In west-central Morocco, where the Souss River meets the sea and discharges the dust of desert and mountains into the blue Atlantic, sits the port of Agadir.
Its roots are ancient, its earliest origins lost to time. The Romans traded and fished in the area, known to them as Portus Risadir. The Berbers were here before them, and they’re still here.
Agadir is a Berber name. It means “walled enclosure, citadel”. It’s an equally ancient word, possibly borrowed from Punic, the language of the ancient Semites that sailed from Lebanon and wrestled Rome for control of the Mediterranean.
And yet, most of the Agadir you see is very young. In the 20th century, the sleepy old fishing village, home to Berbers and Romans and Portuguese and Arabs, grew into a major city, only to be completely obliterated.
On February 29, 1960, the third day of Ramadan, an earthquake shook the town to its foundations. The tremor wasn’t particularly strong, at 5.8 on the moment-magnitude scale, but Agadir was unprepared.
Morocco is not prone to tremors and earthquake-resistant construction was barely a consideration. The city was full of flimsy brick and rammed-earth structures, and when the quake hit, they toppled or simply disintegrated.
In minutes, three-quarters of the city was destroyed. The medieval Kasbah, perched on a hill at the north end of town, crumbled and slid down the slope. As many as 15,000 people died, and 35,000 more were left homeless as fires raged through the rubble.
WIthin hours, King Mohammed V broadcast a call for help and flew in to supervise the relief. French soldiers and American sailors came in to assist the Moroccans, but rescue efforts were slowed by oppressive heat and the near-complete scale of the destruction.
Corpses baked in the sun, spreading disease, and victims refused medical treatment, not wanting to break their Ramadan fast. In the end, large areas of the city were simply bulldozed under. In the photo below, the area left of the highway is a part of town that has been abandoned since the earthquake.
Agadir has recovered since 1960. The city is bigger now than ever, and it’s a major tourist center. People come from all over Morocco and Europe to enjoy the warm weather and stroll the wide beach, complete with theme park and marina shopping district. It goes without saying that reinforced construction is now required, and Agadir withstood quakes in 2014 and 2017 with minimal damage.
You can see the ruined Kasbah from anywhere in town. There’s not much left, just a crumbling foundation and part of the old wall. I was almost the only visitor. Agadir has moved on and most folks seemed more interested in shopping at Zara and having an ice cream on the beach than reminiscing about antique destruction. Looking down at the sea of stones that were once a mosque and an entire district of homes, I thought about how quickly the most permanent of things can change.
Eastern Morocco is mostly desert. That is a broad term, though, and most desert is not what you might think. The picturesque, sandy desert with dunes (like Erg Chebbi) is fairly rare. Your average Moroccan desert is a bleak expanse of blackish-brown gravel, like a half-finished road paving project.
Trees, when you see them, are mostly acacias. Driving around Morocco I would sometimes forget that we were technically in Africa, but seeing those acacias with their splayed branches and flat crowns made me want to bust out that song from The Lion King. You know the one.
Back in July, we went to Kentucky for a long weekend. On the way down, we stopped into a zoo we hadn’t visited in almost ten years. We had last been to Cincinnati Zoo in 2010, when we went to visit my friend Andrew who lived there at the time. I remembered it being a beautiful place, very hilly and well-landscaped, with lots of old brick buildings. I’m happy to say that it was as lovely as I remembered, and even though it poured rain a good portion of our visit, we had a great time and took some good pictures.
The red panda exhibit was a lot like Detroit zoo’s, with the pandas on a little island surrounded by a ditch and a low fence. The pandas were up in the trees and very visible, especially this lazy fellow who just wanted to sleep.
Apparently, a group of lemurs is called a conspiracy. 😂 These guys looked like they were up to something. I really like these kinds of exhibits, where the animals are at eye level, high up on a rocky island surrounded by a moat.
The name “Sunbittern” is appealing on many levels. Just saying it makes me think of morning in some dappled jungle, sunlight streaming through the leaves and the scent of fruit and rain in the air. Also, “bittern” makes me think of “bitters”, so I picture a veranda and a pitcher of gin and tonics. None of this says anything about the bird or the zoo, so let me tell you that Cincinnati has a lovely walk-through jungle aviary and this guy lives there.
Fiona is, of course, the reason we came. She captivated the world (or maybe just the Midwest?) a few years ago, as the first prematurely-born hippo baby to ever survive in captivity. The zoo has really marketed the hell out of her, which is appropriate because she is adorable. You’ll be happy to know that you can buy a #TeamFiona t-shirt in the gift shop. It was raining like crazy when we came through Fiona’s exhibit and there was a crowd of people hiding under the roofed area in front of her. There was no roof over Fiona’s quarters and she seemed to alternate between stoic and annoyed. Resting her head on her mama’s back, she gave the crowd a wistful hippo smile.
Here are a few more pictures from Kasbah Leila, our desert hotel in the Erg Chebbi dunes of eastern Morocco.
We got up very early in the morning to take photos of the sunrise over the temporary lake at Kasbah Leila. Watching the sun set over the dunes is one of my best memories of Morocco, and standing here on a little rise between two lakes, with Kasbah Leila in the distance and Michelle by my side, is another.