A retiree’s no-hurry vacation itinerary: Morocco via Portugal and Spain.
Our readers share tales of their ramblings around the world. Who: Denise Casey (the author) and her partner, Murray Browne, both of Decatur, Ga.; her daughter, Lizzie Casey of Los Angeles; and her son, Sean Casey of Medellin, Colombia. Where, when, why: A calendar photo seen decades ago was the inspiration for our visit to Southern Spain. Newly retired and Web surfing early last year, I stumbled upon a great airfare and decided now was the time to go.
We settled on two weeks in May 2016 to visit three of the most evocative cities in the Andalusia region, redolent of Moorish history, flamenco guitar music and the fragrance of orange blossoms: Cordoba, Granada and Seville.
Upon hearing of our plans, my daughter talked me into taking further advantage of my newfound freedom and convinced me to extend my trip to Morocco. Not to be out-traveled, my son flew in from Australia to join us. We then tacked on a quick visit to Barcelona at the end of our trip. My two-week trip turned into a month-long journey: Andalusia to Lisbon, then Marrakesh to Barcelona, and a flight back home to Atlanta.
Highlights and high points: Murray and I had previously traveled to Turkey and were intrigued by its Muslim culture. We eagerly anticipated visiting the grand architectural legacies of 800 years of Muslim rule in Spain.
The Mezquita, or Great Mosque of Cordoba, was even more breathtaking in person, as were the Alhambra palace in Granada with its fragrant, blooming rose gardens and the beautifully preserved colorful mosaics of the Alcazar, the royal palace in Seville. Even the unseasonable, monsoon-like rain that pounded us nearly every day could not detract from their glories — or dim our spirits.
In Morocco, our experiences were sunnier, dustier and louder. As a break from the Marrakesh chaos, we hired a local guide from a village in the nearby Atlas Mountains to drive us several hours south for an overnight stay in Skoura, a palm-treed oasis on the edge of the desert. As we climbed and crossed over the mountains, we were awed by the change in scenery, from lush grasses, wildflowers and fruittree orchards to harsher, arid environments surrounding remote villages. We descended to the valleys and came upon village women laboring as they had done for centuries, in sharp contrast to the satellite dishes on the roofs of their mud-brick homes, presumably connecting them to scenes of modern life.
Cultural connection or disconnect: In Lisbon, as my son Sean and I waited in line to get into a seafood restaurant, we were delighted to have a two-hour conversation with some locals. We talked about their city and country, their relationship with neighboring Spain and the European Union, the U.S. presidential campaign, and their motorcycle trip across America. They loved the United States, but were surprised that some Americans thought Portugal was a city in Spain — or worse, had never heard of it.
In Morocco, our friendly, 30year old guide Mohammed picked us up and introduced himself with a few details about his background and then invited us to ask him anything about his culture and country. He lived in a village, and although he had attended college in Marrakesh for some time, he returned to the village to assume his responsibilities as the oldest son of his widowed mother and help raise his sisters. Over the next 36 hours, we talked about daily life in the villages, the history and customs of Berber and Arab Moroccans and how they interact today, and how to make their wonderful foods such as fragrant lamb tagines, flatbreads and sweet mint tea.
Mohammed also made us think about the impact of our actions as tourists: When we stopped at a historic monument, two young children ran up to us offering palm leaves they had woven into camel shapes. I reached into my purse for coins but was stopped by Mohammed, who told the duo that they should be in school instead. After, he told us that children learn quickly that begging has more immediate, but transitory, rewards and tourists should not encourage this.
Biggest laugh or cry: In Morocco, we had some tense moments as we traversed rough territory on our drive through the mountains and valleys. At one point, we found that our road had been washed out by a violent rainstorm. Mohammed inquired about alternate routes and, although we were not in a Jeep, we were directed to drive along miles of wooded paths and rushing streams. (We jointly held our breath as we did so.)
At one particularly tense point, Mohammed spoke to our driver in Berber and the folk music in our car suddenly changed to Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive.” It broke us all up, and we sang along with pumping fists until we finally made it back to a real road.
How unexpected: Although I carefully consulted with several sources to choose the best time to travel in Spain — think sunny, warm days and cool, clear evenings — Spain and Western Europe in general was experiencing recordbreaking rainfalls. We had chilly days with pounding rains every day except for two: one at the beginning and one at the end of our Andalusian journey. No matter; it provided us with a humorous theme for the Spanish leg of the journey. Channeling “My Fair Lady,” we now refer to it as our “rain in Spain” trip.
Favorite memento or memory: While I enjoyed the textiles I brought back from the Marrakesh bazaars, it’s the memories of the people we met, the deeper understanding we gained of unfamiliar cultures and new stories of unexpected rains and river crossings that have become a cherished part of our family history.
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Bougainvillea vines climb a wall and frame the view of a quiet pool at the Alcazar, the royal palace in Seville, Spain.