24 May 2017

Riding camels near Merzouga, Morocco.
Over 17 days in Morocco, visited Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, Volubilis, Meknes, Erfoud, Rissani, dunes by Merzouga, Todra Gorge, Ouarzazate, Ait Benhaddou, Taroudannt, Agadir, Essaouira, and Marrakech.

I'll highlight my top new memories (after 20 years away):
  • riding camels in the Sahara
  • exploring medinas (old towns) with souks (markets) especially in Essaouira and Fez.

Moroccan Sahara

Sand dunes shifted shades every hour -
sliding between rich beige, brownish orange, and terra cotta.

Getting ready to ride a camel with the help of these Berber boys.

I've ridden camels in Egypt and Tunisia,
but these were the first with comfortable saddles.

Mint tea at a Berber family tent on an empty rock desert.

As the sun sets, here with Texas Betty from our camel caravan

Medinas and Souks

A minaret rises above the labyrinth of the large Fez souk.

People watching and shopping in crowded souk alleyways in Fez

An untypical but photogenic side street in the big Fez souk

Lots of little shops selling spices.
These spice pyramids in Essaouira recalled shades of the Sahara.

In medinas, plain, windowless adobe walls often have grand, elaborate doors. I liked the faded, pop painted doors to this storage room.

At the heart of Marrakech's medina is the famous nightly spectacle at Djemma el-Fna with its dancers, acrobats, snake charmers, story-tellers, food stalls, on and on. Small section of it above; click on the panorama shot below to see more.

While Djemma el-Fna was fun, souqs in this medina were no fun. Marrakech lets motorbikes race recklessly through the narrow alleyways. Photo above shows visitors dogging a speeding biker. Dangerous and crazy.

Some medinas had spectacular gates such as these in Fez and Meknes above and sometimes well preserved walls such as this one in Rabat.

Guide Ali in front of the great old gate to Rissani, once a caravan town.

In Ouarzazate, the handsome old casbah looked perfect at sunset.

Nearly two dozen films have used scenes shot here at Aït Benhaddou, and you can see why in this perfect photo-op. This classic mud-brick fortified town was on the caravan route centuries ago.


Goats in western Morocco learned to climb argan trees to get nuts. Others stand on their hind legs for an ambitious stretch.

Storks nesting on an ancient column at Volubilis, once a frontier city of the Roman Empire.

Storks nesting on top of a minaret above Ouarzazate.
In the background are the High Atlas mountains.

Left: With one of the guards at the mausoleum of King Mohammed V.
Right: In Erfoud with Ali, my favorite local guide.

So, after 20 years, I finally returned to Morocco.
For a traveler, what's changed?
  • King Mohammed VI has increased political and economic freedom...
  • People are far less poor now. Real income (pc) has roughly doubled and the change is easy to witness on the street.
  • Enormous improvement in the infrastructure with good highways, train stations, and airports.
  • Big increase in tourism with many more hotels now, more Moroccans selling to tourists, and, stats say, more than three times as many tourists.
  • Upgraded tourist sites.
  • Sadly, despite Moroccan spices everywhere, the delicious cuisine, as sold to tourists, was usually bland, nothing like I remembered. Maybe the timid palates of fearful tourists caused chefs to make it tasteless. I did find Naranj in Marrakesh with rich, flavorful dishes.

Surprisingly, one of the other better restaurants turned out to be Rick's Cafe in Casablanca, created by a clever entrepreneur in 2004 to replicate the setting of best movie ever.

And speaking of pop culture (1969),
took the express train from Marrakech to Casablanca!