بسلامة مغرب

The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience.

 


 

I am finding myself unprepared to write this last blog post. I have to say that I have grown to love change, so I am looking forward to traveling to Paris and Canada before going home. I am also so excited to see all of my family for the holidays. However, I am not ready to leave. I don’t want to say goodbyes, to pack my bags, or to cry my way to the train station.

I can’t thank Morocco enough for giving me so many amazing memories. All the way from my very first beach experience in the Mediterranean to riding a camel through the dunes of the Sahara. I am even thankful for the not so good parts of my time here. From my first time using a not-so-clean squatty potty along the highway in the South to being crammed into a bus of car sick exchangers flying down the mountain roads of the High Atlas Mountains, I have taken something away from each of my experiences.

Today I will clear my last final (French) and finish my last essay for Dr. Shoup. Then I get to spend the week making memories with my Moroccan friends whom I won’t see for a while. I have already been having quite the adventures with my friend Jordan and her mother who is visiting the tail end of our semester abroad.

We have been to play with the monkeys in Cèdre Gourard.

 

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We have explored the Medina in Fes and ended the night with dinner in Borj Fes.

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We have tried hailing a petit taxi among the crowd.

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And we said farewell to our third member of the trio.

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On top of all these amazing things I have been doing to wrap-up my time here, I threw a Farewell Potluck for my fellow exchangers. I got a room reserved through the university and invited everyone to bring some cheap snacks. The snacks ended up being phenomenal. Strawberry/Chocolate cheesecake, fruit salad, msemen of every flavor, and mixed nuts. I made a video for the group of all our photos we have taken around Morocco. I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to upload it directly on this blog, but if you’re interested in watching it, here is the youtube link:

Above all, I have to again take time to thank my incredible family for all their support in my travels. Distance really does make the heart grow fonder. I also should thank the Dean’s Office in the Eberly School of Arts and Science for providing me with a generous scholarship to use while I am here. It has been a dream.

Shoutout to my dear friend Salim. Salim has been such a great friend to me here. He encourages my questions about Islam and is always an inspiring person in my life. Congrats on your awesome thesis defense, Salim! I hope to see you soon. In Germany. In Morocco. In the States. It doesn’t matter to me, my friend.

Morocco, I will see you soon. But for now, stay savvy.

With much love,

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Riding on the Marrakech Express

“Looking at the world
Through the sunset in your eyes
Trying to make the train
Through clear Moroccan skies”

~Crosby Stills Nash, Marrakech Express

I’ll have to admit that this is a delayed post. My weekends away from school have left me swamped with essays, tests, and books to read. I am glad to say that I think my cold is finally waning, and as of today, I have cleared all my “short” 8 page essays that are due this week. Hallellllllujah!

However, I could never forget to post about my time in Marrakech. It was actually our first destination of my week on the road. We had originally planned to leave the campus at midnight, but we learned just ten minutes before that our driver would be 4 hours late. What are you gonna do, right? Some of my traveling friends had the idea to stay awake until four and then just sleep on the long 8-hour ride from Ifrane to Marrakech. All’s well, yeah? No. This is the actual moment where I promised myself to never try and sleep in a car traveling on Moroccan roads again.

We arrived just around three in the afternoon. Our “hotel” that we were staying at was actually more like a resort. It had high walls around the perimeter. Inside the walls were our bungalows, palm trees, two beautiful pools, and peacocks roaming the grounds. (That night, I swam in the pool under the moonlight with the silhouette of the palm trees all around. It was a surreal moment for me.) We had just enough time to freshen up and put our bags down before we had to leave to make our reservations for lunch. We ended up meeting some Moroccan friends of our friends to take us through the maze-like old medina to find our rooftop location.

A man handed me this hat and said "and this is your hat." So I left with it... HA!
A man handed me this hat and said “and this is your hat.” So I left with it… HA!
The view overlooking the medina was amazing.
The view overlooking the medina was amazing.
Here's the gang. Morocco was being featured on Snapchat so we tried to get added for the world to see!
Here’s the gang. Morocco was being featured on Snapchat so we tried to get added for the world to see!

I ended up having just a fruit salad. I was still a little car sick and was in no mood for a big meal. It was 40 DHS (4 USD), which was actually expensive. Typically you can find a full meal for 30 DHS.

After lunch, we had free time to explore the streets and shops of the old medina. Every medina brings new adventures and new sights. I mostly window shopped in an effort to stop buying items on my “want” list. We met up with everyone at Café France around 20h30 that night. I sat on the rooftop and enjoyed an ice cold coca-cola while enjoying the hustle and bustle below.

I didn't want to be 'that' tourist, so I just snapped one quick pic. This is inside the medina with shops on each side. This street wasn't busy. There's usually no free standing room!
I didn’t want to be ‘that’ tourist, so I just snapped one quick pic. This is inside the medina with shops on each side. This street wasn’t busy. There’s usually no free standing room!
This is the center square of the medina. There's a HUGE open space where vendors will set up. This is a view of the thousands of people in the square with the shop lights in the background.
This is the center square of the medina. There’s a HUGE open space where vendors will set up. This is a view of the thousands of people in the square with the shop lights in the background.
Here's my rooftop view from Café France.
Here’s my rooftop view from Café France.

Our two days in Marrakech weren’t consecutive. So it was our first and our last stop on the trip. I want to include some magical moments from the in-between spots (excluding the Sahara. There’s a whole other post about that.)

We stayed in a place called Gorge de Dadès. The hotel wasn’t anything special, but the location was amazing. It was roadside in-between two cliffs with a booming river just on the other side of the road. My bed was right next to the balcony, so I left the door open all night to hear the rushing river while I slept.

I took this as soon as my alarm went off. It was so peaceful.
I took this as soon as my alarm went off. It was so peaceful.
Here's the hotel.
Here’s the hotel.

After leaving this hotel in the morning, we stopped at Monkey Finger Hills (English translation, of course).

My friend Jeni is
My friend Jeni is
very photogenic.
very photogenic.

Our next stop was in a town called Ouarzazate, where we hiked through some beautiful gardens. We learned that the entire valley is gardening space shared by several nomad families. The division of the gardens is marked by which ways the rows are tilled. Ouarzazate is also a popular destination for filming. MIA, for example, shot one of her music videos here. So is U2’s music video for Magnificant. It’s an appropriate title for this area of Morocco.

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Our guide told us that this river never dries up... even in the summer.
Our guide told us that this river never dries up… even in the summer.

We were actually in the village on Eid, so my friends and I were very thankful to the families that allowed us in their homes and served us the famous, delicious Moroccan Tea. We went inside the home of a half nomad family that was living in the valley. They taught us about their lifestyle and demonstrated how to make the always beautiful Moroccan carpets.

This man was so kind. "Big smile, we are all family here."
This man was so kind. “Big smile, we are all family here.”
She showed us how to make the carpets. They use living wool which is apparently better than the alternative. Always a learning experience...
She showed us how to make the carpets. They use living wool which is apparently better than the alternative. Always a learning experience…

This was also the location where I purchased the scarf that I wore in the desert. It was hand made in-house–possibly even from this woman pictured. It was 80 DHS and worth every cent. I will wear it back in the states and smile with all the memories it holds for me.

My second day in Marrakech started later than I would have liked. I was miserable in bed for most of the morning with the worst cold. That was the peak of my misery… (I’m not dramatic, right? ;p )

We arrived in the medina around 2 to find lunch. There are literally hundreds of places to eat. So many so that they don’t all have names. Instead, they have numbers. You walk past and they all try to get you to eat there. They are really good at getting your attention too. I was called “muscles,” “handsome,” and my favorite “Hey Vinn Diesel! Ready to eat?” After you politely tell them you’ve already had something to eat, they look at your stomach and say “where, it doesn’t look like you eat.” Then they will tell you their restaurant number and say “See you tomorrow then!” HAHA! It was really nice for me to practice my quick response French, though. So, I enjoyed the attention anyway.

One of the many pleasures of medina in Marrakech is the freshly squeezed juices. You can buy freshly squeezed orange juice for 4 DHS–40 cents. Me, I prefer pomplamoose juice (grapefruit). It ended up costing me 10 DHS–1 dollar. I may or may not have bought more than one or three. Maybe… (;

During the day in the big square that I have a picture of up above, there are many, many snake charmers who aren’t shy about putting a snake around you. I caught a glimpse of one King Cobra and STEERED CLEAR OF THE AREA FOR THE REST OF THE DAY. It only takes one mishap and those bad boys will be all over. haha. I’m mostly being facetious. If you like snakes, go for it. More power to you. You will not, however, find me hugging ’em.


Just a quick note. I have been inspired by a friend back home and want to share it with my readers. Always be ferocious in fighting for your dreams and what you believe in. Stand tall for rights and never let anyone tell you can’t stand up for what you believe in.

With much love,

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Paradise in the Mountains

Disclaimer: There is simply no possible way that I will be able to capture the gorgeous mountains and rivers of Akchour in words.

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No better place to begin my attempt at explaining the best weekend of my life than at breakfast. My friends and I woke up at 4am, crammed tightly into an Al Akhawayn van and began the long drive. One thing that you’ll quickly notice about other countries is the culinary differences. Most places other than the US have freshly squeezed juices. In this case, I was trying a freshly blended apple juice. Being vegetarian, I am in love with the natural sweetness of fruit, so freshly made apple juice sounded right up my alley. I quickly learned that I much prefer the fresh orange juice over the apple.

While in Morocco, you simply must try the harcha. The best way I could describe it is that it is similar to cornbread… but denser. It is most common to eat it with cheese (la vache qui rit) but I prefer apricot jam (ou bien, confiture).

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Located in the peak of Le Rif Mountains, the road to Akchour is terrifying. I am certain we have all seen photos or videos of mountain roads that zig zag down cliffs. Well, I got to experience it. Most of the time there weren’t guardrails, but the view was worth it. Carsickness has nothing on the majesty of these mountains (neither does The Smoky Mountains for that matter). Be prepared with your swimmies on beneath your clothes, because 1) the restroom costs 2DHS to use and 2) you won’t wish to wait any long than you have to.

This picture was taken from the parking lot. You have to hike through the canyon to get to the best spots.

Don't be fooled, the hike was far from paved.
Don’t be fooled, the hike was far from paved.

I just took a 1.5L bottle of water with me, but next time I will definitely plan ahead. There are several places along the trail to stop and enjoy the views. The fresh air and the sound of the river easily soothe your soul. A picnic lunch would be perfect. Even though the parking lot was packed, people go to all different places in the canyon, so you’ll never feel like you’re in a crowd.

We basically followed the river to the best spots. The further up you go, the clearer the water gets.
We basically followed the river to the best spots. The further up you go, the clearer the water gets.
“God’s Bridge”

This is the part that pains me. I was unable to capture the top of God’s bridge in the photo. It was actually pretty thin, so it made the experience have even more of a paradise feel. Nonetheless, as my friend Aimée writes in her blog, some of the best moments are the ones you can’t capture with a photo.

This was where we could no longer continue without swimming–hence why I left my camera behind. On the way up, we had climbed (up AND down) cliffs, crawled over rocks and crossed very roughly made stick bridges. I originally did not plan on swimming at all because I usually just get a headache from the reflection of the sun on the water. But the water here was so clear. I could see every detail of the river bed with ease. That, coupled with the fact that there was no way I was going to miss out on what was just around the riverbend convinced me that not swimming here would be a crying shame.

The water was ICY! What else would I expect from a mountain stream, right? A word of advice: don’t be afraid to make some noises while you adjust to the water temperature. I was very vocal with my “Ohhhhs” and “Awhhhhs.” It helps. Go ahead and let it out.

As we passed under God’s Bridge, monkeys swung on the cliff walls above us–sending little pebbles down on our heads. I did get hit with one but luckily it wasn’t big enough to do any damage. This was also the first time that I saw monkeys in the wild!

Not far past God’s Bridge, we found the best swimming hole–as we would call it in WV. After gathering up a lot of courage, I even jumped from a 6 meter rock that hung above a small waterfall. “Aim for where the bubbles end!” I recall very vividly looking down into the water and having to hold my heart in my chest so it wouldn’t jump out. “This is what study abroad is about,” said Aimée. Needless to say, I survived. And I jumped many more times after that.

Akchour is nothing short than a paradise. I could have spent days there letting the crystal clear water carry all my worries and aches downstream. Even though I didn’t get videos of my cliff jumping or pictures that could do this paradise justice, I made life long memories with amazing people from around the world.

What else could I ask for?

With much love,

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