Week 7 brought a birthday, Italian serenades while riding a camel, and lunch in a town only accessible by foot.
- Oranges, orange juice, orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon, chicken with oranges, you name it, it’s here. I’ve never had so many oranges in my life than this month. And they are SO GOOD. Also whole oranges are served as dessert with meals. Fruit is slowly carrying a sad connotation because it means the meal is over.
- Marriage is an interesting topic here. In most of the mountain towns we visited, the locals spoke of arranged marriages. One teenage boy described “boys around the age of 19 are matched with 15 and 16 year olds”. Although a girl later explained that in her town the age for women was more 26 to couple year older men. Either way, because of the laws against sex before marriage, the premarital relations are often heavily monitored. In some cases, the parents attend every ‘date’ that the couple goes on. I have also felt a bit targeted in some of the smaller towns because marriage to someone like me would give them a path out of Morocco….yikes.
- The official languages of Morocco are Moroccan Arabic (Darija) and Berber, the language of the original/nomadic people. I have zero hope with either. BUT most people learn French in school so my French skills have come in handy.
- Rock the Casbah! Kasbahs can be found in most towns/cities. They are made up of small, tightly packed buildings surrounded by a big stone wall. Historically, they housed one family and all of their closest people, often royalty. Now they are sometimes inhabited by townspeople and sometimes used as markets and landmarks for tourists. We even visited one that was used for a bunch of movie/TV sets including Game of Thrones.
- I am exhausted by feeling like I am getting scammed on everything. And by scammed, I mean having to pay the ‘tourist price’. On our trip out to the desert, the bus would stop at places where the food was double the price of the other local venues. The little markets also did not have prices on things so they get to tell you whatever they want. I went to buy a beverage that was actually labeled 4 dirhams and the shop owner straight up asked for 10 dirhams. We are talking a difference of 40 cents and 1 dollar, but just on principle I couldn’t do it. But maybe I should just do my part in contributing to their economy? After all, tourism is the biggest industry. I learned that outside of the city, a standard salary is 50 dirhams a day. I am often charged 50 dirhams for tajine, so definitely not getting the local price. It’s all relative, I guess. Not trying to play the system but also don’t like being overcharged.
- Caught the sunrise from the rooftop of our riad (hostel) in Essaouira
- Strolled around the medina before it opened
- Stumbled upon a litter of NEWBORN KITTENS. I’ve never seen something so beautiful.
- Walked along the beach, really low tide and not really beach weather
- Bus back to Marrakech- got stuck next to this guy who talked my ear off. Sometimes my friendliness bites me in the butt.
- Early up and out to get to the Jardin Majorelle. This place is known for its beautiful garden and Instagram worthy blue
house in the middle. We got there at 9am and Cobi and I were probably the only ones under 50 years old. The lighting was not great for pictures but at least it was not crowded. When we walked out at 10am, there was a line all the way down the block to get in, and this was not a big place. Worth it? Not in my opinion, lots of other nice gardens here.
- Cobi goes for a traditional hammam while I work. Ask him for the story, it’s worth it. (A hammam is essentially a bath house where you can pay to get scrubbed down next to a bunch of other naked people). Not sure that will make the must-do list for me.
- Night out- won’t give all the details, but let’s just say it was girls night at the club and we did not get home until 3:30am.
- Rallied (and I mean dragged our *dehydrated* selves up) at 10am to make the most of the day before I had to work
- Visit the Bahia Palace. A former palace for the Sultan of Morocco. Unlike other palaces I’ve visited in Europe, like the Palace of Versailles and Schönbrunn Palace, this one had no furniture and you were just supposed to take in the tiles walled, artfully done ceilings, and cool windows and doors. It was also quite large for being cramped in the center of Marrakech. I would recommend the visit.
Thought I lost Cobi at night, turns out he actually was lost in the city somewhere, but he came back and we spent the evening playing Jackbox games with other Remotes. Love me some Drawful.
- Early morning pick up from Ando Travel- our tour group for the Sahara Desert trip (paid $115 to them, not bad for what we got, would go with them again)
- Take off west, making stops way to often for my liking, every hour and a half or so. Some for cool views which were nice and some just for snack/bathroom/smoke breaks
- This stretch was about 3 hours up, in and around, and down from the high Atlas Mountains
- Our group was a mix of 4 college aged Italians from Rome, 4 middle aged parents from Milan, a couple from Spain, two friends from Florida, another couple from somewhere in Italy, and a very…annoying…Canadian lady
- Lunch stop in the town Aït Benhaddou. Cobi and I opted for the local café instead of the hotel they led us to, half the price.
- Aït Benhaddou contains one of the most documented kasbahs in Morocco. We were told we needed a ticket but had no problem exploring it on our own and climbing to the top. As Cobe noted “this is one of those backgrounds you see in a movie and think there’s no way it exists in real life”. Pretty cool.
- Drive another 4 hours to our destination of the night in the middle Atlas: a hotel in the town of Tinghir called Hotel Bougafer. Nice exterior, crappy rooms. BUT had a soccer field right next door!
- Cobe and I wandered over and watched the pick-up game, thought about joining but it seemed a bit too established, did strike up a broken conversation with the guys watching who didn’t speak English very well
- Dinner was provided, a three course meal complete with chicken kabobs and a fruit plate for dessert
- Back out to the soccer field to close out the night. Very interesting scene for me. The teenage boys, probably eight of them, informed us that girls are not allowed to be out of the house past 8pm. We were far past 8, so I was the only woman in town. I really felt like none of them knew how to act around me. They only really addressed Cobi when they talked. Anyway, we learned a lot about life in their town, salaries, job paths, family and marriage structure, etc. Not a lot of them seemed to show hope for a big change in their future. Even the guy who got a degree said “ya, I went to university and still ended up back here”. They did emphasize that tourism was the majority of their revenue and there are not a lot of jobs in other industries. All of the guys did however show a desire to leave Morocco. The idea of marrying a foreigner seemed appealing (I later received many friend requests and messages on Facebook…)
- Get an early start to the day and do some exploring in Tinghir
- Guided tour through the gardens, noteworthy because we’re in desert land and there was a lush green field. I died laughing when the guy pronounced ‘poppy flowers’ as ‘poopy flowers’…real mature I know.
- Walk through the old Kasbah. Randomly come across a family eating a GIANT pot of couscous in the alley, they invite us all to partake in the Friday tradition of eating couscous in the morning. We all grabbed a spoon and dug in. It was delicious.
- Tour a local rug shop and get a taste for how they are made. The bigger rugs can take up to two years for one woman to make. Learned about the difference between sheep, camel, and goat (?) rugs. At one point, we were in a small room all sitting on the floor and the guide must’ve piled 30 rugs on top of each other showing us all the types of stitching and styles. Cobi and I were dying laughing.
- Quick drive up through the mountains to a giant gorge with goats along the side of the ravine. Honestly hard to describe, but ya, very cool.
- Three course lunch on the rooftop of someone’s home restaurant, overlooking the mountains, tajine number 3 of the weekend
- 3 hour drive to Merzouga, a small village on the edge of the Sahara, ride was complete with the Italians blasting and singing along to ‘I Can’t Get Know Satisfaction’
- RIDE CAMELS for an hour and a half to camp for the rest of the night. Watch the sunset from the dunes of the Sahara. Really no words to describe it. Did notice that you would do so much work to climb, then turn around and realize you’ve gone maybe 10 ft. If you want to feel really small (and lost) go to the Sahara Desert. Just incredible.
- On the topic of riding camels, I caught myself saying ‘wow, this really hurts’ then realized this animal was carrying me and my bag, and was trekking through the sand….I had no right to complain. It did kind of hurt my hips though, especially when the camel was going down a hill. Camels have very interesting limbs, to get up and down they sort of fold their legs underneath them. Feels weird when you’re on it.
- Tajine for dinner, what’s new, and a campfire complete with drums and dancing. The camp had a bunch of adjoining black boxes, essentially, that had a light and two beds and very thin walls.
- Stayed up late talking to one of the tour guides. He’d grown up in a village near Merzouga, and I enjoyed picking his brain to get a better sense of life in the area. Everyone seemed to either work in the desert giving tours or has moved out. The guide was one of 10 siblings, apparently not uncommon. He showed me some of the constellations, as well. The stars were unreal and the moon kept it pretty light.
Early morning camel ride back to the lodge where we cleaned up and had breakfast. The sun was rising as we left. Definitely could’ve used more time in the desert itself.
- Take off for an 11 hour day back to Marrakech
- Make a few stops along the way and spend the time talking politics, pop culture, and playing games with the people on our tour. What else do you do for that long? We made good friends though and have contact info for the future.
- When we arrive back in the city, our tour guide hit another car in the parking lot of one of the hotels where someone was getting out. That was fun.
- Catch dinner in the medina with Chris Rich, an old high school friend from Franklin, who is doing the Peace Corps in a town north of Fez. Was amazing catching up with him and kind of crazy that after five years, we reconvene in Morocco.
- First experience with the medina at night. It is WILD. Every food vendor is in your face trying to get you to buy things. Pretty annoying actually. They get pretty personal too, calling one of our new friends ‘too skinny’ and another to ‘fuck off’. Or my favorite ‘don’t panic, it’s organic’ I was stuffed at this point, but the food was really cheap and if you found the right places, really delicious…so I hear. Will go back.
- Meet back up with the Italians from the desert and the Floridians for a last hoorah before calling it a night.
- Cobi leaves early in the AM L Was really nice to have my travel buddy here for the week. It’s awesome when you have someone that you can travel so seamlessly with. We go at the same speed, like similar enough things, and know how to handle each other’s ups and downs. Safe to say we’ve had enough practice.
- Track Day with Remote Year! A day in the mountains
- Long drive, winding back into the Atlas for me (because I hadn’t had enough time in a car already)
- Cross through many berber villages and end in the valley of Ourigane, the village of Marigha, where we meet our guide for the day and set out on a hike
- The landscape is really unique, hiking through red rock and sand, but with lush, green mountains in the back
- Make a quick stop in the village of Anraz and visit a cool synagogue
- Hike all the way up to the village of Tikhfist (probably 2 hours total), a village only accessible by foot. I repeat, only accessible by foot. Yes, these places still exist!! Really felt like a step back in time to find this tiny, hidden Kasbah. Our guide for the day lived there with the 200 other people in the village.
- Ate lunch at his house with an amazing, quiet view of the mountains. Pretty surreal.
- Lunch was HUGE rounds of bread and tajine, no forks. Best tajine I’ve had thus far. Dessert was fresh oranges, what’s new? But also not complaining.
- Hike back down to a random reservoir and bus back. Lots of quality time with fellow Remotes.
Took me a while to write and post this week, just so much going on!! Overall, Morocco has been beautiful and I have really appreciated learning the culture, but I do not think this is a place I could call home. Tourist status is real.