This past week we had a 5 day puente (Spanish for bridge) which means a vacation or holiday that extends past itself, i.e. Wednesday and Friday were holidays and we got Thursday off as well. My friends and I used these five much-needed days off to explore the country of Morocco.
Wednesday morning we were to leave from Sevilla at 5 am and then bus straight to Algeciras and take the ferry across to Ceuta and Morocco. Now this sounds like a fine plan, but unfortunately I was so excited about leaving that I stayed up way too late and as a result I didn’t wake up until my friend called at 5 minutes to 5 asking if I was nearly at the bus stop. The next twenty minutes involved frantic phone calls, speed-dressing, running across town, and the desperate search for a taxi. Thankfully, everyone was really nice about the whole thing and held the bus for a few minutes. Not exactly the best way to start a trip, but it ended well.
The rest of the that morning traveling into Morocco was fairly uneventful and we crossed the border without any problems. We stopped for lunch on our way to Fez at a nice little town where we got our first authentic Moroccan meal. The food was delicious, the people friendly, and the town charming. My favorite part was that we learned the Moroccan people paint the medina (old centeder of the town) blue and any streets painted blue means that they are a dead end. We got to try out this new knowledge because we wondered around the town looking at all the shops and the labyrinth style of the medina meant that we got lost fairly easily. After that we took the bus into Fez to eat dinner and check into our hotel. The food was good and the accommodations nice, but unfortunately I got sick that night and part of the morning so I couldn’t enjoy either to the fullest.
Thursday morning we awoke to breakfast at the hotel and then departed for the desert. We stopped for a typical Moroccan lunch at a desert Kasbah and then continuing the bus ride until we reached the area where our 4 X 4s were located. From here the real adventure was to begin. We had gotten into our vehicles and started driving along the road when our driver turned to us and said that the road was going to be ending soon at which point we would be driving in the rocky desert to the hotel. Now two things struck me at this point: first, there is such a thing as a rocky desert? And secondly, how does a road just end? Both of these questions were answered rather abruptly when the concrete road we had been driving along suddenly ended and the rocky desert began. Needless to say that was quite a jolt to the system (and my head when it hit the roof). The next hour or so was a fun if, sorry for the pun, rocky ride. A Berber family was in charge of the running of the hotel and when we arrived we were greeted by Berber whiskey (the national drink: mint tea) and a campfire surrounded by the Berber men playing their drums. No marshmallows unfortunately, but a good time nonetheless. That night we enjoyed good food, good music, and great company followed by a game or two in the sand dunes nearby (really, who could resist such temptation?).
“Desert, desert, and more desert” is the best way to describe our Friday, the third day of our five-day trip. We woke to a beautiful shining morning in the desert and we took a trip around via 4 X 4s. I was lucky enough to visit a small pueblo in the area and see how the local women made bread for their families. I was astonished at being ambushed by children trying to sell all manner of trinkets to us. One enterprising young man even attempted to provide an exchange service of dirham into euro. He was just a young boy of about 8 years and the rest of the children seemed to be even younger than he. We returned for lunch and then it was time for our camel ride into the heart of the Sahara. The camel ride was a fun, if slightly painful, experience. We actually rode dromedaries, which are apparently a tougher breed of camel and bred for riding on. Either way, there was one hump and you pretty much sat on it. Despite the cushions and rugs it wasn’t the most comfortable thing I’ve ever done. But it was totally worth the discomfort and a truly unique experience. After an hour and a half or so we reached our desert oasis where the Berber family had set up camp and we disembarked. Before dinner we attacked the humongous sand dunes to watch the sun set and then went dune diving. It was such an amazing night that I stayed to watch the stars come out and I was well rewarded. I have never seen so many stars in my life. They were so bright and visible that I felt like I could have reached out and touched them. After dinner we stayed around the campfire to listen to the musicians beat on their drums and I even joined in some of their dancing. That night it got very cold and I truly became aware of the extremes present in the desert: the immense heat and terrible cold, the beauty and the danger. In an instant a sand storm can come and sweep away all tracks leaving you abandoned on swiftly changing dunes with no clue as to which direction is the one you were headed towards. The heat can blister you with thirst and the cold harsh enough to freeze. The desert is a beautiful place, full of unimaginable things, but it is also a barren land that can turn on you as quickly as the wind.
Saturday we got up to drink our morning tea at the oasis and then it was time for our camel ride back to the desert hotel. We breakfasted there and then continued on our journey back to Fez with a stop at a different desert Kasbah for lunch. We returned to the hotel of the first night and after dinner we enjoyed a belly dancing and Moroccan music show. The show was interesting and I enjoyed seeing the different acts: musicians, dancers, a magician, and even role-playing by some members of our group. It was fun and lively, but all too soon it was time to return to the hotel for an early morning.
On Sunday we were up at 7 am for a three-hour tour of the medina of Fez and, of course, the typical Moroccan specialties: shopping and bargaining. No, I didn’t buy any carpets or leather goods, my budget doesn’t allow for those kinds of prices, but I did find some pretty scarves and the traditional robe worn by both men and women. The shopping was a bit rushed since were on a tight return schedule, but it was still an interesting experience and gave me a slight glimpse into the lives and culture of the Moroccan people. Our return trip to Tangiers for the ferry was fraught with excitement as we tried to get back on time despite snow, rain, and other difficulties. We arrived at the ferry only slightly off schedule but the ferry itself had been delayed as well so we were three hours later than we had expected. The ferry ride got a little crazy because of rough waters and you could hear the crashing of glass all over the boat and people were falling over each other every time the boat hit another wave. But by 3 am we were safely back in Sevilla and all was once again right in my world.
We spent a lot of time traveling for those five days and by various methods: bus, ferry, 4 X 4, camel. But for all of that it was a great deal of fun; in fact the different methods of traveling are what made some of the days so much fun. We got to see many different sides of Morocco in terms of geography (the large cities, the small towns, the rock and sand deserts of the Sahara, the mountain ranges) and culture (European-style hotels, Berber tent communities, desert Kasbahs). It was definitely a valuable experience and I would love to go back sometime soon.