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Saturday, January 10, 2009


As you relax in your hammam (steam bath), tuck into your tagine (stew), bargain in the souks or slide into your comfy caftan (ankle-length gown) - Moroccan trends much copied elsewhere but never equal to the originals - you may be surprised how easily you slip into another culture and another century. In these small signature moments of pleasure, Morocco warps all sense of time and place as surely as a desert mirage.To get your bearings, just look to the horizon. You will notice refined minarets and rugged mud-brick ksour (fortifications), sparkling coastline with silken sand and striped canyons carved out of the High Atlas Mountains. Morocco has been staunchly independent throughout its history yet remained open to ideas, creating a heady mix of cultures, religions and languages with ancient roots and a strikingly modern outlook. The influence of Romans, Arabs and Europeans is spotted in monuments throughout the country. Though you will hear French spoken in city boulevards - a vestige of the 50-year French Protectorate - a half-dozen Berber languages and Moroccan Arabic are still widely spoken. So is Morocco Mediterranean, African, Arab or Berber? Correct answer: all of the above.For centuries travellers have crossed shifting sands and braved mountain passes in search of mythic Morocco, expecting to be dazzled by its royal palaces, unexpected oases, distinctive handicrafts and spectacular feats of hospitality. Modern-day Morocco doesn't disappoint. Whether you've come to relax in family-style riads (guest houses) or stretch your imagination on treks to distant Berber villages, you'll meet Moroccans who go out of their way to exceed your expectations. The people who have called Morocco home for millennia have proved themselves adaptable to Sahara Desert silences and chatty market-day medinas (old towns), mingling in Tuareg trading posts and ancient mellahs (Jewish quarters). The greeting that reaches your ears today echoes across the centuries: Ahlanwasahlan, you are welcome in Morocco