Thursday, November 4, 2010

Donkeys, Camels, and Scarab Beetles...Oh My!

Three continents down...three more to go.  For the past 6 days, I have been in Morocco, AFRICA.  I am going to start by apologizing for the length of this blog because I have so much to tell you.  This trip was amazing.  

Tuesday night at 8:30pm, the ISA Madrid and Salamanca students loaded up a bus in Madrid and started driving south.  Luckily, my transportation narcolepsy kicked in immediately and I slept almost the entire way to Malaga in the south of Spain.  I think the excessive amount of Spanish Dramamine that I took also contributed to my sleep.  We arrived in Malaga at 5am, and picked up ISA Malaga and Santander students.  Then we drove two more hours to the ferry port to cross the Straight of Gibraltar.  At the port we met up with the ISA Granada students. Here is a picture of the Rock of Gibraltar taken from the ferry. 

We landed in Africa, but were still in Spain because we were in Ceuta, a Spanish city.  We drove another hour to the Spanish/Moroccan border, went through customs and were on our way to Fes. 

At about 6pm (After 8 more hours on the bus) we arrived in Fes.  We stayed in a beautiful hotel with a pool and all of the luxuries of an American hotel (Phone in the bathroom, etc.).  It didn't really feel like we were in Africa until the next day when we ventured out of the hotel and went to the Medina.  The Medina is a huge market where they sell everything imaginable.  At the market, we visited a fourth generation medicine man (and I allowed him to put makeup on my face as a demonstration).  I particularly like the tree on my forehead.

Saw chickens being slaughtered in the streets (naturally, they were being slaughtered in a humane fashion, similar to kosher, because of the Muslim food rules), 

and a giant bin of goats' heads.  
 Right next to this bin of goats' heads, there was a lovely display of Moroccan spices.  Sanitary.  

There is also a tannery in the middle of the Medina, which resulted in the entire area smelling like death.  But it was interesting to see how leather is made. 

And of course, lots of hand-woven Moroccan rugs.  

Visiting the medina was one of my favorite parts of the trip.  The life style is so vastly different from anything that I have seen before.  The Medina itself is so old that the streets are not designed for cars, but donkeys.  There were donkeys everywhere inside the market transporting goods.  The donkeys were a little terrifying.  They would run into you if you didn't get out of the way fast enough.  Which happened.  Twice.  
The next day, we left Fes, boarded the buses, and headed for the Sahara Desert.  We drove even farther south, almost to the Algerian border.  Which resulted in another 10 hours on the bus.  We got as far as our bus could go, then transferred to 4X4 jeeps to take us the last hour to our campsite.  We camped in "Haimas" tents in the sand dunes of the Sahara.  We woke up at 5am the next morning to take a night-hike to the top of the tallest sand dune around to watch the sunrise.  It was a beautiful sunrise.  There were quite a few scarab beetles out at that time of morning, however.  These beetles are not dangerous, but seeing a two inch long beetle in the sand is unnerving nevertheless.
We got dressed and at some breakfast before our camels arrived to take us around the desert.  Three days later, I am still sore from this camel ride, but it was fun at the time. 

We rode the camels about an hour to a really tall sand dune.  I climbed all the way to the top, made some sand angels, and was proposed to by a native Berber desert dweller.  He offered to give my family three camels if I stayed in Morocco with him.  And then he held my ankles and pulled me all the way down the sand dune and called in "Desert Skiing."  
He also showed me how to write my name in Arabic in the sand.  Unfortunately, our love cannot continue for many reasons.  1. He lives in Africa.  2.  He smells like camels.  3. He is over 40.  4. He has no teeth.  It's really a pity.  

Next. the camels took us to a typical desert town.  We brought clothes to donate to the very poor people who lived in this city.  We also brought candy to give to the children, which everyone expected to be a rewarding experience.  These children were vicious.  They would steal the candy out of your hands, pockets, etc.  They tried to steal rings off our fingers and watches off our wrists.  A couple of the students trying to hand out candy were bleeding from being scratched by the children.  It was not a fun or rewarding experience.  Good deed for the month is accomplished and I only have a few scratches to show for it.  

After the camels brought us back to the campsite, I got henna tattoos on my palms.  I sat down in front of a woman of about 50 years, paid her my durhams (Moroccan Monies), and gave her my palm.  Then she summoned over an 8-year-old girl who did my henna.  And it looks like and 8-year-old did it.  The woman did not speak any spanish or any english, so I couldn't express to her the fact that I do not like children, especially when they are putting semi-permanent ink on my skin.  

That night, a couple of friends and I sneaked away from the campsite to go on a night hike.  It was completely dark, without a light for miles in any direction.  We only climbed a couple of sand dunes, laid down in the sand, and looked at the stars.  Now, I'm not really the type of person to dwell on the beauty of the night sky, but these stars were amazing.  I have never seen stars like that in my entire life.  I tried to take a picture to capture how bright and vivid the stars were, but it didn't turn out.  I had no idea that there were so many stars.  Ridiculous.  

The next morning, we packed up, boarded the 4X4's, took them to the bus, and drove 10 hours to Meknes.  Meknes is a much more urban and modern city than Fes.  We explored the city on our own for a while and found a delicious pastry shop.  After dinner, we hung out in the hotel until bed because it is not advised to go out in the city alone at night.  We went to bed and woke up super early the next morning to take the bus back to Madrid. 

After 22 hours on the bus and an hour on the Ferry, we arrived in Madrid at 6am Tuesday morning.  I took the metro home and left for class at 7:30am.  I am still sincerely sleep deprived from the trip, but sacrificing some sleep is totally worth it.  
Friday morning I am off to France.  I will write soon to update you on that adventure!

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