Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Welcome to Morocco

Here are some exerpts from my travel journal that I kept in Morocco. More coming later, including photos...

March 27. Hotel Negotiants, Casablanca

Left Senegal in the wee hours of the morning with Claire Deboer and Jill Speer. After a bit of airport hassle, we descended on Casablanca at 7 am. I can already tell that this is a country that I want to come back to. The rich African and Middle-Eastern influences permeate the air. Walking down the street smells like fruity hookah. The architecture of Casa looks like the tight, cosmopolitan, cafe-lined streets of Paris.
People are so terranga here. Already, night guys helped us find our trains. (There is an EXCELLENT train system in Morocco.) and as we walk down the street, people cheerfully and sincerely say ¨Welcome to Morocco!¨ ...without trying to get us to buy something afterwards. Good vibes here.
We checked into our hotel- basic but cheap. We went to go see the ridiculously opulent Hassan II Mosque. It is the world's largest mosque after Mecca and Medina (and the 4th largest Mosque is in Senegal!). It has a retractable cedar roof, a glass floor over the ocan, and a lazer that points to Mecca from the minaret. It can fit 105,000 people praying at a time (out of those, only 5000 women).
Where should we go tomorrow? Fes or Marrakech?
I cant belive Im actually in Morocco.

March 28. 1pm on the train between Casablanca and Fes

We decided to go to Fes and spend a few days exploring ¨north Africas oldest city¨.
Casa was nice and more European than I thought, but the outer suburbs look like a tired, post-Soviet Russia. There are plenty of factories and shanty towns and cable satelite dishes.
I'm suprised at the Mediterranean weather here. Coming from the desert of Senegal to the humid, lush Moroccan springtime has been a treat. Everything is green and it reminds me of a crisp spring day on Bascom Hill in Madison. I keep expecting to see guys wearing shorts throwing a frisbee. I got a little sunburned, but I'm wearing a sweater, scarf, and jeans.
We walked around the market a little in Casa and it was so beautiful! I was overwhelmed by the flowers, mangoes, stawberries, avocadoes, dates, honey, live turtles, piles of olives, and the best orange juice I've ever tasted.
4.5 hours to Fes, across a countryside reminiscent of the paysage between Paris and Aix-en-Provence.

March 29. 9am, Hotel Erradhat.

Crazyness! Yesterday when we got off the train at Fes, there was a girls who had been sitting in our cabin, who saw that we were a little lost. She invited us to her house, but then changed her plans and helped us find a taxi to a hotel ¨moins cher¨. She even paid for our taxi! She gave us her number and told us to call tomorrow to meet her family.
Our hotel is hilarious. There is a charming terrace and a nice owner, Karim (Khadim..), who is just a little older than us, who is always trying to get us to join him drinking beers in his ¨berber night club¨... a little corner of the terrace with a rug.
Even more crazyness! When we were walking around the medina in Fes, we ran into Stone, Lurks (John), and Tim- the 3 South Africans that Megan Alaska and I had met 2 months earlier in Senegal, as they are surfing their way up the West coast of Africa. What a random reunion: miles and months from where we started. They remembered me too! They were celebrating their 1 year anniversary of being on the road, so I bought them a little cake and we hung out in their swanky hotel. They had the most gorgeous view from their rooftop terrace: all the ancient stone houses with their green tiled roofs and the tannery vats in the distance. Anyway, the guys were hilarious. It is hard to belive that they are all 28-year-old university graduates. We went to dinner (where the proprietor wrapped their beers up in toilet paper and said ¨this is mint tea¨. Alcohol is highly illegal in Morocco, but still clandestinely bought and sold), then out to a ¨club¨- Fes-style. This ¨club¨ in the new part of the city, was unmarked, smoky and sparsely populated. There were half-hearted bellydancers downstairs and sad Arabic Kareoke upstairs. Take your pick. I was just a few sips into my red wine when they started closing the place down! It was a holy Friday night, in a conservative city, but it was only midnight! We did, however, see Karim there, drunk and jolly.
The guys drove us back in their truck and we said lovely goodbyes, as they will be leaving for Casablanca tomorrow. I hope I see them again, in another 2 months, in another random exotic location.

March 29. 11pm. Fes.

What a full, overstimulating day.
We walked around the medina, the old city of Fez with all the souqs (markets), after our morning cups of orange juice. This medina is: noise and color, pottery, instruments, jewelry, tapestries and rich fabrics, leather, tanneries with giants vats of brighly-colored dyes, tight alleyways, vendors of all kinds of exotic foods, donkeys, spices, hidden passageways, snails, mint tea, roasting nuts, fruit, kaftans, Korans, and life. The medina is the pulse of every middle eastern city, and Fes' medina is marvelous. I learned that Fes is indeed considered the oldest city in North Africa. Next week the city is having a giant party to celebrate its 1200th aniversary. Even the king is coming (he's obliged, because his wife is from Fes).
I bought a bright blue embroidered tunic, a towel for the hammam, scarves, and the richest red fabric I have ever seen, hand-woven and huge.
After that, we called Fatima Zohra, our train friend. She met up with us at our hotel and took us to meet her family in the cartier outside of town. Her mom, dad, brother (a dead ringer for Borat + a mullet), sister, and niece all live together in a tiny but well-decorated house. they dont speak any French, but we managed to communicate in my broken Arabic and with plenty of hand motions. We were able to laugh over a meal of chicken and rice and tomato salad and oranges. It was simple, but so kind and generous of them! Reminds me of what I experienced in Paris. I must pay this forward someday. After dinner, we took photos, watched American TV dubbed in Arabic, and a friend of theirs did hennah on our hands. I cant get over the generosity of the Moroccans, especially this family, Fatima, Hassan, and the turbulent little Shaymeh. Brother and sister took us home in taxis and we promised to garde le contact. I am touched, grateful, and changed a little more. She taught me a lesson I needed to learn.


Anonymous said...

I think "clandestine" is one of my new favorite words!

Isn't it crazy how unfriendly the U.S. is? You'd never just invite strangers into your home, or talk to people on a train if you thought they were lost. It seems as though all the amiable, good-moraled folk moved to other countries, and left all the crooks and jerkoffs in the states to breed.

I'm so glad you're having such a wonderful time! I love you :)


stone said...

Hey Cath

Found you, cool blog. You didn't tell us about this! Thanks a lot for the punt!

Yip it sure was pretty crazy bumping into you in the Fes medina... although on our trip we're kind of getting used to cool and bizarre stuff like this happening on a daily basis... we should have almost expected it!

See you in a couple of months, somewhere! Hopefully we'll be able find a better bar next time...

Thanks again,
Stone & the AfricanSurfer crew