"I Have Been to Ouarzazate"

The week I spent in Morocco, for the most part was a literal treasure chest of wonderful travel memories. On the down side, only one other country in the world treated me as a fat person with such malicious visual and verbal contempt and that other country was Germany. Had it not been for that unpleasant memory, my visit to Morocco would have gone down in my mind as a perfect experience. First however, the good news.

I traveled Morocco as a guest of the government tourist office. When my friend Ray Eckford, my assistant and companion for this adventure arrived in Casablanca, we were met by a charming gentleman who was to be our guide and driver. We were to do in just one week what any other tourist could never hope to do in a couple of months. We had been given a very comfortable van for our vehicle, all accommodations had been pre arranged at some of the countries finest hotels and any and all special attractions along the way had been placed at our disposal.

Our journey would take us, after a marvelous tour of Casablanca ( I love the sound of that name Casablanca ) to Tangier, to Rabat which is the Capital, to Fez and Menkes, To Marrakesh, to Agadir and to a spot that not too many people get to go to, a place with he mystical name of Ouarzazate.

For the trip, our guide Raoul kept referring to me as "Mister Jim", a title I took to be a sign of great respect. Raoul was a tremendous fellow and a great guide. As we traveled around the country, Raoul learned to stop on a dime whenever I spotted something that really caught my eye as a potential great picture and there were thousands of them in Morocco.
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Casablanca, the name itself evokes visions of a unique setting of mystery and intrigue. A great deal of that image was created in our minds by "Rick's Café" where Bogart told Sam to "Play It Again" in the classic movie "Casablanca."

We all remember, I am sure that great parting moment in the movie with Bogie and Claude Rains. In reality, Casablanca is a sea of white buildings both modern and traditional set against a sky of majestic azure blue. Casablanca is both the industrial and the commercial heart of Morroco. Along the northern coast of Morroco, a string of marvelous beaches are caressed by the Atlantic Ocean. The sights in Casablanca range from great mosques to magnificent Palaces and of course markets teaming with the varied cultural flavor of this outstanding destination.

I mentioned that being fat made me an object of ridicule. Oddly enough, this unpleasant and outright cruel attitude was far more obvious in major city centers than out along country and mountain roads. We stopped by many rural markets and merchandise stalls as well as little roadside cafes where I was warmly welcomed with a reasonable degree of wonder at my size but not in the same malicious manner as I encountered in the larger and more populated centers.

Rabat, Morocco's Capital City since 1912, like Casablanca is mostly a very modernized center built up and around an old and traditional center. Along with Fez, Marrakesh and Menkes, Rabat is one of the four centers known as the Imperial Cities, remnants of former, powerful Morrocan dynasties. Rabat offers extremely old walls, splendid gateways and gardens that can easily rival any in the world.
Purple Field
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Visit the Royal Palace when the King is in Residence and you will see a parade of the Royal Guard that will fill your camera lens with a color and pageantry unlike anywhere else in the world. The Oudayas Kasbah or fortress will give you a blended view of sky and sea blue that will truly test the ability of your film to seize and capture color with all of its majestic spectrum.

It was actually in Rabat that I finally reacted to the pointing, the laughing and the ridicule of a person of size and right in front of the Royal Palace at that.

A group of young people were walking down the road towards me. I could see them beginning to have considerable fun at my expense. At this point I had endured just about all I could take. As they continued to approach, I could see that they were all very small in stature. I must admit I was somewhat of an oddity in this country of rather small people overall. When they were little more than a few feet away and just about to pass by me, I raised my arms in a threatening manner and let out one hell of a roar. I have never seen so many faces go in an instant from smirks to utter terror. They all took off as fast as their legs would carry them in all directions, scattering like dust on a very windy day. At that point, the rest of the surrounding throng of people burst into gales of laughter, not at me but at the fleeing tormenters. I felt a great sense of satisfaction and continued on my way.

Tangier is known as " The Crossroads of The World" and enjoys the happy reputation of having the world's most perfect climate. The Sultan's Palace in the Kasbah of Tangier exceeds every image you have ever had of an exotic location. Today it is a museum, a showplace of the finest Moroccan arts and crafts from all over the country. Also, like most of the major centers in Morocco, the marketplace or Grand Socco is an adventure in itself but you had better hold on to your false teeth if you want to keep them.
Donkey Lot
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In Marrakesh, we sat on a rooftop restaurant overlooking a huge marketplace. I could have sat there for hours watching the antics of hawkers selling a multitude of items from fine gold jewelry to beautifully crafted bowls and vases. More than anything else however I was fascinated by the snake charmers, there were dozens of them with their flutes swaying to and fro to coax he menacing creatures to peak out from their baskets and urns that seemed to be their homes. I was delighted to be viewing this mystical sight from a comfortable distance. Later however I would have a first hand, up close and personal encounter with one of the meanest snakes I have ever seen.

As we drove from Marrakesh to the coast where we would find Agadir, we came across a sight that took my breath away. I had never seen anything so beautiful, it was like a vision of paradise, a broad field of flowers like a rich purple carpet spread as far as the eye could see. Dotted through the scene was a flock of sheep, grazing in the bright Moroccan sun. It came upon us as we moved around a gentle curve in the road and Raoul knew from my excited exclamation that this was indeed an image that I wanted my camera to devour. I took a few dozen shots from wide angle to telephoto, beautiful hardly describes the vision that lay before me.

Agadir is a port city with boats of all sizes in a panorama to be savored. We had climbed a steep hill road to a vantage point that overlooked it all. At the top where a fortress had been built, perfectly placed to defend the harbor as it had done for hundreds of years. A teeming marketplace was testing the desires of dozens of tourists eager to find just the right bargan and if you were any good at it, one could really come away with many a very good buy. Vendors were actually insulted by people who simply paid the asking price, the negotiation was considered a must in the process not to be dismissed.

Also, part of this unique vantage point was dozens of snake charmers all trying to out do the other to be the subject of tourist cameras, for a price of course.

As I enjoyed the scene from what I thought was a safe distance because I am terrified of snakes, I did not notice the snake charmer moving towards me. I was too busy taking all kinds of shots. Before I knew what happened the charmer flipped a massive black snake that I later found out was a Cobra around my neck, saying as he did " Nice snake, I take very good picture cheap."
Hillside Market
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When I saw and felt this slimy creature actually around my neck my heart stood still and I let out a scream that shocked both myself and the owner of the snake. What the snake thought of the whole thing, I have no idea but all I could think of was a snake around my neck, I had to get rid of it. I grabbed the snake in my trembling hands and tossed it way up in the air, a few more feet and it would have gone over the edge of the cliff to the sea below and that would have been fine with me.

"My snake, my snake" the man cried. Screw your snake I thought to myself as I gave my hand a strong pinch to make sure that I had not died from a heart attack resulting from the unexpected encounter.

In the end, I wound up giving the snake charmer twenty Dirham, about five dollars for the indignity that I had forced upon his snake. I think I shook for about an hour before I finally regained my composure.

The last place we visited during this unforgettable adventure was Ouarzazate, a mixture of modern and adobe from the old days of camel caravans, a modern day Arabian Nights. People in colorful native costume blended with western business suits. Modern buildings stood in odd contrast with adobe structures like a castle fortress from which many a treasure laden caravan had set out to carry wares to the people of the Sahara, the King of deserts many years ago.

Ouarzazate is the least visited area of Moroccos incredible variety of deserts, mountains and valleys and yet to me, having been there, I would want it to be one of the first places I visited.

When we finally returned to Casablanca for the flight home, we discovered that we had been bumped from the flight because we were traveling on passes and the entire first class section of the 747 had been taken over by the Moroccan Royal Family. After an explosive show of temper which had shocked Ray as much as the snake had shocked me, airline personnel managed to get us into economy where a very charming lady agreed to allow me to overlap onto her seat so I could make the trip. Some time a little temper from a 500 pound mad man can move mountains and even airline personnel although I would never try that today. I should not have done it then either, it was definitely not like me. Also, in a country like Morocco such an outburst could get you a lengthy residence in a not so memorable dungeon.

All things considered however, the unequalled magnificence of Morocco's beautiful visual variety will always live as a true travel adventure of a lifetime.

Snake Charmer

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