Reflections of Travel to Africa

As a four-decade Certified Travel Agent, international airline employee, researcher, writer, teacher, and photographer, travel, whether for pleasure or business purposes, has always been a significant and an integral part of my life. Some 400 trips to every portion of the globe, by means of road, rail, sea, and air, entailed destinations both mundane and exotic. This article focuses on those in Africa.

Egypt:

The land of the Nile and the pyramids came alive during a flawlessly blue trip one December.

Cairo-accessed sights, almost without saying, included those very pyramids, whose construction commenced in 2550 B. C. as a result of Pharaoh Khufu’s order and which were negotiated by camel. Towering some 481 feet, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest, consists of some 2.3 million stone blocks, each weighing 2.5 to 15 tons and is considered the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one to remain largely intact.

Khufu’s son, Pharaoh Khafre, built the second pyramid in 2520 B.C. and it is part of a complex that includes the Sphinx, a mysterious limestone monument with the body of a lion and a pharaoh’s head, which itself may stand sentinel for the pharaoh’s entire expanse of tombs.

The third such pyramid-shaped structure, which is considerably smaller than the first two, was built by Pharaoh Menkaure in 2490 B.C. and features a much more complex mortuary temple.

Additional attractions included the temple of the Great God Ptah in Memphis, a 5,000-year-old symmetrical, alabaster sphinx, and the original statue of Ramses II. The Necropolis in Sakkara afforded an opportunity to inspect its tombs and its own step pyramid.

The immersion into Egyptology was capped with a visit to the Papyrus and Egyptian museums, the latter built by the Italian construction company Garozzo-Zaffarani and constituting one of the largest such repositories with 120,000 items, not all of which were on display at a single time. But some of its most significant were Tutankhamun’s Mask, the Grave Mask of King Amenemope, the Narmer Palette, the Mummy Mask of Psusennes I, the Statue of Khufu, the Statue of Khafra, the Statue of Menkaure, and the Merneptah Stele.

Morocco:

Two multi-mode trips to Arabic- and French-speaking Morocco facilitated considerable country coverage.

Significant Casablanca sights included its Medina, the Royal Palace, the Hassan II Mosque, the world’s second largest after that in Mecca, Mohammed V Square, and a Moroccan handicrafts store.

A drive to Rabat encompassed its own Royal Palace, the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the Hassan Tower, and the Kasbah of Oudaya, evoking images of the Humphrey Boggart movie, Casablanca.

Morocco’s famous and wonderful couscous, sometimes enjoyed with live entertainment, was consumed in numerous restaurants. Lunch in the Golden Tulip Rabat, for instance, featured eggplant salad; olive chicken, couscous, and carrots; and thin chocolate pastries and custard-flan with fruit. A later sip of Moroccan mint tea in Rick’s Café in the Kasbah of Oudaya really generated movie memories. Its French influence was expressed in its crispy baguettes.

Marked by Moorish minarets of the 12th-century, Koutoubia Mosque, in Marrakech, was a former imperial city in the western part of the country, but is today characterized by palaces, gardens, and the densely packed, walled medina dating to the Berber Empire. Threading my way through its maze-like alleys, I passed and perused its souks, or marketplaces, which displayed some items as textiles, pottery, and jewelry.

While a train had linked the city with Casablanca, an internal flight closed the gap between it and Tangier, a port city on the Strait of Gibraltar that has served as a strategic gateway between Africa and Europe since Phoenician times. Its whitewashed hillside medina was home to the Dar el Makhzen, a palace of the sultans that had since been transformed into a museum with a rich collection of Moroccan artifacts.

Tunisia:

Although Arabic and French similarly provided the communication lines in Tunisia, my German often substituted in English-deficient areas.

Tunis, located on the Mediterranean Sea and the country’s capital, afforded sightseeing opportunities in its Bardo Museum, Hammamet, and Nabeul.

Carthage, a seaside suburb known for its ancient archaeological sites and founded by the Phoenicians in the first millennium B. C., was originally the seat of the powerful Carthaginian Empire, which fell to Rome in the second century B. C. Today it retains a grip on its history with such remnants as its Amphitheatre, Byrsa Hill and the National Museum of Carthage, the Roman Theatre, the Baths of Antonin, and Sidi Bou Said.

A short, domestic turboprop flight to the island of Djerba varied my view of the country, with a stay in the seaside Hotel Hasdrubal and sightseeing of Guellala and Houmut-Souq. Its small, but elegant restaurant dripped of French cuisine and a butter-sautéed filet mignon entrée one evening was memorable.

A standard-shift Fiat rental car facilitated a drive to Medenine and Matmata, a small., Berber-speaking town in southern Tunisia, often on road stretches that hugged mountains and consisted of little more than sand and chopped rock. But they ultimately opened up to the latter’s anticipated, but virtually empty expanse of troglodyte architecture, because that consisted of surface-invisible, subterranean, cave-reminiscent construction to reduce exposure to extremely high temperatures during the day. As the most famous filming location of the Star Wars movie series, Matamata substituted for Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s birthplace.

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