Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Morocco Day 1: Casablanca and Marrakech!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Call to prayer: Koutoubia Mosque at Sunset, Marrakech

Hard to imagine a more exciting day than I’ve just had: sunrise over the lights of Casablanca reflecting in the ocean as we finished our week-long crossing of the Atlantic, and sunset over the Koutoubia Mosque and the Medina in Marrakech!

Great to be back on solid earth after a week at sea (although our bodies still think we are at sea as the land “rolls” beneath us).   By 6:00 am this morning we could see the Casablanca approaching, dominated by the enormous Hassan II mosque and minaret built out over the ocean just south of the harbor. 

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

Casablanca Harbor at Sunrise

The night before Pat and I watched Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the classic “Casablanca"; very little resemblance today to that World War II port city, as Casablanca now has over 6 million people.  It is an energetic, busy modern city.

I am the “Trip Liaison” leader for a group of 37 – 32 students, 2 faculty, 2 staff, and one life-long learner for a 4-day trip south of Casablanca to Marrakech and 2 days of “trekking” between Berber villages on the edge of the Atlas Mountains.  We left the ship at 10:00 am and traveled by bus to the Casablanca train station where we headed south to Marrakech on a 4-hour ride. 

Casablanca Train Station
Passengers, Casablanca Train Station
Atlas Mountains rising from the Haouz plain

The arid countryside with the Atlas Mountains in the distance reminds me so much of my Southern California home, especially the Mojave Desert area around Lancaster bordering the San Gabriel Mountains.

Central Marketplace & Plaza, Marrakech
We arrived in Marrakech by mid-afternoon, and after checking into our hotel in “New Town,” Pat and I walked through the Medina walls, past the Koutoubia Mosque, and into the famous maze of “souks” – covered market stalls – where it is easy to get lost in the winding alley-ways, and where one can find everything from dates, spices, and olives to Berber and Arab rugs and brilliantly-dyed fabrics and ceramics.

Ceiling of Riad, Marrakech

We had been in the market for only a short while before we were enticed into a spectacular old “riad” – traditional house built around a courtyard – that now serves as home to a women’s weaving cooperative and hundreds of spectacular carpets covering all the walls.

Our host, Mohamed, was the epitome of Moroccan hospitality, and took us all throughout the house, explaining its history.  Originally the home of a 16th century famous university scholar, its main entry room spans three stories and is now covered in multicolored rugs.

Pat checks out Berber Rugs, Marrakech
Soon we were being served Moroccan mint tea, and the show began: Mohamed’s assistants began to bring out rug after rug (some as large as our modest Missoula home…) as he explained each weaving style, had us remove our shoes to feel the pile and weave, all the while refusing to mention anything about prices (“There will be time for that later!”).
Our host, Mohamed, with three of the Rugs we DIDN'T buy...
The longer we stayed and the more rugs we saw, the clearer it became that we were not going to be leaving without purchasing a rug (and if Mohamed had his way, several for each of us!).  We finally convinced him that the rugs he was showing us were far too large for our rooms, and we got down to small runner rugs – still beyond our price range, but getting closer.  We ended up with a beautiful red rug and a great story of our first encounter with the famous Marrakech merchants, and then we plunged further into the market. 

The Walled City: The Medina section of Marrakech at dusk
After a few hours of viewing the snake charmers, sampling fresh squeezed orange juice, and haggling over some beautiful old fossils I coveted, we made our way back to the hotel where we met the group and returned to the Medina for an amazing traditional Moroccan dinner at the Al Baraka restaurant – platter after platter of vegetables, couscous, olives, bread, and lamb & beef.
Dinner, Al Baraka restaurant

Crescent Moon sets over the Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech

As we left the central plaza (Djemma el Fna), it was swollen with families, couples, and friends celebrating the first Saturday evening after Ramadan, and a crescent moon hung low over the Koutoubia Mosque as firecrackers burst around us.  We finally made it back to the hotel and rest by 11 pm – a very full first day in Morocco under our belts.

After Ramadan: Saturday night in Old Marrakech


  1. love the photos, esp. the one of the spices! I should have put in a spice order! ;-)

  2. Dan and Pat;

    Salam Alykum! These pictures bring me back....Way back! Great pictures! I hope you learned mom's bargaining techniques (she was a true Berber woman!)


  3. Oh no. You bought a rug? Hope Pat gave input to the one who's color blind!

  4. Your blogs are totally worth giving time and energy.