Back in 1973, a year out of college, at the ripe age of 22, I made a trip to Spain and Morocco, in part inspired by having read James Michener's book, The Drifters. I flew into Barcelona, my Europe on $5 a Day guidebook in hand, hitchhiking down through Seville and Granada, stopping to check out the Alhambra, then taking a boat from Algeciras Spain to Ceuta, Morocco, and then a bus to Tangier (yes there really were chickens on the bus.) I stayed there a day or two and met up with two friends from college, Jay and his girlfriend Bobbie. These were the hippy days and our hair was pretty long. Bobbie dressed as she did in America-- very far from the local women, who wore hijabs. She caught a lot of annoying attention from local men, who treated her like she was scandalous. One young man was so annoying we had to pay him to leave us alone. Tangier was an amazing collection of sounds, colors and smells. We took a few days to get oriented and then we headed south.
We took another bus from Tangier to Casablanca and then took the train from Casablanca to Marrakesh-- so we didn't, as Crosby Stills Nash and Young sung, take the Marrakesh express.
We spent some time there, hanging out primarily in and around the Djemmaa al Fna, a huge marketplace with thousands of "souks" or small store fronts, and an open square where there were snake and scorpion charmers, women drawing on skin and dying hair with henna and people selling water stored in animal skin containers
. In the souks with walls, everything you could imagine was sold-- seasonings, butchered animals, cloth, clothing, hardware, mint tea with mounds of sugar dissolved in it.
At one outside, open eating place the most popular offering was goat brain-- still in the original container- that's right-- in the skull. It was usually full. Another popular item was what we call Rocky Mountain oysters here in the US-- testicles. I must confess that since I was already suffering from a bit of the Moroccan version of Montezuma's revenge (I'd been careful, but slipped and rinsed my toothbrush with tap water,) I skipped those delicacies but did buy meat on a stick sold by vendors in the square-- making sure it was well cooked over the blazing fires the used. I also tasted the best yoghurt I ever ate.
My friend Jay was suffering from a cold so I wanted to get some we asked a local where to get help. He referred us to a local medicine store. The picture below is where we ended up.
The bottles in the store contained leeches, all kinds of herbs, insects, animal parts and the like. And hanging in the front were eagles claws, lizards gizzards and a wide assortment of other "medicinal items. He gave us some Eucalyptus leaves and told us to make a tea with them. It worked.
BTW, note the garment-- a Djelaba, called galibia in other parts of the Arab world-- the souk owner is wearing. I had one made for me while I was in Tangier and wore it during most of my stay there. I still have it-- it is remarkably sturdy and could probably passed down from generation to generation. I think it cost me $25.
The video of the Djemaa al Fna below is from 2008-- 35 years after I was there, but much is still the same.
While in Marrakesh we met a fellow, Mohammed, who we befriended. He invited us to eat dinner with his family-- food served family style. I went to grab something with my left hand and he abruptly stopped me. I was confused. He explained that the left hand is used to wipe your butt. That gave me new insight into the effect of having the right hand cut off of thieves.
He gave us some Eucalyptus leaves and told us to make a tea with them.
From Marrakesh we headed south to Essaouira, a coastal town, and stayed at a place for one dirham (worth about $.25) a day. We slept on straw covered with a sheet. We had to walk to town to use a toilet and that was a hole in the ground you squatted over. There was no toilet paper. After my lesson from Mohammed I noticed that the left wall was covered with excrement-- used to wipe hands after wiping butt. I didn't indulge in that local practice either. But, with my version of Montezuma's revenge, I'd run out of toilet paper and had resorted to using pages from the paperback book I was reading-- a biography of Einstein. Talk about motivation to read fast. I figured I had to read at least three or four pages a day to keep up-- more if the intestinal problem was bad.
Walking from our lodging, a few blocks from the town, along the beach, we met a young boy riding on a camel. He led us to his parents Gwynneth and Declan, from the UK, who were traveling in a panel van.
Another more recent video, but it gives you the feel of Essaouira, not that I rode a camel, but the images bring back strong memories.
From Essaouira we took a bus further south through Agadir to Tarazout where we camped out near the beach, walking through olive groves to get there.
My memories of those days are hazy, but it was an amazing trip.
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