February 28, 2011
Morocco Day 2:
Rabat to Chefchauan
Today was a day full of driving. We started off our day at the hotel eating breakfast. Our guide, Aziz was supposed to meet us at 9:30AM at our hotel, so we agreed to get an 8:30AM lunch. Naturally I didn’t get there until 8:45AM. The breakfast was nothing special (croissant, pain au chocolat, yogurt and a slice of turkey) but the orange juice was amazing.
I didn’t know this, but Morocco is known for their oranges. And our riad had a plethora of trees growing on their property. I assume they just took them right off the tree and straight into the juicer. It was heavenly. Also, after that, I decided I wanted to try some mint tea. Now if my roommate reads this she won’t believe me that I had tea. I cannot stand tea, with one exception. It is this amazing mint tea. The first time I had it was at a hookah bar in Nice when I was there in 2007. I didn’t hookah, so I just had the tea and I have been trying to find it since. This morning I did. It tastes just like someone just melted down a piece of spearmint gum and heated it up. It was so sweet and minty and delicious. I cannot wait to have more of it.
After we were done with breakfast, we walked back to our room to get ready to go. It was only about 9:10AM, but Aziz and Isman (our driver) were waiting for us. I had packed the night before so I was almost all set to go. I got down there first and had yet another wonderfully awkward five minutes with me and the two of them. Luckily I found a way to stall by deleting some pictures on my camera. A few minutes later, the rest of the family showed up and we were off onto our driving tour of Rabat.
Rabat is the capital of Morocco and the seat of the Monarchy. Apparently, Morocco has a unique monarchy because the king both reigns and rules, meaning he still plays an active role in governing his country. They do also have a Parliament, but our guide was saying that Parliament is not as trusted as the King is. Our first stop on the tour was at the Palace. It was a very interesting looking building. It was within walls that were built in the twelfth century AD. The palace itself though did not look that old.
Our driver dropped us off right next to the royal Mosque which was located just across the road from the Palace. Our guide explained that green is the color of Islam, so you can tell which building is a mosque (assuming the Minaret didn’t give it away) but the color of the tile used on the roof. And these aren’t just regular tiles. These tiles shine incredibly in the sunlight. Although the roofs are cool, my favorite part about this part of the world is the architecture, mainly the doorways. Every door has that Aladdin-esque keyhole shape. I’m not really sure why I think that design looks so cool, but every time I see a door like that I have to snap a quick picture. The palace had a few, so I think I got some pretty cool ones.
After the palace, we hopped back into the van to go to the Sala Necropolis. It was just through the main gates of the twelfth century walls across a main street. Everyone agreed that if one of use were driving we’re pretty sure we would still be waiting to make that turn, but Isam did a superb job.
At the necropolis, we got out and saw some ruins. A roman city that was constructed in 1BC had been excavated, but it was small, so apparently the Moroccan government said, “Nah, we have other cities like this. We don’t need to do that great of a job at preserving it.” So they just kind of uncovered it and that’s all. It was cool and everything, but apparently the place we are going tomorrow is supposed to be incredible.
Anyway, I know if you asked JoAnn what her favorite part of the day was she would say seeing the storks at the Necropolis. Up in the trees all over the site, Storks had made their nests. I mean, the real baby-bringing storks. These things were pretty large birds. And the strangest thing was that they would just slap the tops of their beaks against their bottom beaks in rapid succession, almost sounding like applause.
I should probably explain why it is called the necropolis. Back in the thirteenth century, a King of Morocco had a mosque built there and he is buried there. There are some burial plots scattered throughout the site, but the main one was for this king. In the mosque, which is now in ruins, you could still see some tile work on the floor. Over in the Medersa (meaning theological school, also stemming from the word medrasa), you could see the outlines of the dorm rooms for the students. On the other end of the mosque was a holy shrine. They call it the eel pool, because there are eels in it. Who would have thought? This site became known as holy because the water in the fountain was supposed to have healing properties. Sick people would come and bath there and get better, sterile women would wash and get pregnant, etc.
After checking out that, we were off to the Casbah. Casbah just means fort. But it is part of the Medina in Rabat. Our guide walked us through the gardens to a Café, where we tried amazing Moroccoan pastries, all having something to do with almonds. The best was this cookie like thing that had coconut shavings in it. Then we walked the narrow streets lined with white and blue buildings to get back to the van to take us to King Mohammad V’s mausoleum.
The mausoleum was built by Mohammad V’s son, Hasan II, the father of the current king of Morocco. It is located on the site of the Unfinished Mosque. The unfinished mosque was built by the same King who built the Giralda in Grenada, so you can imagine what it would have been like if it was finished. They said it was supposed to be the largest in the world. Unfortunately the only thing that is left of it is the Minaret.
The Mausoleum is an impressive building. It is made of Italian white marble, carved very intricately in the Moorish tradition. On the inside, one floor in the center is Mohammad V’s sarcophagus. Hasan II and his brother are also located in that Mausoleum.
After leaving the Mausoleum, we were off to Chefchauan. It was supposed to be a three and a half hour drive, but because of heavy rains in Morocco this winter, the normal road was in bad condition, so it took us around five hours to get there. I actually didn’t mind though because the countryside is gorgeous. It is still very green. I did notice a few surprising things.
First of all, Morocco is not nearly as third-worldy as I thought. That being said, in every town we passed, there were really large buildings, some that looked like apartment buildings, that were just abandoned. I couldn’t imagine buildings like that just not being used in the United States, but every city we drove through had a few like that. Now maybe they were just being renovated and no one was currently working on them when we passed. I cannot say with certainty. But it still struck me as noteworthy.
The second thing I noticed was the dress. The women dress like I thought they would, in the long gowns and the head scarf. But the men do something I was not expecting. Most of the older men wear something called a Jalaba. Basically it is a monk’s robe, complete with pointed hood. In all honesty I’m pretty sure if I got a white one and wore it in the US, people would think I was in the KKK. I think when I get one I’ll try to stick to blue or brown.
When we arrived in Chefchaun this evening, we met a few other Americans in our hotel. Strangely enough, two couples were from ten miles of La Cañada, from Monrovia and Pasadena respectively. We talked with them for a bit, then headed off to dinner. Every meal in this country has been a Tajine (except breakfast). At lunch I had a beef one and tonight I had a chicken one. I think I’m going to have to learn how to make that.
Now its bed time and tomorrow off to Fez!