Sunday, August 23, 2009

LESSONS!

Lessons I have learnt:

1. You have a 1 in 11 million chance of ever being in a plane crash, you would need to fly everyday for 350 thousand days to guarantee yourself a crash- and if you survive it, you will likely have a much more positive outlook on life.

2. In Morocco, if the roadlines are painted in white, the road is a permanent road. If the lines are yellow, the road isn't finished/ permanent.

3. In Europe, pharmacies are represented by green crosses out front of the store. In Morocco, a Muslim country, the are represented by green moons. And instead of the Red Cross, its the Red Moon. Interesting eh?

4. On our drives I've been thinking about the debate that was raging at home before I left- and I would rather be a cowboy than a pirate. I just think the lifestyle suits me better. I'd be better at it I think.

5. I can do cartwheels. I knew I could do cartwheels- past tense. Didn't know I still could. I was sufficiently impressed with myself. And on the beach no less.

6. I say whereabouts funny. I asked a question last night at dinner... Whereabouts is...? And everyone burst out laughing- whereABOUTS?! Who knew?

7. The peace symbol is a combination of the arm signals for N and D: they stand for nuclear disarmament.

there are more.. I just can't think of any right now.

Walk like an Egyptian.. tacky.. I know

Well my friends, we made it to Egypt! And so far, it is not what I expected. Ok, parts of it are, but parts aren't. Luxor is so much greener than I imagined. Not just the odd tree here and there, but the whole city is surrounded by maize and sugar cane fields, and palm trees and canals. I pictured it being all desert; dry and rocky and not really very pretty. But I guess when you really think about it, it makes sense, being right on the Nile and everything, makes things pretty green. Its beautiful.

Luxor is divided into the east and west banks, and divided by the Nile. We are staying on the east bank, in the city- the west bank is a lot smaller, but closer to the Valley of the Kings (and the Valleys of the Queens, and Nobles, and Workers). Looking across the river from our place, you can see the mountain ridges where all the Valleys are, rising out of palm trees. You know how in some video games, the end of the world is a canyon wall of rock? Well, that's what this looks like; if I were racing at the wall on my motocross bike, I would be able to climb the wall and hit the invisible barrier. Does that make any sense? Let's try again, its like living inside a canyon, but you can only see one wall of it, rising straight up.

Luxor is nowhere near as crowded as I thought it would be. Mostly because its the low season for tourists- who wants to be in the Middle East during the summer? Apparently we do.

Our first afternoon we had our fair share of the hassling Egypt is so famous for. We paid too much for our visas, and our taxi- once we finally found one, plus we were all tired and readjusting to the heat after 2 half days in airports and planes. When we made it to our hotel, things started looking up. It is a little, family-run place, not really anything special to look at by any stretch of the imagination, but the guys working there are so fantastic. Mohamed sat us down as soon as we'd settled in and outlined things we could do in the city and nearby areas, advised is about getting train tickets and gave us his cellphone number, and told us to call if we ever need anything, anywhere in Egypt, he'd help us out. It was really nice to feel like someone had our backs if we needed them.

After getting our train tickets to Cairo for Monday night, we took Lonely Planet's advice and went to Snack Time for oreo milkshakes. They really are as good as the book says. That night we thought we'd go see the light show at the Karnak temple- apparently only 20 minutes walking from the hotel. After we'd been walking for double that, we hit a dead end. Arguably the biggest tourist attraction in Luxor itself, covering a huge amount of land, and we get lost trying to find it. Sounds about right. We decided to just call it a night.

The next morning we were up and breakfasted by 8am, and had a tour booked for the west bank. There were 10 of us altogether on the tour, mostly recent grads either their undergrad or masters. Our first stop was at the colossi of Memnon.

The colossi are all that remain of a temple, destroyed way back by an earthquake. One of them (of the two giant seated statues) has a hole in it that makes it sound like it was singing when the wind blows through it, so the local people used to be quite frightened of it. Speaking of the local people, they're in a bit of a pickle; the government thinks there are probably more tombs buried beneath their village, and wants to find out, but the people don't want to leave. So, the government cut off their water supply, trying to force them to leave. This was three years ago. The people are still there, making 10km trips to get water. Appreciate your tap water- both that you have it in the first place, and that it is safe to drink in the second.

After the colossi, we went to the temple of Hatshepsut. It too was hit by an earthquake, but not completely destroyed. The temple was used for 70 days- the length of time it takes for mummification- for Hatshepsut's mummification ( go figure, right?), who was then burried in the Valley of the Kings, even though she was a queen. She was a ruling queen, who was also a cross-dresser, and ruled as a king.

By this point it was probably 10 am, and about 42 degrees. Very warm.

The Valley of the Kings was next on our schedule, and we saw 4 tombs- Seti II, Rameses V, Rameses VI (they share), Rameses IX and Rameses II. The biggest surprise was that the tombs are colourful. I always pictured the insides being sandstoney coloured, but they're not, the walls are plastered, then carved into and painted in red, yellow, green, black and blue. And the ceilings are deep blue with yellow stars everywhere. Absolutely amazing. The shared tomb of Rameses V and VI was by far the most amazing. Its also one of the deeper tombs- the longer a king rules for, the deeper the tomb goes. Unfortunately, you aren't allowed to take pictures inside the tombs, and the fine makes it not worth sneaking any.

We learnt about Nut (pronounced like newt), who swallows the sun every night at sunset, the gives birth to it again every morning. And Horace, the falcon-headed god of life, and that scarab beetles mean good luck, and that when modern religions arrived in Egypt, they scratched the faces off a lot of the figures carved into the tombs, because you can't have gods that look like humans, even though in ancient Egypt, every god was human once, before they became a god.

And in case you thought all the tombs had been discovered in the valley of the kings, the University of Memphis, TN, discovered a new tomb 2 weeks ago. So there! There are still treasures to be found in the Valley of the Kings.

After a quick visit to an alabaster shop, we were at the Valley of the Queens. And I think other than the 10 of us, and our guide Aladdin, there were 3 other people there. Not busy. Very hot, but no crowds. We saw two tombs; Queen Titi's, and that of her son. Actually, her two sons, as the tomb also contained the skeleton of a second child, a stillborn.

After a quick boat ride across the river, we grabbed a late lunch, went home and rested a little, then went for a felucca ride.

A what?!

A felucca ride! A felucca is a boat, not unlike a sailboat. There was no wind when we got to the river though, so we got a tow up river to Banana Island. They grow bananas there! The banana forest was so cool! The leaves are huge! We also got to see a little crocodile and a boy throwing rocks at a fish! Then we got to eat bananas! And yea, they were delicious. Once we had had our fill, we took banana forest jumping pictures and climbed back onto the felucca.

We went a little further up river before turning and sailing back down towards Luxor. At sunset. Now, I like to think I've seen my fair share of killer sunsets, but until you see a Nile river sunset, you ain't seen nothin' yet (b-b-baby, you ain't seen nothin' yet). Mind blowing. Absolutely stunning. Palm trees silhouetted against a pure gold (hehe Pure Gold- Oakville joke) sky. Wow. WOW. We also got tea on our cruise home. And that was when Egypt and I became friends.

After doing some riverside sitting, we wandered the markets, to the sound of shouts directed at AJ of "two wives?! Two problems!!" Its not common here for girls and guys to travel together unless they are married or siblings. So its assumed (I don't know how seriously) that Meagan and I are AJ's wives. We pretty much laughed our way through the market. So far, most common market items include: scarves, sheesha, spices, stone figurines of cats and pyramids and knock-off purses, a universal treasure.

The next day saw us up at 530, and on the road an hour later to Abydos, to the temple there, dedicated to the god Osiris, 3 hours north of Luxor. We did some learning, took some pictures and walked down these terrifying creeky wooden stairs over murky green water. Then it was south to Dendara, to the temple of Hathor. Same deal, only no sketchy stairs. I swear I learnt things, I have notes in my notebook, but I don't want to bore you with paragraphs of history lessons right now.

Yesterday was a recharge day. We slept in, had a late lunch, Meagan and I did some computer stuff- called home, uploaded pictures to our harddrives.. In the evening we went to the Luxor temple- literally in the middle of the city, 5 walking-minutes from our place. It was all lit up, and looked really cool! I'm sitting across the street from it right now actually, and even from here you don't really get a sense of just how grand it is. There are 14 columns (from what I can count from here) still standing, and they're Huge! Highlight of the night: I was on my way back to our team meeting spot (a necessity after a near team-splitting episode at the aquarium in Valencia, in which we each tried to think like each other and ended up in 3 different places), when I was approached by a little old lady. She mimed taking a picture, so I thought she wanted me to take a picture for her with her family. I nodded, she linked her arm through mine, pulled me in front of a statue and her son took our picture. And then I got my picture taken with her granddaughter, who gave me some of whatever she was snacking on. They were all so excited to have me in a picture with them, it was really fun. We parted with a lots of goodbyes and shokrans (thank you) and laughs.

When we got back home, we were met by Mohamed and one of the other men who run the hotel, and they treated us to lemon juice and tea, while telling us what to see in Cairo, and even calling a friend in Dahab, to arrange a place to stay for Meagan and I. They've been so great to us.

Today, our last day uh Luxor was an early morning of packing and fighting the ATM before trekking to Karnak. Remember how I told you we got lost going there on our first night? Not altogether true... We actually made it there, but didn't realize you had to go through the gate to get in, so we turned around. Today though, we figured it out. If Luxor is grand, the temples of Karnak are beyond grand. Talk about feeling tiny and insignificant, the proportions of Karnak are giant. Nothing is anything less than really really big. The hall of columns was by far my favourite place- the scale is just so impressive. We were there early enough that it hadn't been overrun by tourists yet; although by the time we left it was filling up pretty quickly. We also managed to beat some of the heat. The Luxor museum was next on our agenda, and fortunately it has air-con. We wandered the museum, which is mostly full of antiquities from the Luxor and Karnak temples as well as from the Valley of the Kings- including a lot of King Tut's everyday objects- a chariot, bows and arrows, a bed... There were also two mummies. One is believed to be Rameses the 1st, and until recently was living in dirty, dirty Niagara Falls, Ontario. What are the odds of that? Running into a mummy who resided a few cities away from where I grew up, while in Luxor?

After a very leisurely lunch, mostly spent pouring over a spring issue of the American journal Foreign Affairs- actually a really interesting read- we wandered back to Snacktime for dessert, and to kill time before the train to Cairo. The guys at the hotel are letting us back into our room to shower before we hop on the train, which our fellow passengers will be most grateful for- even if they don't know it.

Well my dears, I made it to Cairo. The train was fabulous! We ate dinner, read about Jordan and Israel- our next 2 stops- and then it was bed time. And I slept like a rock! Next thing I knew, it was morning, and we were being served breakfast. We almost got off at the Giza station instead of the Rameses station, which is in Cairo, but fortunately someone caught us and we hung out until we were actually in Cairo.

Sooo... Cairo... Its.. Fine. I mean, definitely not BAD, but not you know, wonderful or anything. It certainly isn't anywhere near as chaotic as I had previously imagined- I was picturing India-esque insanity. Don't get me wrong, its still pretty obvious its the biggest city in Africa: its non-stop noise, pea-soup smog, Frogger-like traffic, and generally shoulder to shoulder crowded streets, especially at night, when its not 40 degrees out. But its not as in-your-face as I had thought it would be. So that's nice.

From the train, we sardined ourselves into the metro to our hostel, along with about a billion commuters, all of whom were THRILLED to have giant backpacks smashed into their faces. Our big goal for the day was to find the American University in Cairo, to find the bookstore, to buy some books in English. And after a wrong turn or two, it was mission accomplished. We spent a long time wandering through other people's stories, enjoying the AC. Afterwards, we scoped out the possibility of seeing a movie, but it didn't work out. it did work out though that we got killer sandwiches!

Today we took on the pyramids. In the spirit of saving money, we opted to take the bus. So we eventually found the bus stop- and by bus stop I mean swarm of people standing on the road. Then we waited. And waited. And it was HOT, as it was just before noon. Eventually, after nearly an hour, a man next to us turned and said to us, in French, that there was a strike, and also that a lot of buses to Giza had already gone by. He put us on the next bus, and it did take us to Giza, but not to the pyramids. But that's ok, we grabbed a cab and were at the tall, pointy rock heaps soon afterwards. And they really are pretty amazing; the amount of work that went into them, the perfect symmetry, the size, all are pretty awe-inspiring. We wandered around the pyramids, the headed down to the Sphinx, which is mostly carved out of one giant hunk of limestone. Once we were back in the city, after having our pictures taken by our taxi driver on his phone- not the first time either, it seems Meagan and I, Meagan especially, are pretty popular here- we grabbed a mid-afternoon meal and came home to nap. Tonight we're off to the market, to see if we can't bargain our way into some treasures.


Quick note- for those of you who haven't noticed.. in the top right corner, there's a link to some pictures (not many, don't be excited) and to Meagan's wonderful blog (definitely worth a read if you want another perspective on our journeys).

We're in Dahab right now, living a beach-bum lifestyle and loving it. I'll let you know more as the stories develop.

paz e amor.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Morocco II: The Desert Strikes Back

Hey gang! Its me, Brooke!

I'm flying out of Ouarzazate in a VW Golf, on the way to Merzouga, to sleep in the desert.

Let's revisit Agadir, shall we? We spent the majority of our second day at the beach, frolicking in the water, playing with my waterproof camera- and even though its no Canon, it seems to do its job pretty well. Once we were sufficiently crispy, and after Taha and Ryan had played a game of Sport- not actually what its called... Basically tennis with no net, just 2 paddles and a ball- over Meagan and my heads, we went out for lunch. We had 2 giant chicken tagines- chicken and vegetables and broth all cooked in a clay dish and eaten with bread- and a smaller meat tagine and cokes and fruit and somehow it ended up costing us nothing. Turns out there is such a thing as a free lunch! We obviously didn't ask any questions, and its probably for the best.

While we were waiting for Haitam's car to get themselves organized, we were stopped next to a cart of snacks and beach toys. Ryan commented how he wanted the inflatable Spiderman hammer hanging there. Next thing we knew we were up one squeaky superhero hammer. And what an excellent purchase it was! We don't have to worry about people dozing off in the car anymore! And we've told off a few cops too. (don't worry, they don't know it... We just hammer a seat everytime we pass a cop... Its a more subtle form of rebellion).

We ended up leaving Agadir around 630 or 7 pm, once we'd stocked up on water and a forty and essential roadtrip snacks like cookies and gum, for the 6ish hour ride to Ouarzazate. At 830, we were in the flats leading up to the mountains, the sun had all but set, and it was 40 degrees out. With no sun!! We all stuck our hands out the window just to make sure the thermo wasn't lying. It spoke the truth all right!

Once we hit the mountains, it was dark, and the sky was partly cloudy, and the moon was nearly full. The roads are second only to the road to Darjeeling- hairpin turns, ups and downs, 1.5 cars wide... Oh, except unlike India, there were trucks flying along these roads, always coming at us, we didn't pass a single truck going our way. It was a very exciting drive! I think in the day it would be scenic- in a raw, harsh way.

Our hotel had a pool. So, despite the fact that it was well after midnight and we were all exhausted and unshowered, we swam. Because the pool was there.

Since we'd gotten there so late, we decided to spend a second night in Ouarzazate. And wouldn'tcha know it, there was no room at the inn for us for a second night. But another place had space, so we relocated.

Our big adventure yesterday was to Atlas studios; where parts of Gladiator, Alexander the Great, the Passion of the Christ, the Mummy Returns and the Kingdom of Heaven were filmed. Our guide had been an extra in a lot of these movies, and his friend was in Babel, in a couple scenes with Brad Pitt. It was all pretty cool- being able to walk out of ancient Egypt into Israel and Rome. However it did also strike me as wasteful. One facade of a temple took 2 months to build and was in just 3 minutes of film. I mean, I know it provides jobs, but then it just sits there.

Meagan, AJ, Ryan and I spent the afternoon doing various activities; blogging, napping, journalling, swimming, getting bus tickets... I went for a walk around our neighbourhood. By early evening, we were all sitting down by the pool, reading and checking emails and stuff like that. We were also rather peckish. So we ordered dinner. And after what felt like 3 hours, dinner was served. We inhaled 3 tagines, soup and dessert. We said goodbye to Ryan- he left for Marrakech early this morning- and passed out.

10 hours later we were woken up by the phone ringing. I answered and was met by a wall of Arabic. After a sleepy and confused 'sorry?' on my part, I got a 'breakfast' on the other end. Enough said.

So far the scenery is a lot like that of New Mexico and Arizona; dry, rocky, mountains in the not too far distance. A lot of the villages/ towns we've been through are like those in the movie Babel.

We made it to Merzouga with only one minor incident; after hitting a dip, our cars may or may not have taken off, and we may or may not have bottomed out. No big deal. Then we were passing road signs warning that there may be sand dunes on the road, and the Sahara was before us. When we got to where we were going to be starting our desert adventure, the thermometre read a toasty 47 degrees.

Since we'd gotten to Merzouga early, we had to wait for it to cool down a little. So we ate. And waited out a sandstorm.

After it had dropped a couple of degrees, and the sun was setting, we each got a ruzza- a head scarf/wrap, and climbed onto our camels. Pretty soon into the hour and a half ride, the desert lashed out at us, hitting is with a sandstorm from the right, then the left, and rain from all directions. All I can say is that those ruzza were a godsend! Sand stings like a billion little pins on any exposed flesh.

We got to the oasis where we were spending the night covered in sand, and nicely exfoliated. We sat outside for a while, but it was so windy that we decided it would make more sense to eat inside the tent. But first we walked over to see where the guides make dinner. And the desert struck again. On the walk back to our tent- probably 60 metres- AJ got bitten or stung by a something. Of course it was dark, so we had no idea what it was. But since it wasn't a creeping pain and it wasn't super swollen or anything, he decided to wait to see the doctor in the morning.

Dinner was delicious. We had a chicken tagine, and Taha said that we were hungry enough that any food would have been amazing, but I still thought it was really good! After dinner (during which it rained...) we went back outside and stared at the partly cloudy sky and listened to drums. Just before bed, Taha, Haitam, Meagan and I climbed this uber-dune behind our camp. Under the nearly-full moon, you could see the edge of the dunes, and the lights of Algeria. It was amazing. Then we ran down the dune, because that's the best part of dunes.

We decided to sleep outside, under the stars. I eventually fell asleep, and later, I woke up and I was soaked and cold. Being half-asleep, I figured it was sweat, rolled over, wrapped myself in my ruzza and went back to sleep. Turns out it was rain, not sweat, which makes a lot more sense. So we were in the desert for 12 hours and it rained 3 times. As one final blow, it was cloudy in the morning, so no watching the sunrise for us. Thanks desert! Despite all that the desert threw at us, I had a really good time, and would definitely go back. My camel, Mick, was lovely (as camels go), and it really is a beautiful place.

We were on our way to Ifrane by mid-morning, and spent most of the day in the car, trying to stay awake after a night of next-to-no sleep in the desert. We made it into the mountains, to Ifrane by evening. Morocco reminds me a lot of the south-western US. Deserty with some moutains and canyons and rocks. Its really quite pretty if you like those kinds of qualities- which fortunately, I do.
Ifrane is beautiful. And cool. It was probably only 20 degrees when we pulled in. And there are trees everywhere. And hills and creeks and Jess, you would really like it. It feels like a little mountain town, like Canmore or Darjeeling: more relaxed- which is tough to do in Morocco, the whole country is pretty relaxed. In a big way.
We spent the evening napping and trying to get most of the desert sand off of everything we own, then went for dinner and a wee stroll. By this point we were all beyond exhausted, and hit the hay. Hard.

Taha's university, Al-Akhawayn- the Two Brothers- is in Ifrane, and the next day we went for a tour. And boy, is it nice! They've got an Olympic-size swimming pool, and it all feels like its own little town. I was very impressed!

Our last big adventure of the roadtrip was horseback riding in Ifrane. We parked the car across from the creek, got out, crossed the street, and literally as we stepped up off the road, we were surrounded by boys and horses. Instant craziness. We were being pulled by the boys one way, and nudged the other way by horses, until we were all in a tiny little bait ball. We did eventually each pick a horse and climb on.

And then the boy belonging to my horse started hitting it with a stuck to make it go faster. And no one else was moving. So my horse and I took off and once we were out of range of the boys, we stopped and waited for my friends. We rode for an hour, stopping at a waterfall for a picture at the halfway point. We pretty much all lived in fear of the boys, and everytime the horses heard their boy getting closer they would speed up. In the end though, my boy and I made peace, he tucked my foot back into the stirrup and we played a game of 'can you reach the branch'. Obviously, being on a horse, I won.

And then the final leg began. I adore roadtrips. I do not like the last stretch. It means the adventure is ending. Mind you, as last legs go, this one wasn't bad. We stopped for gas and ended up with a meal's-worth of snacks (including a couple magnum bars, and some chicken and thyme flavoured lays chips-so good!) and sat around snacking and laughing about everything we'd done and been through. There's nothing like a 'messed up' night in the desert, or a squeaky spiderman hammer, or a terrible but catchy song to bring people together. At least, that's been my experience.

Despite our little feast at the gas station, when we arrived in Tangier, we all agreed it was time for Amigos- Wonderful sandwiches with fries inside. And after stuffing ourselves, we rolled home to Taha's, to bed.

And so began our last full day in Morocco. A day of chores- passport photos, headphones, laundry, lunch- and hanging out with friends, old and new. And next thing we knew it was our last morning in Morocco. And that was this morning.

I'm currently sitting on the very nicely polished floor of the Stuttgart airport in Germany, next to the plug, telling you about the end of our time in Morocco.

This morning was a packing morning. And by packing, I really mean battling. Fighting for all we're worth to get everything back into our bags. Which, I'll have you know, we managed to do quite successfully, thank you very much! Before we knew it, it was time to head to the airport; a time we'd all been dreading. As we were leaving Taha's, Ryan and Laila called to say goodbye from Marrakech, and send their love. Then it was really real. We were leaving. On the way to the airport we picked up Imane, Taha's girlfriend, and then, after what felt like 30 seconds, we were at the airport, saying goodbye. And it was not easy, it never is with boat people, I think because we're so scattered around, you really have no idea when you'll see each other again. That, and they're family, and saying goodbye to family is never easy.

And so, after 2 flights, and a few hours of reflection- we flew Tangier to Madrid, Madrid to Stuttgart- let's try to summarize nearly 3 weeks of wonderfulness. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that I love Morocco. The food is endless and incredible, the country is beautiful and most importantly, the people are among the most friendly, open, welcoming, sincere people I've ever met. You'd be hard-pressed at home to get three of your friends into a wedding where they know no one, or to get a ruzza- I guess the home equivalent would be a toque- given to you because you're a friend of a family friend. And I'm by no means trying to knock the people at home, its just a refreshing change, that's all. Did I have a favourite place in Morocco? Yes and no. No, in that I don't have a least favourite place, I haven't got a ranked list or anything. Yes, in that Tangier with Youssef and Taha felt like home, and in that I really liked Marrakech, despite the heat, and in that even though the Sahara tried to beat us down, we still managed to laugh about it all- even if it took some of us longer than others to get to that point-, and in that when asked where he lived, Ryan replied 'in Taha's car'- and some of those drives are among my favourite memories of Morocco. Would I go back? The only question is when, not would I; I'll be back. As long as there are friends to visit, I'll be back.

For those of you who are wondering, Stuttgart is a pretty sweet airport. Granted, its after midnight, so there's nothing actually open... But there are model planes everywhere, and there are seats with no armrests, which means we can sleep, and there's no one here. We've got a 10 hour layover until our flight to Luxor tomorrow morning- technically later today I guess. I pretty much expect Egypt to be more or less chaos all the time. Our plan is to be up early, out until mid-morning, hide indoors for most of the day then set back out as the sun sets, because apparently it gets so hot that your shoes can melt to the sidewalk. And I'm not buying another pair of shoes!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Rockin' the Kasbah... among other things

Salut and salaam from Morocco!

I am writing this on my blackberry, so it will probably be written from all over the place, as I add to it whenever I've got a couple minutes to spare... Right now I'm in Tangier, but won't be for much longer, we head south-eastish to Chefchauoen in about an hour to meet up with Youssef.

We've been in Tangier for 6 nights now, 3 at Youssef's and 3 at Taha's (both are friends from the boat) and so far its been wonderful! We spent a couple days at the beach, some time wandering the medina-the old city and lots of time catching up, drinking tea. Parts of Tangier are what I expected, and other parts are not- I was not expecting as many trees, for example. And trees -unless they come through your roof, are pleasantly surprising. Meagan and I were discussing the little bit of Morocco we have seen, and so far it reminds us of a mix of places, mostly Istanbul, with just a hint of India's traffic (but by no means quite as terrifying). The scenery is similar to that of South Africa's, both Cape Town and Jo'burg- which is very similar to southern Alberta. And now that I sound like a total travel snob, let's break that down... Alright, the people remind me of Istanbul, very friendly and welcoming- even if you've just gotten off the ferry from Spain crusty with salt and dripping, because you thought it would be fun to stand outside for the hour and a half crossing. As far as traffic is concerned, I'm just glad I'm not driving. As a passenger its pretty clear how the whole dance works, but I think if you dropped me in the drivers seat, there would be considerably fewer pedestrians alive at the end of the day. The scenery is a little all over the place. Tangier is right on the water, so its hot a beach, and its hilly, but not super hilly. The drive we took here to Chefchaouen (oh yeah, I'm in Chefchaouen now) reminded me a lot of the Okanagan, pretty dry, valley, no Ogopogo though- I did have a dream about a sea monster the other night, that's another story though.

Since I'm here, let's talk about Chefchaouen. Its in the mountains, its where Youssef's family is from, the whole old medina is painted white and blue, its a HOT town (...summer in the city...), and its beautiful. Yesterday reached somewhere around 42 degrees. We spent most of our time sitting, drinking water and trying not to move. Later as the sun was setting, we took a little walk around, and went to the water source the flows from the mountains, and it was cold! The water I mean... Not refreshing, cold. I mean we only dunked our hands in, its not deep enough to swim in most places, but even if it were it would be like swimming in the Bow river- and that's glacial!

We came here yesterday so that we would be in town for the wedding of the son of a friend of Youssef's family. Now, at Moroccan weddings, more is more. The wedding we went to was a 'small' wedding, probably about 70 women and 2 guys- Youssef and AJ. Let me explain... Since it was a smaller wedding, it was not a mixed wedding. During the day yesterday, the actual friends and family of the bride and groom (ie not us, the wedding crashers from overseas) had a big lunch, all the women on one floor, men on the other- and this was more then just 2 guys, Youssef said there were probably about 100 people at the entire lunch. Last night, when we arrived around 10, Youssef told us Meagan and I could go in, but the men weren't allowed in yet, so he and AJ had to wait outside. Youssef's cousin brought us in and sat us down with her. The room was full of women, all dressed in beautiful colours, covered in sequins and sparkles, and despite the fact that we were underdressed in our plain dresses and scarves, they were full of smiles for us. And of course they got a good laugh when we got dragged up to dance- very different from dancing at home- where even on a good day it seems I failed to inherit my mother's ability to 'cut a rug' as it were (...cue flashback to Hanna kitchen, early July). So we danced, we got laughed at, it seems bad dancers are funny in every culture, no big deal. The bride and groom came in and sat on two huge red and gold thrones. The bride reminded me of princess Leia, but without the cinammon buns. She had a pink dress on with a huge sparkly waistband, a giant crown and twisty-uppy hair. They sat on their thrones for probably an hour having pictures taken with whoever wanted to, then they left. Sometime later they were back, having changed into a suit and white dress, and the cake came out. There were more pictures taken and I asume rings were swapped- where I was sitting, there was a pillar between me and all the action... We ate our cake and talked among ourselves and by 130 the place was closing, so we called it a night too. It was a fun night, very different from any wedding I've ever seen- the multicoloured strobe lights and blasting music were very celebratory. I'm glad we went.

I guess some of you are wondering how I spent Brooke Day- more commonly known as my birthday. Let me tell you! On the 28th, Meagan, AJ, Taha and I were all struck down by illness- nothing serious, just some 24 hour thing. But since we got home that night after midnight, it was technically Brooke Day, and Surprise! I got a cake! (I really was surprised! I had no idea... Mostly because I told Meagan I don't really do big birthdays, but it was cake, so I couldn't say no..). We may or may not have slept until 3pm that day, and woken up feeling better. We spent most of the rest of the day hanging out, watching TV, booking flights to Egypt and working on a puzzle. That evening we went down to the beach and had some ice cream and pretty much called it a day. Thank you to all those who sent birthday messages and love! And for those who didn't, its ok, I know my presents are waiting for me at home, so thanks in advance!

We've been to a couple beaches- two on the Atlantic, one on the Mediterranean, so now we've swum on both the north and south shores of the sea. Both beaches were nice and sandy. The Atlantic was quite brisk, the Mediterranean was not.

We went out one night in Tangier -like OUT out, we went out everynight, but just to dinner or the waterfront- and on the way home AJ and Youssef stopped for food- boys will be boys. Meagan and I were standing off to the side comparing big bites- because we're dirty travellers and they're like little battle wounds. Anyways, I guess it looked like we were comparing our tans, and an older man came up to us and said "little browner every day, not all at once; then burn". And that really sums up the people we've encountered so far; friendly, well-intentioned and more than happy to help.

And now I'm in Marrakech. We started our 8 day road trip around the country yesterday in Tangier. Our first stop (after stopping for breakfast) was in Casablanca at the Hassan II mosque- the third largest mosque in the world. Its built on reclaimed land, so it literally sits on the ocean. Since it stands alone against the water, there's really nothing to compare its size to, you know its big, but you don't really get a sense of how big... until you look inside. And then you realize it really could swallow Notre Dame- and probably an appy and dessert too. Its ginormous. And beautiful.

The rest of Casa was .. Good? Its just a big city really. I mean I didn't really are enough of it to make an informed critique. We ate lunch there, it was good- I had a pizza. It was that or fish, and I far prefer my fish still swimming than grilled.

The very best part of Casa was that it is where Ryan joined us. While we were waiting for him, Taha and Haitam went off to buy glue from Brazilian street kids, and Meagan and I were rocking out to Piano Man and Cher and were generally being embarassing to be around.

Wait. Hold the phone. I haven't told you about our roadtrip crew (codename: team Brooke). So. There's Meagan, AJ and I. There're two New Yorkers. Then there's our wonderful and fearless drivers; Taha and Haitam, best friends since highschool and a lot of fun to be around. And now we've got Ryan with us too. OH!!! AND the best best best part! Taha's car is a VW golf! Its Lola's little sister! Clearly its the roadtripping car of choice. Also in Casa we picked up Laila, Taha's friend who spent last semester studying abroad with him (and Youssef) in Idaho. She is also friends with Ryan, and just finished an internship in Casablanca and came home to Marrakech with us. -long explanation I know, she comes back though.

Its threeish hours to Casablanca from Tangier, the another threeish to Marrakech., most of which we spent bopping along to Michael Jackson and Phil Collins and catching up and remembering boat times, as we are so apt to do when we're together. I feel badly for everyone else with us that they have to sit through boat story after boat story. There's just so many to tell and re-tell! We lived them together, and they brought us together, and now here we are, a year and a half later, going to family friend's weddings and roadripping across Morocco, and it feels as natural as going to the grocery store or the pub at home (and we all know I'm a natural at that). But anyway, enough boat talk, I'm going to lose you if I keep going on like this.

We arrived in Marrakech as the sun was setting, turning the terra-cotta coloured city golden. The 8 of us are sharing an apartment, and its worked out beautifully, there's plenty of space and a kitchen- not that we're cooking, but its hot a fridge which means cold water! The day before we left Tangier, we'd heard horror stories of it being 63 degrees here, but I think the hotest thermometre I've seen has been 42. Either way, cold water = a big perk.

We lay around for a bit watching the end of Ocean's 12 and an episode of House (great show), then got dressed super fast and went to dinner then were at the disco by 1230. We had reserved a table, and it happened to be right in front of the wall of bass speakers. Like Right up against it. It was like sitting through an earthquake. I could only stay seated for a couple minutes at a time. But that's ok because we spent most of the night dancing anyways. We were right next to this 2-tier platform/ stage that looked out over the whole club, and when Meagan's jam came on we kindly shoved the aerobics-dancing man aside and took our place on the stage. And we stayed there. Because wouldn't you? We were back home by 4, Ryan and I managed to smuggle a bottle of lemon Schwepps out with us, so we shared the end of that and c'est tout! That was night uno in Marrakech.

Today, we went to Laila's for lunch- told you she came back! And we met some of her family. And it was wonderful. I don't know what I ate, but I do know that there was A LOT of it. Moroccans do not take mealtime lightly. Lunch consisted of 3 courses, dessert and tea both before and after. We talked and joked and laughed in English, French and Arabic, covering everything from Obama, to the weather, to the boat (surprise). Oh, and Laila's home is gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful- hand carved ceilings, stained glass, hand-laid mosaics, all stunning.

So after hours of eating and laughing, obviously the best place to go is the pool. Feeling like 8 overstuffed whales, we headed to the waterpark and wavepooled, and waterslid and lazy rivered until the park had closed and we were some of the last people left lying in the sun on the grass. And right now I'm perched on the outside window sill, looking over the street, enjoying the breeze and tyring to keep you up to speed.


I thought I was so clever! I thought I had finally caught you up!

I thought wrong.

Shoot.

Ok, let's take a trip back in time, to a land called Spain. To a city called Granada the Wonderful.

It was an overnight bus ride from Valencia- that's right, I forgot... We ended up going to the oceanography centre, essentially an aquarium, and hung out with some sea critters. I learnt that the Tempest, by Mr. Billy Shakespeare was based on colonial conflicts in the West Indies, that Cape Verde is part of what remains of Atlantis, its the taller mountain peaks of the lost continent, and that a shipment of shoes lost at sea helped us learn about ocean currents.

So. Bus ride. Not bad. I had no one next to me, so I could sprawl out a little. Luxury! A couple hours out of Granada we went through a park, and the dirt was rainbow coloured! It was pink and purple and gold and black- it was Very nice dirt!

We arrived in Granada nice and early- probably just before 8am and hopped on the public bus to our hostel. We were too early to check in, but we were able to leave our bags. So we got some desayuno, and set off awandering. We walked up the hill and down the hill and went to the market and went to the internet. Once we had checked in, we siestaed and showered and set out again. And we found THE best doner place. I mean these things were huge! And delicious! And huge! When we'd finished, we rolled ourselves off to the bar for cervezas and free tapas. Can't go wrong.

Day 2 in Granada and we tried to get tickets to l'Alhambra. And we failed. Going to Granada and not going to l'Alhambra is like going to DC and not seeing the White House- like not seeing it at all, not just not getting a tour, but totally avoiding it. But we left it too late and the tickets had already sold out. But we trudged up the hill anyways and saw things around and near l'Alhambra. They were really cool! I guess I haven't mentioned it yet, but Granada is gorgeous. Its got so much character, with pebbled streets and winding narrow alleys. Valencia was the Florida of Spain, and it was great to relax and unwind, but next time I would spend more time in Granada. For sure. Plus its cheaper.

Our next adventure involved finding the train station to buy tickets to Algeciras for the next day. Well. We found it eventually. We took an hour-long detour, and the place the detour started from was literally 2 blocks from the station. Ohh well.
That night was another doner- the guy even remembered our orders, pretty sure we were his only customers all day. Then it was out for more beer and tapas. Lots of sandwiches, fries, ham and cheese, and deliciousness! At our last bar- we hopped around- we got free Guiness T-shirts. Score!

The next morning we checked out and Meagan and I headed over to la capilla real, in the cathedral. It is where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel are burried... Well, they're more crypted than burried. Anyways we saw them and the crown jewels. I thought it was all pretty cool; I mean they dispatched Columbus to destroy the culture and livelihoods of millions, and in doing so, set the world on the course we're still running with now. That's a pretty big legacy to leave behind.
We spent the rest of the morning in the park before heading to the train. Its 4 1/2 hours to Algeciras on the train, really quite civilized. I love the train, for some reson I find it so much more relaxing than the bus. Same goes for subways- I like them so much more than transit buses. Not sure what that says about me, but there you have it. Anyways. I spent the majority of the ride reading Pride & Prejudice and staring out the window. Spain is quite pretty, lots of hills and some olive trees and lots of golden fields (remember its the middle of summer, and about a million degrees).

We got into Algeciras just before 19:00, and walked 15 minutes down to the port, where we found a slew of ferry companies. We found the one recommended to us by Youssef and grabbed one last jamon y queso sandwich- ham and cheese- and settled down to wait for the 20:30 ferry to Tangier.

Going through passort control was pretty funny, because the visa stamp needs to go on a new page, he kept flipping through and looking up at me with a mixture of confusion and disbelief on his face.

We got on the ferry and everyone seemed to be lining up with customs forms. So we thought we'd go with it and hopped in line too. Once we'd got that finished up with, we went outside and waited. And waited. And then, 45 minutes later, we pulled out of Spain. The sunset was beautiful as we sailed past the Rock of Gibraltar, and the breeze off the water was a nice relief from the heat.

But then we picked up speed. Which means the spray picked up. Which means within minutes we were soaked from the waist up. But did we move? Of course not. At least until the last 15 minutes of the crossing - which takes an hour and a halfish- because we were shivering. And covered in crystalized salt. And just in case you're under the impression that we strolled off the ferry beautifully windblown and slightly refreshed, think again. We looked like drowned hobos..

But we were in Morocco! Another continent! A new country! New adventures! And old friends (relatively speaking)!

And I think that just about completes the circle of time. Taha met us at the port and we went to his place for tea and sweets then we all went to Youssef's and had couscous and passed out.

Now we're off to Essaouira for the night. I've had a pain au chocolat and two fortys so far today. No, not THAT kind of forty! They're juice boxes. Come on, who do you think I am?

Next day.

I am now in Agadir, 3.5 hours of winding roads south of Essaouira. Last night was really great. Essaouira is a hippie hangout on the ocean, Jimi Hendrix used to hang out there. And so if its good enough for him, I guess its good enough for me. We grabbed some dinner, took a long walk on the beach to the castle in the sand- Hendrix's castle in the sand. Then some of us ran back along the beach. And some of us didn't make it very far, because some of us have been eating a LOT and sleeping a lot for a month straight and are a little out of shape. Those who didn't make it all the way to the medina running, walked back together in little groups. Eventually we all ended up on the rooftop terrace. And it was chilly, man! It was probably like 20, but there was a cool breeze off the water and it was damp. But that didn't stop us telling bad jokes (sorry Taha) and laughing at each other. I slept really well in our gorgeous room and was not excited to get out of bed!

But there was breakfast to be eaten, so I did. We took a wander over to the water, climbed on some cannons and messed around. Then it was back to the cars and on the road to Agadir. This time it was Dave Matthews, and Hendrix. And of course, our car's theme song- boom boom pow by the black eyed peas. Not because we love it (pretty sure most of us aren't even a fan of it) but because one of us always has it stuck in our heads and starts singing. Which means it gets into all of our heads and then its game over. It doesn't unstick. The road to Agadir is a twisty, big-hilly (not quite mountains, but close- road and at one point you're winding through olive trees and dry, golden earth up a hill, and cut through a pass and the WHAMO! The Atlantic ocean is sprawled out before you. Its really cool! The rest of the drive is along the coast and its beautiful.

Upon rolling in to Agadir, we met up with Taha's friend and grabbed some McDonalds. DON'T judge. We were meeting him there. Meagan, Ryan and I were under the impression that it was just a meeting place, so we only had ice creams and whatever fries were donated to us. But everyone else ate meals. I guess we missed that memo. But even in Morocco, its tough to beat a McDonald's cone.

We're staying in another apartment in Agadir. We spent the evening down by the marina, then the three Moroccan boys went off to meet the parents, and we hung out at the beach and ate dinner and watched this crazy (legit crazy) westerner sprint into the water in a tiny red bikini and go for a midnight dip in front of the whole beach: who were all staring at her, then come back up to shore and lose the guy she was with, so she wandered around for a couple minutes before she found him, meanwhile a couple people were trying to help her and point him out, but she kept walking further away.

So by now we had expected to hear from Taha. Having not heard anything we decided to call him. Only neither his nor Haitam's phones would let us get through. So, the question becomes when you're split into 2 groups in a new city and can't get ahold of each other, where do you go? Ryan had Taha's car keys, and after some time waiting at the beach, we decided the car would make more sense as a meeting place. So we moved up there and started wondering whether we should check the apartment- to which we didn't have the key. Ryan, Marie, Meagan and I made our way there in the car, leaving the other 2 boys at the parking lot to keep that base covered. They weren't there, so we went back to the beach, listened to sweet dreams are made of this and the boys rolled in. Then it was pretty much home to bed.



AND NOW I am in Ouarzazate. and I've uploading this so that its not on my blackberry anymore and then I'll start all over again.

I LOVE YOU.
B