Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Marvelous Moroccan Miracle

Sabah al kheer, usdiqaaty!

Bonjour from the beautiful Magrheb. Im sitting in an internet cafe, just off the Place Djmaa El Fna in Marrakech, Morocco. A serious dream come true. I have waited a long time, saved a lot of pennies, and prayed my little heart out for this to come true. I'll write a bit as I wait for my photos to load on photobucket. (Link to photos coming soon).

I left Dakar on the 26th of March with two friends from Uni in Madison, Jill Speer and Claire Deboer. We landed in Casablanca on the 27th and spent one night in a cozy, well-tiled hotel. The city is very European, and I felt like I was in Milan or Paris, with the tight cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes and street vendors.

On a whim, we decided to change our plans and head up to Fez, north of Casa. The next day we took a 4-hour train ride to what they say is Africa's most ancient city. And indeed they have done a great job preserving the Medival-ness of the city, without it being kitchy. We wandered around the Medina and the souqs...the labrinth market that is an overwhelmingly sensual experience. It is lovely to get lost among the ruins and taste some mint tea and snails and smell the spice stalls and hear the exotic instruments. We met a really nice girl rom Fez, Named Fatima Zohra, on the train and she invited us to her house, so we hung out with her and her family, which was an experience. Also, we randomly met the 3 South African surfers that I had met 2 months before while at Zebrabar with Megan Alaska in Senegal. It was such a lovely chance meeting, and we hung out and had a jolly old time in the city. I love Fez and was sad to leave.

We took an 8-hour train ride to Marrakech 3 days ago. Let me tell you, the train system in Morocco is incredible. Senegal would do well to have something like this, even just between Dakar and St. Louis. We ended up staying our first miserable night in a creepy hotel down a dark alley...but oh well, its part of the experience. We moved out to Hotel de la Paix, early the next morning and we are well-installed there for the moment. Marrakech is fantastic, but much more hectic and touristy than Fez. I'll describe the Djmaa El Fna later, but it is the central marketplace that is the beating heart of the city. The best word to describe it is crazyness! Yes, there really are snake charmers, and storytellers, and belly dancers, and sheep on spits, and spiced tea, and henna artists and chic young moroccans and middle aged european tourists, all in a swirling mass of silver smoke and red firelight. More description to follow surely will not do it justice.

We've been walking around Marrakech, shopping in the souqs (everything is way cheaper here than Senegal), visiting the gardens and ancient ruins. Its been relaxing, but I'm excited to get to the ocean in Essaouira, where we're going tomorrow. I hear there's a little surfing to be had there.

Man, I love this place, and I already know that I want to come back and backpack to see more of the countryside and the berber nomad culture and what else this place has to offer. I'll be back here. In shah allah.

Love you all. More complete descriptions later.

Photos from my trip...some are of Senegal still, and none have been edited or rotated. Ill do this later:


Anonymous said...

Hi Catherine!
My name is Emily, and I am studying in Senegal next year through UW-Madison. I would really like to e-mail you with questions about your experience as I get ready for my own. It sounds like you're really busy and have limited (maybe?) internet time, but if you get a chance: Thank you; hopefully I'll hear from you soon :)

Anonymous said...

Info: You can rent a car in Morocco for 250- 450 Dirham (Dh) /day. Find someone from USA who is from Morocco and contact through phone or internet. All busineses (such as rentals have also phone). You may even be able to rent a car from a family member of someone in Morocco (who is in US) for about 200Dh/day. Pay for own gas (price is same as in the US per gallon or Litre). Parking is about 15-20 Dh per day mostly. There are tons of "Internet Cafe w/ phone ervice". Identify "internet Cafe" by the @ (AT sign i.e. @) on the name. It is ONLY 10 Dh for a one hour conection. Pretty good rate. Eat Tagine for 70 Dh (about $10.00) a full meat dish (with whole wheat hand made fresh bread and juicy red sweet tomatoes in herbal/mint and spice--yum...) enough for the whole day with variety of meats all grilled and delicious in lemon and spice. Drink the tea without mint when possible b/c mint is a laxative if taken too much.
Did anyone get travellers diarrhea?
Tea is an antidote for diarhea if taken dark with a bit of cane sugar. It was fantastic to know that ALL SUGAR in Moroco was natural, sweet and cane-sgar (no white powder).
Fully agree w/ the Mkch experience. But a great experience not to be missed. Go to the MOUNTAINS next tie and spend three days at "Ourika" (pay only 50 dh to a Taxi to take you there - about one hour to reach the mountain- FABULOUS place--DO NOT MISS the figs, the undescribable route to the "VALLEY" lush and green in the middle of the arid mountain w/ endless vendors and surprises and beautiful homes.
I agree MOROCCO is worth all the money and it HAS IT ALL. The desert, city, nomads, sleezy boys, elegant women, respect, fun, hawkers, beauty, slums, touristy. But the Couscous at a friends is the BEST. You must eat at a Moroccans Home their couscous w/ hand after washing hands.
The embassy web site tells to visit a "wedding". How can we?