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Archive for the ‘Morocco’ Category

Without photos this post will seem woefully incomplete but I promise to add them as soon as I have a funcional computer back in the states!

This past weekend I went with two friends to Marrakesh, Morocco–a trip unlike any other I´d experienced.  My travel companions were my friend Caroline, a girl in my program, and a friend of hers from class, Eirini, who is from Athens (Greece not Georgia) and is studying Spanish in Barca for the semester after having already completed her bachelor´s and master´s in England.  At first I (and my parents, I´m sure) was hesitant about not having a male traveling with us (after having some organizational mishaps in which the original guy who was going on our trip had to back out), but suprisingly the trip was smooth without any major problems pertaining to our sex.

We flew from Barcelona to Casablanca on Saturday (a short 2 hour flight) and upon immediately getting off the plane, my senses pricked up and I took note of my different surroundings.  For although Morocco is considered one of the most modern and westernized countries in the Muslim world, there were still no shortages of burqas, hijabs, and traditional dress.  We were so lucky to have Eirini with us for we learned she spoke French–a real necessity as it turned out.  She bargained beautifully with our cab driver at the airport to take us to the train station (where we would take a train from Casablanca to Marrakesh).  Starving, we tried to find food but the train station was literally in the middle of nowhere so we found a dilapidated corner store and bought Moroccan potato chips and butter cookies.  At this point I was still on my guard, unadjusted to my new surroundings and I was afraid that we really stood out with our fair skin, light hair, and Western dress.  But no one made any comments to us and we had an easy train ride, riding first class for the equivalent of only €14!  Once we arrived in Marrakesh, the owners of our hotel arranged for us to have a pick up and thank goodness we did because it was one less thing to worry about.  Arriving after dark, I marveled at the sights of Marrakesh, including the crazy drivers who seemed neither to obey traffic laws nor use traffic signals, with cars darting in front of one another, cutting each other off as motorbikes whizzed by, narrowly avoiding nicking another car.  We stayed in a lovely Riad, Riad Miski, owned by a French ex-pat couple, Francis and Christine.  Once the van arrived, we got off in a little square where people were milling about, men were pulling carts with donkeys, and children were running around.  The driver helped escort us to the Riad, which consisted of walking down a dark, narrow, and very spooky street in the Medina (or old walled city).  Thankfully I´d been tipped off by guidebooks not to get alarmed as most riads were just as hidden and hard to find as ours.  Once we arrived at the riad and met the owners, we noticed how beautiful and charming it was and how it opened up into a central courtyard with a terrace on top.  Our suite was lovely and had some traditionally Moroccan elements.  Tired, we were thankful that they had prepared a dinner for us.  After telling me that the chef had already left but “we´ll see what we can do” I was shocked at the wonderful meal we had before us: mint tea, eggplant spread, sweetly-seasoned tomato spread, salad, Moroccan pita-type bread, chicken tagine (a Moroccan stew), and a crispy bread dessert with a sweet dairy or cheese on top followed by dates and more tea!  Everyone was so welcoming and, true to form, the Middle Eastern hospitality was in full force.

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After breakfasting on the terrace, Christine escorted us to the main plaza, the Jemaa al Fna, which during the day is home to acrobats, henna artists, snake charmers (yes, real snake charmers), spice sellers, and juice vendors.  At night it becomes a crazy scene with loads of food stalls and other entertainment in addition to that during the day.  She also took us around the crazy labyrinth of the souk or bazaar, where you could find everything from scarves, lamps, hookahs, spices, jewelry, rugs, leatherware, and other decorations.  She took us to some vendors she knew who gave us a good price for spices and scarves.  She then left us to go meet some arriving guests and the three of us girls were on our own.  Though it was not high tourist season, there was a significant presence of tourists, which meant that we were not accosted too much.  The vendors were not too aggressive and a simple “no merci” usually did the trick.  As three unaccompanied girls, we surprisingly never felt too unsafe nor uncomfortable.  After leaving the souk, we visited an old (but no longer operational) madrassa, or Islamic school that instructed young boys in Islam and the Coran.  It was a beautiful old building with lots of small rooms where you could picture the boys hunched over reciting coranic verses.  Next we saw the Koutoubia Mosque, though non-muslims are not allowed to enter inside (I don´t know why…some mosques permit other faiths to go in).  Afterwards we visited the stunning and recently re-opened La Mamounia hotel for a cup of tea (that´s all we could afford), which I believe is owned by the Moroccan royal family.  This hotel was majorly luxurious and also very westernized as there were women lounging poolside in bikinis and couples drinking alcohol.  Next we indulged ourselves and took a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city, stopping at the Majorelle Gardens which have plants from 5 continents and are now financed by the Yves St. Laurent Estate (who knew?)

Afterwards we bargained some more in the souk before having a dinner of tagine and cous-cous at a restaurant overlooking the Jemma al Fna.

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The next morning Christine had kindly arranged for us to take a day trip to the Marrakeshi desert and we met our guide, Frederic, in front of the KFC (ha).  Like Francis and Christine, Frederic was also a French ex-pat who decided to move his whole family from Paris to Marrakesh.  After buying a riad and some horses, he was horseback riding in the desert one evening when he discovered a real, nature-made oasis.  After tracking down the owner, he bought the property and has developed it (minimally), christening it Le Pause.  He has made rustic-chic villas (beautiful and traditional furniture with minimal electricity but modern plumbing)  and luxury tents for guests to both dine in and sleep in. After exploring the property, we got to ride some camels!  Funny creatures.  The most exciting part of the camel ride was when they stand up or sit down for you to mount on or off as their spindly legs cause a little jolt.  After our camel trek we had another great Moroccan meal of more eggplant, tomato, and carrot spreads with warm bread, lamb tagine, and a chocolate cake for dessert.

We left Le Pause as the sun set in the desert, to return to the bustling city.  We had to leave the great Riad Miski as they didn´t have rooms available that night and we went to another riad nearby, Riad Puchka, which was quite an adventure.  It was more traditional-looking than the other (which was cool, I suppose) but did not seem as nice.  The owners are actually Americans but seem to have minimal involvement.  We had some communication problems with the guy staffing the place but then decided (after Eirini desperately tried to communicate with him in her perfect French) that he was high on hash.  Luckily the place was fine and safe, so after our big lunch we just tuckered down and ´feasted´on peanut butter sandwiches (which I had schlepped from Barca via Chicago) and clementines.

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The next day we spent an onerous 12 hours traveling back to Barcelona, first taking another train from Marrakesh to Casablanca and then another from the train station to the airport before getting on our plane.  Finally home, I was exhausted but had to cram for my final in History of Islam (how appropriate!) which luckily is over and done with.

It´s incredible that I only have two weeks left in this great city.  I´m filled with such mixed emotions–both excited to be coming home and sad to leave…

At last!  Photos!

Our Riad, the lovely Riad Miski

The souk

Spices

Lanterns in the Souk

The courtyard of the old Madrassa

My friend in front of an arch in the Madrassa

A view from their reflecting pool

Outside the luxurious La Mamounia Hotel

The Koutoubia Mosque

The Berber-style tent we ate lunch in at Le Pause Oasis

Camel riding

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