Travel as a Learning Experience

Travel is a teacher. Whether you planned it or not, you’re going to learn something about the world, or about yourself, that you weren’t expecting to learn. Morocco holds the all-time record for teaching me things I never knew I wanted to know. So this post goes out to to some of these random bits of trivia. It’s a strange list, I know, but I’ve wanted to write about this stuff and it just hasn’t fit in any other post.

Wild herbs are frequently harvested to treat diabetes
This country is not wealthy by a long shot. Access to pharmaceuticals can be nearly impossible, especially in some of the more rural areas of the country. While hiking around in the mountains outside of Tafraout, we were befriended by a local hotel owner, Abdou, who guided us through some of the more interesting areas in his neighborhood. One of the things he showed us was this plant that grows wild in the Atlas Mountains. I think it is a variant of sage, but I never did quite catch the name.

I am holding the leaves, which are used the make the infusion. Abdou is holding the flower, which helps the locals identify this herb. Photo by Tricia.

Anyway, they soak the leaves in water for twenty-four hours and give the infusion to Type 2 diabetics as a treatment. Do not try this at home, but, uh, so far the science seems to be sound.

All of the old doors have two doors and no one remembers why
Walk around in the old medinas in any Moroccan town and you’ll see a door that looks like this. It’s made from cedar and is decorated with brass or iron rivets. Sometimes the doors are fancier and have painted floral motifs, but there’s always a door-within-a-door.

A common double door in Morocco. Everyone agrees that the inner door is for people, the use of the outer door is the subject of much speculation. Photo by Tricia

We heard three different stories for this. In one version, the inner door was for the everyday use of the residents while the outer door was used during festivals or parties when lots of people would be going in and out. In another version, the large outer door was only opened in the summertime to let the breeze through. The last story we heard was that the inner door was for people and the outer door was for donkeys. That’s right, donkeys.

Given that we never saw a hitching post or a barn anywhere in the country I’m guessing this last one is probably the truth. Our guide said that most houses once had a courtyard (like a garage) where they’d house their donkeys for the night, but since the donkeys don’t fit through a human-sized door, and opening a huge door several times a day was inefficient, they engineered these as a solution.

A Moroccan medina will regularly humiliate Google Maps
There are limits to technology and a Moroccan medina proves it. I firmly believe that these districts were designed to make it impossible for a conquering army to navigate. The kids all know their way around, but Google is perpetually lost, and so were we. You’ll never have so much fun being lost, though.

An aerial view of the medina in Fez, provided by Google Earth.

Locking up your valuables was an art form in itself
I’ve never seen such elaborate keys. None of these are in use any longer as far as we could tell, but keys like this were on display at a number of small museums.

The Moroccans did not mess around when it came to locking up their valuables. Photo by Tricia.

There was never any information about the locksmiths or the containers they opened, but the keys themselves are magnificent. I never knew a key could be so cool. I want all of them.

The Romans were not purveyors of subtlety
One of our day trips was to an old Roman settlement called Volubilis. It’s a sprawling ruin and we were mostly able to wander through it at our leisure. Only a few of the mosaic floors were cordoned off. It’s great fun.

While there, we found this, uh, interesting, stone marker:

Stone marker in Volubilis. Yes, that is exactly what it looks like. Photo by Tricia.

A quick Google search revealed that this was an ancient way finding device. If you needed directions to the brothel but were too proud to ask, you just walked in the direction that the penis was pointing. It’s a bold solution.

So that’s my random list of crazy stuff I learned along the way in Morocco. I’m very much interested in hearing about your weird finds if you care to share them. Our next stop is Egypt and we’re super excited about it.


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