(Warning: this post is long. Read it when you’ve got some spare time :) So traveling! We had two brief days of orientation, and then the break for عيد الفطر (Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that signals the end of Ramadan) began. At this point, the study abroad students barely knew each other (except for those who came from the same school...there are a bunch of people here from military academies), but we don't have another break this long, so traveling was a must. I set out with a small group to Agadir (أكدير, spelled with a ك with a dot above to signify a G sound), a coastal resort city in southern Morocco. We left Ifrane at 11:30 PM, Saturday night, to catch a 2:30 AM train--we arrived in Agadir at 7:30 PM the following evening, marking another incredibly long day of travel. Our route took us through Marrakesh, where we were stranded waiting for a bus for half the day; we spent the time touring the Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa ( علي بن يوسف مدرسة), the largest Islamic college/school of learning in Morocco. Of course, we had gotten lost on the way there (Moroccan streets feel more like a mouse-trap/maze than an organized system); we ended up at a riad (large home) that served as a Berber Museum (an interesting 30 minute distraction). Then, to our surprise/dismay, a man discerned our confusion and quickly led us to the madrasa (two minute walk), only to demand payment for his guided directions! This quickly became a common theme--henceforth, we were much more careful about looking confused and lost, or telling people where we wanted to go (though sometimes there was just no helping it). In any case, the school was excellent; the exterior stone artwork was all hand crafted, which must have been painstaking work because the entire place was covered in gorgeous Islamic calligraphy and carvings. After the school, we attempted to find our way back to the main road, only to again become hopelessly lost in the city's large central market, or souk (سوق). The place is just impossible to describe in full; the dirt streets are narrow and cramped with pedestrians and motorcyclists alike, lined with small shops selling all kinds of goods (and store owners hailing you at every step). And talk about a maze--there is absolutely no discernible organization to the winding, twisting tourist trap that is the Marrakesh souk. After a while, we decided to walk in one direction for as far as we could--thirty or forty minutes later, we finally emerged on a major road, and grabbed a taxi back to the bus station.
Our arrival in Agadir Sunday night was actually kind of haunting--because it was still Ramadan, and we arrived during dinner time, there was absolutely no one on the streets. Not a soul. A car drove past perhaps once or twice a minute, on the city's major road. We managed to get to our hotel, and by the time we came out for dinner at 8:45, the same street was crowded with people! The next day (Monday) was awesome--we spent the morning touring the قصبة (castle) that overlooked the city (of course, it was incredibly foggy out, so we couldn't see a thing, but no worries), and then we spent an hour in the local souk learning about Moroccan spices, herbs, and Berber tea (which is absolutely delicious). We spent the afternoon relaxing at the beach and the hotel pool. The hotel must have been a French enclave--I think we were the only non-French residents! That night, I had some authentic Moroccan cuisine for the first time, in the form of طاجين (tajine: think ceramic crock-pot, featured as the background of this blog); this one was a 6-7 out of 10. The rest of the evening was spent watching television (BBC, Al-Jazeera, and what must have been an Arab sit-com), and preparing to travel back to Marrakesh the next day.
Tuesday. We planned on getting an early morning bus, and arriving in Marrakesh with time to explore in the afternoon. But that was not to be. Because Tuesday was the beginning of Eid al Fitr, many Moroccans were traveling home to their families--thus, all the morning buses were full, and the first afternoon bus never really came. So we ended up on a three o'clock bus, which got into Marrakesh at 6:30-7. We spent the next hour choosing a hotel (actually, a 15 year old kid gave us some seriously useful and unexpected advice), and finally got out to dinner around 9. This time, I ate brochettes (french for Kebabs), which were also delicious. However, the portions were super small--we thus decided that tonight was a good night to sample the local ماكدونالدز (figure it out for yourself). The rumors were true--definitely better than in the states! That night we also found an English movie with Arabic subtitles to watch, which I like to think was educational. And then Wednesday. We got up early and spent the morning on a walking tour of Marrakesh; our first stop was قصر الباهية (Bahia Palace). Again, the intricate designs and hand paintings/carvings were absolutely gorgeous, and the grounds were full of luscious gardens and courtyards. After that, we traveled to the central square in Marrakesh, the جامع الفناء . The square was somewhat less crowded in the morning, but street vendors and snake charmers were constantly demanding your business. I even held a snake...of course, I got ripped off for it, but the man did have a cobra so I was less likely to really drive a good bargain. Across the square, the جامع الكتبية (Koutoubia Mosque) towered over the city; we frequently heard the calls to prayer which came from the mosque's large speakers. And then, we dove back into the souk for a few hours (this souk is the largest in Morocco); after some bargaining, I bought myself a Moroccan shirt, though most things are still pretty expensive in this area. We had a late lunch of pizza in a restaurant overlooking the square, and then headed back to the hotel to relax. Nap time. And when we went out for dinner this time, the streets were packed--we ended up at a French cafe, where I had an exceptionally good set of Kebabs, and a milkshake to boot. And the next day we spent traveling back to Ifrane, by train and grand taxi (and by ‘grand’, I mean 6 people crammed into 4 seats). What an adventure!
So that’s all for now, except for one detail; why, Matthew, are there no pictures? Well...about that. I lost my camera on the train ride home!! WSDKLJSDFKJ NOOOOOOOOOOooooOOooOOOOOooooo! But it happened. We were asked to move cabins quickly upon sitting down, and I must have left it behind in the shuffle...of course I didn't notice until the moment I sat down to begin this blog! So all of my fantastic pictures of these wonderful places I've just described to you now belong to some lucky Moroccan (who probably thinks that we Western tourists are total suckers). There's a chance I'll get it back (إن شاء الله?)...but not really. So for now, this is all I've got to show you! I'll find a way to get a new camera soon enough, and post some pictures of Al-Akhawayn ASAP. But unfortunately, I doubt I will make it back down to Agadir or Marrakech (maybe Marrakech, we’ll see), so those memories will just have to be my own.
Until next time, مع السلامة!