Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Marrakesh, day 1

Last week we took a little train trip...south from Rabat...through Casablanca (just another big city so of no special interest to us, despite the fame of that old Bogart movie)...about 5 Marrakesh.  While the train rocked down the rails at a fast clip, I would not call this the Marrakesh Express.  The return train trip would take us through Fes and we probably should have stopped there for a night or 2 to check out the ancient city, but we skipped it and continued on back to Rabat.  Others in the marina did visit both Casablanca and Fes and recommended both.  We just weren't particularly interested in seeing anywhere except Marrakesh.

Shade canopies over courtyard
A cruising friend had shared with me a link to the blog of one of her friends who had visited Marrakesh just last year.  That couple had enjoyed their riad so much that we wanted to stay in the same place.  A riad is a Moroccan home, often a home of a wealthy merchant in years past, which has been converted to a small hotel.  The hotel we chose was the Riad Agurzame, which I found while attempting to make a reservation is sometimes also spelled Riad Aguerzame.  A riad typically has an open center courtyard with no roof.  The high-walled exterior is plain, usually stucco, and sometimes downright ugly; but the interior is quite different!  This is the typical Arabic style of architecture -- very plain outside and very nice inside.  Link to Riad Aguerzame

Bill at front door to our riad
We had pre-arranged taxi transport from the train station to the riad, but the taxi dropped us off a distance equivalent to several city blocks from the hotel, over near the Bahia Palace. The streets from that point to the riad were too narrow for cars so there was no option other than to walk.  A guy with a cart loaded up our bags and we followed him down the narrow streets and alleyways.  Our bags could have been rolled easily enough but the streets are dirty and dusty, so engaging the cart-guy was a good idea.  One of the 'main' streets was undergoing water pipe repair with dirt piles all around; good thing it was not raining or this would have been a muddy mess.  As it was, the construction work provided a good landmark for us to remember where to turn to find our hotel.  The cart guy made a left turn and we followed him down a street that was cleaner, the took the first right-hand turn and this placed us at the front door of the Riad Ajurzame.  I was glad we had arrived during mid-afternoon and were able to see the area during daylight; this helped us get familiar with the area so that venturing out later that evening did not feel too adventurous. 

Bill coming out of our riad onto street
Door to a newer riad
The entrance door opened into a small area, from which one goes to the right and then left into the courtyard.  The courtyard is never visible to the outside world from the front door. This particular entry door is situated very low; one must bend to step inside the riad.  I learned later that this low type doorway is a telling mark of an older building.  

Door to a newer riad
Only new buildings have doorways that have their threshold at street level.  There were no public water or sewer pipes when this area was first constructed several hundred years ago.  When the public water supply and sewer pipes were added later the only option was to run these pipes down the center of the narrow streets and alleyways, thus raising the street level substantially from the base level of the homes.  We asked if flooding was ever a problem as a result of the streets being so much higher than the homes and were told that flooding has never been an issue.  Guess it does not rain much here.

Courtyard of Riad Ajurzame

We were greeted by a nice quiet young man named Saeed and he invited us to sit in the courtyard and enjoy a welcoming beverage and snacks while he placed the luggage in our room upstairs.  The courtyard was lovely.  There were a couple of large orange trees and lots of plants, along with seating and lounging areas filled with low cushions.  As I wrote already, the courtyard had no roof and was open to the sky, but did have several large cloth canopy strips which provided welcome shade.  A very welcoming space.

Small section of rooftop terrace of our riad

Later I walked up to the terrace on the rooftop.  Several nice places to relax up there.

Looking onto courtyard from
window of our room

Bill looking out window
of our room into courtyard

Area at one end of courtyard of the riad
Lounging area and office at opposite end of courtyard

As Bill sipped his beer and I gulped a much needed bottle of water, soon we were joined by Aziz, who I believe is the manager of the riad, a very charming young man.  Aziz talked with us,showed us maps of the city, and provided ideas of things to see and places to eat.  Much appreciated by us because we did not have a tourist guide book for Marrakesh.  He also advised us about what to be careful about in the crowded areas; he was a fountain of information provided with a constant smile.  We agreed on a time of 8pm for dinner.  Then we went up to our room to freshen up before setting out to explore Marrakesh by foot.

Part of our room at Riad Ajurzame
Marrakesh is the fourth largest city in Morocco, and is possibly the most important of Morocco's 4 former imperial cities which were built by Moroccan Berber empires.  This region has been inhabited by Berber farmers since Neolithic times; but, as I related in my last blog posting, the city of Marrakesh was founded in 1062.  Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious and trading center for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.  Like many Moroccan cities, Marrakesh is comprised by an old fortified city packed with vendors and their stalls which is called the medina, bordered by modern neighborhoods.  Aziz told us that there are some 200,000 people living in the old city, an area that covers only 4 kilometers by 3 kilometers (2.5 miles by 1.8 miles).  That does not sound like such an impressive population number when compared to modern cities with high-rise apartments; but these people live either on ground level or up only 1 story.  So this is quite a crowded area of Marrakesh.  The city leaders have encouraged people to move out and many tall buildings have been built to accommodate residences, but the people prefer to live as they have for hundreds of years inside the crowded old city area.

A colorful wall of carpets for sale.
The major economy of Marrakesh is centered on tourism.  Tourism is strongly advocated by the King Mohammed VI, his goal being to double the number of tourists visiting Morocco to 20 million annually by year 2020.  Marrakesh is particularly popular with the French and numerous French celebrities own property in the city.  Marrakesh has the largest traditional Berber market (souk) in Morocco.  In fact, there are some 18 souks in Marrakesh, selling literally everything one might want.  (Sorry to friends and family; we did not buy any souvenirs so don't expect any gifts from Marrakesh.)

The busiest square in all of Africa is located in Marrakesh: the Jemaa el-Fnaa.  And that is where we headed first.  The origin of the name of this square is unclear.  Jemaa means "congregation" in Arabic, which probably refers to a destroyed very old mosque.  Fana or fina can mean "death" or "a courtyard or space in front of a building."  So, the meaning could be "the congregation of death."  Another explanation is that Jemaa el-Fnaa translates to "assembly of the dead" which could refer to the public executions on this plaza around 1050 A.D.  Today this plaza is filled with vendors and food stalls, along with trained monkeys and snake charmers and various entertainers.  And pickpockets.  Lots and lots of highly skilled pickpockets.

Here is a photo of the Jemaa el-Fnaa which comes from the Wikipedia website.  This looks like an older photo because to me the area looks different today.

Lots of trained monkeys around the plaza.  Pay for photo.
Bill and I walked what seemed like miles, just exploring the old city and ending at the main square just after sunset.  We had been told that one must visit this plaza at least once during the daytime and again during the evening, as the experience is different during days and nights. As the evening deepened, the plaza changed to become more filled with entertainers.  The guys with the trained monkeys and the snake charmers gathered their animals and reptiles and left.  The entertainers took over the open spaces.  And the food stalls filled with customers seeking dinner.  

Masks must be a popular sales item.
These were everywhere.
We opted not to chance eating at any street vendors and stuck to recommended restaurants and cafes during our 4 days there.

Small group of African musicians and dancers

This guy REALLY wanted me to take his photo.
10 dirham, please.

Everyone here expects to be paid if someone takes their photo.  And never take a photo without asking permission first.  If they say okay, then agree on a price or you might find yourself with an angry man insisting on more than you wish to pay.  Helpful advice that Aziz had provided to us before we ventured out to explore.

A tajine.  The typical method of
cooking those delicious Moroccan
All that walking after a 5-hour train trip had worn us out and we were glad to get back to the riad for dinner.  We had arranged only 1 dinner at the riad.  I have forgotten what was served as an appetizer but do remember the delicious spicy soup accompanied by plump, moist and luscious medjool dates.  The main course was a tajine of turkey meat cooked with tiny grapes.  It was delicious!  The spices used were unusual. 
A dinner plate at the riad.  I liked this pattern and
would love to buy a set of these porcelain dishes.
These are manufactured in Fes.  I shopped for
these in Marrakesh but could not find this pattern.

The meal was accompanied by a delightful red wine made near Fes.  Okay, that was a surprise.  Had no idea that any wine was produced in Morocco.  And it really was good.  Aziz said we were allowed 2 bottles of wine with dinner.  Seriously?  We cannot drink 2 bottles of matter how good it tastes.  We told him to keep the second bottle for someone else.  Desert was a slice of 3 layered ice creams made there in the riad.  Decadence.  We enjoyed this meal very much and now I must buy a tajine!  
Judy and Aziz in front of Riad Agurzame

I did not take a cooking class in Marrakesh (although this was HIGHLY recommended), but I think I can learn Moroccan cooking on my own.  But first must buy a tajine.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Time actually moving????

If you are a sailor, here are some interesting numbers for you. The data includes everything between 15 April 2008 and today.
I checked and double checked these numbers. I have been tracking everything since 2008...I wish that I had started earlier.

If our cruising  pace around the world is typical, the boat is only moving (motoring/sailing) 6.6% of the time. Notably, regarding solar, I had solar charging capability 33% of the time. My total time at anchor (majority) or in a marina was 93% of the time.

I decided that the Med sailing, or lack of sailing, had probably impacted these numbers significantly. So I broke out the numbers into two sets: "The World before the Med" and "Arrival in the Med to Rabat."

Yes, the Med did impact the numbers! Two things about the Med skewed my numbers:
1.) It is virtually impossible to cruise year round because of the winters.
2.) There are no predictable trade winds.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

History of Marrakesh and Morocco

Easy travel from Rabat to Marrakesh; light rail tram from marina to train station; 5 1/2 hours train to Marrakesh.  We will be doing this on Tuesday, so I have been researching Marrakesh and Morocco.  Buried in the following text are a couple of tidbits which Bill and I found interesting.  I got so sidetracked in the history of Morocco that did not get around to researching items of interest to see in Marrakesh.  Oh well, there is always tomorrow.


Marrakesh was founded by the Almoravids between 1062 and 1072 A.D., depending on which source one reads.  The Almoravids were a Berber dynasty of Morocco who formed an empire in the 11th century that stretched over the western Maghreb (northern Africa) and the Al-Andalus (southern Spain area only; although the full Al-Andalus covered almost all of Spain, only the southern part was controlled by the Almoravids).  Marrakesh was the capital city of the Almoravid dynasty.  This dynasty originated among nomadic Berber tribes of the Sahara Desert who traveled the territory between the Draa, the Niger and the Senegal rivers.

The Almoravids were crucial in preventing the fall of Al-Andalus to the Iberian Christian kingdoms when they decisively defeated a coalition of the Castilian and Aragonese armies at the Battle of Sagrajas in 1086.  This enabled the Almoravids to control an empire that stretched about 2,000 miles from north to south.  However, this dynasty was relatively short-lived.  At the height of their power the area fell to the Almohads when the last king of the Almoravids was killed in Marrakesh in April 1147 by the Almohads.  The Almohads then replaced the Almoravids as the ruling dynasty both in Morocco and Al-Andalus (southern Spain).

The Almohad movement was started by Ibn Tumart among the Masmuda tribes of southern Morocco.  They established their first Berber state in Tinmel in the Atlas Mountains in 1120, and succeeded in overthrowing the ruling Almoravids when they conquered Marrakesh in 1147.  At that time Abd al-Mu'min al-Gumi declared himself Caliph of the territory and the Almohad Caliphate was firmly established.  By 1172 all of Al-Andalus (almost all of Spain--Iberia) was under Almohad rule.

The Almohad dominance of Iberia (Spain) continued until 1212-1214 when an alliance of Christian princes of Castile, Aragon, Navarre and Portugal defeated the Almohads.  Soon thereafter all of the Moorish dominions in Iberia fell to the Christians, with the great Moorish city of Cordova falling to the Christians in 1236; then Seville fell in 1248. 

The Almohads continued to rule in Africa, losing territory piecemeal through the revolt of tribes.  Their territory stretched along the northern coast of Africa covering what today is the northern part of Algeria.  The last possession of the Almohads was Marrakesh.  Interesting that this Caliphate began and ended in the same city.  The last Almohad ruler was murdered by a slave in Marrakesh in 1269.  And thus began the rule of the Marinid dynasty which lasted until the Wattadis came into power in 1472.  The Marinid dynasty extended east through what is now Tunisia.  They were strong supporters of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.  Remember those Nasrid palaces that we visited in Alhambra last month?

Like the Marinids, the new rulers of the Wattadis were of Zenata Berber descent.  The 2 families were related.  They eventually were ruling just the northern part of Morocco while the Saadi princes ruled all of southern Morocco by 1511.  By 1549 the entire region was controlled by the Saadi dynasty (not to be confused with the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia).  Then the Alaouite dynasty gained power in 1659.  I found this interesting since King Assad of Syria is Alawite; I am sure Alaouite and Alawite means the same sect of Islam.  Correction:  According to a local person in Marrakech, the words Alaouite and Alawite are in no way connected.  The word Alaouite derived from translations from several languages, between Arabic and French and English, and denoted Berbers from a certain area of Morocco. There are no Alawite Muslims in Morocco.  All Muslims in Morocco are Sunni.  Both the Saadi and Alaouite families claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad (Mohammad)(PBUH).  Under the Saadi dynasty Morocco repulsed Ottoman incursions and a Portuguese invasion in 1578.  However, managing the territories across the Sahara Desert proved too difficult.  After the death of Ahmad al-Mansur, the country was divided among his sons. 

In 1666, Morocco was reunited by the Alaouite dynasty, who have been the ruling house of Morocco ever since.  Morocco defeated aggression from Spain and the Ottoman Empire.  The Alaouites stabilized the nation and it remained quite wealthy.  They drove the English from Tangier in 1684 and the Spanish from Larache in 1689.

Morocco was the first nation to recognize the fledgling United States of America as an independent nation in 1777.  In the beginning of the American Revolution, American merchant ships in the Atlantic were subject to attack by the Barbary pirates.  On 20 December 1977, Morocco's Sultan Mohammed III declared that American merchant ships would be under the protection of the sultanate and could thus enjoy safe passage.  The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, signed in 1786, stands as the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty.  Never learned that in any history class in school.

In 1904 France and Spain carved out zones of influence in Morocco.  When the UK recognized France's sphere of influence here, it provoked a strong reaction from the German Empire, and a crisis loomed in 1905.  The crisis was resolved at the Algeciras Conference in 1906.  Then the 1912 Treaty of Fez made Morocco a protectorate of France and triggered the 1912 Fes riots. (The spelling of Fes is sometimes with a 'z' and sometimes with an 's' but means the same city in Morocco.)  By that same 1912 Treaty of Fez, Spain assumed the role of 'protecting power' over the northern and southern Saharan zones in Africa.  This resulted in tens of thousands of colonists entering Morocco.  Resulting special interest groups formed and continually pressured France to increase its control over Morocco.  One Governor-General, Marshall Hubert Lyautey, sincerely admired Moroccan culture and succeeded in imposing a joint Moroccan-French administration.  Several divisions of Moroccan soldiers served in the French Army both in WWI and WWII, and also in the Spanish Nationalist Army and in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.  In 1943 the Independence Party was founded to press for Moroccan independence; and, with discreet USA support, that party subsequently provided most of the leadership for the nationalist movement.

France's exile of Sultan Mohammed V in 1953 5o Madagascar and his replacement by the unpopular Mohammed Ben Aarafa sparked active opposition to the French and Spanish protectorates, resulting in much violence where Moroccans attacked French and other European residents in the streets.  As a result, France allowed Sultan Mohammed V to return to Morocco in 1955 and negotiations that led to Moroccan independence began in 1956.

In March 1956 the French protectorate was ended and Morocco regained its independence from France and became known as the Kingdom of Morocco.  A month later Spain ceded most of its protectorate in northern Morocco to the new Kingdom but kept its 2 coast enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, on the Mediterranean coast.  These 2 enclaves remain Spanish today.  Sultan Mohammed V became King of Morocco in 1957.  The current King of Morocco is King Mohammed VI.

There have been a few protests and calls for greater powers to be granted to the Moroccan parliament since the Arab Spring movement throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa in 2011, but the greater power continues to remain with the monarchy to date.

The Arabic name al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyah meaning "The Western Kingdom" or Al-Maghrib  meaning "The West" are commonly used as alternate names for Morocco.  In fact, on our nautical paper chart for this region of the Atlantic Ocean, Morocco is identified as Al- Maghrib.  And this chart originated from the British Royal Navy.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Dinner in the Souk

 There are 3 Amels berthed here in Rabat and we are all 3 on the same pontoon.  One is BeBe, a Super Maramu 2000.  Another is Libertad, a Maramu and also USA flagged, owned by Dennis and Virginia Johns from California.  We have seen a lot of Dennis and Virginia the past couple of months.  And the third Amel is Kali Mera, a Santorin model which is Austrian flagged, owned by Herbert and Tadeja.  This is the first Santorin we have seen and it is an identical smaller version of our Super Maramu.  The main saloon interior is more like the Maramu but that is understandable because of the size difference, cannot have all the extra storage space and conveniences that are in the larger Super Maramu.  But I think the main saloon on both the Maramu and the Santorin are more comfortable than our Super Maramu. As always, there are trade-offs in every model yacht.  We first met Herbert and Tadeja when they came to visit us when we were in Gibraltar.  They arrived in Rabat almost a week before us.  And they are more adventurous than we would be if left on our own.

A whole new meaning to boat boys
Shortly after we arrived here, they invited us to join them for a visit to the souk in old Rabat. An evening visit.  We would have ventured there on our own during daylight but probably would have been reticent about going there after dark.  They showed us that it is okay to venture out locally in the evening hours.  They also introduced us to the small wooden boats that ply back and forth across the river ferrying people between Sale and Rabat in the same manner that has been used for centuries.

25 cents gets you rowed across the little river

We walked from the marina along the northern side of the river back towards the sea entrance for a block or so to find a dilapidated wooden dock where the small wooden boats tied up.  Passengers are directed to which boat to board and the rower steps on.  He stands in the center of the boat to handle the oars.  Same method used for centuries.  It costs 2.5 dirham (MAD) per person one way crossing.  That is about 25 cents USD for someone to row you across the little river.  What a deal!

Peaceful river near sunset
It was enjoyable watching all the men and small boats along the river.  And then people-watching once on the Rabat side.  One of these days we should take a boat over there and walk the old walled city near the river/sea entrance.  Simple entertainment.

Herbert showed us how to find a doorway leading into the souk.  We likely would never have found this opening without his help as it is not visible from the street.  This opening led to an alleyway/street on which were many metal shops.  Several were making wrought iron gates and door coverings.  Lot of welders here.  That street continued uphill and became the 'shoe street' of the souk.  This street was lined with tiny shops selling shoes or purses or intricate small wooden boxes or ceramic ware or souvenirs, but mostly shoes.  Herbert was on a mission to find some bright yellow leather pointy toe shoes like are made in Fes. Success!

Waiting for dinner to be served.
Herbert and 
Tadeja of Kali Mera, and Judy

At the end of shoe street we turned left and followed a wider 'street' that soon led us back outside the souk to a main street where the light rail was located, which we are calling the tram.  This tram runs very near our marina; a tram ride one way costs 6 MAD (60 cents) per person.  Another deal!

First dinner in the souk.  Tadeja, Judy and Bill
We turned to the right and walked along the outside of the souk wall for a good distance, past hundreds of sidewalk vendors.  Some were the blackest-of-black Africans but most had the lighter skin tones of Moroccans.  I overheard all kinds of unusual languages as we walked past all these guys and noted all the different types of garments worn.  And they were all guys; not a female vendor to be seen on the main street sidewalk.  But once we turned inside the souk again I noticed several female vendors.

Bill with Herbert and Tadeja

Now we were on a 'food street' of the souk.  I usually have a good sense of direction and it seemed to me that if we had continued on the 'shoe street' rather than turning left way back there that we would have eventually intersected with this 'food street.'  But going out and coming back in was the easiest way to find what we were looking for --- dinner!

These roasted peppers are so good!
The rickety ultra-steep stairs to upstairs
dining area.
There were fruit vendors and bakers and all kinds of foods sold along this street/alley.  Many of the hot food vendors were selling some kind of ground meat mixture inside a kind of bread circle which had been cut in half and filled.  These were prepared when ordered, not prepared and left to sit until sold.  The ground meat mixture (beef? It was a reddish color.) appeared to be seasoned with chopped herbs added and was kept in a mound inside a glass container.  When someone ordered a sandwich, the meat mixture then was cooked on a griddle or grill.  Bread circle was cut in half and one-half was split in the center and filled with the cooked meat mixture.  One sandwich was one half of a bread circle.  These were plenty large to serve as a meal and the bread was substantial enough to be eaten while held in one hand.  People were walking all over the place eating these sandwiches.  I have no idea what these were called.  We did not sample one.  We have a healthy respect for quality and freshness of any kind of ground meat.  These look good but we will not be trying one.

What do you think they might be selling?
Beneath that plastic wrap is a roasted camel's head.
Teeth and all.

Next thing we noticed were the camel heads.  Yep; roasted or baked camel heads, teeth and all.  There were vendors lining both sides of the 'food street' selling roasted camel.  All the camel heads that I saw were covered in a plastic wrap so these did not photograph well because the plastic reflects lighting of the camera flash.  Whether these were covered in plastic wrap in attempt to keep the meat moist or whether to keep flies off, I cannot say. Either could be plausible given the location.  

This one looked like his mouth was open
Based on the varying amounts of meat visible on the various heads, it appeared to me that the entire head is baked or roasted whole (brains intact?).  Then when a customer orders a plate of camel or a sandwich of camel, the cooked meat is cut away from the skull and heated on a griddle or grill before serving.  Camel head meat appeared to be very popular with the local people.  There were no other tourists anywhere we went this evening so cannot speak as to popularity of roasted camel heads to others; but the local people enjoy it.

Most of the meat on this one had already been sold.

We will not be sampling roasted camel heads.  When we visited Peru in September 2006 I ate alpaca because it was a local favorite and I always try some of the local foods wherever we travel.  An alpaca is a member of the camel family, so guess I have already eaten the same thing as camel meat.  That alpaca steak tasted just fine.  It was almost like a beef steak.  Except for the smell.  I could eat only 3 bites of that alpaca steak because I just could not get past the smell.  Same for these roasted camel heads.  Neither Bill nor I cared for that smell.  By the way, I would really love to see how these heads are cooked.  They are far too large to fit into a normal oven.

Everything one might want for dinner.  Swarma on the right.
Camel's head in center.  And all sorts of meats to be grilled behing
the seated man.  And the sign says they have pizza too.  All these
places has stairs to a tiny eating area above the vendor stalls.

Grill at the place we decided to eat.
After awhile we spotted one vendor who had rotisserie chicken on spits and Bill instantly decided that this should be our 'restaurant' of choice for dinner.  Luckily, one of the men manning the grills spoke a few words of English so ordering for the 4 of us was simple.  Bill obviously ordered the chicken and I opted for grilled chicken livers with grilled onions.  Each was served with some form of yellow rice and a large portion of raw chopped onions and tomatoes.  None of the food was spicy hot.  Herbert also ordered a plate of the small red lamb sausages which were a tad spicy hot; very good.  And some small white meatball type chunks of meat which were cooked on the grill.  All accompanied by plates of baked tomato, grilled non-hot but tasty long green peppers, grilled eggplant and some kind of small orange patties which were deep fried.  I think these might have been part potato or sweet potato; never could figure those out.  All this was served with small bowls of a clear red sauce with chopped herbs in it; sweet and not at all spicy or hot.  Herbert ordered some chile sauce, something with some heat to it.  That was really good.  No beer for the guys since no alcohol is served here, so we shared a liter of Coca-Cola.  

Herbert, Judy and Bill waiting for the tram home

All of that food, more than the 4 of us could eat, cost a whopping 205 MAD, or about $5 per person.  Thus far it seems that money goes a long way in Morocco.  Quite the bargain.  However, this dinner was a treat by Herbert to repay Bill for some things Bill had helped him with on his boat.

We stopped by a baker on the way out for a few goodies.  Then walked to the nearest tram stop to hop on for the ride back to the marina.  Many thanks to Herbert and Tadeja for treating us to this local dinner and for showing us how to navigate the river boats, the souk and the tram. 

How canned soft drinks are served here.  With a
paper napkin inside the glass instead of ice. Of course,

you do not want the ice anyway; that is a good way to
get sick as the ice is made from local water.

The next day we joined Dennis and Virginia of Libertad for a tram ride into Rabat city.  We needed to buy train tickets for a trip planned for next week.  That was easily accomplished and then we walked that area for a bit.  Bill found a Maroc Telecom store and kiosk and purchased a sim card for our mi-fi.  The sim card and 15 GB data cost a whopping $13 USD, by far the least expensive internet access ever for us in any country.  So, now we finally have shared internet access on the boat once again.  Color me happy.

Dennis and Judy being rowed across river

That evening we showed Dennis and Virginia all the places and things that Herbert and Tadeja had showed us the previous evening.  Paying it forward.  We duplicated exactly what we had done the previous evening.  Even eating at the same place.  

There was nothing especially Moroccan about the foods because rotisserie chicken is always just rotisserie chicken.  The English-speaking guy messed up our orders but that did not matter.  I ended up with chopped grilled chicken livers mixed with those grilled white ground meat chunks, which I suspect was lamb.  I think the best liked item on the table were those tiny red grilled spicy sausages.

This cat would not leave us alone.  She would climb onto
the window sill and attempt to get our food off the table
through the open window.  Bothered us both nights.
Persistent little thing that I wanted nothing to do with.
We stopped by the baker stalls again and also bought a few figs from the fruit guy.  Each purchase is an adventure for us because we speak not a word of any common language with the vendors.

Caught the tram back to the marina.  And now Dennis and Virginia know as much as we know about this area.  Which is not very much.

Weather between here and the Canary Islands is bad this week.  There is a circulating pattern with LOW pressure of 1001 just ENE of the Canary Islands with sustained winds in the 35-knot range.  One prediction is for 50 knot winds out there.  But over here at Rabat those winds should not exceed 20-25 knots.  At any rate, that weather will close the entrance for any incoming or outgoing boats.  There are 3 or 4 boats here that wintered last season in Marina di Ragusa, all Dutch.  When we arrived it was like an 'old home' reunion for a few of us.  They are all headed to the Canary Islands with intentions to cross in November, but they are now holed up here until weather changes.  We will use this time to make a little land trip. will not be one of those desert trips that have been so highly recommended.  Nothing could entice me to ride a camel.  Or to sleep in a tent in the desert or at an oasis.  I'm sure that is fun to lots of folks but after my experience of riding a spitting elephant in Thailand there is nothing that could convince me that riding a spitting camel could be a good idea.

Rabat arrival

Helpful hint: Read the captions of each photo in order first.  Then read the text.  Be sure to watch the linked video.
Libertad on left lining up to follow pilot boat in.
Note how low in water she is due to swell.

S/V BeBe is berthed at Marina Bouregreg in Rabat.  Technically that is not correct; Rabat is on the south side of the river.  The marina is situated in Sale on the north side of the river, which Google Maps translates to be "Dirty, Morocco" and I really cannot argue with that.  And that is part of the charm of this exotic location.  Living spaces are neat and clean but streets and paths, not so much.  I think this is typical in the Arab world.

Seconds later, note how high Libertad is now.

When departing Gibraltar boats must time both the tide there and the tide at anticipated arrival time at the challenging entrance to Rio Bou Regreg (pronounced BOO-ray-ray), the waterway for which this marina is named.  It was impossible to time together as desired on the day of our passage, so we got it as closely as possible only with the emphasis on arriving at Rabat during the correct tidal stage.  Otherwise, we would not be able to get in!

Lining up behind pilot boat, and trying to catch up
with him.  Head for the crashing water on the rocks.
There is an almost constant swell from the west here.  Could be NW or SW...but almost always present and from some westerly direction.  Which brings that swell crashing into the rocks all along this part of the African coastline.  When the swell exceeds 2 meters (a little over 6 1/2 feet) then the entrance is closed to boat traffic.  The swell was right on that line during our arrival and it was 'interesting' surfing those swells as they crashed into the rocks on either side of the narrow entrance.  An unmarked channel through that entrance is kept dredged to sufficient depth to allow most boats entry when swell conditions are not too bad.

Pilot boat in front is down.
Leaving Gibraltar we hugged the north side of the strait along the Spanish coast where the eastern setting current is supposed to be least.  We were able to motor about 6 knots until Tarifa but then our speed began to drop as the adverse current increased with the changing tidal stage.  We had wanted to go about 6 NM past Tarifa before turning south towards Morocco but that was not possible.  I got too impatient.  When boat speed got as low as 3.9 knots SOG then I just could not take that slow speed any more.  So I turned south earlier than planned and headed toward our first waypoint off the coast of Morocco.  Boat speed immediately increased to 5.2 SOG and that was much better!  Crossing the shipping channels in the strait was simple.  No ships too close in either direction.  Gotta love AIS!!

Pilot boat still kind of down there.

We motored all the way in calm seas and the swell increased as we progressed down the coastline.  There were many fishing boats but we were far enough offshore that these were never a difficulty.  Another Amel, S/V Libertad, also made the passage at the same time; but they stayed close to shore and later said the fishing boats were an issue for them to dodge.

Pilot boat higher now.
Libertad arrived at the 'hold' waypoint before us and waited there as we came in closer to shore.  The marina had provided us with this 'hold' waypoint and instructed us to contact them via VHF radio when 2 miles before that point.  Libertad could see us but we could not see them.  The haze was terrible and we could not make out their boat against the structures on shore.  They were unable to contact the marina by VHF but luckily had a working cell phone and made contact via phone.  The marina said to wait there at the 'hold' waypoint for their pilot boat to lead us in.  The pilot boat arrived in just a few minutes.  

While behind us Libertad is up one second.
The pilot boat stopped and spoke with Libertad and then came to BeBe.  The driver asked our draft and then told us to stay right behind him and follow him in.  I radioed Libertad and told them that the pilot boat wanted us to follow in his wake and for them to follow in our wake.  We had thought they would take Libertad first since they arrived first but they wanted the boat with the deepest draft to be immediately behind the pilot boat.  Bill was at the helm because I knew he might end up yelling at me if I drove it in during those conditions.  Better he do it himself as both of us had nerves on edge anticipating this entrance.  Then...if we broached...he could only blame himself.

And the next second Libertad is down.
Photos just do not show the conditions.
When surfing ~2 meter swell or waves it is imperative to NOT SLOW DOWN.  If you slow the boat you can broach...turn sideways.  That would be very, very bad in this situation.  As we came in I watched the depth gauge and Bill ignored all gauges; his eyes were glued to the stern of the pilot boat.  He did glance at the speed gauge at one point and saw that we were going 9.6 knots.  We were very close to the stern of the pilot boat; Libertad wisely stayed farther back from our stern.

BeBe headed in, surfing the swell.

Just as we entered the calm past the big swell, 2 guys on surfboards paddled straight across the river right in front of the pilot boat!  Wow!  Was that ever stupid!  The pilot boat obviously instantly stopped (and yelled at the 2 guys), but quickly accelerated again so that Bill avoided hitting their stern...barely.  I swear our bow was not more than 5 feet off their stern at one point!!!  This Nervous Nelly was glad to not be the one at the helm for this experience.

Once inside, total calm.

The little river wound around the old walled city of original Rabat.  Past the small wooden boats that taxi people back and forth across from Sale to Rabat all day long.  Then we were instructed to turn around and tie off at the Customs dock on the northern side of the river just outside the marina.  Libertad tied up behind us on this dock that was really too short to handle 2 boats our size.  They nestled their bow right up near our stern arch and their stern was left sticking out past the end of that short dock.  Officials came and cleared us in. 

Libertad nestled up to our stern arch at Customs dock.
Neither Bill nor I speak a word of French so filling out the clearance forms was challenging.  I consulted the book "French for Cruisers" by Kathy Parsons and it helped, but some of the words on the form were different than what were in this book.  For example, previous port on the form was called 'provenance' and that was nowhere to be found in this book.  With the assistance of one of the officials who spoke some English the task was accomplished in short order.  A drug dog was brought to the dock but remained to the side of our boat; never came aboard.  Maybe because our boat has a solid stainless steel life rail with no side gate, and lifting that big dog up over that rail would have been a real challenge for those guys.

"New" city of Rabat built around the old walled city.
That big wooden ship might be a restaurant.
We again turned around in the river and entered the marina.  Berthing was very easy despite the unhelpful information provided by another cruiser on Noonsite about the side pontoons having no cleats which made tying off interesting.  Why did they post that?  Each boat has a pontoon on each side.  The pontoons are short and, in fact, do not have cleats; but cleats are not needed because there is a very sturdy ring protrusion positioned on the end of each short pontoon through which boats run dock lines.  Simply run a line from your bow cleat through that ring and back to another deck cleat on your boat.  Do this for both sides. Repeat with a spring line.  Tie off 2 stern lines on the main pontoon cleats as normal, and the boat is safely secured.  Why that cruiser chose to post that note on Noonsite to confuse and worry others coming here is baffling.  File that as another cruiser rumor.  There is no issue whatsoever docking here easily and securely.

None of the photos I took during our entry show the true conditions.  Photos never do.  Just cannot capture the water movement in still shot unless with a professional quality camera.  But here is a link to a video of an Amel 54 entering here in conditions similar to what we experienced.  Except we entered on a rising high tide, just about 45 minutes before slack high tide.  This video was during a decreasing high tide; water was already flowing out to sea, as you can see by the water line on the rocks when the boat is at the Customs dock.  That outgoing tidal flow going against the incoming swell caused breaking wave conditions.  This is why we were adamant that our arrival must be either slack high tide or within the 3 hours prior to high tide.  The guy in the red and yellow vest on the boat in this video is the same guy who stood on the stern of the pilot boat and used hand motions to guide us in.

Video of Amel 54 Amelit arriving Rabat

When checking into the marina office we noticed a sign on the door stating that the port was closed.  They let us and Libertad arrive but were not letting any boats leave that day due to the swell conditions at the entrance.  I am not looking forward to leaving here!  

During our passage here Bill spoke on the VHF radio with a New Zealand boat en route to the Canary Islands.  Main purpose in speaking with that boat was to confirm our radio is still working correctly; it is.  The Kiwi said we must be the only Americans going to Morocco this year; everyone else he had met was going straight to the Canary Islands because worried about security issues considering today's troubled political problems.  Well...there are 3 American boats here now, so we are not the only ones visiting Morocco this year.  The first morning here Bill watched the security guards search the guys who were entering the marina to empty the trash bins.  They made those guys take off their shoes and shirts, empty their pockets and patted them down, lift their pants legs, and even looked inside their mouths and ears.  A thorough inspection before allowing them inside the marina.  There are both good things and bad things that one can take from this.  

There are 7 security guards spaced around the marina to keep out anyone who does not have a boat berthed here.  There are restaurants next to the marina and the guards constantly watch people on the walkway, blowing whistles if someone approaches any of the marina pontoon entry points.  Yesterday I heard a whistle blowing more and more urgently and loudly.  When Bill looked out to see what was going on, 2 local men had stepped onto one of the pontoon walkways and that angry guard was running toward them while continuing to blow that loud whistle.  When one of the men saw the guard he signed to the other man and they stopped in their tracks.  They both were deaf!  So that whistle did nothing to alert them that they were entering a prohibited area.  By the way, Bill cannot hear that whistle at all.  It would have no effect on him either.

All this has made me wonder if security has always been this tight in this marina.  We know several boats that berthed here for weeks or months during the past 4 years and not one mentioned this tight security.