We had looked forward to our tour of Morocco for months. It was sponsored by Tiyul, a Jewish tour company in partnership with Lehrhaus Judaica, a wonderful educational institution which has been in Berkeley for years. We would be crisscrossing the country traveling long distances on our bus. I was excited about being somewhere totally different and immersed in the culture of an Arab nation, very different than our many comfortable trips to Israel.
Our group was made up of seniors like us, everyone very friendly. The group was prompt, courteous and we enjoyed getting to know each other when we sat at tables for meals and since most of the meals were included there was ample opportunity. Of course we played Jewish geography finding unexpected connections like a lovely woman I met who turned out to be the childhood neighbor of my son in law’s mom! We were fortunate to have Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan and his wife Becki as participants. Peretz gave us insights throughout the trip which added to our perspective. Our tour leader was Ariel Goldstein who lives in Berkeley. He has led tours for years, several in Morocco, others all over the world from China, to Europe, to Uruguay, where he grew up, visiting more than thirty countries. Of course during the height of Covid he was not able to lead tours so he was glad to be back. Ariel speaks probably five languages.
Our native Moroccan guide, Aziz, also spoke five or six languages. (I was in awe hearing him change languages so effortlessly.) Aziz is a scholar and was able to frame the Jewish history of Morocco which goes back hundreds of years. He was a Berber, an indigenous group within Morocco with its own language and cultural traditions. I wish I could remember all the things he taught us. He was so informative and constantly spoke to us as we went along in the bus. He also helped get us the best deals when we bought stuff such as the carpet store or jewelry. Our tour started in Casablanca and continued on for miles through the country. There were several days of really long bus rides but there was no way to avoid that. The bus was comfortable and the scenery ever changing from flat lands to the Atlas mountains, passing vast river gorges, to a Swiss-like mountain resort, Ifrane, to exploring Roman ruins in Volubilis.
Our favorite stop was the Sahara Desert where we stayed in a fancy tent camp. To get to the camp, we went off-road for an unpaved stretch which was bumpy and rough. When we got to the camp, the individual tents were scattered around. The dunes, rust and orange, stretched out in the distance, endless and magnificent. The tents were my kind of camping, with a shower, electricity and mostly comfortable bed. We gathered for our camel ride. Our camels, were with a handler, holding the camel who was tamely kneeling down ready for us to climb up. I did an appropriate “prayer” for getting on a camel and not falling off. The trick was to hold on tight for the big forward dip when the camel stood up. It was a little scary. Then our handler led us up a hill for about a twenty minute plodding ride.
I told my camel to behave and he did. The camel was a dromedary with one hump. After we reached the top of a sand ridge, we lumbered off and climbed further up a low hill in the sand to top of a rise. We were able to see the sun and sky changing to golden hues as twilight approached. It was a moment I’ll never forget. We then went back down to the camp, gathered around a cozy fire with drinks, then went to a central dining room for dinner. After dinner there was entertainment by drummers who got us up to dance.
Some of the other highlights were going to the medina to see the leather dying vats and learn the process of producing leather goods. I bought a snazzy pink leather jacket. It was so unique, I could not resist! During the week we saw other workshops, a carpet store, a pottery workshop where mosaics were put together, a date market, and a cooperative where women made products containing Argan. We went to a site where ancient fossils are mined and used in tables. These fossils are 400 million years old. I brought an embedded fossil home for my grandsons.
We saw very old Jewish cemeteries in Fes, the remnants of synagogues, and Jewish schools. We had a lovely Shabbat dinner at a synagogue in Marrakech which was packed on Friday nights with tourists who knew distinct Shabbat melodies. I was fascinated by the fact there were busloads of tourists from Israel. Since the Abraham accords, many Israelies are going to Morocco. In some instances, it is a kind of heritage tour since their families came from Morocco. Before the trip, I wondered how I would feel in an Arab country and was pleased to feel very comfortable. The people I came across were friendly. The women were attractive, many in colorful hijabs. Some women did not wear hijabs at all. It seems like there was tolerance for different expressions of religiosity. I did not see too many women totally covered in black. I often heard the call to prayer. Our tour guide explained the key precepts of Islam which was fascinating to me.
In general, the roads were well paved and litter free. The infrastructure seemed to be in good condition. I did not see homeless and there were few beggars. There is a fascinating blend of ancient and modern. We saw old Mellahs, the remnants of the Jewish quarter. Mellah means “salt and it was where the Jews lived and traded centuries ago. We were in Fes, Rabat, Meknes, and other stops. Our last stop was Marrakech, really a beautiful, elegant world-class city. We were in a lovely hotel, the nicest of any we had stayed in with a beautiful pool area. There was even a kosher restaurant in the hotel which was fun for me to see and Shabbat services. I loved seeing the acceptance and welcoming of observant Jews in a Muslim country. It shows me that there can be coexistence between Arabs and Jews.
Marrakech is where things got interesting. Despite being up to date in our Covid vaccines, we got sick at the end of the trip. Jeff’s version was a cold and cough. I started to feel unwell on the last Saturday and did not do anything with the group. By the evening, I was feeling really crappy and tested. We had brought tests and even Paxlovid. I tested positive for Covid. We weren’t sure about Jeff, but he did have it. Oy vey, what we really had not wanted to happen when we were away had become a reality.
We knew immediately we would have to stay longer in Marrakech. I managed to change our reservations to leave after a five day quarantine. The hotel was a nice place if you had to stay inside. I could take the stairs to get down to the pool area. Breakfast was outside so I wasn’t near anyone. One of our symptoms was having no appetite. We could barely eat for days. I learned everyone’s version of Covid can be different. Jeff had the cold and cough. I felt sick, really sick with an unquenchable thirst. I took Paxlovid but I felt it was making me feel awful and stopped taking it. I felt so bad we even went to the local hospital. That was an experience, but they took good care of me. The doctor spoke passable English and gave me basic blood work. I was OK, and though I was sure needed an IV, he did not want to do it.
Somehow masked, we made it home, spending the night in New York after our flight from Casablanca which was a lifesaver. I actually felt better on the last leg of this long journey. Covid has been difficult and tricky for me. I have had several days of feeling better only to be down the next day. I have been to the ER twice. OY. However, thankfully I finally feel I am on the road to recovery.
Despite the not ideal ending of our trip, I want to remember all the good parts; what we learned and observed, the friendly people we met on our tour, the beauty of the country and the unforgettable camel ride and desert experience.
One thought on “Morocco Adventure, 10-19 to 11-4, 2022”
Joanne, thank you for sharing your incredible experience to Morocco……I truly felt I was one of your traveling partners. So sorry you both caught covid and glad you are finally moving forward.
Hugs to you,