My mother was an adventurous sort – sometimes recklessly so! The guide book said ‘do not drink local milk products’. So of course she immediately bought and drank a strawberry milk ‘shake’ from a local woman’s roadside stand! Luckily, no harm done. But when we were in Marrakesh it was so incredibly hot that she decided we should go swimming. There was a local public pool, and so off we went! It was a very nice, big pool and everyone was very friendly. I never thought twice about it. Until…….

A few days later we had left Morocco for the French Riveria, where we met up with my sister, who had been visiting relatives in Prague. We all went down to the beach in Nice, and the minute the salt water hit my foot I thought I would faint from the burning! I ran out of the water and saw this terrible sore on the top of my big toe. My mother also had a terrible sore on the top of her foot. We cleaned and bandaged our feet, and that was the end of my swimming in the sea on that vacation.

As soon as we came home to NY, my mother went to her doctor — because her sore was much much worse (it had eaten down until you could see bone! sorry to be so graphic, but it is true!), and so was mine. I figured whatever the doctor gave her for hers, I would use for mine. So she comes home, and I asked what the doctor said. “It is a bacterial infection which causes severe skin sores.” I said, OMG that is EXACTLY the definition of leprosy!!! She never believed that’s what it was, whereas I am firmly convinced it was!

(I should say that one day in Marrakesh (a few days before swimming) a fellow traveler and I were exploring the souk and we were winding up and down different streets until we came to the end of the stores. At the end of the street, leading into another part of the souk, there were heavy chains hanging on the sides of the entryway. We stopped to look, and wondered what they were for, until a man came running up to us, gesturing for us to go back, go back! He used signs and gestures to make us understand this was the entrance to a leper quarantine zone! Yikes!! we couldn’t run out of there fast enough. So you can imagine my horror when we got those sores!!!)

Marrakesh 1969

On the eve of the 50th anniversary (yikes!) of the moon landing, I thought I’d write a little more about that summer trip to Morocco (see earlier post Madrid-Tangier).  After that craziness on the flight to Tangier (July 16), we knew that our astronauts were on their way to the moon.

We spent a few days sightseeing around Tangier (drinking hot mint tea to cool down!) and ate in a restaurant that featured belly dancing as the entertainment.  Surprisingly, the girls were quite plump, and had a lot of belly to wiggle!  They were great, but I never did find out if this was originally how they were supposed to look.

Eventually, we took a bus down to Marrakesh.   It is important to keep in mind that the Marrakesh of 1969 is totally different from the Marrakesh of today.  My niece went there a couple of years ago, and wow!  her description was nothing like what I remembered.  I know there are now big chain hotels there.  When we were there, there was one big fancy hotel (the Mamounia) which we could not afford.  (We did go for afternoon tea.)  We stayed in an un-air-conditioned room, a second floor walk up with a balcony.  (which some idiot guy tried to climb up onto!  our loud yells got him on his way!)

Getting used to the heat was impossible.  We discovered that men wore wool (!) long undershirts under their robes so that when their sweat made the fabric wet, it kept them cool during the day!  At first I thought that was disgusting, but after a day or so, I totally got it.  My 17 year old self in a mini skirt was dying of the heat.  One thing I can say – if you need to lose weight – go to Marrakesh.  I had no appetite and lived on Cokes and cactus balls.  Vendors sold the cactus everywhere and it is delicious and juicy, like melon.

Main square Marrakesh

Walking through the souks was a fascinating way to meet people and see the town.  The central square, Djemma el-Fna, did actually have snake charmers (cobras!), the Tuareg, an ancient Berber tribe, also called the Blue Men of the Sahara (so called because their blue robes stain their skin), dancers, food vendors, and more.  It was incredible. 

On July 21st, large screens were set up in the main square and we sat at a roof top bar to watch the moon walk!  A memorable day.  Everyone was mesmerized by the images, visitors and residents alike.

Mother, me and a fellow traveler

The next day we left on a bus trip over the Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate in the Sahara.  A total nightmare that I will recount in the next post.