A wonderfully air-conditioned bus carries you through 90 degree heat from Alexandria to Giza. The highway is crowded. In these streets, it’s every man, woman, child, bus, scooter, goat, or donkey for him or herself. In this desert everything is covered with a layer of tawnysandearth. The sun shines through this layer. You look to your right, out the bus window, through the tawnysandearth. There are pyramids on the horizon. Do you ever have a moment when you see something in front of your face and what you’re seeing in front of your face does not register because you’ve seen it a million times before? Oh yeah, you’ve seen it…in a book…on your computer screen saver…on the cover of National Geographic. Look, Pyramids! They are so familiar…but not really. And then you step off the bus and Mohammed (the attractive but handsy bodyguard that has been assigned to your group) tells you to follow him so that he can take you INSIDE one of the smaller pyramids. Because, contrary to books and screen savers and covers of Nat Geo, there are more than just three. Yet the sheer size of those three makes you realize why they’re the famous ones.
It’s 90 degrees outside and about 110 INSIDE the pyramid. Mohammed, wearing a three-piece suit and packing a pistol-cuz he’s your bodyguard-leads you to the INSIDE where the tombs are now hollow because the contents have been taken to a museum in London or Washington D.C. The phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” takes on what must be it’s true meaning. You exit the pyramid through the same tiny ramp that led you in and then you decide to climb a pyramid. Mohammed, the handsy one, “helps”. You ride a camel, you kiss a sphinx, you buy a cartouche and a desert fragrance on the side of the road, you take a dinner cruise on The Nile and wonder which bullrushes were Moses’. And you recognize the fact that what you are seeing, climbing, touching, experiencing with your own senses will be seen by MOST people only in a book, on a screen saver, on the cover of Nat Geo. And you try to collect the essence of that tawnysandearth in pictures, in your essence, in your mind’s eye…
Morocco tells a slightly different story. Casablanca, glorified by Hollywood, isn’t all glitz and glam. The diversity of this place is immediately apparent as someone the color of tawnysandearth mistakes me for a Senegalese women (thanks to the tan, affectionately referred to as ‘Egypt-black’) and addresses me en Français. I, along with my companion, take to the souq and begin what turns into a wild goose chase for Moroccan shea butter. It takes quite a while to convince them that I want shea and not argan, and I’m overjoyed when I encounter a Senegalese man quite a few shades darker than my Egypt-black who leads me deep into the market for a small amount of what I’ve been looking for. Hibiscus and Moroccan mint tea, a meal of fish and bread from a literal hole-in-the-wall cafe, live chickens accompanied by the innards of cows and other livestock being sold in the same space as traditional Moroccan wedding gowns; this is Casablanca. On the way to the Hassan II Mosque (the largest in the country, the 7th largest in the world), a conversation with the taxi driver proves to me that my French is not complete garbage. Travelling through parts of North Africa, mosques are familiar to me by this time. But never have I seen one so large and gorgeous. White marble and granite stand out against the clear blue sky and the waters of the Atlantic directly behind it. The pale blue marble matches the color of the sea perfectly. Thankfully, another city by the sea is the next destination. Time in Agadir means time on the beach. A meal prepared of the freshest fish in a traditional tagine is the highlight here. A friend is made; a travelling musician who carries his instrument and entertains locals and visitors alike. This is the perfect place to relax, lay on the beach, enjoy more of that real Moroccan mint tea, or frolic in the waves. Later in the trip I visit a shop that processes Moroccan Argan into soaps, cooking and body oils and I walk away with a beautiful rose scented fragrance oil. Rose…it’s the perfect way to end the day in Morocco. I’m thankful to know that I’ll return. But first, the wind will blow me in another direction and I anticipate my arrival in another place, unknown.