Wednesday, November 25, 2009

رحلتي الى المغرب

Friday, November 20, 2009

Well the day started early, as I mentioned. Us Jardin-ians left around 4:30 to make it to Neptuno. It was funny to be walking in the streets, surrounded by Spaniards and other people who were still out partying! We walked past Kapital, the disco close to us and there were a ton of people in the plaza. Then when we made it to our bus, it was parked right below Mae West, another disco connected to Neptuno. It was pretty funny to think we were already awake for the next day when they hadn’t even gone to bed yet! Inma and her boyfriend, Raul were there waiting for all of us. Paula and her switch off being “chaperones” for the Morocco trip, considering they aren’t in charge of it—it’s technically a Luxotour trip. While we were waiting for people to show up, I saw something very odd. Our giant bus had parked in this nice little car, and when the guys came out of the disco to get in it, they were a little frustrated. That frustration turned into the ever-so-Spanish “no pasa nada” (don’t worry about it). They had better plans. I could barely see into the car from where I was on the bus, but I clearly saw them snort about 5 lines each of…something off of a CD case. Raul was sitting right in front of me and just started laughing at my reaction and says “está bien, ¿no?”. Hardy har. The guys in the car then just got out and waved to the bus driver and went back in the disco. Classy. Anyway, after starting off the trip with a bang, we drove our 5 hours to Terifa. Busses have laws here where they can’t drive more than 2 hours or so without stopping, so luckily we got a few bathroom breaks. I was feeling a lot better, but still didn’t trust myself enough to eat anything. We made it to the ferry in Terifa with about an hour to spare. We ate our bocadillos and watched the ferries come in. Ours wasn’t very big, but it was relatively nice. After we got our passports stamped and such, we settled in for the 45 minute ride. Once in Morocco they checked our passports again and then we were off on our same giant bus (I initially didn’t know that our driver was coming WITH us). We went and changed some of our Euros in Dirhams before we headed back to the bus. We picked up our tour guide for the weekend and his GPS man (the guy to tell the bus driver where to go). The guide’s name was Jonah, and the GPS was Aniss. It kept confusing me when I’d hear “Jonah!” “Jonah!” all the time from kids on the bus, haha. Anyway, Will and I were sitting up front right behind Jonah so we got to hear all the interesting tidbits he didn’t share over the microphone. For example, we found out he speaks at least 5 languages (Arabic, Spanish, English, German and French…but I’m sure he dabbles in MANY others), and we got our names written in Arabic! Our ferry had let us off in Tangier, so we drove around a bit and took some photos at some touristy places before heading off to Meknes.

I had expected to get odd looks, wandering around in a large group, but we did most of the trip on the bus. We had been told to pack very conservative clothing, and the girls who decided to ignore that tip definitely got the stares. I opted for a cardigan and scarf paired with jeans, even though it was about 80 degrees there!

We stopped in Larache for lunch at this “traditional” Moroccan restaurant. I suspect it was very touristy because there were other tour busses out front and they obviously catered to large groups. As it was with every meal, we had to pay for our drinks, while the meal was included. However, THIS meal wasn’t one I was too fond of. I felt like I had taken a ferry to Japan or something, because when the lady set my plate down in front of me, I flinched. There were a few shrimp staring at me, 5 whole fish deep fried (eyes and all) and then some fried calamari (no, they weren’t onion rings). I took a picture of it, stealthily. I picked at some of it, but just couldn’t force myself to scrape off the scales and fillet the fish myself. I managed (better than some, at least), eating little pieces I could pick off. I think one person started crying. The vegetarians got eggs and hashbrowns…a few people were tempted to tell Inma that they recently switched to vegetarianism.

We then made our way to our (4 star!) hotel in Meknes. I think most of the people were sleeping on the bus, but I decided to try and stay awake to see the scenery. It was sorta dark, but it was still interesting to see the small towns we passed along the way. Sometimes a group of kids would start running alongside our bus, or wave enthusiastically. I also saw this group of men, some sitting and some standing around a table playing cards outside of a cafeteria. I expected them all to have beers in their hands or something, just like in Spain, but they all had cute little bottles of Sprite! I forgot that Morocco is a generally 'dry' country. It was a nice change of scenery compared to that of the beer and tapas-goers in Spain. The roads were pretty narrow, considering it was technically a highway. Our giant bus looked like a monster, and the driver wasn’t about to slow down for anyone or anything (donkeys included). There were numerous times all of us up front thought we were going to crash, haha. Right next to the road there were donkeys pulling carts, people walking, people biking, and other small cars. Our bus would just flash its lights, like all the other cars were doing, and they would try and move out of the way. Sometimes we’d have to squeeze between another larger vehicle and a donkey or something, and I was scared we were going to hit something! Even Imna squealed a bit. I’m still confused as to why they flash their lights…I thought I understood it, but then realized they flashed them randomly at other cars coming towards us as well. Sometimes it seemed like a quick “hello”, sometimes it was a warning to move over a bit for us, and sometimes it seemed like they were just having a light flashing contest. No entiendo.

Anyway, we made it to our hotel and got our room assignments. We ate dinner at their nice restaurant…this time it was a bit more edible. We had vegetable puree soup, some lamb, and then a yummy chocolate torte for dessert. The hotel was very nice. I loved all the decorations, but felt dumb taking photos of them (obviously I did it anyway). After dinner, some of us wandered down by the pool outside and peeked into the disco that was below the hotel. We had read that women who go there are only looking for “clientele”, so we stayed clear of there. However, I was a big fan creeping on the music and lighting! Merete and I roomed together again and had a fun time exploring our giant room. Unfortunately, even though it was a very nice hotel, we still had to make sure to brush our teeth with bottled water!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

We ate breakfast around 9:00 and then headed out on our bus about a half an hour later. Jonah was in a traditional dress called a Djellaba. He told us that later in the day we were going to go see where they make them and would have a chance to try them on. While on the bus, he did a nice fashion show for us, haha. Our bus took us around the city while Jonah explained things. Every once in a while we would get off the bus to take photos, or see things closer. We saw the Royal Palace and the gate of Bab Mansour. Here there was a small market which he walked us through. That was quite the shock. I actually remember saying to Will, “and I thought Japan’s market was crazy”. Here they literally had heads of cows just sitting around, and guts hanging everywhere. There were random vegetables and other goods to see, but I couldn’t stop staring at the meat shops. Once we made it out of the market, it was interesting to see everyone’s reactions. Obviously it smelled HORRIBLE, so a lot of people had their noses plugged. Jonah laughed, but had to give this one girl a hug who looked like she was about to cry. His response was “it’s just normal”, which I guess is the truth. Then we kept going on our tour—walking a tiny bit, but mostly on the bus. I guess they’re serious about keeping us safe, because we literally had a police car following our bus the entire time. We also saw the Mosque and mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. Everything was very interesting to see, but I liked just watching the people (and they really liked watching us too)!

We then departed for Fez. It was about an hour and a half bus ride. We ate at another (more traditional) restaurant. We had little plates of appetizers and then got some more lamb. It was pretty good! Surprisingly, a lot of the people spoke English—but I assume that was because they deal with a lot of tourists.

After lunch we toured Fez a bit. We picked up our local tour guide, Habibi (which, in Arabic, means “my eyes, my love, my everything”, sorta like the English version of “darling”. The female version is: Habibati). He was probably the best guide we have ever had. Fez is a medieval city, and so we got to see the Bab Jeloud gate, the medersa (a Koran school) and then we stopped at some typical craft shops. The first one we stopped at was this pottery/ceramics place. We had a tour and got to see where they make all of their mosaic tiles for the gates to the palaces and mosques. Here they had a very tempting gift shop (as they did at all of the craft shops we visited). They had everything from teapots and plates to hookas and 5 foot tall vases. Most people opted for mugs or bowls. Then Habibi took us on a tour through the Medina, the market place. There were over 9000 streets, he said, and even though we probably only went though about a hundred or so, he knew literally EVERYONE. I loved being at the front of the tour with him because he would give us little tidbits of info about each shop, or the people who work in the different tiny shops. At one point, he had Kyle ask one guy to buy a sheep. Another time, he tried to make me touch a dead camel head. Will was fed some random guy’s soup—just because Habibi wanted him to try it. He was always cracking jokes on people. For example: there were these 2 kids who fell off their bike right in front of us. He rushes over to pick them up, and then leans down to the air thing on the tire of the bike. He pretends like he untwisted it, and then makes a hissing noise. The kids freaked out and thought he had actually let the air out of the tire. It was hilarious (once the kids realized it was HIM making the noise)! He did this a few other times throughout the tours. Habibi kept us moving through the streets, while stopping every so often to chat with someone. Apparently he owned a workout facility a while back, and so a lot of the people he knew was from his time running that. (He challenged Will to an arm wrestle on the bus—and won. Not so shabby for an old guy!) Whenever he wanted to get our attention, he’d just yell something like “HABIBIS!” and we’d all know where to go. I can just imagine what it sounded like to the locals: “Darlings! This way!” Anyway, the shops in the Medina had just about everything. We stopped in a few, including a spice shop (and herbal medicine) where we basically snorted this black stuff that cleared up my stuffy nose. Merete got a makeover with their traditional eyeliner and this cool lipstick that looked green, but went on as a beautiful red. There they also had plenty of spices and herbal creams and oils that some people bought for presents. We then went to the Djellaba shop. We had a nice fashion show from Habibi as well as some “volunteers”. After, we were all allowed to try on any outfit to take pictures in. Inma and Jonah reminded us that we had our fancy dinner that night, and that it might be fun to have an outfit to wear! Seeing as the outfits were pretty cheap (and we could try and barter them down, eek!) about half the group ended up getting something to wear. I opted for the cheapest outfit—it’s a 1 piece dress that…well, it’s difficult to explain, but basically it looks like a cute, saggy diaper. It’s black with gold embroidery. I figured I could wear it for Halloween, themed parties, our ethnic Christmas celebration, etc. Will and a few of the other guys ended up getting plain Djellabas. I think Will’s looks like something straight out of Star Wars. Like a Jedi or an Ewok, or something. You’ll see the pictures.

After that, we wandered around the tiny streets of the market some more. They were so compact, and there was stuff hanging all over the place. For the vendors to get into their shops, they have ropes hanging down, and they’d swing into them. Talk about circus-friendly! Obviously the streets weren’t big enough for cars to drive through, but every once in a while, there would be someone shouting “BALAK!”, which basically means ‘get out of the way’. That means that there was a donkey, or a train of donkeys trotting down the street with stuff piled high on their backs. They all reminded me of the donkeys at the donkey sanctuary—except they weren’t all following me around for food! All the time, though, we did have kids and older people following us around, trying to sell us little souvenirs, like keychains, fez hats, leather purses, etc. One of the kids was with us for BOTH of the days. He wasn’t annoying or anything, just sorta wanted to hang out with us. He spoke pretty good Spanish, so we talked to him via Spanish (since our Arabic was limited to: No, Yes, Please, Thank you, Habibi). Once we walked back to the bus, our police officer had to sorta shoo him away, haha.

Then we went back to our (5 star…yet still couldn’t drink the tap water) hotel to get ready. We all put on our fancy outfits. I had to wear mine with flip flops that I had thrown into my bag just in case (luckily I did, or else I would have been wearing my Converse). Inma and Raul showed up decked out in theirs—they looked the most legit of us all. We just looked like tourists trying too hard, but it was fun! We took a lot of photos, and then hopped back on the bus to go to our dinner show! It was at this restaurant/store called the Palacio Al Firdaous. There was a small band playing fun traditional music when we walked in. I grabbed a spot facing them, but along the wall, so I was sitting on a big couch. It was soooooo comfy! Why haven’t the states picked up on that trend yet? I also had a clear view of where the belly dancers would be! Sweet! We took some more photos before (and after) our food arrived. There were some kebabs, some more appetizers, and then some giant pieces of chicken. It was a ton of fun—especially once the belly dancers started picking people out of the audience to dance. We got Inma up there at one point! I have pictures (though they’re sorta dark) of all of them. Then there was this other band/dance group that came out. It was about 5 or 6 guys who just marched around with their drums, singing loudly. By the end they had almost our whole AIFS group up there with them, dancing in circles. There were about 4 tables that weren’t AIFS kids, and even some of them joined in! Then, I noticed that the Indian couple from next to us was missing. Their friends were still there, but I soon found out where they had gone. Apparently it was their 25 year anniversary, and they got dressed up in traditional Moroccan wedding clothing and were walked around the restaurant. It wasn’t until then that we found out they were actually from New York…they were just as surprised, and asked us to take photos with them, haha.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Well, breakfast was interesting. We had juice, hard boiled eggs and a TON of bread. Croissants, more croissants with stuff on them, croissants with stuff in them, and then these fun pancake-type things. They reminded me of Anupma’s chipati’s…for BREAKFAST! Yum! Oh, and what also made breakfast interesting was that we found out the one belly dancer girl from the dinner the night before actually works at that hotel. I think she was a bit embarrassed that we recognized her!

After breakfast we loaded up the bus and headed off to see more of Fez. We saw the Royal Palace, which was fun because the king was actually there. Habibi told us that was why we had seen so many police guards around the city. Who knows, I’m sure Habibi knows the king too…he honestly did seem to know everyone and their mother. Then we went through the Jewish quarter, called the Mellah, and the north fortress. This was part of the Medina, so it meant more walking through the tiny streets! Horray! This time we also stopped at some scarf shops and tapestry places. Seeing them in action was really cool. I got a few scarves to bring home! Habibi challenged Will to a pull up contest on this construction rigging, which was interesting. The locals thought that was pretty hilarious. (See video when I get home.) After walking through and seeing the many entrances to the mosque that’s inside the Medina, we headed back to the hotel for a quick (buffet) lunch. As we do with all the buffets we have encountered, the AIFS clan ate just about everything they offered us. Unfortunately I think that hurt some people in the long run… Anyway, we said goodbye to Habibi, who told us we need to all bring our families to meet him (okay, Mom?…Dad?).

We hopped back on the bus for a nice 5 hour long trip back through the tiny “highways” up to Tangier. Half way there, we had to switch out our tour guide, Jonah, for a new one, Abdul. We literally stopped on the side of the street, and then another tour bus pulled up facing the other way and the guides switched. We were all sad to see him go, but he was Luxotour’s only guide who could also speak German, so he had to be transferred to that group. Oh well…though we wouldn’t realize how much we missed him until our tour of Tangier.

Anyway, we had a few more near-accident encounters with donkeys and other cars, but I loved the scenery while it was still light out. I saw a lot of interesting things on the side of the road, too…like a dog eating a donkey, tons of sheep being herded, a dancing chicken, another dog eating a left-behind sheep, etc. I had been waiting for an email back from Mostapha (my CJ coach) because his sister lives in Tangier. He wanted me to meet her, and so he was going to send me her number. I didn’t get it until we were ON the bus on the way to Tangier, but I tried it anyway. Unfortunately she didn’t really speak much English at all, and after she found a translator (and I tried communicating with about 20 other people in French, Spanish, Arabic, etc.) they realized they had plans that night and we wouldn’t be able to meet. (Sorry for that phone bill, Mom.) I was really bummed that I wouldn’t be able to meet her, but we were scheduled to start our tour Monday at 9, so I wouldn’t have any time to meet up. By the time we got to the hotel, it was time for dinner, so we just ate dinner and went to bed.

Monday, November 23, 2009

We started our tour of Tangier pretty bright and early. The city was a LOT more modern than Fez, and it was obvious they wouldn’t have the same sort of handicraft options as they did in Fez (Fez is the handicraft capital). We did see the Petit Socco and had lunch at a typical restaurant (finally, couscous!). We got to go ride on camels! That was pretty interesting! There were 2 connected together, so Marisa and I decided to go together. I got on mine first (the front one) and hers started to sniff my hair. YIKES! And then after I got off of mine, I went to pet its head. It was really, really fluffy! THEN it turned and bit my thigh! Meany. His teeth weren't sharp or anything, and the owner guy thought that was pretty hilarious. Everyone there was laughing and then decided to all try and take pictures as close as they could to it without getting bit at. It was a pretty interesting game... Once we were walking around the town I realized that our new guide was sorta weird, and didn’t really tell us much about anything. He just kept saying “take a picture of this, this is nice”. He had us stop in weird stores, where he obviously was getting commission on anything we bought. Most of us caught on, and it started to get pretty annoying. However, he did take us to some nice photo ops. We had “free time” at this one area for about an hour and a half where we got to go in some more traditional shops. Kids had fun bartering for things (ask for 40% of what they initially say!) and drinking mint tea (the traditional drink). Emmy called one of the waiters “Habibi”, and he immediately spun around and had this huge smile on his face. Whoops, haha. He thought it was funny, and so every time he saw her from then on, he’d yell “habibi!” and she’d yell it back, haha. We also got hennas from this lady that Abdul had called in. I tried to get some photos of mine, but I’m not sure how they turned out. It’s all over my left hand and down my pointer finger. Everyone’s was different, and Raul even got his name in Arabic on his forearm! That was fun, but then we had one more quick bathroom stop before we headed over to our ferry. This bathroom stop ended up being at a hotel that Rick Steves stayed at! The guy in the gift shop had a photo of his family with Rick up on his wall, with a nice note from him. I snapped a creeper photo of it to put in my Spain/Morocco 2009 Rick Steves tour book. I just looked, and Rick in his books says “Jimmy, who’s always around and runs the shop adjacent to the lobby, says he offers everything but Viagra. When I said, “I’m from Seattle,” he said, “206.” Test him, he knows your area code.” It was ridiculous. You’d tell him where you were from, and he’d just spit it out. I guess Rick liked the place, because it’s first under the “$$-priced” Tangier hotels.

At 4 we hopped on our ferry (this time it was a lot larger and nicer) and took our 45 minute ride to Terifa. We got back on the bus after our bags were searched and then made our 5 hour journey back to Granada. We stopped twice, but that wasn’t enough for some people. I guess the food and tap water that people mistakenly ate kicked in, and at least one person puked on the bus. Regardless, the ride also consisted of a karaoke contest—we had both an opera singer and an Adele-sound-alike on the bus, as well as Armand who serenaded Inma more than a couple times and Nora, who had a spot on impersonation of Brittney Spears. Inma sang a bit back to Armand, but much preferred to dance up and down the aisles. Who knew she was so crazy. She even grabbed the tour giude microphone from the bus driver a couple times. Raul got a few chants, but refused to do anything…the bus driver suggested a striptease, and he refused that as well, haha. Then we had a nice bus-wide sing-along of “Feliz Navidad”, before Inma informed us it is bad luck to sing Christmas “charols” before Christmas. It was quite eventful, but I was glad to get back to Granada. Even though it was 12:30am.

1 comment:

  1. What a trip and what a great description of everything. Morocco has now made it onto my list of places to visit. I'll have to look for Habibi to show me around.