an chronicle of my adventures in Ifrane, Morocco and travels within the surrounding area

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Weekend in Rabat

Sorry this is so late in being posted, but the change in weather has brought on a bit of a nasty cold and I'm just now getting around to it.

Our hotel, located at the head of the old medina, was quite a bargain at about $7 a night/person, but had a few drawbacks- the bathrooms, while they did have actual toilets, were a real laugh. Showers cost an additional 10 Dh (a little over a dollar), and after taking one I almost wished I hadn't. But the price was right, so no complaints here.

This guy, living outside our hotel, seemed to have a bit of a rough night.

We arrived on Friday night, had some supper, and turned in after a tiring train ride. After breakfast, our first stop the next morning was the unfinished mosque/Mohammed V mausoleum complex.

The gardens in front of the mosque were exquisite, with birds of paradise, roses, a plethora of other flowers and shrubs, and a series of ornately tiled fountains and waterways.
Behind the unfinished mosque there is a plaza which leads to the Mohammed V mausoleum, which was a gorgeous place to keep a body, I guess.

Our next stop was the Chellah Roman Ruins just outside the city of Rabat- possibly the most beautiful place I have visited since coming to Morocco.

Beyond the obviously impressive quality that this shit is STILL HERE, the view and the persistent flowers growing up from the rocks made it quite lovely.

Again, I'm just endlessly impressed that it's still in such good condition considering that touching the stone caused erosion in my hand.

Oh, and just behind the ruins there is a BEAUTIFUL tropical garden which I might venture to call paradise were it not for its voracious mosquito population.

The flowers were the most brilliant shades I have ever seen,

and who knew that banana trees were so pretty?

Altogether, it was a little walled haven where we spent much more time than our mosquito bites indicate we should have.

After grabbing a bite to eat we headed to the souk (market) which is the most spacious and well-organized one I have yet visited. Unlike other cities where you can touch both walls of the winding alleyways at times, this was wide, considerably cleaner than most, and with a better selection of goods.

Saturday night we went out for some sushi, which despite our complaints of its relatively high prices, only cost about $15-20 dollars and was comfortingly familiar. Sunday we devoted entirely to shopping, visiting some shops in the old medina first, where I bought some soccer cleats for about $6, which I later discovered both lace on the same side. Oh well, what can you do for six bucks?

We then hit a shop nearby with clothes and basic personal care needs, and then finally going to the Rabat Mega Mall where we put all of our luggage at a home base in the food court (also comfortingly familiar) and shopped to our hearts' contents. This shirt struck me as quite funny- there are a lot of shirts like these all over the place that just make you chuckle.

After doing all the shopping I cared to (one exorbitantly priced coat and a shirt was enough), I stepped outside to discover a lovely courtyard on the lower level with the food court where I found the most vibrant dragonflies in a (manmade) lily pond. Oh the things onto which one accidently stumbles.

Finally, burdened with shopping bags galore, we made our way back to the train station and after a partially standing train ride and the slowest taxi drive ever, we got back to campus around 9 on Sunday evening.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Monkey Business

I apologize for having gone so long without blogging, but with the university's unfortunate system of implementing Saturday classes to make up for days given as vacation, I was stuck in Ifrane last weekend. I did however make the most of my one day weekend by taking a trip to Azrou, a nearby town, to do some shopping with detours on the way to visit a forest populated with extremely friendly monkeys.

This was truly one of the most incredible experiences I have had while in Morocco. These monkeys run rampant in this patch of woods in what I believe to be (based on what we could understand from our taxi driver) Ifrane National Park. In the parking lot (if you can call the open area where cars stop a parking lot) there are a bunch of vendors who will sell you peanuts and apples to feed to the monkeys. What they don't tell you is that the monkeys couldn't care less about the peanuts; they are only interested in the apples. The only monkey I saw even take a peanut from someone immediately threw it to the ground angrily. The apples, on the other hand, were golden.

It may be silly to rave about how civilized the monkeys seemed, but they walked, sat, and emoted just like people! I even saw one drop an apple, pick it up, and tear off the dirty part before continuing to eat.

The best part of the whole experience was watching the baby monkey ride around alternatively on its mother's back or belly, dropping off whenever it pleased to get food or climb a tree. Sadly, I somehow managed to forget my camera on this excursion, so the few pictures I have are stolen from friends (photo credit to Brianna and Shelley), but I WILL return to get my own photos and fraternize with my fellow primates once more.

Also in the same location was either the biggest or the oldest tree in Africa, but again the translation of our taxi driver's information is a bit unclear. Either way, the tree was impressive. Hopefully soon I'll be able to add the photo someone took of me at the bottom of the tree to give some perspective on just how big it is.

The tree, no longer alive, is covered in graffiti, which somehow seems much cooler and less inappropriate to do to a tree when it is in Arabic.

In other news, not much has changed. Classes are going well, though I am struggling with the Arabic. I'm playing soccer again, which feels wonderful after five years off the field. Unfortunately, the main soccer season for girls is the spring with just one tournament this fall, but I'm hoping with all of my might that it will be somewhere new and exotic (teams in the past have traveled to Lebanon, so here's hoping!). I'm already sad about going back to the states and not getting to play, but maybe I can find some sort of rec league to fill the void.

I'm planning to travel somewhere this weekend, though I'm not sure where. Number one on my to-do list is to buy some soccer cleats, as playing in indoor shoes is less than ideal. I will not be so silly as to forget my camera again, so look forward to an update sometime next week on that excursion- I'm hoping for Rabat or Casablanca (or really anywhere that has a beach), but we'll see where the wind blows me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Aid Al Fitr in Tangier

Given five days off of school for the Aid Al Fitr (the end of Ramadan), we decided to take a tip to Tangier, a tropical paradise at the northernmost point in Morocco, directly across the strait of Gibraltar from Spain.

In the hustle of trying to figure out travel plans a group of about twelve of my fellow students ended up accompanying me on this journey. Though the city was quite beautiful, I think in the future I would like to travel with a group of people I can count on one hand.

If you care to hear me rant on about the Moroccan men (fellow students) who took it upon themselves to be our tour guides and trip planners, well you should probably reconsider, but it'll suffice to say that male condescension and forceful "chivalry" are a constant annoyance in my Moroccan life. However, this blog entry is about my trip to Tangier, which was undeniably beautiful.

Wherever you wander in the city, you won't walk for more than twenty minutes without stumbling around a corner to find a gorgeous view of the city, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the hills of Gibraltar off in the distance. There's nothing quite like seeing two continents at one time.

Traveling a bit away from town brings you to a gorgeous lighthouse with yet another spectacular view

and just a little further on is the entrance to the Hercules Cave! Despite many attempts, I was unable to capture a photo that truly shows the magnitude of the waves that crashed into the cave intermittently, but I at least managed to show its picturesque nature. I wish I had been there at sunset, though I could have bought any number of different sunset photos from one of the many vendors in the cave, who accepted Dirhams, Euros, and even accepted a Pound from me after a little convincing.

After visiting the cave we headed down the road to possibly the most beautiful beach I have ever seen on the Atlantic side of the city.

Though the waves were incredibly powerful, the salt water miraculously turned a group of irritated, snappy travelers into giddy children.

After a whirlwind of a day when we first arrived, we spent our remaining time leisurely strolling along the Mediterranean beaches

and wandering through the old medina shopping for souvenirs and exploring the winding alleyways.

Every once in a while you'll stumble upon a gem like this across from a pile of trash. It's really an incredible place.

At night there wasn't much to do, as the Aid is a family holiday most people spend at home which means that the clubs lining the road along the beach (the Moroccan equivalent to Ocean Drive) were all closed. We did however find a food court with sushi and three different tiny carnivals (which I fear may be stocked with rides that no longer meet US regulations, but such things must be ignored). Bumper cars made for a great end to the night.

However, when it came to the walk back, things got rather shady. I may have discussed before the fact that Ifrane (where the university is) is not really representative of Morocco. Well this became painfully clear as we walked through the streets of Tangier at night. During the day, I got used to catcalls, whistles, and an attempt at conversation from every man who spoke any English (and then some of the ones who didn't). At one point while walking with a group of girlfriends someone yelled out "Beautiful! Sex!" and this was at midday. It seemed that as the day went on, men became more and more forward by the minute. Despite the city's seedy quality, though, I had an excellent time overall. The beaches, palm trees, and tropical climate were familiar and welcome and made for a great adventure.

Monday, September 6, 2010


So finally, after having been here almost two weeks, I finally took a trip into REAL Morocco (Ifrane and the University, while nice, are more like an American enclave than anything else). Fez, just an hour's car ride away, is one of the oldest cities in the world, and a veritable paradise. Our taxi ride there was an adventure in and of itself, with lots of lovely Moroccan countryside to enjoy.

Along the roads between Ifrane and Fez there is an area where there are jugs sitting on tables intermittently. Confused, we asked our taxi driver what they were. He proceeded to pull over and call over a man from the side of the road who offered Alyssa, in the front seat, a large jar of what we later discovered to be honey, but initially thought was gasoline. After she was instructed to drink, we realized that it wasn't gasoline, but had a bit of trouble explaining that she didn't want to buy the cheese-ball container sized jar of honey. I can't imagine making the rest of that ride with honey-mouth! Our ride was full of lovely views and funny surprises.

Immediately upon arriving in the medina (old city- composed of a series of long winding alleys and walkways between buildings creating a maze of a market that often requires paying children to exit), it felt as though we had entered a completely different place than the one we've been living in. This is clearly Morocco, as evidenced by the people and the scenery.

Luckily, one of Alyssa's friends has lived in Fez his entire life and served as our tour guide (and a very good one at that) showing us lots of secret treasures of the city. Our first stop was a tiny hidden courtyard where a group of weavers work on looms weaving scarves, tapestries, and other such textiles. They all spoke English and explained to us the weaving and dying process

and then befitted each of us in a traditional scarf style. I am sporting the nomadic style, Alyssa (in the teal) the desert style, and Bibi the bedouin. We also got some great deals on the scarves we decided to purchase.

Afterwards, we continued to wander through the maze of alleys and shops, persistently buffeted by people, cars, and pack mules alike. It was at first a little disconcerting to have heads turn so frequently when I passed, but after someone told me "you look funny" it all became jovial. This is the price I pay for these luscious locks, I guess.

The variety of things you could purchase there was really the most amazing to me. I expected things like fruits, vegetables and handicrafts

but you could also get everything from hair dye to a cell phone to some new Pumas in the same (relative) place. Some of the other things available which I did not photograph were meats, including but not limited to the heads of cows, sheep, and goats, all of which were displayed prominently (the eyes follow you). I also was lucky enough to witness a chicken being plucked and another beheaded. Some of the smells of the medina will stick with me for a long time, and not all of them were great.

We wandered for a while more before coming to one of our last stops, the tannery (where leather is dried and dyed to make leather goods). After climbing up a flight or two of stairs in a store, we ended up on a rooftop where the pelts were drying

and the gorgeous view overshadowed the wretched scent of drying flesh (I accidentally stepped on one... GROSS!).

We could not only see down to where the pelts are washed and dried,

but also had a nice view of the rest of the city.

After winding our way out of the medina (part of me thought we would be there forever), our guide Abdu took us to one last spot- the greatest lookout point in all of Fez. The sun was just beginning to set, and it couldn't have been more lovely.

After taking in the view, Abdu invited us to his home for F'Tour with his family. Most of the traditional Ramadan foods were served, including chebakiya (a desert of deep fried sesame dough covered in honey and sesame seeds), eggs, harira (a vegetable soup that can be made many different ways), and bread, amongst other things the names of which I cannot recall. All was delicious, and were followed by some mint tea and a warm nap on the wall to wall couches (for lack of a better term) in the traditional Moroccan salon. It was the perfect end to the long day of walking.

I will leave you with this image- my favorite from the many I captured in my delightful day exploring one of the oldest cities in the world.