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Travel Story : Traveller Flashback in Morocco / Traveler in North Africa :: From the Planet Pilgrim World Traveller Series

Medieval Morocco & the Mosque at the End of the World

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Tangier, Morocco, North Africa - Rue de la Kasbah
Street of the Casbah in Tangier, Morocco

It seemed to me as if I had stepped into another world as I negotiated the medieval Street of the Casbah (Rue de la Kasbah) to meet with a long string of sweet, seedy figs for breakfast. I looked at the figs and the figs looked at me in my djellaba-clad form as if to say, "Algeciras en Espańa من هو بعيدا Tanger au Maroc" { Algeciras in Spain is far away from Tangier in Morocco } ... especially when you take a ferry across the lip of the Mediterranean immediately after a 13-hour overnight train ride from Madrid.

This travel flashback is to the year before The Clash released "Rock The Casbah" but listening to it as a soundtrack while reading this story would certainly add to the multimedia experience. Of course, any pictorial or musical (for example, "Paint It Black") accompaniment representing or reminiscent of the 1967 sojourn of the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards with his then-new girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, to Morocco in a Bentley, would also help to set the scene.

The sweet figs were washed down with a glassful of Morocco's ubiquitous mint tea amidst dreamily smoky surrounds. A charming multilingual fellow had told me it was 'special market day in the medina'. Suddenly I was surrounded by what seemed like psychedelic carpets, bedouin rugs, hooded robes and traders' gowns in the loft of his uncle's shop in a souk in the labyrinthine medina. Gratefully, none of the delicious mint tea was spilt over the beautiful, Berber djellaba that his uncle kindly parted with for a mere 50 dirham, which was worth about ten American dollars at the time. After pleasantly drifting out of the souk in my new trader's cloak and past some very vertical minarets, I discovered myself sitting in a café eating some couscous while hearing the muezzin's call to prayer.

Marrakech, Morocco, North Africa - Snake Charmer in Djemaa el Fna
Snake Charmer in Marrakech / Marrakesh, Morocco (Djemaa el-Fnaa)

The muezzin's next call echoed through a long bus as I met Rick, an Australian guy from Perth and the possible reincarnation of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart's character in the movie "Casablanca"). We discussed the Illuminati, levitation, meditation, Raymond Fowler's "The Andraessen Affair" and Stuart Holroyd's then-recently-published "Briefing for the Landing on Planet Earth" as we made our way to Morocco's capital city of Rabat on the Atlantic coast. It has a really beautiful marina and a unique 12th-century casbah. According to Rick, aliens would definitely have landed there. Wild conjecture aside, this fortified place was run for hundreds of years by the legendary Barbary pirates. The medina inside the kasbah has the typically narrow streets with exquisite colouring of blue and white in the buildings - reminiscent of parts of the Greek islands.

The next day we continued on our Moroccan sojourn as we took a bus down the coast to Casablanca. This white city should be just as famous for delicious cake and kebabs as it is for the movie with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. There was a few French and German people in Kombi vans or Hippie vans waiting to give travellers and backpackers a lift on the road to Marrakech (also spelled, Marrakesh). These were hustlers who, we had been told, were often up to something fishy - not to be trusted.

So we ended up getting an express bus to Marrakech. It was really the "Marrakesh Express". Unlike in the Crosby, Stills & Nash song, we were not on a train.

"I've been saving all my money just to take you there
I smell the garden in your hair

Take the train from Casablanca going south
Blowing smoke rings from the corners of my my, my, my, my mouth
Colored cottons hang in air
Charming cobras in the square
Striped Djellabas we can wear at home, well let me hear you now
Don't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express"

Written by Graham Nash (1969)
Complete Lyrics
: Crosby Stills Nash - Marrakesh Express Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Marrakesh, Morocco, North Africa - Snake Charmer with Planet Pilgrim in Djemaa el Fna
Snake Charmer with Planet Pilgrim in Marrakech / Marrakesh, Morocco (Djemaa el-Fnaa)

The uncrowded nightbus actually dropped us off in the main square mentioned in the song. To quote Wikipedia: "Once a bus station, the place was closed to vehicle traffic in the early 2000s." The square is named Djemaa el-Fnaa (with and without the letter D at the start). One translation for the name of this place is "The Mosque at the End of the World". It is the busiest square in Africa and one of the world's truly great cultural spaces. This 9th-century city was the most-southerly destination on this trip and the pivotal point of our journey.

Marrakesh, Morocco, North Africa - Mosque in Marrakech
Mosque in Marrakech / Marrakesh, Morocco

During the day, the ultra-cool fortune tellers and fearless snake charmers are the hallmark of the famous square, Djemaa el-Fnaa. However, when we arrived at 11.30pm, food stalls were tempting us in every direction. It was a foodie's paradise. In fact, we stayed at "Hotel de France" right on the square so that we could drop off our bags then proceed to eat. A spicy soup called harira, endless tajines, sweet filo pastries and fabulous sesame cookies are all a seductive assault on the senses.

From Marrakesh we travelled over the Atlas Mountains to the Road of the Kasbahs. This old desert caravan route passes ancient fortresses and camel-skin tents of berber nomads as it traverses the edge of the Sahara Desert. Towns have exotic names - Ouarzazate, Zagora and Er Rachidia. From this desert road we continued to Fes, the ancient capital with its time-capsule-like architecture of the Royal Palace, the old 14th-century Arabic university and the medina (the old city). We then travelled via Tetouan to to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the North African coast. From there we took a ferry back to Spain. We were heading for Granada and the magnificent Alhambra - which began flourishing with new extensions under Ferdinand and Isabella when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.

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