TREASURES OF MOROCCO

A journey BY ROAD from TANGIER

JANUARY 13-19, 2012 

Part of the Treasures of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco tour by Insight Vacations, I have separated the portion of the tour that covers Morocco for those who are interested in this North African country and don't necessarily wish to trawl through the full tour. In the seven days we spend in Morocco, we experience a culture that is so completely different to those we discover in Spain and Portugal. Morocco is a beautiful country with a long history dating from Paleolithic times. It's more recent history has seen it ruled by Arab states, Spain, and France due to its location on the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean . It became independent from France in 1956 and it enjoys a flourishing economy. 

Along with our guide, Tony, who has travelled with us since we left Spain, our local guide, Najib, provides an overview of Morocco from the perspective of a Moroccan. There are times, however, when I am dismayed by his attitudes and refusal to answer the 'hard' questions. I get it! I understand that sometimes questions may be difficult or tricky to answer. Tony, however, did  come back and answer many of our questions at a later time, which we appreciate very much.

TOUR: INSIGHT VACATIONS - TREASURES OF SPAIN, PORTUGAL, & MOROCCO

DAY ONE: TANGIER-FES

SATURDAY, JANUARY 14, 2012

Start the day with a look at the city of Tangier in the daylight before travelling to the town of Asilah, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Then drive through the Rif Valley to  Fes, Morocco’s most ancient imperial city.

Today's drive-past tour takes us to prominent buildings within the city of Tangier. Because of it's confusing predicament of its international status until 1956, it attracted many prominent people, such as artist Henri Matisse and writer, Tennessee Williams. The Beat author, William S. Burroughs lived in Tangier for more than four years and wrote The Naked Lunch and other esteemed works during this time.

Before long we leave the city and follow the rocky coast for about forty-five minutes, stopping at a restaurant where we watch traditional bread and tagines being prepared. The beehive-shaped ovens are perfect for baking the flatbread, which is already patted into rounds, waiting to go into the oven. Our next stop is at the seaside village of Asilah, which is located at the very point where they Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Occupied by the seafaring Phoenicians around 1500 BCE, then occupied by a stream of foreign invaders, including Spain and Portugal, and a base used by pirates, Asilah has an interesting history. More recently, due to declining tourism, an annual art festival was established in 1978. The International Cultural Festival includes a mural-painting competition. The town is whitewashed annually, providing space for artists to paint their murals as part of the larger international festival. Some of the murals remain after the last festival. I'm a little surprised that graffiti has already been added to the murals, which is a shame. We walk through the maze of pedestrian streets; mosaic-style paths that remind me of the ones we saw in Portugal. I do ask Najib about their origin, but he doesn't understand my question, or maybe he isn't interested in what other cultures have brought to Morocco.

We walk to a coastal overlook, peering over a parapet to view the sharp rocks below. I'm so glad we are able to stop here, even for a short time, as these are the sorts of places I like to visit. Already, my mind is looking towards another visit to Morocco, as I would like to perhaps spend a day wandering around this lovely town.

We still have approximately four-hundred kilometres to travel today, and we are unlikely to be able to stop again before we reach Fes.

From the window of the bus, I watch with fascination at the scenery outside; pottery stalls line the roads, while villages and medium-sized towns display people going about their daily lives. I try to capture what I can through the the windows. As we drive further into the rural zone, plantations of Australian eucalypts are close to the road. Some huge trees have been cut down, whilst the branches of the smaller trees are cut back for their aromatic leaves for the production of oil. 

Like Egypt, buildings appear to be unfinished on the outskirts of the cities and towns. Perhaps a tax is imposed on completed buildings here too.

Our road through the Rif Mountains is quite high, providing a wonderful view of the rich valley in  which crops are grown. The patchwork of fields, brown and green, provides a sense of good-quality farming practices in a really clean environment, resulting in good-quality food.

In the late afternoon, we arrive in Fes. The king is in residence, so security is tight. After settling into our hotel, we return to the bus. Following Tony and Najib through a maze of narrow walkways, we come to a restaurant, where we are treated to an included traditional Moroccan dinner. We are served chickpea soup with flatbread, chicken pie with a sweet filo pastry, followed by more food than we could ever eat. The small courses kept coming and the food is absolutely delicious. Entertainment of music and dancing follows.

It's been a long day, but already I'm loving our visit to Morocco. It's so vastly different to Spain, but the connection between the two countries is very much evident.

DAY TWO: FES/VOLUBILIS

SUNDAY, JANUARY 15, 2012

Your Local Expert will guide you through the ancient Medina. Explore this walled city of hidden courtyards, mosques and workshops. Walk through the souks and pass one of the world’s oldest universities. Learn about the ancient craft of carpet making and gain an insight into the motifs and colours used in the designs. Then you are at leisure to continue exploring as you wish, or perhaps cool off with a dip in the pool at your hotel.

From a distant scenic overlook we see the size and extent of the Medina in Fes. It is huge! I'm glad that we've been able to view it from here before we enter the labyrinth of narrow streets that make up the largest car-free urban zone in the world. It also includes the oldest existing, continually operating university in the world. The UNESCO World Heritage Site includes the urban fabric and walls and the buffer zone outside the walls, which is intended to preserve the visual integrity of the location (Source: Wikipedia, last edited on 8 May 2020).

As I alight from the bus near the walls, another two guides greet us. Now we have four guides, which I think is overkill, until we step inside. A couple of young teenage boys has attached themselves to our group, herding us and preventing anyone from straying or being distracted. It's easy to see why.  Allegedly there is a population of 2.5 million people in this concentrated area; thank goodness it's not too crowded yet, as our first view of the walled city is of the wet market. A trader is bagging up snails; other dried specialties are stored in a bowl. A camel-meat butcher is attracting customers. I only know he sells camels because the furry and still-fresh-looking head hangs from a hook as a marketing tool. Some from our bus recoil in horror, but I'm not going to judge people on what they've been doing for thousands of years. At the fishmonger shop, crates of small fish sit next to a huge eel. Despite the type and variety of the fresh meats and fish, the area is clean. Out of the meat-market, we enter an area where raw materials are being prepared for the textiles industry; bundles of cotton are wound in hanks, ready for dying. A donkey stands beside a wall; the panier bags are filled with litter. Clearly, this is the equivalent of a garbage truck in the Medina. We pass by shops selling copper goods and laneways where met sit on their haunches beating metal into huge bowls. Past bolts of fabric, a mosque and up a set of stairs to a carpet showroom.

We sit upon low stools sipping sweet mint tea as the staff roll out carpets; wool and silk, hoping for a sale. We are not interested in carpets. It's nice to take a little rest away from the noise and the hustle and bustle of the shopping arcades below.

From the carpet emporium we are led to one of the taller buildings then onto a balcony, where below us are vats of evil-smelling liquids. Someone hands me some mint and eucalyptus leaves to 'position under my nose', obviously to somehow sweeten the smell of the rotting flesh of the sheep skins below. We watch the various methods of removing wool from the hides and preparing them for the tanning process. Hanging from a balcony opposite from where I'm standing, hides are hanging to dry. Whilst the tanning process is being explained by one of our guides, I am fascinated by the way the tanning workers nimbly walk between the deep vats. I half expect at least one to fall into the deep liquids, but these guys are too used to working here. It is really interesting, but we cannot stay here all day. We finish our tour after walking through the clothing stores; brightly-coloured dresses hanging along the walls, whilst the traders call out good-naturedly. The narrow streets are more crowded now and it's harder to keep our guides in our sight. One of the teenagers who appeared when we arrived appears and makes sure we get back to the bus safely. 

We return to our hotel. There is a tour to a bat cave scheduled for this afternoon, but we've organised a driver to collect us to take us to the Roman town of Volubilis. Tony, our guide has been very helpful, organising a car and driver after we expressed a desire to visit the ruins, which were partially destroyed during the Lisbon earthquake of 1750.

Between our hotel and the edge of the city of Fes, and not part of the medina, there is a huge shanty-town. Shacks built of corrugated iron, outline whole functional towns built within the perimeter. Apparently there are schools, shops, and medical centres in the maze of hastily-built structures, but running water and electricity are intermittent. According to our driver, new high-rise buildings are currently under construction to house these people. But when we ask more pertinent questions, like - are new schools being built, what about the businesses and medical centres? how much do these people pay to rent these new apartments, and most importantly, what if they don't want to move? I suddenly get the feeling that the narrative doesn't match the reality and the point of telling us this is to ensure that we know how much of a humanitarian the King is. It doesn't stop me from scribbling the questions down to ask Tony later. After all, he is bringing tourists from all over the world through Spain, Portugal, and Morocco and, as an outsider himself, can probably give us a more balanced view of the country. I'm not complaining, but we are observant and we like to ask questions. To scratch below the surface perhaps provides a small insight into the issues that a country faces. We do not always take what we are told on face value, and sometimes there are surprising consequences.

 

I cannot compare the sight unfolding in front of us with the bat cave the others are visiting this afternoon, but I'm so glad we've chosen today's excursion back out along the same road we took yesterday. With rolling hills and rich green pasture as a setting, out first sight of Volubilis is a line of arches standing tall. It may be the remains of an aqueduct. Slightly to the right is a large solid arch. My excitement grows as our car is parked and we are able to enter the site. Fortunately for us, because we've hired the car for the afternoon, we can spend as much time as we like inside the open-air museum.

The ancient town of Volubilis was settled from the third century BCE to AD 40, and flourished under Roman rule. It fell to local tribes around 285 and continued to be inhabited for another 700 years, first as a Christian community and later as an Islamic settlement. By the eleventh century, it had been abandoned, but the buildings remained virtually intact until 1750, when it was devastated by the Lisbon earthquake. During and after the period of French rule over Morocco, about half of the site was excavated, revealing many fine mosaics, and some of the more prominent public buildings and high-status houses were restored or reconstructed. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed for being an exceptionally well preserved example of a large Roman colonial town on the fringes of the Empire.

The line of arches we had seen from the windows of the car, and which I had assumed was an aqueduct is actually a basilica. In ancient Roman architecture, a basilica is not a church, but a public building with multiple functions. Behind it is a temple. The most distinctive structure is the Caracalla Arch, which is allegedly located at the point where the old city and the 'new' one merges.

What I love about this site is that is not really suitable for hordes of tourists, which is why it's not included on the itinerary of our tour. Underfoot, there are rocks; parts of buildings that have decayed and fallen, remaining where they fell. We scramble over a low wall and into the House of the Columns, a collection of columns, many of which are still miraculously in good condition. White storks use the lofty height to build their nests and I watch them coming and going for a few minutes before resuming our self-guided tour. We are systematically exploring the building remains before moving to the arched basilica. To be able to gaze at and to walk amongst these magnificent ruins, to me, is a privilege. This is what I love to do when I travel. Touching a stone that had been placed here over two thousand years ago is like being transported to a past life, an observer during an historical event. It's a little surreal. Volubilis is famous for it's mosaic floors; tiny scraps of tiles or stones cobbled together to produce pictures and patterns that depict the daily life of the occupants. Some of the floors, left out in the elements, are flawless. The atmosphere must help preserve them, because apart from being cordoned off to prevent people from walking on or picking bits off, they are open, uncovered. A man riding a donkey, surrounded in frames of geometric patterns, mermaids, dolphins, and fish, scenes of conflict; it's all here, including the swastika symbol. I have seen the symbol for good health in many Buddhist temples in Asia, but didn't expect to see it used here in ancient mosaics. According to some research I've done today, archaeological finds have long demonstrated that the swastika is a very old symbol, but ancient examples are by no means limited to India. It was used by the Ancient Greeks, Celts, and Anglo-Saxons and some of the oldest examples have been found in Eastern Europe, from the Baltic to the Balkans. I cannot believe the absolute magnitude of this site, but no matter how much time one has, it's never enough. With a real prospect of being locked in here overnight, it is with reluctance that we leave and return to Fes and our fellow passengers. 

DAY THREE: FES-MARRAKECH

MONDAY, JANUARY 16, 2012

The absolute best thing about travelling by road across foreign countries is being able to witness first-hand the environment through which we are travelling. We are now driving through the Middle Atlas region of central Morocco towards the city of Marrakech. Marrakech is the setting of Hitchcock's movie, The Man who Knew too much, starring Doris Day and James Stewart, which is probably as much as know about the city, so I'm looking forward to visiting and exploring it. The landscape changes gradually from fertile, green pastures of the region near Fes to an arid, stony environment as we approach the Atlas Mountains. Our journey takes us through many villages and market towns; stone and limestone-rendered buildings give way to rendered brick and concrete; drab, beige, ochre, and grey. Animals, horses and donkeys, are used throughout for transport purposes. The animals look sturdy, but the loads look very heavy. Through the window of the bus, I see sheep grazing on land adjoining unfinished dwellings of various sizes. This part of the country appears to have poorer soil and little agriculture, so grazing animals is probably the main income for farmers.

 

As we approach Marrakech, more blocks of units are under construction. I wonder whether there is a housing problem here in Morocco and pose the question to Najib. I'm not sure that our questions are being answered as honestly as I would like, as Najib has repeated the same narrative as the driver yesterday.

We arrive in Marrakech in the afternoon, too late for sightseeing, but we do enjoy a ride in a horse and cart to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the UNESCO World Heritage site and possibly the best-known market square in North Africa. We don't have time to dally, but we are treated to a view of fruit and spice stalls and restaurants. Our restaurant, however, is within one of the adjoining buildings and we spend a delightful evening eating the warming, cozy food of the region, whilst enjoying the folk dancing and other performances from a talented group of young people. Some of our fellow-passengers are complaining about the food! They say that the tagine is too bland and boring. I feel that they are being unfair. So far on this tour, we've not seen fast-food restaurants, but have been treated to a wide variety of local and extremely tasty dishes. Perhaps because Australians share a love of lamb casserole with the Moroccans is why we have found the food tasty and very enjoyable.

See the Middle Atlas Mountains and mud-walled villages as you journey to Marrakesh.

DAY FOUR: MARRAKECH/OURIKA VALLEY

TUESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2012

This morning, we travel to a village to meet a family, who demonstrate the art of making Moroccan tea. In the afternoon your Local Expert will show you the Medina with its many souks and the Koutoubia Minaret dominating the skyline. Visit the Saadian Tombs and the intricately decorated Palais Bahia, intended to be the greatest palace of its time when it was built in the late 19th century.

Soon after breakfast we take a bus ride out of the city of Marrakech. I notice that the buildings are typically a pinky-red hue and we're told that this colour is used because it is 'cooler' in the summer temperatures. It can get as hot as 49 degrees Celsius. If the buildings are whitewashed like they are in Spain, Portugal, and even Tangier, the reflection would be blinding. Najib has control of the microphone and he talks in general about the political and economic status. We are told that all children are given free education until the age of sixteen. He again discusses the housing projects that we've seen in Tangier, Fes, and now this morning, in Marrakech. But he cannot provide direct answers to some simple questions about average wages, amount of rent people pay, etc, etc.

Morocco is a multicultural country. Before 1912 Morocco was fully sovereign, independent, and united. However, France had taken control of Algiers, which borders Morocco, and wanted control of the entire region due to its strategic location. France established a protectorate over Morocco after signing the Treaty of Fez, and remained in control during the period between 1912 and 1956.

Children are provided with free education between the ages of four and sixteen. They study the Koran until midday then the afternoon is spent on the other subjects in the curriculum. I opine that since Morocco had been under French protectorate for forty-odd years, presumably there are children living here that are not Muslim. So I asked whether Christian and Jewish children receive a free education as well. Simple question. The answer should be either yes or no. All Najib had to say was that the free education was provided to Muslim children only and that children of other faiths attend private schools at the expense of their families. Easy? No. He chose instead to ignore my question, emphasise that ALL children were given a free education. Perhaps I could push the topic, but Najib is getting a bit hot under the collar, so I drop it. 

We arrive in the Ourika Valley, a very poor village, where the main source of income is through the sale of pottery items. We are visiting the home of Lala Fatima and her husband, daughters, and granddaughters. The open porch at the back of the house overlooks the mountains and I lament that it's not such a sunny day today. It's actually quite cold, but the scenery is stunning. Tony catches up to answer my question about the free education, and confirms that it is not free for all students. 

We gather on the covered verandah of the Lala's home and together with her daughters, they show us how to make the mint tea, which is served all over Morocco. First Lala plucks the stems off fresh mint leaves, which she places into her teapot. She then adds two spoons of green tea, scrapes a chunk off a cone of sugar, then lastly adds the boiling water. Waiting for it to brew, she talks about her frustration of not finding her fourteen-year-old grandaughter a husband. Najib translates. At 76 years of age, she has had a hard life and each bad year is etched across her kindly but wrinkled face.

Then I do the unthinkable. I had accepted Tony's explanation of what 'free' education means here, but I need to ask the question that I'm sure was on everyone's lips. Another one about education. You see, I believe that children need to remain at school for as long as possible, and I cannot imagine a schoolgirl returning to study after marriage.

'If Lalas granddaughter gets married at fourteen, does she return to school to complete her education until she is at least sixteen?'

Daggers shoot from Najib's black eyes. In passing, he nods and says 'Yes'. But behind him, I see Tony's head shaking, so that's my answer. I won't pursue the matter.

The tea is poured and distributed and freshly-made flatbread with fresh butter and local honey or olive oil is shared amongst us all. The granddaughter has good English and she talks to many of the women, particularly to Natasha and another young lady. Whilst she applies henna designs to Natasha's hands, I chat with Tony about the family and the experience in general. He also updates me on the education situation for married women-girls, which makes me very sad. How are these young ladies going to get themselves out of poverty when they are not permitted to take the opportunity for a full education, which is provided by the government. Tony has had to relinquish the commentary to Najib during our visit to Morocco, but he has promised to answer all of our questions later. He really has been an excellent guide.

Insight Vacations provides cultural experiences as part of the tour and I must admit that I really enjoy these visits. I gain a lot from observing and asking questions. The mint tea, which we've been served throughout Morocco, is very refreshing - even in Winter time. We say goodbye before returning to Marrakech for a city tour and hopefully time to explore the souks.

As we return to Marrakech, we head straight into the centre of the city, close to where we ate last night. We pass the Koutoubia Mosque, which is the largest mosque in the city. Set in large gardens, it is very close to Jemaa el-Fnaa. We don't stop, but we do pass slowly enough to take photos of the minaret through the bus window. We then pass Bab Agnaou, which is one of the nineteen gates of the city. Built in the 12th century, it is the entrance to the Royal Kasbah in the southern part of the medina.  

The bus stops and we alight then walk the short distance to the Saadian Tombs. This is a series of mausoleums that are the final resting places of important figures from the Saadi Dynasty, which ruled Morocco from 1549 to 1659. Shortly after the fall of the dynasty, the tombs had been sealed and only rediscovered in 1917. It is currently under renovation. We walk through the building; adjoining tombs of varying splendour. Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Ed Dahbi spared no expense on his tomb, importing Italian Carrara marble and gilding honeycomb decorative plasterwork with pure gold to make the Chamber of 12 Pillars a suitably glorious mausoleum. Outside, in the courtyard, about 170 prominent figures, as well as some trusted Jewish advisors had been buried. The tiled gravestones mark their graves.

The rest of the day is free for us to explore Jemaa el-Fnaa by daylight. The square, which had been filled with stallholders a couple of nights ago, is open. Street entertainers fill the space, including some very aggressive musicians. If you take their photos, you must pay them. They have a tout, checking for photos and chasing tourists. We have plenty of time to wander through the market, buying some souvenir bowls and other odds and ends, which will be of use. I usually like to buy one blue bowl to bring home when I travel. These trinkets are an everlasting reminder of our holidays. 

When it's time for coffee, we return to the open square and watch as the cleaners collect rubbish and sweep the space in preparation for the arrival of those who set up their stalls and restaurants in the evenings. Over coffee and some sweet, honey and hazelnut-filled delicacy, we are more than content with the tour and with what we have seen and experienced to date. 

DAY FIVE: MARRAKECH-CASABLANCA-RABAT

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2012

Journey to the west coast of Africa to reach Casablanca. Discover if Humphrey Bogart really did say 'Play it again Sam' during sightseeing with your Local Expert. You will also see Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in the country and the très chic seaside strip, known as the Corniche, lined with trendy restaurants and cafes. Then travel north to Rabat, to see the Royal Palace and Hassan Tower with your Local Expert.

We have a small sleep-in today, as we don't have to cover a huge distance today. After clearing the city of Marrakech, Tony asks us to close the curtains of the bus whilst he shows the classical movie, Casablanca. It's funny how a movie's setting becomes a lot more meaningful when one is smack-bang in the centre of it. We enjoy the movie, which is timed to exactly finish as we approach the outskirts of the city of Casablanca.

Why am I surprised that Casablanca is such a modern city? It bears absolutely no resemblance to the city in the movie or the other cities we've visited since arriving in Morocco. I suppose it's because Tangier, Fes, and Marrakech are all very old cities, built around the medinas and royal capitals. Casablanca, on the other hand is the financial centre of Morocco. The actual capital of the country is Rabat, where we will end our tour for today.

Built on the coast, Casablanca has been settled by the Portuguese, Spanish, British, and French. It's location on the Atlantic Ocean and it's seaports make this city very important for Morocco. We drive through a city that could be Melbourne or Sydney; heavy traffic and very modern. Our bus stops right on the ocean at the Hassan II Mosque. Completed in 1993, this is probably the newest of all the mosques we've visited during this tour. Sitting on a promontory looking out to the Atlantic ocean, the courtyard can hold 80,000 worshippers at any one time. Combined with the 25,000 that can gather inside, approximately 105,000 people can gather together for prayer. The numbers are mind-boggling, when you think that an MCG-full of people can at any time, use this space for prayer alone.

Like most places of worship, far too much money is spent on buildings when perhaps the money could be better spent on ensuring the other needs are met. This is an issue that will be debated for a long time to come. This mosque cost 585 million euros to build and had been intended to be second in size to that in Mecca. 

Along the Atlantic coast is a corniche or wide walkway, which provides an uninterrupted and safe pathway along the coastal road. Although we return to the bus, we travel along the road for a few kilometres to a group of restaurants, where we have time to take lunch and to explore the coastal path. But before we arrive at our lunch spot, I'm a little surprised to see the remnants of a shanty-town; new blocks of flats on adjoining land. This land is perfect for developments of hotels and luxury apartments, with an unobstructed view of the ocean. The poor people of the shanty town, who once had ocean views, are gradually seeing their community being dismantled and its occupants moved to the outskirts of the city in yet another public housing block, paid for by the benevolent king. Although we are given the rosy view of people no longer having to live in desperate circumstances, I'm not sure that dismantling communities and displacing their people across several blocks are flats are doing them any favours. What about schools, childcare, doctors and other services that had once been the central hub of the shanty-town? Apparently, we westerners are not meant to ask these probing questions because they responses have not been given to Najib to recite back to us. There is a level of reticence on the part of Najib, but I do understand that the tour guides must comply with the guidelines set down by government officials. They are apparently not meant to deviate from those. And yet, when we've come across guides of past tours, and they've been happy to speak off the record, we've gained a better view of a country. It is not a criticism of the country; it's simply an annoyance, but I do understand why. We walk along the corniche for a little while, enjoying the sunshine, although the breeze is a little cool. The beautiful palm-tree-lined dual carriageway is lovely. Modern homes nestled in thick vegetation enjoy uninterrupted views over the ocean. This is a lovely city, although perhaps there isn't as much to see as some of our previous stops. 

The relatively short distance to Rabat is along the coast road and fortunately I'm on the right side of the bus to fully enjoy the view.

Rabat is another modern city, but includes some very interesting historic buildings as well. The King has followed us from Fes, because he is in residence here, meeting with the Spanish president. We are not permitted to visit the palace. We are taken directly to Hassan Tower, which shares the site with the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. It contains the tombs of the Moroccan king and his two sons, late King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah. The building is considered a masterpiece of modern architecture, with its white silhouette, topped by a typical green tiled roof. It was completed 1971 and Hassan II was buried there following his death in 1999. (Source: Wikipedia, last edited June 6, 2020)

Inside the mausoleum we walk along a gallery, which allows us to look down at the tomb below. The examples of Moroccan craftwork in the tiles and plaster are amazing, but the exquisitely-carved cedar ceiling, covered in gold leaf, is a sight to behold.

Outside, Hassan Tower is just in front of us. A minaret of an incomplete mosque, the tower had been intended to be the largest minaret in the world along with the mosque. When the third Caliph died in 1195, construction on the mosque stopped. The tower was about half of its intended 86 metre height and the rest of the mosque was also left incomplete, with only the beginnings of several walls and 348 columns being constructed. The innovative cylindrical stone columns, rather than using typical brick piers, had slowed the original construction considerably, which may have been a blessing because the mosque sustained extensive damage due to the Lisbon earthquake in 1755. Today, we wander through the site. The story of an unfinished mosque dating from the 12th century, but still standing in its unfinished form is amazing in itself.   

DAY SIX: RABAT-TANGIER-TORREMOLINOS, COSTA DEL SOL

THURSDAY, JANUARY 19, 2012

Your journey continues to Morocco’s great port of Tangier, overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar. Here you will enjoy beautiful views where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean.  Cross the water to Spain and continue on to Torremolinos,

Our 4:30am start is a fair indication that we have a long way to travel today, including arriving at the ferry port at Tangier by 10:30am in time for our ferry back to Spain. We say goodbye to Najib, who is feeling a little ungracious this morning. our group is quite vocal, and together we've asked a lot of questions about life in Morocco. Maybe he's not used to it. We have to manage our own luggage on both continents, and this takes some time to organise. Our mid-afternoon arrival in Torremolinos on the Costa Del Sol is a welcome and relaxing break after a quite intense six days in Morocco. During the drive from the ferry port in Tarifa, Tony provides us with a good overview of general life in Morocco, answering many of our questions. He has, over the course of the journey has often given us insights into life under the cruel Franco regime, through which he lived as a child. He has a particular skill at relating facts without prejudice and I'm very happy with the commentary over the whole trip to date.

Somehow we snag a room overlooking the sea. Later, we will walk along the beach in our own time and enjoy an evening on our own.

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