Magic of Morocco

February 27 - March 8, 2022
Mike and Judy Henderson

I've always wanted to see Casablanca, maybe because of the Humphrey Bogart/Ingrid Bergman movie.  So when I saw this Tauck tour I knew I wanted to do it.  Judy is always ready to travel, and agreed.


2/24/2022 (Thursday) Our friend Janet Brittle is going to travel with us.  She arrived from Portland yesterday.  Morocco requires that we have a PCR test 48 hours before checking in for our flight so we had to get an expensive, one-hour test this morning.  We all tested negative.  Then Judy and Janet played a round of golf in the afternoon.

A bit of background on Morocco:  In 1912, Spain and France divided Morocco into a relatively small Spanish Protectorate in the north, across from Gibraltar, with essentially all the  rest of Morocco being a French Protectorate.  Tangier was a separate International Zone.  In 1956 Morocco gained its independence from both Spain and France and united the country.  I expect the area we'll visit will have a strong French influence.  Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, ruled by the Aolouite Dynasty (also called the 'Alawi Dynasty) since 1631.

Here's a map showing how Morocco was divided between France (light green) and Spain (pink).  Algeria (dark green) was a French colony until 1962.  Note that Ceuta and Melilla are still a part of Spain, as are the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco.  Madeira is Portuguese.  Western Sahara used to be Spanish Sahara until 1976.  Most of the area of Western Sahara is now administered by Morocco.  The United States recognizes Morocco's claim to Western Sahara.

During Operation Torch in 1942 (the Allied invasion of North Africa) one of the three landing sites in North Africa was in Morocco.  There were three landings in Morocco, Safi in the south, Fedala  (now Mohammedia) just north of Casablanca, and Port Lyautey (now Kenitra) north of Rabat.  Major-General George S. Patton was in charge of the Morocco invasion force.  The other two primary landing sites were Oran and Algiers in the Mediterranean.

Morocco has been a stable country since independence. 

Morocco is a Muslim (Islam) country and Islam has a number of prohibitions that affect social life.  However, Morocco depends upon tourism, so some accommodations have been made.  For example, consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Islam but is allowed in Morocco for tourists and even for Moroccans under certain conditions.  Showing affection in public is prohibited in Islam, especially between unmarried couples, but, again, is somewhat tolerated for tourists.  Homosexuality is also prohibited in Islam but is tolerated between tourists.  Dress, in public, should be modest.  Islam also prohibits gambling and usury. There are many other social norms that a tourist needs to be aware of, so do some research before going to a Muslim country.

An odd factoid is that Morocco is one of the world's leading producers and exporters of cannabis, mostly in the form of hashish (70% of the hashish used in Europe comes from Morocco).  Mostly, the cannabis is grown in the Rif area of northern Morocco, perhaps because the climate is suited to its production there.  Cannabis has been grown there for centuries.  I expect they process the cannabis to hashish because the resulting hashish is smaller and easier to smuggle out of the country.  Cannabis is illegal for recreational use in Morocco but has recently been legalized for medical and commercial use.  See here for more info.  It's unlikely you'll see any sales or use of cannabis (or smell it) in any of the cities on the Tauck tour.

For photography on this trip, I'm going to be using my iPhone 13 Pro and an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III body with an Olympus 12-200mm zoom lens. [Update:  The Olympus camera worked well but it drains the batteries - I'd normally need two batteries for a day of shooting. I was very satisfied with the quality of the images, and the color was well balanced and natural.  Good camera.] The Olympus body is a 4/3rds camera so the 12-200mm lens is equivalent to a 24-400mm lens for a 35mm camera.  The camera body has a 2X digital zoom, which I've assigned to a button, so I can make the lens act like a 48-800mm lens on a 35mm camera.  That's a lot of reach.  I lose resolution when I switch to the 2X zoom but I almost always reduce the size of pictures to put them on the web site.  Without the magic of image stabilization I'd never be able to shoot that 800mm equivalent, hand held.


2/25/2022 (Friday) As usual with a Tauck tour, we get one extra day, either at the beginning of the tour or the end.  We took the beginning, so we're going a day early.  The flight is an overnight so we arrive about 9am on the 26th.  This is our tenth Tauck tour.

The tour starts in Rabat, but flights are much easier to arrange into Casablanca, so we're going to arrive and depart at Casablanca.  We fly American Airlines to JFK, then Royal Air Maroc from JFK to Casablanca.  The return is the reverse of this: Casablanca to JFK on Royal Air Maroc, then American Airlines from JFK to LAX.

Tauck will provide a transfer from the Casablanca airport to the hotel in Rabat when we arrive.  At the end of the tour, we will be in Marrakech and Tauck will provide a transfer from Marrakech to the Casablanca airport.

A nice thing about this tour is that we only stay in four hotels over ten days, two nights in Rabat (because we get an extra night at the beginning of the tour), three nights in Fez, one night in Casablanca and four nights in Marrakech.  Not too many unpack and pack cycles.

Incidently, in English it's generally spelled Marrakesh, while in French it's spelled Marrakech.  I prefer Marrakesh but will probably use both in this blog.  Tauck uses Marrakech.  Crosby, Stills and Nash did a song, "Marrakesh Express" back in 1969.  You can see the lyrics here.  Maybe they'll play that on our bus ride from Casablanca to Marrakesh.


We were up early this morning, at 2:30am, to get ready for the 4am limo.  Lynn woke up and came to take our departure picture.  That's really above and beyond.

The trip to the airport was quick - very little traffic at that time of morning.  We checked in with American Airlines in Terminal 4.  The agent was very nice and helpful but he couldn't create our boarding passes for the flight segment from JFK to Casablanca.  He apologized and asked us to go to the Royal Air Maroc counter when we arrived in JFK to get the boarding passes.

Then we went to terminal 5 and "registered" with Clear.  In the future that will speed up going through security.  From there, we went back to terminal 4 and found the Admiral's Club lounge to wait for our flight.

It was a very nice lounge - large, modern and clean - and they put out a real spread for breakfast.

Eventually, we went to the gate and boarded our flight to JFK.  The aircraft was an Airbus A321T, a very nice narrow-body plane.  [Update: I learned later that American calls the A321T its "Super Premium" product.]  The seating was divided into a first class section with one lie-flat seat on each side of the aisle, then a business class section with two lie-flat seats on each side of the aisle.  Finally, there was an economy section with three seats on each side of the aisle.  Here's a map of the layout.

The thing that was so surprising to me was the size of the first and business class sections - they took up about 2/3rds of the plane.  The economy section was quite small.

Here's a picture of the business class seats.

The flight was smooth and they served us a light breakfast.  I watched the movie "Dune" to prepare for our visit to Morocco:-)  [Update: Morocco is not a desert.  Most of the country is farm land, similar what you might see in the midwest.  In the far south of Morocco is the area known as "Western Sahara" and that may be sandy desert.]  As we were approaching JFK, they brought us each a warm, just-baked, chocolate chip cookie.  At this point, we were impressed with American Airlines.

But then we arrived at JFK.  We had a four-hour layover, arriving about 4pm and departing about 8pm, so we were looking forward to picking up our boarding passes at the Royal Air Maroc counter and relaxing in the lounge.

We had to take the Air Train to get from our arrival terminal, terminal 8, to terminal 1 where Royal Air Maroc was located.

But when we got to the Royal Air Maroc counter, the agent had a problem with our boarding passes.  At first they told us that it was just a minor problem and they'd clear it up shortly.  But time went by and they were making weren't making any progress.  They couldn't find a booking record for us.  I called our travel agent, Jennifer, and she began working the issue with AA from her end, since our tickets had been booked on a code-share basis between the two carriers.

About 6pm they told us we'd have to go back to American Airlines in terminal 8 and work the issue with them since the ticket was issued by AA as a codeshare on Royal Air Maroc.  You can imagine we were not very happy with that suggestion. We were running out of time, and it certainly looked like they were just "passing the buck" to AA.

But we went back to terminal 8 and Judy did her best to light a fire under AA.  We finally got a supervisor, Vivian, who was not very simpatico at first.  But after looking into the issue she really changed her attitude when she found that our reservation had been made, but cancelled.  She worked with Jennifer and us to find a solution. 

The Royal Air Maroc flight was an American Airlines codeshare and the story we got was that the codeshare arrangement between the two airlines had terminated at the end of 2021.

Here's a picture of Vivian (second from right) after she had figured out what happened.

The real solution was that Jennifer bought new tickets directly with Royal Air Maroc.  She's working to get the charge transferred from AA and I'm sure she'll do her best.

By this time it was almost 7pm.  Boarding was supposed to have begun at 6:45. We rode the Air Train again to terminal 1 and were finally able to get our boarding passes.  Then we had to clear security.  We arrived at the gate about 7:30pm, shortly before they actually began boarding.  The plane was a little late.  And what did we see at the gate?   The flight was listed as a codeshare with AA. And when we boarded the flight, one of the cabin attendants announced that this flight was a codeshare with American Airlines.  So somebody was fibbing to us.  I'm pretty sure the problem with our tickets was an American Airlines problem.

So rather than a nice relaxing visit to the airport lounge, we spent most of the four hours sweating whether we were going to make the flight or have to spend the night in New York.  But we made it.

But one thing we forgot to do in the rush was to ask the Royal Air Maroc agent to make sure our luggage made it onto the airplane.  I don't know if they could have done that, but it wouldn't have hurt to try.

Special thanks to Jennifer who did yeoman work to get our tickets straightened out in time for us to make the flight.

This is not the way I like to start off a vacation trip:-)

The Royal Air Maroc aircraft was a Boeing 787-8 and the seats are very good.  Lots of storage space.

We each got a few hours of sleep before we arrived in Casablanca. 

What a day!


2/26/2022 (Saturday) We arrived at Casablanca a bit after 9am, just a little late.  And as we feared, our luggage did not make it.  We went to the Royal Air Maroc Baggage department and filed a claim.  They said the luggage would be in Casablanca about 2pm tomorrow (Sunday) but we'd have to come pick it up.  That would be difficult since we're going to be in Rabat but we'll work with Tauck to get it done.

While it's inconvenient to not have our luggage, at least we made it to Morocco.  For a while, back in New York, that was in doubt.

When we exited the airport, the Tauck transfer person was waiting for us.  There are 14 guests scheduled for this tour.  We'll learn tomorrow if all of them show up.  Normally, a Tauck "Small Group" is 24 guests, but when we took the Peru and Galapagos tour back in September, there were only 10 guests, so I suppose 14 is an improvement.  I noticed that the Tauck Morocco tours for this fall are sold out.

The drive to Rabat took about an hour and a half.  We drove through the cities of Casablanca, Mohammedia and finally, Rabat.  In between these cities there were quite a number of apartment buildings that looked like government projects.  Here's a picture of one that was under construction.  Most of the "projects" appeared to be for lower-middle and middle income people.

The only other observation was that the area is not dry.  The farm lands are green and there's a significant amount of farming and cattle and sheep raising.

Rabat is the capital of Morocco, and as we drove into the city there were lots of nice looking public buildings, as well as green space.

We arrived at the La Tour Hassan hotel.  It's a nice hotel with a long history in the city.  The hotel was originally built in 1915 and has been renovated several times.  They kept the original Islamic style decorations but the rest of the hotel is very modern.  For example, entry to the rooms is via contactless cards.  Internet access has been very acceptable, about 10Mbps up and down.

The one downside is that the air conditioning in the rooms doesn't seem to work.  The public spaces and hallways are cooled but there's no air conditioning in the rooms.  We learned that the hotel was on "winter" setting.  Running the air conditioning makes the room warmer.  At this time of year, it's not too bad because it's cool at night.  We left the window open during the night to cool the room.

The staff were welcoming to us, serving Moroccan mint tea and small snacks while we waited for our room.  We also met the General Manager of the hotel, Ali Nassila, and he promised to help us recover our luggage.  He said they have that happen fairly often.  Both the Tauck tour director, Chris Morrison, and the hotel staff have been great about helping us with our luggage problem.

As you can imagine, we were exhausted, so we went to our rooms, took a shower, and then a nap.  I set up my computer to test out the Internet access, which was good, about 10Mbps up and down.  More than adequate to do this  blog.

About 4pm we met Janet in the lobby and had lunch on the hotel patio.  Janet and I both had the Croque Monsieur, which you never see on a menu except in a French-influenced country.

Later, we took a walk in the city, and I got this picture of a cute street cat.  There are a lot of street cats in Rabat.

That was it for the day. 


2/27/2022 (Sunday) Hopefully, we'll recover our luggage today.

I was awake this morning about 6:30 when the muezzin called the faithful to prayer (Salah).  "Allah is greatest. I bear witness that there is no God but God (Allah).  I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.  Hasten to prayer.  Hasten to salvation.  Hasten to the best of deeds.  Prayer is better than sleep.  Allah is greatest.  There is no God but God." (This is a rough translation.  Some of the phrases are repeated more than once. But it gives you an idea of what the muezzin is saying.)

The call to prayer is done five times a day, at dawn, noon, midafternoon, sunset and nightfall.  This is similar to the Christian canonical hours for daily prayer: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext (noon), Nones, Vespers, and Compline.

Incidentally, there are five pillars of Islam:  Declaration of faith (Shahada), prayer five times a day (Salah), giving alms to those in need and to the community (Zakat), fasting during Ramadan (Sawm), and making a pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca once in life (if health and finances permit).  The five pointed star on the Moroccan flag  represents the five pillars of Islam.

We slept well - and long.  We were both pretty tired.

We had breakfast in the hotel.  I thought they laid out quite a breakfast spread.  Morocco had banned all flights into the country on November 29, 2021, and only lifted the ban on February 7th, 2022. There are three tourism groups in the hotel now but that doesn't fill up the hotel.  Even with the low occupancy, the hotel appears to be putting it's best face forward.  Here are two pictures of the breakfast spread.  They also had an omelet station.

There was no word on our luggage this morning but we did receive a call about our claim.  Unfortunately, the caller only said that they don't have our luggage yet.

The three of us went walking after breakfast, heading towards the medina which is located near the ocean and on the river.  There's a wall around the medina - here's where we entered.

The medina is a warren of small alleyways with shops on each side.  Here's a nice, covered portion of the medina.  Not all the shops were open today - you can see some closed doors in this picture.

Here's a picture of a spice merchant's stall.  All kinds of spices, many I didn't recognize.

Other parts of the medina were not covered and were probably a lower rent section.  Overall, I always felt safe in the medina.  The shopkeepers were not aggressive as they had been in Egypt (meaning they didn't stand outside their shop and hawk their wares, trying to get you to come in.).

After we left the medina, we walked to the ocean.  Facing the ocean was a huge cemetery.

A closer look at some of the graves and the grave markers.  Cremation is prohibited in Islam.  Burial is normally done the same day as death and is done without a casket.  The body is placed in the grave on its side, with the face towards Mecca.  Each mourner pours three handfuls of dirt into the grave while reciting an Islamic verse.  The grave marker should be modest.

A view of the Rabat Lighthouse on the Atlantic ocean.

After that, we walked back to the hotel.  The total distance out and back was only about 4km.  I noticed that there were many businesses that had "Hassan" in their name.  The reason is that this part of Rabat is called the "Quartier Hassan", named after the Hassan Tower, the minaret of an incomplete Mosque started at the end of the 12th Century.  The tower is 44 meters high, almost 150 feet.

When we got back to the hotel we had the hotel manager call about the luggage again - no news.  Our next check will be this evening.  If no news then, We'll have to arrange for the luggage to be sent to the Fez airport.  I think both of us are starting to worry that we'll never see our luggage again, but our bags are well-labeled with our names and phone numbers.  So even if we don't get the bags in Morocco, they should be able to get them back to us in Villa Park.


At 3pm we met our tour director, Chris Morrison, in the lobby for a short walk around the area of the hotel. Chris brought me a shirt and a pair of pants to wear since we still don't have our luggage.

It was also a chance to meet many of the other guests on the tour.  There are 14 people scheduled for the tour and there were 11 on the walk.

During the walk, Marta offered me a shirt on loan, which I accepted with thanks.  She later presented a shirt to both Judy and Janet, another lovely, generous loan.

I didn't take a lot of pictures during our walk but here's a picture of the Rabat Ville railway station.  I include this so that I can talk about the high speed rail system in Morocco.

In 2018, Morocco completed the first leg of its high speed rail network, the leg from Tangier to Casablanca, making the trip in 2 hours 10 minutes, down from almost 5 hours.  They are working to expand the network to Marrakech.  This railway station is not where the high speed rail trains come.  That station is the Rabat Adgal Train Station.

I wouldn't be surprised if future Tauck tours used the high speed trains instead of the motor coaches to take us from city-to-city.  The motor coach could just pick us up at the train station in the new city.  It would be nice to do one or two nights in Tangier to see that city and the area around it.

That evening, at 6pm, the whole group gathered in the piano bar for the welcoming reception.  It was the first time everyone on the tour was together - 14 guests, 2 "ghosts" (Tauck directors) and Chris.

I didn't take any pictures - I forgot to  be a photographer and was just a participant:-)

Basically, it was an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other.  It looks like a good, compatible group, and Judy and I look forward to getting to know them better. 

After the get-together in the bar, we adjourned to another room for a traditional Moroccan dinner and I took a couple of pictures of the group at dinner.  At this table, starting from the left, are Judy, Janet, Gail, Dan, Desiree, Anita, and Richard.

At the other table were Dennis, Peg, Betty, Marta, Wally, and Joan.

Dinner consisted of several courses of Moroccan dishes, served family style from a central platter.  Toward the end of dinner, Chris and the waiters came out with a cake for Dan and Desiree.


They were married a few months ago and are celebrating with this tour.

The "cake" was a chocolate mousse delight and we all got to share in it for dessert.

After that, it was off to bed, dreaming that our luggage showed up.  Which, unfortunately, was just a dream.  Both Tauck and Jennifer are working to track the lost luggage.  Eventually, I'm sure it will be found.

Stay tuned for the next installment.  Will the intrepid travelers ever see their luggage again?  



Our adventure continues here.