|Karen and Kyle Sykes with their guide at a museum of wooden arts and crafts.|
WHO: Karen and Kirk Sykes, 48 and 49, respectively, and their children Sydney, 13, and Kyle, 16, of Milton.
WHEN: 10 days in June and July.
WHY: "A few years ago we thought, the kids are getting older, so travel time with them is limited. How do we broaden their world view?" Kirk said. They've since visited Asia and Australia. "We felt pretty strongly that it was time for the kids to see an Islamic culture. Morocco is manageable and extremely liberal."
CULTURE AND COMFORT: A travel agent helped the family set up an itinerary. "We've done a lot of Third World country travel and are pretty independent," Karen said. "But we also like our creature comforts. This trip had a little more of a tour component than most of ours because there was so much to learn about. Everybody asked us if we were afraid. We always felt safe." Kirk said, "Because we're light skinned African-Americans, we never felt like we were sticking out. In fact, people would say we looked Moroccan." "Or maybe they said that so we'd buy their rugs," Karen joked.
STRIKING SIGHTS: Soon after landing in Casablanca, a guide took them to Hassan II Mosque, one of the world's largest religious monuments and the only Moroccan mosque that welcomes non-Muslims. During the drive from there to Fez, the landscape was "miles and miles of vineyards," Kirk said. In Fez, they stayed within the medina walls at the luxurious Riad Maison Bleue. "It was several houses, linked courtyard by courtyard," Karen said. "The pool was in the middle of a courtyard, and there were people around dressed in veils, while kids were in bikinis. I definitely dressed on the conservative side."
MARRAKESH EXPRESSED: "In Marrakesh's big square at dusk you're walking around cobras and snake charmers and vendors and thousands of people," Kirk said. "The image that comes to mind, not in a negative way, is of 'Apocalypse Now,' with all the smoke coming from food cooking." They watched as Moroccans filed into the mosques during the various calls to prayer. "There weren't as many going as we'd thought, but we were told that they also recognize it personally, or later, if they're working," Karen said. Through a friend, they connected with a Moroccan man who guides celebrities. "When I asked who the last Americans were he showed around," Kirk said, "he said Bill and Melinda." As in Gates.
TAKE A HIKE: Both the beaches and mountains held new sights. As they rode along the coast to Essaouira, a former haunt of Jimi Hendrix, "families were there at the beach alongside their camels." The trip ended on a high note - at the Berber-operated Kasbah du Toubkal, 6,000 feet up in the High Atlas mountains. "Your luggage gets off-loaded in Imlil and transported by a donkey while you walk up the mountain for 25 minutes," Kirk said. The former kasbah turned hotel "wasn't fancy, but was all about the setting," Karen said. She joined Kirk and Kyle on a "leisurely walk" that turned into a four-hour hike. "If I didn't trick her, she wasn't going to go," Kirk said. Sydney stayed put. Exhausted from the pace, she started the trip's running joke: "Next year I want us to see the Jersey Shore."
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