Friday, 11 January 2008
It was a toss up between Brazil and Morocco, the only two countries where Filipinos are not required entry visas (except Southeast Asian nations). So, the French protectorate Le Maroc wins - it was an 8-hour flight to Dubai then another 8-hours to Casablanca for the 8-day trip. Yes, it was all rushed rushed and Bettina and I were lucky to get seats on Emirates and able to book a travel agent during the holiday season in LESS than a week.
Our driver 'Rasheed' met us in the airport which was quite chaotic since it was the end of Eid. We headed first to Casablanca to visit the world's second biggest mosque. I was shocked by its size. Completed in 1993 to commemorate the 60th birthday of King Hassan II, it can accommodate 25,000 worshippers and an additional 80,000 in the courtyard. It has the world's tallest minaret at 210-meters. The zellij (mosaic tiles) are from Fes. After paying our respects, we headed to Rabat to check in La Tour Hassan Hoel in 26 Rue Chellah. We had our our first Tagine meal (lamb shank) and Royal couscous here.
The next day was a quick tour of the capital, Rabat. First stop was the mausoleum amd Le Tour Hassan where the the minaret was built by Almohad Sultan Yacoub-al-Mansour in 1195. (Note that the names of the reigning monarch are either Hassan or Mohammed. The current king is called Mohammed VI, who succeeded his father Hassan II when he died in 1999.) Then proceeded to the ancient roman city of Sala Coloni and the Merenid. The place has roman ruins, gardens and lots of storks and well fed, garfield looking cats! The morocans like the Egptians love cats.
From Rabat we headed to Fes but stopped first at Meknes (for lunch) before heading to another Roman City which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The adminsitrative center of Roman Africa called Mauretania Tingitana or now referred to as Volubilis which dates back to third century BC. The area has great mosaics still intact and some columns. From Volubis, we drove through the white city of Moulay Idris, named after the founder, the grandson of the great prophet of Mohammed.
We arrived in Fes in the evening. It was dark and boy, freezing at less than 10 degrees! We checked in at Riad "Jhouara" and enjoyed another feast of moraccaine salad (about 5 dishes), my fav soup of chick peas and noodles (which I first tried in Meknes) and again, royal couscous. Our room was huge at 58 sq m but brrr... too cold. We had the fireplace fired up with cedar wood, the a/c turned to 30 degress plus borrowed the mini-radiator of the owner. The riad or maison d'hotel, is actually a nobleman's home which has been converted into a high end boutique hotel. It doesn't have central heating like most hotels.
Fes is a medieval 11th century walled city (or medina) that has up to this day kept its look - bustling souks, jellabah-clad folks, prayers heard as early as 6am. Ourguide 'Farida' with deep blue eyes was sporting a pink jellabah and pink head scarf to match her outfit. The souks are arranged accordingly - food stuff, shoes, clothes, etc. I saw two stalls literally selling fresh eggs, the hens were caged at the back of their stall and laying eggs!! The medina can be quite confusing with its maze-like narrow alleyway but extremely organized. Each area has a minaret, mosque, absolution fountain, children's center to learn koran, bakery and a bath. We walked wihtin the medina he whole day checking out the sites: Bab Boujlourd, the tannery (the smell can be very offensive), fondouk, mauseleoum, mosques..etc. For dinner, we went outside the medina and enjoyed french cuisine. The next day, Rasheed drove us around. First stop was around the medina - the King's Palace (mind you, its all the same tourist site in every town, shots of its gate), then the Andalucia quarter and then the Jewish quarter. Moroco had a large jewish population which peacefully co-existed with the arabs. Most have moved to Israel though... Then, the chellah before dirving off to the nearby towns of Bahhia where we actually visited a home of one native which was inside a cave. He approached us and said that his father was listed in Lonely Planet and he can take us to his home for some tea. Very enterprising! then drove to Sefrou to see the falls and view the snowcapped alps of the High Atlas Mountains. The latter can be skipped though. We had lunch back in the medina where Bettina and I decided to have something cheap and cheerful and we ventured around the medina on our own. We didn't go far though. Our 4-course dinner was in a fancy riad. I think this time the coucous permanently expanded in my tummy....
We woke up the next day early and headed to Marakesh at 7am! The drive was more than 10 hours south passing through the Riff mountains, middle atlas and then High Atlas. We did a pit stop first at Tifrane, the 'swiss resort' of Moroco. The place is so modern compared to Fes and Rabat and for a second I thought I was in Switzerland. We had lunched around 2pm at the High Atlas. We got to Marakesh about 6 or 7pm and checked in this huge palatial quite tacky 5-star hotel called Royal Agadir. It is located outside the medina. After checking in, we went straight to the famous square - Djamaa el Fna. It was packed with people - residents, local and foreign tourists. Bettina got a bit claustrophobic so decided to dine and chose Argana which had a good view of the square.
We braved the medina on our own the next day armed with the 'reco' list of Tokie. Although much smaller than Fes, the souks had a fare range of prices - from cheap to expensive (like Beldi) Lunch was at the french quarter's Al Fassir, run by all women. Then back to the souk to shop. We headed back to the hotel around 8pm to get ready for new year dinner at the Hotel. Dinner was an 8-course fare which started with foie gras, fish, lobster, duck, sorbet, cheese, salad, cake . The servings were quite huge and alas, no alcohol - no wine, no bubbly.
On Jan 1, we toured Marakesh with a guide "Norah". He started the tour in the 800 year old, 70-meter Koutoubia minaeret, Palais Bahia, Majorelle Garden (where Yves Saint Laurent retired to), temple, lunched at the hip Keshamra on Rue Liberte at the French quarter. After lunch, ventured into the medina in the carpets, herbal, pottery. We got rid of our guide though so we can shop! We noticed that with a guide, the prices are jacked up higher... So, we were back in the medina for our last mintue buys then dined at La paix for final feast and dropped by Comptoir for a drink.
The last day, we headed off to the airport and stayed overnight at pinoy-country Dubai.