Sunday, June 25, 2006

Last Travelogue From California

Dear Friends and Family, 6/14/06
Hello from sunny California where we are trying to get over jet-lag as we also endeavor to get our RV set up again for our next trip. It took us approximately 38 hours to travel from Casablanca to our RV at Park Sierra. Since we were awake most of this time, we were exhausted upon our arrival on Monday afternoon, and have been dragging around ever since.
Our previous travelogue was from Marrakech, which turned out to be the hottest place we visited in Morocco. Two land cruisers picked up our group and took us to Essaouira, which is a delightful smaller town right on the Atlantic where it was thankfully quite a lot cooler than Marrakech. The drive there was uneventful and the topography was standard Morocco – many grain fields, corn fields, olive groves, and other assorted crops. The most unusual one was argane. In order to harvest the seeds of the fruit for oil, they must pass through the digestive tract of goats, so we stopped to take pictures of some goats up in these trees, eating this fruit. Collecting the seeds from the goat poop and processing them to get the oil sounded like a heck of a job to us! Jesse, our leader, said she has some skin cream made with this oil and it is awesome, but pricey.
We stayed in a Riad, which is an old Moorish home centered around a courtyard, and which has been modified into a hotel. From our room we had a nice view of the beach and also the minaret of the mosque which was right next door. This meant that we got to hear every call to prayer quite clearly, an event that takes place 5 times a day and one of those times was at 3:45 AM! The really unusual event that happened was that our Australian friends, Gordon and Shirley, whom we had run into in the Todra Gorge, were also staying at the same Riad. So we had a very enjoyable evening with them, sharing Gordon’s Jamison’s whiskey, as we used to do in Vietnam together, and then going out for a delicious pizza at a nearby restaurant.
The village was a nice mixture of tourists and locals, all enjoying the beach amenities and nice temperatures, as well as some good seafood. We ate at one of the small seafood tent restaurants and then walked the beach for some exercise. The water was pretty cold but it felt good on our feet. Shopping in this town was much easier than the other places because there was a more laid-back attitude and less pushy salespeople. It is also the center for wood carvings using a unique wood called thuija, which is really beautiful, especially the products made from the root. So we purchased a few of these items to bring home because they are perfect for gifts: lightweight, unbreakable, beautiful, and inexpensive, yet unique to Morocco.
After 2 enjoyable days in Essaouira, we took a local bus back to Marrakech and then caught the train back to Casablanca. Once again we stayed at the Hotel Suisse, which is a 4 star hotel right near the beach and we had another nice beach view from our balcony.
This was the last night that our group would be together, so we all dressed up and caught taxis to Rick’s Café for a farewell dinner. Of course, Rick’s Café was in the movie “Casablanca”. This one is a relatively new one which was started by an American woman who was a diplomat here for quite a while and who wanted a career change after the events of 9/11/01. It is quite an elegant place and we had a delicious dinner with excellent wine. We gave Jesse a token of our appreciation and everyone said fond farewells to each other. The next day, everyone left except Elaine and I and Sheridan and Nicole. We spent a little time poking around the downtown part of Casablanca: the Medina and the French part nearby with a few art deco buildings. Then we walked most of the way back to the hotel – about 6 miles. On the way we stopped at McDonald’s because we were tired, thirsty and hungry and it was convenient. It was filled with Moroccan people who clearly enjoy fast food as much as Americans.
The next day we started our odyssey back to California. Looking back on our trip and what I have told you in these travelogues, there are only a few things more I would like to mention. We were surprised that there was cell phone service everywhere including out on the Sahara desert, and many Moroccans have cell phones. This is because they have installed towers all over. The other technological thing we noticed was the profusion of satellite dishes even on buildings that looked like slums to us. Both of these things were surprising because we had heard that the average daily pay for most people is rather low – perhaps $5 a day. The roads were good and this was due to the French. When they took over in 1912, there were only about 150 km of paved roads and when they left in 1956, there were thousands of kms of paved roads. Many of the innovations in Morocco are due to the new king, Mohammad VI. In 2004 he established a lot of new reforms, including reforms in the status of women, divorce laws and child care provisions. For the most part, we were made to feel very welcome in Morocco by all the people we talked to, even when they knew that we were Americans. This was a pleasant surprise because ever since the Iraqi war, we have not been very popular in other countries.
Our journey has come to an end and with it, these travelogues. We were glad to have you traveling with us. Please send us a personal e-mail sometime soon and let us know how you are doing. You are caught up on our news and we want to hear about yours.
Sending big hugs.
Love, Mary and Elaine

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