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Alkhabar الخبر

الاربعاء 11 يوليوز 2018

Morocco blends together many different cultures

When I think back to Morocco, which I visited on a 15-day tour led by G Adventures, I think of glasses full of steaming, sweet, mint tea poured dramatically from antique silver pots. I recall warm afternoons spent strolling along Casablanca’s boardwalk while taking in the beauty of the city’s majestic Hassan II Mosque (one of only two in the country open to the public), as the Mediterranean’s waves crashed powerfully against its base.

I remember the long drive along the Casablanca-Agadir Expressway, past Morocco’s capital of Rabat, where the country’s progressive King Mohammed VI lives, and past fields of brilliant red poppies, before arriving in the breezy oceanside city of Tangier. As this was my first visit to a Muslim country, it was an incredible experience to stop to take photos of a palm-tree oasis just as the afternoon call to prayer belted out from the town mosque’s speakers below.

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One of the things that struck us about the country was its diverse, and often lush landscape, characteristic of the Rif mountain range which we explored from our base in the town of

Chefchaouen. Here, our group of nine travellers from Australia, Canada and Hawaii,  hiked past cannabis farms and herds of goats, their shepherds sitting lazily under olive trees while taking in the beauty of the powder blue Medina, and homes tucked into the mountainside below. (A Medina is a typical North African town centre that is usually walled with narrow streets). Post-hike we stopped in a quiet, sunny courtyard overlooking the town for a lunch of chicken and vegetable tajine, where our group discovered that the perfect dessert can be a sliced Moroccan orange sprinkled with cinnamon.

Equally beautiful was the town of Volubilis, a city once ruled by a Berber king whose wife was the daughter of Anthony and Cleopatra. Here, a local guide led us through the ruins, surrounded by overgrown wildflowers with a patchwork of agricultural fields in the distance, and we marvelled at how innovative the Romans were 3,000 years ago, with their heated floors and impressive mosaic tableaux. We imagined them living in that revelrous, hedonistic time, when nothing was taboo.

A trip to Morocco would not have been complete without visiting Fez’ iconic Medina, which is home to 70,000 people, is the site of the world’s oldest continually operating university, and is the largest car-free zone in the world. Following a local guide, we spent hours exploring the  endless winding pathways of the labyrinth (which even locals get lost in), and walking through souks (markets) selling rosewater ingredients, fresh tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes and fragrant cilantro, and towers of sticky-honey candies made only during Ramadan, as well as chandelier shops packed with glittering light fixtures. We also visited the famed leather tannery, where tourists take in the vats of Crayola-coloured dye (made of salt, pigeon feces and lime) from the terrace of a shop selling leather goods, with mint leaves stuffed into their nostrils to ward off the odour.

Back at our hotel’s spa, we washed off the day with a hamman, a communal steam bath popular throughout the Middle East which involves relaxing in a sauna before moving to a marble table and receiving a full-body black soap gommage (exfoliation) to reveal baby-soft skin.

When I think back to Morocco I remember entering the Sahara desert for the first time, the surrealness of its orange-rose hued sand and the rolling dunes that seem to go on forever. I think about how excited our group was to arrive at our Bedouin camp after an hour-long ride on a camel from our hotel in Merzouga (and how happy I was to get off of that camel – they are not very comfortable!). We were so thrilled to be in the middle of the Sahara that, upon climbing to the top of one of the dunes, we almost didn’t notice the lighting bolts threatening to make us their next target!

Next stop was the lush, palm-studded Toghra Gorge in the eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains. Here I spent an afternoon meandering the hotel’s courtyard, where I found the most perfect peach-hued Moroccan rose, among date, carob, orange and palms trees, as a river flowed below and the area’s renowned orange limestone cliffs towered above. The next morning, as we headed out of the area, we stopped to take in the view of the valleys in the nearby town of Tinghir, and watched two hijab-clad women tend to their wheat and barley crops in the dew-covered patchwork-green fields below.

After passing one of Morocco’s largest desert film sets, we visited the kasbahs (dwellings) in the ksar (fortified village) in Ait Benhaddou in the province of Ouarzazate. Built with red mud along the mountain slope, we imagined what it was like for the lords and servants who lived there 500 years ago and saw firsthand why the spot has been deemed a UNESCO World

Heritage site and was chosen as the location of many films, including Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus of Nazareth.

As we covered so much ground on our journey, much of the trip involved lazy afternoons in the van, driving through small rose-hued, palm-studded towns, as children waved to us while standing alongside mules porting stacks of wood or hay. I recall, on those rides through those towns, being struck by the beauty of a perfectly dilapidated turquoise door, the entrance to a crumbling clay home.

On those long stretches (in which I felt very safe as our driver expertly navigated some precarious roads) our tour group looked forward to cappuccino breaks in small towns such as in the valley of the Atlas Mountains, where we sipped our coffees (along with an ice cream bar, which was our group’s staple snack) on a terrace while feeling the sun warm our faces. As we drove away we passed Berber women, walking along the side of the highway, carrying stacks of grass on their backs.

A fan of natural products, I was excited to spot argan tree groves as we entered the southern part of the country (and even more thrilled to take pictures of an argan tree with goats balancing on its branches!). Shortly thereafter we stopped at an argan oil collective to learn how the oil is made by local women (and to stock up on products to bring home with us).

After several days inland our group was happy to be seaside again, and settle into the breezy port town of Essaouira. Here, we spent two days exploring the whitewashed Medina, breathing in the sea air as seagulls cawed above. This was one of the best shopping destinations on our trip: I picked up a pair of handmade leather gold sandals and a couple of cotton beach wraps, and for a minute even considered opening a Moroccan boutique back home.

The final stop on our tour was Morocco’s vibrant, cosmopolitan city of Marrakesh, where you’re just as likely to see a woman wearing a power suit as you are to see her wearing traditional Muslim attire. Here, the highlight was visiting the brilliant blue Jardin Majorelle, a home and garden donated to a foundation by late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and formerly owned by French painter Jacques Majorelle. The attraction was so beautiful that I spent five hours exploring the cactus-filled gardens before stopping for tea – mint, of course – in the adjacent courtyard.

If you go:

Religion: 99 per cent Muslim.

Languages most widely spoken: Arabic, Berber and French.

Currency: Morocco uses the Dirham. Credit cards are not widely accepted so it’s best to come equipped with cash. I would recommend purchasing Dirhams at a locally based currency exchange before heading to Morocco; however CIRRUS debit cards are accepted at some ATMs in the country.

When to Go: Mid-March to May and September to October offer the most pleasant temperatures for travelling in Morocco.

Safety Concerns: The government of Canada currently recommends exercising a high degree of caution while travelling in the disputed border region of the Western Sahara, which was not part of this tour. Pickpocketing can be a problem in some of the larger cities (i.e. Marrakech and Fez) so practise vigilance with your belongings there. I felt very safe travelling with a tour but I would not recommend visiting the country as a solo female.

For an in-depth look at Morocco’s history, dining, accommodation, activity and shopping recommendations for each city, as well as some very inspiring photography, Lonely Planet’s most recent Morocco guidebook is packed with useful information ($26). There are a few free days on this Highlights of Morocco tour and it’s great to have a resource that can point you in the direction of the best coffee shop, restaurant or hammam.

For more information visit G Adventures at gadventures.com.

المصدر : http://www.nsnews.com/entertainment/travel/morocco...