A re­tiree’s no-hurry va­ca­tion itin­er­ary: Morocco via Por­tu­gal and Spain.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - Travel@wash­post.com

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.

To tell us about your own trip, go to wash­ing­ton­post.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your fond­est mem­o­ries, finest mo­ments and fa­vorite pho­tos.


Bougainvil­lea vines climb a wall and frame the view of a quiet pool at the Al­cazar, the royal palace in Seville, Spain.

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