Sunday, October 5, 2008

Morocco Marathon, etc.

We are finally back from Morocco and it was definitely a crazy trip. I don't think we could have chosen a place that is any more different from Finland. It was really nice to get away and see something new, but the trip did have some stressful moments. The bustle of life in Marrakesh really is a thing to behold. A little recap, if you will.

Day 1

We arrived early in the morning Marrakesh time after spending a full 12 hours in the Frankfurt Hahn airport (NOT fun). Let's just say we were jealous of the people in sleeping bags on the hard floor because we had...nothing. We managed to make it to the hostel, which normally doesn't mean much, but let me tell you, this place is hidden. After winding through narrow streets overflowing with people, cars, donkey carts, horses, bikes and countless mopeds, we managed to find the quiet backstreet that led to the hostel. Luckily the hostel was very very nice and seemed to have friendly staff. 

Grant made it that evening and it was great to see him. We all went out to the square that night and had dinner at one of the crazy food stalls. You don't really have much of a chance to choose which one because the servers are relentless and will drag you right in off the street. Luckily, it seems all the food is mostly the same. For about 4 bucks a person we got delicious couscous with vegetables, bread with sauce, and delectable fresh-squeezed orange juice. Not a bad deal and a fun atmosphere to boot. 

Our lovely little hostel with its open-air courtyard in the middle. 
The Jamaa el Fna (square) at night, lit up by the food stalls. 

The crowded walk back towards the hostel past vendors and various modes of transport. 

Day 2

We woke to a pleasant breakfast of bread, jam and more delicious orange juice. We might a nice guy, Rob, from Australia/the U.S. who was friendly and chatty. We decide that we have had enough hassling from the street vendors for a while and that we would like to get out and see some sights. The helpful front-desk guy gives us a map and tells us all the good sights to see. We walked to the Koutoubia mosque, but unfortunately non-muslims aren't allowed in any of the mosques in Morocco. 

We probably spent a good two hours walking around the city trying to make our way to the sights (with a map and everything). Problem is, there are so many little winding streets in the city that probably 95% of them are not on the map. This makes navigating a bit difficult. After deciding we are definitely not getting anywhere, we find an old man with a horse-drawn carriage and decide to have him take us to our first stop. After all, it had started to rain. 

We finally made it to the Palais de Badii, which was actually just a little square with some rug markets and shops and restaurants. Tired from our navigation troubles, we head to the upstairs restaurant with a terrace overlooking the square. Our meal was a bit pricey (relatively speaking, and due to our touristy pick), but delicious and rejuvenating. We attempted to find another sight after lunch, but ended up just making our way back to the square and eventually the hostel. 

For dinner we hit up the food stalls again and discovered some delicious ice cream (two scoops in a waffle cone for 2 bucks!) before shopping around a bit. We wander around the square and glance at the belly dancers and musicians, all hoping for your extra change if you stare a second too long. 

Near the Koutoubia mosque. 
Amazing pottery in the streets.
Getting lost. 
Dinner in the square. 

Day 3

We thought taking taxis might be a good idea to get to the major sights we wanted to see, considering how cheap they are. This made for a much more satisfying day of sight-seeing. First stop, Palais de Bahia, which is actually an old palace. The whole thing is a work of art in itself. Every ceiling and floor is as ornately decorated as the walls and doors. The hand-laid mosaic tile is breathtaking and the colors of the entire palace are gorgeous. We see probably eight different cats lounging in the sunshine on the grounds. I want to take all of them home. 

We took another taxi up to Les Jardins Majorelles. There is a large garden and a bright cerulean blue house that was owned (and I presume designed) by the late Yves Saint Laurent. His memorial is there also (I believe he died in January) and I have to say that it would be a beautiful place to be remembered. There are exotic plants and various forms of cacti surrounding brightly colored pots and a lovely fountain and lily-pad covered pond. 

After wandering around for a bit, we eat a delicious (to be expected) and pricey (also to be expected) lunch at the attached cafe. I think we may have been the only non-French people in the gardens. I wonder if it is a big deal to them to visit the memorial. A lovely place and a highlight of the trip for me. 

We eat dinner at one of the more touristy terrace restaurants that overlooks the Jamaa el Fna. The view is stunning, but it is nice to be out of the action for a bit. The food is delicious and the waiter is friendly and dressed for a Sinatra movie. Unfortunately, Meg and I both got sick and things went a bit downhill from there. I won't go into detail, but we headed back early for a round of 20 questions and an early bedtime. 

At the Palais de Bahia.
Look at that tile!
Les Jardins Majorelles.
The colors!
Our delicious meal of penne pasta, my croque monsieur, and our ginger/mint smoothies.
More colors. 
The food stalls and fruit stands in the square at night. 
Courtesy of the view from our touristy restaurant. 

Day 4

Nothing exciting to report as we decided to take it easy so our stomachs could recover from the night before. Grant left and we were sad to see him go. Also jealous that he is now back in Portland for a few days, lucky!

We stayed in the hostel most of the day and read all of the english (and some of the french) magazines that were lying around. We managed to venture out for an early dinner on one of the slightly quieter streets off of the square. We were early to bed and early to rise. 

Days 5 and 6

Bright and early we headed out for our two-day desert tour to the Zagora desert and over the high Atlas Mountains. We hop in our less than comfortable 4x4 with three German girls and our friendly driver Mohammed. Turns out we had about 7 hours of driving ahead of us. Driving along very high, very windy, very scary roads. Luckily, we discovered very quickly that Mohammed was an expert driver and we had nothing to worry about. We stopped at several cafes along the way, a nice restaurant for lunch (while Mohammed napped), a famous and very cool Kasbah, and many spots simply for taking photos (much to my delight). The views were simply incredible. 

Once we arrived in Zagora, we met up with a boy (maybe 14 or 15) who was in charge of our five camels. We rode the camels for about two hours into the desert to our traditional Berbere camp. The camel ride was fun, but rather uncomfortable. Once we got settled in our tent, we were served what our host called "whiskey berbere," but what was really just delicious and sweet mint tea. We had a supper of chicken tagine with potatoes and vegetables. Later, I headed out to the dunes outside our tent for a little music jam session with the Berbere guys who were hosting other foreigners. The music they played, with only drums and singing, was wonderful and you could literally see the milky way above us. I have never seen that many stars in my life. The moment was pretty spectacular. 

We woke to a breakfast that neither Meg or I could make ourselves eat (warning sign of our future troubles) and a bit of sand on our faces. We rode our camels a much shorter distance (thank goodness) to meet up with Mohammed for the drive back. Same deal that day, lots of driving and lots of different stops. By this time our stomachs weren't doing so well and we didn't eat lunch or dinner. 

By the time we got back to Marrakesh, all we wanted to do was shower and hit the sheets. We did so immediately.

Driving over the Atlas Mountains. 
Rock the Kasbah.
We learned to tie our scarves like the berbere for our sunset camel ride. 
Crazy roads. 
Our lovely camels. Very strange animals. 

Our berbere camp.
The Dunes.
The desert. 

Day 7

Stayed in hostel all day and only ate pringles and digestive cookies. Not good. 

Day 8

Left bright and early for our flight and felt like I was going to have a heart attack because I was so weak from lack of food. We were both cranky and did not have a very good day. Finally arrived in Germany that night and were supremely glad that we had made a hotel reservation near the airport. Went to the very cute little hotel and got settled in and watched a few hours of CNN and BBC, (first time actually watching television in over a month). Went down for a dinner of soup and caprese salad to get our stomachs back on track. We returned to the room for hours of switching between TV and our books. We both begrudgingly bought Chasing Harry Winston (author of devil wears prada) at the airport for 10 euros. Probably a worthwhile investment in the end. 

We were anxiously waiting for the VP debate (and hopefully for some entertaining gaffes to occur) at 1 am only to discover that the debate wasn't actually on until 3 am. Luckily neither of us were very tired so we napped for a couple hours and woke in time to catch the debate live. I'm really glad we got to see it live and was extremely impressed with Joe Biden's performance. 

General gist of my reaction:

-Wow, Biden really knows his stuff and is on top of his game. Answers everything pretty directly and in great detail. 
-Sarah Palin looks like a robot who is nervously spewing campaign lines that were fed to her and memorized.
-No entertaining gaffes and Sarah Palin did 'better than expected.' Doesn't say much considering people were just happy she could put sentences together, unlike last week with Katie Couric.
-Palin kept referring to Alaska and saying things like 'well up there in Alaska' in her horrifying accent. Not a good idea because it just kept reminding me that that is naturally where she belongs, not in an offensive way.
-Man, Joe Biden seems to have background and facts and a plan for everything. Amazing.
-Palin, worst closing statement ever. Something about being old and having to tell our kids that back in the day men and women were free? Whaaat?

Basically, it seems that Joe Biden has a complete grasp of all of the complex issues and can give specifics about what the problem actually is and how we should fix it. Sarah Palin did a good job of not messing up, but she clearly does not have any grasp of the depth of complex issues. I think even a good Republican could see this. If I were a Republican I would feel seriously betrayed that McCain picked someone as unqualified as her purely for attention. No matter what party you are from, the prospect of her becoming VP or president is downright scary.

Anywho, Day 9 we had a lovely breakfast at the hotel, hung out at the airport for a few more hours and eventually made in back to Tampere in one piece. Have spent the weekend recovering, reorganizing, cleaning and resting. I go back to class tomorrow so hopefully it won't be too much of a shock for my four hour (yes, four) women's studies seminar. 

Should be interesting to see what our US Elections professor has to say about the debate on Wednesday. 

If any of you got to the end of this post, you must certainly be my dear friend, so I miss you all! 

Next stop, Italia!


Grant said...

Aww glad you missed me and enjoyed my company. I was so glad that I got to meet up with both you. I had a great time. I can't believe you rode camels for so long. They are incredibly uncomfortable. It's not like riding a horse! Your pictures of the desert are incredible!

Anonymous said...

Hey Kel!! I am so enjoying your posts!! I really hope my boys will want to be adventurous like you and travel while they're young. Great pictures too!! Especially that one of the Saaaannndd . . . what a fabulous experience!

Barrett said...

wow, it sounds so cool. I wanna go! glad you made it through the bad times to see all the good times. waiting for your next instalment...

xoxo b