Tag Archives: Morocco

I thought deserts were hot (Morocco: Part III)

Saturday was full of all kinds of adventures, but the morning started early, quite mistakenly.  Turns out Morocco is in a different time zone.  We figured that out at about 5:30am.

The guy from the Sahara Expeditions tour came knocking on the door of our hostel at ten after seven and walked us to the 15 passenger vans we would be going out in.

I was quiet disappointed that we didn’t get to go around with the folks we had met in our hostel that morning, but because our expedition was only one day instead of two or three, we were in a different group.

As far as people that you spend the entire day with in a freezing bus with, we really could have lucked out better.

In our larger group of about a dozen folks, there was a smaller group of about five late-20 to early-30 year old guys that were really obnoxious.  They spoke loudly, and their conversation seemlessly flowed between German, Spanish, and English in a way that you just knew that they were changing languages so certain people wouldn’t be able to understand them.  

The trip started out with the long drive up the Atlas Mountains.  We stopped several times to take photos, but it was so foggy that we couldn’t see much.  That is until we reached the crest of the mountains, where small mounds of snow surrounded us.

I found the situation mildly comical and was convinced that our not knowing French or Arabic had caused a mix up.  Surely this cold trip wasn’t what we signed up for when we said we wanted to go to the Sahara.   Poor Veronica was really, really freezing.

Worse yet, was how many turns you have to make to drive up and down a mountain.  I spent a good portion of the morning with my eyes closed and my head pressed tightly against the seat in front of me, because it alleviated the motion sickness.  Some time later, I sat up and was delighted to discover that we were at last surrounded by earthen, orange dust.

And I must say, it looked nothing like the smooth mounds of sand I had imagined.  It was rocky and bumpy and not nearly as pretty as I’d thought it’d be.  Of course, part of that was just the part of the Sahara we were in.

Some time later, our van stopped in a small village on the side of a small mountain.  Veronica and I both bought the kinds of scarfs you wrap around and over your head to keep the sand from getting in your face.   As a result of that experience, I can now officially say that while I can’t tie a tie, I can indeed tie a turban.

We had a little bit of a nerve-wracking encounter with a merchant who tried to get us to walk into his empty restaurant a little bit away from the rest of the group, but Veronica and I backed out right away and it all worked out well.

The next stop was a rural village that has been the site of many films set in the dessert.  I’d provide you with a complete list, but the guy was speaking French, so all I can tell you is that Lawrence of Arabia was taped there, but so were many other movies.

By this point, some major culture shock was setting in, but after eating (albeit a terrible, terrible meal) with a couple in our group from France, I felt much better.

A few hours later, we finally made it back to Marrakesh, just in time to catch the credits to the film rolling in the market square as a part of the city’s 11th annual film festival.

It is difficult to describe the intensity of the chaos going on around us.  Motorcycles weaved between massive groups of people walking in every direction.  While crossing the street on the way to dinner, I was hit in the leg by a biker who didn’t see me.

We heard probably almost as much Spanish in Morocco as we did English.  In fact, we ordered our food in Spanish, because our waiter had a better grip on the language.

After a final glass of fresh orange juice and a short stroll in front of the shops, we headed back to the hostel to call it a night.  I spent my last hour at Marrakesh the next morning on the roof watching the sunrise over the city.

The trip was short, but it ended perfectly.

PS

I just finalized my plans for my final European trip.  Next week, I’m going to Dublin!


Movie moments (Morocco: Part II)

Lest you get the wrong idea from my last post, Morocco was amazing.

Sometimes you have those moments, the kind that are like snapshots from a movie.  I had a day full of those moments on one magical summer day while I was at LI two summers ago and in Paris last October.   One awful night a year ago, I learned that the knee-shaking, nerves thing is legit too.

Friday night was one of those movie moments too.  It was like the opening sequence with credits.  With an inconspicuously dropped jaw and my head bouncing off the roof of the taxi (it was bumpy ride), my eyes darted back and forth at the sights in front of me.  Motorcycles with what looked like big bicycle tires weaved in and out of traffic on the crowded street.  On those little bikes were entire families, with little babies tucked between mom’s chest and dad’s back.

The cab driver tried to speak English, but it was very garbled and I didn’t actually understand anything he said.  But he was still sweet, because he was trying to point out all the sights to us.  The big mosque, the park (which was funny because I thought he was saying the police needed to check out passports), and a few other places.

It was like seeing Notre Dame for the first time, except every direction was a new sight.   You realize that it actually does look like all the photos you’ve seen, because despite all the logic and facts you know, somewhere deep inside of you, that you didn’t even knew existed, it was like you didn’t ever believe that it was really real.

And it is, oh so real.

The nice Moroccan guy with really good English, picked Veronica and I up on the street and walked us to the hostel, which was amazing.  It was all bright and colorful and full of all kinds of travelers.  Between the hostel, the airport, people in the Sahara, the market, and everyplace else we went, we met folks from Britain, Croatia, Hong Kong, Sweden, Norway, Germany, France, Spain, Morocco, and the Czech Republic (I think this list is accurate, can’t recall exactly)

Once in the hostel, we were greeted with fresh Moroccan mint tea.  And I must say, for a girl who’s had tea from seemingly every corner of the planet, I’ve only been able to sallow one type.  That is until I tried Moroccan tea.  It was actually amazing.  Now, I like two teas.

That night, Veronica and I ventured out to the market, which was quite literally almost right outside our door.  I’ve haggled with the best of them down on Canal Street (albeit poorly, but that’s besides the point).  But I’d never been in a market as aggressive as the one in Marrakesh.  Between the vendors, hagglers, merchants, beggars, children, and cat-callers we had to have been harassed by no less than 30 people (though maybe just 15 or so were actually trying to sell us stuff) just that night.

The children and the women would go so far as to come up and physically touch our hands and pull on our shirts.  Men who probably knew no more than 300 English words, certainly had adequate grip on how to insult women.

There’s just something about two tall, pale skinned women walking around the Marrakesh nightlife that just doesn’t blend in.  Can’t beat the couscous or fresh orange juice though.  Our dinner was wonderful.

We had a little scare finding our way back after dinner, but about half a dozen or so 10-year-old little boys helped us find our way.  Thank goodness I had thought to write our address on my hand before I left.

I was a little nervous about the whole hostel experience, just because I’d never been in one before.  But it all worked out wonderfully.  The roof of the building had the most incredible view of the city.  I went up there on the first night and just sat in silence for a few, precious moments.  I gazed at the stars, laid down on the chair, and said a quiet prayer, but the kind without words.


Warning in reverse (Morocco: Part I)

Author’s Note: All proceeding text is based on a 36 trip to Morocco, which though a wonderful experience I do recognize that it was most assuredly the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  

(Apologies to Dad, Mom, Oma, Papa, and whoever else who loves and cares about me and will freak out as they read about my African travels.)  

Let me tell you a secret.

Okay, it’s not a secret, but it’s deeply sentimental.  My family went to Disney World several times when I was a little girl, then we moved to Florida and got season passes.  Then we went all the time.

One of our favorite restaurants was the one in at Epcot…in the World Showcase…in the back…on the left, Restaurant Marrakesh.  It was kind of hidden, and as such, it was often relatively empty.  Several times, my family was literally the only people there, which made it like our special place.  It was where I first ate couscous and Mychelle danced with the belly dancer.

Flash forward 10-15 years to last fall.  I was looking at map and studying the relative position of Spain to the rest of the world, and low and behold, it sat directly atop this country I held such amazing, albeit artificial because I was never really there, memories as a child. I never dreamed I’d be able to actually go there, but here I was in Spain, and it seemed a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity.

Plus, I just wanted to say that I’d been to Africa.

And that was it.  I said I was going and talked Veronica into joining me (not that she needed any convincing).  Morocco was so exotic and foreign and Ryanair flights were about the same as they would be to any Western European country.

Though no one harmed me and I returned to Spain safely with my Moroccan desert scarf in hand, I did put myself in several dangerous situations.  Ones that I would recommend no one else follow my lead on.

Mistake #1 Somewhere along the way (between finals and just generally incoherent schedules), my plan to bring along more people,  failed.    

Mistake #2. The greatest error wasn’t really just in going with one other person, it was in going to an Islamic country…without a male.

The first two mistakes are made doubly important by error number three.

Mistake #3 I did not study the political situation before arriving.  If I had, I would never have gone.  As a result of Moroccan protests connected to the Arab Spring, King Mohammad IV moved up parliamentary elections from 2012 to six days before we arrived.   Additionally, last April, 15 people died in a terrorist attack in Jema El Fna, the busy market square 1 minute away from the hostel I stayed in.

According to the British government, the city of Marrakesh is under a general threat of terrorism and the region I traveled to in the Sahara is under a high threat of terrorism.  A few days before we arrived, two Spaniards and an Italian were kidnapped (although not in the regions I visited).

Thankfully, none of that happened.  Other things did though.  Good things.

lower region of the Atlas Mountains


Not the end (Paris, Part IV)

Friday ended quite idyllically.  I walked through much of what I’d seen the previous morning in the moonlight, just trying to take it all in.

Perhaps most notably, I conquered the fear that has desperately plagued me since New York.  I hate eating alone, so as a result, I often skip out on setting down for a good meal, just because I don’t want a table for one.

That night I ate a multi-course meal at a very fine French restaurant just around the corner from the Eiffel Tower, all by myself.  I sat at the window, and made an evening of it people watching.

The following morning Coralie made a wonderful brunch, over which she and Jean-Baptiste explained to me how the French view American politics.  It was very enlightening.

Macaroon at the airport

The whole trip was wrapping up very nicely, until I got on the bus.  I had just begun typing up notes from the trip in my ipod when the girl next to me made a comment.   She’s a Canadian studying in a city just south of Madrid.  For the next hour on the bus… and then the following three hours at the airport we talked.

…and now Veronica and I aren’t going to Morocco alone anymore.

That’s when I realized that it wasn’t over at all.  It’s just getting started.  So psyched for Marrakesh the first weekend in December, of course I’m going to have to fit Barcelona and Sevilla in sometime before then!

PS

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I never did make it to Nomandy.  Shoot.  I guess that just means I’m going to have to go back to France. 🙂