September 8, 2001
We arrive in Morocco at last, jet lagged, and learn, by trial and error, that the hotel is much further out of Rabat than we thought. The land is dry and the scenery is mostly brown on our way from Casablanca to the outskirts of Rabat. This is the very end of the dry season and rain is only a memory. What we travel is very rural, but not desolate. There are houses, and people, and animals, everywhere. The animals are generally herded, not fenced - at least the ones we notice. And when we do see fences they are mostly cactus hedges - prickly pear or one other kind of cactus planted in a row. Very effective.
The Rabat resort is just getting started on the whole resort concept. The building is nice, the lobby beautiful, the rooms not bad. But hot water is scarce, there is no soap, and it shows signs of needing a new coat of paint, even though much of it seems newly done. The advertised hiking "on the grounds" would appear to be nonexistent. The suite's kitchen facilities are a dorm fridge, a microwave, a coffeepot and a few dishes - and the microwave and the coffeepot have to be moved from their spots to be plugged in. The resort does have a bar and a restaurant. The food in the restaurant is good, but in the entire week I never see anyone drink in the bar, though people do occasionally gather there to watch the TV. The bar was empty on this particular Saturday night. In fact, the entire hotel is barely occupied (right odd since they were unable to get us a second room) and we are only one week out of the high season. As for why this is a week out of high season, and not high season still, that is a mystery to me. The weather is clear and perfect. Sunny and a bit hot in the day and cool at night. And so bug-free that we sleep with the windows open even though there are no screens.
September 9, 2001
I wake up at 7. We have no electricity. And we are beset by rowdy elderly people. The advantage to that is that we get up early - which we need to do to have the time to get lost with great frequency. Morocco has no route numbers on its highways and almost no street signs in its cities. When there are street signs, they might be in Arabic, or have a different name than the one in the guidebook. On the highway, this is not as bad as it sounds. One can generally get around by following signs for the city for which you are headed. Assuming that you are headed for something big enough to rate a sign (and, as a tourist, you are), it works. In the city is an entirely different matter. The streets are not on a grid. There is no obvious rhyme or reason. And there are no street signs except those that point you toward things or places. So, unless you can find an object, or two, that show up on the map, it is extremely difficult to know where you are. As a result, we spent a fair part of the day lost.
Even before we got lost, it came to my attention that Mike, our driver, was falling asleep. He pulled over in a rest area where people were selling bags of round brown things. I asked what they were and was told that they were something that sounded like Jujus. Still don't know what that means. So of course I bought some. There is not much food to them. The inside is an inedible hard seed, and the outside skin is a bit bitter, though one can eat it. In between there is a layer that is not completely unlike malted milk - chocolaty and almost as sweet.
From there, with me driving, we headed toward the ruins at Volubilis, which required going through Meknes. Driving in Morocco is not for the faint of heart. Most of the highways are two lanes, and are curvy and hilly. On the sides are people, walking, bicycling, on mopeds and on donkey carts. Add to that the fact that this is the world capital of unsafe passing - in 'no passing' lanes, on curves, on hills, with traffic clearly coming. Over every rise I expected to see an oncoming car. The cities are worse -- all the same elements, and many more opportunities to be an idiot. At one point I had a car passing me where there was no room on the right, a car about to pull in front of me from the left, and a pedestrian in the middle of it all, seemingly oblivious. And of course, you cannot let these things make you hesitate, or you are doomed.
Needless to say, we got lost on our way through Meknis. But not too bad, and we showed up in Volubilis just in time to get through the cashier before she went to lunch, and to have lunch ourselves at the cafe at the site. The cafe had what they called a chicken and olive salad, which was actually a chicken sandwich (free range by the taste of it) and a plate of different types of olives. All for about $1.80.
Then on to the ruins. They date to the second and third century AD. 20,000 people lived there - Berbers, Greeks, Syrians, and Jews, crushing olives and farming what was apparently some of the most fertile land in North Africa. (There must have been more rain, we kept saying). There were huge mansions with mosaics that have lasted to this day. Huge public baths. (There must have been more water, we kept saying). A capitol and a basilica. And it lasted, from then until now - the area inhabited until the Arabs came through and looted the marble to build Moulay Ismael's palaces in Meknes in the 18th century. The whole thing was fascinating, and every time I thought that I was getting past all the interesting stuff, something new and amazing would come up. Unfortunately, it was sunny out, and hot, and after about two hours people were starting to fade, so we only saw about 2/3 of it before we had to leave and go back to the cafe to drink water and rest.
When we got to the car a man came up and said that we needed to pay him for having watched the car. I reacted to that about the way that I would in D.C., but it turns out not only to be ubiquitous, but to be officially sanctioned on some level, as the car watchers all wear long blue jackets and some even have little ID badges. I can't remember either of the guidebooks mentioning it. Eventually we learn that, while the "car watching" part of the service is pretty useless, the car watchers can be quite useful. Not only will they stop traffic so you can get out of your space, they will give you correct directions to where you want to go, not to their cousin's rug store.
While we were resting Dad suggested that we drive through Moulay Idriss, although we weren't going to do anything there, since the main thing to do is look at the religious shrines that non-Muslims cannot enter. (In fact, a non-Muslim cannot even sleep in the town). Moulay Idriss is located on the side of a mountain and nestles into two valleys of sorts that lead up to the steep parts. The city has spread up as far as geography allows, and it is full of white-washed houses right up the hill. It is beautiful from a distance, and beautiful to drive through, and I was really glad that he had suggested it.
We had decided to go to the Dar Jamai Museum, which is supposed to be a beautiful museum in a beautiful palace in Meknes. We actually found the place where it was, and pulled into the lot with no trouble at all. We walked toward a sign that said "Musee," but rather than notice that the sign was over a door with a note on it that would have told us that the museum was closed for restoration, we walked down the street into a market in search of the museum. This was the first market that we had walked into and we were fascinated enough for a while not to notice that we were not finding a museum. The front layer was gew gaws - toys and junk. Behind them, the real stuff - the stalls with bags of spices, the clothing stores with a selection of the long covering dresses that the younger women wear. Back in the narrower lanes were more real things and less junk, but still very crowded. Some were so narrow that from the entrance it looked like you were going inside, but once in you realized that you could look up and see a narrow band of sky. We turned out of the main market and came up in a block of carpentry shops - saws buzzing, sawdust flying, that great wood smell in the air. And some of the cabinetry in these (and the other shops we saw later) was amazing.
Anyway, we eventually walked back to the "Musee" sign, noticed the note, and decided to go across the street to the Imperial City with the idea of seeing the mausoleum of Moulay Ismael, one of the few shrines in the country open to non-Muslims. It was there, while trying to parse the guidebook's directions on how to get to the shrine, that we ran into our first false guide. He gave us wrong advice immediately upon walking up to us, did not speak enough English to be useful, and proceeded to ignore our statements about where we wanted to go and where it ought to be. All of these are about par for the course. We paid him $2 to go away, but unfortunately believed enough of his false information to get us quite lost in the medina.
The medina in each city is the oldest part of the city. Generally they are hives of activity with every possible type of shop and workshop. The medina is a fascinating place, and being lost in it really is not such a bad way to spend one's time. But after a while one wants to know where one is - and how to get back to the car. And while Mom was keeping up at first (nothing like a slightly sketchy place to encourage togetherness), after a while she could not. At some point it became clear that she needed to stop. So she, Dad and I stopped at a cafe, sat on the porch, drank caffeinated beverages, and got gaped at by the local kids and an insane woman for about an hour while Mike located the car and then figured out how to drive to us.
I thought from my observation of this cafe and others that the cafes were the sole province of men. Especially given some of the looks that we got while sitting there. But the guidebook says that women mostly sit upstairs, and even states that women travelers may prefer the outside to the inside.
At the cafe, Mom wanted a Diet Coke, and I attempted to explain to the waitress what that was. "En regime" seemed to mean nothing to her, and when I said that it was a Coca-Cola without sugar (sans sucre), she said "je me derange." So Mom ended up with mint tea, which was not "sans sucre," though I learned later that it can be served that way. The tea was made, and served, with fresh mint leaves, and was very good. Dad's coffee was in the Moroccan style - one half inch of sludge topped off with frothy milk. Different, and sweeter than he likes, but he admitted that it also was good. As for the Coke, Moroccan Coke tends to the syrupy side also, which is fine with me.
September 10, 2001
Dad couldn't sleep and since he cannot stay still when awake, woke me up repeatedly during the night, with the result that I was not exactly raring to go in the morning. And no rowdy seniors to help. Got out after 10 and went to Rabat. I redid the itinerary on the fly because the first thing we found was the Tour Hassan (a minaret erected c. 1195 for a mosque destroyed by earthquake in the 1700's and the mausoleum of Mohammed VI, the grandfather of the current king). Go with what you know you can find is my theory. The mausoleum was open to non-Muslims if they were "modestly dressed," which we apparently were. It was astoundingly detailed and beautiful. The plaza between the old minaret and the mausoleum overlooks beautiful gardens out beyond the minaret, but they were not open to the public. They were also not quite finished, so it may just be a matter of time.
From there we went and found the Kasbah des Oudaias, a fort built about 1200. (As it turns out, Kasbah means fort, rocked or otherwise.) This one, though, has become part of the city, containing shops and houses, as well as an art museum and gardens. We started at a marvelous restaurant that was in a portion of the fortifications overlooking the ocean. Mike, Dad and I split a paella for two and a horseburger - Mike and I because we had never had horse before, Dad because he wasn't paying attention when we thought up the plan. All of the food was excellent - which was fast becoming standard. It was at this restaurant that it dawned on me that one really does get olives with every meal here. I am in heaven.
From the restaurant we walked up through the Kasbah, which had a great view over the ocean and the city itself, up to the front gate, out and down the side, skipped the gate with the obvious "guide" and for that reason went in through the gate that led directly into the gardens where we found, instead of guides, two very insistent little henna girls, one of whom I had to shake off and the other of whom got Mom half henna'd before she knew what was happening. Fortunately, she did a nice job, and Mom ended up rather happy about it. The gardens had some cool stuff in them, but were not that well-tended or not in their best season, or both. Still they were nice to walk in for a bit. And it had perhaps the oddest piece of graffiti we saw the whole time: "Le Monde du Fuck."
We then found the museum, which was closed for restoration, leading me to believe that there are no museums open in the entire country of Morocco. They let us into the museum anyway to look at the courtyard, let us look at the art that they had stacked up in one room while they worked, and let us up in a tower that had the best view of the city yet. Unfortunately, it was a rather tall tower, and it provided our first experience with Moroccan stairs, which for some reason are much taller than standard and not always even. All of this was for a fee, of course, but a small one.
From the museum, we walked out on the beach, which was inhabited by people wearing anything from bathing suits to full robe, scarf and veil, and one guy who was out there in his tighty whities. There were far more men than women, and the women were far less likely to be wearing bathing suits than the men, leading Dad to comment that it really was not a good beach at all. Our first stop, as was often the case, was to buy water. In the water store I saw a French language newspaper with an article about an attack in Israel that had killed 7 and wounded 40. The headline said "Israelis pay for Sharon's politics." Not quite the editorial slant that one would expect back in the States.
While litter is a phenomenal problem throughout Morocco, there is a major campaign in Rabat to keep the beaches clean, and it appears to be having some effect. However, the entire area between the beach and the Kasbah and restaurant - prime beachfront property in the States - was taken up by a rather ramshackle graveyard. Odd land use planning, but it was not the last place that we saw it.
When we left the beach, we started to look for the Chellah and figured out where it was about 10 minutes after it closed. This, despite the fact that Rabat has street signs. So we ate dinner at another great restaurant, and had more olives. Olives to start, olives in my eggplant salad, olives in my lamb and artichoke heart tajine. Also had my second good Moroccan wine.
Now I need to complain about the driving again. Unlike Bolivians, my previous candidate for worst drivers in the world, Moroccans do not honk when they are about to do something incredibly stupid. One must take for granted that they are about to do something incredibly stupid. Instead, they honk any time that you stop in front of them - say for a red light, or a small child, or because the 10 cars in front of you have also stopped. Parking signals are optional, "do not enter" signs are optional (one road with a "do not enter" sign at the end was completely parked up with cars that had obviously driven right past it), the lines that divide the lanes are optional. For that matter, even the lines that divide your lane from oncoming traffic are optional. Driving that would cause people in the States to pull over so as to be able to stare freely is completely commonplace here. We finally saw an accident today - a fairly slow rear-end collision, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why we have not seen more. As for this one - no one even bothered to get out of their car.
September 11, 2001
I try to start at the beginning and work to the end, but I write at night and the end is the part that is striking me at the moment. While we were in the medina in Fes today we saw (for "we" read everyone but me) film of a tower of the World Trade Center on fire. Everyone assumed that it was a disaster movie of some sort, but it turned out to be that the WTC had been hit by planes, that there was an attack on the Pentagon as well, though presumably not with the same damage. The desk clerk also mentioned a place in Pennsylvania - a plane or something. That is all he knows. We have two TV stations - one is all soccer all the time, the other has American movies dubbed into French, but does the news in Arabic. The Arabic news has the same clip of one of the towers falling into dust and flames - over and over. No amount of watching it has taught us a word of Arabic.
So I might as well go back to the beginning. We got up, drove to Fes on the highway, and found the tourist office. A miracle. Fes, like Rabat, and unlike Meknes, has street signs. However, unlike Rabat, most of them were in Arabic. We showed up at the tourist office about noon, so of course it was closed. We were at the tourist office to find an official guide, since Fes appeared to be confusing, and while it really could not be seen in one day, our best shot to see a fair portion of it was with someone who knew what was there and would stop us from getting lost. Moreover, having a guide would keep other guides away from us, and perhaps best of all, if we had a guide Dad might feel like we were doing something and would not be constantly charging off in random directions, leaving us no choice but to follow him when what we wanted to do was have a leisurely look around. The tourist office being closed threatened this scheme, but as luck would have it, we chanced on a guide licensed in English who had just wandered in with some paperwork.
We took our lucked-upon guide back to his house to get his license and then we were off. First to a fort that overlooked the medina, to get an idea of where we were going. From up there it looked quiet, hardly like the hive of activity that it is. Then into the medina itself. The medina in Fes dates from the ninth century - far older than any of the others that we have seen - and many of the buildings are from that time. The market is amazing - stalls of olives, of dates and figs, of spices, of beans. People doing metalwork on grinders and machinery run by foot pedals, people sewing cloth by hand or on treadle machines. A buzz of manufacturing by people practicing trades handed down to them through the generations in the ways that had been handed down through the generations. Of course, there is a bit of stagnation in this. The fruit was beautiful - all local he said, and that may be, but it has not all been there over the centuries. Not if I know anything about what could possibly be native here. We saw the things that we bought a couple of days ago, the jujus. The guide knew what they were, but not what they were called. An herbal pharmacist that we asked said the same thing, but also told us that they were good for the stomach and spine. We saw mosaics that had been there since the ninth century, looking not at all unlike those in much more modern buildings. (Did I mention that there is a bit of stagnation in the arts?) There were also mosques and homes that were built hundreds of years ago. The streets are narrow and cobbled, the transportation is by donkey and feet, and navigation, I am convinced, can be learned only by growing up there. The medina has 9,400 streets and lanes, many of them dead ends.
Many things that would be made completely by machine in the States are made by hand, or with relatively primitive machines. Much of it is extremely beautiful, and in some areas, such as carpentry, the designs are fresh and new in each shop. We were continually astounded by the quality. We went to a shop where silk and wool were woven together on huge looms. To the tannery where we looked over the huge pots of dye and the full skins stretched out on rooftops. To the shop where they dyed skeins of silk with natural dyes. To the carpentry shops, where the work was perhaps the most amazing, to a carpet store [co-op] in an Imam's house that had been restored by UNESCO, to a pottery shop where they fire the kilns with olive pits (after they have been squeezed for oil), and paint the designs on by hand. And to a shop where a man decorated bronze platters and tabletops by hand. I am afraid that I was possessed by the spirit of Ann. Well, not really, what really possessed me was the fact that these were artists' co-ops, allowing me to buy known quality, at a fixed price, knowing that the purchase benefited the artist. So I bought a small carpet, a large tajine for myself, and a variety of smaller objects for others. A small fortune, but, I tell myself, where else will I find these things at these prices.
We went to a medersa, which is essentially a dormitory for students at the Kairaouine University. The University was built between 859 and 862 and became a major center of culture and learning. The medersa appeared to be incredibly fancy for a dorm, but I suspect that individual rooms were not so fancy, at least in size. We went into a mosque that is being renovated by UNESCO. There is an indentation at the front and the imam faces into it - east along with the rest of the faithful - and the niche is shaped so that it will bounce the sound of his voice back to them. While we were in the mosque Dad asked the guide whether, when the call to prayer came, one would, for example, simply stop driving to pray. And the guide explained that Islam is flexible, that it allows for circumstances. "For example, right now I am working, working is also important. I will be with you through these calls and later I will do my prayers." In fact, Islam is so flexible that we have not seen one person pray yet (and would not in the entire time that we were in Morocco and Tunisia). This is not to say that religion was not clearly important. Not only did we see people go into mosques with some frequency, but people that we talked to referred regularly to their religion and its requirements. Not only the day-to-day requirements, but more to the broader requirements - that they not desert their parents, that they treat others respectfully, and so on. In short, people credited Islam for many of their most admirable behaviors. The guide also explained the ablutions that must be made before prayer as being like yoga, in that they allow time to clear the mind of problems prior to prayer through rote motions. Somewhere in every religion it seems are the pieces of every other one.
While in the medina, we went to a typical Moroccan restaurant. We could tell that it was a typical Moroccan restaurant because the name of it was Typical Moroccan Restaurant. Actually, it would appear that Moroccans do not often eat in restaurants - cafes and patisseries maybe, but not restaurants where they serve traditional Moroccan food - at least not the ones we have been in so far. We have been pretty steadily seeking out traditional Moroccan food, and with wonderful results.
We went from the medina and the craft shops briefly to the Mellah, which was the historic Jewish area. It now is predominantly Muslim, and the Jews, at least according to the guide, have all moved to the Ville Nouvelle, where the money is. (I believe many of them also moved to Israel, but that was not mentioned.) As a general rule, the poorer areas of the cities seem to be in the older sections while the wealthier areas are in the newer sections. This is reflected by the usual signs, including the fact that the medina had mostly television antennas while the Ville Nouvelle had satellite dishes. In the Mellah we went in an old synagogue where the caretaker showed us where the women received purification before marriage by being immersed in an indoor pool in the basement. I could only wonder how often the water got changed. Purification indeed.
September 12, 2001
Today we went to Larache. When we drove up the road to Kinitra I noticed that the women along the way had a different style of dress. Women in the cities wear anything from Western dress to fully traditional long gown and a veil covering the hair. Veiled faces are rare, but they do appear. One thing that I see a lot is a variation on traditional dress which is a long, straight, longsleeved dress made of relatively thin material that is worn over other clothing. It has a big hood that is left hanging down the back and slits in the side so that it is possible to reach into the pockets of the clothes underneath. From a distance the fabric in them looks like thin polyester, but in the bank today I noticed that at least some of them are rather fine fabric when seen up close. The level of traditionality and level of compliance varies widely from place to place. Dress in the country is generally more traditional than in the cities, but that is not a solid rule. On the road to Kinitra, though, the women wore traditional clothing with dresses that were cut thinner than the usual bagginess of the full traditional dress, and about knee length, with thick leggings underneath them. In Rabat there were many nontraditionally dressed women, but the vast majority of them dressed modestly even when in Western dress. In Fes on the other hand some women were not at all modestly dressed. It was also in Fes that I saw the most women who had apparently thrown either traditional clothing or the more modern version of it over their office clothes to get to and from work.
In Kinitra we stopped at a newsstand to get a paper. The first headline I saw was "Hell in the United States" in English, but the rest of the paper was in Arabic. Unfortunately I was so intent on getting papers that I could read that it didn't even occur to me that I needed to own the Arabic paper. Instead I bought every paper in French that I could find. All of them were published in Morocco - so I was definitely getting a different editorial slant than my friends in the States.
Past Kinitra, on the superhighway, we went under a pedestrian overpass. Traditional format - stairs up one side, ramp down the other. A man was crossing it on his donkey as we went under.
In Larache we first stopped, or I first stopped, in the bank to change money. The line took forever, and then the guy started to inspect my bills one by one, intently looking at them then looking at me, and then calling his manager. Turned out one of my bills was counterfeit. Not too surprising - lots of U.S. money is counterfeit - but highly annoying.
We then ate lunch in a cafe and walked down to the water. There was a very cool ruined castle and a rock beach. We could see the sand beach, but it was a 7 kilometer drive to get to it, so no toes in the sand today.
We then walked the other way, up to the Muslim cemetery - right on the beach again, and an absolute wreck. Completely overgrown, and the graves in such bad shape as to give me the concern that I might see bones. You would not think anyone cared, but someone soon appeared to tell us that photos are "interdite." We then walked to the Spanish cemetery, which was much better kept up, despite what the guidebook had said, but locked. So I took a photo of it, but could not visit the grave of Jean Genet, who lived in Larache and is buried there.
We then walked along the cliff and met a man who spoke to us in English. His English was about like my French, and he ignored every word I said, plus every word from Dad or Mike that he did not understand. But he had a rant. He said that he had 12 brothers, one who lived in Texas. He says that he is stuck here, because under the Muslim religion, he must stay with his parents. I suppose that makes him the youngest. He also said that it is cheaper to live in Morocco because they lived naturally and did not drink. More ranting followed. But oddly enough we shared political views. He said that George W was sort of "hot" was the word that I think he used, while Bill Clinton was different, and that is why under Bill Clinton we had peace while now we did not. Anyway, of course, he turned out to be a would-be guide, and Larache really does not need one, even if we did spend the next 30 minutes looking for the Archaeology museum, only to find it almost by chance after nearly giving up. It was a tiny little thing, had some interesting stuff in it, and a long stairway with the standard really high, uneven steps. (We run into them everywhere.) The building was built around 1285, I think, and was as interesting as the contents. $1 a piece for the entire thing.
From there we went to Lixus - a very neglected and overgrown set of ruins at a place that had been inhabited since prehistoric times ("historic" starting about 1000 BCE), though the ruins are Roman. The lower part of the ruins are an ancient salt works, and there is a modern salt works visible from up on the hill. Unfortunately the path was too steep for Mom, so Mike and I saw the higher ones by ourselves. Very cool, especially the amphitheatre, and virtually deserted.
From Lixus we went to not find the dam that was supposed to have the great bird watching, to get lost in Kinitra while looking for a restaurant, and to buy food in the market, come home and eat it, much to the distress of a little lizard that looked remarkably like a 6" long alligator. We boxed him up and I carried him outside and released him in the bushes.
September 13, 2001
Really, if I could have predicted the future, I probably would just have winged that little lizard out of the window by his tail. Two more of them showed up in the course of the night. The first I had seen earlier but could not find. Ended up getting up an hour or so later, turning on the light, and chasing him into the hallway. Since that taught me that they fit under the door just fine, I put a towel under the door. But about three in the morning I woke up certain that something had just run across me. I pulled the blanket up as far as I could, but it really was too hot to stay that way. And there I lay, eyes wide open, no chance of sleep, until I heard him rattling bags on the table. Unfortunately I must have spooked him when I got up to get the light and I couldn't find him. So I went to pee and he ran out of the bathroom as I went in. Then I couldn't find him again. Back to bed with the lights on. Just lying there. After a while I heard a sound that I thought might be him running under the door (which I had unblocked for this purpose) and after about 30 minutes of no lizard sounds (they are louder than you would think), I finally got to sleep.
Yesterday, while in Larache walking and talking, we walked past a place where the sewer apparently lets out into the ocean - above the ocean - or at least that was what it looked and smelled like. Immediately pulled my sleeve over my nose and started thinking that maybe that was the genesis of the veil, that and the sand. And it was only religion getting in the act making what was once only convenient mandatory, and freezing it there forever, that has led to the situation where it is today - at best ridiculous, and at worst a tool of oppression.
Anyway, this morning, tired and ranting about lizards, we went off to Casablanca. I had originally left Casablanca off the list, since it did not seem like there was much to do. There isn't. But we had a day, and it was Casablanca, so we did it. And enjoyed it. I warned everyone in advance that Casablanca was huge, sprawling, sketchy, and so on. Quite simply, that we would get lost and that everyone should keep their hands on their wallets. I did not tell them that one of the papers had said that Casablanca was the place where people most clearly felt that the attack on the WTC made up for the deaths and other tribulations of the Palestinians. But in fact we did not get lost at all - in part because Casablanca actually has street signs in French. And it was actually very calm, even in the medina, except for a very talkative would-be guide, and a few really pushy beggars. And as to the sympathy with the terrorists, no sign of that at all. The guidebook says that Casablanca is the most cosmopolitan of the cities. Probably true, and that is perhaps reflected in the fact that there were Moroccans in the Moroccan restaurant where we had lunch. The food was great. (Though eating pigeon pie and then going out and seeing all the pigeons in the square did give me a different slant on the glories of all the poultry being "free range.") And the restaurant had a Diet Coke for Mom - the first. But other than eat (and drink - there are more bars than anywhere else) what there is to do in Casablanca is walk around, look at the architecture, look at the medina (which seemed on the small side after Fes), attempt to get e-mail off a connection that did not even seem to achieve 2,400 baud (all for a bunch of junk and a bunch of "call home"s) and to go the beach to watch the sun set over the Atlantic. Not a very inspiring sunset, but it was over the Atlantic.
An enjoyable day. And now I am steeling myself for lizards.
September 14, 2001
Today we went back to Rabat. No reason to get lost and we did not. I went to change money first thing and the exchange had air conditioning - a very rare commodity here. Oddly enough, that is usually fine. It is not humid, the breezes are marvelous, and there are hardly any bugs, so one can leave the windows wide open without problem.
From the exchange we went to the Chellah. I am not sure what the term Chellah means, but it contains the site of Sala, which was continually inhabited from the first century BCE until about 1150. Mosques and other buildings were added in the 1300's. It is a mishmash of old Roman and not so old, but still ancient, Islamic stuff. Very cool and really nice garden as well.
And then to the archaeological museum, which was fascinating. The museum had tons of stuff from Volubilis, and some from Lixus, as well as from other sites around the country. Silver utensils, beautiful pots, intricately worked handles and similar decoration, incredible marble statues. Amazing stuff. It gave a much clearer view of the civilization at those sites than basements, rock walls and mosaics. Quite simply, it was far more advanced and luxurious than I think any of us had imagined. And as such, it made our understanding of the sites much more complete.
One of the men who worked in the museum had incredibly understandable French and he told us more about some of the things there and at the end let us take pictures of two busts that he said demonstrated the difference between the Roman nose and the Berber nose. When he pointed to the bust with the Roman nose I said "that is like mine," and he smiled and nodded.
We then went to buy food for dinner in the town nearest the resort and went to the Post Office where we got a quick rant from the clerk about how horrible the WTC thing was and how there were "mechants" [evil people] everywhere, of all kinds, with which I agreed. I found his French relatively understandable as well. It was just a fluke though, I had not magically started understanding French as it is commonly spoken.
Anyway, we are back early, fed, packed, and hopefully prepared to get out of here by 5:30 in the morning to catch our flight. Not one of my favorite times to get up.
All in all, we have had a great time in Morocco. It is a country of many contradictions. Everywhere you look there is beautiful art - the trucks are decorated, the doors are works of art, the walls and buildings are decorated, even the most humble houses have special doors and tiled walls - yet there is also litter virtually everywhere that you look - not just a little bit, but piles of it, even in parks and on the beaches. Even those who do not dress traditionally for the most part dress modestly. Not only the women, but the men as well. They separate the sexes in the mosques, and as a practical matter, in a large part of daily life as well. Yet, bathrooms are unisex, and while the stalls are private enough to make any person feel secure, women often have to walk past the men's urinals to get to them. And then of course, there is the fact that these people who do constant ablutions as part of their religion consider cold water, bar soap, and a shared cloth towel adequate sanitation for a restaurant bathroom. I tried to pretend that there would be somewhere else for people who work in the kitchen to wash their hands, but I know better.
Another thing that struck me in Morocco was how much it was like Bolivia. The architecture and the materials used were very similar. The brick, the tile and the ceramic roofs each could have been moved from one to the other without anyone noticing. The markets along the roads with the garage door front on a long concrete room also were amazingly like the ones in Bolivia. Even the decorations on the trucks were similar - though of course without all the Catholic saints. It eventually occurred to me that Bolivian culture is heavily influenced by Spanish culture, and Spain and Morocco raided and visited each other for hundreds of years, with the result that there are many similarities between the two. Which explains why at least one person, looking at the pictures, asked why it looked like Florida.
September 15, 2001
We got up at 5 to get to the airport early, got there as planned and still barely made it. This was due in part to their normal inefficiency, in part to our normal inefficiency, and in part to new procedures. Getting out of the Tunis airport was only slightly easier. We then found that our rental car (ordered big enough for four people and two weeks of luggage) is a Peugeot 206. Trop petite. Our luggage and ourselves barely fit, and none of us were comfortable. I had my overnight bags and my ceramics under my feet, and Mom and Dad were squashed together with luggage in the window seat. This was particularly bad because we had discovered that the "Tunis" resort was located in Tabarka, 120 miles away. Now 120 miles is not much in the States, but in the States we have route numbers, instead of requiring people to drive around until they see a sign that alleges that a road is headed to a city on their route. In addition, in the States, if something is labeled a primary highway, it is probably at least two lanes wide and does not have pedestrians, sheep, donkeys, goats, or even many cows, walking on it. It usually is drivable at at least 50 miles an hour as well. As it turned out, finding the sign that went our way took significant effort and a bit of driving out of our way even once we were out of Tunis. And the roads that brought us to Tabarka were paved, but rough, and often narrow, and winding, and took forever. By the time we got to Tabarka, we were tired, crabby, and dying to get out of the car and eat, which none of us had done since we got off the plane.
I must say that Tunisians do not drive one bit better than Moroccans. And the winding mountain roads give them even more opportunities to be wildly reckless. Not to mention that people walk along these roads with herds of sheep, cows and goats. (Not sure what they did with the goats, because they did not appear on the menus). The winding mountain roads also gave us a chance to see something that we had not run into in Morocco - the runaway truck gravel pit. Rather than ramps, there would be an area with deep gravel no wider than a lane and no longer than the average bridge. They had tracks in them, so they apparently were used and worked. But I cannot imagine them being effective, and if they were, I cannot imagine how it was possible to get a truck back out of them. Trucks in Tunisia, like trucks in Morocco, were uniformly far overloaded - as high and as wide as was humanly possible - so getting them into and out of those pits must be a hair-raising adventure.
When we got to Tabarka we stopped in the heart of town at the end of a street with lots of hotels. We checked an expensive one on the corner and could not find the office. We then realized that the mid-range hotel across the street did not look so bad and decided to try it, and if it did not work out then we would go to the Royal Marina Corallo, which was across the street from it. We ended up checking into the mid-range, which was clean, clearly recently renovated and had a balcony in one of the rooms, yet was very cheap. Unfortunately they had to be making the savings somewhere, and it was apparently on the towels, which were about the size of a postage stamp. There also was the thing about the stairs, but, despite what any other member of the family would tell you, they were not so bad. We then had dinner and fell asleep.
September 16, 2001
In the morning we hopped right up and set out on the road to find Porto Corallo, which the directions said was off the exit for Port Plaisance, which Mike was certain that he had seen somewhere off the road after Nefza. So we drove to Nefza, and back, (an effort that takes about 90 minutes), with no sign of such a sign, and came into Tabarka again to look for a phone. Mike gets out of the car, walks toward the phone, and is back in an amazingly short time. His first words are "you can't tell Dad this" It turns out that he has been reading the place name as the hotel name and that the hotel name is Royal Marina Corallo, which may sound familiar to you, since I mentioned earlier that it was across the street from the hotel where we stayed. I think that I managed to get out the words "he's going to notice" before I collapsed laughing. I am still laughing. The sheer humor of it was worth every minute of the 90 minutes that it took us.
To be fair, we are actually staying in another part of the resort, 200 yards away. But we could not check in until two so we went to lunch. We ordered merguez sandwiches "avec frites" and received sandwiches with french fries in them! Very odd. After lunch we still had time, so we took a walk around the town. Tabarka is a tourist town. The far edge of town, away from everything else, is the "zone touristique" where there are a bunch of fancy hotels, presumably some restaurants, and a golf course. I would imagine that it would be possible to stay over there without experiencing anything that would have any of the character of Tunisia to it at all. Fortunately, our resort is in the real part of town. Right on the beach, but an easy walk from the town itself, with its shops and cafes. Closest to us are the places along the beach and near the port. These are fairly touristy, but all the restaurants have outdoor cafes and the sea air makes it very nice. All of the restaurants in town are controlled by various gangs of cats which patrol the outdoor cafes for stray seafood. I admit to being as much of a sucker for them as for my own cat. Further up the hill from the beach is the real town, with its bakeries full of great fresh bread (at about 8 cents a loaf), its fish markets (remarkably free of ice or refrigeration), meat and vegetable markets, and the little cafes that put things on the menu the tourist places would not dare to mention. As in Morocco, we eventually took to eating bread, fruit and cheese for two meals a day and having just one meal in a restaurant.
Finally we were able to check in and relax. The suite is beautiful. It has two balconies overlooking the ocean, about 4/5 of a kitchen, and two huge bathrooms. It also has a satellite dish. Mom has been watching BBC World for hours and it is not clear when she will let us stop.
September 17, 2001
A slow day. Mike too sick to do anything, and the rest of us stayed close by. We walked down to "Les Aiguilles" (the Needles), a rock formation by the ocean that is supposed to be the best viewing point for the Genoese fort. It was a neat view, but not as neat as being able to go in would be. It has been scheduled to open as a museum for years, and when I asked in the tourist office I was told that it is now scheduled for next year. I wanted to at least walk up the hill to the outside of the fort, but neither Mom nor Dad would have anything to do with the idea. We then came back and Mom and I went in the pool for a bit, but Dad said that it was too cold to get in past his ankles and walked out on the beach instead. The pool was actually the perfect temperature and I swam a couple of laps and dried in the sun. But once the sun set behind the resort we went back in, relaxed on the balcony and then went to dinner, which Mike finally felt well enough to try.
The food in Tunisia is really not as good as the food in Morocco. It is very well prepared, and it is quite delicious in its own right, but the style is much less interesting. There are fewer, less complex spices. And the structure is much more meat, potatoes, and vegetables. Oddly enough, the potato is usually french fries, which is certainly not what would have occurred to me when they said that there was a strong French influence on the food. The only truly obvious French influence that I can see is on the bread, the standard form of which is the baguette. A possible additional reason for my lack of favor for Tunisian cuisine is their overfondness for eggs. I am constantly having to pick them out of my salads, and if you are not careful, you can order whole entrees of them, like the seafood "bric" that Mike blames for his near death experience today. They are also incredibly fond of tomato - beautiful fresh ones, so no problem there, and tuna - which does get old after a while, though I don't bother to pick it out of the salads. A final odd thing is that while the lobster is from here, the restaurants show it frozen rather than live. The first time they brought one out on the display tray it took me a while to realize the problem with it. In fact, I failed to notice that it had not gotten up and jumped off the tray the way it should until it started to develop frost.
I met with the desk clerk this morning (actually I think he is a manager or something) about local activities. He told us a bit about Tunisia itself, a bit about Islam and a bit about the local ruins, including how to drive there. He emphasized that Islam does not encourage intolerance, fanaticism, or the killing of innocents. I believe him. I even believe him when he says that Islam does not support conversion by force, although I know that many were converted in just that way. But I had to smile when he said that they only impose a tax on non-Muslims - a 'gentle' persuasion to become Muslim. Actually, the way he described it, it sounded like the fee charged to people who will not join a union, but as an American lawyer, what must come to my mind is that the power to tax is the power to destroy.
Dad has been absolutely nuts in the short time that we have been here trying to find vodka. No place that sold liquor was open before today. So it was not until today that we learned that the stuff the restaurants serve him when he asks for vodka is Boukka, a clear 'eau de vie' distilled from figs. He put up with it at first, but he eventually noticed that it does not have the kick of vodka. Anyway, he and I went to the General Store today but found no vodka (apparently we were both blind) and the other store we found sold only Boukka, so he was stuck with it for another day. Buying it, of course, was also entertaining. Tunisia has three places after the decimal point, so that fractions of dinar are in hundreds. It doesn't sound like it should be that hard, but for some reason I found it extremely confusing. And of course, I was not helped out by the fact that some of the coins are in dinar rather than in fractions of dinar.
September 18, 2001
It was cloudy when we woke up, but it always is, and never rains, so we set off. First to change money. Then to the General Store to buy toilet paper, which the resort is incredibly tight with, and a few other things. And this time we also noticed the liquor counter and bought Dad some vodka. Both brands they had were made in France (who knew), but Dad was happy for vodka in any form at this point. Anyway, it was a good thing, because now he could stop mortifying me by asking every human we met - good Muslims all of them - where the bottle store is at, within minutes of meeting them.
After the store, we set out for Dougga. The manager had told me that it was a two-and-a-half hour drive, but had not said why. Turns out that the road winds (and winds and winds) through high mountains. Beautiful country, first relatively deep and lush forest, then rolling mountains and valleys of farmland. But as we got into the mountains it started to rain. I thought about turning back, but I thought it might clear, since it had every other day and we were in the dry season of a dry country (we later learned that it was the first rain of the year), and I really had no other ideas of what to do, so we continued to wind through the mountains until we arrived at Dougga, and it really started to rain and the wind started to blow and I became convinced that we were going to be miserable and cold and probably catch our deaths of pneumonia. I also figured that Dad would probably last about ten minutes and then start talking about how we ought to leave and that I would not be far behind him.
However, two-and-a-half hours was a long way to drive and here we were, so we set out to attempt to enjoy it. I went and found a plastic bag to tie over my head, pulled my skirt waist up around my shoulders (I had on a long thick slip as well) and set off for the Capitol, shaking off the entry guides. By the time we got to the Capitol it was raining hard again and there was thunder and lightning, and Mom had turned back to go to the bathroom. We ended up hanging out in the niches in the back of the Capitol waiting out the rain and losing Mom entirely. Eventually the rain slowed enough that it wasn't too much worse than staying where we were, which was out of the rain, but not exactly cozy. And it seemed better to see things while freezing than to stand still. As it turned out, the rain slowed to a sprinkle, and it warmed up enough that I was no longer freezing, and everything was great. Well, all of my photos will be horrible, but the ruins were fascinating. We had a great time exploring them, checking the book when we needed to, and it dawned on me that even a good guide (and there are some guides there who are good) would have altered that experience. It might also have been good, but it would have been different, and, I think, less of an adventure.
Anyway, we finished and we went to find Mom, who had been adopted by an employee of the site, who had showed her around and told her all sorts of things, though for the life of me I can't figure out how, since he seemed to be almost completely lacking in the ability to speak English. He did teach us how to eat the fruit of the prickly pears, however, so he was not completely useless.
On the way back, we discovered that the curviest part of the road was a 10% grade going down. And it was dark, and foggy. Hair-raising really. When we got back Dad said that you could not have stuck a pin up his ass while we were coming through there.
We ate dinner at the Hotel les Mimosas, which is the only place around that serves the local wild boar. The decor was kind of nice, but the music was lounge Muzak (Feelings, they actually played Feelings), the tab said "S.H.I.T." at the top, and either I don't like the wild boar, or they need a new chef. I think it was the latter. It was escaloped - cut thin and baked. This is a popular way of cooking meat in Tunisia, but it did not serve the boar well at all as it is a rather lean meat and came out dry and tough. Moreover, it was served with mediocre french fries, and peas and carrots. The carrots were good, but the peas were simultaneously overcooked and hard, if such a thing is possible. The worst meal we have had on this trip, in my humble opinion. I am now certain that I like Moroccan food better than Tunisian. The Tunisian tends to be rather boring even when it is well done - as was my escalope de dinde last night. It was some of the best turkey I have ever had (the turkey, like everything else, is free-range, and quite possibly chemical free), but it was not exciting.
The wild boar was of course free-range, but also a rarity as it is one of the only wild animals of any size left in Tunisia. The manager at the hotel told me that they had wild boar and "wild cow" (gazelle), but he and many things I saw in museums said that they had once had tigers, bear and monkeys, and that wild animals were shipped from Tunisia to ancient Rome for the games. They lasted long past that time, but not to the present: I saw somewhere that the last cheetah died in 1927.
I should mention that Tunisia, unlike Morocco, does have mosquitos. I have a few bites, but not too many when you consider that we leave the windows wide open all the time and there are no screens. No one else seems to have any bites, since I am apparently gourmet food to mosquitos. I react by buying a fly swatter (shaped almost like the hand of Fatima) and spending my spare time killing the mosquitos that congregate in the bathroom during the day.
September 19, 2001
I was thinking yesterday about the little moments that I see as we are driving about and wish that I could capture somehow. The group of three men in traditional dress in a doorway - the youngest apparently receiving something from the eldest. The man whose daughter's shoe had come off. The family hoisting a pail of water to the second story balcony of their house. Each of these presumably with its own story.
Today was the day of the boat ride, and fortunately the weather was much clearer than yesterday. It was a rather large but not very fancy boat with the four of us and two staff on it. We went west out to the Algerian border. The captain pointed out the last Tunisian fort and the rock that marked the border and said that there was a 3 to 4 kilometer "no man's land" between the two where no one lives. It was in an indented area in this no man's land that we pulled in and had a picnic. There was an area set back in the trees with a place to barbecue and a few seats of sorts, and the other guy on the boat barbecued fish, which was served with a chopped salad, bread and a pear. The surroundings were beautiful and the food was very good. But not a single olive. The first meal without one. On the way back, looking over the side of the boat, we noticed that the water was incredibly clear. It was possible to see rocks and outcroppings all the way on the bottom. On our way back we went past the resort a bit, along the "zone touristique" (agreeing again we were glad we were not over there), and back. Through some lack of communication (which was substantial), we did not swim from the boat but did swim from the beach as soon as we got back. The water is clean and the temperature is perfect, though I would complain that it does not get deep fast enough. Dad claimed that it was too cold and would not come in, and Mom would not come in much past her knees. Mike of course came in with me, but then hit some sort of wall that had me thinking I might have to drag him in to shore. He made it on his own and we laid on chairs on the beach for a while until it clouded over and looked like it would rain.
Inside I showered and got ready to go into town to buy some things and, wandering through the condo, heard loud traditional music coming from the street in front. I walked out on the balcony and found the street full of classic cars. The music changed to techno and pop and the cars took off in a line and came back packed into a lot by the tourist place. Very odd. Turned out to be some sort of road rally, the course of which ran through town, and was done by each car separately. They did keep track of the time, but that can't have been the main point, since they weren't pressing it and no one went with them other than a police escort in front, so it can't have been pedestrian intimidation skills. I really remain mystified. But I must say that it was a pretty boring spectator sport from where I sat. Anyway, we watched it through a quick rain, then went shopping and read e-mail and now sit watching extremely bad American TV that has been dubbed into German. E-mail is entertaining. While the connection at the local cyber office is better than the one in Morocco, it also has the Arabic keyboard. While it obviously can be switched to type English, not all of the keys are in the right place. Specifically, the a and the q are switched, as are the w and the z and the m and the ;. This made typing almost agony and I ended up sending things out with so many typos that my boss concluded that I was in trouble and was trying to send secret code. Well, I think that he was kidding about that, but who knows.
But somehow I have forgotten to talk about the topless lady by the pool. I walked through the pool on the way to the beach and there was a lady in one of the chairs on the side, sunning herself topless. My lookist brother and father complained that she really was not sightly enough to be taking her clothes off in public. As for myself, I'm afraid that I was simply shocked. I admit that, at least in Tabarka and its surroundings, traditional dress for women is rare and the tourists generally dress like they are at the beach. I also admit that I generally think that people ought to be able to wear, or not wear, whatever they want. But topless? In a Muslim country? In any event, there she was, and she appeared to be getting away with it. As for what everyone else wears, I see even less traditional dress in Tunisia than in Morocco, and almost never see a veil. This is true even in the areas we drive through on our way to ruins which are not resort towns like Tabarka. Still, while women do not often wear traditional dress, they do dress modestly. It makes quite a contrast with the European tourists, although most of the women do make the concession of wearing a top with their bathing suit.
September 20, 2001
Got up today and it was cloudy and raining. We left for the ruins anyway, figuring that we would get a repeat of Tuesday. Instead it cleared and was sunny and beautiful.
Chemtou is a relatively recently excavated site, and the work continues. The ruins are spread out and some are on murderous hills - ones I knew I could never get anyone else to walk up. Those we got to were fairly cool, and it was interesting to see a 19th century stone church that was as ruined as anything else there. The site was smack in the middle of a working farm, with odd results at times, including turkeys in the temples. There was also an area designated as slaves'quarters, but it was too far off. The best part of Chemtou was the museum, which is also new and has information about the geologic formation of the area, including the formation of the marble that was quarried there. The museum also had samples of the marble, more information on slave labor than I had seen anywhere else, information on quarrying, and a fair number of the objects that had been dug up at the site.
Bulla Regia has a tiny little museum, but has been far more excavated (or just plain had more) than Chemtou. It has a number of buildings that are substantially standing above ground and lots of baths and other surface areas with mosaics. The really cool part,though, is the houses that were built with basements. Huge vaulted ceiling basements with marvelous mosaics - a few of them incredibly well preserved. The basements were where they lived in the summer, and with good reason - they were quite cool and comfortable when we were in them today.
We came back through the same winding mountain roads that we drove on Tuesday, but this time in the daylight. Through Beni Metr, with the big lake from the dam, and Ain Draham, with the red roofs and fascinatingly bad civic art. And back to Tabarka to collapse for a bit.
After the collapse we went out to dinner. We decided to skip the tourist places on the water (not that I have objected to eating every night out on verandas overlooking the ocean) to try a restaurant more in town and perhaps get more authentic food. We went to the restaurant that the guidebook seemed to like the most and had spicy beans, grilled chicken, the chopped tomato and cucumber salad and french fries for 8.7 dinar for the four of us. It was good, and filling, which is pretty impressive for just a bit over $6 for the four of us. But there were no olives, making an entire day without them.
September 21, 2001
Supposedly Mike and I were going out before everyone else got up this morning and buying breakfast. As it turned out, everyone was up early - on the one day when it did not matter. But we went out to get food, and some cough syrup for Dad, who had developed a head cold. I went back to the resort after we got the food and Mike went to "Le Drugstore" only to learn that you cannot get drugs from the drugstore, for that you need to go to the Pharmacy.
Later we went to the cyber cafe to check on our flights - all of which claimed to exist. I also checked my e-mail. Had nothing from work, although they had apparently called my house at some point. Discovered that my mail was full of crap from people in the States. One person sent some rant before we had any idea who was behind the attacks complaining that we weren't retaliating yet and that the "Muslim world" was rejoicing. And others claiming that this would show the world how reasonable Israel's actions have been and claiming that the papers obscure the facts to make Israel look bad. Reminded me how happy I was not to be in the States when this happened, and also of how little I am looking forward to getting back.
Next we went out to the beach. The water was even quieter than the other day, breaking about 10 feet out. As on the other day, though, our swimming brought dark clouds and it is now raining.
After the rain slowed we set out for the cork museum. As one might imagine, I was really looking forward to this, but it was closed pending its move into town. The move does make sense, but it led to a bizarre incident. On our way back into town we saw a sign that said 'Musee de Liege'. Thinking that we had misunderstood the person who said that it was closed in order to move and that the move was in fact complete, we stopped. But it was not the cork museum at all, but at best the gift shop of it. Simply a store that sold a lot of cork stuff. I brought that up to the shopkeeper, but he just kept saying "Oui, c'est la musee de liege." Totally ridiculous. Not that an actual cork museum would not have been.
So we are back at the resort. We have packed, or at least some of us have, but the amount of effort that lays between us and home is such that it does not seem like it is almost the end.
On this, our last night, the resort had a "typical Tunisian meal" with "traditional Tunisian entertainment." The typical Tunisian meal, as produced by the resort, had eggs, olives and tomato but no tuna. It started with olives, merguez sausage, another meat that looked like bologna, an egg thing and cucumbers. The next course was a tomato-based soup with lamb bits that was pretty good. Then a plain bric (an egg thing). Then couscous with a lamb bone and vegetables. (Lamb bone really is the only way to describe it). Then last a custard and a donut of sorts. The donut was good, but the custard was too firmly a part of the goo food group for my taste. The typical Tunisian entertainment was rather amateurish dancing by women in bright dresses to music played on drums and traditional instruments.
At some point in the confusion of this meal we were handed a menu for the resort restaurant - the only menu I had seen anywhere that was translated into English. And for good reason, apparently, as this one was translated by someone who did not speak English. So "Nos Entrees" became "Our entered," "Chevettes sauteed a la provencal" became "Prawn in provincial jumped," "Les Suites" became "Our Consequences," and "Serre de fond Grillee" became "Roasted tightens of underground."
September 22, 2001
Truly the last day. We got up, and miraculously were pulling out of Royal Marina Corallo at 9 a.m. Went back up for the last bag, since I am the only one who does not lose my will at the thought of three flights of spiral stairs, and found the "femme de chambre," who asked about the tip on the table (70 dinar). I said "c'est pour vous" and she said "Kiss me."
The route that we took back was much better than the one that we took over and we were on the outskirts of Tunis by noon. Tunis is arguably the hardest place to navigate that we have been through. We had a terrible time getting out of it, and, oddly enough, it was just as hard to get into it. We were still on the outskirts of Tunis an hour later, and every sign that said 'Centre Ville' lead nowhere. Finally, though, we found the part of town with the big four star hotels, and because they were central, easy to see from a distance, and on the road to the airport, we decided to stay in one even though it was not cheap, or even moderate. This decision was also driven by the fact that we were tired, and sick of being in the car besides. We asked at the desk how to get to the Bardo and she said "It is just a few minutes from here ... you should take a taxi." Obviously she had us pegged. We not only took her advice, we did it in the most expensive possible way - paying the cab to wait for us. Ended up being 50 dinar, which was an outrage, but, as I said, we were tired.
The Bardo was incredible. The mosaics and statues came from archaeological sites all over Tunisia. I must say, though, that of all the mosaics, most could not hold a candle to the ones in the basement of House of Amphitrite in Bulla Regia. And I must also say that after a few hours in the Bardo, I really did not care if I ever saw another mosaic. There were so many, piled on each other in such profusion, that it numbed the mind.
We got back to the hotel at 4:30 and the restaurant did not open until 7:30. Time to kill - not one of my skills, but I was about brain dead at this point and it did not much matter.
I discovered last night that I have caught Dad's cold. So far it is mostly sinuses full of snot - great for takeoff and landing - and I am dying of guilt over all the people I am infecting on these planes. I was also about to freeze to death on the plane from Frankfort although I was wrapped in three blankets. By the time we reached the States (which we miraculously did despite the fact that we just barely made each flight due to the delays from the new security precautions) poor Mike was practically having to carry me, not to mention my luggage. Such a sad end to a beautiful trip.