My Adventure in Morocco, Part 1: Fez

I have posted photos of my Morocco trip on my Picasa Web Album – check ’em out!

What an adventure! I’ve crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and set foot upon Moroccan soil. I’ve been plunged into a land of Arabs and Berbers – a country under the power of a monarchy, to boot. I’ve passed through huge marketplaces which have barely changed since mideval ages, and a sprawling modern supermarket like Wal-Mart From Another World. I have ridden Land Rovers and camels across the Sahara, camped in traditional tents, relaxed, drummed and danced with chill desert dwellers.

I’ve walked the dunes and meditated in solitude. (Or was it in communion with all creation?) I’ve explored the desert guided by the light of the full moon. And I’ve had the most amazing group of fun, loving, fun-loving people to share and enjoy the experience with.

I went to Morocco with about 50 students from International Studies Abroad, many coming from other programs in Madrid, Salamanca, Málaga and Santender. Our bus left Granada at 3:30 Sunday morning, a day before Spain’s holy week festivities were to begin. We crossed the Strait of Gibraltar at sunrise and crossed the border at Ceuta, an autonomous Spanish city on the African coast. The border was reminiscent of the Mexico-U.S. border, complete with incessant honking choruses and vans packed full of seemingly useless junk (even though you know a use has been found for all of it).

Upon crossing the border – and scoring one more stamp on my passport- dozens of cameras whipped out and were aimed out the bus windows. North Morocco was nothing like what I had expected – extremely green, like Colorado during April showers. We had lunch at a rest stop, where I had my first experience as a traveler with zero knowledge of the popular languages Arabic, French, and Berber, in that order. While essential travel communication is definitely possible, all of my travel up until this point has been in countries where English or Spanish are widely spoken. Being thrown into a completely different, somewhat non-Western culture is enough of a change of gears as it is, but add total lack of language skills to the mix and you have a pretty intimidating situation on your hands!

We finally arrived to our five-star hotel in the outskirts of Fez, where the king’s palace is located and a huge, ancient Medina contains mideval marketplaces and old stuff abound. Our hotel itself was a different story- European amenities, kind of a retreat from all the new things we explored in the city by day. The next morning, we went to the medina and toured several larger shops, where shopkeepers gave presentations of their goods to the whole group, and many of us would later bargain – “regatear” in Spanish – with multilingual salesmen. The medina really was a blast from the past; narrow walkways with people and load-carrying donkeys, with no motor vehicles to be found. Open-air shops selling fresh veggies and meat from the countryside. Several of us walked past a butcher right as he removed a dead goat’s head and extracted its brain!

Here are a few videos I recorded in Fez:

Street Performers in Fez

Fez Sculptor

Fez Percussionists

…and don’t forget to check out the photos!

First day in Morocco

Today we spent 15 hours traveling by bus and ferry from Granada to Fez in Morocco. I found some free Wi-Fi in the lobby of our five-star hotel here, with which I am pecking out this quick update on my iPhone. Our hotel is beautiful, with the lobbies and cafeterias replicating the same styles I have already seen at the Alhambra.
While today’s post-travel itinerary is dominated by food (which is so far excellent and reminiscent of many dishes my mother has made) and sleep, we did find some time to go to a nearby supermarket in town. Simply put, this store was the Moroccan version of a Super Wal-Mart. For a crowd of Americans who speak no Arabic and a couple of words in French, it created much more culture shock than anything from Spain. (To be fair, I am certain that a non-Westerner would be equally, if not more so, bewildered upon entering a Wal-Mart for the first time.)
Tomorrow, we will be visiting the old city center of Fez, which happens to be the world’s largest pedestrian-only commercial center. After that, we will head to southern Morocco for two days and nights in the desert- 4×4’s, Camels, and sleeping in large tents. Finally, we’ll go to the smaller city of Meknés to rest up before the long trip back to Granada.
I don’t expect I’ll be able to post much more while in Morocco – perhaps once more tomorrow night. But I am taking tons of photos, and I look forward to sharing the rest soon!

Kicking Travel Into High Gear

Tonight I head out for six days in Morocco! While I haven’t done a ton of homework on the country before heading out, I know I’m in for a lot of firsts:

  • First time in Africa
  • First time in a (currently) Arab nation
  • First time in a country whose primary and secondary languages are completely foreign to me (oof)

I’m going with a large group from my study abroad program – everything is pre-organized and we’ll be herded around for most of the trip, unlike our Spanish excursions. I see this as a good thing for my first trip. I’m really looking forward to Moroccan food as well.

This week was my midterms week, and I have 9 weeks left here in Europe. In those 9 weeks, I plan to be hitting:

  • Morocco
  • The Alpujarras (once or twice more)
  • Amsterdam (with 8-hour layover in Liverpool, England)
  • Prague
  • Valencia
  • Barcelona (perhaps a night in Ibiza?)
  • Madrid

I only have three unplanned weekends left, and I’m already tempted to book one more trip – London? Bruges? Brussels? All I know is that from here out, time is going to zoom by.