Morocco is one of the most exotic and beautiful places I have ever visited, the brilliant light and dark shadows different than anything I have ever seen. Experiencing the dramatic qualities of its light allowed me to appreciate Henri Matisse’s comment that after living in Morocco he began “to use black as a color of light and not as a color of darkness.”
We started our trip in Rabat, accompanied by a driver and a knowledgeable guide who were with us for the entire twelve-day trip. My memories are filled with images of how modern life and business attire mingled with North African Berber culture in which medieval medinas and crowded souks were all entwined in brilliant colors, aroma of spices, and the five times daily call to prayer. Walking through the medieval medina of Fez is stepping back in time with its impossibly narrow alleys so small that only donkeys can carry goods into the heart of the market. It is hard to grasp the discordant juxtaposition of life in the medina without being there: medieval buildings, tiny shops no more than hovels, garbage smells and harsh light, stray cats, shops selling modern hardware, a communal oven to fire daily bread, and stalls filled with spices, dates, and yarn in the most astonishingly vivid colors. The medina is also the home of beautifully decorated (and recently restored) sixteenth-century religious schools known as Medersa or Madeasa. As many as 120 students from all over the country would be housed in the small dormitory rooms on the upper floor which looked out onto the magnificently ornate, interior courtyard.
We traveled through dramatically different landscapes from the High Atlas Mountains to the gorgeous Sahara and through cedar forests filled with monkeys to some of the best fossil deposits from ancient seas in the world. Some of our hotels were beautiful restored old Riads, sumptuous mansions of another era. We spent a night in a tented camp in the Erg Chebbi sand dunes, stunned by the abstract lines of the dunes silhouetted against the brilliant blue sky. A young man leading three camels led us up the dunes, a tourist fantasy but nonetheless wonderful. Nearby were tribal Kasbahs, citadel walled retreats for ancient Berber clans, some with 350 rooms, more beautiful and sumptuous than anything I had anticipated. Throughout I never tired of the wonderful tagines and grilled meats and flaky pastries. On our way to Marrakesh, we spent a couple of nights in the High Atlas Mountains, where our three hours walked turned into six as we hiked with our local guide through rocky landscape, strewn with remnants of semi-precious stones, and along dirt roads among Berber villages. One of the highlights of the trip was to visit a home in one of these villages, where we were welcomed by a colorfully dressed woman, a friend of our guide, who had henna-dyed hair and a remarkable face etched by the elements. Entering the courtyard filled with drying clothes and fruits, she offered us the delicacy of creamy milk from a cow that had just birthed a calf and was resting in a barn-like space with its window opening onto the woman’s bedroom. Although a primitive clay-covered hearth was the stove, the ubiquitous TV antenna was on the roof.
For the entire trip we were immersed in an exotic country simultaneously modern and ancient, where colorful tribal history and ancient medinas play an integral part of daily life. Enjoy some of the photographs of this amazing country.