Morocco is one of our favorite countries. We love its multicultural atmosphere–with Berbers, Arabs and Europeans. We spent most of our time in its ancient medinas–with “souks” (shops) and “riads” (old houses converted into B & B’s).
When we last visited six years ago, the two of us focused on buying rugs and visiting villages in the Atlas mountains where Berber weavers wove outlandish long-piled asymmetric design carpets. We had a wonderful time and came home with lots of funky Berber rugs (which few people bought) and a little Tuareg jewelry (all of which sold immediately.
So this time, our shopping goal was jewelry, not rugs. Our traveling circumstances were different too. We were with four friends from Whidbey Island, which necessitated renting a huge 8-passenger Renault van rather than our previous little Fiat. As long as we were driving on the country’s wonderful highways, the big vehicle was fine. Inside crowded cities, however, where GPS directions inexplicably led the van into ever-narrower pedestrian nooks and crannies, the van was a headache.
This trip we added the capital Rabat, Tangiers in the north, and Essaouira on the south coast, to our usual stops in Fez and Marrakesh. We spent a week doing serious shopping in Marrakesh while our friends went to the desert for some camel riding and sleeping under the stars.
Morocco was even better than we had remembered. It has become for Europeans like Mexico used to be for Americans–a cheap, safe, friendly, exotic and sunny spot close by. Europeans can own property in Morocco, and many do. At the end of the summer, 40,000 cars clogged the streets of Tangiers waiting for the ferries back to Spain.
A round-trip air ticked from the UK can be had for $ 75.00, so many Europeans visit for long weekends. We ran into a little group of middle-aged girlfriends who had left their kids and husbands back in Liverpool.
Morocco is still a deeply Islamic country, but without any visible fanaticism. It seemed that we saw fewer headscarves on women than we did before.
Last time we visited during Ramadan. This trip ended right after the big feast of Eid el Adha. The local people carry on with their traditions amidst hundreds of Europeans with no fuss or bother. The interactions between cultures continues to grow closer.
Most Moroccans give credit to their young king, Mohammed VI, for the peace and prosperity they enjoy. By implementing clever policies (unfettered access to European TV and encouragement of Berber culture, to give only two examples) the King has managed to become the only leader in the Middle East who has led his country from a discontented Arab winter to an affluent Arab summer…without becoming mired in the mess of an Arab spring.
More blogs on our trip to Morocco will follow.