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.


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.


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