Long awaited Morocco post! (apologies for how long it is. :p)
I decided to make my life easier I would go through a tour group for this trip. Some of the other auxiliares went to Lagos, Portugal with a group called DiscoverSevilla and absolutely loved it, so when they announced a trip to Morocco I signed up right away. It was an all inclusive 5 day excursion for only 399 Euros! Awesome deal! The only extra expenses were for shopping (which I did my fair share of) and drinks. Since the group is based out of Sevilla I had to take the train there from Almeria, which means I had to miss school. I decided to take the early train to have some free time in Sevilla, I left Almeria at 9am and got to Sevilla at 4:30, but since Sevilla is literally the most confusing city and even though the hostel I was staying at is a straight shot from the train station I still got lost. Haha. But when I finally got settled I had just enough time to go to the Plaza de España, one of the most beautiful sights in Sevilla, and something my parents and I didn't get to see when they were here. After that I headed back to the hostel to meet up with some other auxiliares staying at the same hostel who were also going on the trip. We had a really good final Spanish meal before venturing into the world of Moroccan food.
|Last Spanish dish for a week. :)|
|Plaza de España|
The actual Moroccan part of the trip started crazy early (3am) Saturday morning. Since so many of us were in the 10 bed hostel room (with 1 bathroom) we had to wake up super early so we could meet the bus at 4:30am. By the time we got all the luggage and everyone situated in the bus we left Sevilla at 5am for our 2 and a half hour drive to Tarifa. Once we got there we got our passports stamped and got on the ferry to go through the Straight of Gibraltar. The ferry advertises that it is only 35 minutes, but it took a very shakey/not even a little bit fun hour to get there. Needless to say, everyone felt A LOT better when we were back on land in Tangiers. Getting off the boat was funny because I am pretty sure everyone said at least once: “Guys! We're in Africa!” After that we got our passports stamped again and headed for the banks outside to convert money which took FOREVER.
We finally left the port and headed for Rabat after everyone was finished, we ate lunch at this nice restaurant by the beach. The staff prepared a traditional meal that is usually only served at special occasions, it was a philo dough wrapped pie thing with chicken inside, which smelled like funnel cake. I had what turned out to be my staple dish of the trip, cous cous and vegetables.
After lunch we headed into Rabat to go to the Hassan Mosque, which is two mosques, one old and one new combined into one. The old one, consisting of the columns, the tower and the wall is from the 12th century and the new one called the Mausoleum of Mohammed V is more modern. The old one was intentionally left incomplete after the Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour died in 1199. There are speakers in the old tower that call everyone to prayer in the Mausoleum, so both parts are connected making it one Mosque.
|View of the tower of the old mosque.|
|Columns from the old mosque, and the new mosque.|
Our next stop in Rabat was the Kasbah of the Udayas. Named for the tribe that settled in Rabat in the 12th century the Kasbah was a fortress used to protect themselves against other tribes. It was destroyed once by a tribe called the Almohads, who started rebuilding it in 1150AD adding a palace and a mosque. The project was abandoned with the death of Yacoub al-Mansour. The fortress was left unused until the 17th century when thousands of exiled Arabs (from Spain) returned to Morocco and moved into the Kasbah. They wanted it to be like the living arrangements they had in Spain so it has very similar architecture/colors to Andalucia (hence the white and blue walls).
|Inside the Kasbah|
After we were done touring around Rabat we drove to Fez where we stayed for the night. We were all really REALLY glad to not be on the bus, it was definitely a long day. The next day was another really long driving day as we headed towards the Sahara desert. It was an absolutely beautiful drive. None of us knew that Morocco had such different landscapes, we went through places that looked like Ireland, places that looked like Kansas, places that looked like the Northeastern US, places that looked like the Rocky Mountains, and of course, the desert.
|Outside the University|
|Our surprise from the guides was a stop to feed the apes.|
We stopped at the Xaluca hotel which is this really awesome 5 star hotel in the middle of the desert. We were greeted with music, dancing and a traditional tea ceremony.
We didn't have that much time though, because we all had to put on as much clothes as possible for our night in the desert. So, once everyone was settled we put our main bags into a van so they could go to the hotel that we would spend the next day at, and we loaded up our over night bags into Land Rovers. The ride in the Land Rovers was so much fun, we started off on the road but then turned off to go the much more fun way (off roading) through the rocky desert. It was about 45 minutes in total (and in the dark) to where we met our camels to take us through the sandy desert to our “oasis.” This camel ride was only about 20 minutes so it wasn't too bad, it was scary going in the dark though, and my camel, which I named Eugene, decided that he liked to go down the dunes sideways which always made me feel like I was going to fall off.
|Eugene and me. :)|
|Dinner by candlelight|
I put oasis in quotations because it was not really what people would think of as an oasis. It was a bunch of tents in a circle with a bathroom tent (not even going to go into how gross that was) about 20 yards away. When we first got there we picked out a tent and then headed to the middle of the circle to hang out while the rest of the group rode their camels in. Once everyone was there we at dinner in the big tent by candlelight. It was a tight squeeze getting everyone in, but it was fun. After dinner we went outside again and sat around the bonfire and watched our Berber hosts play music and dance. Some people stayed up late and some (like me and one of my friends) went to bed early so we could get up to see the sunrise. It was a REALLY cold night. Like a lot colder than we all thought it would be. I was wearing a cami, 2 long sleeve shirts, 2 fleece jackets, a hoodie, a beanie, gloves, scarf, yoga pants, jeans and 3 pairs of socks, sleeping under 2 pretty heavy blankets and I was still shivering most of the night. And if you know me, you know that I love the cold, so just imagine what it was like for the non-Coloradans. :p
|Colleen modeling our tent|
One of the guides said he would wake everyone up in time for the sunrise, but no one heard him, so luckily I heard some people talking outside and decided to see what time it was. It was 6:05 and the sun was supposed to rise at 6:40 so my friend /tentmate Colleen got up and headed for a dune outside of camp. The others in the group who woke up for the sunrise attempted to go up the big dune behind the camp, but we headed out front to a smaller one and still got an incredible view. It was totally a Lion King sunrise. Haha. We got some amazing pictures while listening to the camels making some crazy noises.
After the sunrise we headed back to camp to drink some tea and get ready to leave. Once everyone was back from the big dune we got back on the camels for our 2 hour (really painful) ride to another really nice desert hotel where we spent the day relaxing. I spent a good chunk of time napping in the sun by the pool. :) After lunch most of us went on a walk with the guides to a desert town. We walked through the gardens and were able to see how they are watered. It was really interesting.
|Sahara Desert farming|
|Water channels, which are blocked off with sand until they need them|
When we got back we watched the sunset on the dunes and watched some kids do flips off the dunes. After that we headed back in the Land Rovers to the Xaluca hotel where we were greeted with people playing instruments on the roof! We settled in to our awesome rooms and had some free time to explore the hotel before our buffet dinner. My roommates and I were excited to have a nice warm bed to sleep in so we went to bed pretty early.
The next day we said good bye to the desert and made the long journey back to Fez. It was essentially a repeat the day going to the desert, but with different movies in the bus. :p Since it was our last actual night in Morocco there was a party in the hotel bar, we were told that there would be a belly dancer, but most of us gave up and went to bed before she arrived. My roommate, Kirstie, and I decided that watching BBC news and talking about the toilet situation in India was more fun than the party. :p
The next morning we left early to head to the Medina in Fez. The Medina is a UNESCO world heritage site and is just overwhelmingly awesome. It was founded in the 9th century, it has the worlds oldest university, mosques, palaces, residences and lots of other things. It is all surrounded by a wall and once you get inside it really feels like a different world. The streets are really small and everyone is dressed a lot more conservatively than on the outside. There are a ton of stores where you can buy literally everything you would ever need/want. We started by going through and looking at what there was. We stopped in front of an orange vendor where our tour guide explained how trusting everyone is in the Medina. For example, if you needed some eggs or something but didn't have the money right away to pay for it, the vendor would give you what you needed knowing that you would pay when you could, but if you never ended up paying, everyone in the Medina would know and never sell to you.
|We had to share the really narrow roads with donkeys, pushcarts, horses and other things.|
We stopped by a public bakery and saw them making bread. We walked past so many fabric stores that I really wanted to stop in, but we were pressed for time.
|Inside the public bakery|
The first place we stopped in was the leather tannery. Before we went up to the top floor to see look at everything the store owner gave us some mint to smell because leather tanning smells really bad. It's a really interesting process though, everything is all natural. The hides start in a bath of ammonia, made from pigeon poop, where they stay for over a month to make them really soft. After that they are moved into the colored baths where they stay for 2 weeks. The colors are all made from plants, green from mint, purple from lavender.... After the store owner finished explaining the process we got to shop around. I bought a pink camel leather shoulder bag for 700 Dirham (about 63 euros). After I paid for that the owner took me downstairs to look at jackets. I ended up getting a really nice brown (camel leather) one for 2000 Dirham. Crazy awesome deal I think because its all hand made. As I was walking upstairs I realized that I left my credit card in the bus. I apologized to the owner and said that I couldn't get it. I expected him to just put the jacket away but he said “oh its ok, just take it. I will come to the bus with the credit card machine.” I was blown away. Even though our guide said that they are really trusting, I had no idea that they would trust some random foreigner with a 2000 dirham jacket. Really cool.
After that we headed to the spice store which was really fun! They explained some typical Moroccan spices and teas, let us smell all of them and then we bought some. I got lemon cumin, Moroccan curry, spicy pepper stuff, tea and saffron. Everything but the saffron was 20 dirhams, and the saffron was 5 grams for 100 dirhams AKA 10 euros!!! So cheap!!
We went to the scarf store next and got to see the men working the looms. Big tapestries/bed covers/table cloths take 4 days to make. I really wanted one but was running low on cash at this point so I bought a purple and silver silk scarf.
We had our last real meal in Morocco after that (more cous cous for me) and then a bit of free time. Some people got henna, some people went jewelry shopping. I use the rest of my 47 dirham to buy a present for my secret santa at school. After that we headed back to the bus for our drive to Tangers and our (thankfully) very calm ferry ride. We got back to Sevilla at about 3:15 am and all checked in to the hostel by about 3:45. I stupidly bought a train ticket for the wrong day so I had to leave at 11am to get that situation figured out, but I ended up sitting with a young girl and her father on the train so she learned how to say all the colors of her crayons in English. :p I got back to Almeria at 5:30 and relaxed after such a crazy whirlwind week. :p