BY COURTNEY ASHLEY
80 April 2013
LAST OCTOBER, 14 NTA tour operators from the United States and Canada flew to Morocco via New York’s John F.Kennedy International Airport for an NTA product development trip led by Sam Nhairy of Morocco Destination Management. We all were excited to learn about Morocco and discover how we can market this destination to our customers. After landing in the large port city of Casablanca, we traveled to Rabat, the modern-day capital of Morocco. We had lunch at Riyad Al Hambra, a boutique bed and breakfast. The gracious hotel owners were amazing hosts, providing a multi-course lunch that included lemon chicken cooked in a tagine, a special clay pot used throughout the country to make this signature Moroccan dish.
We happened to arrive in Morocco on the eve of the religious holiday Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Adha is an official holiday celebrated within Islam. It honors the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God’s command. Before Abraham could sacrifice his son, however, God provided a lamb to sacrifice instead. Every family celebrates for two or three days, and after a prayer service, it’s common in Morocco for each family to have a large feast, often centered on butchering a sheep. We saw many herds of sheep being driven to markets in small villages and big cities so each family could purchase one for the traditional celebration. They often were accompanied by sheep dogs scampering along to keep the flock together.
We visited a Roman ruin at Volubilis on our way from Casablanca to Fes, which is in the middle of the olive-growing region of Morocco. Many fruits and vegetables are grown throughout the western part of Morocco. We arrived there late in the afternoon. As we explored the ruins, which contain mosaic floors and majestic columns dating from 25 B.C., the sun began to set, and the sky became a brilliant orange and red. It was a beautiful place to watch the sunset, and we all lingered, not wanting to spoil the moment.
Then the crescent moon came out, making the whole visit perfect. Fes (rhymes with “yes.” Fez with a “z” is type of headwear.) is a thriving city, one of the four oldest imperial cities in Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We spent a memorable day exploring an amazing market. We saw everything from fresh fish, live chickens, spices and nuts to pottery, brass and textiles as we made our way through crowded alleys. Every now and then someone would shout Bah-rock!, which means make way and watch out, then a horse and rider or a large push cart or motorcycle would weave through the crowd. It would be very easy to get lost there, so we made sure to keep an eye on our local guide, but it was so tempting to stop, talk to the shopkeepers and make a purchase or two. Driving through the High Atlas Mountains provided us with many scenic vistas and panoramic views of this less populated but beautiful part of Morocco. We were looking forward to seeing the Berbers who live in this area and seeing how they live. We were able to visit a home located in the Kasbah of Telouet, which was a fortress of the Pasha of Marrakesh until 1956. The family was preparing for the feast but took time to invite us in and show us several rooms in their home, which was simply furnished, comfortable and welcoming. In the desert city of Ouarzazate, we visited Atlas Studios, by acreage the largest film studio in the world. Many movies have been filmed here, including “The Mummy,” “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven,” and touring through the studio jogged many memories of scenes from these films. It was amazing to see the sets up close and realize that what looks like a massive Egyptian temple in the film actually is a structure made of plywood or even cardboard. The “Game of Thrones” TV series was being filmed there that day, but the set was off limits to us. Near Marrakech we had a memorable day visiting two PDT sponsors. Villa de Lac, an elegant, small hotel, is situated at the foot of the Atlas Mountains on Lalla Takerkoust Lake.
The owners also operate Couleurs Berberes, where guests stay in Berber tents (with nice beds!), participate in team-building exercises and local sports, and have a chance to get away from it all. Of course, we all had to ride camels, which we did on the way back to Marrakesh. It was fun, but we were glad that wasn’t the mode of transportation for our entire trip. Before our return to Casablanca and our trip home, we stopped for a delightful visit at El Jadida, a port city on the Atlantic Ocean that was controlled by the Portuguese for several centuries. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the interchange between the Moroccan and European cultures, and we had a wonderful walking tour and time to shop in the market. Most of us had spotted certain must-haves on the tour and ran off to bargain with the shop owners, while others were happy to enjoy a coffee at an outdoor café and watch the world stroll by one of the nicest memories we have of our time in Morocco was meeting and talking to the sponsors of our trip. Sam had made a large banner with the names of all our sponsors, which he displayed at every stop, and we took turns thanking them for hosting us so generously. Everyone we met and talked to was warm and welcoming, and we appreciated all the time and effort they put into making us feel so at home.
The many Moroccans we spoke with were proud of their country’s long history as a crossroads between Europe and Africa, and its tradition of Muslims, Christians and Jews living peaceably in the same neighborhoods. With mountains, desert, Atlantic Ocean beaches and (for me) an unexpected amount
of greenery—from city parks to lush fields of vegetables, nuts, and olives—in an area about the size of California, Morocco has a lot to offer its visitors. The NTA Morocco Product Development Trip was hosted by Morocco Destination Management (MDM) in partnership with the Moroccan suppliers.
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