I haven’t died, I promise. I’ve just been super busy procrastinating… Ok without further ado, I’m going to jump into telling you all about Morocco before I go on some tangent. In case you forgot, Morocco took place between Nov. 7th-9th, basically a lifetime ago.
So at 3:30 PM that Friday, I and the 8 other girls from Dickinson who were coming on the trip found ourselves in front of the Malaga Cathedral waiting for our tour bus to come pick us up. This trip was not organized through Dickinson, it was through a private tour company who regularly holds visits to Morocco almost every weekend and has been doing so for about 20 years. I have to say the organization of the tour was top notch. Everything was paid for, the hotel stay, the tours, the meals. Except for drinks, that we had to pay for. There were actually 2 tours by the same company being run that weekend, about 30-40 people in each group. So there were a lot of people, mostly college students my age studying abroad in Spain. Not all were American, some were from Ireland, from Italy, from France… really all over. I met people studying in Granada, Sevilla, and I think Nerja. It really was a diverse group of foreign students.
I won’t bore you with details of the bus ride, but we eventually got to the port of Algeciras and got on the ferry boat that would cross the Strait of Gibraltar and take us to Ceuta, a city within Moroccan soil that actually falls under Spain’s jurisdiction. (Some leftover from the Spanis colonial rule I think). There is only about 11 miles (or 11 km?) separaring the Moroccan coastline from Spain. Because this is where the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean meet, there are A LOT of strong currents, it was hard to walk in a straight line as the boat rocked about. I managed to see the Rock of Gibraltar from afar… really strange land mass, it basically is a huge rock jutting out of nothing. And watching the sun set on the Mediterranean was pretty spectacular.
By the time we reached Ceuta and finally crossed the border (I got my new American passport stamped!! in Africa!), it was dark so we really couldn’t see much. Ceuta really isn’t much to brag about, even though it is considered Spanish soil and surrounded by Morocco on all sides. So we entered Africa (I know some people don’t consider Northern Africa Africa because the people aren’t that dark and the Sahara is further south… that’s stupid). We got to our hotel, which was surprisingly non sketchy and actually very nice. We had dinner and then we had “free time” essentially meaning we all crashed into bed.
Our adventures really began on Saturday morning, when we went to visit the Medina in Tetouan (the city our hotel was in) after breakfast. We first got to exchange our money into dirhams (Morocco’s currency) and I felt rich as I was handed over bills worth 100 dirhams when I had given about 40 euros to exchange. After that, our guide Jamal who spoke English guided us through the narrow streets of the medina, where the market was taking place. It was so surreal. You see this kind of thing on National Geographic but you don’t actually think it exists. Sacks of spices were laid out for inspection, along with fruits, vegetables, several stands of live chickens, chickens with their throats already slit, a lot of fish stands (which I think were sardines), cookies, clothing, beautiful handbags, rugs (of course)….
It was loud, packed, and lots of men trying to wheel past with those wheeling chariot things with big boxes. Our group had to stop several times to let these guys through. The smells were astounding. One minute you were smelling cinnamon for example and your mouth was watering, then the next you were smelling an unpleasant odor of fish. I felt like Aladdin in that first scene where you see him bouncing around the awnings of the market escaping the palace guards. Most women, young and old, keep their hair covered in wraps (some are so gorgeous) and wear long robes and a lot of older men wear these long robe type things as well and have beards. Our guide explained to us that it depends on local customs, but there are some places in Morocco where women do choose to cover themselves completely but it doesn’t seem to be the norm. I think women seem to have a choice about how they choose to express their faith through their clothing and aren’t dictated at. I’ve only really been exposed to the extreme of Islamic faith so it was reassuring to see firsthand that Muslim women have the right to not cover their heads if they don’t want to.
While in Tetouan, we saw a palace belonging to the royal family of Morocco, but I don’t think any royals were actually in there at the time. I think the family has several palaces throughout the country. The architecture of the medina astounded me and it definitely was very Arabic looking. I can’t really describe it but if you’ve seen my pictures on Facebook, you’ll know what I mean. Very white (no doubt to keep the sun reflecting off the buildings during the summer) buildings!
Jamal explained to us a few things about Muslims that I wasn’t aware of. Traditionally, only women are allowed to wear jewelry (or maybe men can only wear certain kinds of jewelry I can’t remembere) and he pointed out all the shops we were passing were women’s jewelry stores. He mentioned that if a man was seen wearing jewelry, it was usually assumed he was gay. Also, the reason for the ridiculous amount of cats roaming the streets is merely because Muslims aren’t allowed to own dogs as pets. I’m not really sure why and I’m not a huge cat person so I’m not sure if I would like this. Some of the facts Jamal mentioned surprised me and he kept insisting everything was true “I’m serious! I’m serious!”
After bumping into the water man whose role is to give out water to people (again Jamal insisted this guy dressed up in a funny costume was not a tourist attraction and that a lot of cities had water men… I guess I’ll just take his word for it), we were quickly taken threw a tannery. I’m not sure how tanneries are supposed to look like since I’ve never been to one. But I’m not sure what I saw is something you’d see back in the US. I’m not really sure if Morocco is considered a “first world country” but I’m pretty sure it’s not considered third world. Let’s just say what I saw was kind of disturbing… and it smelled realllllllyyyyyy bad. Ranks as one of the top worst 5 smells I’ve ever smelled (along with skunks). The tannery had a bunch of rectangular pits in which animals skins were soaking. Some were laid out to dry on a clothesline, while others still need to have the hairs plucked off them. I’m not really sure if it was camel skin and if the skins are turned into leather. We weren’t really given an explanation… If PETA got footage of this place, they’d have a field day.
We passed by a wedding box (apparently a box a bride to be is carried around in the city before she gets married… or she’s carried in it to the wedding not sure which) and also were able to enter a private home in Tetouan. The buildings look squashed on the outside, but on the inside they are huuuuuuuuuuge!!!! Jamal had told us this but of course I don’t think anybody really believed him until we went inside this house. So big and spacious with traditional mosaics for decoration and tiles.
We ate lunch in a restaurant and had some delicious couscous and Jasmine tea, along with clementines and other good stuff. We were entertained by some music and a man doing acrobatics while balancing a round platter full of small lit candles on his head.
After lunch, we were taken to this “cooperative” of rug vendors. And here’s when I finally got a taste of haggling. Nothing in Morocco has a fixed price, you haggle for everything. Not a huge fan of haggling, I tried to just remain a passive observer of all the pretty things I saw. However Moroccan sellers interpret looking at things as interest and start throwing out prices, offering you the special “student” price (there is none, I know this). Before all the haggling started, the man presenting the rugs explained how all the rugs were handmade by people in Tetouan (we saw a lot of people weaving rugs as we walked around the medina) and showed us some really exquisite looking rugs. While it was tempting, I knew there was no way I was dragging a rug (even a small one) back to Spain since it would not fit in my suitcase. And there was no way I was paying for shipping and handling to have it sent back to NY. Some of the girls from Dickinson did end up buying some pretty looking square designs with moons and stars on them. However I have to be kind of frank: what purpose do they really serve? They aren’t big enough to cover a table and hanging them up on a wall seem kind of out of place. I wonder if this cooperative place makes most of its money off of tourists willing to pay exorbitant prices for an African rug… Probably. I’m not a rug expert so it’s kind of hard to judge the quality compared to something you could buy back in the US. One of the girls from Dickinson expressed interest in a rug but when she learned of the starting price (900 euros?!), I had to walk away before he tried to convince me to buy one too. They are very persistent and pushy people and I understand it’s their way of earning a living. However if someone keeps saying no, they really should take the hint!
We then left Tetouan and drove to Tangers, a bigger city than Tetouan and one of the major cities of Morocco. We first stopped briefly at the spot where the Med. and Atlantic Ocean meet so we could snap pictures. After that, we were taken to ride some camels! Ok, I will admit it was incredibly touristy… think of pony rides at the county fair when you’re 5 haha. You basically go around the parking lot but it only costs a euro so there’s really nothing to lose. I enjoyed my 30 second moment of glory with my friend Kim who sat in front of me. It was kind of hilarious watching her get on because she is much shorter than me and the camel was too tall for her… Our camel person had to get her a mounting block to help her, I have to say I found this all very amusing. The scariest part was the camel standing up and down. It’s very jolting and awkward and you’re basically holding on for dear life as the camel grudgingly stands up/sits down. Not the most comfortable feeling in the world. I have to say I did feel bad for the camels. They were just walking around a parking lot/standing up and down all day. Here’s hoping their keepers treat them behind closed doors… And there were also a pair of adorable baby camels.
Once the camel riding excitement was over, we headed to Tanger and were left to wander around on our own in a section with a lot of stores and cafeterias. We got there just in time to hear the chanting/yelling voice coming from the mosque announcing the evening prayer/service (traditionally Muslims pray 5 times a day). It was accompanied by some strange sounds so it sort of sounded like it was wailing… And it was all in Arabic so I had no idea what the voice was saying. I imagined it was something like “Cooooooome nooooowww. You must pray nowwwwww. Loooooongg liiiiveeee Alllllaaaaaahhhhh.” We didn’t have a lot of free time to wander around and most of mine was spent in a cafeteria drinking jasmine tea with my fellow Dickinsonians. We did go into a few stores and some of the girls haggled/bought some souvenirs.
I will admit Tanger is probably the only part of the trip where I felt a little uncomfortable. It was obviously more urban than Tetouan and we were getting stared at a lot. Granted we’re tourists, so we obviously looked out of place. But I felt strange being gawked at like an animal in a zoo, almost like an intruder. I’ve never really been a minority before and I knew I stuck out with my very pale skin and dark hair. It’s hard to put into words. Also ever since 9/11, I feel like the US has had strained relations with every Arab country and I felt kind of awkward as an American within an Arab country. Well I guess that’s what traveling is all about… you can’t feel confident all the time.
One or two of the souvenir sellers in Tanger asked me if I could speak French. I was a little surprised, only because most of the souvenir sellers spoke to us in English to communicate. Many Moroccans know how to speak French due to the fact it used to be a French colony and it is still taught in schools. This is not the first time since I’ve stayed in Spain that I’ve been approached by a stranger and asked if I could speak French (happened the other day when I got approached yet again by some sketch who somehow guessed I spoke French without me telling him). It’s not like I’m wearing a sign that advertises it and I still think I look more American than anything. I know I dress like one, I know I sound like one. However my host mother keeps insisting I have a very French face and the few friends she’s introduced me to (notably the priest at her parish) says I look very malaguena. I suppose that’s nice to hear… but I still think I look American. People in the US don’t guess I’m French until they hear my name anyways.
Anyways after Tanger, night had fallen so it was back to the hotel. Dinner. Cold shower (no hot water in the hotel really). Sleep.
Sunday, we went to Chef-Chaouen, this little village that literally means “between two rocks” because it is right between two mountains. Beautiful little village with buildings painted blue and full of vivid colors. A lot of children were out in the street playing and it was a gorgeous day. We had gorgeous weather all weekend actually. Another tour guide took us through the streets (this time in Spanish) and it really was a special place. The village has a natural spring water running through it and our guide told us it was the only water we’d be able to drink in water (we were given strict warnings to avoid drinking the tap water). I also saw women washing clothes in the spring water, that was a little weird! Chef-Chaouen lacks a lot of modern electrical appliances and not a lot of the town has indoor plumbing. So what do they do? Do their business outside of course! In these communal bathrooms/showers…. honestly I don’t think I’d like that too much but to each his own. We were taken to another rug place and given free time to wander around the market and look at souvenirs. The sellers here were much less aggressive and a lot nicer. There was no chasing us down all the way to the bus trying to make a sell.
After lunch at a hotel in Chef-Chaouen, it was time to leave! Back to Ceuta we went and then waited an interminable amount of time to get back across the border. I ended up running to the bathroom before we entered Ceuta because I really had to go… I got stopped by a Moroccan official who was all confused because I was literally running towards the border trying to find our guard. Probably afraid I was trying to sneak into Spain illegally hahaha.
And then back on the ferry we went, this time with way more rocking than on the way to Ceuta. Back to Algeciras, back on the bus. After a few restroom stops, we were back in Malaga.
And there you have it! My first foray into Africa! While it was short, I definitely enjoyed myself. I would loooove to do Manolo’s trip which includes camel riding across the Sahara and spending a night in the desert, visiting Marrakech and all these cool places… It’s a 6 day trip and unfortunately coincides with exams and final papes. Some people from Dickinson are going and I’m sure they’ll have an amazing time. However the trip costs $400 euros and I still have a whole other semester abroad. Need to save up!
Last Thursday, the Dickinson studens who weren’t traveling and all the Cursos professors, including our program director and his family, ate at a restaurant in the city center of Malga and were served traditional Thanksgiving fixings. For my American family: yes I had turkey so you can stop worrying about me missing out on that! I also had sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, stuffing and apple pie! (No pumpkin pie though) Soooo all in all, it was really great to celebrate and a lot of fun. Some people should have eased up on the drinking just a little… I heard stories about it today. Silly people! I mean I did drink tinto de verano with my dinner but I did not get tipsy thanks to all the food we stuffed ourselves with.
After the meal (which was really a lunch), Kim and I walked overe to the train/bus station where one of our Theta sisters who is studying in Bologna, Italy was due to arrive. After some initial confusion, we ended up finding Morgan and walked her to her hostel which was very nice and clean. We walked her around the city center and then took her to El Pimpi for a tapas dinner. We really had a nice dinner and I enjoyed catching up with Morgan and learning about her life in Bologna where Dickinson also has a program. Her program is structured differently since all students live in apartments and all classes are taught in English, there is less an emphasis on learning Italian. The next day, we visited the Castillo del Gibralfaro (I actually went inside this time and we also took the bus to get to the top so no treacherous climbing involved) and the Alcazaba once again. Morgan seemed to enjoy visiting the sites. I definitely was mesmerized by the views of the Mediterranean and mountains surrounding Malaga (spotted snow at the very top). I’m going to miss all that when I leave!
Then we brought Morgan to the cathedral since she was going to do the same Morocco trip we did, though she seemed a bit anxious because she was afraid the tours would only be in Spanish and she doesn’t speak Spanish. However, when Kim and I went back to the city center last night to drop off some of her belongings she had left with me for the weekend, it seemed she had enjoyed herself, especially because her group was much smaller than mine was. She actually bought a rug which I was so surprised to hear and she went into all the details of the ordeal as we walked her back to her hostel. Once she was all settled in, Kim and I bid her goodbye and then I had to sadly return to my reality of papers. It was nice to act as a tour guide for a chance since no one has visited me in Malaga. And it looks like Morgan will be the only visitor since I’m leaving in 2 weeks!
Hard to believe I will be heading to France for the holidays in 2 weeks! And I see my family in 3 WEEKS!!!!! Not that I’m counting… but I DO miss you guys!!!! I’m a little sad I won’t be able to see my little Milou though.
OH speaking of dogs, Pelusa, one of host dogs here, is pregnant! My host mother had her completely shaved in order to determine whether her hair was making her look fat or if she was pregnant. I mean, we kind of figured after Pelusa went in heat and became the neighborhood slut for a few weeks, something was bound to happen. My host mother thinks I may be here to witness the births. She even joked I could bring back a puppy but somehow I doubt my dog or my parents would appreciate that.
Other news? I did spend an evening at my cousin’s here and saw his apartment (really nice by the way), met his apartment mates and some of his friends and stayed for dinner. That was nice. I unfortunately probably won’t be able to see him until Christmas though because I’m just too busy with exams/papers. Only a few weeks away though. And I’m so excited for Paris! It sounds like a lot of people I know are going to be there the week I’ll be there!
Huge condolences to the people of Mumbai. What happened there was just unbelievable. Who does that, seriously? I don’t understand these sick terrorists. When are people going to learn violence doesn’t solve anything?
Oh and the city center of Malaga is all decorated with Christmas lights, it kind of looks like a festival! There’s a nativity scene and all these little booths selling Christmas paraphernalia along Paseo del Parque. Will probably check it out soon. Will try to take pics of all the Christmas lights because honestly it makes my hometown look so boring with green and red lights!
OK that is it FINALLY for now. 2 weeks left. Oh My God!