Camels, Couscous, and…Moroccan Whiskey

COUSCOUS. The food so nice, they named it twice. 

Unfortunately, I can not take credit for that lovely rhyme. That would be Tino’s mom from “The Weekenders” …does anyone remember that cartoon?  

We were given a week off work between the semesters (thank goodness), so my coworker/friend and I hopped on a plane to Morocco! We left right after work on a Friday evening, had a layover in Istanbul, and arrived in Casablanca around 0345. 

The flight was fine… until the man diagonal from me puked. The man in front of me offered him some napkins, but apparently said something offensive, because a HUGE shouting match ensued with a mixture of French and Arabic. It was nuts. They were screaming at eachother, and continued even when the flight attendant tried to calm them down. She eventually got them to split up- one to the front and the other to the back. The differences in cultures is sometimes shown on airplanes… I just kept thinking that if that had happened on an American flight, someone would have been tackled and zip-tied to their seat. But the rest of the passengers seemed not to mind.  I fell asleep, only to be woken up by a crunching noise. The guy that puked was sitting right across the aisle from me, WATCHING ME SLEEP AND EATING COOKIES. What a weirdo. 

Also, there are no rules concerning seatbelts and cigarettes on Air Arabia flights. As soon as we took off, people began walking around and getting crap out of the overhead bins. Really? You just put your bag there! What could you possibly need at this moment? And as soon as we landed, right after the pilot made the announcement to “remain seated with your seatbelt on until we stop,” everyone stood up. WHAT. That announcement was in three languages (to be fair, Turkish people do this too!! WAIT UNTIL THE PLANE STOPS OMG). 

We arrived in Casablanca, but immediately bought train tickets to Marrakech. By the way, if anyone ever goes to Morocco, no one takes credit cards. Big, fancy hotels, and maybe super fancy restaurants… but that’s it. Even if the train ticket box says it takes credit cards… it doesn’t. So you have to use cash for everything, but another problem: most people and places can’t give you change. Our first cab ride (from the Marrakech train station to our Riad) was 80 Durhams. We gave the guy 100, and he didn’t have change, and no cafes would give him change. It’s like there is a change shortage, and the ATMs only give big bills. So that’s a fun game to play. 

Our first few days were spent in Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains, and Essaouira, eating tons of couscous, crepes, and pastries, walking around the markets, and exploring. We stayed in the old part of Marrakech, in a cozy little Riad (hotel/ hostel). The owner, Nuradine (sp?), was friendly once you understood his humor, and helped us book a day trip to the mountains, as well as a day trip to the seaside (Essaouira). 

On our mountain trip, we stopped at a traditional Berber house, received a tour, and were given Moroccan whiskey, bread, and honey. Before you get too excited, Morocco is a Muslim country, so while there is alcohol, it’s not good (watered-down Pabst). Moroccan “whiskey” is mint tea with a ton of sugar. But they use fresh mint, so it’s extremely tasty. 

Next, we stopped at an argan oil “factory.” I’m not sure what to call it since it wasn’t a factory, but a few small houses where argan oil is made in the traditional way (no machines… just good ol’ hard labor). We learned that the Argan tree only grows in Morocco, and the seeds can be ground to make cooking oil, a peanut-butter type spread, skin and hair oil, shampoo, lotion, and lip balm. Of course I got two bottles (one for face and one that will make my hair grow. Probably won’t work, but it smells good).

After we got our Argan fix, we continued our journey (btw, we rode in a van with other foreigners… two from Portugal / London, and one from Sweden). We stopped at a restaurant for lunch, and then began our hike in the mountains. Although it had nothing on Denali, it was still a lot of fun and very beautiful. Our guide was a Berber from a nearby village, and had the agility of a fox-ninja. It was very neat to watch him run ahead of our group; as we were trying to keep our balance, he was hopping and skipping off the trail. 

At the finish of the hike, there was a pretty little waterfall (Ourika Valley) and a cafe (of course. That’d be the French influence, I think). 

The next day, we took another day trip to Essaouira. It was a 3-hour drive there and back, and we had about four hours to explore the town. Although it wasn’t exactly beach weather, it was super relaxing to spend some time on a beach. And, I did my first free-standing handstand. I still need to work on my recovery, because I just kind of fell over, but I’m still proud. 

Fez was next on our list. We took a SEVEN HOUR TRAIN RIDE the next morning from Marrakech. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but I made some new friends. One man, Saiid (sp), talked to me for about two hours, telling me his life story. He speaks French, English, Arabic, and Greek. He lived in Greece for about ten years, working at hotels and other tourist industry places, but came back to Morocco because his father became ill. His stop was Casablanca, a city which he doesn’t particularly like, but doesn’t want to live anywhere else because, “I’ve lived enough. This is my city. Maybe as a tourist I will go to other places.” Before he left, he gave me his hat to “remember Morocco.” I thought he deserved a place in my writings. 

Another lady shared her banana with me as a thank-you for saving her seat. Sometimes it’s lovely to communicate with others without knowing the same language (other times it’s frustrating :P). 

I wouldn’t recommend Fez (I’m talking the old city part) for more than a day or two. There are neat shops, but you need a local to guide you through the streets (an official guide from your Riad or hotel… many will offer their services but who knows where you’ll end up or how much you’ll pay… Miki and I found that out… haha).

In Fez, we got a tour of a tannery where they make a bunch of leather goods by hand. We were given Moroccan gas-masks (mint leaves…) because they use pigeon poop in the tanning process. It smelled worse than Iowan pigs. But it was still neat to see the process. We also got a mini-tour of a carpet weaving shop, and a traditional clothing store. 

We ate a the same restaurant / cafe both nights we were in Fez, because it was that good and they had camel burgers and falafel. I had to get my falafel fix, but also didn’t want to pass up eating a camel (it has a tangy, almost sweet taste. But I still think moose is best). 

Our trip was concluded with a day in Casablanca. The film is great, but pass on the city. It’s very industrial and there isn’t much for tourists. We just found a restaurant and later explored a grocery store).

The journey back to Turkey wasn’t as smooth as the trip to Morocco. Our first flight was delayed by three hours, so we had to hang out in the Casablanca airport… Which was fine, but boooring. One thing that’s odd about being an American female in Morocco is going through customs. The people checking passports were asking other passengers a million questions, going through bags, and who knows what else. But when it was my turn, the guy just took my passport, looked at the front, and said okay and let me through. He didn’t even OPEN my passport. Didn’t ask me if I had drugs or how much money I was carrying. I say it’s odd, because I’m not sure if that was a good thing. Being a female, I went through the metal detectors while wearing two jackets, a scarf, and SHOES. They didn’t even glance at me, while all the men got full pat-downs. 

We flew back to Istanbul on the loudest flight in history. We left at 2100, so you would think people would at least talk quietly, but NO. It was the freakin party plane. One guy was blasting his music… no headphones! And no one cared! And the lady behind us talked (loudly) the ENTIRE flight. 

Miki and I had class the following morning. We arrived in Ankara at 0755, went straight to work, and arrived at our campus at 0859. One minute to spare. And then we taught classes. That was a “fun” day. But, completely worth it. 


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