According to recent human-rights reports, over a five-year period, as many as 4000 North African migrants have died in their attempts to reach Spanish shores. But given daunting unemployment rates, limited educational opportunities and the need to support their families, many Moroccans continue to take the risk, convinced that all they have left to lose is their lives.

Moroccan Royal family's wealth was estimated by a (now estranged) Royal family member at between $4 billion and $20 billion. In response, an officially sanctioned Moroccan magazine published the King's salary: about $45,000 a month, described as 'less than a Western CEO's salary' - not including expenses like $190,000 per month spent on tune-ups for the Royal car collection.

Source: Lonely Planet Guide Book

Could someone explain to me why there are so many turtles in Morocco?!


Marrakesh

I wish I had an extra thousand Euros with me to give to all the hands which appeared in front of the lens of my camera, just when I was ready to capture an unforgettable scene from the Medieval time. Sometimes, even when my subject was a building or a donkey, someone would tell me: "Monsieur un Euro." If only the King would have been willing to drive his cars without tune-ups for a year, I could have showed you photos that may only be seen in a beautiful exotic dream.

For bringing urban legends and Morocco's oral history to life, every night, rain or shine; in 2001, Unesco declared the Jemaa-el fna (gathering of the death) a 'Masterpiece of World Heritage.' Some of the best Djemaa el-fna dinner theater acts haven't changed much in millennium. including astrologers, healers, and cross-dressing belly dancers. Aphrodisiac herb seller are very popular; one night I asked a seller, what if I buy the herb and my wife asks for a divorce, what should I do with it?

If you cough a lot or you have a cold and you need a heavy dose of vitamin C, then go to the Djemaa el-fna and get a glass of freshly squeezed orange just for less than 40 cents. One of the sellers became my friend and always gave me another half a glass for free. As someone who was a vegetarian for 25 years, I got addicted to a mixture of goat's head, brain, and tongue. Every night around 9 pm, I was sitting in front of many heads and tongues, waiting for my nightly dose of the mixture.



Chefchaouen

In the North-West of Morocco, beneath the raw peaks of the Rif, there is a beautiful blue town called, Chefchaouen. Every spot is a beautiful painting in a frame, just waiting for you to look at and admire. I felt those beautiful scenes, may some day disappear from my mind, so I had to capture as many masterpieces that I could see; so I clicked the button of my camera over 250 times in two short days that I made the Medina my hometown.

Chefchaouen was known as one of the main concentrations of Moriscos (Muslims who secretly practiced Islam, but had to convert to Catholicism during the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula) and Jews who sought refuge in this mountainous city after the Spanish Reconquista in medieval times.

In 1924, George Gershwin, composed his famous Rhapsody in Blue for solo piano and jazz band. Over several centuries, people of this enchanted place built a 'Blue Paris' and named it Medina. Indeed, Chefchaouen is a Paris in Blue.



Rabat

I was told by the Moroccan lady sitting next to me in the plane that there is not much to do in the capital city, Rabat. I decided to spend only one night there; but when I got there, I found a European city with nice Café and excellent restaurants and pastry shops. I extended my stay to two nights; I could have stayed even longer.

Rabat has a beautiful Medina; when I got there, I was approached by several guides who wanted to show me the Medina, I pretended that I was deaf and mute by starting using fake sign language. They all felt sorry for me and disappeared. The Medina has a beautiful Cafés, when I order my drink, one of those guide was sitting not far from me, he heard me and told me, Monsieur, you can talk! I said, only when I want to.

In the souk, I saw a store selling exclusively yellow baboshkas; I wanted to take a picture, the owner said no; I asked why? He said, by taking the picture, you take away the soul of my shop! Every soul has a price; with one Euro or two, you are allowed to click your camera and take away their soul.



Meknes

The original community from which Meknes that can be traced, was an 8th century Kasbah, or fortress. A Berber tribe called the Miknasa settled there in the 10th century, and a town consequently grew around the fortress. The city and much of its surrounding territory came under the domination of the Roman Empire in AD 117. The called the inhabitants, Barbarians. When you are in Meknes, be sure to take a combined day-trip to the picturesque whitewashed town of Moulay Idriss and the Roman ruins of Volubilis.

I talked to a Berber man who cleaned my room in the hotel in Meknes. He spoke a perfect French; he was very articulate and we even talked about Voltaire and Renoir. At some point, I asked him where he learned all those things? He told me that he got a Bachelor of science in physics, but he couldn't find a job, so he is working in the hotel and is making about $8 a day! The average salary of a professional with a Bachelor degree is about $500 a month.

In Meknes, you can hire a handyman for only six Euros. I asked a guy who was working on a wall, how to get to the place that I wanted to go. After he explained to me how to get there, we started chatting for a while and I forgot where I wanted to go. At some point, I asked him how much he was making in a day, he said six Euros; I told him, you should take it easy, don't work so hard. He said, he has to finish the job by 5 pm, otherwise he will not be paid.



Fez

Taxis are not allowed in the Medina, so if you want to stay in a hotel in the Medina, you have to walk from the gate all the way to your hotel. I asked a girl who was working in a restaurant, on how to get to the hotel that I picked in my guide book. A guy came to me and said follow me, I said no; the girl said he works here, don't worry. In Morocco, if someone takes you to a hotel, be ready to pay an extra ten or fifteen dollars. When I was walking behind him, a few other guys followed me and once we got near the hotel, they all ran to the hotel to tell the receptionist that they brought me there; fortunately for me, the hotel was full. I checked another hotel in my book, again, everyone tried to show me the place. I told them, any hotel that they show me, I would not go. A guy came to me and said, I own a hotel, would you like to see it? The hotel was very nice, he wanted $75 for the best room, but I told him something that he had no choice than letting me have it for $25; he even included the breakfast.

The next morning when I was having my wonderful breakfast, a German tourist told me that the night before, he was pushed and kicked by a guy who wanted to show him a hotel, after he said no to him. I had a great time chatting with him for about two hours, he explained to me that after the WWII, the label "Made in Germany" was to warn people that the product is made in a country that invaded other countries and killed many people. Later it became a mark of excellence.

In a tannery, a guy told me that he is the son of the owner, he could show me other tanneries they own. We spent less than fifteen minutes together, at the end he wanted fifty dollars; I told him with this money I can buy two hundred kilos of oranges; I gave him 10 Dirhams.

Everywhere you go, someone wants to show you or sell you something. In a fancy, restaurant, the manager told me that he would be glad to show me the town and ask his assistant to run the restaurant while he is showing me the beautiful Medina.

The King was staying in his Palace in Fez, one of the several Royal palaces in Morocco. Someone told me that every day they have to sacrifice 10 goats or sheep in every palace and there are guards not only outside, but also inside of every single Royal Palace at any time.



Essaouira

Essaouira was a hot property in ancient times, because it had one thing everyone wanted: the color purple. Imperial purple couldn't be fabricated, and was the one color strictly reserved for Roman royalty. This helps explain the exorbitant asking price, which according to Aristotle was 10 to 20 times its weight in gold. The natural dye came from the spiky murex marine snails that clung to the remote Purpuraire (Purple) Islands – as though that could save them from the clutches of determined Roman fashionistas.

Technically the Phoenicians were there first and discovered the stuff, but everyone wanted purple power. Savvy King Juba II established a coastal dye works in the 1st century BC to perform the tricky task of extracting murex dye from the vein of the mollusc, and kept his methods a closely guarded secret. The hue became wildly popular among royal celebrities of the day; Cleopatra loved the stuff so much that she dyed the sails of her royal barge purple to meet Mark Antony.

But violet soon turned to violence. Legend has it that Juba’s son Ptolemy was murdered by Emperor Caligula for having the audacity to sport a purple robe, making trendy Ptolemy possibly the world’s first fashion victim. The bright, non-fading dye was never successfully produced commercially, and the secret extraction methods were assumed lost in the siege of Constantinople in 1453. But in Essaouira the stuff is mysteriously still available, for a price. The mysteries of the color purple are still passed down from one generation of murex collectors to the next, and jealously guarded.

Source: Lonely Planet Guide Book

The 'argan' is a species of tree unique in this part of the world. The tree is resistant to heat and survives temperatures up to 50oc.

In some parts of Morocco, argan takes the place of the olive as a source of forage, oil, timber and fuel in Berber society; especially near Essaouira. The argan tree is frequently climbed by goats. Berber women harvest the fruit in the spring and then feed them to goats, whose digestive juices dissolve the tough elastic coating on the shell. The nuts are then recovered from the goats' dung and the kernels are split, lightly toasted, pulped, and pressed.

To produce just one liter of oil, it takes 30 kg of nuts and 15 hours of manual labor, solely done by women. Modern research suggests that the oil may help reduce cholesterol. You pay from $15 to $30 for a liter of the Argan oil.

By showing my press card, I was able to stay in a suite in a Ryad with little money. The only problem with visiting Essaouira in the spring is no matter how comfortable your bed is, the sound of thousands of birds in love trying to make little birdies would change your dark night into a melodic 'nuit blanche' with occasional screams.



Assilah

When I entered the gorgeous whitewashed resort town of Assilah, everyone wanted to show me a room in the Medina and sell me marijuana. Morocco is the world's number two producer of cannabis; behind the US, the country that refuses to be number two. The United kingdom spends about $10 billion annually in kif.

When I went to my hotel to sleep, the night guard asked me if I wanted to talk to him; I said yes. He was the same man who filled out the form and showed me the room. He told me that he works almost 24 hours a day in the hotel. I asked him if he was married or if had a girl friend, he told me that he only makes 40 Dirhams a day (less than $5); no girl would want to talk to him. His mother tried to find a wife for him but she was told that he should give to the parents of the girl, $1,500 plus gold and other stuff.

I was ready to go to my room, when he asked me if I wanted a better room; I felt that by saying yes, I could help him to talk to a girl in the near future. My room was on the second floor with a balcony; he showed me a room on the third floor with no balcony! Not a good deal but I said yes, I want the room; then I gave him a good tip; he was very happy and told me that now he got enough money to recharge his SIM card and be able to talk to his good friend in Tangier. My money helped him to be able to talk to someone for sure, but with someone with the wrong sex.



Ouarzazat

At the train station in Marrakesh, the taxi driver told me that he could take me to the Medina for only 120 Dirhams or $15 (the actual cost is less than 10 Dirhams). I said Ok, but follow me, I need to ask one of those police officers a question about my visa. I told the officers that this man wants to charge me $15 to take me to the Medina, should I pay the price? The taxi driver run away before I even finished my sentence. The officers laughed so much that one of them told me: "you are killing me."

I was waiting in front of my hotel to take a bus to the movie studio. I was told the bus faire was two and half Dirhams. A taxi stopped and asked me if I was going to the studio, I said yes; he said 100 Dirhams for going, he could wait for me there for an hour and take me back for just 500 Dirhams.

In the Medina, there was a small kasbah to visit for 20 Dirhams; it was just a house with about seven or eight rooms. I showed my press card and entered for free; a guide approached me and said Monsieur Journalist, let me show you the kasbah for only 50 Dirahms. I told him I could not accept his offer because I signed a contract which forbids me to use any guide, except a guide book. Next time I visit Morocco, I will be glad to use his help. I spent less than six minutes to see everything to see in that kasbah.

Around 10 pm, I went to an Internet café, just to ask when they will be open the next day and how much I have to pay for one hour. I was told it was ten Dirhams an hour. A man who was there approached me after I left the place and said, those bastards are not real Muslims, the price is only five Dirhams. Before telling him that I was just asking, he took me to another cyber café and told the guy, don't charge him more than five Dirhams. After eight hours of bus ride, I just wanted to sleep. Anyway, I started the computer; he told me, he will be back in an hour and will take me to his shop to tell me about a great trip.

An hour later, he showed up; so we went to his shop. He showed me a photo album on camel safari and trips to Dades gorge. I told him, I have to leave tomorrow, but I will be back next week and I will go with him to all those beautiful places. The price of a three-day trip? I only charge you $500 and the third night you could stay with my family free of charge. But he told me that at this price, I had to buy my own lunch. At the hotel, when I checked in, the receptionist told me the price of a four-day tour is seventy five dollars. What a nice guy! He saved me five Dirhams on my Internet activities and only asked $500 for a tour! I promised him, by Tuesday next week, I will be there and ready to ride a camel, I asked for a gentle one.

In the Medina, I went to the Jewish quarter; a man in his late twenties showed me a store and told me that this is the synagogue and he is the keeper of the place; there is no rabbi in the Medina, so he performs all the ritual on every Saturday and also marry Jews in that synagogue. Then he told me that him and and his brother are the only Jews living in the town! All the Jews left Ouarzazat for Israel, right after the 1967 war! He called himself Anwar Massih (light of Jesus). A few minutes later I talked to some guys about the synagogue, they showed me a house which used to be a synagogue; then they said that the guy in the shop is called Mohammed.



Casa Blanca

After my plane landed in Casa Blanca and I got to my hotel, I took a nap and then I adventured in the souk, where I saw people eating snail. The last time I had an exotic food was many moons ago in Asia; so I ordered a large bowl of escargot. To eat them, I had to choose a safety pin which was inserted in an orange in the middle of the table. After some hesitation, I chose one hoping that before me, it touched the lips of a beautiful Moroccan lady. Not all snails die the same way, some come outside when they are boiled, others hide in their shell to tell us: "If you are playing the cruel game and boil us alive after starving us for several days, then we can also play hard to get." Why everyone has to use garlic with snails? Can't people come up with new recipes?

A dish or a cup touched by the lips of a non-Muslim becomes "Nadjess" (impure). The cleansing process involves washing it seven times while repeating: "There is no god except one; Allah is merciful." I guess this is the main reason why in a country with water shortage like Saudi Arabia, it is extremely hard for a non-Muslim to get a tourist visa.

The second day of my stay in Morocco, I went to a traditional restaurant in the souk wearing a black hat which made me look like a rabbi with no beard. The owner of the restaurant approached me and asked me: "Are you Israeli?" I said no, I am Iranian. Then he said if he could talk to me outside of the restaurant; so we went outside. I couldn't believe when he told me that he hates Iranians and shi'ites; I was Nadjess and should never approach his restaurant. After that incident, I figured out that in order to have a harmonious trip, I should move my birth place from Iran to Kyrkyzstan and convert from Shia to the faith of most Moroccans, Maleki Sunni. After that incident, anytime someone would ask me where I was from, I would say, Kyrkyzstan, they would ask where? I would say Bishkek, the capital. Looking at the expression of their faces, I knew that their brain was searching for the geographic location of my birth place; it didn't matter at all what I was saying to them.



Tangier

Tangier, the birth place of Ibn Battuta, the great Berber explorer, became a spying center during the Cold War and other spying periods of the 19th and 20th century. It was via a British bank in Tangier that the Bank of England in 1943 for the first time obtained samples of the high-quality forged British currency produced by the Nazis.

In the Casa Blanca movie, the "Rick's Café Américain" which was made in Warner Brothers Burbank Studio, was modelled after Hotel El Minzah in Tangiers. When I visited the place, it didn't look like the Rick's Café at all.

My hotel was a one minute walk to 'Le Petit Socco,' located in the heart of Tangier’s Medina, a principal landmark and one of Tangier’s most picturesque sites. A great place to have a cup of mint tea in one of the many cafes and ponder on its past and seedy atmosphere. In the heyday of the international spying period, Le Petit Socco was infamous for prostitution, drug taking, and pornographic films.



Agadir

Some people hate Agadir because there is very little that happens; they say, "Agadir est rien a dire" (Agadir is nothing to say).

The 1960 Agadir earthquake took place on February 29, 1960, at 23:40 in the evening. It was the most destructive and deadliest earthquake in Moroccan history with a magnitude of 6.7 on the Richter scale, killing around 15,000 people (about a third of the city's population of the time) and wounding another 12,000. At least 35,000 people were left homeless.

Today, The city of Agadir is primarily a tourist resort that is popular with European travellers. I actually enjoyed my stay there; I had the best avocado and hazelnut flavor ice creams; their avocado and almond juice were heavenly. Did I mention that Morocco has countless nice cafés and pastry shops? There are many nice restaurants, hotels, and casinos in Agadir; comparing to most Mexican resort towns, Agadir is a much nicer place.

In a casino, I watched a man from Saudi Arabia who was playing roulette; he was putting money on every single number, even zero. I asked him why he doesn't play red or black? He said, "I like winning big!" Now I understand when they talk about burning money.