Sounds so exotic doesn't it? Maybe the first thing that comes to mind is Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (if not it's okay, I did not know they were the stars of the movie Casablanca either). In fact the entire movie of Casablanca was shot in Los Angeles, and even though I've never seen the movie, I highly doubt it looks much like anything does here in Casablanca, or anything else in Morocco. Morocco is the most abnormal place I've ever been in my life. I loved it but could never imagine living here, it was as beautiful as it was depressing.
It was also very exhausting. I was a total foreigner at all times. Everything was new and different, my brain worked over time just analyzing everything. At times it seemed I always on guard, whether it was to keep a guy from putting a snake around my neck or a monkee on my arm, or just constantly standing out so much and being so different from others. Don't get me wrong, I'd never take back a single moment I had here, it was all so eye opening, and I think I met some of the nicest people, whether it was the owner of the hookah/mint tea bar that we frequented here in Casablanca, or the man who stopped his car in the middle of the busiest street in Casablanca to get out, shake our hands, and welcome us to his country, and gave us help in finding the post office that we had no luck in finding until he showed up.
Morocco was initially the country I was most excited for. I took an Arabic Culture course last spring quarter at OSU, so I was eager to see what I had learned in class with my own eyes. I found no class could ever really prepare you for the actual experience, though I was glad to see so much of the Islamic religion. The class was taught by a Lebanese grad assistant (maybe 25ish) who taught us a lot about the Islamic religion since that makes up so much of what is the Arabic culture, so I have a lot of respect for it (and it was a she, and she put a great effort into showing that what Westerners may see as gender inequality is not perceived in the same way by the Islamic religion. But being able to see first hand the dedication of the followers, listening to the calls to prayer, and seeing people just stop in the middle of a plaza and use cardboard and begin their prayers while facing Mecca was so rewarding to see first hand.
But I digress, I'll just write the breakdown of my days here to give you an idea of it...
So as I wrote about earlier, I had dock time in Casablanca. It was nice, the ship was practically our own, so Kelly, Daphne, Hans, and myself all sat by the pool for awhile reminising about our train misadventure the previous day, and listening to stories coming back from everyone who went out. Just to reiterate how exhausting the country was on all of us students, just about everyone piled off the ship between 2 and 4, and about 75 percent of them were back on between 5 and 7, mainly because the just had to get back in their comfort zones (the ship is now totally home for all of us, when I'm sleeping in a crappy hostel bed, I'm thinking of my cabin with a great bed and a hot shower with clean water). So we became really apprehensive about the country very quickly. When my dock time finally ended, I just wanted to get off the boat for a little bit, just to get a taste, so all I did was go up the main street for maybe two blocks, and went into a hookah bar and smoked some hookah and had mint tea. Hookah was good, and mint tea was amazing. It's a combination of mint tea, green tea, and hot water with what can only be an entire cube of sugar dropped in. VERY good and very sweet. It's a diabetics nightmare and slowly yet surely turned all of us into diabetics. But that basically wrapped up that first night there in Casablanca, no real problems for me. I went in for bed and to get ready for the big trip that began the next morning, a Semester at Sea sponsored trips, 4 days and 3 nights of adventure...
So the day started off early, our bus departing for Marrakech at 830 in the morning (about 3-4 hours driving). This was ride was my first glance of Casablanca close up during the day. It was dirty. Trash was everywhere, modern buildings were built right up against some pretty slum looking areas, and if there was a place for trash to accumulate, it accumulated there. There was some very cool architecture in some areas, and our tour guide told of us how Moroccans like think that they are a people on the move, progressing towards a modern future, so the cities resemble this pretty well. These construction projections on the outside were grand in scale at times, but you could see wherer right next to them a little slum village was created to accomadate the construction workers. Getting outside of the city, things kept getting different. From the highway I could see huge, beauitful villas for the affluent, but slums right next to them. So of course the solution is to build huge walls around those villas. Getting more rural the farm homes(?) were adobe like, and I could saw a lot of donkeys moving goods and people around. How frustrating must it be to see this highway which most likely divided their farms with these cars zooming by and doing what their day long trip takes in 2 minutes? I remember one of the people in our group later on lifted his camera to take a picture of a man and his son riding on a carriage being pulled by a donkey. He immediately covered his sons eyes and shook his finger saying "no no no" to the guy who was about to take the picture. Luckily the guy hand enough to sense to not take the picture and respect the mans wishes, and it was obvious this man did not appreciate being a "curiousity" for his poor welfare. I was more moved by the fact that he covered his sons eyes in some attempt to not let his son yet realize his unprivlidged position. Like I said, a depressing place at times.
So we got into Marrakech I were dropped off right at the Djemaa el Fna, the main square which you've probably seen before, as it's one of the busiest in the world, and leads into the largest souk (market) in Morocco. It was CRAZY. Mind you this was daytime when we arrived, and the square is basically dead. Still, there was snake charmers (my friend Ross was maybe thisclose to getting bit by a King Cobra that he didn't notice was in attack position), trained monkees (who knocked off my glasses after being thrown onto my arm, which led me to angrily explaining to the monkee's master why no means no), random gambling games, and all sorts of food and music. I went into the souk with some others, and was introduced to the art of bartering. Odds are, everything in there was imported from China for 10 cents a piece, but bartering for stuff is so foreign to us we couldn't stop. It was great to compare prices that people got for things, they fluctuated so much. I got two pieces of art for 220 durhams, only for Kelly to buy an even better painting right after me for only 90 durham (I got screwed!). So we then went into a restaurant by the souk, and had couscous, fresh vegetables, baked dates (the dates here are delicious) and an all around great meal, the first of many.
We went back to the hotel, which was quite nice for Moroccan standards and took a swim in the pool and had a few beers before dinner. Beers can basically only be bought at hotels, and the pools are always in an inter courtyard so the locals cannot see anyone baring so much flesh. But we went that night back to the souk, and after following are tour guide for half an hour between the maze of walls in the souk, got to our dinner destination. Outside it looked so sketch, but inside it was a beautifully restored former Moorish house with nice lighting throughout it and a beatiful courtyard that we all ate around. THE BEST CHICKEN OF MY LIFE. Chicken tangiers. It fell of the bone, was so tender, the sauce was so delicious. I was in heaven. We all talked about this meal for days, in fact typing this now I am talking to my friend about how delicious this meal was. WOW. Bellydancers came through, the one was beautiful and enchanting, the other apparently liked the chiken tangiers as well. That night I passed out in food coma back at the hotel contently.
So we started out 9 hour drive (without stops) at like 8 in the morning. Marrakech is much cleaner than Casablanca, it's called the pink city for the color of all the buildings in the city. You'd see some sad attempts at parks ( I shouldn't say sad but well, they were not that nice) and I loved seeing kids playing soccer in the sand or basketball. So the drive took us into the Atlas Mountain range, the highest, longest, and widest in North Africa. The highway was so narrow, and we were constantly on the side of cliffs, one false move by the driver we were all done for. But we survived. Eventually we then came onto the Draa Valley, just an oasis of date palm trees that stretched for a few hours as the highway continued weaving along the mountains on the side of that valley. It was quite the scenic drive. We made stops along the way, the lunch stop was again an amazing meal. Couldn't really even describe what it was, but basically everything is slow roasted so the meat is always so tender and delicious. We went through the town Ouarzazate, Morocco's Hollywood. We saw some studios, and are guide told us how Laurence of Arabia, Star Wars, The Mummy 1 and 2, Gladiator, Kingodm of Heaven, Alexander, Babel, etc. were all filmed here (I'm totally name dropping yes).
We went a little ways to get to the dunes of the Sahara Desert. Yes the dunes, sand everywhere, it was amazing, and we totally watched the sun set over the dunes. I can't really even describe that in words so I'm not going to bother, but I'll never forget that.
So it was dark when we finally arrived at our Nomad camp, and they greeted us by singing songs in Berber (Moroccan's learn Arabic and Berber in school, Berber is the language native to the Morocco). The songs were pretty entrancing, and the village was authetic. We all claimed tents, 6 people to a tent, and then went back for mint tea and then just sat with the Nomads as the sang to us. The loved to get us to all dance together, or when the girls would try to imitate the unique yells the Nomad women would make. So it was quite engaging. It was then that a guy informed me ( I was wearing an OSU t-shirt and Ebony's Buckeye necklace) that OSU was up 26-17 at halftime. I was stunned, thinking it was an eight o'clock kick off. I was then stunned to thing of all my friends at home at the game or watching it on tv, and in an instant was incredibly home sick. The next instant I realized I was in the Sahara Desert dancing with Nomads and the homsickness vanished. Two opposite ends of the spectrum in every way.
So I won't go too much into detail about that incredible night, but beetles about the size of my fist kept popping up in everyones tents so just about everyone slept on the carpets in the center of the camp under the Sahara sky. Nothing beats waking up in the middle of the night to dead silence and pitch blackness except for the ten million stars in the sky. It was nothing short of amazing...
So we woke up, had breakfast of honey and bread in the main tent, and hopped on our camels. The camel trek took about an hour and half, through villages and palm tree groves and then desert areas. It was so easy to picture myself doing what people did a thousand years ago, for I don't think we saw one automotive vehicle the whole time. My ass hurts still from the damn camel, but it was worth it. We all felt like we were getting ready to invade the main village we were heading towards since there was about 90 camels heading towards there. We were quite the curiousity for the locals since I don't think they had ever seen so many camels together. The kids were the best, usually waving a chasing after us for a bit.
After the trek, we began our bus ride to the Marakech and the same hotel. Lunch again was delicious, and the bus ride was just rediculous. No one showered ( we didn't have the option in a nomad camp!), we all smelled and the smell of camels lingered with us. So we finally got to Marakech, took showers and relaxed with a few beers and eventually that night found a nice bar ontop of a swanky hotel that overlooked much of Marrakech. We checked out the main plaza that night as well, at night. Totally different, fully of life and food, and just a mast amount of humanity throughout it.
I'm rushing through this blog post because I have homework to do. So day we went to the square to get some more items in the souks, and checked out the local supermarket. The drive back to Casablanca was nice just to finally arrive and see the ship again, and I mainly just stayed in and looked for friends to catch up with, and I was so glad to sleep in my bed again that night in my cabin (after of course I spent an hour showering all the sand off me, flossing, shaving, brushing my teeth, etc etc). I felt so fresh and so clean clean.
Today I had a nice Western breakfast on the ship, omlettes and potatoes mm, and headed with a group to the Hassan II mosque, the 3rd largest in the world here in Casablanca By ettiqute, no mosque can be bigger than the mosques in Mecca and Medina, so this is about as big as they can get. It was a beautiful place, and we luckily got on an English tour of it, and our guide was quite charasmatic. The building can hold 20,000 worshippers on the first level and another 5,000 on the second level. Outside in the plaza area around the mosque, another 80,000 worshippers can be accomodated. Inside and outside it was amazing, it's only about 10-15 years old. A majority of it as actually built on piers so it lies right over the ocean.
After this a few of us, Alexa, Amanda, Nick and Kailin headed for lunch (chicken tangier of course, though not quite as good as the first one), and then went to get mint tea at a favorite spot for all of us SAS kids. After that, we spent FOREVER looking for a post office and stamps, and luckily got those sent out since I couldn't get any sent out in Spain.
So some of you should be expecting some cool postcards in the next week or so. If you don't get one, it's probably because I don't have your address. Just email me your address and I promise to get you one, it's really dirt cheap so don't worry about that.
So it's 11:15 pm as I finish this, I have class at 8am tomorrow, which will be quite hard after 2 weeks of Spain and Morocco, but I guess that's life on the ship. I think I have 4 chapters to read so yeaaaaaa, that's not happening. Miss all and see you in a few months!