Out of Africa

So i am on the road with my friend Seth.. crossing parts  of Morocco with moments of pleasure .. we have met great people everywhere… on the road in the riads…

I get to speak French,Spanish and my 34 worlds of Arabic .

but there are tooooooo many tourists..

Out of  Africa

Many people I know complain they can never find seats and use their miles for traveling.  Like my parking karma, using mileage to fly all over the world, has been one of my talents.  I booked a flight from Douala, Cameroon to Marakesh for 17,500 miles and.$143 in tax.  The only drawback was the amount of time and the number of airports I had to visit.  Backtracking from Douala to Brussels, then to Frankfurt and finally to Marakesh was a fifteen hour journey.  The day before my takeoff, the flight was canceled, Brussels airport was still in chaos, and my new ticket was 3 days later, through half of Europe for a total of 35 hours.

Canceling my free flight, I searched the net for a few hours and the website lastminute.com. popped up. A five hour flight from Douala to Casablanca on Air Maroc for $525.  It took me two hours of frustration and perseverance until the site accepted my booking.  We flew out at 6 am and I was in Morocco by 11 am. No longer the exotic setting of the classic film Casablanca, the city has arrived in the 21st century.  All those years of being bored in French class paid off.

From Casablanca, there is a train at the airport directly into the city. Dragging 2 suitcases I was within 3 minutes of missing the train. The second class compartment to Marakesh had one empty seat. By the time we reached the city, everyone including myself was engaged in conversation.

My taxi driver, who went on a long monologue about meeting Jimmy Hendrix and the Stones in Marrakesh in 1970, until I realized he was taking extremely long to  get to the medina.   To get rid of him I gave him 100 diram and I was passed on to a young teenager who dragged my bags through the narrow alleys of the souk, dogging motorcycles, bicycles, carts, tourists and locals.

A decade ago in 1999  when the mean king died in Morocco and his good hearted son took the throne, there was a push to open the country to tourism.  Unfortunately his zealousness has destroyed the Maroc I visited in 2001.   A new word in the tourist dictionary here is riad.   Old mud brick houses in the medinas were bought by foreigners and rich Moroccans, renovated,  creating a new pseudo exotic experience for the tourist masses.  Just do a google search and you will be overwhelmed.   This should have been a clue that Morocco has become a serious tourist destination, transformed for the worse since my last visit in 2001.

There are as many tourists as Moroccans in the Djemaa el-Fna, one of the main entrances to the medina. Most of the restaurants are glorified fast food joints with plastic coated menus in 3 languages adding cheese  burgers and pizzas to their couscous and tagine dishes.  I think I had two decent meals in five days in Marrakesh.

Another great tradition seems to be fading away; replacing the hammam with the modern spa.  The hammam is a steam room bath, separate for men and women,in old mud brick buildings in the old city. I think a few dollars with a rough rubdown by a Moroccan woman was the cost of this experience.  I decided to try the spa my riad was recommending.  Modern, crispy clean with new white robes for each of us, it had absolutely nothing to do with the classic hammam.

It is common to see most women with a head scarf or foular but so surprising  to see many women with the floor length caftan, carrying their babies on their backs in the souk. They wear no makeup, and once they have children, they become almost faceless in public. In cities like Casablanca, Marrakesh, and Tangier, many young women are modern and liberated but in the Berber villages we visited around Ouarzazate, some do not go past primary school and many never learn to speak French so their futures are limited.

To see the countryside and small villages in Morocco, you need a driver and a car. As opposed to African countries with broken roads, crazy drivers, junky cars and broken down buses, this country is on par with Turkey and Greece.   But everywhere is new. Highways lined with rows of  coral colored apartment houses, shiny gas stations, café bars and tourist restaurants.  Where is the Morocco of the past?

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