Blue Men in the Sahara, nomads in the desert, semi nomads inland, carpet sellers in Fes, snake charmers in Marrakech and school kids in Casablanca -- I met all these folks on my exciting three-week trip to Morocco, a country filled with history, fabulous food, incredible scenery, warm and friendly people and a little bit of mystery tossed in for good measure.
One of the highlights of the trip was the time we spent in Fes -- one of Morocco's oldest and most exciting cities. The Medina (the old town) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a not to be missed attraction. Some of the labyrinthine streets are so narrow that trash pickup can only be accomplished by using donkeys. Trash is gathered and loaded into the saddle bags on either side of the donkey and walked out of the medina.
The tanneries in Fes have operated here since medieval times, and the process has basically remained unchanged. If you have a strong stomach, this is the place to see how sheep, goat and camel skins are processed to make the slippers that are sold all over Morocco. The skins are cured, stretched, scraped and dyed in dozens of vats. A pungent mixture of pigeon droppings, acids and cow urine is used to make the hides supple. A sprig of mint is given to everyone with the stomach to visit the tanneries. I used the mint and was quite thankful for it.
Next stop was the Sahara, the biggest hot desert in the world. Sand dunes make up only a small portion of the Sahara, the rest of the area consists of rocky plains and mountain ranges covered with stone and gravel. The Sahara is home to the Blue Men who were initially nomadic camel herders living in the Sahara for thousands of years. The term Blue Men comes from the blue robes they wear.
We rode through the desert on our camels until we came to our tent site. Since the sands shift constantly, no permanent tent site can be erected.
Our tents were very basic but the view of the dunes made up for any temporary lack of comfort. This was to be our home for the next two nights.
The sun was setting and there was nothing but bright orange sand as far as the eye could see. No noise, no pollution and no one else for miles and miles.
The plan was to wake before first light and climb to the top of the dunes to see the sun rise. The night was still black when we got our early morning wake up call at 5 a.m.
As the sky lightened, I saw tiny scarab beetle tracks and desert mice tracks. The sand was very soft as we began to climb, and it was difficult to get a foothold. One step forward, two steps back. The dunes looked insurmountable.
Fortunately, the local Blue Men arrived to help us with the climb which was a tough one, even with their help. As we got higher, we saw nothing but desert in every direction. We climbed to the highest dune to see the sun rise and drank a champagne toast to our success.
After a much needed rest, we sat on the top of the sand dunes watching one of the Blue Men draw palm trees in the sand.
Going down the dunes was much more fun than trekking up. We slid down the dunes Sahara-style with some help from our Blue Men friends who grabbed our feet and pulled us down the dunes -- they call it Sahara sledding.
In Marrakech we rode in the famous traditional horse-drawn caliches (carriages). Then to the souk -- a true shopping experience with literally thousands of tiny stalls, each having "the best." There was very little pressure to buy, and everyone seemed to have a good sense of humor about buying and selling.
The main square, Djemaa el Fna, teemed with snake charmers, story tellers, fortune tellers, monkeys on leashes, water boys and enough sights to cause sensory overload.
If you're looking for an exotic trip to a warm, friendly country, Morocco is for you.
This was my 13th trip with Overseas Adventure Travel, and I would it rank it as one of the best. For more information, please click www.oattravel.com/mso.