If you have not been to Morocco it is due time that you had. Sooo, put down the blog and book your tickets….
We pulled into Rabat mid day with a flat sea after a 30 some hour sail from the Guadiana. Apparently if there is any kind of swell running they close the port which was the case for nine days when we were ready for departure. Rabat is the capital of Morocco and by all standards the most modern city. The marina was ever changing with transients on their way to the Canary Islands. As the King of Morocco kept his small fleet of yachts in the marina, there was high security at all times and Rabat was the ideal place to leave Cadence while we explored the country.
On the morning of day 2 we met a local man taking care of a boat in the marina. He decided to adopt us for the day and somehow we ended up in his car touring the city. Then for an extra special treat he brought us to his home to meet his wife and two lovely daughters and have a large Sunday cous cous lunch made by his mother. This was the last thing we were expecting and it was all impromptu . He was not expecting anything in return for this hospitality and it was our first lesson in the generosity of the Moroccan people that was to be repeated over and over during our visit.
Rabat was a dichotomy of first and third world economies. Women in traditional burkas and steadfast muslim men are shoulder to shoulder with their modern counterparts throughout the city. Islam was the ever present force however and one is always reminded with seven calls to prayer daily starting at sunrise and ending after dark. The skyline in Rabat, like all other cities we visited was dotted with Mosques that blared out the prayer calls from speakers mounted atop. Rabat’s Medina, or city center, was a bustling market place where you could buy anything from live animals to carpets and trinkets. The Bou Regreg river separating Rabat from the smaller city of Salé was plied by taxi row boats, small fishing boats, and the few visiting yachts in and out like Cadence. This was to be our home port for a month and the modern conveniences of first world mixed with the character of an ancient city made the transition from Christian Europe to Muslim Morocco easy.
After a few days of exploring Rabat we boarded the train to Marrakech, our base for an excursion to the high Atlas mountain range. We spent 3 days touring crazy bustling Marrakech before meeting our guide. We had used a excursion organization called Wild Morocco( http://wildmorocco.com ). Our plan was to make a 5 day loop hike and summit Mt. Mgoun. We would taxi some five hours from Marrakech to the Ait Bougmez Valley to start. We were fortunate enough to spend a night in this remote valley but the hike was not to be. This turned into a complete fiasco and would take way too much of your valuable reading time, and my typing time, to explain. So lets just say we ended up taking another taxi ride, this one 7 hours to get to Imlil, the town at the base of the Toubkal summit hike.
In Imlil we met our guide, cook (or mountain Berber chef really), and mule handler, and our two mules. For two hikers, we had a small army of handlers to make the hiking that much easier. We generally would hike for 6-8 hours per day. Starting out at sunrise hiking until lunch where we would meet up with our chef Mohammed and the mule handler. We would take a 2 hour lunch break where we were served tea followed by a 3 course lunch sitting on our fine Moroccan rugs and always in the most scenic of locations. After lunch we would hike for another 3-4 hours. Each night was different as far as accommodations. The first night we stopped at a luxurious mountain lodge that had 6 other hikers and their guides. We were served like royalty during this stay. The second night was at a remote hikers lodge near the summit of one of the mountains at 3000 meters. Here we had basic shelter but again were served up a fantastic meal by our chef Mohammed. The third night was at the base camp of Toubkal. This was a lodge that housed many hikers all who were there for the summit. Toubkal is the second highest peak in Africa at 4,167 meters. We started our day at 3:30 am with breakfast and already there was a steady stream of headlamped hikers making there way up the mountain. We would hike the entire morning in the dark. The sun was rising as we arrived high enough that we needed crampons to deal with the ice and snow. Our sea level bodies were not used to the oxygen starved atmosphere and we slowly tredged upwards to reach the summit. The views were truly epic. Coming down was twice as challenging.
We returned to Marrakech and treated ourselves to 3 more days in this city staying at one of the finest Riads in Morocco, la Sultana. Marrakech is a do not miss city however after a day or two the pace wears on the soul. This seems to be the one city where the tourists outnumber the locals in many places. The only refuge from the madness was our Riad and we rarely left the confines of this oasis in the middle of the city.
Back in Rabat we nursed our bodies, took on some boat projects and readied ourselves for another excursion. We rented a car and this time made our way north towards Chefchaouen, the blue city. A beautiful city in the Rif Mountains known for its striking blue washed buildings. Tourists were forbidden from entering this city for most of its history but is now a popular stop. Chefchaouens history is somewhat clouded in mystery as foreigners were forbidden to enter the city all the way up to modern times.
From Chefchaouen we drove our way to the medieval city of Fez. Upon arriving, Riad Laroussa sent out a man to help us navigate our way to their city center location. We stashed the auto and on foot navigated the maze into city. There are over 9600 streets in this medieval city that wind their way every which way. Fortunately Jessica has part homing pigeon in her blood and has a mind like a steel trap which helped serve us well for the next five days we spent here. I followed blissfully like a child in a new world.
Fez is by far the most interesting foreign city I have ever visited. It was like stepping back in time. There are no vehicles in the city so all supplies are brought in and out by donkey or handcart. The markets are filled with locals buying fresh meat and produce or hand made goods ranging from handicrafts to leather goods to housewares. Most everything is made locally on site or brought in from the mountain towns to be traded. Artisans were busy weaving carpets, hand tamping out copper kitchen pots, lights, or hand carving wood into furniture. The craftsmanship was astonishing.
The culture in all of Morocco for the vendor was to negotiate price. Nothing has a price on it and once the vendor sums you up he gives you the starting price. This price can have over a 1000% markup so its important to play hard in their game of brokering a deal. We both got pretty savy getting the price somewhat near what the locals would pay by the end of our stay here. It was important to get good at the art of negotiating with the locals as we filled our boat with everything from rugs for our new home to pottery for dishes to leather goods. Some stuff we shipped home but much of it brought back to Cadence to be brought back to the states on our return. If you are decorating a new home as we are, Morocco should be on your list. You can take a vacation for a week at the same time you buy whatever housewares you may want and return home saving more money than if you stayed and bought this in the states.
We returned to Rabat after Marrakech and readied ourselves for departure. Unfortunately there were several storms swirling around the northern Atlantic ocean that would keep us in port for nine days. In the beginning of this blog I mentioned the port closes with any swell. The waves that were rolling into the entrance of Rabat were gigantic and therefore we were shut in with a marina full of anxious to leave sailors. Finally the port was to open and we were the first boat out as we had a flight booked from Arrecife in the Canary Islands. The other yachties were sympethetic to our plight as we had to make 580 miles as the crow flies and had four and half days to do it or we would miss our flight. Jess and I packed up Cadence before departure so we make the sail and be ready for departure immediately. We had most chores completely done before arriving in the islands. Preparing to shut down your boat for a few months and packing to return home took some time of which we would have little after arriving. On top of this we were light on diesel as I did not trust the quality of it in Morocco as as there was such little boat traffic in Rabat. We needed wind. We average 6.2 knots tweaking our sails the entire trip to keep as much boat speed as possible. Never again will we have a flight booked when an arrival date is uncertain. Lesson learned. We were excited to return home for a fast trip to see my Dad in Florida, Thanksgiving with Jess's family in Colorado, a trip to Oregon to see Grace, Davids graduation in Potsdam New York, and Christmas in Connecticut.