A little about Abraham and the origin of Judaism, about Ibrahim in Islam and the festival of sacrifice Eid al-Adha.

It felt a little strange driving into Casablanca on our last day in Morocco.

The streets were EMPTY of people and cars.
On our arrival in Casablanca, six weeks ago, the traffic was so dense and so chaotic, that I was a bit nervous when we left the relative quiet of El Jadida and drove north into Casablanca.

But instead of the usual cacophony of traffic, we saw only carts drawn by horses or donkeys, loaded with sheep skins, freshly slaughtered.

It got even stranger, when I looked to my right and to my left, and saw men grilling heads of sheep on large metal grills, propped up over coals that were placed right on the asphalt in the streets of the city.

Beside these men grilling whole sheep heads on these makeshift street grills, NOBODY was walking on the streets and almost ALL businesses were closed…

It was a Monday…. No special day…. So what was going on?……. Why were all the streets of Casablanca, a major city, so empty?…

And then it all connected in my mind.

Two days ago, we saw what we thought were livestock markets, all over the roads in towns and villages.
People were selling and buying sheep or goats, and almost everyone we saw, was in possession of a sheep.

It MUST be a holiday.
An important holiday, if I were to be judging by what we saw, and it must involve animal sacrifice.

Our friendly boutique hotel receptionist at the Hotel Le Doge, told me that it was Eid Al – Adha.

Now it all made sense….

It is indeed a MAJOR Islamic annual festival.

At the end of the Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca), Muslims around the world celebrate the holiday of Eid Al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice).

During the Hajj, and the subsequent celebration of Eid Al-Adha, Muslims commemorate the trials, tribulations and spiritual triumphs of the Prophet Abraham.

The festival commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his eldest son Ishmael, in obedience to a command from Allah.

During Eid Al-Adha, people sacrifice their best domestic animals (usually a sheep, but it can also be a cow, a camel, a goat, or a ram) as a symbol of Abraham’s willingness to trust God.

The sacrificed animals have to meet certain age requirements, or else the animal is considered an unacceptable sacrifice.

The slaughter has to be done while the butcher pronounces Allah’s name, at the moment of killing.
Muslims slaughter animals in this same way throughout the year.
By saying the name of Allah at the time of slaughter, they believe that they are reminded that all life is sacred.

This tradition of slaughtering sacrificial animals for the festival of Eid Al-Adha, accounts for more than 100 million slaughtered animals in just the 2 days of the Festival yearly. (costing way over US$ 3 billion.)

The meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts.
The family retains one third for their own festive celebration.
Another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors.
And the other third is given to the poor and needy.

The festival is marked by praying at the Mosque, by festive celebrations of meals, by eating sweet foods, wearing the best and new clothes, giving gifts or money to the needy and to small children.

Abraham, which the festival is commemorating, is a central figure in the closely linked trio of Bible based religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In fact, to take it a step further, and to enlighten those of you who could not care less about religion: Abraham was the originator of Judaism, which was the first religion among the three.

I will give you the gist of the story as it is told in Judaism:

Abraham was born under the name Abram (Or Avram, with the letter H added to his name after his divine mission, as the H stands for Heloim, which is the Hebrew word for God.)

Abraham was born in the city of Ur in Babylonia in the year 1948 from Creation (circa 1800 BC and roughly 3811 years ago.)

He was the son of Terach, a merchant who was selling clay sculptures of gods, or idols, which were worshiped by almost everyone at that time.

Much like Hinduism, and a little like in ancient Greece, at that time there were gods to worship for the rain, the moon, the sun, the god of prosperity, the god of love, of fertility and many many more.

Symbolically, Abraham father’s name, Terach, is a modern Hebrew slang word for someone with outdated ideas and ideologies… Someone who is stuck in prehistoric thinking and is not keeping up with the times….

Anyway…. from his early childhood, Abraham questioned the faith of his father and found it lacking in reason and truth.

He became a seeker and student of the Truth, and he came to believe in the existence of Oneness…..and that the entire universe was the work of a single Creator that conceived it all, and so he went around sharing his beliefs with others.

Abraham tried hard to convince his father, Terach, of the senselessness of worshiping idols and many separate gods.

One day, when Abraham was left by himself to watch his father’s store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the clay idols except the largest of them all.

He then placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol.
When his father returned, he looked around at the destruction and with a concerned voice he asked Abraham what happened……

Abraham said: “Yo, you’re never going to believe this shit….The idols… They all got really angry….. they got into a serious fight, and the big one right there in the corner…..he smashed all the other ones.”

His father said: “Are you fucking with me?….Don’t be ridiculous.
These idols have no life nor any power.
They cannot do anything like this…
What really happened here?”

To this Abraham replied: “If you truly believe the words you just uttered, that these gods have no life and no power, then why do you worship them?”

As time went by, God spoke to Abraham and made him an offer: Abraham must leave his home and his family, and follow God to wherever the teaching will take him.
In return God would make him into a great nation and bless him beyond all measure.

Abraham accepted this offer, and the b’rit (covenant) between God and the originator of the Jewish people was established.

This was the first sign that the idea of SACRIFICE FOR GOD, was erroneously established in the mind of Abraham.
It would take almost a century, and the bitter test of almost sacrificing his son, to try to uproot the idea of sacrifice from Abraham’s mind.

The idea of this B’rit is still carried in the Jewish tradition and in Islam to this very day, (it is commemorated by clipping off the tips of all boy’s penises in these tribes).

God later tried to correct the wrong concept of SACRIFICE in Abraham’s mind, by asking him to sacrifice his beloved son and later replacing it with a sheep, which is the origin of this Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha, but I am running ahead of myself here…

Before Abraham received the teaching, he was subjected to ten tests of faith, and needed to demonstrate his trust in God (or Allah in Islam, since the story is very similar, and the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is done to commemorate the tests that Ibrahim had to pass to prove his trust and faith in God.)

Leaving his home was one of these trials that Abraham had to “pass.”

Abraham, who was raised in a city surrounded with his loving family, had to become a nomad, traveling through what is now the land of Israel and beyond.

Abraham was nicknamed “The Hebrew (Ivri),” possibly because he had roots in Eber, or possibly because he came from the “other side of the river” (Me’ever Lanahar), referring to the Euphrates River.

The Tigris-Euphrates river runs all the way from Turkey, and it passes and is fed by tributaries from Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Babylonia, and in Kuwait, it empties into the Persian Gulf.

It was historically a very important river that runs through a region that was nicknamed the “Cradle of Civilization”.

OK… So back to Abraham.

Abraham was happily married to his beloved wife, Sara, but they had no children and they were both growing old,….(Abraham was 87 and Sara was way past child-bearing years at 77).

To make Abraham happy so he can have a son, Sara offered her maidservant, Hagar, as a wife to Abraham.

For a man to have more than one wife was a common practice in that region at those times.

According to the story, Hagar was a daughter of Pharaoh, who was given to Abraham as a sign or respect, during his travels in Egypt.

Hagar bore Abraham a son, and they named him Ishmael, who, according to both Muslim and Jewish stories, was the original father of the Arab (Ismaili) world.

Abraham was a life long student of truth, and when he was 100 and Sara was 90, God tried to transcend their ideas of biological limitations and their beliefs in aging, and so God promised Abraham a son by his wife Sara.

Sarah bore Abraham a son, and they named him Isaac (in Hebrew, Yitzchak).
The name Isaac is derived from the word “laughter,” and there were several possible explanations for why they chose this name.

It was either meant to signify Abraham’s joy at having a son from his beloved original wife, a miracle child……or it was the joke of having a son at such an old age.

It is indeed laughable to believe in the limitations of the world, instead of putting your faith in the powers of Spirit / God.

It is possible to transcend all concepts of limitations for the beloved and all powerful children of God, who were created in the image and likeness of God, and are not bound by ANY earthly ideas, including old age.

During the course of seeking for the Truth and raising his children, Abraham went for a walk in the mountains, where he heard God’s voice asking him to bind his beloved son and sacrifice him to God.

This is where the two religious stories differ.

In the Islamic story, Ibrahim was asked to sacrifice his ONLY son, which depending on WHEN this happened in Abraham’s chronological life, must have been Ishmael, Abraham’s only son for 13 years before Isaac was born.

In Judaism, it was Isaac who was the son that Abraham was asked to sacrifice, when God told him: “Go gather your only son.”
Abraham said “I have two sons”
God: “The one you love the MOST…”
Abraham said: “I love them both dearly…”
God: “Go get Isaac.”

In both Judaism and in Islam, after Abraham bound his son for sacrifice, God sent an angel to intervene and He provided a sheep instead, telling Abraham that he does not need to sacrifice his beloved son.

In the Islamic story, God did NOT name the son that Abraham was to bind and sacrifice, but it was believed to be Ishmael.

In Islam, the story says that when Ishmael was about 13, and his father Ibrahim was 99, Allah (God) decided to test his faith.

Abraham had a recurring dream, in which he thought that God was commanding him to offer his son as a sacrifice.

In those times, people made sacrifices to God very often, but they mostly sacrificed animals, so to sacrifice your only son was an unimaginable act.

Abraham believed that dreams were prophetic and were divinely inspired, and that dreams were one of the ways in which God communicated with his prophets.

Abraham decided to fulfill God’s command and to offer Ishmael for sacrifice.
Abraham also decided to ask Ishmael for his consent.
Ishmael had to agree to give up his life.

Ishmael did not show any hesitation or reservation.
He said, “Father, do what you have been commanded.
You will find me, Insha’Allah (God willing), to be very patient.”

His humble and trusting response, and his faith in his father’s dreams, were seen as signs of his devotion to Allah, and ultimately his trust in a higher power that guides all things.

Abraham was standing above his son on the sacrificial stone, holding a knife while Ishmael was lying willingly under the knife, when Allah sent an angel who called out to them saying that the test was completed, and that Ibrahim does not need to carry out the killing of Ishmael.
Instead, Abraham was told to replace his son with a ram to sacrifice.

In both stories the moral of the story was NOT really about obeying God’s command blindly, as it is mistakenly understood when taken at face value.

Instead, the moral of the story was to demonstrate that SACRIFICE was NOT necessary…
That God does NOT require sacrifice of ANY KIND.

Spiritually speaking, the idea of sacrifice is wrong at its core.

God does not need the tips of the penises of your sons, NOR does he require the killing of a goat or a sheep.
No sacrifice is ever needed of you to advance in your spiritual life, nor to show your love to the Creator.

To begin with, you have so little, and you give yourself so little from what LIFE has to offer…
You only collect crumbs of what is rightfully yours by YOUR Divine heritage.

YOU, WHO ARE GOD’S GREATER TREASURE, HAVE NO IDEA WHO YOU TRULY ARE!

What you treasure, your family, your loved ones, your little earthly possessions, your bag of treasures, your good health, your small pleasures, your little loves, and the things you are passionate about, NONE of this are you asked to sacrifice.

Keep it all and allow the Truth of who you are to ADD to your little collection of things that you love and value…. These little treasures of what you imagine can bring you happiness….

You joy is your compass to God.
What makes you come alive and fills your heart with love and excitement, is what you need to cultivate in you, for that is your path to God… To LIFE.

You may think that you do not believe in the concept of sacrifice, but even though you may not believe in the killing of animals as a sacrifice, chances are that you believe in other sorts of personal sacrifice.

You may believe that abundance requires HARD work…

You may believe that you have to sacrifice your freedom for a love relationship…

That you need to sacrifice your desire for comfort and money, if you choose a career as an artist or a poet…

You may believe that being kind and loving require sacrifices of you… Sacrifice of your time, of effort…. Of money…

You may think that you have to sacrifice youth for wisdom,
Sacrifice yourself to help others….
Do things that do not delight you for the greater good…

The idea of sacrifice, which is celebrated here in Morocco, as it is in all the Muslim countries around the world, is what the story of the Bible and the Koran were meant to actually UPROOT.

People believe that much sacrifice is needed of them to align themselves with the wishes of God (Allah).

It is believed that sacrifice is a symbolic attitude of devotion to God – a willingness to make sacrifices in one’s life in order to stay on the straight Path.
A willingness to give up things that are fun or important, in order to please or to reach a righteous and judgmental God.

But even in the Koran it is explained that sacrifice is NOT really required at all.
That Neither the blood nor the flesh of the animal can reach God, who is in the realm of spirit and not matter.
The Koran says: “It is NOT their meat NOR their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him.”

But people only learn small chunks of truth at a time… It may take thousands more years for them to understand that sacrifice is NOT a symbol of love NOR devotion.

So for now, they were only able to learn that devotion to God and having faith in His Word, and in His good intentions for us, was the moral of the story of Abraham.

So what happened to Ismail, his mother Hagar, Sara and Abraham?

In Judaism, it is told that Sarah asked Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away from their home.
Although, in the Koran, it is Allah who told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael into the desert.

Ishmael is highly regarded in Islam for his goodness and wisdom.
After wandering in the desert with his mother, they settled in Mecca.
There it is believed that Ishmael built the Ka’aba with Abraham.

Abraham and Ishmael constructed a stone and mortar structure —known as the Ka’aba, which was to become known as the gathering place for all who wished to strengthen their faith in God.
It is still the stone structure that all Muslims pray towards.

As the years passed, Ishmael was blessed with Prophethood and gave the nomads of the desert his message of trust in the ONE God that his father Abraham believed in.

After many centuries, Mecca became a thriving desert city and a major center for trade, thanks to its reliable water source, the well of Zamzam, which is believed to have been created by an angel answering Ishmael’s mother Hagar’s prayers for water on her journey through the desert.

Meantime, Isaac, his brother, married Rebecca (Rivka), who bore him fraternal twin sons: Jacob (Ya’akov) and Esav.

Then the story grows complicated and very much like a TV soap opera, with a plot that twists and turns, and involves trickery, betrayal, multiple wives, favoritism and all the sort of crap that constitutes the human drama that is life on earth among people.

The Jewish Bible tells that Jacob, who was his mother’s favorite son, tried to steal his now old and blind father Isaac’s blessings.

The story tells how Esav sold his birthright of spiritual leadership to his brother Jacob, for a bowl of lentil stew because he was momentarily hungry.

Then Esav got angry about all this, and so Jacob fled and fell in love with Rachel.
But Jacob was tricked into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah, and only later was he also able to marry Rachel.

Jacob ALSO married the two sisters’ maidservants, Bilhah and Zilphah.
Between these four women, Jacob fathered 12 sons and one daughter.

Jacob’s 12 sons – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin – were the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel.

After many years of living away from his family, Jacob was hoping to reconcile with his brother Esav.
One night, before his return to meet his brother Esav, Jacob dreamt that he wrestled with a man until the break of day.
Maybe he was haunted by the past conflict with his brother…
As the dawn broke, Jacob demanded a blessing from the man, and the “man” revealed himself to be an angel.

He blessed Jacob and gave him the name “Israel.”
The next day, Jacob met his brother Esav, and was welcomed by him.
The conflict between the brothers was over.

And so the story goes….
But this is getting too long for me.

I celebrated the Eid Al-Adha in our most lovely boutique hotel, where the only sacrifice I made was to sacrifice my bathing suit and to soak totally naked in the Jacuzzi while drinking herbal tea.

I was alone in the amazingly luxurious spa, and the attendant locked the doors behind me and put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doors.

I used the swedish sauna, and finished in the steaming elegant Hammam, where the attendant laid a copper tray for me with bathroom goodies.

The tray had on it two kinds of shampoo, a rose scented one and one with Argan oil, a black olive Gommage soap, a bottle of mineral water, a comb, rose soaps and a natural clay mask for my face.

I luxuriated a long time and later I met Jules in our wonderful room.
We dressed up for dinner in our lovely hotel, and had a fabulous meal to celebrate the end our journey in Morocco.

Happy Eid Al-Adha to those who celebrate it!
May one day the idea of sacrifice be uprooted from their minds!
May the children of Light and Love know the LOVE that created them all…

May they rise above all concepts of fear and limitation to know that there is nothing but LOVE and that it was never any different…. Except in misunderstood stories being told that got organized into limiting religions….

May you know who you truly ARE….

May you know and remember that you ARE ONE with all of LIFE…
One with God…
One with all power, and glory and love…

Mmmmmmm….. Amen!

Tali

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El Jadida Morocco.


El Jadida is also known by the name Mazagan.
It is a port town, just 95 KM south of Casablanca.

It is not a glamorous beach town, despite having a long stretch of beaches with a nice boardwalk, but it does have a shabby charm.
The charm comes from the beautiful Portuguese architecture that still dominates this city.

The Portuguese occupied this region, and built the beautiful small walled Medina in the 1500’s.

They built churches and an impressive underground water cistern that we were able to visit.
We were led into the very large, cool and moist cistern and admired the arches and thick supporting columns.
At one time this underground cistern supplied clean water for the whole city.

We strolled along this picturesque Medina and we followed the line of people carrying trays filled with home made bread to or from the local bakery.

We were invited to look inside this old bakery that has been there since the 1500’s.
It was a simple place with an underground oven that was fed with wood.
It had a few wooden shelves filled with trays that people brought from home, and an amazing view over the port.

Most people make their own dough and bring their own breads or cookies on baking trays, to be baked in the communal oven.

A young men was feeding the oven with trays, by using a very long wooden stick that resembled an enormous spatula.

We were offered to try some freshly baked cookies… They were still warm from the oven and delicious.

We walked on top the ancient Medina wall, and saw the old cannons placed there to protect the city.
Below us was the water filled moat that surrounded the walls.

It is a very much lived in Medina, with kids playing football in the streets, women hanging their laundry in every available place, and people sitting in doorways, chatting.

There were a few stores along the main street, mostly catering to tourists.
The big market was just outside the Medina, and it stretches over many busy streets.

There were men sharpening knives on leg operated wheels, women painting intricate henna designs on the hands of other women, fresh produce and all sorts of goods people use in daily life.

After being unable to find all over Morocco, shipping bubble to pad our ceramic Tajine, we bought some plastic table cloths, to wrap around it, to protect it during transport.

The big lady that handed me my change, told me not to put the money in my pants pocket, where it could be stolen, but to put it away instead…
I thanked her with a smile…

We have been traveling for more than six weeks in Morocco now.
Not once did we encounter a threatening situation.

Our little Suzuki-San car was always safe, our computers and iPads were safe in all sorts of hotels, and so were both of our digital cameras, our Flip video camera, our portable GPS, mobile phone, watches and money. (although we never left money in the hotels, we did leave all of the above to charge their batteries very often, and never encountered a problem while in Morocco.)

People will always warn you of possible dangers, but you will attract or repel your own experiences, based on your own vibration and energies.

I have to admit that for the most part, we always felt welcomed, respected, safe and were treated well.
But these is also how we like to treat others….
We like to see the good in them, to look for their better qualities, to respect and honor their being, no matter what they think of themselves.

Along the beach of El Jadida, we saw the row of small fish stalls on the water, but they were all closed for the season.
There were a few cafes directly on the beach, serving mostly snacks and soft drinks.

The day was sunny and we were able to get some good photos of this city.
The colors of the old buildings, the old palm trees and the blue sky, masked the imperfections of this city.

The photos does not show how dirty the beach was, and how crumbling some of the ancient buildings were.

On the newer part of the city, on Avenue Mohammed V, there are some art deco buildings with Spanish influences to the architecture.
Large columns, arched doorways, faces of lions in supporting beams… They look great against the palm trees swaying in the wind…

I soaked up so much sun on this trip, I am tanned from head to toes….
This is the most tanned I have been in years…
People tell me that I look Moroccan, and some speak to me in Darija Arabic, before they recognize that I am a tourist with no Moroccan roots.

This happens to me almost in every country that I visit.
In no time people seem to think that I am Italian, French, Spanish, Brazilian, South American, Native Australian and Maori.

I often enjoy this privilege and pretend that I understand what they are saying… And the familiar and warm hospitality that being one of their own, generates.

There is a joke that Jules and I share, from a TV show in NZ, that we once watched.

In it a girl was trying to get Affirmative Action Benefits, that were only available to minorities, like Islanders and Maori.

She lied and said that she was half Maori.
“Really?” asked the clerk, “On which side are you Maori?”

“On the Maori side!” She answered, blowing the question away.

So am I…. I am half Maori on the Maori side…
Half Moroccan… Half Russian… Half Persian… And half every other nationality in the world…

One day nobody will care where you were born and where your parents came from…. But until then I am pleased to be from EVERYWHERE….

This is the end of our journey in Morocco.

Tomorrow we drive to Casablanca, and the next day we return Suzuki-San to the car rental from which she came, and bid a fond farewell to Morocco.

Tali

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Touring El-Jadida


Last night, after we had arrived in El-Jadida and checked into our hotel, we took a walk on Blvd. Mohammad V (perhaps the most common name for the main street of cities and towns throughout Morocco), with our only goal to have a nice, long walk after a full day of driving, and a look at the downtown while we tried to find a place to eat a light supper. The boulevard was packed with young Moroccan boys and girls, all out styling and profiling, looking to see and be seen.  

We did see much of the downtown at night, and it looked a bit grimy and rundown, with many closed storefronts, broken sidewalks, and dark stretches. We managed to find a nice French cafe, where we had a plate of crudités, a plate of frites, toast with some very good chevre, and crepes with nutella for dessert.  A bit on the heavy side,  so we did some more walking before we returned to our hotel!

After last night’s less-than-inspiring walk, we didn’t know what to expect this morning, as we headed out for a day of walking around El-Jadida, especially its medina, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The day was sunny and warm, perfect for touring, and also perfect for photographing, since the Moroccan sun casts beautiful shadows, and also results in an astoundingly blue sky.  

The medina is also known as the Portuguese city, as the Portuguese controlled what they called “Mazagan” from 1506 to 1769.  The name “El-Jadida,” which means “The New,” was given to the city after it was taken from the Portuguese and resettled in the nineteenth century, largely with Jews from elsewhere in Morocco. We entered the medina, which has impressively thick walls and ramparts, complete with cannons, and we could immediately see why this is a World Heritage site – with its white and pastel colored buildings, mostly in tones of blue, yellow, reds, and sepias, this place is extremely photogenic!  It photographs much better than it looks in person, in fact, as the trash that is liberally strewn about in places doesn’t show up much in the pictures, and the buildings that are crumbling look majestic against the blue, blue sky.  

We were invited in to see a community bakery oven, located in a hollowed out space in the ramparts, just above the waterline.  Local people were coming in and out frequently, either dropping off their dough to be baked, or picking up their finished breads, cookies and pastries, which all looked fantastic.  Our host gave us a cookie each to taste, still warm from the oven, and they tasted just as good as they looked!  We offered to buy a bread, but he told us we couldn’t as everything there belonged to local families, so we just gave him a donation instead.  

This old Portuguese city has a central street with several shops for the tourists who come and visit, but life just a bit farther inside the medina is for the local people only. This is still a living, breathing community, with a ton of wash hung out to dry all over the streets (I wonder, is Sunday laundry day here? It seems like everyone has done their wash today!), kids playing football in many places, women sitting outside in the warm sun, chatting to each other or their children; in other words, living their lives as I imagine they always have. 

We visited the Portuguese Cistern, a centrally-located huge subterranean vault with a large circular opening above ground that captured the rainwater and stored it for the community’s use.   Although it is no longer in service, it’s quite beautiful to see, with an inch or so of water reflecting the architectural features of the vaulted ceilings.  

After we had walked around most of the medina, and around a stretch of the impressive walls and ramparts, we left and crossed the street to see the large street market that is held every day here.  There were men and boys sharpening knives and cleavers, using foot-power to run old sharpening wheels, fruits, vegetables, and meat on offer, and every kind of retail good imaginable, all for sale.  The market streets were absolutely packed with people, closing off the road for traffic, making it a slow-go for the occasional truck or car trying to get through.  There wasn’t anything much for tourists to buy, so Tali was a bit out of the norm, but warmly received, when she bought a couple of plastic shower curtains for us to use as substitute bubble wrap for our trip home, in just a few days. 

This surprisingly rich sightseeing day was, in a way, a great way to conclude our tour of Morocco, as our six-plus weeks here have been full of similar days of unexpected beauty, warm and rich interactions with people we have met along the way, and lots of pleasant surprises.  We have thoroughly enjoyed our trip here, and the wandering we have been able to do through much of the country, allowing our instincts to guide us from place to place.  

Jules

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From Essaouira to El Jadida.


We left Essaouira and drove north along the coastal route.

For most of the way, we saw simple beach villages, with stone or concrete houses, and farmers working small pieces of land by hand plowing or with the help of two donkeys or two bulls.

Along the way young people selling conch shells, ran to offer us large shells as they saw us approaching.

We stopped at the picturesque town of Walidia, (also spelled Oualidia,) which is a beach resort with a small ocean front lined with small hotels and some restaurants.

On the ocean, some fishermen had a stand selling raw oysters, and bundles of clams and mussels.
Local people on scooters rushed to meet you at the parking lot, to offer you fresh seafood at discount prices, before you enter any of the restaurants.

Despite the fresh offerings, we did enter one of the restaurants, that looked charming at first glance, and had a very mediocre lunch while the owner fought with her employees and stormed out of the kitchen.

She stopped once by our table, looked at the uneaten food on our plates, and mumbled in French that she was happy that everything was OK… good…

As we headed north along the coast, the soil along the road became so rocky, and so devoid of fertile elements, that the farmers resorted to farming the soft land right at the edge of the beaches.

It was very interesting to see how they grow crops right at the edge of the shores of the ocean.

In Ireland as well as in NZ, I saw people growing crops and cultivating pastures right by the ocean, but those were on top of cliff plateaus, high over the ocean.
I never saw agriculture farming done right on the shore level.

But I guess that this is a necessity in this area, where the fields in this region have poor rocky soil due to overgrazing, poor agriculture methods and strong trade winds that depleted and exposed the surface of the bedrock.

In some places, they created water channels, to divert the ocean.
This created wetlands, with the intention to desalinate the salt water and use it for watering the cultivated fields.
The lagoon created has been transformed into salt works, creating a small peninsula that protects the salt works from the ocean, further behind the fields.

As we neared the town of Safi, we came upon a few large roadside livestock markets.

It was an amazing sight.
Most of the men were dressed in Moroccan Jellabas, with the pointy hood hats on, holding a single sheep by the ear, the by the horn or by a hobbled leg.

They were standing there, until somebody who was impressed by the size or by the look of their sheep, came over and they started a dialog of negotiation.

If they agreed and a sale was made, the seller would help place the sheep in their cart, or in the trunk of their car, tying it with a rope and leaving just enough space to allow the poor sheep to breathe.

We saw these Saturday livestock markets further along the coast in other small towns, with many individuals selling one or two goats or sheep by the road.

Many people were riding horse drawn carriages.
And often we saw the back of these carriages, filled with passengers and a sheep bought in the market.
There were also scooter carts, with kids holding a single goat by the horn, or a sheep by its ear, taking them to or from the market.

When we saw the city of Safi from the distance, I was overcome with a sense of dread.
The whole city was covered with pollution, coming out of dozens of smoke stacks.

To our dismay, major industrial plants and factories, lined the shores of this city.
Large chemical plants, gas refineries, phosphate plants, a power plant, fertilizer plant, all were situated right on the ocean.
I even saw a large pipe depositing brown grey waste water into the ocean.

The area has also a very large sardines canning factory.
Morocco is the largest sardine exporter in the world.
Most of the sardines are being processed and canned right here on this shore.

We veered away from the ocean and passed through a busy produce market in Safi.
People were so densely crowded into these markets, buying freshly baked bread, produce and some of the largest and best pomegranates I’ve seen in Morocco.

I felt disheartened and wanted to get out of the smell that filled my lungs with an unidentifiable mix of pollution and chemicals… So we drove out of Safi until the ocean looked clean again.

Finding a hotel in El Jadida, proved a little hard.
Most of the places looked unappealing.
We came upon a small hotel called Art Suites.

They offered spacious one bedroom apartments for a reasonable price and were centrally located near the beach, the port and the old Portuguese Medina.

The friendly manager showed us around, making chit chat…….He said he thought that NZ just lost the rugby world cup games….

NO!……We said….. NO!!!! We WON!

He said: Yes….sorry, sorry….. You beat the French…. He said this with a smile… (Morocco was occupied by the French for a long time)

He said that the NZ All Blacks are real warriors……they are like Gladiators…. how they do the Haka dance…….. with their arms….. and guttural voices……. He said he absolutely loved it….

We took a room there and went for dinner and a long walk along Avenue Mohammad V, which is lined with cafes and restaurants.
I was craving Crepes with Nutella since Essaouira… And indeed they were just as yummy as I imagined them to be.

Tali

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Essaouira

It stormed all day on Thursday, which was supposed to be our first day walking around Essaouira’s port and medina.  We decided to remain in the fabulous Sofitel hotel for the day, because it didn’t seem very enjoyable to get soaked while trying to sightsee!  A couple of times during the day, it looked like it was going to clear up, and we would be able to go after all, but then it just clouded over again and started to rain once more.  

We spent the day having a leisurely lunch, writing, and relaxing.

It finally did begin to clear late in the afternoon, after 4:30pm, but by then we didn’t see much point in going for only an hour or so before it got dark.  

We had another delicious dinner in the Sofitel, and we’re resolved to go Friday, rain or shine.  And despite the forecast of rain throughout the day, we did leave with our anoraks and an umbrella to see Essaouira Friday morning.  The Sofitel is located just a few minutes away by car, so we soon arrived and found a place to park at the port.

The port of Essaouira is the most striking sight to see in this town, and I was grateful to see it first, while there were blue skies to enjoy its colorful boats, fishing nets, and dry docks, all bordered by stone battlements and walls.  Because of the stormy weather yesterday, many of the fishing boats were still in port when we arrived, allowing us even more striking views, of the big boats tied up in the harbor, and the small, bright blue dinghies pulled onshore.  There is also an active shipyard business in the port, so we got to see several large fishing boats in dry dock, being repaired by craftsmen, as well as a new fishing boat or two under construction.  

Right in the port are a line of shacks with the day’s catch on ice and a charcoal grill in front of each one, and behind, a bunch of simple wooden tables and benches.  You can pick out your lunch or dinner, either fish, crabs or shrimp, whatever was brought in by the boats that morning, which are then weighed and charcoal grilled for you on the spot.  Because of how wet everything was from all the rain, these shacks were quiet when we passed them, but if the weather holds, I’m sure they’ll get much busier later on!

We left the port, and climbed up to the walls and battlements that border it, called the Skala de la Ville, to have a look at the ferocious ocean waves, breaking against the rocks that extend out from the walls.  It seemed a certainty that anyone trying to attack Essaouira by sea (it has had forts here since at least the fifteenth century) would surely not be able to get by the ocean currents, or the rocks, let alone scale the high fortress walls, but just in case, there was also a line of mighty cannons all along the walls, ready to wreak certain destruction on anyone foolhardy enough to make the attempt. But actually, these mighty cannon, from all over Europe, were a gift from prosperous merchants to the ruling Sultan in the nineteenth century, who then had them displayed along the walls. I don’t know whether they ever saw the heat of battle here in Essaouira!  

Along one street that runs next to the ramparts, and built into the ramparts themselves, are a series of stalls where marquetry (wood inlay), wood sculpture, and small pieces of wood furniture have been crafted and sold for hundreds of years.  The best work is a delicate and precise art of combining different colored native woods into a single piece, like a chessboard, for example, which is then oiled and rubbed to a high sheen.  

Not far away, I spotted a few babouche makers who worked in a style of leather embroidered with small, shiny threads and beads of different colors, that I haven’t seen anywhere else here in Morocco.  In many of the cities and towns we’ve visited, I’ve seen one craft that the residents in that particular place have made their specialty for centuries, like the marquetry and embroidered babouches here, the leather babouche making in Tafraoute, and beautiful woven models of stables and animals in the High Atlas.  These specialities are not found anywhere else but in their places of origin.  Of course, there are also for sale many, many items intended for the tourist trade, which look just the same no matter where I’ve seen them. 

We stopped into a small French cafe, La Cle de Voute, whose owners seemed to take a craftsman’s care in the food they served, even the simple brunch set menus that we ordered.  Suitably refreshed, we continued our tour of the medina – we walked over to the Mellah, now many crumbling buildings with two small signs for synagogues.  Once, Jews made up almost half of the population of Essaouira, and they were especially active in the jewelry business…signs of their past community here are now as ephemeral as the flutter of the seagulls’ wings.  

The beaches around Essaouira, because of their frequent strong winds, are well known as havens for windsurfers and kite surfers, and we saw many small beachfront cafes that looked like they catered to the surfing crowd in season.  

As the afternoon progressed, the weather turned again…first cloudy, then sunny again…then sprinkles of rain, then back to just cloudy…finally in the late afternoon, it really started to pour again.  Unfortunately, it was still a few hours before the restaurants serving dinner would re-open, and we really had no place to go to wait out the storm.  

I felt very lucky to have had a chance to see most of Essaouira while the weather was still fine, but it seemed to make sense now to head back to our hotel and have dinner there.  It was a great day of sightseeing here – it’s easy to see why this is a UNESCO World Heritage site, as the port area is still very much alive and economically robust, providing much of Morocco with its daily supply of fresh fish, transported by refrigerated truck every morning right from the port area where the boats come in.  

Jules

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Essaouira Morocco.

After spending a whole very stormy day confined indoors in our hotel, eating good food and lazing around, we decided that no matter how bad or stormy the weather will be tomorrow, we were determined to go out and explore Essaouira.

It was a rainy morning when we woke up, but we packed our raincoats and borrowed an umbrella from the hotel and went to explore Essaouira.

We parked by the old fishing port, and walked around this very lively port town.

The storm and the winter season, meant that most of the boats were docked in the port, and were not out fishing at sea.

It was such a picturesque fishing port, with the old wall running along the coastline, the fishermen cleaning fish and feeding the guts to the fat stray cats and seagulls….

Men were working on the larger boats, painting them and repairing these old and worn-out vessels that carry fishermen to sea, day after day for many years…

There was a long line of wooden shacks that are actually seafood restaurants, painted blue and white, offering the catch of the day grilled and served right there on wooden benches during lunchtime.
They weigh the fish, lobster, shrimps or the crabs that you choose, and charge you by the weight.
Then they grill it for you to eat right there.

Along the old wall that surrounds the old port and the Medina, there are the old cannons that were placed there by the Dutch, and were used to protect this costal city.

The name Essaouira is derived from the word “Souira”, which means “a small fortress”.

Since early times, the city has also been known by its Portuguese name of “Mogador,”

It is thought that it got the name Mogador, in the Middle Ages, when a Muslim saint named Sidi Mogdoul, was buried in Essaouira.

In 1506, the king of Portugal, ordered a fortress to be built on this coast, and he named it: “Castelo Real de Mogador”.

At that time, the Portuguese had seized six Moroccan towns, and built six fortresses on the Moroccan Atlantic coast.
Following the 1541 fall of Agadir, the Portuguese had to abandon most of their settlements between 1541 and 1550, although they were able to keep Ceuta, Tangier and Mazagan.

But Essaouira was a city that was lived in, way before the Portuguese occupied it.

In fact, it is known to have been continuously lived in since prehistoric times.
Probably because the bay at Essaouira is partially sheltered by the offshore island of Mogador, making it a peaceful fishing harbor protected against strong marine winds.

Archeological pottery found beneath the city, points to an early Phoenician settlement in this area.

Phoenicia was an ancient civilization known as an enterprising maritime trading culture that existed from 1550 BC to 300 BC.

The Phoenicians were known as ‘traders in purple’, referring to their monopoly on the precious purple dye extracted from the Murex snail, which was used, among other things, to dye royal clothing, and for their spread of the alphabet (or abjad), upon which all major modern alphabets are based.

During the 16th century, various countries including Spain, England, the Netherlands as well as France, tried in vain to conquer Essaouira.

Essaouira remained a haven for export from Africa to Europe of sugar and molasses, and was known as an anchoring port of pirates.

Hand carved Dutch cannon from 1740 still stand on the wall of Essaouira today.

From the time of the rebuilding of the city by Muhammad III until the end of the nineteenth century, Essaouira served as Morocco’s principal port, transporting the goods of the caravan route trade to the world.

The caravan route brought goods from the sub-Saharan in Africa to Timbuktu, and then through the desert and over the Atlas mountains to Marrakech.

It was a stormy day, as we walked the streets of Essaouira, and we were grateful for the stretches of sun that we got.

We found a lovely place and had a late brunch.
Fresh juices, tea, salty Crepes, three kinds of goat cheese, toasts, and a fruit salad scented with orange flowers.

Since we are nearing the end of our trip, I bought more of the wonderful extracts of orange flowers.
I made sure to buy the kind that is food grade, which you can use for scenting cakes, teas, and desserts.

We strolled among the many craft shops, and admired the specialty of inlay wood that is done in this region.

I bought some natural indigo pigment rock, to use in future art projects, and when the rain intensified, we found shelter and continued later on.

We saw the Jewish quarter, called Mellah, which has houses from the 1800 and is mostly in rubble now. (you can see the destroyed buildings in the photos)

The ruler Mohammed ben Abdallah, encouraged Moroccan Jews to settle in this town and to handle the trade with Europe.

Jews once comprised almost 45% of the population, and the Jewish quarter, or Mellah, once contained many old synagogues.
We still spotted two small synagogues that had signs on their doors.

Essaouira beach stretches outside of the Medina.
It was a rainy day, so no surfers were out, but we could see the cafes by the beach, where the surfers normally hang.

On sunny days, these beaches are also filled with people kitesurfing and windsurfing.
With the powerful trade wind blowing almost constantly onto the protected beach, there are many thrills to be found here.

Essaouira hosts a yearly Gnaoua music festival (also spelled Gnawa music) in June, which attracts a huge following.
Walking around the Medina, we could hear a group practicing Gnawa music on the second floor of a building.

Both of the main streets in the Medina have souks in them.
One caters more to the tourists, with the usual Moroccan offerings of Babouches slippers, an assortments of oils and natural perfumes, leather bags and clothing.

There were stalls selling freshly made Crepes with chocolate Nutella on them, as well as a great choice of small restaurants and Riads and Dars to stay in.

The other market has fresh produce, including heads of sheep, fruits and vegetables, as well as all sort of household goods.

We found a lovely cafe right off the souk, which served a rare selection of teas and fresh juices, and we rested there for awhile.

The weather had been crazy all day, running from extremely stormy with strong winds and rain, to sunny and so bright that we had to put on sunglasses.

By early evening we headed back to our hotel.
Maybe it would have been better to try some of the many small and wonderful restaurants around town for dinner, but places here close between lunch and dinner, and did not open until 7:30 in the evening.

We were wet and a bit cold and we needed a shower and some dry clothes.
So we ate a fabulous meal at our hotel and retired early to bed.
Tomorrow we leave this most enjoyable city of Essaouira and head north, towards Safi, Oualidia and El Jadida.

Tali

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Agadir to Essaouira

The morning in Agadir started out overcast and cool, so it was easy to decide not to hang out here at the hotel for a while before checking out and starting our drive north.  First we stopped about halfway down the boardwalk and had a Middle Eastern breakfast of fatoush salad, hommos, and foul (mashed fava beans), a terrific change from the standard bread-y breakfast usually available.  

As we drove north towards Essaouira, we saw, from the cliffs above the ocean, perfect long surf breaks on quiet beaches…and we passed by the surf towns to go with them!  There were shops in these towns selling everything from bathing suits to surfboards, and there was a charming, ramshackle quality to these little villages that catered to the surfing crowd.  

Surfers in old cars with their boards piled on top were cruising the road north, looking for the best waves, and when they found a good spot, they’d pull off the road wherever they could and pile out of the car and head down to the beach.  They were all wearing wetsuits, just like in California, but the sun was warm even if the water wasn’t, and it looked to us to be a great day for hitting the waves.  

Essaouira is an eighteenth century town and fishing port enclosed by walls, that is about the same distance from both Agadir and Marrakech, and we have been hearing from before we left on this trip that it is a city that all of the tourists love – there are great seafood restaurants, lots of nice accommodations, and a medina, unlike those in Fez or Marrakech, that uses the French grid system of streets, so it’s much easier to navigate.  

We are staying in a new Sofitel hotel here, located about 3 km from the medina, bordering on a golf course and overlooking the ocean, because we found that the prices of the nicer riads in town have risen to the point that they are actually just as or more expensive than this luxurious, five-star hotel. By the time that we arrive at the hotel and check in, it is already late in the afternoon, and rather than jam in a few hours of sightseeing, we decide to relax, and use the beautiful hammam instead.   

We first wandered around the hotel a bit, admiring the sleek, modern design, beautiful furniture, and lovely indoor and outdoor spaces.  There is a very high sense of aesthetics, of attention to detail here, that is unlike any other place we have stayed in on this trip.  We feel very grateful to be staying here for a few days!  The hammam in the spa here has two jacuzzi baths, one hot and one warm, with a cold bath in between. Surrounding these baths are comfortable couches and chairs, and then just beyond is a large steam room.  We spent a few hours alternating between each space, and then we had a great massage, as Tali has been complaining of pain in her neck and back.  

We ate a delicious dinner in the hotel after our time in the spa, and then relaxed in our room, ready for a great day tomorrow.  

Jules

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