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The sweet (and not so sweet) smells of Morocco

Since Rabat is our last stop before we head back to European soil, I thought I should write one last time on Morocco. I could use this entry to pay homage to the beautiful monuments or palaces we’ve visited, or blather on a bit more about the marketplaces and Medinas, but instead I think I will devote some attention to Morocco’s various smells, all of which seem to be more extreme here than in any other place I’ve been. They range from the perfectly delightful to the perfectly putrid, with not a great deal of in-betweens. On the delightful end of the olfactory continuum is the smell of rosemary and fresh mint, both of which are plentiful here. Then, there are the smells of freshly-ground spices at the spice souks, where you can get pure cinnamon, cumin, and coriander, just to name a few. Still more delightful smells can be found at the herbalist souks where you can get ground herbs for medicinal purposes, as well as musk, ambergris, and a variety of clean-smelling, locally-made cosmeceuticals.

On the opposite end of the olfactory continuum are the smells of pollution, sewage, and god-knows-what-else that seem to pop up at you at the most unexpected moments. It’s a combination of horrid smells that turns the stomach and makes you gag up that morning’s coffee. The drainage grates at the marketplace have a curious, thick rubber flap that covers their openings; we’re told that it’s to keep things from getting in to the sewer, but I suspect that it’s really to keep the stench from getting out and scaring off the tourists.

Fez’s Medina was almost constantly permeated by a low-grade variety of the perfectly putrid class of smells, getting particularly alarming at the leather tannery, where skins in the pickling stage of the tanning process are treated with a combination of sulfur and sea salt, making the smell so bad that many people visiting the tannery held sprigs of mint or rosemary to their noses to dilute the stench. Sadly, we were not so prepared.

Despite the myriad surprise smells that assault the senses in Morocco, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s not a great place to visit. It is definitely a country worth seeing for many reasons, least of which is the extraordinary architecture of the mosques and various koubbas that can be found in every city. The country offers incredible variety—from Fez to Rabat, each city seemed a world of difference from the last. If asked to sum up my experience in Morocco, I would be hard-pressed to do so. I couldn’t possibly explain what Morocco is like after only visiting a week; after all, it’s an old country with a rich and complex history—it’s the sort of place in which one needs to spend more time to truly absorb the culture and gain an appreciation for its customs. Nevertheless, though I am happy to have had this opportunity to visit the country (even if only for a week), as a person very comfortable with my Western style of living, I’m happy to be returning to Europe where I no longer have to worry about what I eat, drink, or wear.

Sadly, I should report that despite our avoidance of souk food and the local water, every single one of my ‘mates’ became ill in Morocco. Even though I used the water to brush my teeth (brushing with mineral water proved to be just too darn tedious), I was the only exception. In Morocco, that is.

About colleen finn

Colleen Finn is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.


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