Posts Tagged ‘Al Hoceima’

Finally – Tangier and the American Legation – after crossing more mountains


2011
05.20

Last stop ahead

Time for the last big drive, Al Hoceima to Tangier.  At this point I believe we were regarding this as a strenuous trip because we had NO IDEA how much driving would be involved.  As we left Al Hoceima, the countryside was beautiful with orchards in bloom, wild lavender by the road.

Orchard outside of Al Hoceima

Some of the hills looked like the farms along The Three Gorges in China – multi-colored and terraced.

The weather was gorgeous and there were people alongside the road gathering herbs.

We passed fascinating haystacks.

Haystack outside Al Hoceima

We passed prickly pear in full fruit, but we noticed something alarming.

We were going up.  We had forgotten about the Rif.  We were driving Morocco’s third major mountain range.  But the weather was lovely, we could still see the Mediterranean – how bad could this be?

Bad is the answer.  It was getting colder and I did not have my long underwear on.  The car heater of course was still broken.  And it was foggy, then raining.  We passed patches of snow up on a hill.  I took a picture, thinking, “Ooh, I’ll show the kids how high we were and how close to snow!”

Snow in the distance

You might be asking yourself right now, as I am asking myself, what do the kids care if we are passing snow?  We have snow all the time at our cabin in Alta Sierra.  And the kids aren’t little either.  The youngest is 37.  Old habits die hard.  So when we passed snow at the side of the road, I took a photo of that also.

Closer patches of snow

If I’d had my crystal ball with me I would have known that in a matter of moments we would be driving through a snowstorm.

Snowing

Yes, for about 1½ hours.

Visibility was low.  And snow was starting to coat the roads.

The snow starts to stick

Snow is beautiful, one must admit, even in the midst of it.  The trees were turning white.

And then rain.  The road tricked us – we’d be descending and Mark would say, “We’re out of it now, going down.” And we’d go up again.  Each time, Mark hopefully said the same thing, and finally, at last, the snow and rain and fog were gone and we were out of the Rif.  We’d seen the snow plows going up to 7,000 feet, where we had been, and where the roads had been awful.  It registered now why Joaquin had said, as we drove away from Casa Paca, that the roads probably hadn’t been fixed yet since winter.  This place gets torn up each year from snow and ice and rain.

And all of a sudden, as if we’d never been through rain, fog and snow, there were wildflowers.

Tangier

So.  Tangier.  We lived there for six weeks in 1971 during our Peace Corps training.  And we were going back.  The American Legation, where we trained and lived, was the first property the United States owned on foreign soil, and it is currently the only National Historic Site not in the United States.

George Washington and King Mohammed I had correspondence back when, trying to solve the Barbary pirate situation.  And thus Morocco came to be the first country to officially recognize the United States as an independent nation.  We couldn’t wait to see it again.

But we needed to get rid of that rental car which meant find the airport.  Signage had been pretty good throughout the country so I just said to Mark, let’s drive into town and we’re sure to see an airport sign somewhere.  Now understand that “town” has gotten a whole lot bigger and we drove a very long way, before, on the verge of desperation, we saw a sign.  We knew we couldn’t go very much farther without landing in the Atlantic Ocean, and we knew the airport was south of town near the coast, but nonetheless, we were beginning to look for airplanes and what direction they were landing.

Walking happily into the airport to the car rental desk, eager to tell them about the lack of oil and the squeaky brakes and the lack of heat, we found – no one.  There was one person in the whole array of rental car agencies and he said, oh, they aren’t here, just put the papers under the window.  OK? OK, we did, and found Andrew from Dar Jand who was picking us up, and we were on our way to the medina.

We wanted to stay in the medina since the Legation was in the medina and it would be like old times, sort of.  On tripadvisor I found Dar Jand.

Dar Jand

And a plug for tripadvisor – it was invaluable.  I got most of our lodging based on recommendations on tripadvisor, and none of them were in the guide  books.  Unless it’s Rick Steves, I don’t really trust those books like Frommers and Fodors anymore.

Andrew and Janet – the JAND of Dar Jand, are an American couple who own a quirky, four (or was it five) story place in the medina.  Janet spent five years renovating it while Andrew was still working in the states and I am in total awe of what she accomplished.  When she arrived she spoke no French or Arabic, and she says now she’d never do it again – had no idea just what she was in for.  But she did a fantastic job.  Honestly? It was nice to be with Americans and speak English.  Andrew showed us where everything was, including the laundry.  We’d been three days in the same clothes and I mean all the same clothes and were desperate for something clean.

View from Dar Jand - Medina Rooftops

How was it that we knew that medina inside and out once?  It’s a rabbit warren, a maze, it tricks you into walking in circles.  But we’d had the adventure squeezed out of us by now and lacked the energy to care about where we ate or what we saw.  We just wanted to be there.  And visit the Legation.

Medina steps outside Dar Jand

Andrew gave us directions, we set out, walked in circles and got lost.  Someone offered to lead us so we knew a tip would be in order, which was fine with us.  It’s a way of working, it provides a service, and everyone we saw in this country worked hard.  We wondered about how unemployment is defined.  Are people selling their vegetables in the souks considered unemployed? Or people selling on the side of the road?  What kind of living do those people make compared to the cost of living? One thing is clear, I expect to the population in general as well as outsiders: the country runs on tourism.  It’s only 10% of the GNP and that’s hard to believe.  The unrest in the Arab world isn’t good for Moroccan tourism, although Morocco is completely safe.

So we were happy to pay our self-appointed guide to reach the legation.  Jerry Loftus, the director of the Legation museum, met us and actually got pretty excited when he realized we really truly had lived there during a Peace Corps training.  We were searching for our room; when we lived there we had the best room of all since having a two-year-old daughter gave us privileges. Where other volunteers bunked together and shared bathrooms, we got our own room and bath!  We did not just have any room, however.  Ours had a secret door with a hidden area that one could escape to if one didn’t want to be found.  And I don’t think it was for getting “alone time.” Perhaps the area could be treacherous.  We explained all this to Jerry but we couldn’t find the room.  I knew in my head exactly how to describe it, and now we’ve found that Jerry is actually living in that room – but since he has not found the secret door, he didn’t match our description to his room.  It may not be there but then again…it was a secret.

Jennifer outside of our room 1971

How did Jerry figure out he was living in the room? We sent him old photos after our return, which he was happy to have, room identified or not, as there is very little in the way of records for that time period.  He did bring out a very old, very crude scrapbook that someone had given him, and Jerry wondered about the photos.  We knew who the people were because it was our training group!  (By saying “very crude” scrapbook, I’m not disparaging the work of whoever made it – but it sure makes a stark contrast to all the technology available today.)

Scrapbook in legation

Little by little, the Legation is being restored and the museum enhanced.  There are copies of letters between George Washington and Mohammed I – difficult to read with the florid script of the day but thrilling nonetheless.

Courtyard steps 1971

Legation courtyard 1971

Dining room American Legation today

Dining room during Peace Corps training 1971

Jenny at kid's table 1971 - on the balcony

Legation balcony today

Exterior Legation crossing over alley

A neat feature of the American Legation is that it spans the road in the medina.

So it was over.  We’d seen what we came back for – Oujda, the Legation, Tangier, and points in between.  Tangier was the most different of anywhere.  A tourist in Tangier used to feel like a gladiator thrown into the pit, set upon by people offering to sell you goods, guide you, or pick your pocket.  It was not so much like that now, blessedly.  Plus, many shops do not bargain anymore, which is a huge relief no doubt and makes the tourist experience livable.  So many of Tangier’s tourists make day trips from Spain, and to have one’s first experience of Morocco seem like a hell-hole can’t be good for extended tourism.

Tangier is also feeling more like part of the country.  Hassan II did not like the North and never set foot in Tangier, which left them the poor stepchildren of Morocco.  Mohammed VI, however, has a residence there, visits, and it’s made a terrific difference to the populace to feel like they count.  That, at least, according to our host Andrew, and if I’ve misremembered, I offer apologies.

Here are a few pictures of our wanderings in the medina.  Everything is interesting, colorful, exciting.

Purple wall, Tangier medina

Blue wall, Tangier

Blue passage, Tangier medina

Inside a holistic herb store, Tangier medina

Medina port, Tangier

Now our zip was completely gone.  We were ready for Spain.  We’re getting old and organized tour groups are looking better and better; but we couldn’t have seen all we’d wanted to without driving the country and it was worth it for sure.  We’d been on camels, in planes, cars, taxis and trains in a little over two weeks.  We found a country we loved that had developed incredibly in 40 years yet still retained its character and heart.  We headed through the medina to the port to catch a fast ferry to Tarifa  to the bus for Sevilla.  We got one last look at Tangier as the ferry pulled away.

View of Tangier from ferry

We’ll be back.  Next year is the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps in Morocco so chances are good we’ll attend, then go to Agadir and spend a week or so at a beach resort and spend time with Krim.  As soon as we recover our energy from this trip, it’ll look a whole lot better for a return.

Next – to Sevilla.

 

Our Peace Corps Work Worked


2011
05.19

The Fruits of Mark’s Labors

Forty years ago we set out with our two-year-old on our great adventure – joining the Peace Corps.  We were just burning up with the idealism of the late ’60s and our desire to make the world better.  Mark heard a radio ad recruiting for architects and planners (he is an architect and planner) so we applied.  One day we got a phone call from Dick Holbrooke (yes, the Richard Holbrooke who just died, the master diplomat).  We were each on an extension when Dick asked us, would we like to join the Peace Corps and go to Morocco or Tunisia?  Yes, we would.  We hung up and raced to the bookcase to find the atlas.  Where was Morocco anyway? We had no idea.

We went, and right now let’s get it out of the way – the question I am always asked, What did I do in the Peace Corps?

This is a loaded question for me.  My husband is an architect and planner, and we were invited into an architect/planner training.  I was called a non-matrix spouse but promised I (and the other non-matrix spouses) would be given a job once in our final destination.  I pretty much didn’t have any formal skills at that time and didn’t have a teaching credential, but the Peace Corps knew that and said something would be available.  We were assigned to Oujda, Morocco, which made us very popular since Oujda was the least desirable location and we requested it, getting everyone else off the hook. After being somewhat angry for months about the lack of a job and the lack of action by the Peace Corps office to get me one, I realized it wasn’t going to happen.  Mark had been so valuable as an architect/planner that they wanted us and probably only had a vague idea of what to do with non-matrix spouses.

I started asking around on my own, trying to find some sort of meaningful activity but I wasn’t able to.  Part, or most, of that was political.  Oujda was at that time a small town on the Algerian border.  (Now it’s a bigger town on the Algerian border.) Women were treated passably well but they didn’t work at anything I could do without taking a job away from someone else.  Everyone thought we were CIA agents anyway, so I gave up the work idea and focused on being my own little personal good will ambassador.   And had a child.

See why this is a loaded question? I never know what to say when people ask me, “What did you do?”  So we were there just because of Mark, and it would be important that his work counted for something.

We went, and Mark spent two years in the office of planning and housing, as well as in the field, making site plans.  These are plans to guide the development of towns –  analyses of where housing should go, where the mosque should go, where business should be located – so that infrastructure can be utilized more efficiently and a town can be a pleasant place to live.  The theory behind this was good: the government did not want to see mass migration to the cities and the development of shanty-towns; they wanted people to live satisfactorily in rural areas.  By and large, this strategy seems to have worked.

Mark kept copies of all the site plans for 40 years and now we were going to see if they had been effective.  We were driving through Zaio, Taforalt, Sidi Bouhia, and Mt. Arrouit. We also wanted to drive through Berkane, the town fellow volunteer Mike Zelinski worked on for his entire two years.  First, however, we headed to the Gorges of Zegzel, where we had been on excursions so long ago with fellow volunteers and our friends the Krims.  We left Oujda, headed for the night to Al Hoceima, with these stops in between.  It was going to be another long day.

First stop: Gorges of Zegzel – we drove to the Grottes de Chameaux (cave of camels) and it had changed for the worse.  Whereas water used to gush from the opening into a pool where people swam, no water was gushing now and the pool was concreted in.  The cave entrance looked blocked inside with debris.  Forty years ago, you could walk through huge rooms and come out at another end.  That was disappointing, but at least we found it!

Grottes de Chameaux in 1973

Grottes de Chameaux 2011

Picnic in Gorges of Zegzel in 1973 - with mint tea

Look in the back right and you’ll see the Butagaz bottle.  It wouldn’t be right without mint tea.

When we went on these picnics or to the Gorges, we needed to fill up on gas.

Filling up at the Shell Station 1973

We headed on to Taforalt to see what changes 40 years had wrought.  This one was funny.  A housing tract had been constructed right where Mark had indicated on his plan, but it was a design unlike any we’d seen in Morocco!  More like Swiss mountain homes.

Housing development Taforalt

Not the style you’d expect, but at least they followed the plan.

We were hungry and had arrived at a traffic checkpoint, so we asked the soldier/security police/whatever he technically was where we should eat.  We had a little chat about how we used to live there, etc. and went off for lunch.  We were just a tad worried because we had all these city plans spread around in the car as we were talking to the officer, but I guess he thought we were harmless.

Outside town there is a strip full of butcher shops, cafes, and individual tagines sizzling on grills.  We each got a tagine, which surprised the waiter – I don’t believe very many non-Moroccans end up there!

Lunch in Taforalt

We had tagines for lunch

Sidi Bouhria was the next stop.  Mark was able to orient himself with the plan and found that it had been of some use. The mosque was right where it was supposed to be.

Sidi Bouhria

We stopped in Zaio and again, plans had been used.  The town had developed just as it should have.

Zaio

Zaio

Still lots of room for growth, but I think it’s incredibly gratifying to know that two years worth of work in the Peace Corps did actually amount to something.  The towns aren’t exciting to look at in the pictures, but when you think about what it represents, and when you  picture the slums and shanty towns in India, for example, you can really appreciate the forethought of Hassan II, never mind his other shortcomings.

Mt. Arruit had developed more than any of the other towns.  This next is a picture of Mark and others from his office taking a look at the site for Mt. Arruit.  There’s pretty much nothing there.

Mt. Arrouit 1971

This is what it looks like today from the same vantage point.

Mt. Arrouit today

On to Al Hoceima

Our trip down memory lane was finished and we pressed on to Al Hoceima.  Since we didn’t want to rush visiting the little towns, we again were in a race against dark, plus we were tired, hungry and grumpy.  We missed our turn and went into the thick of town – it was still light then.  But Al Hoceima was crowded, full of one-way streets, bumper-to-bumper traffic.  It was the wrong time of day to be there for sure.  By the time we got it all sorted out it was dark and we blindly drove out of town searching for the correct turn.  How we did it I don’t know because we ended up in a residential neighborhood high on a hill, but I reasoned that what goes up must come down and it did.  Where was Casa Paca?  Apparently I was to have called Joaquin at Casa Paca for him to meet us and guide us to his guest house.  But I didn’t.  We did see a sign:

So we thought it would be a piece of cake until we found ourselves winding up a road – not even a road, a rock path – up and up and up.

Road in the daytime

No lights, pitch black.  We thought we were horribly lost and were going to turn around when we saw what looked like a parking lot prepared for three or four cars.  We stopped.  It was Casa Paca.  It was dark.

I called “hello, hello” and as we, despairing, were about to drive back down the hill, a voice called, “Susan?”  Saved.

It was Joaquin, who had given up on us.  We were the first guests since Christmas (Casa Paca is on the Mediterranean and guests just don’t go there in winter.  It’s a beach place.) We went in.  I said, “Do you have any food?” I must have looked awfully frazzled, because he and his wife whipped up a dinner of the most tender and flavorful grilled steak, grilled zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and homemade French fries.  I will forever be grateful to this wonderful man.  We wished we had more than one night to stay, but it was just a stopping off point on the way to Tangier.

Casa Paca

Joaquin built this place just about on faith.  He had constant doubts if anyone would want to come there and watched his savings evaporate as the house took shape.  He did a wonderful job – really thought out all the details to make guests comfortable – and it’s been a success.

Casa Paca Patio

The door on the left is our room. From our room we looked out on the Mediterranean and two interesting things: one a fortress, and the other, a big rock.  The fortress is a Spanish garrison with very high walls and the only way in or out is by helicopter.  The other, the rock, is Spanish territory and if you look closely you’ll see a Spanish flag.  This apparently is hotly contested land.  Maybe someone can enlighten me as to why Spain just can’t give the rocks to Morocco.  Not too long ago there was a little skirmish here.

There are a couple of towns in Morocco that are part of Spain, Ceuta and Melilla, both on the Mediterranean coast.  I’m sure Spain strategically is happy to have the towns and even the garrison, but those two rocks?  Really.  If I’d waded over there I’d have been in Spain!

If anyone is ever in that part of the world, I’d recommend Casa Paca.

Casa Paca comfortable sitting room

Joaquin takes pictures of all his guests and puts them in the stairway.

Now, our pictures will be up there also.

With Joaquin at Casa Paca

Next, we cross the Riff Mountains and go to Tangier, our last stop in Morocco.