On the Road to Morocco
By: Dick & Phyllis Mulligan
We did not meet Bob Hope or Bing Crosby but we had an unforgettable time. A great source of adventure and fun for our family was “Home Exchanging”. In the late ‘80’s we were settled into our beautiful home south of Madrid – Las Molinas. After visiting a few of Spain’s great cities, my wife, Phyllis, son, Matt and daughter, Leslie were off to Morocco, N. Africa – mystery and exotica! A 3 hour ferry ride from Algeciras, Spain, across the Straits of Gibraltar, we arrived in Tangiers, Morocco and checked into the Solazur Hotel on the beautiful Mediterranean. For some odd reason the desk clerk kept telling us Henry Kissinger stayed here last year. As we moved into our rooms, Matt signaled me to join him at the end of the hall where he was looking down at the palm lined hotel pool surrounded by a thick 20’ high hedge. Lo and behold a bevy of European tourists were swimming topless. Hmmm! Interestingly, there were a few Muslim gentlemen peering through the hedge --- obviously sociologists studying cultural differences.
The next day Phyllis and Leslie enjoyed the sandy beach in modest attire [respecting those cultural differences]; there were few Muslim women to be seen. Tangiers, the Gateway to Africa was a mix of a few modern buildings but mostly flat-roofed housing, imposing Mosques, white-washed alleys and terraced rooftop apartments. Our guide showed us though the old town [Medina] and the Casbah section which, over the years, had been home to Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, Andrew Gide and other literary types.
A few days later we were off to Casablanca which was quite a different story! A nice hotel, very welcoming people, lots of shopping, many open air cafes and of course” Rick’s Place of “Casablanca” the movie fame. Off we went hoping to hear tales of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman; there it was, “Rick’s Place” but it was at the first floor level of a big American chain hotel. The café area had been made over to look exactly like the movie version. We had a nice lunch [quite expensive] and Leslie and Matt “Disco Danced” with many others; and of course, when leaving I walked past the piano player and asked him to “Play it again, Sam”. Rick’s was a bit of a disappointment.
Then we were off to Marrakesh, a 175 miles south of Tangiers, right off the Sahara Desert and the unquestioned highlight of our trip. It was founded 1000 years ago, a caravan trading center, near the Atlas Mountains with peaks of 10-12,000 feet, and often called the Red City because of its many red clay buildings. Marrakesh is a city of 1 million plus people with many old buildings [The Medina], beautiful mosques, one with a 25 story minaret, hanging gardens and palm-olive groves. We had hoped to visit a mosque but Matt was worried about leaving his shoes at the door and losing them.
Without doubt the highlight of our trip was the Jemma el Fna [The Souk] - a huge [3 football fields] mostly open-air market!! A teeming, seething mass of humanity – camel drivers, food and spice venders, local clans [in their own colorful attire], tribes down from the mountains and a 100 plus stalls and shops. Add to the clamor --- snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, belly dancers, motor scooters, fortune tellers, cats galore, performing monkeys and a few stray camels – all bathed in exotic cooking smells and native sitar/flute music – overwhelming! As we filed slowly through the stalls, an aggressive vendor looped a snake around Leslie’s neck and drew her into his leather sandal shop. She was too terrified to look or bargain – no sale! Just another eerie experience. But Phyllis and Matt both bought a pair following Phyllis’ proven shopping strategy I.E. offer ½ the “bargain price” stated. The vendor agreed as we were leaving the shop.
Later that day we dined at the Souk’s roof-top restaurant – camel burgers, shebbaiya [honey drenched fried sesame cookies] and palm tea – and went back to our hotel; wanted one more dip in the pool. After a few days in Marrakesh, we were on the road back to Tangiers, our ferry ride past Gibraltar and a long drive to our home in Madrid. ---- Truly a one of a kind experience for all!