Monday, June 24, 2013

Almost "Here's looking at you, kid" - trip to Fes, Chefchaouen, and Marrakech, Morocco

“Travelling, one accepts everything; indignation stays at home. One looks, one listens, one is roused to enthusiasm by the most dreadful things because they are new. Good travellers are heartless.” 
― Elias CanettiThe Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit

I've wanted to go to Morocco ever since I saw Casablanca on TNT late one night in high school.  The food, the camels, the desert, its friendly relations with the US, and the fact that most Moroccans can speak French in addition to Arabic made me feel that no trip would be better than a trip to exotic Morocco.

Sherrie, who has traveled the world extensively, brought up the idea of going to Morocco, since I would only be a short ways away in Spain.  I said YES without even thinking twice.  We decided to celebrate her 30th birthday in Barcelona and then head off to Morocco, just the two of us, sans Billy and Desmond, for an entire week.  A week!!!  It's the longest I had ever left Desmond, but I really couldn't pass up the opportunity to go, right?  I mean, MOROCCO!!!!  So, we bought our ticket to Malaga, and then a bus ride to Tarifa took us to the ferry that would take us to Tanger, at the very tip of Africa.

Mountains, in Morocco?  Who would have thought?  The view coming in from Spain (despite my having seasickness) was breathtaking.  I was expecting sand dunes and I got Utah-style mountains.  It shook me up a bit to have my long-held presuppositions about Moroccan terrain shattered.  In a good way!

We had read over and over how we, as women travelers, had to be very careful while traveling through Morocco.  The guidebooks all said to expect unwanted attention from male shop owners and taxi drivers, so we were definitely on our guard stepping out of the ferry.  Almost immediately, we were approached by a man wearing a badge.  He asked us what we were looking for and I blurted out, "un gran taxi, s'il vous plait."  Sherrie grabbed my hand and started pulling me away from the guy.  He shouted behind us, "Wait, wait!  I will take you to one!  Very good price!"  Unfortunately, he kept on following us, indicating that we could change our money at this place and that the taxi driver standing right outside of it was very good and reputable.  We asked him what he charged to take us to Chefchaouen (chef-chow-en) (a town not reachable by train and about 1.5 hours away from Tanger).  He quoted us 90 Euros and showed us a questionable printed piece of paper with rates on it.  Sherrie grabbed my hand harder this time and before I could even say, "La, Chokran," she just said "No." and we started walking away.  Needless to say, thanks to Sherrie, we found a sweet guy named Chikri to take us to Chefchaouen for 50 Euros.

The Riad where we stayed in Chefchaouen.  A riad is a traditional Moroccan home that has been converted into a B&B or hotel.  

Chefchaouen (or Chaouen, as the locals call it) is a city whose Medina is painted in blue.  It used to be inhabited primarily by Jews (hence the blue) and is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to spend the day there, but it means that there is something left to go back to in Morocco.  As Sherrie says, always leave something undone in a country so that you can always justify coming back.

Although not fun to walk around in the rain, the lack of sunlight and all of the gray from the mist and clouds made the colors really pop in such a beautiful way.

Women and men in Morocco wear what is called a djellaba, a long robe with a hood on it.  The men's djellabas are plain and usually white, gray, black, or beige.  Women's djellabas are a different story: they are very colorful and ornate, with beading and stitching.  

I love my Toms shoes, but they are the WORST for walking around slick streets in the rain.

We were so sad to leave Chefchaouen but were equally as excited to be heading to Marrakech (via a 7 hour train ride).  Marrakech is known as the gateway to the Sahara Desert.  We were going to book a Sahara tour, complete with camels and Berber tents, but the cost was prohibitive as well as the time (one day journey to and from and only one day in the desert).
We were surprised at how green and hilly the area between Chefchaouen and Fes was.  I never dreamed that Morocco would be green.  

Our Toms shoes on their way to being dry.

Muslim architecture is so beautiful, so grand, and yet so simple and elegant.  This is the entrance to the train station in Fes.  

The station in Marrakech.  I mean, seriously, this is THE nicest train station I've ever seen.  The bathrooms were impeccable.
 When we got to Marrakech, we were met by our host (who also served as our guide), Amine.  He redid a riad in the medina of Marrakech (medina means old city) and asked, with what I think may have been a worried undertone, if we were sure that we wouldn't want to sleep in separate beds.  I answered that no, we were just fine sleeping together and then remembered that in Morocco, homesexuality is illegal and quickly proceeded to tell him that I had a husband and child at home.

The breakfast we had waiting for us the next morning on Amine's terrace.  We had these amazing crepes  (I think they're called mlaui...I'm not sure how to spell it) and the most delicious black olives I've ever tasted.  Also, Moroccans are crazy about their mint tea.  They usually just brew regular black or green tea and then pour it over a sizable sprig of mint.  It is very, very sweet and you have to stand and pour the tea a considerable distance from the cups.  It took some practice.

Our guide, Amine, guiding us through the Medina.  In Marrakech, most of the buildings are pink.  It makes the entire city look very desertish.  Since I have never been fond of the desert (the real desert, not the Aladdin desert that I always dreamed Morocco would be like), the lack of green in Marrakech really got to me.  

The cool thing about (and problem with) a lot of Middle-Eastern, Arab architecture is that there is beautiful designs EVERYWHERE, especially on the ceilings.  

While walking through the city, you would get these amazing whiffs of  orange blossom from all of the  orange trees in bloom.

Ugh, tourists :)

Like I said, gorgeous ceilings.

Jamaa al Fna is the name of the largest market in Marrakech.  

Women making henna.

One of the few pictures we have with our guide.  Notice how he's wearing a sweater and scarf and I'm dying to take my leggings off, modesty be damned.

This was a shop that was selling kids' clothes.  Notice anything creepy?  I wonder if the owner intended to convey a message.

The largest mosque in Marrakech.  People who aren't Muslim are not allowed into the mosques, a decision passed into law by the French government when Morocco was a French protectorate.

Another smaller mosque.

Sherrie and I learned how to make our own Moroccan tagine for dinner.

Fulfilling one of Sherrie's lifelong dream.  Me?  I could've lived the rest of my life not having ridden a camel.

This camel seriously almost ate my head because I was in its way to the food.

During our hike in the Atlas mountains.

Eating more tagine right next to a river in the Atlas mountains.
 Although Marrakech was a completely new experience for me, I was happy to finally be leaving.  The vendors and men in the marketplace were really aggressive and I hated having to haggle prices with everyone.  I'm too nice and think that the prices are really cheap for my standards.  But Sherrie  made sure that we always haggled...and she could haggle like a Berber (which I guess is a compliment!).  I worried that Fes would be just the same, but I was surprised to see that it was so different.

The city of Fes is sand-colored, which may seem dull but it actually was really beautiful set against the lush green background of the surrounding area.

This is a view of the tanneries in Fes.  If you go to Fes, you'll have to visit strictly for the experience.  The stench is incredible.  In the white vats, they use lye and pigeon poop to take the hair out of the skins.

These vats are where they start dying the skins.

See what we're holding?  sprigs of mint leaves that we would hold up to our noses every so often to cover the smell.  We smelled like the tanneries for the rest of the day.

The medina in Fes is completely different than the one in Marrakech.  It is more labyrinthine in general, but more specifically, the people there aren't as aggressive as they were in Marrakech.

A view of the Medina of Fes.  It was really the most surreal experience to hear the call to prayer from all of the mosques (the green-roofed buildings in the picture are places of religious learning and/or mosques).  

Eating snails.  Not my favorite thing in the world, but it wasn't horrible.

Getting henna on our hands.

The palace in Fes.

With our wonderful french hosts, Catherine and Danielle.

They took us to the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis.

Right near to Volubilis is Moulay Idris, the town made famous because of Moulay Idris, who brought Islam to Morocco. Notice the shape of the town: it looks like a camel.
And that was our trip to Morocco.  It was nothing I expected to be, yet I was happily surprised when I experienced it.  And I'm so happy that I experienced it with one of my best friends and that we did it all by ourselves.  I'm happy that I took a few Arabic lessons before we moved so that I could kind of communicate and kind of understand what was being said.  I'm not sure if I would go with Desmond, at least not until he is older, for fear that I would lose him in the maze of the medina or he would get run down by the multitude of motorcycles being ridden through the small alleyways of the medinas.  

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