Wow! Africa! I can’t believe I can cross out Africa from my bucket list… what a culture shock. I’m not going to lie; sometimes it felt like I was in the Middle East more than Africa. Everyone is Muslim there and they speak Arabic. It was still super cool to experience, but I am glad to be heading to Senegal next, where I can really get a taste of African culture.
Alexa, Mo, Anna and I (1 brunette and 3 blondes) jump off the boat in Casablanca and exit the port. As soon as we walk out to the street, we are bombarded by dozens of taxi drivers (both legit and not) speaking in 4 different languages. We were warned but definitely not prepared for the lack of personal space this culture offers. They begin to touch our arms and come closer and closer to our faces as they decide what language we speak. After we finally convince them to give up, we wander our way aimlessly towards the tower of the Hassan Mosque: thank God you can see it for miles (I’m so punny). After what seemed like forever, we find ourselves in the plaza of the Hassan II Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world, after Mecca obviously. I’m still amazed by it’s vastness and beauty and honestly still wondering why our churches in America don’t look this cool.
Just dying for a cool pair of Moroccan pants for our camel treks we hunted for a medina. Lucky for us the old medina was minutes from the ship. Unfortunately I think our perceptions of a medina were a little off, at least with this one in Casablanca. Men smiled and tried to pull us in or asked if we were lost. I quickly rounded everyone up and pushed through the crowd, looking for a main street. Finally, we found what seemed like a not-so-sketchy street and were relieved. Of course as soon as we calmed ourselves down, ‘Bam Bam Bam!’ What we thought were gunshots blasted through our eardrums. Detecting where the sound came from, we turned to find these teenage boys lighting sparks and laughing at us. We couldn’t even hide the fact that we were spooked. So, we quickly found our way out. What a great first market experience right!?
Anna and I signed up for this field program that took us to a traditional Moroccan restaurant, belly dancers and all. That was awesome and the food was delicious. We felt so much better being with a group and a guide that knew where we were going. The belly dancers grabbed some of the students and taught them a couple moves. The night was fun and lively and perfect: until I got a text from my roomie telling me that my field lab meeting time changed from 7:30 am the next morning to 5:30 am. Shit.
5 hours later. Good morning!! We all meet and are told our day will consist of a 3-hour bus drive, a tour and lecture from the ministry of agriculture, a tour of a farm and water irrigation system, and a return bus ride. Yay.
5 hours later. Oh don’t worry I’m still on the bus. Yeah, believe it. After a 5-hour bus ride we walk off the bus onto straight dirt with a ditch of water. Literally there was an open pipe carrying water to the fields and a hole in the ground where water was churning around. Our professor was pissed. He had planned this fantastic lab that the field office shut down, so they ended up planning our day. Funny thing was they turned his plan down due to the transportation time (a 1-hour train ride), yet our trip included a sketchy 5-hour one-way bus ride. Logical, I know. On the way to this fantastic ditch in the ground we were stopped by the police 4 different times; all because they saw white faces and wondered why the heck tourists would be in this area. So that was fun… SO fun that our professor cancelled the paper worth 20% of our grade and gave us all full points. Ha.
After those wonderful two days, Anna and I headed off to Marrakesh – hoping it would be better than Casablanca. All of our other friends did camel treks through SAS that left the day before, since we had field labs we were forced to rough it on our own. Two blondes wondering around in Marrakesh – should be adventure right?
Fast forward past the hot train ride – we get to Marrakesh and what do we do? Well find food and Wi-Fi of course! After rejuvenating ourselves, we hop in a cab and show the driver the address of our place. We drive for 10 minutes then get caught in the weirdest kind of traffic I’ve ever been a part of: donkey carts, pedestrians, bikers, motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, and the occasional goat are all fighting their way through the crowded road. A half hour later we break free of the jam and our driver weaves through cars. All the sudden we come across this march of people blocking the road, instead of honking like our driver had been doing nonstop, we just sat there. It was only from driving by that we saw the wooden frame of a bed with a blanket slung over it, carried by six men, that we grasped it was a funeral procession. As freaky as that was, I was super glad that Anna and I got to witness that.
Turning what was supposed to be a 10-minute ride into a 45-minute ride, we were dropped at a square and told this was the address. We were lost. But, thanks to my handy-dandy trip advisor app we turned down some sketchy alleys and found a little door up to our waists. After a few knocks, a women opened the door with a sweet smile. She welcomed us in and asked for the reservation name. We walked into this beautiful courtyard with pillows and tables and candles throughout. Our room was adorable and so were our hosts. Aziz one of our hosts, walked us through the neighborhood and showed us everywhere we told him we were planning to go. The medina was an 8-minute walk and the El Jadida square (the main square/mosque) was only 6 minutes. Anna and I successfully haggled for some Moroccan pants and head to our sunset camel trek!
HUMP DAYYYYYY! Our camel trek was so cool but I was super glad it was only an hour-long ride. Those camels are crazy! They were adorably scary. Anna and I met these super cool people from Chicago that had actually heard of Semester at Sea and were asking us questions about it the whole time. We rode our camels into the palm frond desert until we reached a traditional Berber home where they served us mint tea and delicious bread. After our little break, we hopped back on our beasts and trekked back through the palm trees.
We headed back to our hotel and crashed until 8 am. We spent our last day wandering the medina for last minute gifts, and let me just say that we were pros at haggling by this point. I have a backpack full of things from Marrakesh and the total money I spent was under 30 dollars! Woohoo! Morocco was a cool place and extremely different. I think a lot of people were nervous about such a different place but I was sure glad to get out of Europe and try something new. Next up – a true African country: SENEGAL.