Herbal medicine in 🐈-tastic Morocco: Dr. Jason's Travel Blog
After finishing up our house sit in Cambridge, we headed by train back to London and hopped a quick flight to Marrakech, Morocco. This was my second time in Morocco, Arnica’s third, but our kids were there for the first time. Marrakech is a lovely place to visit and Morocco is very tourist-friendly. The weather was lovely, not too hot and very sunny and dry for January. This was a stark contrast to the wet, cool, dark weather in England.
Our arrival describes the top hospitality we experienced for two weeks. An airport taxi took us to our riad, a traditional city house in the old part of town. Well, not exactly to the front door of our riad but to the parking area a 10 minute walk from our riad. In the old walled city center of Marrakech, the streets are very narrow (perhaps 12 feet across) and only allow travel by foot, motorcycle or donkey cart. We wove our way through the old cobblestone pathways and tunnels until we found the beautiful carved door. Morocco is renowned for its excellent craftsmanship and design. Riads are old three story homes that have been converted to guest houses. They always have an open central courtyard that must be at least a third of the footprint of the house, beautiful design, greenery, several rooms that open into the courtyard, and a bustling kitchen. In the morning and afternoons, we would sit on a rooftop patio to soak up the sun and listen to the melodic chanting of the call to prayer five times a day. Our riad had a delightful cat named Khaima (the big tent, in Berber,) that joined us for breakfast each morning, hung out with the girls in their room, and charmed us in general. You can see a cute reel about Khaima on our Instagram.
On arrival, our host greeted us with steaming Moroccan herbal tea and chatted with Arnica, who speaks French. Moroccan tea is a national treasure. It’s known as mint and green tea, but actually there are thousands of versions, all using herbal medicine to suit the time of day, constitution of the visitor and mood of the host. At each home and business, tea is poured from great heights into little glasses, with skill and pride. One of the highlights of our visit was spending a few hours in a traditional Moroccan herboristerie, a herbal pharmacy. It was the same place I had visited last time in Morocco, and both times, the traditionally trained Berber herbalist impressed me with her knowledge and skill. I had a great discussion with the herbalist about her go-to plants for different ailments, many of which we also use in the eastern and western sides of our herbal pharmacy at Pandosy Village Vet. We left with many pots, bags and bottles of remedies, and promises to return.
The streets of the central walled medina (the old town) are very busy with tourists, merchants, smoking motorcycles, heavily laden donkey carts, and cats on every corner. There are also horse carriages that carry the tourists around, a reminder of the main form of transportation not so long ago. Arnica and the girls took a horse cart back to our riad one afternoon, and our daughter sat up front with the driver. Somehow, with no language in common, he found out she was a horsewoman too. Much to her delight, he handed her the reins, and she drove her first two-in-hand through the streets of Marrakech. Deep in the centre of the medina is the tortuous maze of the covered sooks, where one leather bag shop turns into the next herb shop, or metal shop, or clothing store, carpets, jewelry, food you name it. I would get lost, and then my daughters, who have their mother’s sense of direction, would lead me patiently back to where we started. In the sooks, we did a little shopping, as it was our last destination in five months, and we finally conceded to adding a checked bag to take home. Moroccans are known for their high quality goods and the bartering system of arriving at a price. My wife did the hard bartering as I would likely cave at the first financial impasse the store owner would be surely to throw in my path. She, on the other hand, was happy to drink tea and bargain for hours. This is why I’m the vet and she’s the businesswoman.
The food in Morocco is also divine: spices and herbs, stewed meats, couscous, cooked vegetables and tasty sweets to name a few. Eating out was more expensive than our last trip, but we often went to the places the locals do, and ate fabulously.
Marrakech has cats everywhere, even in the restaurants. Cats in the riads, cats on the rooftop patio, cats in the streets, cats on the donkey carts, cats at the mall (in the H&M sweater section), cats in the airport! It was a feline frenzy. People love the cats and feed them and set up cardboard houses for street cats in the alleys. Unfortunately there is not a lot of healthcare for the stray cats and sterilization does not happen. 90 percent of the female street cats we saw were pregnant. The girls even found a lone, stray 6 week old little kitten in a tunneled alley. They debated pretty hard for us to take her, but I knew our upcoming travel through the UK (which is Rabies free) would not allow us to take it home without it going into quarantine. Luckily, they met some local children who were also eager to add a feline to their family. So the girls purchased some tuna and milk at a street vendor and sent the little kitten home with the delighted Moroccan kids.
After two weeks of exploring, learning at museums, hiking in the mountains, getting braids done at a local salon and filling out bellies with pastilla, we headed back to London and then home to Canada.
Our sabbatical will be a treasured memory for our family and will be a pivotal growing point for our kids. I hope you have enjoyed my updates along the way. You can catch up on all my travel blogs here. I have been back at work since the 1st of February, and look forward to seeing you all at the clinic.