We arrived in Morocco the morning of Sept. 3. We had to wait for the ship to be cleared by customs, and we listened to a presentation by a U.S. representative who works in Morocco.
After getting off the ship, my friend Kimberly and I met up with some other students and we explored the city of Casablanca. In simple words it can be referred to as a “big, dirty city.” The streets were full of fast moving cars that didn’t seem to follow any traffic rules, taxis that charged way too much, and the occasional donkey. The culture and atmosphere was totally different than anything I have witnessed. I spent my morning in the medina, a street market where they sell clothing, crafts, jewelry, shoes, and other cool objects. The shop owners were all pretty pushy because they were trying to make good sales. One shop owner showed us all around the medina and then expected to be paid for it even though we had told him we didn’t want help and couldn’t pay him. Although the streets were small and crowded, I felt safe because we had been warned how to prevent pick pocketing. We traveled in a big group and we were even taught some Arabic to communicate with the locals. I have to say, the language barrier was definitely a factor that I hadn’t put much consideration into. But we learned their words quickly. “La'a” means "no," and “shukran” means "thank you." We said a lot of “la'a shukran” to the shop owners and street beggars. We also learned how to tell the cab driver to start the meter, how to ask the price, and how to ask how to get to the port.
On the first day, I also got to try the Moroccan mint tea, which is recommended. It was super sweet and absolutely delicious.
That afternoon I did a Semester-at-Sea sponsored city orientation of Casablanca. We got to see a couple of mosques, a castle and a Catholic church that was beautifully designed with stained glass.
The orientation was really nice because it gave me the opportunity to see things that I wouldn’t have known to find on my own.
That night I met up with another group of students and we went out exploring the nightlife. We ended up realizing that not many places were busy because Ramadan had just ended. We ended up going to a nice place on the oceanfront to have Moroccan drinks and dessert. By the end of the night, we were all exhausted but we decided that the walk home wasn’t too long and that we didn’t need a taxi. It ended up taking us about two and a half hours. Although it was a long walk, it passed by fast because we were chatting and getting to know one another.
The morning of Day 2 I woke up early and joined a friend from the on-ship a cappella group. We traveled by train to the city of Fez. It took about four hours and a lot of conversation with local Moroccans who were eager to practice their English.
After arriving we took a taxi to the medina, one of the largest in Morocco. The streets of the medina were very narrow and there were shops on both sides. We got very turned around while shopping. The difference between the medinas in Casablanca and Fez was that there was basically no English spoken in Fez; it was mostly Arabic and a little French. By the middle of the day, we were very hungry so we asked a local shop owner who spoke English fairly well where to eat. He took us to a restaurant that had very steep stairs leading up. We were leery but he promised us it was beautiful and that the food wouldn’t make us sick. We figured we could at least check it out and then decide. While we were heading up the stairs we ran into another American group who confirmed the location and food as being amazing. When we reached the top of the stairs we were on the rooftop of a building overlooking the city of Fez. It was absolutely beautiful! For lunch we all got tarjine, which is the name of the dish that food is served in, and whatever food they put in it. So I ordered chicken and couscous tarjine. The Moroccan food was fabulous.
After eating we toured the medina a bit more and then spent a lot of time trying to find our way out and a taxi in order to catch the train back home. The ride home was another long four hours but I enjoyed conversing with the locals and hearing their stories. Especially when I spoke with a young man who dropped out of school and was not allowed to return home because of it. Now he travels and makes a decent living, and is fluent in many languages.
On the third day, I did a SAS-sponsored trip to the city of Marrakech. The tour was rushed but all together very interesting. First we visited a garden that was full of beautiful trees, bamboo, and cacti.
Another stop was to the kings palaces. We learned all about the mosaic and the meanings of the rooms. Often the more important rooms had marble and mosaic floors. It was not uncommon for them to have four wives, the first of which he cared about the most. And we learned that the palace keeps cool because of the high ceilings.
Our last stop was another medina. While there I saw snake charmers. They would come up to unknowing tourists and put a snake around your neck and then demand payment. The henna women also operated in the same manner: just grabbing your hand and beginning. I did not witness but I also heard of people getting monkeys thrown on their backs and having to pay; people getting babies thrown at them and while they were catching them they would be pick pocketed.
While in the medina I also visited a pharmacy, which is where they sell spices, lotions, and tea. They gave us a brief description and history with samples and then allowed us to purchase items. I bought a rose-scented lotion and these seeds that work like Vick's Vapor Rub and amazingly instantly clear your sinuses. While there I also got asked for my Facebook by one of the employees. It was quite entertaining to see how the Moroccan boys were going crazy for the American girls. They often called out "beautiful" and other nice words.
Marrakech was a city based very culturally on tourism and I really enjoyed exploring.
Day 4 was a very relaxed day for me. Everyone had to be back on the ship with their passports turned in by 1800 (yes, we use military time). I spent my day trying to find stamps to send postcards (failed) and wi-fi to send pictures and connect with people back home (also a failed). I did end up going back to the medina, though. I bargained for a beautiful long skirt, which I can wear in hot countries that require modesty.
Morocco was an amazing experience for a first port. Now I can’t wait to go to Ghana!!!