I had signed up for a SAS trip to the SOS Children’s Village, so as soon as we docked in Casablanca on the 9th, I got off the ship and onto the bus. The differences between Spain and Morocco could be seen immediately! The port in Spain was nice and pretty and everything was really close to the port. But in Morocco, the port was very dirty and industrial with lots of crates and cargo ships. The air was full of dust, and it was HOT. Regardless I was excited to be there and see the country.
The first stop of the day was at the George Washington Academy. I was a little confused at first because I didn’t know we were going there, and I didn’t know what kind of school it was. Turns out it was a private American school (K-12). The facility was really nice and clean. After talking to one of the school’s directors, we learned that the school was composed of mostly upper class Moroccans (the tuition is very expensive), all of the students must learn Arabic, French and English, and most of the students go to the US or Europe for university when they graduate. I knew it was by no means an accurate view of an average Moroccan’s education, but it was interesting to see nonetheless.
After the school we went to the Children’s Village. SOS Children’s Villages can be found all around the world, and they take in orphans and other neglected children. Basically, the children live in the houses around the village and each house has a ‘mom.’ The moms are hired to live full time at the village and take care of the children they are given. They are given a monthly allowance for food, clothes, etc. All of the children in the village go to school in the city and within the village they said they try to teach them skills that will help them be successful when they’re 18 and leave. None of the children in the village are adopted though because adoption is not allowed in the Muslim faith.
It was so interesting to see an NGO in action. I don’t think I was there long enough to be able to accurately say if what they’re doing is working, but on the surface it seemed like a great system.
After we got a tour and asked questions, we had some time to play with the kids. They didn’t speak English very well, but while some people played basketball or soccer with some of the boys, I got to use a little of my French with a group of girls. I was so excited. I was a little self-conscious at first because she didn’t understand some of what I was saying, but then I realized that they didn’t speak French fluently either. She would be saying something and then randomly switch back to Arabic (actually most people threw in Arabic words when they were speaking French so it made it difficult to understand). Haha. Anyway, I still enjoyed talking to them…one girl even gave me here sticker before I left! It was so sweet…I wish we could have stayed longer.
I got back that night around dinner time. Some people were going back out, but I was worn out so I stayed on the ship.
We got up early to get a train to Marrakech. Everyone said Casablanca was dirty and expensive, so we didn’t see the point in hanging out there for long. We got to the train station at about 8:45am, and the 8:50am train still hadn’t left. We got our tickets, and went out to the platform. The station was packed, mostly with other SASers. By 9:00am the train still hadn’t come, and then they made an announcement that the train was delayed 45 minutes. Apparently, when they say 45 minutes, they really mean an hour and a half. Haha. We finally got on the train a little after 10, and it was PACKED. All of the little rooms were full so we had to squeeze in the aisles. I was not thrilled about standing in the cramped isle for 4 hours, but after about an hour one of the rooms opened up.
We finally got to Marrakech and took a cab to the medina (it’s the traditional old part of all Islamic cities where the markets and stuff are). We went in the medina and found our hostel. It was AMAZING. It was soo nice compared to our hostel in Spain, and it had so much charm and character. In the lobby area there were traditional Moroccan decorations and no chairs, only pillows on the floor. There was a beautiful pool in the main courtyard, and my bed was super comfy. I wanted to move in and stay forever!
After we checked in and set our stuff down, we went out to explore. Our first stop was to get ice cream (dressing ‘conservatively’ is not fun when it’s over 100 degrees…so we craved ice cream the whole time), and it was delicious! Then we hit the ATM and headed for the markets. On the way, in the main square, we saw our first monkey and snake charmers. It was so crazy to see it in real life! We all felt bad for the monkeys because their life definitely didn’t look fun. But we tried to avoid the whole area as much as possible because we had run into one of the SAS faculty who said they usually just throw the snake on you and then won’t take it off until you pay them. Anyway, we saw so many awesome things in the market but I didn’t by much the first day. One thing I did buy was linen pants to wear on the camel trek. The guy at the shop looked exactly like James Franco! Haha. It was funny…we all took a picture with him before we left.
We went to dinner at a restaurant that had a rooftop terrace overlooking the square, and we got there at the perfect time – we saw the most beautiful sunset. It was amazing to watch the city come alive as it got darker. The food was soo good too. I had my first couscous of the trip! After dinner we walked around a little and then got some more ice cream; we just couldn’t resist!
The next morning we went to the rooftop terrace of our hostel and had a really yummy breakfast. I have no idea what it was (it was a mix between a pancake and a crepe) but it was good. We all got ready and then went out to explore the markets some more. I was on a mission and ended up getting everything I wanted.
My absolute favorite purchases were the spices I bought. We randomly came across a spice shop and fell in love. The shop owner had us sit on a bench as he brought all of the spices around for us to smell. He also gave made us some mint tea to drink while we waited! I got two cooking spices, cinnamon, some rose tea, and two bars of ‘perfume.’ I REALLY hope they let me through customs with all of it!
You have to barter hard…it was exhausting, but I don’t think I got ripped off too bad on anything. A guy at one of the shops pinched my cheek after we had settled on a price and called me a good haggler. Haha. It was little creepy but still funny. For a few days afterwards, the shop owners’ voices were continuously ringing in my head with their calls of ‘I make you good price’ and ‘student discount, student discount’…all of which the used to try to entice us to look in their shop. Like I said, it was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought it would…it was actually pretty fun!
Again we had ice cream for lunch. Haha. Justin Beiber was playing in one of the shops next door. It was hilarious to experience Bieber Fever in Africa. We got dinner in the square at a sort of street vendor, and again I got couscousJ. We went back to the hostel and jumped in the pool to cool off from the long, hot day.
We were up bright and early to leave for our camel trek. The guide met us at our hostel, and we left around 7am. There was a little confusion at first because we had signed up for a ‘private’ tour (there were 22 of us) and paid the private tour price (the guy at our hostel said we were getting ripped off anyway because they ran the same exact tour for 25euros less…it would have been nice to have that extra money, but by that point I didn’t care…I just wanted to be on my camel!). After many discussions and phone calls to their boss, they ended up providing water to make up for it.
We got in the bus and left Marrakech. Not far out of the city, we started to get into the high Atlas Mountains. After about an hour we stopped at this little café that had a panoramic view of the mountains. It was so beautiful! I had a little breakfast (pita bread and cream cheese…so good!)and coffee, and then we got back on the bus. The drive was a little nauseating with all of the twists and turns, but the view more than made up for it. We stopped again a few hours later to look over the mountain pass we had just come through. Of course, we had to take some pics…then we were in the bus again. Not far down the road, we were going around another sharp corner and a bus hit us! It was so scary…everything happen so fast. We were all just silent at first because we couldn’t believe what had happened. A huge crowd of men formed around the two cars and they seemed to animatedly discussing whose fault it was. Eventually the car got hot so we all got out to stretch our legs. When I got out I realized how lucky we were…they don’t have guardrails on the mountain roads and we weren’t far from the huge cliff. We were also lucky because the accident didn’t cause much damage (it bent the rim of one tire and left a dent in the car). I’m so thankful that it turned out ok. They changed the tires, and we continued on.
We stopped for lunch in a town that is called the ‘capital of cinema in North Africa.’ Apparently Laurence of Arabia, Gladiator, Prince of Persia, and a bunch of other movies were filmed there.
After lunch we kept driving and moved into the low Atlas Mountains. We passed a bunch of Berber villages along the way. It was really interesting because at first glance, I would think of them as poor but then I saw that they had electricity and satellite dishes (but then I found out in class yesterday that the government subsidies satellite dishes and people don’t really have to pay for them). For my Poverty and Economic Development class, my group is doing our Human Development Indicator project on Morocco. It was kind of difficult to decide though how ‘developed’ they are because a lot of the indicators come from a western perspective. For example, the country was generally pretty dirty (even though they seemed to have technology, education, etc.) but I couldn’t figure out if that was a problem or if as a Westerner I’m just hyper-sensitive about cleanliness. My group meets tonight to discuss it so we’ll see!
Finally around sunset we got to our camels! They were bigger than I expected and really cute too! They were all sitting and waiting for us with their legs curled underneath them. We picked our camels and got on. I name mine Tobias J…the name suited him. Haha. They made the camels stand up (pretty scary at first!) and then we rode off into the desert. It was perfect timing because the sun was setting and it was gorgeous! We rode for about an hour and a half until we got to the nomad village. First they served us mint tea and then they cooked an amazing dinner for us – some kind of soup, vegi tangine, and melon for desert. It was definitely my favorite meal in Morocco!
After dinner we sat outside and our guide told us jokes and riddles. They were really corny, but they still cracked me up.
Some people went straight to bed but a few of us waited while they built a fire. It was so cool…once they got the fire going they played some of their traditional music. It was amazing to be sitting on a sand dune in the Sahara Desert and listening to them play their drums.
After a little dancing around the fire, we went back to our tent. I dragged my mat outside and slept under the stars. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen; the sky was so clear and there were so many bright stars. We could even see the Milky Way, which I have never seen before. I didn’t want to fall asleep because I didn’t want to stop looking at the sky, but finally I did.
The next morning I woke up at dawn and again it was absolutely beautiful. We sat on the dunes and watched the sun rise from behind the mountains. It was time to head back, so I went and found Tobias.
We got back in the bus and then drove to get breakfast. It was pretty much the same drive on the way back, except we stopped in the town called the ‘capital of cinema in North Africa’ and walked around the village that was built in the 15th century. It was pretty crazy to see it and think about how old it is and about how many people have walked on the same paths.
Long story short, some people were really concerned about missing the last train out of Marrakech, so they asked the guides if we could pay them to take us directly to Casablanca. They ended up agreeing. By lunch time everyone was complaining about everything and I was starting to get irritated. I just didn’t understand why people couldn’t appreciate the adventure instead of focusing on how hot it was, how long the drive was, etc. Anyway, I was ready to get back, and after about 16 hours in the car, we got to the ship. Our guide added us all on Facebook the next day…he was so adorable. Haha
On our last day in Morocco, we all slept in. Then we went out one last time to get free internet to upload photos and whatnot. The hotel we went to was packed with SASers though, so the internet was too slow to get much done. We went back to the ship and later that night went to the top deck to watch as we left the port. Again it looked very different than Spain, but the coolest part was the Hassan II mosque (the third largest mosque in the world) – it had a bright green laser coming out of the top. I assume it was pointing to Mecca, but I don’t know for sure. I wish I had the time to go in the mosque, but I drove by it a few times and got some pictures.
Anyway, we left Casablanca and are now on our way to Takoradi, Ghana!