Almost by chance, I find myself In Morocco. A planned journey through Spain has led to an impromptu trip to this enchanting country. Once here, I meet up with Christine, a friend of thirty-five years. She has come from Germany, and we meet in Tangier.
I call my travels “a working vacation.” Having finished my book, it is now with Marty, my editor. Ending my lease in Santa Fe allowed for the opening of new doors and new experiences. What better place to call home but the open road, filled with fresh sights, sounds, experiences, and memories in the making. While Marty edits, I travel. It is in Morocco when the first email arrives; he’s finished the editing, and it’s time to make the final revisions together. Our time difference offers the perfect scenario: I’ll travel and explore during the day, while Marty sleeps, and we’ll talk at night, which is day for him. This works out especially well in Spain and Morocco, where late nights are the norm. My internal clock has adjusted to this new rhythm.
We are in Chefchaouen when his email arrives. “Christine!” I blurt out. “I’ve heard from my editor. He seems happy with the book and says it’s time to move to the next stage.” She’s happy for me, and I explain the final steps we’ll take before publication. The first is to schedule our phone calls. I send a quick email back to him with potential times that seem compatible with both our schedules. I close my laptop and we head to breakfast.
Sitting in an outdoor café, across the plaza from the octagonal minaret of the Great Mosque, we enjoy crepes with local goat cheese accompanied by a banana smoothie and strong coffee. It’s a delicious, power-packed way to start our morning.
Our lodgings are reminiscent of an Arab palace, beautifully adorned with ornate lanterns, arched windows, colorful tiles, and hand-carved wooden furnishings.
Our day continues with a short drive to Moulay Idriss, a small town that looks like two camel humps: it is spread on opposite hills divided by a narrow valley. In between the hills lies the shrine of the town’s founder and creator of Morocco’s first Arab dynasty. An enthusiastic guide greets us and takes us on a walking tour. When we pass the hammam - the ancient baths - I ask if we can peek inside. He doesn’t think so but asks anyway. To our delight, the attendant obliges. This is an area just for women, so our guide waits outside while we duck into a cave-like area; it is damp, hot, and humid. A few women linger in the warm waters, and they offer polite smiles as we pass through. One is being treated to a massage. Tourists are normally not allowed into this hammam, so we keep our visit brief.
We continue our drive to Meknes, where we walk through the Jewish cemetery, explore the souks – the bustling markets - and visit the Dar Jamai, an impressive artifact museum beautifully housed in a former Moroccan palace. Our guide returns us to Chefchaouen, tired but happy.
The next day, we take a public bus for the four-hour journey to Fez, spelled Fès by the Moroccans. The arid and hilly countryside reminds me of New Mexico. We take a taxi to the medina – the old town - and are let out in front of the Boujeloud gate, our entrance to this ancient place. On the other side of the old city walls, a world reminiscent of One Thousand and One Nights appears. As we stand there looking around in awe and confusion, a young boy appears. In broken English, he asks the address of our lodging. We pull out our slip of paper and he says, “Follow me!” Christine and I look at each other, shrug, and grab our bags. Zigzagging through the narrow lanes, our suitcases bouncing along the cobbled stones, we soon arrive at our riad – our guesthouse. Without the help of our young assistant, we may have dragged our suitcases for hours through those little streets. We exchange smiles and nods and offer him a tip, which he happily accepts.
The Fez medina is a world unto itself. In this seemingly endless maze of alleyways, ancient cultures mix with modern life, and they blend seamlessly. Medieval craftsmen – and women – hone their skills as they have done for centuries. Stalwart donkeys, who trudge with their owners through the cobblestone streets, are laden with every imaginable bundle of goods. Rolls of colorful tapestry can be difficult to decipher; one donkey is loaded with handcrafted rugs woven in nearby villages, while another carries mass-produced synthetic fabric made in China. My head moves dizzily from side to side as we make our way through the narrow streets of this beguiling - and busy - old town. Every few seconds a new scene unfolds, each as captivating as the last. Children run happily through the streets, sometimes accompanied by parents, but often alone. Family members usually hold hands, and kissing on both cheeks is a common greeting.
We hire a guide for a half-day walk through the medina. We learn much about Moroccan history and culture and discover areas we might have otherwise missed, including the fascinating but stinky leather tannery - - we are grateful for the mint sprigs offered upon entering. Further in the medina, a carpet salesman works his magic with Christine; she purchases a handwoven rug for her living room.
spices are so colorful, I ask permission to take a photo. The vendor obliges, then proudly shows off a framed news review they recently received as recognition for “the best spice shop” in the medina. I purchase 100 grams – plenty to last the rest of my trip.
The following day, we return to Tangier. We purchase first-class tickets for the four-hour train ride. At the station, we discover our track is on the other side, which means we need to walk downstairs and go back up again on the opposite side. Since wheeling my heavy suitcase and laptop case down one set of stairs and up another is not going to happen, I pause to readjust my bags. As I do so, I let out a laugh. Christine, carrying her heavy rug and two bags, wonders what I find so humorous. I tell her what has come to mind: the quote on my boxes of Cinnamon Spice granola: “One who would travel happily must travel lightly.” She laughs with me, and we make our way to the track.
Once settled into our lodging, we take a taxi to the other side of the bay to see the Caves of Hercules. Our driver insists on bringing us to Cap Spartel, where we can see the merging of the Atlantic and Pacific. We’re glad he did – not only was the view beautiful, but once at the caves, we learn they had already closed. The reason: Ramadan. Other adjustments have had to be made because of this holy month, but they have been well worth it. We’ve been treated to special foods and extended hospitality as Moroccans revel in their month of fasting and increased prayer. Witnessing the customs during this sacred time of year, both solemn and festive, has been refreshing.
Our last hours are spent strolling the beach, then sitting outside at the only café we find open. The waiter apologizes: because it’s Ramadan, he says, the menu is limited, but he can offer us fish tagine. We say that’s perfect, and it is - the meal is a slice of heaven. Layers of potatoes, tomatoes, and onion, infused with olive oil and lemon, have been slowly roasting for hours in the clay pot, tucked deep into smoldering coals. Lemon slices and a chile pepper adorn the top, but the pièce de résistance are two whole fish, covered in herbs, that form the crown of our tagine. With growling stomachs, we dig in. Every bite of that meal is a dream, and our stomachs fill up slowly as we savor each bite. The potatoes at the bottom had charred, adding wonderful crunch and a smoky flavor to our meal. We polish off every morsel, happy and with full bellies. “Shukran bizef!” we enthusiastically tell our waiter: “Thank you very much!”
The next day, our sojourn ends. I head back to Spain, and Christine to Germany. As I fly over the Strait of Gibraltar, I tuck away many delightful memories, feeling extremely grateful for my eight magical days in Morocco.
Fiona Simon is the former owner of Fiona’s Natural Foods, aka Fiona’s Granola. After 10 years of running the business, and a year of transition with the new owners, she is now revisiting one of her earliest professions, writing. Fiona’s other passions include travel, cooking, speaking Spanish, being outdoors, and exploring her own personal growth.