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A tour of Morocco July 12, 2010

Posted by tcotton6 in Travel Log.
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For our first break on the trip (our ten weeks include 8 that are full, 5 days of class, and 2 weeks free that we can use at our discretion), a group of 9 of us journeyed into Morocco for 6 days. I was not sure what to expect about Morocco; teachers had told me of rich experiences they had had before there, and the mental image in my head of Morocco was mostly composed of clusters of adobe houses and people in robes, insufficient and uninformed. Over our week in Morocco, though, I learned a great amount about that country, as well as a contrasting look into my own culture.

We arrived in Casablanca safely and met our tour guides in the lobby area of the airport. With a trip like this everyone suggests that your group be guided by a professional; guiding one’s self around Morocco gets extremely difficult with the language, road system, driving conditions, and crowded, small streets in the cities all combined. The drivers took us the 3 hour drive into Marrakech and we hazily wandered into the Riad at a little past midnight.

Waking up in the Riad was the real start to the trip for me, seeing as I awoke in a small room that opened to an interior courtyard. A woman from the Riad was splitting rose buds and laying the petals in a fountain in the middle of the courtyard. Most Riads are designed as such, with small rooms surrounding courtyards, which provides for ample natural lighting in all of the rooms as well as shelter from sandstorms and security from the city. We ate breakfast on a breezy roof, looking out over the city starting to wake itself up at 8am. Around Marrakech, we saw several interesting souks (stores lining small alleyways that would in other cultures be referred to as a bazaar), the making of and full stock of Berber, Arabic, Jewish, and Tuareg rugs in a store while being served mint tea (the local hospitality gesture), a local apothecary, and many other facets of the city.

Once we got out of the city, we were struck with the diversity of the terrain and climate regions of the area. A drive up and through the High Atlas mountains proved that Morocco has desserts, dry mountains, forests, river valleys, and more. By this time, we were accompanied by a new tour guide named Said (pronounced Sah- Eed), who was incredibly helpful in helping us understand both the finer details and the larger concepts of Moroccan culture. His grasp on Moroccan history and society was nothing short of what I would consider an adept historian. He took us down between the mountains to a UNESCO heritage site, a well-preserved Kasbah once lived in by the leader of Morocco. We ended the night in what is known as the ‘Hollywood of Morocco’, Ouarzizate, given the moniker since it has held the filming of several big movies (Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, etc.).

We woke to more traveling, taking much more time on the road, but still seeing much on the way. We stopped in one of the river valleys to view a beautiful canyon, with sheer cliffs only separated in some areas by 50-75ft. Following through the end of the mountain range, we ended up at the edge of the Sahara. Leaving our bags and belongings in the van, we rode a line of camels into the desert at sundown: an experience I will surely never forget. Our camelback ride ended at a camp where 3 Berber men cooked a dinner of the local specialties at candlelight: big pieces of bread with soup (the bread was the same everywhere there, about an inch thick in a circular shape, cut into wedges), beef tangine (similar to an American roast beef, with spices, potatoes, carrots, and onions), and chicken cus-cus. That night, we hiked one of the taller dunes and took a look around, only to see a vague grey mass of sand under a thin moon, and a sea of stars above so numerous that I will likely never see the same amount in a sky again. With an absolute dearth of light pollution, one can see every shooting star that comes into the atmosphere. At some points, it is so dark that you can watch satellites stringing around the sky as they circle the earth. Coming down from the dune, we went and sat at the fire while the Berbers sang songs and played drums, sometimes even getting us to join in. We slept on mats under the stars under large camelhair rugs.
With a few hours sleep, we were woken and packed onto the camels for a sunrise ride back to the main camp outside of the desert. We ate breakfast and piled back onto the bus for another long trip. Again, we had many miles to drive and many sights to see, including a cedar forest filled with surprisingly courageous monkeys that would take food right out of your hand. The drive ended in Fes, which in many opinions is the most important city to visit in Morocco, seeing as it has the richest history and still runs as a city very similarly to its original form. Fes offered much of the same activities as Marrakech. We visited a ceramics factory where they taught us how they make the tiles and tile work that line the insides of so many buildings in Morocco. As a my friend Leeland and I stepped back from the guided tour for a second, the workers gave us turns spinning the pottery wheel to make plates as well as a chance to place and decorate a tile mosaic alongside the regular workers. As well, we went to a tannery which used natural dyes to make leathers of all kinds.

Our final day was mostly travel, with a brief stop in Meknes, as well as a tour of the Roman ruins at Voulabilis. We also caught a glimpse of Rabat, the political capitol of the country. We ended in Casablanca, crashing for the night and waking to go to the airport to depart.

In all, the trip was a major success: it revealed a great deal about Moroccan culture and Islamic culture, as well as a contrast to my own background. Without Said, I can’t say that I would have been as well informed about the facets of Morocco that would fly by most tourists, and I thank he and our driver, Hasan, for the brilliant job they did in facilitating our journey. If you get a chance, I would definitely suggest taking a trip to Morocco or another North African country.




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