In June of 1974 I was at the Officers’ Mess having , no doubt, a glass of cool milk. I noticed a rather attractive lady walk in . As I explained Base Borden was a bit off the beaten track so any lovely single female got our attention rather quickly. I was never one of those smooth talkers one hears about; but, a few days later I saw her in the Mess sitting with a fellow I know. I wandered over and said , “Hey Don , long time no see, how is it going ? Oh I don’t think we’ve met ( Aimed at Mila) my name is Mike.” Kind of shallow but I got to sit down and talk. Don was not quite impressed, as he saw through my shallow subterfuge ☺ Later in the week I again saw Mila, hey I knew her now , and I went over and we had a small talk moment . As the summer went on we started to date. I was not quite a one man dog ; but, I found the more time we spent together the more I was attracted to her.

         One of the single lads in our quadraplex, my Mexico and Spain travel mate , Paul, and his fiancee were planning a trip to Europe. They had tickets to Amsterdam on a now defunct charter airlines, Ward Air. Seemed like a good idea to me so I decided to fly along with them. In the interim my major travel mate, Rick, called from Quebec city to tell me of his plans to go to Morocco. I tried to change my Ward Air flight but it was not possible. So I arranged to meet Rick in Morocco. My plan was to go to Paris and take a flight from there.

         Mila heard of all this and asked to come along. It was a “guys’ trip” as it were so I told her it would not work out well. I guess the best way to describe it was, she showed me the curb. More on this later as things worked out well.

         The flight to Amsterdam was pleasant as Paul, Marion and I solved the problems of the world over a few glasses of fine wine Ward Air generously provided. Amsterdam had not changed much since my last visit in 1968. I had written my Dutch friend Jim, whom I had met in 1968. He invited me to his home, near Leiden. So Paul and Marion and I spent a few days wandering about Amsterdam , and had a great one would expect. I bid Paul and Marion farewell till we would meet in a few weeks and I set off for Leiden. Jim was now married to a nice gal and they had a cute little daughter. It was interesting to spend some time in a Dutch home. The hospitality was warm and I had a lot of fun with their 4 year old daughter. She was sitting on my lap and asking me many questions in Dutch. I would answer with Ja or Nay. <yes / no> One time I think she asked me if I liked ice cream. “nay“ …she gave me an incredulous look and repeated “NAY?” I asked Jim if she thought I was a bit daft. He explained that she knew that some people speak Dutch and other speak English. As I mentioned, in Ireland, Jim garnered a respect for Rick and me when we managed to climb to the top of Mount Carantoul in Ireland with no visible fatigue. He had felt North Americans were not fit. I again managed to come out with something that impressed him. As we wandered about the historic city of Leiden he said , “This is a major city in Dutch history. “ I replied, “Yes the rebellion against Spanish rule” We had studied this briefly in High School and he was impressed I knew this .

           The next day I took a train back to Amsterdam and bid Jim and his family farewell. The following day I took a train to Paris. It was an interesting run. As we entered Belgium there was a crew change and we had to show our tickets. I asked the conductor if he spoke French . He replied , “I am forced to speak French” Obviously a Flemish Belgian. Gad I thought I had left the language disputes back in Canada ☺. I then started into English but he relented and we spoke in French as he did not speak English. The trip through Belgium went quickly and unfortunately I was not able to wander off the train . Another time as they say .

          We arrived at “Le Gare du Nord” , one of several Paris train stations. It was around 10 PM and I was in one of my ancestral homelands  . I tell people I wandered about looking at people to see if anyone looked like me. I entered a bar and got my first feedback on my Canadian French accent. I asked for a beer, the bartender smiled and said, “For our Quebec friends, of course”. I was told that our accent is very noticeable. I encountered this many times. Iw as not offended but at times the Parisiennes seemed to feel I was some kind of lumberjack ☺. French Canadian in Québec are of Normandy Origin, those in New Brunswick are from the Loire Valley. But most of us came over in the 1600’s so different accents developed. And in Canada our French has developed slang that differs from the European French. In fact in Quebec the word for slang is Joual, and in France is it Argot. Joyal comes from the way people in Beauce country in Quebec pronounced horse, in French is it cheval, but in Beauce they say Joyal… So the mispronunciation, or at least accented pronunciation is used to describe slang. And Quebec is rich is slang that the French do not understand. In fact many Quebec films have “French” subtitles. Quebec is in fact a centre for French language arts and entertainment. While wandering about in Paris on a few occasions many stores had music playing that was mainly from Quebec.

           So there I was taking it all in and having to learn to talk again  I wandered from the Gard du Nord train station to the left bank area. Along the Boulevard St Germain I decided to stop by a sidewalk café and have a bit of supper, as it were. I had a French beer and something called a Croque Monsieur . Kind of an open grilled cheese sandwich. Quite enjoyable and I was taking in the atmosphere of a “new” country. It was nearing mid-night and the less than friendly waiter told I could not stay there all night. As he spoke to me I was in the midst of putting on my sweater. In Quebec a sweater is the older word Chandaille, in France it is un ‘Pull Over’ or un pull. He misunderstood ought me a Coke. I spoted the price which was more than I felt like paying, so I said I had not asked for a Coke I said I was putting on “Mon Chandaille” . Which was technically right, aside from the price issue ☺ He said I had seen the price and turned it down, he continued and said , “In France we have an expression, one lies like a Canadian”. I replied that in Canada we have an expression as well, but I am too polite to tell you what it is..a word you likely don’t understand. Gad in town less than an hour and I am on the un-wanted list  . So I set out to check out the hotels and most were either full or closed. I asked one man where some open hotels were located and he directed me across the Seine. I wandered 4 or 5 blocks down a street he had mentioned. Hmmmmm On the street I saw a lot of young women wandering about, one was in leather with a min-skirt and a bull whip. Ahhhhhh not my kind of neighbourhood ☺. So I asked another man about sleeping by the Seine down by the water and he told me rats were active at night. So I wandered over to the Notre Dame Cathedral and checked it out by night. It was almost midnight and I was tiring so I figured a bench would do . I took out my sleeping bag, sued my back pack as a pillow, and strangely tied my shoes to the back pack. Hey I could have my throat slit for my money; but, they would not get my shoes ☺ I actually got 7 hours or more of sleep. As it turns out I was across the street from Paris’ largest police prefecture. St Pesmo, must have been an honorary “Gendarme”.

          The next day I found a nice little hotel on a side street in the ehart of the Latin Quarter. It was called “Le Gite le Coeur”. Only recently have I discovered that ‘Gite’ means essentially ‘bed and breakfast’. I didn’t realize this and never partook of the breakfast. Mila and I stayed there some 2 years later, yes we did get back together but more on that later read on . I took in the mandatory Paris attractions, as much as one could in 2 days. The Eiffel tower was a bit surprising to me, for some reason I pictured it as being gray but it was in fact painted a shade of dark brown. As with London so many of the attractions were familiar so it was like a trip home, in an adventuresome way. Later Mila and I, then years later we and the kids saw more of Paris. But, this was a great start.

        I made my way to the Airport to take the flight to Casablanca Morocco. And as St Pesmo would have it I was on the same flight as Rick. He had flown from Montreal to Paris with a transfer. Interestingly my flight to Morocco from Paris was almost the same as Rick’s total fee from Montreal to Casablanca, connecting flights are just an addition on a major flight.

        We had a nice two or three hour hop and we set foot in Morocco at sun down. As with any new country or city I found myself taking in everything. From sounds , faces and city architecture to the tantalizing fragrances coming from cafes and restaurants. It certainly promised to be an exciting adventure. We found a nice three story hotel and set out to wander about. Rick was bartering with a street merchant and was holding his Moroccan money when a local lad grabbed the bills and set off at a fast pace. He ran across a parking lot through a fence opening. Rick was in fast pursuit and as he ran through the fence opening eh was tripped and the lads fled. So we had a less than warm reception ; but, in a way ot was a good thing in that we became quite aware of our possessions. Not that we had a lot ; but, to a street urchin it could mean a lot.

          We spent the next day wandering about the city taking in a few markets and wandering into some stores. J . I was familiar with some of the Mediterranean treats from my time in Cyprus and the Moroccan cuisine had a similar yet distinct attraction. All great stuff. I couldn‘t help myself but I had to mumble “Play it again Sam” a few times, after all that is the best known line from the classic Casablanca. I had not seen it and when I did I was eager to hear that line; but, in fact Bogart said , “You played it for him , you can play it for me” Ah well no wonder no one would play it again for me

          The next day we decided to head off to Marrakech . The Crosby, Stills and Nash song, Marrakech Express , was a popular tune so we set off to the station to take the Express. I had visions of animals in the aisles and strange cargo above the seats. In fact it was a high tech , air conditioned comfortable train equal to any in Canada. So No “Say it again Sam” and no exotic livestock on the train. My illusions were being shattered ☺. It was a great ride and there were people from all over and of course the enchatment of hearing the Moroccans. They were in fact a very friendly people proud of their country and tradtions. The train arrived and Rick and I quickly made our way to the market. It is now a UN Heritage site , and from our visits there this is a well deserved accolade.

From Wikipedia:

Marrakech has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco and also has one of the busiest squares in Africaand the world,  The square bustles with acrobats, story-tellers, water sellers, dancers and musicians. By night food stalls open in the square turning it into a huge busy open-air restaurant.

        The Wikipedia description certainly describes what we saw. Only it was a 360 degree continuous presentation of activity. I had visited markets in Beirut, Istanbul and Damascus; but, Marrakech seemed to expand what I had seen. I will cover the individual sites .

           The small stalls were colourful. I was accustomed to the hard sell to which people in this part of the world are accustomed . In fact I always enjoyed the ambience of these places. When a merchant caught your eye it was as if we were long lost friends . Through out Marrakech , and in fact in much of Morocco, a favourite opening line was . “Where are you from?” When we told them, Montreal, the reply was inevitably , “Ah yes I have many good friends in Montreal”. It didn’t bother me ;but, Rick was finding this a bit annoying. So one time we put on accents and replied, “Reykjavik in Iceland” . A few quizzical glances but then “Ah yes, I have many friends there”.

       We found a nice hotel with palm trees, a small pool etc. Much above our usual fare of sleeping in camp grounds, although that would come later  . We met a lot of like minded travelers but this being a family tome I won’t get into details.

          We spent many an hour over several days, wandering about the market, or Souk as it is called. Sales areas varied from small stalls along the sidewalks and roadways to permanent shops of varying sizes. Most were family businesses and the usual friendliness prevailed. Of course the “Hello my friend where are you from ?” was standard fare. Rick never got around that one ☺.

       Many crafts were on sale. One that caught my attention was goulamine beads. I had been told that they were called African trading beads. The main consideration was that they were really lovely flowing pieces of art work. Some said they were a popular hippy purchase, for the psychedelic effect. That wasn’t a consideration to me, just the beauty of the beads. Rick told me that these beads were worth a dollar apiece or more in Montréal . We found a bracelet of the beads which had a basic yellow colour with blue interspaced in the design. The stall owner wanted $40 but Rick and I brought him down to $20 equivalent. Later that day a couple of the travelers we had met showed us what they had bought for about $5. We had been outsmarted again ☺. Now as I have said , Rick is a tall red head so the next day when we were back wandering about the market I saw our “vendor” and when he spotted Rick it was a radar locking on a target. This time we were not quite as easy to sell . I did buy a leather bracelet from another vendor , it had a couple of beads tied into the design weave, I paid $2. Later that night a few of us were watching some street singers at the food market area. A man next to me noticed my bracelet, and beside him was the vendor who had sold them to us. He told me he had bartered and got the fellow down to $7, the vendor gave me a worried look as he was afraid I might spill the beans. So I said , “Wow you got a deal, I paid $10 and that was a good price” . So we were all happy, the vendor had not lost his pride, the fellow with the beads felt he got a great deal and I had made two new friends ☺

         The food stall area was an attraction in itself. The luring aroma of the fresh prepared Moroccan foods was an attraction indeed. One of our fellow traveler friends recommended a particular stall. They specialized in meat dishes. Almost a form of small hamburger rolls , with generous amounts of delightful spices. There were also a nice variety of salads with home prepared dressings. As well fresh bread. Really welcome fare. A Parisian chef might not be impressed ;but, for people like me who were taking in new experiences, it was a really enjoyable treat. And the small stalls had benches and from the benches we could see the market come to life with entertainers of all sorts. Many playing Moroccan music, which has a relaxing almost hypnotic effect. There were a few snake charmers and several story tellers. These were exceptionally interesting. They were older bearded men in long robes. They were telling tales, which I was alter told were of Moroccan legends and history. They would gesture with an actor’s flare and the younger people , who were almost at their feet literally would follow every word and react when a stunning event was extolled. It was a definite throw back in time as at that time many likely did not have home TV ( 1974) . It was a traditional story teller. I of course could not understand Arabic; but, I could feel the emotion expressed by the story tellers and the responses of the excited young audience.

          There were also a few in the market who had their eyes on the tourists. One fellow had a long cardboard box. He had three cards on the box and shuffled the cards. The goal was for a tourist to choose which as the Ace, after he had shuffled them. He did get some business, and of course the tourists always lost their bet. But, when there was no immediate interest he would follow you , box and all for several yards .

           After sunset the music increased and we always gave the musicians a few coins. It certainly added to the environment of this being a foreign country. Foreign in the sense that history, culture, food, way of life were very different from our own experiences and it was an enlightening experience.

       Rick and I decided to rent a car as we had heard of several interesting places to visit. Our first stop was to the Atlas mountains .

From Wikipedia:

The Atlas Mountains (Berber  idurar n Watlas, Arabic جبال الأطلس‎) is a mountain range across a northern stretch of Africa extending about 2,500 km (1,600 mi) through Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria The highest peak isToubkal , with an elevation of 4,167 metres (13,671 ft) in southwestern Morocco. The Atlas ranges separate the Mediterranean and Atlantic  coastlines from the Sahara  Desert. The population of the Atlas Mountains are mainly Berbers.

          About an hour south of Marrakech we came to the foothills. Then we saw a ski area. I had seen the skia rea in Cyprus, Mount Olympus and there were ski areas north of Beirut. But I always tended to think of skiing as a more Northern passtime so I did a double take. WE were driving along a road and came to a car stop which was a look out area. As we were taking in the scenery a young lad of 15 or so came over to speak with us. He was dressed in the traditional Djellaba.

From Wikipedia:

Djellaba (جلابة) (Moroccan Arabic also known as Darjila  (الدارجة)) (also djellabah, galabiya, jellāb(a)) is a traditional long, loose-fitting unisex outerrobe  with full sleeves worn in theMaghreb  region of North Africa and in Arabic-speaking countries along the Mediterranean.

          He spoke French and seemed intrigued talking to two Canadians. We were quite a bit bigger than him and I could see a sense of awe in his young eyes. He insisted we go to his home to meet his mother. WE experienced a very warm welcome. She insisted we take a seat and she offered a wonderful bowl of lentil soup. I have since found out that this is an offering of pride. It was quite a surprise in that it had a very wonderful fragrance and taste. When we left bioth Rick and I gave him the equivalent of $10. He was not begging but I feel he was not disappointed when we gave him this , for us, small token.

          Several of our fellow travelers had told us of the sites of Fez so we set out on a north bound route. I should point out that I was also wearing a Djellaba, which I had purchased in Marrakech. I guess that is why the young lad was a bit taken aback when he found we were in fact Canadian. As I have mentioned ,y complexion is very Mediterranean so he , and later many others, thought I was from Morocco. Rick the “red” was not quite as local looking ☺ On two occasions Moroccan police stopped us. The first time they wanted to see our papers. They asked where we were going. Nothing too intimidating but an air of “officialdom” was in the air. The second such stop we produced out papers and the police said, “No we just want a ride”. So in they hopped. AS we drove along there was some form of mining to our right. I asked what was being mined and one officer said , “Are you nor Moroccan” We all had a chuckled when I told them I was not , as I said..I have a Mediterranean look.

 Fez was a popular city for the “travelers.

From Wikipedia:

Fes or Fez (Arabic : فاس‎ Arabic pronunciation: Fas  is the second largest city of  Morocco  with a population of approximately 1 million (2010). It is the capital of theFez Boulamanne  region.

Fez, the former capital, is one of the country's four "imperial cities," the others being Rabat  Marrakesh and Meknes It comprises three distinct parts,Fes al Bali (the old, walled city), FesJdid (new Fes, home of the Mellah  and the Ville Nouvelle (the French-created, newest section of Fes).

"Fas el Bali" is a UNESCO World Heritage Site . Its Medina , the larger of the two medinas of Fes, is believed to be the world's largest contiguous Car free urban area . TheUniversity of El Kouranine  founded in AD 859, is the oldest continuously functioning university in the world. The city has been called the "Meccaof the West" and the "Athenss of Africa

          The Medina Fas el Bali of Fez , was an interesting attraction. The streets were car free and very narrow. In place of cars donkeys carrying loads were the fare. The streets were stone embedded into the ground. Much like Pompeii in a way. There were many small stores and food stalls in this area. As in much of Morocco we had a “guide” who showed us around. The idea was that he got a commission when we bought something. We often went back to stores on out own and got a better price, we were learning local ways. As always there were numerous, “Ah yes I have many friends in Montreal”. greetings. All part of the scene as it were. On one back street we were at an elevated walk way, below us was a clay like yard area. The clay was molded into semi circular bowls. Each was about a meter across. There were about 25 or so such ‘bowls’. It was a leather softening area. The softener was….camel and horse dung. Not quite what one would have expected and the men working in the yard were dressed in shorts that looked like one saw in Ben Hur on the triremes. They had no shirts on and were bare footed. Their unenviable task was tramping the leather sheets in the wet dung material. Rick went ‘UGH” in loud voice which elicited a rather angry response from one of the workers. Not too smooth on Rick’s part , as I later told him.

           From the fellow travelers we had found a ’camp’ site on the outskirts of town. We again met and mingled with a nice crew of like minded people. Sharing stories, adventures and just enjoying each other’s company was an integral part of my many travels and in Morocco this continued.

         We met several travelers who told us of the “Fez trots” . Basically a form of full blown intestinal illness. Rick and I were okay..for a while One day we were wandering about the Souk or Medina and we stopped for what appeared to be a major treat. Honey boiled doughnuts. They were covered with a thin layer of honey and were excellent. Then I noticed flies all over the doughnuts. Not too good, then I looked out to the street and saw the donkey droppings, which also had flies. So I imagine the flies would have a dung main course, then hop into the open windowed doughnut store for desert. That night…now how shall I put this…I had the runs at both ends. And in Morocco the toilets were basically holes that lead to pipes, no sit down toilets. I did maintain my balance despite the full force expulsion at both ends. But hey , we all got it and survived.

         We left Fez and were told about a small town farm name Kattema. We were told if you stopped in the town in a car you would be surrounded by locals inviting you home. So we did and the car was literally surrounded by smiling faces. We asked one fellow to hop in and Abdulsalem al S. took us to his home . I won’t go into details but the local crop was not quite corn. It was interesting and I felt safe.

         The next day we drove through Tangiers on the coast. It is a city with a rich history due to it’s strategic presence near Europe and at the Straits of Gibraltar. It goes back in Moroccan history and the Exiles of Jews and Muslims from Spain in the late 1400’s added to the cultural diversity of the city. Our stay was brief and we did not get to see much of what might have been available. But one could sense a busy area compared to the other Moroccan cities. Many of our fellow travelers had arrived by ship in Tangiers, from Spain. As a short wave listener I was of course interested in seeing the Voice of America transmitters . They were in an open area and allowed short wave coverage to Africa , Southern Europe and the Middle East.

          We set out toward Rabat. Along the way, a bit North of Rabat, we came across a place called “Club Afrique. A kind of poor man’s Club Med. They had a “hut” available. It was in fact a comfortable room with beds and so on, a bit of a step up from out “camp” areas where we slept on the ground in our sleeping bags. The hut was in fact made of palm leaves for a roof and wood walls. All quite nice. There was a disco , a bar and a restaurant. In the restaurant we met a fellow, who was a truck driver. He told us he had been a musician in the North of England for many years and he had played gigs with a “new comer” named Rod Stewart. So a sort of brush with fame. I always found that Brits did not tend to be B.S’ ers so I believed the fellow. He had his 7 year old son with him, who was delightful.

             All in all it was a nice evening, I got a mosquito bite on the ear lobe which swelled up a bit the next day but I didn’t pay it much attention. We set out for Rabat, the capital the next day . We found a nice camp sie and again ran into our share of travelers. By now Ramadan, the Muslim holy month was in progress. Looking back we should have perhaps not eaten during the day. Evil infidels I guess J But in all frankness we never felt any problems in that area.

         Each morning and five time through the day the Mosque Minarets would be the focus of calls to prayer. Some had speakers others had a muezzin who was designated to call the faithful to prayer. It was a very symbolic and moving sound as it seemed to come from many directions as several mosques would have simultaneous calls to prayer.

Rabat was a beautiful city with a number of attractions. One the “Tour Hassan” Hassan .

From Wikipedia:

Hassan Tower or Tour Hassan (rabic : صومعة حسان‎) is the Minaret of an incomplete mosquein Rabat Morocco Begun in 1195, the tower was intended to be the largest minaret in the world along with the mosque, also intended to be the world's largest. In 1199, Sultan Yakoub Al Monsour  died and construction on the mosque stopped. The tower only reached 44 m (140 ft), about half of its intended 86 m (260 ft) height. The rest of the mosque was also left incomplete, with only the beginnings of several walls and 200 columns being constructed. The tower, made of red Sandstone along with the remains of the mosque and the modern Mausoleum of Mohammed V forms an important historical and tourist complex in Rabat.

         Again walking about such antiquities made one feel a part of history, if only for a fleeting moment. Rick and I wandered though the Souk and I became to “chef” . No Chef Ramsey need not worry, but my fish dish that evening got good raves as we shared it with some of our travelers friends. It was an ordinary fish dish but I added some garlic and tomatoes. All in all a treat when on is on the road ☺

    The next day we wandered over to a beach where we noticed camels. The idea of a camel ride seemed to fit in with the exotic country we were in. Rick and I had gone on a horse ride at 15 and the thought of the horses sensing we were not too well versed still rings in my mind. At that time the horses knew the rookies were onboard so they took off and we had to be rescued by the farm girl who ran the horse rides. This was near Ticonderoga N.Y. . So this was with a bit of trepidation, only there was no farm girl to save us should the worst case scenario happen.

        The camels seemed quite big, they would bend the front legs and they would kneel as it were. This allowed us to saddle up. Apparently the camels were trained to run down the beach to a large pole and come back from there. Sure enough this is what they did. But we were in for a bouncy ride and they ignored the commands we were shown. But it was a unique experience.

         The following day we made our way back to Casablanca and spent I spent one last evening in Morocco. I had arranged for a flight to Amsterdam and as I took off I looked back on a truly wonderful three weeks. It was exotic, full of warm encounters and some interesting times. Again Rick and I got down and dirty and lived “with the people” as it were. The hotels in Marrakech and Casablanca were more than a acceptable; but, not a dull 5 star place. In all memories I am proud to share.

      Back in Amsterdam I met Paul and Marion at the hotel we had stayed at when the trip began. We shared stories and we all looked on it as a great time.

Back at base Borden Paula and I returned to our military dental duties with renewed enthusiasm. I was involved in some training so I was able to expand my horizons. Mila was still a cold shoulder in the  night as she had been miffed at my not inviting her. She had applied for and was accepted for a teaching position in Spain.