Tag Archives: Sahara

Can you Squeeze the Diversity of Morocco into a Week? I Don’t Know, let’s Try!

3 Mar

The feeling course through my veins is one that could only be described as bittersweet. It’s the feeling of coming down, losing the happiness of an experience and sinking into the harsh realities of what is to follow, knowing that it’s going to be anything but easy. It’s a feeling that is all too familiar, and far too double-edged, because the happier you get, the further you can end up falling. The repercussions, however, are stories for another time, another audience, and another blog post. Instead, I want to recount the journey that brought me to this juncture in time.

This past week was our “excursion.” This word has been utilized in so many ways and has become so bland and mundane that it pales to even begin to describe the week-long gauntlet of this program. Our week began in Rabat, with a mis-set alarm, and me waking up 2 minutes before I needed to be at the center. After a hectic run around, and panicked last minute check over my luggage, it was off to the bus 10 minutes late, and making that awkward boarding of the bus that you make when everyone else has already staked out their spot, and you don’t really know what to do or where to sit… grade school all over again. After settling in and starting the journey, I had to say that my expectations of the impending journey were somewhat mixed. I had made a cross-country trip once before, and knew the pros and cons involved. It didn’t much help that the road to Marrakesh was the most boring of the entire trip.  Guess you could say that I just wasn’t expecting the sheer massive amount of sensory overload that waited for me mere hours away.

If the sensory overload of Morocco came rumbling through my mind like a tiger two months ago, then the sensory overload of Marrakesh hit me with the force of a freight train. Stress, that’s the only way to describe those first tense hours. It started with a frightening scene between a group of street kids, and continued through countless directional arguments. But, unlike the Kenitra fiasco, all worked out in the end. After a stressed but successful visit to a few historical sites, we made our way to the main square in Marrakesh, and I had another one of those moments that seems to fit the entire globe into the palm of your hand. It happened once to me while in the Netherlands, stumbling upon the 3 of the only 4 people I knew in the entire city of Amsterdam. This time, I happened upon the two fellow BU compatriots who split from us earlier in the day, at the exact same moment I lost the ones I had spent the day with up until that point. Then, I set out upon my journey to “take in the sounds of Marrakesh,” In the process seeing a snake charmer, being attacked by a monkey, almost losing my partner in the field exercise to a motorbike incident, and walking through areas of the medina that were far from “touristy.” The verdict was not positive for Marrakesh, but I felt that there was something from that negative assessment. Marrakesh was big, and rough. It was also rife with tourism, but I couldn’t help feel that underneath the veneer there was some truly remarkable experience to behold. Maybe it was in the constant dodging of harassment and endless drug offers, or even in overcoming the sheer mass of stress that descended upon me the second I set foot in the city… but one day I will find it. All this, and I only left Rabat 24 hours ago…

Ready? Gauntlet time. Leave Marrakesh at 8am, don’t reach Zagora until 6pm. Go! Long ride yes, but oh. my. god. I thought that I had been able to subsume that passionate desire to ski everything I saw, but the Middle Atlas range quickly proved to me that I was sorely mistaken. The mountains were reminiscent of Cottonwood Canyon Utah, and I quickly found myself wishing I could put off the desert for just one day to spend it in these mountains. I knew that wasn’t possible, so instead I turned up the Arcade Fire and put my head back and daydreamed the ride away. After a day of wishful thinking, we made our way to the “Northwestern Gate to the Sahara,” Zagora, and settled into our Kasbah styled hotel. Zagora was, in a word, amazing. “This is Africa, This is Africa” kept running through my head, and it finally felt like I had made it, this was where the last 4 years of my life came to fruition, I was truly “here,” and the swell of emotion that accompanied it made me feel like a giddy 5 year old all over again. After a walk around the city, and the purchase of the first 2 of my eventual 3 turbans, it began to sink in. Tomorrow, I sleep among the dunes of the Sahara.

The next day started off with my final turban purchase, and the commencement of the dialogues that would dominate the next few days. The shops who would give me an outrageous price, then tell me that they were giving me a “student price” only to have to tell them to go shove it before getting them to a price that was near where the actual cost would be. I also bought a Taureg cross, my first of two, since this one was to be “sacrificed” to the dunes of the Sahara. After watching the jewelry making process, we headed to have lunch with a nomad, “former” nomad, since he now lived a sedentary life. He was an interesting fellow, and the lentils were awesome. He had two wives, led his tribe and represented them for the government, after he had spent his life living amongst the dunes of the Sahara. It was hard to figure him out, but he was definitely a man who just exuded a sense of propriety and royalty, even as he sat in a hut that couldn’t even attempt to pass as “low income housing” in the US. After lunch, it was time to head for the Dunes. The ride through the dunes could only be described as “rough,” as we bounced around in the back of a legitimate land rover, being used for its legitimate purpose instead of overcompensating for some yuppie back in the states. After a fair amount of singing/shouting/getting thrown into one another and into the roof, we made it to camp, with plenty of time to run into the dunes and play in the sand. It’s funny, even at the age of 20, a group of people are still likely to jump around in the sand as if they were still in grade school if provided the chance. And why not? It was the most carefree I have felt in a long while, and you can’t really trade that for anything. After some romping in the dunes, it was time to ride the camels. I can’t say that it would ever become my preferred method of transport, but it was pretty damn cool. Camels have legs that fold about a thousand times, so getting up on one is somewhat akin to a roller coaster ride, only backwards. I must say that the night in the desert only built upon the epic nature of the day. It’s amazing how much can be done with so little. Mix sand with a bunch of college students, a group of Saharan Amiziri people, a few drums and a fire and all of a sudden you just finished the needs for an evening. I think this formula is a testament to how little we truly need to be happy, and how sometimes the best way to spend an evening is lying down on a sand dune (or a field if the dune is unavailable), and just staring at the stars. After a night in the Sahara, being woken up by camel sounds, we made our triumphant and somewhat sandy ride back out of the desert.

After the desert, we made our way to Risani to spend the night. We decided that swimming off the sandy haze that surrounded us would be a good idea, right? Wrong. Although we committed to a 5 min icy plunge into the salty pool of the hotel, it was far from enjoyable. But, far be it from me to pass up a challenge, so I made the plunge, and beat a hasty retreat with my fellow brave compatriots. Fes in the morning.

After an uneventful ride to Fes through Ifrane (Moroccan Switzerland. No Joke), I broke my communication fast and hit an internet café quickly. Our following day in Fes consisted of the basics, touring the medina, seeing people making everything I had been seeing in the souks (markets), and just reveling in the process of “how it’s made.” No epiphanies today, just a mental not that I need to return to Fes. One day was not enough.

After Fes, we made a stop in Volubilis. Nothing to terribly notable here. Beautiful Roman ruins in the Moroccan breadbasket, gorgeous. We got to see the most interesting group of Japanese tourists, which made my morning, but then it was onto our last stop (After lunch in the incredibly picturesque Moulay Idriss). Chefchaouen, here we come.

I can only describe Chefchaouen in two words. The first describes the clientele: Hippy. The second describes the feeling of this place: Cathartic. After an evening there, among the blue streets, drinking tea and talking, the hectic madness of the week past melted away. I was calm. That calm feeling continued, even though getting up at 6am to hike the mountains that Chefchaouen lay within. This hike was easily one of the highlights of a week of highlights. The steep terrain, the sense of accomplishment, the 2 Street Dogs who kept us company throughout our entire hike, and the scenery were indescribable. The entire hike took almost 6 hours of heavy footwork, and we didn’t reach the true summit, but reaching the ridge was amazing enough. That morning will forever etch a place in my memory among the ones I escape to when I need to smile, and I would rank this place right along with the Sahara as a must see. After a morning filled with physical exertion, I rested my way right back to Rabat, after a quick look into the olive oil making process.

In closing, I have to rank this past week among the all-time highlights of my travel experiences. The views, the experiences, the knowledge and the feelings were visceral, and it was a once in a lifetime week that I don’t think I will ever truly replicate again. I just hope Portugal and Spain are listening well… they have a damn hard act to follow.

Shuf!/Shufi! (Look!)