Seven Cities in Seven Days

Barely six hours after arriving home I woke up a little before seven on Sunday morning and ate breakfast as fast as possible before grabbing my bags and heading to school. My classmates and I were embarking on a weeklong tour of southern Morocco, during which we thankfully we had no classes and only had to worry about what playlist to zone out to on the long bus rides. Our first stop on Sunday was Meknes. We arrived a little after ten and a tour guide joined us on our bus for a hop-on, hop-off tour of the city. We took pictures in front of one of the prettiest gates (most cities in Morocco are surrounded by many walls, hence gates) in the country. We then wandered around an ancient grain silo and toured an out-of-commission mosque before going to a Berber silver shop, giving us the opportunity to shop for souvenirs.

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On the road to Meknes.

My friends and I in front of a famous gate in Meknes. (I can’t remember it’s name or significance.) 

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The inside and outside of a grain silo (the largest, and maybe oldest?, in the world) in Meknes. 

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Inside an old mosque/mausoleum converted into a museum in Meknes. 

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In a Berber silver shop, giving me yet another opportunity to buy trinkets.

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Am I allowed to buy the whole country?

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After the tour we drove to a Moulay Idriss, a village built into the side of a mountain, to have lunch, before going to Volubilis, the ruins of ancient Roman city nearby Moulay Idriss. At the ruins our guide showed us around and we took thousands of silly pictures amongst the crumbling pillars and archways. When our tour was over we piled into the bus, sunburned and exhausted, and drove to the hotel for the night.

On the journey from Meknes to Moulay Idriss. This was a very surreal drive for me, because the countryside of Morocco looks very similar to wine country in Northern California. 

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Volubilis, an ancient Roman city that has been partially unearthed.

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We forced ourselves to wake up before seven on Monday to inhale carbs in preparation for our tour of Fes. First we drove stopped by the Royal Palace, where the royal family stays when they visit the city, and took a bunch of pictures in front of the gates. We managed to take a really great group photo (pictured below). Then we stopped at a lookout point to get a good view of the medina of Fes before we wandered its ancient, winding streets. On our tour of the medina we were led through the various streets to the hidden historic attractions of the city. We watched scarves being woven on a loom and were given the opportunity to purchase various cloth items and went to a leather shop hovering precariously over the open courtyard housing the famous tanneries of Fes. Our tour guide also took us to a mosque that has now been converted into a museum for tourists, as well as the actual oldest university in the world. Sadly, because of the tradition of receiving higher education in mosques (translation: the oldest university in the world is actually just a courtyard outside a mosque), neither women nor non-Muslims were allowed inside the building. However, the entrance guard graciously held the door to the courtyard open so that our group could take pictures from a distance.

Fes Bus Tour – Stop 1: The gates of the royal palace. 

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Me outside the gates of the royal palace.

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A photo of all the students in my Multiculturalism and Human Rights program.

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Helen goofing around (under my direction) outside the gates of the royal palace of Fes.

 

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A bird’s eye view of the medina of Fes.

Seen on the streets of the Fes medina…

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This man has worked his entire life sharpening blades in this tiny little shop inset into an alley wall in the medina.

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Outside the courtyard oldest university in the world.

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In another old mosque converted into a museum for tourists. 

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Helen examining the tiles walls in the ancient mosque.

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A large loom inside a shop of woven goods in the Fes medina.

After our tour we were guided to a restaurant within the medina, and we all proceeded to collapse on the couches lining the walls next to the tables. We enjoyed a lovely three course meal, complete with a dozen mini “salads” (read: various cooked & spiced vegetables), a tagine of beef and dates, vegetarian bastilla, and a platter of grapes and melon slices for dessert. During lunch it began to rain furiously and our entire group dashed through the narrow streets of the medina on the way back to our bus, dodging vendors and rain drops with equal tenacity. As the city disappeared from sight behind us, periodic snores and the gentle rustle of blankets being spread out across laps punctuated an otherwise silent drive into the hills. Four hours later, after naps were had, cookies were consumed, and everyone was on the verge of complete boredom, we finally arrived at our hotel for the night. Though the hills of the Mid-Atlas Mountains nearby were gorgeous shrouded in fog, everyone was slightly let down that our hotel was the only building in sight, and thus there was no town to explore in our free time that evening.

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My friends at lunch at a restaurant in the medina in Fes.

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The views of the Mid-Atlas mountains from the terrace of my hotel room in Middelt.

Our “lodge” hotel outside of Middelt. My friends and I compared it to Hogwarts, because it was large and drafty, with long hallways lined with plush rugs and large fireplaces. 

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The swimming pool, seem from the stairwell. It was far too windy and rainy to go in. 😦

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The “Great Hall”?

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Definitely the Griffindor common room.

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The next morning we woke up to clouds and raindrops hanging over our drafty hotel. I shuffled down the long halls and into the expansive chambers of the lobby for breakfast before piling onto the bus to drive to the desert. We were on the bus for four long hours before finally arriving in Rissani, the last “major” town before Merzouga, an outpost next to the Sahara Desert. We had a mildly decent lunch at a restaurant which served us the Moroccan version of pizza, in fact just black olives, scrambled eggs, onions, and beef stuffed inside round bread. We all counted ourselves as lucky because the lack of appeal of lunch made the ride to the desert significantly easier.

On the drive from Middelt to Rissani. 

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Downtown Rissani on “Souq Day” (Tuesday), aka- the day everyone goes to the market.

To get to our hotel, a luxury outpost adjacent to the dunes, we divided into small groups and took range rovers from Rissani to the desert. I had expected dune buggies, but was pleasantly surprised when the driver of my range rover rolled down the windows, cranked the stereo as loud as it would go, and hit the gas until we were flying past the other cars. Soon the other cars were doing the same, and we were all racing and trying to show each other up. Some students on my program hung out the windows of the range rovers and waved to their friends as their car raced by, others draped Moroccan flags out the windows, some stuck their Go-Pros out the window and videotaped their car driving loops around others.

The Range Rovers bounding over the dunes of the Sahara. 

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On the way there, we got out, opened all the doors of the range rovers and played loud music while taking pictures in front of the dunes. Before checking into our hotel we stopped at a local NGO which works to promote environmental sustainability and women’s literacy. One of the students on my program translated the presenter’s speech from French to English, telling us about the various activities done by the organization. After the presentation, we were free to roam the NGO’s stop. They were selling scarves, shirts, pants, pillow cases, blankets, and various toys made by the women who attend classes there. I bought a red scarf and a red patchwork glittery camel toy. Once we arrived at the hotel we had just a few minutes to admire the luxurious rooms and exotic grounds before getting ready to go ride camels.

Taking pictures on the way to the desert. 

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Maddie and Ellen doing their frolicking thing.

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Always the photographer, never the photographed. (Actually not at all true.)

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The guides were quick and efficient, drawing out small groups of students and putting them onto camels one at a time. My group’s guide tied my red scarf around my head before helping me up onto my camel and offering to take my photo. After all the students were elevated eight feet into the air on the back of a large desert animal, our caravan progressed into the desert. We slowly ambled over rolling dunes, twisting around to take each other’s pictures and reassure each other of the stability of our camels. After about half an hour we got off were given approximately an hour to wander around in the warm sand and take pictures. My group ran around, chasing each other over mountainous dunes of sand, slipping and falling down valleys and making silly faces the entire time. Eventually we reassembled, climbed back on our camels, and rode home into the sunset. That evening we sat by the pool and gorged on a delicious feast provided by the hotel, composed of twenty different dishes and a cornucopia of fruit for desert. After dinner we were treated to a performance of Gnawa music by native musicians, which quickly morphed into the entire room dancing to the beat of the drums. To cool down after sweating intensely, my friends and I walked into the desert to go star gazing. When we came back, I hung out by the pool for a while and then went to bed.

ALL of the desert/camel pictures. 

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When my friends unintentionally resemble a National Geographic spread…

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Camels and caravans 🙂 

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UPS takes SIT!

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Multiculturalism and Human Rights in the Sahara!

The surreal Sahara! 

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Yet another luxury hotel, this one in Merzouga. 

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This is what happens when I say I’m not going to eat much…

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Gnawa music performance at our hotel in Merzouga.

What felt like only a couple of hours later, we woke up to watch the sunrise over the Sahara Desert. Despite the fact that we waited for almost an hour in anticipation, shivering all the while, it was a magical experience. Immediately after the great orb of gas crested over the horizon, we all began the frantic dash to breakfast. Grabbing one last piece of massimon bread, we all piled our bags back into the land rovers and departed Merzouga to return to our tour bus in Rissani. From there we drove six hours to Ouarzazate, where we stayed overnight in a boarding house for female students from across the country called Dar Taliba (literally- house of the female student).

Watching the sunrise over the Sahara Desert.

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Having lunch in N’Qob on the drive from Merzouga to Ouarzazate.

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The front entrance to the restaurant we had lunch at.

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Vegetable tagine for lunch- YUM!

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A panorama of the valley and mountains around N’Qob.

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We all stuck our feet in the pool before lunch. 

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Scenery on the drive from N’Qob to Ouarzazate. 

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That evening, after unsuccessfully looking for the entrance to the city’s kasbah (the ancient portion of Moroccan cities which is elevated and surrounded by a large wall), we returned to the boarding house to have dinner with a group of girls who live there. My original assumption was that they would speak relatively capable English, but I was yet again proved wrong when the girls revealed that although they understood a few words of English, our primary method of communication would have to be in Arabic. Despite the fact that neither Helen nor I, the only Americans at the table, were feeling very well, we procured a sufficient amount of vocabulary to tell the Moroccan students about ourselves and how we were enjoying their country. After a few hours of nausea and avoiding eating whenever we were prompted to, Helen and I took a few pictures with the girls and then processed upstairs to go to bed. I was shocked that a large number of students from my program managed to stay up dancing and singing with the Moroccan students for another two hours.

Doctor Kat doing “surgery” (aka, splinter removal) on Annie’s foot in our dorm room at the boarding house in Ouarzazate. 

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A view of Ouarzazate.

Dinner with the students who live at Dar Taliba. 

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The next morning I woke up around six and joined the other American students struggling with the concept of being greeted not by the sun, but by a row of aromatic Turkish toilets. Nearly half of us had some form of a cold, the flu, food poisoning, or diarrhea and were distinctly frustrated with the lack of toilet paper made available to us, and how low our personal stores were running. We managed to distribute our remaining rolls to everyone who needed it, and with that, we departed Dar Taliba and were on the road again, this time en-route to our final destination of the trip- Marrakech. I had already been to the city briefly with my family the week prior, and I was extraordinarily excited to return with my friends. The four hour drive over the mountain passes was outstanding, but made me fairly nauseous, so I skipped lunch when we arrived at the hotel and took a nap instead.

Ultimate photography material on the drive from Ouarzazate to Marrakech.

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Later on Thursday evening, my friends and I went out to explore the medina. Even though I consider myself well versed on travel culture and am aware of how foreigners are treated here, I still managed to get severely ripped off taking a cab across town. I justified this by telling myself that for me, it wasn’t that much money to spend and that now I am that much wiser. Once all my friends arrived, we wandered through the shops and stalls lining Jemaaa el-Fnaa Square and then did some casual souvenir shopping on the souq streets of the medina. Happily weighed down with bags of scarves, jewelry, and tea glasses we turned through the back roads until we reached Nomad, a Moroccan fusion restaurant one of my friends found online. Everyone in the group was very pleased by the terrace seating and fantastic selection of food and drinks offered. I had a lamb burger with caramelized onions and spiced chocolate ice cream. After a slight mishap with our taxi (our driver had no idea where our hotel was), I fell into bed as soon as we arrived back.

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A shop in the Marrakech medina.

Dinner at Nomad in the Marrekech medina. 

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A lamb burger, greens and potatoes.

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On Friday my group of friends, as well as about half of the other students on my program, went to Jardin Majorelle, designed by Jacques Majorelle and restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge. It is a small, but beautiful garden, burgeoning with exotic plants and accented by serene water features and bright colored decor. My friend Helen and I split off to explore the shady paths together, taking pictures and enjoying the tranquility of the space. While my friends and I went to lunch I took a nap, and then we all spent the evening hanging out in the hotel. The next day we woke up early and drove back back to Rabat.

Exploring the Jardin Majarelle in Marrkech.

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In case you were curious… we spent more than thirty cumulative hours on our tour bus over the course of seven days!

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What we resort to when we are on the bus for more than three hours straight…

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