Morocco!

We just got back from Morocco yesterday, and it was an absolutely incredible experience!

Day One

We woke up early Friday morning, got ready, and grabbed our delicious bocadillos mama rosa made us and headed out the door. It was about a 15 minute walk with our bags to the bus stop. We all paid our euro 2.40 and hopped on for the 30 minute or so ride to the airport to meet up with our program director Marta and the rest of the group.

We were flying with Ryan Air to Morocco, and it was expected to be an hour and a half flight. After going through security, we found out that our flight was delayed for an hour, so we all just checked out some shops and hung out for a while as we anticipated our ensuing flight to Africa.

Giant Cerveza in the airport!

Everyone waiting around

While we were waiting, we also saw a lady walking around with her tiny dog in the airport, which was rather interesting haha

While waiting in line to board our flight, we made friends with some Spaniards from Malaga that were also heading to Morocco! Guy in the middle was actually kinda creepy, and kept staring at me on the plane and gave me this really uncomfortable wink as we were getting off lol.

We all boarded the plane and were off on our way to Africa!

Beautiful Coastline

Desert Mountains

We landed at the Marrakech airport, and headed off to our hotel. We stayed at a nice place called Hotel El Andalous that was about 15 minutes away from the main old marketplace.

Hotel Pictures

Our Hotel Room!

Since our flight had been delayed, right as we got there we threw our bags in our respective rooms and took off for a tour of Morocco. We had a rather interesting Moroccan tourguide, who was extremely passionate about giving tours. She spoke Spanish in an Arabic dialect I had never heard before, making it very difficult to follow along with whatever she was saying. That was hardly the first time language was a barrier during the trip, as the three main languages spoken in Morocco are French, Arabic, and Berber, which is a regional language.

We started off by going through some sort of palace place, which was interesting, but the real fun began as we entered the old marketplace. It looked like a scene straight out of Aladdin, and it was as if we were in Arabian Nights. All of the small shops reminded me a lot of India, but the architecture had a distinct Islamic influence to it. After walking through the bustling, windy alley ways for a while we stopped at this incredible spice and herb shop.

Alleyways

I had never seen so many different spices, herbs, potions or whatever you want to call them in one place. We all took seats in this small room that was filled with jars of all sorts of different things unsure of what to expect. This Moroccan gentleman walked in with a white lab coat, and he had an immediate presence similar to that of a brilliant scientist.

Everyone in the Spice Room

Mad Scientist Herb Salesman guy that was the man

He proceeded to put on a fascinating show, explaining the powers and uses of all his magical herbs, etc. He got the crowd involved by allowing us to try different things, and included a good bit of humor throughout the performance that kept everyone engaged. He spoke of all sorts of moroccan herbs, and remedies for all sorts of different ailments, ranging from snoring to erection issues. Afterwards, he asked if anyone would like to purchase any of the products he had demonstrated, and we all jumped up asking for everything. It was rather amusing to watch the brilliant salesman take 30 euros each from all of us, but we were paying for his performance as much as for the products.

I wonder what’s in all these mysterious jars

While we were waiting for everyone to finish paying outside, this Moroccan guy approached Ollie, and asked him for his t-shirt. Ollie was wearing a Roma t-shirt, and for some reason the guy seemed to be fascinated by it, so they literally traded each other the shirts off of their back making for a hilarious situation.

So ridiculous

I exchanged my euros for some dirham’s, which is the local Moroccan currency. The dirham exchange rate was about 11 dirhams to 1 euro, so safe to say we all went shopping at the marketplace a good bit to take advantage of the solid exchange rate. Interestingly enough, it is illegal to take dirham out of the country for some reason…woops!

We continued our walk through the marketplace, till we reached the gorgeous and extremely large main plaza.

Main Plaza

We had dinner at the hotel at 8, and the temperature had plummeted rapidly throughout the course of the evening, so after our long day at the marketplace we all were eager to begin the long walk back to the hotel and grab some Moroccan cuisine.

Dinner was served buffet style at a restaurant in the hotel, and I loaded up on couscous and some goat curry. Just like India, we weren’t allowed to drink the local tap water so we had to pay for the giant bottles of water. We were all beat from our long evening, so everyone went to his or her respective hotel rooms to hang out. Morocco is a relatively dry country, as it is something 99% Muslim, so drinking is not prevalent at all in the culture. This provided a rare, and much needed night off for everyone in the program, and we just watched a couple episodes of friends, and some thriller called Glass House before we passed out. Right before we went to bed, Hirsh and I decided to try out the sleeping potion thing that we had purchased from the mad scientist earlier on that day. We dropped a couple drops each into glasses of water, drank them, and called it a night.

Day Two

Man, did those sleeping potions work. Hirsh and I didn’t wake up till 11:30 or so, and had some of the wildest and most vivid dreams of our lives. Interestingly enough, Ollie had woken up around the same time, and he had taken the drops as well and said he had a very similar experience. The strangest part was how easily we were all able to recall, relive, and most importantly remember the crazy parts of our dreams as if we had just watched movies in which we were all actors.

While we were getting our beauty sleep, apparently the rest of the group had headed off for a camel tour, so Sean and I decided to take a run through Morocco. We went in the opposite direction of the old marketplace to explore a part of the city we hadn’t seen before. The weather was perfect at around 65 and sunny or so, and 50-75 was the range we had throughout the trip. We were attempting to find the newer marketplace area, and had to use the help of many locals who pointed us in the right direction.

I don’t think that many people run in Morocco, and we were quite a site to see for the locals as we were Americans running in our toe shoes through the busy streets of Morocco. We checked out the new market area, which included Congress, a McDonalds, a train station and then headed back. It was nice to see a different part of the city, but still liked the old market the best. Once we got back to the hotel, Ollie, Hirsh, Sean and I decided to go swimming in the pool for a little and enjoy the nice weather!

Pool!

By the time we had showered after the pool, everyone had returned from their camel riding experience eager to tell us what we had missed out on. We took what was basically a residencia trip to find a local Moroccan restaurant that the concierge had recommended. Once we had finally found it, it turned out to be a nice Moroccan café, but was an enjoyable meal nonetheless. The menu was written all in French, and I ended up ordering a Seafood Pizza. Really had no clue what to expect, but it was topped with Calamari and fish and turned out to be delicious.

Seafood Pizza!

Moroccan Coke Bottles

Best Banana Milkshake i’ve ever had!

After lunch, we all got back to the hotel and got ready to go to the market. On the way there, Sean and I saw a group of children playing soccer and decided to go over and take pictures of them. For me personally, It was especially cool being in Africa watching children play soccer, as this past semester I served as a non-profit consultant for a fledgling non-profit called Sports4Hope. Sports4Hope aims to use soccer to promote peace in Africa, so that was a really great experience. It is a great cause, and non-profit so if you would like more information on the wonderful things they are attempting to do in the Democratic Republic of Congo, you can check it out at www.sports4hope.org

Soccer in Africa

To our amusement, a little kid walked over and said that we had to pay him a euro per photo. Rather annoying, but I guess you have to admire the aspiring business mind haha.

I just liked this picture

On our walk back to rejoin the group, saw some camels just chillin on the side of the road so decided to go take some pictures.

None of them seemed to mind or even acknowledge my presence, but I got rather close to one and he started pacing towards so I bolted off to join the rest of the group.

Camel coming a little too close for comfort haha

We all were excited to get to the market, buy a bunch of stuff, and more importantly get our haggle on. Haggling is one of my favorite things to do, as it is a basically a one-on-one game you are playing versus the shopkeeper that could result in all sorts of possibilities. It’s a battle of wills, tactics, and pride that never gets old. I had a great time haggling in India, and gained a good amount of experience and practice as well, so was looking forward to getting back into the game.

On the walk over, Ollie, Sean and I got separated from the rest of the gang at a busy crosswalk, which turned out well as it is nearly impossible to shop in a busy and incredibly marketplace with a large group of people if you want to get anything done, or not lose anyone. The three of us decided to try glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice, and it was one of the best decisions of the trip. Was the freshest, tasiest, most delicious orange juice I’ve ever tasted and if you are going to Morocco you must try it!

Yummy

We ran into Nick and Nikita in the marketplace and started looking around. In one of the more amusing stories from the trip, a boy no more than the age of 12 walked up to Sean and asked “how much?” and Sean said “For what?” Apparently the child had been attempting to buy Nikita and was asking how much we would charge to sell her haha. The best was after the little kid, no more than 10 minutes later, and middle aged man walked up to Ollie and offered him 4000 dirham’s for her, but we decided as a group we wouldn’t sell her off for less than 50,000 Dirham. We all wandered through the maze of a marketplace for a while, buying a bunch of random stuff for relatively good prices along the way, and then headed back so we could grab dinner at the hotel again.

Moroccan Hat

After dinner, we all went back up to the room and were all hanging out for a while watching tv, when someone suggested we go check out the nightclub downstairs in the basement of the hotel. It was a Saturday night, and we figured it could be a good time so a group of us 6 guys headed downstairs. We walked in to a relatively packed nightclub, that had belly dancers all around, and was bumping an awesome mix of Arabic music, and top 40 american hits. For some reason, the DJ seemed to LOVE the black eyed peas so there was a healthy dose of that as well. We ran upstairs to grab the other guys and tell them they had to join us, and we all rolled up as a giant group of Americans to the popular Moroccan nightclub.

Nightclub!

Nightclubs were extremely different that we were used to, mainly because there weren’t wasted Americans dancing all over the place as most people didn’t dance. The cultural gender differences were also on display as the men sat at tables, and watched their women dance for them. We all awkwardly tried to meet Moroccan girls, but after we realized no one even spoke the same language as them we all just decided to break it down and have a dance party on the floor. We bumped into a couple Moroccan guys, and had a blast dancing with them. We formed a giant circle, with one person rotating through the middle to showcase their moves and were all having a great time. We went particularly nuts when Shakira’s Waka Waka song came on, as that had been our Africa theme song for the trip to that point.

Dance Party

After a little, I decided to approach a Moroccan girl who was eating dinner to ask her if she would like to dance with our group. I figured I had nothing to lose, I mean we were in Africa and the odds of me ever seeing any of those people were pretty low haha. I got down on one knee and offered her my hand to dance, and although initially she playfully refused, the second time I came back she put down her fork and came onto the dance floor. To my surprise, I ended up dancing with this Moroccan girl for the rest of the night. I had absolutely no idea how to dance with an arab girl, as their style of dancing was completely different than anything we’re used to in American culture, and they actually know how to dance. I just started going for it, and was breaking out all sorts of funky dance moves I don’t think I had ever even done before, but she was loving it. I found it rather amusing that we hadn’t even spoke a word to each other for over 30 minutes of dancing, but both were having such a good time. I learned a bunch of cool arab dance moves, and realized that they dance using much smaller steps, spins, and much more hips than we’re used to. It was getting late, so we all headed back up to crash but all in all it was a great night and dancing with my new Arab friend, Gulfi (I think), was an experience I will never forget.

Day Three

We woke up around 8am the next morning, in preparation for our hike through the Atlas Mountains! After a quick breakfast at hotel, we hopped on the bus unsure and excited for the day ahead. I was sitting next to my buddy Tally on the bus, and we spent the trip taking pictures, and going through my ipod listening to all sorts of great music.

Tally and I!

Unfortunately, throughout the bus ride our Moroccan Spanish speaking tourguide would not stop talking, and was driving everyone nuts. Anyhow, after an hour or so drive and a quick stop at some mini-market rest area we arrived at the Atlas Mountains.

Cool truck on the side of the road

Shop at the rest stop

The Atlas Mountains are home to the Berbers, who are a group of people who speak the berber dialect, and I guess live in the mountains. As we got off the bus, we started walking along this road but no one seemed to know exactly where we were going, as it was the programs first actual trip to Morocco.

We picked up a very friendly tour-guide who led us the rest of the way. During our walk, he asked me if I was from India, and to my surprise he began speaking to me in broken Hindi. Apparently, our tour guide was able to speak over 10 different languages!

Me with our Tourguide

We all crossed a rickety bridge, and began our hike up the Atlas mountains!

Bridge

It was more fun than anyone could have anticipated, and was more of a climb than a hike, but everyone had a great time. Sean and I were both wearing our toe shoes, and had a great time climbing up the mountain wearing them.

Before

Vibram Climbing

Pictures can describe the sites we saw far better than I can so I’ll just include a bunch below:

Beginning our climb

Nick Climbing

Boys at the Waterfall

So sickk

Climbing Ladders and Rocks

We found Moses

Mountain Goats!

Hirsh and Ollie climbin the giant tree

Awesome Mountain

After

We had gotten halfway to the top of the mountain, and were eager to reach the top. The tour guide had said that it would take us two hours to reach there, but unfortunately, the program directors said that we did not have enough time to make it all the way up. After a great deal of internal arguing in the group, we grudgingly acknowledged that we wouldn’t be able to go to the top and began to head back down.

We hopped on the bus and headed down the road to grab lunch. We had a traditional Berber meal outside.

Walking over the bridge to get to lunch

Big table

The meal began with fresh vegetables and bread for appetizers. Then, for the main course, we had a dish that was filled with fresh vegetables (peppers, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, etc.) with chicken off the bone underneath. For desert, we had a unique fruit drink that had pieces of fresh fruit in it, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We were all starving from our afternoon hike, so we attacked the food like animals and were still quite hungry afterwards.

Desert!

Hirsh and I chillin with the camels

We hopped back on the bus thinking we were heading home, but we stopped less than 20 minutes later. I had dosed off, and when I woke up half the bus had left for what the back of the bus assumed was a quick restroom break. After about 15 minutes, I got bored of sitting on the bus so decided to wander around and take a look at some of the shops on the side of the road.

Random Shops

We saw a junkyard rooster, that Sean attempted to buy off of a Moroccan all while claiming that he was the best haggler in America haha.

Sean Lynott – The Best Haggler in America

It had been almost 30 minutes, and I figured they were doing something other than the bathroom, so Sean and I walked up the hill into a Berber house, where we found the rest of the group sitting and drinking that delicious Mint tea that I just can’t get enough of.

Tea Lady

So tight

Berber House

After a couple glasses, we eventually went back down to the bus, and then finally headed back towards the hotel.

After quick showers, we all decided to go back to the marketplace for round two. We broke up into a couple groups, and agreed to meet up for dinner around 8:15. Dinner wasn’t included in the hotel the final night, so we agreed to eat at a local place in the plaza. Lily, James, Monica and I were shopping partners for the evening, and we all had a good time walking around buying far too many things.

The Shopping Gang

I couldn’t get enough of watching Lily try and bargain, and she may have very well been the worst bargainer I’ve ever seen but it was entertaining to see her try. As a result, I bargained for her which was fun because I just love haggling and bargaining at pretty much every opportunity I get. I bought a traditional Berber jacket; knock off sunglasses, a tight light green Messi Barca Jersey, and much more. Safe to say, the trip took a toll on my wallet but I believe it was worth every penny.

At 8:15, we went to the spot to meet up with everyone but just saw Eddy, who said that everyone had finished shopping early and were already at the restaurant. He led us there, and it turned out that we were having dinner at a gorgeous rooftop restaurant.

Rooftop Restaurant

Pretty much our entire Morocco group was at dinner minus a couple people, and as a result we had a ginormous table. Ordering our meals was pretty difficult, as Nick was the only one who could speak broken English so no one could really understand the menus. We literally had a guy who worked at the restaurant go around and explain the different meals on the menu to every single person, but we finally got it all figured out.

Huge Table

There was this awesome guy at the restaurant who had a flaming torch, and he would shoot alcohol out of his mouth so it seemed as though he was blowing incredibly large flames, and he did this multiple times for us.

The man – little flame

Big Flame

The very same awesome guy happened to play the didgeridoo, which is a really cool Australian instrument. He started by blowing into it and playing us funky noises, and then he proceeded to ask our names. He asked nick what his name was, and after he told him, while the guy was playing the didgeridoo he would say the name “Nick” while playing it and it sounded crazy. He proceeded to do this for every single person at our huge table, and we even got him to say Droid like from the android commercials.
Playing the Didgeridoo!

For our meals, I ordered couscous and chicken. It was served in a heaping portion and was absolutely delicious.

My Dinner

I decided that I wanted to eat with my hands to get the true Moroccan experience, and Nick and Lily decided to join me in doing so and we all enjoyed the experience.

World Cup Coke Can!

Throughout the course of the meal, they had been playing live music in the background. Near the end of the meal, the music became much more lively and exciting, and I decided that I wanted to dance. I asked my friend Erika if she wanted to get up and dance, and we went over to where they were playing music and started dancing. They gave us hats while we were dancing, and then Nick got up to join us and the flood gates opened as around 8 people or so from our table got up to dance. It was a blast and the Moroccans loved it as well, the dancing made for a great ending to an already wonderful day.

Dancing!

With our New friends!

Sweet instrument/outfit

They Loved us haha

After dinner, we went back to the main plaza so nick could grab some grapefruit juice. At night, the main plaza turns into what appears to be a giant food festival, and there are delicious aromas in every direction.

Juice Stand

Plaza at night

we headed back to the hotel but not before Mike and Maygen decided to stop at KFC to grab some ice cream. Tally and Erika grabbed us from our rooms to come down to check out the club once more with them. We got down there and it was completely empty, but we danced nonetheless for a few minutes before heading back up. There was this one Moroccan guy who was dancing next to us by himself, so I grabbed him and threw him in the middle of our circle, and boy did he love it. He just danced in the middle of the circle by himself for a good 15 minutes or so. He kept trying to dance with this shy girl in our program, who I don’t really know that well, but I gave her a bump into him so she was forced into dancing with him for a while which was funny.

Mike and I with our new Moroccan Jackets!

Day Four

Woke up early morning to pack our bags and get ready to say goodbye to Morocco. Headed to the airport at about 11:30 and our flight took off at around 2ish.

Goodbye Morocco!

All in all, Morocco was an absolutely wonderful experience and I am so glad hat I had an opportunity to check it out. I would highly recommend taking a visit if possible, as it really is a whole new world!

-Sahil

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