Three quarters of the Moroccan people trace their ancestry to the original inhabitants, the Berbers who weathered invasions by the Phoenicians in the 12th century BC, by the Carthaginians in the 6th BC, by the Romans in the 2nd BC, by the Vandals in the 5th AD, by the Byzantine Empire in the 6th, by the Arabs in the 7th, the Portuguese in the 15th, the Spanish in the 19th and the French in the 20th. In spite of all that, a third of the population still speaks the ancient Berber Afro-Asiatic language.
In 1956, France recognized Morocco as an independent monarchy with Sultan Mohammed V as king. He was succeeded in 1961 by his son Hassan II who has enjoyed a largely autocratic rule for 35 years before conceding a measure of democratization in order to arrest the spread of Islamic fundamentalism from Algeria.
When Spain withdrew from Spanish Sahara in 1976 Morocco and Mauritania divided it between themselves and Morocco took over the southern third in 1979 when Mauritania could not defend it against the Polisario Front striving for independence. Algerian support of the Polisario guerrilla forces caused severe friction that almost resulted in war between the two countries. In 1991 a UN supervised cease-fire was signed with the Polisario and a referendum was set for 1992 but it has not been held yet.
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Arriving in the port of Tangier. The three hour passage from Algeciras passed quickly joking with Peter Terelinck, an eccentric middle-aged Australian backpacker from Sydney that I had met in Gibraltar.
The Gate of Italy gives access to the medina (old city) from the Grand Socco Square on the western side. Leaving the ferry terminal on foot, I entered the medina by the stairways on the eastern side and made my way through the charming narrow streets to the Pension Mauritania in Petit Socco Square, where I shared a room with Peter. The next day, I left for Tetouan and Peter for Casablanca.
Mohamed V street leading from the Pension Iberia where I stayed in Moulay el Mehdi square to the Place Hassan II in the Medina.
Arriving early in Tetouan, I was immediately adopted by an uninvited guide, Hassan, who stuck to me like crazy glue and showed me around. I normally would have chased him off for I prefer exploring narrow alleys and dark shops by myself rather than having a guided tour of the local tourist traps. He was a nice fellow with a great personality so I let him do his bit and gave him the expected tip at the end of the day.
Place Hassan II and the Royal Palace are the heart of the labyrinth of narrow alleys and passages that constitute the medina. Hassan knew it like the palm of his hand and everyone seemed to know him so having him around wasn't a bad idea after all.
He showed me places I might not have found by myself such as this open air tannery. Of course he took me to his favorite shops (the ones that gave him the best commissions) but his introductions made it easier for me to strike conversations with the owners of the shops we visited.
My next stop was here in Chechaouen, a delightful 15th century holy city off the beaten track in the Rif mountains. This is Outa el Hammam square in the center of the medina where locals and tourists bask in the sun sipping sweet mint tea in one of the several sidewalk cafes.
Only the towers and outside walls remain of the 15th century Kasbah that gives the Square a lot of atmosphere. An attractive garden and a small museum are hidden behind them.
There is always is some shade in the narrow streets of Chechaouen and the the light blue whitewash reduces the glare of the sun. At every turn the view is different but beautiful.
I stayed at the Pension Znika where I had a nice room for 20 dirham not far from this charming street cafe.
Most houses have running water but some of them don't. This public fountain is not only decorative, it is still a necessity.
School is mandatory for children up to 13 years of age but in practice only three-quarters of them actually attend. Morocco has six universities and spends a quarter of its budget on education but illiteracy is still very high at around 55 percent. There is a definite progress however, twenty years ago almost 80 % of Moroccans could not read nor write.
Bab el-Mahrouk in the outside walls protecting Fès from the north.
It was a long seven hour drive from Chechaouen because the bus made a detour by Souk el-Arba and Meknes instead of taking the shorter route through Ketama. It gave me time to get acquainted with François and Martine, French teenagers from Toulouse who were also going to Fès.
Northern walls of Fès seen from the inside.
Founded by Moulay Idris in 789, Fès is the oldest of the imperial cities of Morocco. It has been the capital for long periods of time on several occasions. It had its zenith as the capital of the Merenids who ruled Morocco from the 13th to the 16th centuries. By the turn of the century Sultan Abd el Aziz drew criticism from the conservative religious leaders by adopting a European lifestyle deemed dissolute. He was deposed by his brother Abd el-Hafid who installed himself in Fès where he was besieged in turn by hostile tribes. After he called the French to his assistance, Morocco became a French Protectorate in 1912.
The capital was transferred to Rabat on the coast but Fès remained an important administrative center and the French built a new city next to the old one as it was their policy at that time.
The famous Bab Bou Jeloud (grand daddy Jeloud's gate) gives access to the medina's warren of narrow streets. In Fès I stayed for 4.30 $US a night at the Cascades Hotel a short distance on the other side of this gate. It was a colorful busy market area with people milling around the stalls and cafes until late at night.
The following day was spent exploring the medina, getting lost and finding my way again with the aid of my compass. Following a sign on a door at the street level, I climbed up five flights of dark, rickety stairs to reach a rooftop handicrafts shop from which I took this photo of the leather dyers souk where the same dye pits have been used literally for centuries. Notice the yellow goatskins drying in the sun on the nearby rooftops.
The ornate door to the showroom of the wood-workers syndicate and this public fountain are good examples of classical Moroccan architectural decoration.
The two photos below show the typical narrow streets of the medina.
The northern walls of Fès grazed by the setting sun are an impressive sight even now.
From Fès I took an overnight bus directly to Agadir without stopping in Marrakech which I find too touristy for my taste. Upon arrival, I immediately took another bus and got here at nine in the morning with plenty of time visit the old city and to take pictures of the famous Taroudant city walls before returning to Agadir in the evening.
There's nothing very special to be seen in Taroudant except its great mud walls but these are so well preserved and extensive that it is worth making a detour to see them.
Hotels in cafes surround Assarag Square which is the heart of Taroudant.
Morocco has many fine beaches but Agadir is to Morocco what the Costa del Sol is to Spain, a winter rest and recuperation haven for tired northern businessmen.
Below on the left, a patio in one of the tourist hotels. On the right, Agadir's Great Mosque.
And of course, the heart of Agadir, its magnificent beach on the Atlantic Ocean. I stayed overnight at the mediocre Lackssass Hotel, spent a couple of hours on internet and rested on the beach before taking another overnight bus going south to Dahkla at 8:00 pm.
Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, whose sovereignty remains unresolved - UN-administered cease-fire has remained in effect since September 1991 but attempts to hold a referendum have failed and parties thus far have rejected all brokered proposals; Polisario, Algeria and European supporters agree to latest US-brokered UN proposals for limited temporary autonomy for 4-5 years followed by a referendum on independence, but a final response from Morocco is pending; Mauritanian claims to Western Sahara have been dormant in recent years
Eighteen hours later I arrived in Dakhla 1200 kms south of Agadir. I shared a room in the Wahda Hotel with Alain Beaumont, an interesting Frenchman selling windmill generators and ingenious water-well pumps to isolated oasis communities. After dinner, we were soon fast asleep recuperating from that long ride.
Dakhla, close to the Tropic of Cancer, is the staging point for bi-weekly convoys going further south towards the border with Mauritania. Dahkla is well into Western Sahara, a territory whose status is yet to be established by a UN sponsored referendum to determine whether its inhabitants wish to be independent or joined with Morocco. Morocco administers it as an integral part of the country and controls who can go where and when.
As I was going through the formalities to to obtain permission to join the next convoy, I met Laurent Hurault who was driving a Peugeot 504 full of books and school supplies to Senegal accompanied by his brother Christian on a big cross-country motorcycle. They offered me a ride as far as the Mauritanian border where they would need my seat for the guide that would take them through the desert.
The following day, about 50 vehicles of all sorts assembled here in the morning just outside of Dakhla. After endless formalities, checks and cross checks, it was two in the afternoon when we were allowed to leave for the 300 km drive to the border.
Some distance out of Dakhla the pavement ended and we continued onward, now having to choose between the bone jarring remains of a very badly rutted black top or the soft sand track beside it.
Christian whizzed along on his special bike while we rattled along through the potholes until the inevitable happened, we blew a tire. It had been foreseen but it still meant one spare less for the rest of the trip.
Finally, it was dark when we arrived at this spot and set up camp for the night. The next morning the Huraults hired a guide and I obtained a passage for 10$US/day with a British group on a five ton Bedford truck.
The Huraults were a good bunch, we bade each other good luck and went our respective ways. Since then I have heard that they have crossed the desert without a hitch, delivered their load of books and supplies to their school teacher friend, sold their vehicles in Saint Louis and flew back home for Christmas.
Road blocks for verifications by the police, the customs and the gendarmes were frequent and the border formalities were so elaborate that it took us 12 hours to cover the 60 km left to reach Nouâdhibou in Mauritania.