Saturday, October 30, 2010

Morocco In the News: Oct 26 - 31

Peace Corps lessons resonate with Brevard volunteers
In the east-central town of Goulmima, in the predominantly Muslim country of Morocco, Laura Van Deusen taught aerobics to women and girls.
In the small village in a culture where men dominated, the class gave women and girls a chance to leave their head scarves behind and move in ways they never had before.
Van Deusen's primary job was teaching English as a volunteer for the U.S. Peace Corps, a service organization whose idea formed 50 years ago this month when then-Sen. John F. Kennedy gave a rousing campaign speech calling on Americans to serve abroad to promote peace.
As the Peace Corps marks a half-century, celebration is in
order. Returned volunteers living in Brevard find the experience helping people abroad led them to helping people at home in the United States .
"I learned that I loved teaching," said Van Deusen, 41, who served about a decade ago and is now a math resource teacher at Cambridge Magnet Elementary in Cocoa. "I would recommend it, but you've got to make of it what you want it to be."
Peace Corps continues to attract people who seek adventure, a chance to gain job and language skills, and total cultural immersion. Its mission then, as now, is to provide countries with technical support and skills training. Agency critics say it's in need of reform to better achieve development goals.
Peace Corps has evolved over the years from an organization in which most volunteers worked as teachers to one in which they also work on economic development, HIV/AIDS education and environmental and technology programs.
"The wonderful thing about Peace Corps today is that we continue to provide that bridge to accomplish great things around the world, person to person, community by community," said Peace Corps director Aaron Williams, a volunteer who went to the Dominican Republic in 1967.
Matt Culver, 42, worked in Panama for three years helping villagers plant trees and raise pigs to generate income.
Culver, the boating and waterways program manager for Brevard County Natural Resources, finds that his experience abroad in many ways prepared him for his current job, which requires interaction with the public, seeing a project through from beginning to end and relying on local resources.
Landing at his post with only enough money to live on, Culver spent the first six months figuring out what the community needed. He obtained a small grant -- just enough for the first litter of pigs -- and worked with community members after that to grow the pig farm.
With fewer resources, you still need to get things done," he said.
Through the years, 200,000 volunteers have joined the Corps, which saw a high of 15,000 volunteers in 1964. This year, 7,800 volunteers are serving.
In the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 14, 1960, then-presidential candidate Kennedy made a campaign stop at the University of Michigan and uttered these words:
"How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think, will depend the answer whether a free society can compete."
The excitement of that 2 a.m. speech inspired the idea for the Peace Corps.
Mike Livingston, 64, a former educator who now works in transportation at Brevard Public Schools, went to Sierra Leone in 1969 when he was 22.
"I was one teacher in one little town and I was there for three years. Maybe I had an impact on people I dealt with immediately, and they had a different perspective of Americans. I think the effect it had on me was more profound," he said.
As the lone white person living among blacks, Livingston said the experience changed his views on race.
"I stopped seeing black and white. I just saw people," he said.
Cultural exchanges like Livingston's are part of the Peace Corps experience, but critics say the agency needs to better support volunteers in the field and upon their return home, protect them overseas and match their skills to jobs. Legislative attempts in the U.S. Congress to overhaul Peace Corps have failed.
As a graduate student at Florida Tech, Culver studied Peace Corps projects for a thesis. He found they tended to have more lasting effects than shorter-term, heavily-funded projects.
"If you can't do it without money, it won't work," he said. "You might see results faster if you gave people money, but the sustainability would be in question."
Gannett contributed to this report. Contact Basu at 242-3618 or
Moroccan handicrafts to conquer American market in Addison's WorldFest.
Washington - Through Morocco's participation in the WorldFest - Addison, Texas, Moroccan handicrafts started conquering the American market.
    Morocco's presence in the WorldFest- Addison, which opened last weekend, is part of its efforts to promote and introduce Moroccan handicrafts into the American market, director of the Moroccan House for Handicrafts, Abdellah Adnani, told MAP on the sidelines of his participation in this cultural event, which brings together some fifty countries.
    Beside the traditional market, which comprises Western Europe, Morocco is seeking new markets, notably Eastern Europe, Gulf countries and the USA, explained Adnani, stressing the importance of the American market for the promotion of the Moroccan handicrafts products.
    The Moroccan Village, through which Morocco's culture and handicrafts are represented in the WorldFest-Addison, was visited by around 5000 to 6000 visitors over the weekend, he said, adding that Morocco's pavilion will attract around 30,000 visitors by the end of this event, which will continue till November 9.
Morocco rallies for expat women rights.
By Siham Ali– 26/10/10
Morocco launched a massive campaign to extend the application of Moudawana to women living and working abroad.
Six years ago the Moroccan government introduced a new Civil Status Code to protect the rights of women. But as the number of Moroccans living abroad (MREs) increases, so too does the need to bring expat women under the protection of the Moudawana.
In an attempt increase understanding of the code's protections, Moroccan officials, including Ministry in charge of MREs, Justice and Social Development Ministries, partnered with the Ytto Foundation for women's rights and other civil society groups for an unprecedented awareness caravan across Europe.
Participants set off in France on October 14th and will traverse Germany, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. The campaign includes meetings, workshops and conferences as well as distributing simplified leaflets on family code.
According to the ministry in charge of MREs, the expat community does not understand Moudawana well. Moroccan women abroad face a number of issues and are unable to vindicate their rights based on the code.
Najat Ikhich, President of the Ytto Foundation, said that the overwhelming majority of Moroccan women are not aware of the provisions of the family code and the changes made over the past six years.
She pointed out that a huge number of Moroccans marry in mosques solely based on the readings from fatiha and choose not to register nuptials in order to legitimise early marriages and polygamy.
"The impact on women's rights is immense especially once they return to Morocco. Women are abandoned with their children, deprived of their papers and have no possibility to enter the host country. Moreover, they find themselves in difficult situations with children not registered in the Moroccan civil status and not recognised by the Moroccan law as legitimate children," Ikhich said.
According to the Ytto Foundation, many Moroccan girls fall victim to forced and arranged marriages. Ikhich said the awareness caravan aims to expose archaic practices and convince women, youths and men of the danger of these types of marriages from a psychological point of view.
"Illiteracy is in full swing among Moroccan women in Italy. So they are marginalised and do not understand their rights. An awareness campaign is a must," said Noura Faouzi, chief of Italian-based NGO Al Maghribia.
The president of the Democratic League for Women's Rights, Fouzia Assouli said that married couples face huge problems, particularly with regard to petitions for divorce that are incurred in Morocco. The association is calling for the introduction of provisions allowing some couples to solve this problem in the country of residence so as to avoid travelling.
Siham Jebbari, based in Italy, said she had to travel several times to Morocco to finally get divorced last year. "It was hard for me to have time off during periods of appointments set by the court. Besides, the trips are very expensive. I would have liked the consulate to deal with this case or the court in Italy," she said.
The minister responsible for MREs, Mohamed Ameur emphasised that his department aims to improve the legal conditions of women and their families abroad by introducing support structures in the communities.
He noted that among the stated objectives is the implementation of listening centres that Moroccan women abroad could turn to. The centres would help identify women's requests and prescribe appropriate treatment for their problems.
The first stage of the caravan ends on October 31st, with organisers planning to launch more campaigns until December.
Microcredit in Morocco, 'outstanding success story, lauded and supported by donors', French paper
Paris - Morocco's experience in microcredit is an "outstanding success story", which, in ten years, was "lauded and supported by donors", French newspaper "La Croix" said on Tuesday.
With a 4.8 billion Dirhams (430 billion Euros) outstanding balance in late June 2010, Morocco's microfinance sector represents 40% of the outstanding balance of the North Africa and Middle East (MENA) region, which constitutes an "example", noted the newspaper, highlighting the positive impact of microcredit on promoting income-generating activities in the kingdom.
Around one million people (15% of families) benefit from microcredit in Morocco, two thirds of whom are in urban areas, with women representing the vast majority, La Croix underlined.
Four out of the twelve microcredit companies active in Morocco were among the top 30 high-performance institutions in the world in 2009, said La Croix, citing American business and finance magazine Forbes.
Moroccan Youth Scream promotes entrepreneurship.
By Naoufel Cherkaoui– 29/10/10
A new initiative aspires to help Moroccan youth develop their imagination and leadership.
Moroccan Youth Scream (CJM), a new organisation launched by the Moroccan Youth Forum, aims at fostering creative ideas and collective learning.
The October 23rd launch event in Rabat allowed the young participants to share their visions of how to best develop their creativity and encourage social entrepreneurship.
"Moroccan Youth Scream allowed, in the form of seminars, the education of young people and the exchange of experiences," said CJM co-founder Houda Lemligui. Every year the youth forum chooses a theme, she said. This year, they settled on partnership, leadership and innovation.
The forum also discussed how to foster the spirit of innovation among young people and how to help the Moroccan educational system develop that spirit.
"I see the young Moroccan creator everywhere. There is creativity in almost all regions of the country that should be encouraged," said Student Movement member Mustafa Hamwi.
"The possibilities offered by the internet have enabled Moroccan youth to know what is happening around the world and inspired them to produce good creations," Houma said.
Imad Msiyah of the Centre for Quality Education and Skills Training noted, "This initiative is very important. It invites young people to think differently about things."
"Their range of initiatives and associations proves the creativity of young people," Msiyah added.
IT specialist Rayan Cherti, who designed his first video game at age 16, said the forum "was a successful seminar at which my personal experience with success and creativity".
"The school system did not help me," Cherti told Magharebia. "It was not in line with the ambitious material needed by me, it pushed me to leave school and learn myself."
Morocco to triple electricity production.
afrol News, 28 October The Moroccan government has announced plans to triple its electricity output by 2020 to meet growing electricity demand among its citizens and the in booming tourism sector.
This was announced by Morocco's Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment, Amina Benkhadra, this week. Ms Benkhadra was signing conventions that secure state support for the establishment of an integrated solar electric power system.

Minister Benkhadra said that Morocco's new energy strategy aims at building a diversified and balanced energy sector in which renewable energy occupies a special place. The new plan was needed to meet growing demand, preserve the environment and reduce dependence on foreign energy, she added.

According to Moroccan officials, the new energy plan comes as a response to economic and social development in the country. Major projects within different sectors - including agriculture, industry, infrastructure, housing and tourism - are already launched in Morocco, or are in the pipeline.

The Minister outlined that "this unprecedented development and growth" was creating rapidly growing energy needs in the country. Energy spending was on average growing between 5 and 7.5 percent each year, leading to a doubling of electricity consumption by 2020 and a fourfold increase by 2030.

Ms Benkhadra therefore announced that Morocco was to triple its energy output during the next decade, both to meet growing demands and to lessen the kingdom's dependence on energy imports.

The Energy Ministry in this strategy was to focus on renewable energies. Morocco is seen to have great potentials within solar, wind and hydro-electric plants.

Ms Benkhadra announced two new power plants at the presentation. Government had approved of two solar and wind energy programmes, each to generate 2000 MW.

Also Morocco's electricity facility ONE has noticed the increased pressure to quickly boost the country's energy production. Only during last year, ONE invested dirham 6.55 billion (US$ 812 million) into new electric power production, transport and distribution and the rural electrification programme.

While Morocco's fast growing cities and its booming tourist facilities earlier had been at the centre of energy infrastructure investments, ONE over the last years has been ordered to electrify rural parts of the kingdom. The rate of rural electrification reached 96.5 percent during 2009, compared to 95.4 percent in 2008. By staff writers
Schwab's '2010 Social Entrepreneur of the Year' prize awarded to Morocco's M'hammed Abbad Andaloussi.
Marrakech - The 2010 Social Entrepreneur of the Year in the MENA region prize, awarded by "Schwab" Foundation for social entrepreneurship, was given, on Tuesday in Marrakech, to Morocco's M'hammed Abbad Andaloussi, president of the "Al-Jisr" association.
   Through this prestigious award the Foundation will support the "Al-Jisr" association, which aims at mobilizing businesses and involving them in improving performance of public schools.
    A similar prize was awarded to Tunisian Essma Ben Hamida, co-founder of "Enda Inter-Arabe", a microfinance institution. 
    Created in 1998 by Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum (Davos), "Schwab" Foundation is meant to support and sustain initiatives in social entrepreneurship by providing its members with a network of businesses, politicians, media, civil society and academic institutions.
ZOUHAIR BAGHOUGH Tuesday, 26 October 2010
New York  / Morocco Board News Service -  Some of us need to be the wicker man, I guess. In my case, mine is to rise above the banal and bring about -or at least, give the impression to do so- some rigorous pieces on subjects I can be of contribution. Does it sound bombastic a bit? yes It does.
Inflation. A friend joked about me being a left-wing monetarist, it might have to do with the cheer contradiction this description embodies. and I could as well be so; Save for income inequality and unemployment, inflation is one essential variable I believe to be harmful and of no great use -under certain set of conditions- to an economy. I cannot emphasise enough the need to keep at low level.
Morocco has got over inflationist policies -through painful and yet to be proven necessary- process and the annual inflation target of the BAM is getting more and more steady. I referred to the problem in controlling core inflation and losing focus on the volatile one in a previous post, now I shall devote this piece to the broad parameters that influence it in Morocco; My primary findings support the fact that the level of wages in Morocco, especially the minimum wage, bears little influence on the present inflation -contrary to what people from the employers’ union CGEM claim. The main course remains our -shall we say structural, inflation.
Over the last quarter, the Central Bank pointed out the downward trend inflation is following during Q1 2010: “Les données du mois d’août 2010 relatives à l’indice des prix à la consommation (IPC) confirment la faiblesse des tensions inflationnistes [...]. En glissement mensuel, l’IPC a enregistré une hausse de 0,9% après les baisses consécutives de -1% et -0,6% observées durant les deux derniers mois.” It is good news, although it can get confusing when one gets into details: “En glissement annuel, l’inflation a connu un ralentissement, revenant de 1,1% en juillet à 0,6% en août, en raison du niveau relativement élevé des prix à la consommation en août 2009, lui même imputable à l’envolée des prix des produits alimentaires volatils. Abstraction faite des produits alimentaires exclus et réglementés, l’inflation sous-jacente s’est établie à 0,4%, niveau quasi-inchangé depuis mai dernier.” Things are not as straightforward as they seem to be. To be frank, this deflationist trend, while it can be of unarguable benefits to the consumer welfare as well as to the whole economy, shades great concerns about Morocco’s future economic stability. I’ll elaborate on that later on.

First, a formal definition of inflation. Olivier Blanchard in his much interesting textbook ‘Macroeconomics‘ (not to be confused with the much challenging Lecture Notes in Macroeconomics co-written with Stanley Fisher) described inflation as: “the sustained rise in the general level of prices in the economy- called the price level. The inflation rate is [therefore] the rate at which the price level increases”. the standard index used for inflation computation is the Consumer Price Index. the Haut Commissariat au Plan (HCP) produces a very comprehensive documentation on how and why this index is used. It is essential to understand how the CPI is computed, because it is the important step to understand how inflation behaves, especially in Morocco, and why core vs volatile inflation differences are so important. Also, I wanted to discuss some interesting paper I read on unconventional monetarist policies in times of recession or contraction. The St-Louis Federal reserve produced an interesting research on the matter. On second thoughts, let’s leave it till next post.
According to the HCP, the Consumer Price Index: “L’indice des prix à la consommation (Base 100 : 2006) mesure le niveau et l’évolution des prix de détail [...] Le panier de l’indice contient 478 articles et 1067 variétés de produits représentant la majorité des articles consommés par la population urbaine. Ces articles sont classés en 12 divisions et 41 groupes.
Les pondérations de l’année de base ont été calculées à partir des données provenant de l’enquête de consommation de 2000–2001 et actualisées sur la base des résultats de l’enquête sur le niveau de vie réalisée en 2006–2007. Elles représentent la structure des dépenses de consommation des ménages urbains. Les prix sont relevés à l’aide d’une enquête permanente dans 17 des principales villes représentant les 16 régions du Royaume [...] La formule de calcul de l’indice est celle de « Laspeyres en chaîne ». Cette formule offre la possibilité d’actualiser en continu le panier et les coefficients de pondération. Elle permet aussi de résoudre les problèmes induits par les produits saisonniers. Signalons que les indices publiés sont des indices bruts, c’est–à–dire non corrigés des variations saisonnières.”

There is nothing to be added- in facts I tried to get the a shorter definition, but that one looks perfect and just fine. It is tedious indeed, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand how the index is computed in order to grasp the full implications of any changes in inflation rate over the last quarter as well as the last years; The HCP uploaded an interesting presentation some while ago about how the new index is computed. I went a bit ahead of myself: the HCP produced a new index in 2006 as base year. the index under-weights some specific goods because the 2000-2001 survey proved Moroccan household spend less, compared to the previous census’ results on these same goods. Moroccan households spend less in food and tobacco, clothing, small equipment household goods and miscellaneous services.They do however spend more on housing, transport, communications, education and to a smaller extent, health expenditure. We will notice that this relatively sizeable shift in consumption pattern can explain, up to a point, part of the low inflation the Moroccan economy generates. Because patterns of consumption changed, there is less strain on specifically volatile price goods and as such, less pressure on the core inflation and the global inflation, though in different respective magnitudes.
There’s also a price effect that is difficult to capture here: although Moroccan household devote a little above 41% of their income to food and related goods in 2007 (compared to about 45% in 1998), there is little said on the extent of substitution effects, on prices or on quantities. In facts, an HCP study shows than prices are at an actual higher level when base year is set to 1989 (Prices have double since -September 2009). Was 1989 a particularly inflationist year? not much, about 3% -much less compared to the average of the past 5 years-. Did GDP increase by that much on the 1989-2009 period? certainly not (its grew an average of 3% in real terms, that is a total increase of 84%, comparatively lower to the overall inflation of 102% on the same period of time), effectively meaning that the real wages of households -relative to food and food-related goods- have been worse-off over the period. I am a bit drifting from the subject here, though not entirely, as we do now understand why and how inflation is so low in Morocco: the base year has been recomputed to 2006 with a lower weight base for the highly volatile and highly inflation-sensitive food category. But then again the central bank focuses on core inflation, which is not as volatile as overall inflation, but still is over-priced compared to the previous index computation. Why would the HCP go through these changes? partly because household behaviour changed. consumption shifts gradually from foods and peripherals to other.  The results of it were shown in a study that proved price elasticity changed overtime in Moroccan households, but certainly not enough to aver that Moroccan standards of livings have improved. Or rather, that the improvement is following a steady way. It is not, as it is notoriously known that vital consumption goods’ prices are the most volatile components of the general consumption price index, and even though the index has been rebalanced in 2006-2007, the effective inflation since the late 80′s is still high. This state of high if not volatile inflation does not do great good for the Moroccan consumer -which happens to be the average Moroccan household-. And one should credit the central banks efforts to muscle out the inflation. But this is not enough. Inflation in financial and monetary spheres is one thing, inflation in the grocery market is another. All in all, Morocco is not a bit facing deflation, nor is it getting near zero inflation; quite simply, it experiences a stabilization in its price level. stabilization means inflation grows at a lower rate compared to the 80′s and 90′s, but still is quite high and, more disturbing, quite volatile.

What about wage-driven inflation? CGEM bosses argued some while ago about the need for a different way for computing the minimal wage. The idea is sound indeed, as the setting is entirely discretionary -compared to how an economy is doing -, the proposed policy is poisonous: in 2005, the textile sector pushed for a regional SMIG (minimum wage) in order to bolster their competitiveness, and some employers would like that to be extended to a sector minimum wage. The latter is economically sound -labour marginal productivity differs from one business to the other- but it does not take into account the overall welfare, which is worth some distortions in wage settings. That is of course another subject I hope I will deal with some other time. The idea behind the quiet clamour as it were of employers for minimum wage reform is that it hurts competitiveness -and, quite indirectly, that it boosts inflation a bit. Something we know not to be true. Indeed, the 2010 BAM report displayed a nice chart that does contradict the previous statement:
Under the initial predictions set, real minimum wage should be increasing (as indeed it is expected to pay workers a wage above the marginal productivity of labour), while the graph shows a remarkable quasi-linearity compared to the lump-like nominal wage. If anything, the real wage is not a cause of inflation, and its downward trend is definitely an effect of inflation. One has to point out the increasing gap between real and nominal wage, due to the inflation effect. The immediate effect of inflation on real wage is even more important when one takes into account the fact it kept a quasi-linear profile over the years.
Morocco road trip: Cafes, camels and medinas.
By COLLEEN LONG / The Associated Press
CASABLANCA, Morocco — The dusty road to Marrakech had just started to straighten out after hours of tight curves along jagged mountains. We sped up when we spotted two policemen standing in the middle of the road by a small car. They waved us over
We had been warned about this: Drivers being asked to pay bribes to get through random checkpoints.
The mustached man spoke little English but indicated that he wanted 5,000 dirhams, or about $600.
My boyfriend, Andrew Strickler, who was driving, balked. The officer, nervous now as he noticed we were foreign, immediately dropped the price to 3,000 and then quickly to 1,000.
Andrew started to hand over the cash as visions of foreign jail cells flashed before my eyes. I tried to make polite conversation to explain what we were doing here. I held up a copy of our Lonely Planet guide and said we were journalists. As I did, he backed off and handed back the money, one bill at a time, grinning widely.
"You work," he said to Andrew. "She is wife. She no work. Yes?"
He laughed, slapped Andrew on the shoulder and waved us on.
Ah, the Moroccan road trip.
We spent two weeks on the road in this North African country. The routes are winding, at times frighteningly so. The street signs are in Moroccan Arabic and French, languages neither one of us knows. Still, we figured that navigating the byways was the best way to experience the country.
We came to Morocco to visit friends who write for a news website, GlobalPost. We made plans to meet in the southern part of the country after a few days traveling on our own.
It's fairly easy to rent a car in Morocco, and costs about the same as taking trains and buses. But driving gives you more freedom to stop along the way, and the flexibility to change your plans and linger in a location you like. Plus, all the gas stations double as small cafes where they serve strong Moroccan coffee and tea.
These cafes, along with most other locations, are filled mostly with men; women do not spend as much time in public places in this Muslim nation. Still, as long as you dress modestly (no tank tops or short skirts), you'll feel only mildly uncomfortable as a female out on the town. I only interacted with three Moroccan women while I was there, but the men were friendly and welcoming, though often they preferred to talk to Andrew instead of me.
Morocco is a kingdom bordering the Atlantic Ocean, just a few miles from the southern tip of Spain. We started our trip without a car, flying to Casablanca from Madrid on the low-budget carrier EasyJet, then heading north to Rabat, the country's capital, by train. Here we visited the medina, a word that literally translates to old city, but in Morocco also usually means a marketplace with a thick weave of shops and hawkers who sell and fix everything from cell phones to blenders to camel heads to carpets. Every city has one.
From there we took a train to Fez, home to one of the world's largest continuous car-free areas. The entire city is a narrow maze, virtually impossible to navigate on your own, especially if you have only one day. We hired a guide who walked us through the vendor-filled passageways.
One unusual sight was a tannery with a checkerboard of dye pools, hides scattered everywhere in various stages of drying. Small worker apartments lined the inner corridors. It was pouring rain, so the stench was manageable, but our guide told us stories of other tourists who were sickened by the awful smell. Owners hand out fresh mint to sniff as an antidote.
Our road trip began a day later, with a 10-hour drive southeast from Rabat to a town called Merzouga at the edge of the Sahara desert. It took about an hour to rent the tiny blue tin-can car, which cost about $300 for six days. Only stick-shift vehicles were available; travelers should know that Morocco is notorious for highway accidents, so be careful. Andrew did most of the driving the first day, and I navigated using maps and signs, which meant trying to translate from Arabic and French into English using a teeny dictionary. After a while you realize there are so few roads to get from one place to the next that it's not that difficult to intuit your way.
The landscape changed when we arrived at the Sahara. It's barren and rocky, like a moonscape, with nothing ahead or behind. In the past decade, hotels have cropped up but they're far off in the distance from the single-lane gravel road. It's best to get there before dark so you can see where you're going. You take a left near a hotel sign and head off into the sand. It looks like you're heading toward nothing but huge golden sand dunes at the edge of the world. Miles and miles of softly sculpted dunes, called Erg Chebbi, stretched out in front of us.
Our hotel, Kanz Erremal, cost about $100 for two, including dinner and breakfast. (For the budget traveler, cheaper hotels can also be found, but you have to really look for them.) The hotel also offers camel trips to the desert, either overnight or at dawn. We took the shorter morning trip, for an extra $50, to watch the sunrise. Getting up at dark, we climbed onto our stinky, grumpy camels as they knelt down. The makeshift saddle had a metal handle and a few blankets. The camels walk in plodding steps; I found sitting with my legs up was easiest for balance. Our guide walked, leading the camels, with us riding, behind him. After about 20 minutes the hotels disappeared and we saw nothing but desert.
Our guide stopped the camels and we got off. He warned us not to pet them. (They are not like horses, FYI.) We scrambled up to the top of a dune, and while our guide walked the entire way, I was so exhausted and out of breath I could barely stand.
The silence was shocking, interrupted only by the crunching sound of the camels and the occasional growl. The sky was huge and colorful, splashed with bursts of bluish pink and blazing orange.
We then drove east to an oasis called El Khorbat in the Todra Valley. This unusual destination uses tourism as a way to help preserve a traditional fortified village, called a casbah, where dwellings are made from earth and clay. Families still live there, but there is also a museum documenting local history and various excursions. We took a long walk among palm trees and down dirt roads with a guide who spoke four languages, discussing literature and politics.
Back on the road, the landscape turned hillier as we moved on, passing through several poor small towns before reaching Ouarzazate, which is the Los Angeles of Morocco. Several movies have been filmed there and it has a decidedly wealthy, Western feel with manicured streets and pink walls
We returned the car in Marrakech. The rental company dropped us at the entrance to the medina, where we were staying at the Hotel Du Tresor. The hotel was a quiet, cool sanctuary from the rest of the medina, a wild and busy place complete with snake charmers (and snakes), psychics and hawkers of all kinds. Inside the market, we ate huge snails in broth with a toothpick (totally gross), fried sardines (delicious) and tagine with couscous (eh).
From Marrakech, we bused to the surf town Agadir to meet our friends, then drove together south to Sidi Ifni, an uncrowded beach spot with imposing red stone arches, eroded over eons by the ocean. A stay at an oceanside resort cost barely $150 for two people for two nights, including breakfast. It was the most peaceful part of the trip, and Andrew's favorite part. It's worth traveling there just to stand under the arches.
After a few days in the sun, we drove back up the coast, about 10 hours to Rabat, where deserted stretches alternated with poor towns and rich areas. One funny sight on the winding mountain roads was goats perched in the tops of small trees called Argans. They climb up to eat the seeds. We saw as many as six munching on one tree at a time. We took some pictures but they ignored us.
Before we left the country, we did some shopping. Our friends, having lived here long enough to become skilled in the art of bargaining, came with us to buy a carpet and we all acted out a part: Andrew, the moneybags tourist, me the stingy partner, and the other couple, a wizened ex-pat with his hurrying wife, who wanted to get us to dinner on time. The role of the clever, miserly carpet man was successfully played by the rug vendor.
In the end, though, we couldn't agree on a price. We overpaid $20 for some tea glasses, but we walked away without a rug.

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