Thanksgiving in Morocco!
On Thanksgiving Thursday, we landed in Marrakesh and could not believe we had made it to Africa! We went through customs and exchanged our pounds for durham, the local currency. We rode a bus to our trip leader, Mohammad. When we met Mohammad in the town square we went to a restaurant that served chicken targine and mint tea, both of which are Moroccan specialties. Cats are everywhere in Morocco, even in the restaurant where we ate. We then walked around the town square, and saw the Koutoubia Mosque, which is the largest in Morocco. There were very large speakers on the Mosque, and our leader said that Muslims are called to pray 5 times a day through chants over the loud speaker. Visitors were not allowed into the mosque, so we could only see the outside. After that we went to the markets. The markets were huge with brightly colored scarves and tassels. There was thick tar-looking black soap that was at many of the shops, as well as, toy wooden snakes. At the market, Snow or Sand bought us classic Moroccan hats and my friend Rani and I bought matching coats. We shopped in the markets for a bit and heckled with the workers for lower prices. It was very fun to see if you could get something for a lower price. Everything cost much less than in the US; at the time, one American dollar was seven durham. To get an idea, a scarf at a market would be 200 durham (before heckling). The market also had iguanas, which many of us held. After the markets, we enjoyed a glass of orange juice from a restaurant. There were many street vendors selling orange juice and sweets, but we were discouraged from eating street food because it could have made us sick. Also, the water was not drinkable; we even had to brush our teeth with bottled water. In the evening, we had a Moroccan feast! We sat at a long table, and there were unlimited plates of traditional Moroccan foods, such as couscous and skewers of meat. It was so appropriate since it was Thanksgiving!
Friday was a fun-filled day. To start the day, we visited a place where African women make aragon oil. This oil can be used for cooking or in soaps and beauty products. We saw the process of getting the oil and bought some of the products. Our tour guide bought us tangerines and bananas that were so delicious! We then headed up a mountain, where we rode camels! Next, we walked up a mountain, to eat with a local. On our way up the mountain it started to hail on us. We had an adrenaline rush from climbing the mountain and the hail made it a truly surreal experience. We got to the top of the mountain, where there was a tiny village. Our guide took us to a house of a local man who cooked us lunch. We had couscous and targine and he taught us some African words and phrases. The restroom in a traditional Moroccan house is simply a hole in the floor. On the way down the mountain, we saw a shepherd with a heard of baby sheep! The sheep were so cute; they looked like puppies! We boarded the bus and traveled down the mountain. The landscape was breathtaking. When we arrived to the center of town, we went to our Riad, which had incredible architecture. There were intricate carvings all over the ceilings and walls and beautiful tile in the bathroom. There were five other girls on the Snow or Sand trip that stayed in our Riad, and all seven of my friends got to stay in the same room. There were enough beds for all of us, and in the evenings we spent time catching up on “girl talk”. The seven of us really bonded over this trip; we spent every day with each other and never had any misunderstandings.
In the evening, we went to a shisha bar that was decorated in bright colors. Our guide went with us, and insisted that we come home before 10:00pm, because after that it was not safe for us to be out. We wanted snacks after and he took us to a Moroccan version of a convenience store. The store was literally a glass window on the sidewalk that you had to peer through to see what was offered and request what you would like. We walked back to our Riad for the night through the town square, which was alive for the night. There were street vendors selling DVDs, sunglasses, sweets, glow sticks and any other trinkets you could think of. The streets are dirt and concrete and the city has many tiny allies; it looked exactly like a scene from Aladdin. The traffic is ciaos; to cross the street, you have to go in a large group and start walking in the middle of traffic and hope no one hits you. There are horse buggies and the streets reek of horse dropping and there are motorized bicycles everywhere.
On Saturday morning, we went to a museum that housed artifacts about local culture, such as handmade rugs and plates. Then, we went to an herb store, where we learned about natural healing powers of different kinds of herbs and teas and had the opportunity to buy some of the products. One girl bought so much stuff she literally had to have it shipped home in a new suitcase! Next, we walked through the city to the Jardin Majorelles. On our way to the gardens, we saw a stork in its nest perched on top of a building. In the garden we saw many exotic cacti and flowers. The gardens were beautiful and definitely one of the highlights of the trip! We rode a horse and carriage back to the town square and had a classic lunch of couscous and dried fruit.
After lunch we met Mohammad at the town square for an opportunity to take a picture with monkeys and snakes. We did that and then went back to our Riad and changed into our swimsuits for a hammam bath. None of us knew exactly what a hammam bath was before going, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We were soon to find out that it was one of the most awkward experiences of our life. Basically, a hammam bath is a full-body scrub, where they use an exfoliating mitt and black soap to remove all of your body’s dead skin. We each had to be exfoliated in front of each other, and to say the least… it was a bonding experience. Although the hammam bath was both embarrassing and unsanitary, it made your skin feel wonderful afterwards! We showered and began to get ready for our big night! On Saturday night, we went to dinner and saw a traditional belly dancing show. The dancers were awesome!
Sunday was the final day of our trip. For breakfast we had Moroccan Mint Tea, which is poured into cups in streams of about two feet and sugared bread that was very similar to a pancake. After breakfast, we visited the markets for a final chance to grab souvenirs, and then took a bus to the airport.
Morocco was my favorite place to visit the whole semester. The customs were totally different than that of the US. The countryside was beautiful and it was awesome to understand Moroccan lifestyles. It help put into perspective how fortunate I am and how much opportunity is in the US.