Two women were in the row in front of me on the flight from Paris to Casablanca. I could hear the pair taking about routes. They looked like the two fat women on the British cooking show who rode around the countryside on a motorcycle with an extra-large side car.
I was more than a little surprised, then, when I found out that this pair was discussing what roads to take to take as they bicycle in Africa. One was planning to bike for a month; the other for ten weeks, and although she had not planned her precise path, she was heading for Dakar, Senegal, a journey of 2,400 miles. The longer-term one was from Alaska—the other was from Montana—and she was in the Alaskan tourist industry. She did not work in the winter, and she took a long bike tour each year in her non-working months.
They don’t train in advance for their biking. Instead, they start slowly on their trips and work up to fifty or sixty miles a day. I asked if they were concerned about safety. The Alaskan said that she carries a stick and waves her arms like a crazy person if she senses a problem, and so far had had none.
They had shipped their bikes in the belly of the plane. The weren’t going to start biking from the airport, though; instead they had arranged transport to a hotel. I last saw them waiting for a van outside the airport.
I already knew that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I have now learned that you can’t judge a bicyclist by the size of her backside.
One of the first things I noticed in Morocco were red and green decorations hung over the street that, at first glance, looked like Christmas decorations. Instead, they were in place to honor the national Independence Day, which occurred in 1956. Green is the color of Islam and represents peace or serenity and together with red, which is associated with the royal dynasty, are the national colors of Morocco, much like red, white, and blue represent the U.S.
In this 95+% Muslim country, the displays were not for Christmas (but I did see commercial billboards proclaiming Black Friday), and the many six-pointed stars I saw were not Stars of David representing Judaism or Israel. The old Moroccan flag had a Star of David, or perhaps it was called the Seal of Solomon, and six-pointed stars are carved into many buildings and appear in mosaics and many other places. I saw no effort to obliterate those Stars of David, but apparently after the founding of Israel, Morocco abandoned the Davidic Star. Now the Moroccan flag displays a five-pointed star.
Morocco was a French protectorate from 1912 until 1956, and I learned just enough of this history to leave me confused. Morocco existed before 1912. Morocco was neither incorporated into France during the protectorate nor was it a colony. While it seems that Moroccan sovereignty was largely a myth during the protectorate, the country seems to have still existed. Even so, Moroccan independence is measured from 1956.
I saw two sets of Roman ruins in Morocco. I had not known that the Romans were in Morocco, but the remains of their structures looked much like the other Roman ruins I have seen around the Mediterranean. The Romans may have held sway for a thousand years over this vast territory, but I sometimes think that they had only one architect for all that time and space, for the ruins always look the same.
One set of ruins was different only because storks were roosting in them. I had never seen storks or their nests before. The goofy dance of the storks brought a smile. They looked like white boys who had not been drinking.
The birds also excited a fellow traveler who is now an American living in Virginia but was born and raised in Germany. Arriving storks in her small town were the harbinger of spring. They nested in the chimneys of the breweries.
To my complete disappointment, I did not see any storks in Morocco carrying a baby.