February Travel Break: 16th-19th

Trip Start Sep 02, 2010
Trip End May 13, 2011

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Thursday, March 3, 2011

Well, this took longer for me to get to than I thought. But here we are. Morocco.
Morocco was one of the craziest places I have ever been to. First of all, we were in Marrakech. Walls surrounded the old part of the city, and within these walls were the souks, the large town plaza, and our riad. Outside the walls was the newer, more recently developed part of the city. It was beautiful, sunny, warm, and how you would expect an mediterranean, african, Islamic city to look. A riad is a house that has an area in the middle open to the sky. The primary languages are Arabic and French, followed by English.
We arrived in Morocco in the early afternoon and we were picked up by a driver and taken to our riad. It was an interesting ride. With 3-4 people on one little moped, a mom and dad with the kid in between on the moms lap, all the women dressed in their outfits that cover them from head to foot. Sorry I dont know exact term for it. The airport is literally right next to the city. A fence separates it from the city. It was about a ten minute ride to our place. The car stopped on the outside of the wall and he walked us with our stuff through an opening in the wall. Major. Culture. Shock.
It was completely different from outside of the walls. All of the buildings were that neutral stucco/clay/not sure type, narrow streets, very disorientating, somewhat not taken care of, and just very different. Everything was in Arabic with english underneath it. It was a two minute walk to our place and our first reaction walking there was "uhhhh, kinda weird/scary." It was down a little side "street" that came to a dead end. The riad was really nice. It was like its own little world among the busy, somewhat annoying, city. In Paris, especially around the Eiffel Tower, arabic guys are selling things on blankets. And they come up to you saying buy my stuff, look at this, come on. Well, that is their whole life in here.  They have open air stores with soooo much stuff and, especially if youre a white American girl, the guys working the stands come up to you grabbing you saying buy this come on, just look, just look. We couldn't even pull out a map because they would come flocking to us trying to direct us somewhere. Everyone spoke english though quite well. Back to the riad......We went inside and we were greeted by a French lady that works there. She's from Normandy but moved here. (Why? I have no idea). She lives in the souks but stays to sleep at the riad if its not full. There was one young girl working here, along with a cook and two different guys would switch off days. They were all very nice. We sat down and the girl brought us green tea in a silver tea pot with little glass tea cups that looked like big tall thin shotglasses. The green tea....SO...GOOD!! This lady was kinda weird but very nice. She had long black/grey hair with a hint of purple highlights. The young girl and guy carried our suitcases up the stairs for us to our rooftop terrace room. It was a cute little room with just two beds and a private bath. Out our door and around the corner was the rooftop terrace. You go out onto the terrace and there is a higher level up a winding staircase. Up here you could see the Atlas Mountains in the distance (which are about an hour drive away) and you were on the same level as everyone else's rooftops around you. It was a sea of rooftops. Houses looked not very well taken care of, laundry hanging from lines, the katouba towers on the plaza, and random t.v. dishes ontop of these dilapidated houses. It was just a great, very different, view. Downstairs at the entrance was the dining room, where all the guests shared breakfast. It was like a family. We met a family that was staying there from Denmark.  A mom, dad, teenage boy and girl, and their grandma. They were so nice. We would eat breakfast with them and chat and just relax.  This room also had a wood fireplace which they put on at night that was just great for the cool nights. Birds would fly in and out from the outside, and it was a great place. For two nights we met a guy named Tommy from New York. The sweetest guy ever and we had hours of great conversation with him.
The first day we spent walking around the plaza, getting to know the place. We walked through the souks, which was an experience. If you have ever seen Slumdog Millionaire, this is what Morocco was like, and especially the souks. Streets,and streets, and streets of stands with people selling stuff. When you get past a certain point, it gets much much less touristy. It is extremely disorientating and when you get in to a certain point, maps don't help. Well....we went in past that point. We were never scared for our lives, but just worried about getting into some sort of argument because the guys would literally grab your arm or come up to you and not leave you alone wanting you to look at their things. We walked for probably an hour if not more. We eneded up at the complete opposite end of the souks out onto the street outside the wall on the opposite end of this walled city. Within the souks, you would look down openings in the walls, or through doors that opened into more open areas, and famililes were living in these holes in the walls. It's so hard to explain, you'll have to see the pictures. I could not imagine living like that.
It was between 70 and 80 degrees every single day and not a cloud in the sky. It rained the second morning we were there but was over by about 10am, then got sunny. Beautiful weather.
After we got outside the walls we could breathe a bit. We walked along the road allllllll the way back to the entrance where we went in before. Long walk. On the way there, we went through the big Taxi Station. It looks like a used car lot. Taxis parked everywhere, lined up next each other. Chaos. And theyre all guy drivers. Here comes two white girls walking through into this huge mess of guys. I had to laugh. I found it hysterical that we just couldnt do anything about it, couldnt get away from it. Dust/sand is blowing everywhere, it was like we walked into a cloud and on the other side was the sea of taxis. We finally get back the riad. Aunt Nora had brought a bottle of Sangria from Barcelona and we bought an orange in the plaza and sat on the rooftop and enjoyed the night. What I forgot to say: during the day, the plaza is full of snake charmers, groups of people watching bird fights, and stands and stands of guys selling oranges and stands of dried fruits. Everyhthing is very colorful. AND. THE ORANGES ARE THE BEST THING IVE EVER HAD EVER. THEYRE THE BEST ORANGES EVER!!!!! And. Everything is cheap. One orange costs about 40 American cents. You go up to the stands and you can either buy whole oranges or get a glass of orange juice and you just stand there and have a glass. At night, every night, the plaza is rearranged and people bring in about 70 food stands where they sell tagine, couscous, sheep, odd deserts and soups, escargot in huuge pots sold for about 50american cents for a bowl. Every night Aunt Nora and I would come to the plaza and have dinner and for the two of us for about 6 different plates of food, it only cost us between 8 and 9 euros, about 13 dollars. Also, you have to haggle for everything here. There was not one thing we bought, except food, that we didnt have to haggle for. It was an interesting experience. I have so many things to describe Im getting ahead of myself so Im gonna start over and go by day:
Day 1:We arrived, walked around the city, had lunch at a restaurant (very different than anything Ive experienced, very weird service), had a homeless guy stick his fingers in our salt and pepper to season his bread, got lost in the souks, I got a henna tattoo, went back to our place, relaxed, went back out for dinner in the square, saw sheeps head with the tongues and teeth still on them, with other tongues lying in front of them, amazing food. I had a plate of olives every night. Morocco is known for their olive growing. After dinner, we went back to the riad and sat on the rooftop and drank sangrias. Later on, relaxed in front of the fireplace.(Also, at  every meal, youre given a huge bread bun thing, I never know what to call them, and some tomato salad, alrady a meal in itself).
Day 2:  We had breakfast with the family from Denmark.  Afterwards, we did a little more in depth of looking around the shops and only ventured so far into the souks this time. Then, we went to the Yves St. Laurent garden that sits about a 20 minute walk outside of the walls. The garden was very pretty with beautiful vibrant blue, green, and yellow colors as the color scheme. We also went inside the small Yves St. Laurent museum where they had a bunch of Yves's first clothing designs shown on mannequins. We quickly went through a small mall that was across the street in search for some wine. Because of their religion, the people do not drink. So, there are only a small amount of places to buy alcohol. We decided to try a Moroccan wine that came in a plastic, yes plastic, bottle. Not just any bottle. A plastic liter bottle. It was ok....wouldnt be my first choice ever again, but....why not try it out. When in Morocco......
We took our bottle of Moroccan wine to the riad and.  We headed back out for dinner, and finished the evening next to the fireplace.
Day 3:  Today we had breakfast with both the family and 4 people from England who had just spent two days climbing the Atlas Mountains. Today was the day we would venture into the mountains. We had our own private driver for the whole day. He picked us up at 9am and we didnt get back until 6pm. The drive into the mountains was about an hour. Along the way he stopped at some sites. We stopped at a small place where widowed and homeless women come to work where they make nuts into oil, soaps, and cooking oils. When we got farther into the mountains and finally stopped for the tour to begin, we stopped at a restaurant where we met our guide. Aunt Nora and I had some green tea then went on our way. In the mountains here is where the Berber villages are located. The Berbers were the early settlers in this area before it became the Arabic people. Our guide was pretty much a mountain goat. The way he jumped from rock to rock and got up and down amazed us both. All the houses and restaurants are built into the mountains. No formal roads, just narrow dirt/rock pathways. The climb was beautiful. It felt like Arizona with the dessert mountains. It was about 80 degrees today and sunny. Got a little sunburn. There was snow in the mountains not very far from us. At one point, after we saw the waterfall in the mountains, our guide continued where we proceeded to climb up a ladder, just a normal ladder you might use to hang Christmas lights on your house, that was held by a guy who pretty much stood there all day just to hold the ladder. The view was amazing, the whole adventure was great.
After we got back to the bottom we stopped at some stands along the road where I bought myself a camelbone necklace. Aunt Nora likes to remind that "a camel died for that necklace." We will claim it died from old age. We arrived back around 6 and relaxed at the riad. And yes, once again, we lef that evening for dinner in the plaza.
Day 4: Today was our last day. We woke up to find out that breakfast was being moved to the table on the rooftop terrace. This morning it would be just us and the family from Denmark. It was a relly nice breakfast, it felt like we were sitting with family. We just sat there for an hour and a half and just talked all morning. Breakfasts always included some of the amazing fresh squeezed orange juice, some different types of bread and a bunch of different jams, along with an egg or two. I ventured off on my own for a while to do a little more looking around the shops in the square then went back to meet Aunt Nora. Today was the grand finale. Today was the hammam. A hammam is a spa that is native to this area. It is a place that is seen all over. They are where the men and women and children go to get clean. And after all that dust and dirt and sun, you can tell why. There are the more crowded cheap places and the more exclusive places. We went through a place our riad recommended. Once again, everything here is cheap. What we paid for the two of us to get would probably be the cost of one of the less expensive treatments you can find at home. Each of us got 45 minutes in the hammam and an hour massage. The hammam is a sauna like room but barrel vault type ceilings. Very dimly lit with candles, with marble heated walls. Your in the room with a lady who pours a bucket of warm water over your head, massages your head with shampoo and oils, then proceeds to give you a FULL.....FULL....body SCRUB down. They say they rub you to within an inch of your life....well...pretty close. I had so much dead skin lying on the bench when I got up, it was gross. Then you stand under shower in the middle of the floor, youre given your robe, and taken into a cool room with tall ceilings. Here, you get a cup of hot green tea, an oil foot massage, and a frozen small roller is passed over your face with a cold rag on your forehead. And, with sunburn, it felt amazing. After this room, you were taken into another small, dimly lit room where you got an hour of a FULLLLL body massage.
It was....amazing.
After the hamma we went back to the riad, grabbed our luggage, and a driver picked us up and drove us to the airport. We got back to France around 11:30. Just late enough to miss all the trains back to Paris and home. So we had to take the night bus getting us home around 4am.
The next day we spent just relaxing at home while I got ready for school the next day. Aunt Nora toured around Versailles for the day, saw the Chateau, where I met her for lunch and we sat by the canal and ate. She left early the next morning. And vacation with Aunt Nora was over.
It was soooo much fun and I'm so happy she got to come!! It was one of the best trips yet. We had some amazing experiences and best of all, we get to say we went to Africa!

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