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I had the privilege of being able to spend 10 days in Morocco, a kingdom in North Africa. This far flung destination was on my mother's bucket list and while a seasoned traveler, she always enjoys the company of family. So I dusted off the suitcase and joined her.

Getting to Morocco was a bit of an adventure in and of itself. From Cedar Rapids, I flew to Chicago. Then onto to Montreal and finally 8 hours over the big pond to Casablanca. In all it took approximately 22 hours to arrive.

Morocco is ruled by King Mohammed the VI and his imprint is seen everywhere. The country is undergoing large developments in many of the cities we visited. The unemployment rate has decreased and many of the Berbers in the countryside have been given opportunities to be self-sufficient. For example, a cow is provided to Berber women in the household so they can sell milk on a daily basis back to the government.

However there is a strong culture that goes back thousands of years that still exists. Morocco is a Muslim country, and while women are given the option of covering their head, most of them choose to do so. The mosque is the dominant presence wherever there is a congregation of people. Each mosque has a Inman who performs the religious duties and we had the opportunity to visit with one. He explained his duties were very similar to a Christian religious leader who teaches the scripture, provides educational opportunities for children and adults, provides guidance, and leads his followers in prayer.

Geographically Morocco seems to have it all. The country borders both the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. There are stunning mountainous regions, the Sahara Desert, and areas that resemble our southwest.

The trip began in Casablanca which is a sprawling city that borders the Atlantic and is home to the largest mosque in the country. The Hassan II Mosque or Grande Mosque Hassan II is the second largest in Africa, and the 13th largest in the world.

The mosque extends into ocean and the roof opens to embrace the sky. Quite a sight.

Of course just saying, "Casablanca" conjures up memories of the famous movie from 1942 starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Unfortunately the movie was shot on a Hollywood film set and the cast and crew never set foot in this exotic city. However Rick's Cafe was recreated in Casablanca and was hands down the best restaurant we visited.

Casablanca is also known for its less favorable citizenry. We were warned about pickpockets that run rampant through the metro area. Apparently the popular mode of thievery is to grab a purse while buzzing the down on the street on a small scooter. Purse, thief, and scooter make a quick getaway.

For me, though, hands down Marrakesh was the most beautiful city. It has a stunning mix of the old and the new which come together in an exotic tapestry of colors and styles.

In the city's medina (which is word used to describe the walled portion of the city), there were bands, snake charmer, tents offering everything from egg sandwiches to sheep's head. I tried the sheepshead and thought it had a texture similar to sashimi. It was a bit oily too. Not sure I would go for it again although I'm told I missed out by not sampling the camel burger. I also tasted a tea that was challenging to drink. When you held it up to your nose you were blasted with fumes similar to Vick's Vapor Rub. I provided some comedic relief in trying to drink it. Eventually I did and the tea wasn't as strong as the smell suggested. But still not a fan. That being said, I was committed to trying all things Moroccan.

The stands offering goods for sale are called the souks. Some of the stuff is genuine, but much of it is imported from China. You had to look smart to be sure you were getting what you wanted.

We toured several Medinas and saw how little life had changed. The bartering for goods, the display of freshly slaughtered meat, the aggressive salespeople, and the preparation of food done as it has always been spoke of days gone by.

In one Medina, we walked to the top of the walled city to peer into the bowels of a courtyard dedicated to the curing and dying of leather. There were literally giant colored pots that were used to soak the leather. Every square inch as covered in drying racks. You could see them stacked on balconies and squeezed into small portals.

Donkeys are the popular mode of transportation for goods and people. The creatures play a dominated role in the way of life.

There was also the heartbreaking stories of the "unemployed dogs." There is still a large contingent of Berbers who live the nomadic lifestyle. They move every six months or so from the desert to the mountains and back again looking for grazing pastures for their herds of goats. They need a small army of dogs to protect their flocks, but when they move the dogs are left behind and a new group of dogs "employed." So the left-behind dogs become charity cases for the neighboring villages. Scraps of foods are literally bundled into "doggie bags" and handed out to the canines who carefully trot away to a pre-determined hideaway to eat their meal undisturbed.

When the nomads return, the dogs will be "employed" again.

I'll have more stories and pictures on Morocco in a few days...hope you check back in to read about the bath house (amazing) and the Sahara Desert (put on your bucket list)!



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