ON THE NORTH WEST TIP of Africa, Morocco is a land of vast contrasts, of snow capped mountains (sorry, Band Aid) viewed from the Sahara, of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic ancient cities, with some connection to Led Zeplin. Place names evoke wonder – Marrakesh, Fez, Atlas, Tangiers.
Some rave about it, returning year after year. I thought it was alright. Good even. The bazaars were eye-opening, the desert vast. It was where I came to appreciate the olive and Ramadan, and yet I am in no hurry to go back.
Morocco was my first trip beyond Asia, my first to Africa.
I found a land of old maze-like cities, desert kasbahs and snow capped mountains.
And despite all these, I really feel indifferent to Morocco. I wouldn't say it was bad. I had some great experiences, and saw many things for the first time.
But I have never thought that I must go back to Morocco. Some people feel it a special place, and I can understand that. But not me.
My first few days were in Marrakesh, during Ramadan, spent exploring the back streets and alley ways behind the Jeema El-Fna square.
It was winter, and the dark tones and long warm robes that people wore reminded me of....Star Wars.
Small shops which had traded for generations sold hand mades leathers and other crafts or traditional medicines like these.
Crowds filled Jeema El-Fna at dusk for iftar- the breaking of the fast, a tradtion which once you get used to, is uplifting.
Story telling is part of the Arab and North African cultures. I know no Arabic, but can tell you this fellow's tale was not for kids.
Also around El-Fna square, emu eggs and other cures from the mountains and deserts. Whatever he sold me for knee pain, did not work.
From the coast or Marrakesh to the Sahara involves crossing the Atlas mountains, where a number of small villages have old kasbah or citadels.
I visited a number of historical villages and sites on the way, but have long forgotten where or what.
If I was to return to Morocco, it would probably be for the Sahara. But then again, if it involved a camel....nah.
Along with Marrakesh, Fez is the most famed of the country's old cities, a warren of mazes and dead end streets.
You will get lost, fail to find your way, get pestered by guides, by a carpet you don't want, and wonder if you will ever find your way out.
It's a fascinating city, and the foul-smelling tanneries are a must see. Workers slosh around in pee and pigeon shit to die the leathers for sale in the bazaar.
Morocco's old cities turn up all manner of surprises, like dental supplies.
Tight alley ways with high walls, leading to square or junctions are a feature of the bazaar towns.
While you will probably be bowled over by a donkey or cow inside, if you want to buy one, the livestock trade is usually outside the walls.
Not far from Fez, Meknes is far less famous, less visited, but also quite interesting.
The city has a number of elegant, old madrasah open to the public.
High walls of the old cities protect against the weather. A single entrance will often lead to multiple households built around courtyards.
Although I wasn't fasting I enjoyed silence which descends as a whole city sits, anticipating their ifatr meal. Eid ends Ramadan, and joy and new clothes and more feasting are in order.
Not far from Meknes, the 3rd century BC city of Volubilis was the Mauritanian capital and an important Roman city.
2.6 kilometres of walls once protected major public buildings, including a basilica, temple and triumphal arch, and many fine town-houses with large mosaic floors.
Lixus was another Roman city, further north, originally settled by Phoenicians during the 7th century BC.
Lixus reached its heights under the Roman Claudius in the first centruy AD.
Larache was my stepping stone to Lixus, and with its Spanish origins and open streets, felt completely different to the lower parts of Morocco.
The bazaars weren't as crowded, but there was still plenty of colour. And sheep.
An old Spanish era fort or compound by the sea watches over a game of soccer.
Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. Largest in Africa, 7th in the world. Second highest minaret in the world. It is glorious site, inside and out.
It can accommodate 105,000 people for prayer, 25,000 inside, and a further 80,000 on the elegant grounds.
12 million people donated to the project, originally planned to be second in size to only Mecca's grand mosque.
Morocco certainly was colourful and welcoming, and if I lived nearer perhaps I'd go back sooner. 3 stars, Margaret.