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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Madrid Weekend!

When given the opportunity to buy a dirt cheap flight to Spain, I usually take it. This is how I ended up in Madrid last weekend with fourteen other AUI students. It was quite a trip.

We got in on Friday night, had some late supper at a Mexican restaurant (because what else does one do in Spain?) and headed back to the hotel.

The next morning we set out to explore the town and shop (the H&M around the corner was a huge time suck). We saw some street skaters on the Plaza del Sol,

followed by a mariachi band,

and then had a tiny beer

before continuing onward to the Plaza Mayor.

Here we saw the first of many Winnie the Pooh's in Madrid,

a rusted man,

and had a man with an obnoxious voice-changing toy follow us for ten minutes.

We then headed out past this pretty church about which I know nothing

and headed to the park.

This park was evidently Mickey's and Minnie's favorite hangout.

We enjoyed the lake scene

possibly a little too much

and then met some friends for a picnic.

Then we headed out past this cool walkway thing

enjoyed the subway art gallery

and headed past Stonehenge 2.0

towards the Royal Palace,

and passed the highly understated Senate on the way.

We then headed back to the hotel but not without running into a floating woman.

Sunday we finished off with the art museums, seeing Piccaso's Guernica

and caught a peek at a wall garden

before catching the subway back towards the airport. Despite Madrid's being a new city with few historical sights, we enjoyed our time none-the-less shopping, sightseeing, and riding the world's best metro system.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marrakech and Essaouira

What a trip it was! This weekend five friends and I decided to take a trip to Marrakech and Essaouira, a beach town on the southern coast. We began our trip around 1am on Saturday, deciding that taking the overnight train would save us some money on a hotel room for Friday and put us in Marrakech just in time for the action. When we arrived, we were needless to say exhausted from the long train ride so we headed towards the main plaza, saw the overt displays of orientalism (i.e. this snake charmer)

were ripped off by some men who forced us to take pictures with them,

but finally found a nice rooftop restaurant

where we spent a couple hours lunching, relaxing and taking in the city.

I got my first couscous outside of the university, and on a Saturday even (couscous is usually only served on Fridays)!

After having some lunch, a friend and I wandered around the old medina to do some shopping while the rest of the group went off to relax and eat some ice cream. I'm not sure whether it is that I am getting more confident in bargaining, that Marrakech is so tourist friendly (and at the same time unfriendly), or if the medina really had better deals than other places I've visited, but I shopped and shopped and shopped, getting lots of gifts and few treats for myself (some psychedelic genie pants I LOOOOVE).

Marrakech had a different feel than most Moroccan cities I've visited, though I can't put my finger on what specifically it is. It was certainly more touristy (mostly French tourists) than any other place I've visited, but I liked the atmosphere a lot more than other places.

After shopping to our hearts' contents, we went to explore the nearby gardens

surrounding the city's famous mosque

and relax for a bit before getting the bus to Essaouira for the night, where our Moroccan friend was able to get us the suite for less than half the price.

We spent the evening enjoying the warm weather on the hotel's rooftop where the employees joined us with music and fried us up some fresh fish. It was quite a treat.

In the morning, we headed out to explore the city and see the beach.

At this point I realized that Essaouira was absolutely my favorite place I have yet visited in Morocco.

Not only is the pace of life much more relaxed than any other city, but the seafood restaurants lining the boardwalk and the softest sand I have ever felt in my life made me feel like I was back home in Florida.

The beach was full of families, boys playing soccer, and children with puppies. One even consented to let us hold his little baby. The whole thing was just a treat.

After spending the majority of the day on soaking in the sunshine and swimming,

we went to enjoy a lunch of the freshest fish. We literally went to a pile of fish, pointed to what we wanted, and then watched as the workers fried it up before our eyes.

Houda, our token Moroccan, once more bargained us a steal- we ate and ate and ate and each time we finished a plate of fish more arrived. I never got a picture of all of the plates as we were too busy eating to stop.

In the middle of our meal, a couple of musicians came by to serenade us, making our already perfect day even better.

Finally, full of fish, we headed back to town to buy bus tickets, and then were on our way back to Marrakech to get a connecting bus back towards Al Akhawayn. We had about five hours between buses in Marrakech, so we headed to a Lebanese restaurant we had seen on the way out to have some hummus and pass some time. We then headed back to the main plaza to get the nighttime experience

and finally caught our bus at 1:30am, which put us in Meknes (an hour from Ifrane, where the university is) about 9:30am (an hour and a half late, but what can we expect). We arrived back to campus about 11:00am Monday morning, certainly having maximized our weekend. If only Essouira were closer, I would travel there every weekend. It was so very lovely!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Top 10's

My greatest apologies- I haven't blogged in a while, largely because I haven't travelled much in the last couple of weeks. I've been in Ifrane saving some Dirhams and getting some work done to allow for lots of traveling later in the semester. This weekend I'm planning to head south to Marrakech, next weekend I'm headed to Madrid ($30 round trip, don't mind if I do!), Halloween weekend I'm headed to Chefchaouen (in the North) and I've just finished booking my tickets to Z├╝rich, Switzerland and Amsterdam for our long break in November. Also, a trip to Egypt in December may be in the works! FUN FUN FUN!

In the meantime, I figured I'd give you some idea of what's on my mind with a series of Top 10 lists.

Top Ten Things I Love About Morocco:

1. Mint Tea.

2. The juices. Banana, avocado, mango, peach, you name it, they've got it, either fresh made or in a cheap paper carton.

3. The sun! It's so delightfully warm and usually around (though this week of rainy cold nasty makes me wonder what winter will bring).

4. Malawi- a greasy pancake-like food, sometimes filled with cheese, onions, meat, or eggs. Great for breakfast.

5. The smell of mint on the breeze as you walk through the forests.

6. How CHEAP everything is! A taxi anywhere in Ifrane is about $1.20, and a reasonable meal is about $3.

7. Moroccan hospitality. Somehow, Moroccans can make you feel rude if you don't eat twice as much as your fill and stay in their homes twice as long as you planned to.

8. Moroccan time. Thirty minutes can mean up to two hours. On a regular basis I get to soccer practice five minutes late and am the first one there.

9. The smell after it rains. I've always made fun of "mountain spring" scented soaps, but I now understand what they're trying to capture. Never a fresher breath of air have I breathed.

10. THE STARS. If I had come to Africa and only seen the stars at night, it would have been worth it. There are stars behind the stars behind the stars. Its absolutely incredible.

Top Ten Things I Miss About the US

1. Food. I could fill this list thrice-over if I were to list each specific food, but let's just say all of it. Especially broccoli and Subway sandwiches. And vegetables. Moroccan cuisine is largely composed of meat and carbohydrates, so you can see where I might struggle.

2. Having my OWN PERSONAL SPACE. There was only one other time in my life when I had to share a bedroom, and for anyone who knows about my experience with Dallas, it didn't end well. Its not so much that I have any specific issues with my roommate, its more that she exists in the same twelve foot square box that comprises my only personal space. I miss having my own bedroom, a couch, and a KITCHEN. Which leads me to how much I miss...

3. Cooking! There is a kitchen in my dorm, but it is small, crappy, and I have no pots, pans, spices, or fridge space to keep food in.

4. My kittens. There are stray cats all over this country, and not a day goes by that I hope that Woody or Panther will pop out of the bushes and beg me for leftovers.

5. Driving! I appreciate reducing my carbon footprint (though I'm not sure that's actually true with all the taxis I take) and all, but I miss the independence that comes with driving. Also the ability to belt out Billy Joel in the car knowing no one else can hear or judge me.

6. Fixed. Prices. Granted, there is a certain irreplaceable satisfaction to bargaining hard and well, but I miss knowing exactly what I will pay for something and that my price is not based on my hair color or ability to speak French/Arabic.

7. Beer. At home, it comes in a variety of brews, flavors, colors. Not so in Morocco. Speciale and Heineken. Take your pick. One in a while you can pay like $7 for a Budweiser. What a treat.

8. Going to school on a large campus. I won't go so far as to say I miss Mizzou (okay maybe I do a little, but only select parts of it), but Al Akhawayn is so small that there's really no place to get any solitude, not to mention to get anything to eat after midnight. I've gotten comfortably used to going to bed hungry.

9. Being out and Queer and recognized as such! I expected the relatively intolerant atmosphere towards Queer identities and have adapted to it more-or-less well, but it still amazes me that I can pass as straight here. Also, I having to sensor myself, regarding my identity or my feminist perspective on social issues.

10. My people. Friends, family, etc. Wish you could all be experiencing this with me.