother-of-pearl, and multicolored marble. Five
dollars is the incredibly low price for such craftsmanship. Another holds up classic
Berber jewelry containing chunky amber stones diffused with real fossils and wood. The
cost is thirty dollars, but he agreeably accepts half the amount. Unfortunately, it won't
be as easy bartering for one of those coveted hand woven Berber carpets, so resilient that
they are often used as blankets or even mattresses.
As we continue our tour through this typical Berber village or
"douar," life seems routine if not backward. Outwardly the terrain appears
isolated, yet inside is a network of families residing in simple homes made of flat log
roofs and branches covered with earth. Whatever the design, in Berber-land women look as
if they're doing the menial tasks, while men folk are negotiating the price for Morocco's
Good buys keep coming at unbelievable bargain rates and outstanding quality. Among the
specialty items -- exquisite silver, pewter and copper teapots, genuine fossil
paperweights, and engraved silver boxes imbedded with precious stones. But make no
mistake: The country's #1 seller remains the Tajine pot - that large round ceramic
casserole container in which meat, fish and vegetables are slowly simmered. Now just one
question: "How much do you want to spend?" Answer: If you don't like what you
hear, walk away. No one will chase after you unless it's to ask, "What's your last
|Welcome to Morocco with its pricey 2,200 miles of coastline that borders the
Atlantic and Mediterranean, a land where the High Atlas is the highest mountain range in
all of North Africa. That's right. North Africa. The location makes for the widest range
of climates in the region, and within a day's travel the visitor can go from the
snow-capped Atlas to the sun-streaked dunes of the Sahara. Surely this qualifies for a
millennium spot, especially considering that from JFK, Royal Air Maroc flies to
Casablanca's Mohammed V International Airport in less time than it takes to go from New
York to San Francisco.
Saharan desert camel ride.
Exotic and romantic, Morocco is a land untouched by modern madness.
Take those squawking boom boxes. There aren't any. And you're not likely to be interrupted
by jingling cell phones, or have your eyes diverted by menacing billboards. Nothing much
clutters the landscape or competes with outside influences. For instance, Morocco is one
of the few places in the world where you'll hardly see a pair of blue jeans. Instead,
you're more likely to observe men in monochromatic colors and women clothed in traditional
"selhams" - a garment that loosely covers their bodies and a veil to conceal
Tour guide Mohammed Lansar
|At first, a newcomer may feel a splash of danger in not being able to see a
person's identity, but safety isn't really an issue unless you count a few roving
pickpockets. Whether you travel solo or in a group, the key is to stay alert. Watch your
backpack as it can be snatched or have its contents ripped open. That's why, for a modest
fee, you can hire an English-speaking guide. The extra security will help as you wind
through souks or marketplaces that gush with excitement.
Ultimately, having a guide also means gaining a driver. And a good
one at that. Contrary to what you may have heard, there are very few speedsters on the
road. Instead, motorists navigate calmy in between camels, horses, and donkeys, often
vying for space on the same thoroughfare.
Talk to enough people and ask them why the country has a long line of stability and
outward tranquility, and they'll mention King Hassan II who has ruled for thirty-eight
years. Under his watch, the country seems to zig and zag at its own speed, unlike its
neighbor Spain who wows foreigners with its tangy image. Morocco is at times so low-key
that it's mistaken for other areas of the world. Take what happened when I told a friend I
was headed there. "You're so lucky," he said. "You could run into Prince
|Tour Morocco and you'll run into a country that has been independent from France
only since 1956. Such influence, though, has brought a dab of sophistication to the North
African land, and has given it its modern priceless calling card. But don't discount the
rich aura it possessed dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD when the Roman city of
Volubilis flourished. In its heyday this was a veritable metropolis with a House of
Dionysus, reception halls, private apartments, and courtyards decorated with mosaics.
Today the ancient town is dotted with travelers eager to track down history.
The Great Volubilis (ancient city)
||If it's antiquity you're after, journey to the "Holy City of Fez," the
first capital of the kingdom and oldest Islamic town. Long considered the country's
spiritual and cultural center, Fez is also pure romance to the tourist. The streets,
French cafes, and sweet ambience will cater to the fanciful heart.
places to tour is the Dar el Makhzen or Royal Palace that was once the sultan's residence.
Across the street is the famed Mellah or Jewish quarter with its large Moorish-styled
houses, carved wooden balconies, and neoclassical colonnades.
|But Fez is not really Fez without a trip to the souk. Different from other
marketplaces, this one is overrun with donkeys trudging up and down crooked streets
hauling backloads of merchandise.
Only here are donkeys catered to and given
the right of way!
|Squiggle along the pathways for ornate silver teapots, decorative copper plates,
and tin-glazed earthenware patterned with cobalt-blue designs. Still, the most memorable
sight is the Chouara or tannery.
View it from the rooftops for its clusters
of stone vats filled with vibrant yellows, reds, and brown dyes. Skins of sheep, goats and
dromedaries hang everywhere drying in the sun.
||Of course, if you want your sun blended with exotica, head for Marrakesh! With
its Petra red-rose look, "The Imperial City" is the place that mighty kings
Framed by the snowy heights of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh
brings you the rhythm and music of Moroccan life.
|Hail a caleche or horse-drawn carriage for a relaxing half-hour jaunt, as you
gaze at the pink marble tiled courtyards dotted with turquoise greens and white mosaic.
Then watch the tranquil scene diminish with the approaching Djemaa el Fna, the notorious
marketplace that shimmies with commotion. The sights are bizarre, addictive. Seductive.
Men with monkeys
|Move from corner to corner to catch a spot of madness: Snake charmers coax their
pets to wiggle and dance.
There are troupes of acrobats tumbling before you
in mid-air, storytellers delivering Oscar winning performances amid monkeys being paraded
around by their owners.
But of all the intriguing acts, you won't want to miss the "toothsayer."
|He's the dentist who'll pull out your infected tooth for one dollar. Don't worry.
First he'll use a dab of Old Spice to numb the pain. His calling card? A macabre pile of
extracted teeth stockpiled in full view.
||Now go left or right until you hit the food stalls dripping with fresh figs,
almonds, dates and olives, succulent escargots and kebabs.
Another spin and
you'll arrive at pint-size cubicles showcasing an array of babouches or traditional
Moroccan leather slippers, colorful tribal masks, Frankincense, lead-glazed pottery,
mandolins, and handcrafted Berber dolls.
All this plus a Berber Pharmacy stocked with natural herbs to help fight
depression, stress, or insomnia.
|But all this good natured madness evaporates with Casablanca, the nation's
largest city. Rambunctious and yet cosmopolitan, "Casa" is the leading port and
modern business center. With over four million people, there seems to be action going on
any time of the day or night. That includes the ubiquitous "watermen" or
Guerrabs who tramp through town selling their cups of water from copper or brass bowls.
The jing-a-ling of their brass bells will capture your attention almost as much as their
fanciful, vibrant costumes and oversized hats looking like leftovers from a long ago
||Another spectacle is the Hassan II Mosque accommodating 25,000 devotees with an
added space for 80,000 pilgrims praying on the esplanade. Meanwhile, if you have a call to
shopping, you won't want to pass up the Quartier Habbous. This district showcases a
collection of copper teapots, candlesticks, vases, and hanging lamps. But if it's only
window shopping, Casablanca tops them all with its millions of art deco adornments. Stroll
along the Boulevard Mohammed V for facades richly decorated with cupolas, belvederes,
pillars, cedarwood balconies, and skylights.
|Still, there's no denying what gave the nation its lasting prominence. It all
happened back in 1942 with the hit film "Casablanca." Humphrey Bogart had just
mumbled "Play it again, Sam," when Bergman walked in and soon they were locked
in each other's arms. Never mind that the motion picture was filmed in Hollywood.
Suddenly, Casablanca became synonymous with amour and old-fashioned romance.
CASABLANCA - Bogart & Bergman
That's why if you want a whiff of nostalgia, try the piano bar called
"Casablanca" at the Hyatt Regency.
Nice to know a kiss is still a kiss.
# # #
DON'T MISS THIS FINGER TIP INFO!
LA MAMOUNIA. Say the name and lovers sigh. One of the Leading Hotels
of the world and what Winston Churchill called "the most lovely spot in the whole
world," La Mamounia spells five-star in any language. Be sure to try the lavish
banquet at Le Marocain. What an Arabian night!
Avenue Bab Jdid
Melia Tichka Salam Hotel:
Located in the heart of
the Palmeraie district, this venue commands true Moroccan charm and at a remarkably
Melia Tichka Salam
Quartier Semlalia B.P. 849 Route de Casablanca
Telephone: 44.87.10 Fax: 44.86.91
CHEZ ALI: Berber horsemen! Singing! Dancing! Tented
dining! And then the show! A virtual fantasy with fireworks, flying carpets, and men on
horseback galloping and performing skillful if not unusual stunts. No trick pony. Just
plenty of fun for the entire family.
Chez Ali. Telephone: (212.4) 30.77.30
HERBAL PHARMACY IN THE SOUK: A little dash will do
you and good-bye headaches, heartaches, overweight, insomnia
73 bis Derb N'Khel Raba Kedima
Telephone for directions: 42-69-10
IDOU ANFA HOTEL. This establishment caters not only to the tourist but also to the
business traveler. The suites overlook a typical "Casa" street scene that puts
you right in the center of it all. The food is tops!
Hotel Idou Anfa
85 boulevard d'Anfa
Telephone: (212-2) 20.02.35 Fax: (212-2) 20.00.29
HYATT REGENCY. Opulent. What more to say about this five-star property conveniently
situated in the midst of markets. The "Casablanca" piano bar is a good place to
reminisce about the famous movie, while L'Olivier's Restaurant is highly recommended.
Hyatt Regency Hotel
Place Mohamed V 20000
Telephone: (212 -2) 26.12.34 Fax: (212-2) 22.01.80
AU PETIT ROCHER RESTAURANT. Casablanca's oldest dining establishment with a delicious
locale along the water. Not surprisingly, you'll find some of the best seafood specialties
in town. But what of the music? Vintage 1950s. Be Bop A Lula all night long.
Au Petit Rocher
Phare d'el Hank La Corniche
NEAR CASABLANCA AND WORTH THE TRAVEL -EL JADIDA ROYAL GOLF HOTEL. First let's examine El
Jadida, a town by the Atlantic and built by the Portuguese. You can take rampart walks and
view the town and the Porte de la Mer. But the best view is the El Jadida Royal Golf
Hotel. Underline the word royal as this aptly describes the golf club, gardens, and
villas. Lounge by the elaborate outdoor pool, taste fresh, zesty food, work out at the
fitness center, and then play 18 holes of golf on beautifully manicured greens. Only 90
minutes by shuttle from the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca. What a way to
unwind from your journey as you sip some sweet Moroccan mint tea. Quelle vie!
El Jadida Royal Golf Hotel
Km. 7 Route de Casablanca BP: 116
Telephone: (03) 35.41.41 Fax: (03) 35.34.73
JNAN PALACE. There's only one and it's a palace! The Juan Palace will play to your
heartstrings with its dreamy appearance, savory cuisine, par excellence service, and
oversized, luxurious rooms. The day we arrived, I thought we were at a petit palais. We
were. Allah be praised!
Avenue Ahmed Chaouki
Telephone: (5) 65.39.65 Fax: (5) 65.19.17
COSMETICS STEAL: YVES ROCHER. This is the same Yves Rocher from Paris
with high quality cosmetic merchandise only at half price. Ask the concierge at Jnan
Palace to take you there! Telephone: (05) 65.26.20
RABAT HOTEL SAFIR. The word "near" best describes the Rabat Hotel Safir. It's
near the Chellah Necropolis, near the Oudaya gardens and near the Hassan Tower. The food
is agreeable but the suites are even better. Cozy. Try one overlooking the valley of Bou
Rabat Hotel Safir
Place Sidi Makhlouf
Telephone: (212) 72.64.31 Fax: (212) 72.21.55
HOTEL BOUREGREG. Of all the economy hotels in town, you won't go wrong with this one.
Splendid dining with suites beginning at only $55.
Angle Avenue Hassan II
Telephone: (212) 72.41.10 Fax: (212) 73.40.02
HYATT REGENCY RABAT . Staying at the Hyatt Regency Rabat is worth a trip all by itself to
the capital city. Set in the prestigious residential area of Souissi, this top notch spot
is also close to the airport and the Dar Es Salam Royal Golf Course.
Hyatt Regency Rabat
B.P. 450 Souissi
Telephone: (212) 7.77.1234 Fax: (212) 7.77.2492
CHAUFFEUR WITH STYLE: "Monsieur Abdul" will take you from the
High Atlas Mountains to the Sahara in his well-maintained Land Rover. Here's someone
who'll lead you through the desert on camel, set up a tent in the Sahara, plus cook all
meals. What a catch!
Telephone: (04) 30.59.98 Fax: (04) 43.94.24
Cell phone: 184.108.40.206
MOROCCAN TOUR GUIDE: Need someone you can trust to
weave you through the souks, get the best prices, see the colorful cities? All this plus a
running dialogue of where you're going and where you've been.
Telephone: (04) 34.46.76
Cell phone: 01.24.07.86
ROYAL AIR MAROC. The national airline of the Kingdom of Morocco, you won't believe the
tasty food and helpful staff on board. Serving international passengers on four
continents, Royal Air Maroc has several flights weekly from JFK to Casablanca's Mohammed V
EVERYTHING YOU'VE WANTED TO KNOW: Knopf Guides/Morocco
MILLENNIUM PROSPECTS: Is there a Morocco in your millennium? Call the experts at Cameron
Tours for all your 2000 travel plans.
6249 N. Kensington St.
McLean, Virginia 22101
NOW I'M READY FOR MY CLOSE-UP: FACES OF MOROCCO
By Linda-Marie Singer
#1 - Winston Churchill Suite,
La Mamounia in Marrakesh
#2 - Chez Ali horsemen
#3 - Chauffeur "Monsieur Abdul"
sitting in his chair
#4 - Carpet Man flies! Maison
Touareg in Rissini
#5 - Farmer with donkey
#6 - Mandolin faces in the
souk of Marrakesh
#7 - Drumbeat in the souk
#8 - Man in street pondering
#9 - Wooden mask in Casablanca
# # #
"The LIVEWIRE" for Travel
Watch. Former President of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association, and created the national writers conference, "The Days of Wine &
She is a travel and entertainment reporter living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
(More about this writer.)
- Web: http://www.i.am/lindamarie