Saturday, September 10, 2011

Morocco Day 4: Concluding Thoughts and Images

Amezmiz Valley, High Atlas Mountains

Blog Entry #12: Morocco Day 4: Closing Thoughts

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ait Hmad and Atlas Mountains
Our final day in Morocco involved a short hike down the Oued Amezmiz valley through well-tended gardens to meet our buses to take us back to Marrakech. 
Gîte rooftop, Ait Hmad

We had a final couple hours there for shopping and walking around New Town – Pat and I even ventured to a sidewalk café to try some traditional tajine – and then we were back on the train bound for Casablanca.  

Countryside from trained
Countryside from train
The countryside from the train seemed much more familiar on the return route, but the traffic in Casablanca at 5:00 in the afternoon was much more congested than our early Saturday morning first trip had been.  Returning to the ship felt a bit like returning home, and Cabin 4077 gave us a good night’s sleep after an energetic and energizing four days in Morocco.

So what are my closing thoughts on Morocco?  After only 4 days here, and most of them spent in rural Berber villages and countryside, I am hardly in a place to draw any closing thoughts of substance.  We hardly touched on Morocco’s current events and the effects of the Arab Spring here – which, though not as dramatic as elsewhere, do indeed seem to be making an impact and pushing for political reforms (a particularly insightful commentator on this has been Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times; check out his impressions and his interviews at

Still, impressions abound.  For both Pat and me Morocco was our first Muslim country, and we were struck by how much less monolithic it appears than stereotypes of Muslim nations often present.  One sees this superficially in Moroccan dress: both men and women wear everything from very traditional to very modern Western clothing, and freely intermix without any apparent pattern; we would even see a woman in full birka covering everything but her eyes walking together with an unveiled woman in Western clothing.  Everyone we met was very friendly toward us, and – outside the marketplace – genuinely interested in talking to us and learning about where we were from as well as answering our questions. 

New Apartment buildings in Marrakech
New Buildings outside Marrakech
We had read and it is clear that the Moroccan government has been investing heavily in infrastructure, such as new roads, in an effort to bolster tourism and economic development.  There is a building boom under way, and were struck by the many, many new and luxurious apartment and condominium projects going up all around Marrakech; we wondered who was buying these units and if this real estate boom is sustainable?

Berber kids playing on rooftop, Ait Zitoune village

Yet the contradictions of Morocco’s place in the global economy and as the African gateway to Europe are not hard to see.  While families and rural communities we visited in Berber country seem largely intact, many have family members forced to leave their home regions in search of jobs in the cities or in Europe.  Morocco’s emphasis on building a tourism industry means that people who might otherwise be employed in professional sectors instead work in tourism.

Brian and Kristin with Mohamed & Lhaucine, Reforestation Project
Our two guides are examples: highly intelligent and hardworking, Mohamed attended law school and Lhaucine has his degree in physics.  Both found they can support their families much better through working in tourism, and they plan to start their own adventure travel and trekking business to take advantage of growing interest in this area (and if any of you are contemplating a trip to Morocco, I would recommend them without reservation!).

Goats bedded down at night, Ait Hmad village
High Atlas Mountains from Ait Hmad

Particularly moving for me was being in the country where my brother Stu spent a couple years in the Peace Corps as a veterinarian, working particularly with Berber herders.  Seeing the presence everywhere of goats and sheep, the reliance of village life on herding, and the environmental impact of grazing, I so wished I had had Stu with me to orient me better and to hear his reflections on his time in Morocco in the late 80s and what has changed since.

Final impressions: warm, friendly people, the hourly rhythm of Muslim calls to worship ringing from village to village in the countryside, colorful and flavorful food laced with olives and fresh vegetables, the contrast of green gardens and arid countryside, the frenetic energy of the souks – market stalls – in Marrakech, the importance everywhere of water, the dry and high Atlas Mountains rising from the brown plains, the Hassan II Mosque dominating the night-time skyline of Casablanca as we departed at night.  Salaam Alykum to this beautiful land!

What follows is a potpourri of some of my favorite images from our time in Morocco...

Old & New: Cat & Satellite Dish on Traditional Berber House

Old & New: Latches and Lock on Berber door
The Face of Globalization: Coke available in English and Arabic
Nick Colletta dancing with Berber cooks, Ait Zitoune
Camels awaiting tourists in Marrakech

Photo taken by Berber boy in Ait Hmad
Hillary Hardy with entrepreneurial young Berber woman

New friends on the rooftops of Ait Zitoune
Marrakech Train Station
Pat in the Souks in Marrakech
Trekking through arid Berber country

Another face of Globalization: McDonald's in Marrakech
Passing through another Berber Village
Donkey stumbles on rocky slopes 

Olives everywhere...
Family at the Train Station
Prickly Pear cactus pears


1 comment:

  1. Dan- Thank you so much for keeping a blog of your experience. Alison and I spent a good two hours looking at the pictures and readings of your adventures. Everything looks spectacular and we hope you and Pat are enjoying yourselves!

    Jodi Domsky