I spent the past week in Morocco with students from Madrid, Barcelona, Salamanca, Valencia and Bilboa where we toured the Medina in Fes, slept under the stars in the Sahara desert, and visited the city of Meknes. The Medina, which is a marketplace unlike any I’ve ever seen before, was the primary reason for staying in Fes. Our program leaders had to make sure our big group stuck together after every stop because it is so easy to get lost between the extremely narrow alleys and busy-ness of the shops. Medina stands for “old fortified city” and it is the oldest walled part of Fes, having been around since the ninth century. From the stray cats roaming around every corner to the dead camel head hanging from a rod in the midst of all of the people walking around, it was quite the sight to see.
We stopped first at a metal shop where we were bombarded by all of the workers trying to sell you anything you glanced at for longer than three seconds. It was intense, there were so many of them and they would drag you by the arm and practically force you to buy something off of them. I quickly learned the bargain game though, and the idea that there is no such thing as a fixed price. The next stop was a fabric shop where they demonstrated how to make and put on a turban to block the desert sand. Most of the fabric was made out of agave and silk. I picked out a two-sided scarf that worked as a turban as well, it is a beautiful purple and cream color with intricate designs…only 200 dirhams! Side note: going from the Dollar, to the Euro, to the Pound and to the Dirham gets extremely complicated, but to make it simple 200 dirhams is about 20 euros. Next we went to a rug shop which was one of the more overwhelming places I’ve come across. It had never-ending stairs and more rugs than I’ll see in a lifetime. We stopped for lunch and feasted on couscous, squash, carrots, potatoes, olives and bread, which turned out to be the exact same meal we ate every other day in Morocco. It definitely got old after awhile but I know I’ll start to miss it here eventually. After lunch we visited the pharmacy where they let us try out some of their more popular products. I purchased one too many things but I’m mostly excited to try their Moroccan oil because its far more legit than anything I’ll get in the states. We then visited a leather factory which smelled disgusting due to the fact that they use pidgin poop to keep the leather soft and fresh. I did my best to bargain a $16 belt out of them! The last stop we made was outside of the Medina and it was a ceramic workshop where we were able to see the painters at work on the intricate detail that go into the ceramic art. It was fascinating and the shop was so cute I would’ve bought a full dish set if I could. I ended up with a little bowl and lid that I plan to keep some jewelry in.
After an eight hour bus drive, we hopped into four-wheelers and were driven into the Sahara Desert for two nights. Once we arrived at camp I couldn’t believe how cute the whole set up was. There was a U-shape tent to accompany everyone with little mattresses, two sets of sheets and a big thermal blanket on top for the super cold desert nights. We set up camp and proceeded to eat another couscous platter. I can’t complain though because the people working at the camp were so sweet and catered to us far more than they needed to, most of whom spoke a little English after having worked around Americans so much. A band played in the dinner tent and I swear everyone from Morocco is born talented at the drums and they all have the best rhythm. We all went to bed fairly early that night so that we could wake up at 4:30 a.m. and look up at the stars in the sky at their brightest hour. That was a sight to see along with watching the sunrise at 7 a.m. the following morning. I hope one day I’ll get the chance to see something like that again, but nothing will ever compare. The second day in the desert we spent riding camels for hours. I picked my camel, Stanley Yelnats (the movie Holes really struck a cord in me this past week) and he was so sweet we immediately connected, at least I like to think so! I let a few camels smell me and pet them before picking Stanley, but really he was a no-brainer. We rode up to a tall dune where we got off, let the camels rest, and hiked up the dune for an amazing view of the desert. Some locals and even a few kids on the trip did somersaults and flips down the dune and I let one of the workers drag my legs down at the end to get back to Stanley. He asked me “do you like skiing and sledding?” and when I answered yes, he grabbed my legs and started running down the dune with me in hand. It was a blast and I was very thankful I had sweatpants on. After saying goodbye to Stanley, we all dove quickly into a nearby pool and hung out there for a few hours where I let my sunburn sink in. Then we ventured to a shop in a nearby town where I talked a man down from 1700 dirhams to 570 for a rug that I just couldn’t go without. What it really came down to is me showing him that that was all the money I had in my wallet and he shook my hand and gave me one hell of a deal. That night we played soccer on a rocky surface of the desert with the locals who didn’t even seem slightly phased by the treacherous ground. A few of us spent a chunk of the night gathered in a little circle with some of the Berbers we had met that day and they played guitar and drums for us while we all clapped and danced along. They told us jokes and said that Americans care way too much about “wifi and cervesas” which I can’t deny. At this point I hadn’t touched my phone in a number of days and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. We finished our desert trip watching the sunrise that morning and eating one last meal before another lengthy bus ride.
Our last night in Morocco was spent in Meknes at a hotel called Rif which might as well have been a Ritz Carleton in my book, they served beer, pizza and fries for dinner which we had all been craving all week. The wifi even worked fairly decently! We visited the bar that night where the band played a mixture of American songs and Moroccan music and a man twirled fire on pitons and lit his mouth on fire with an aerosol can. We took our first showers after two days in the desert and I’ve never felt cleaner. When I got back to Madrid this afternoon I felt unbelievably at home and couldn’t have been happier to head home to Cata and Mateo, a warm bed and a laundry machine. It truly is the little things in life. Thinking about Stanley and all of the camels tonight. I hope they are being treated well and that many others will enjoy them as much as I did. Morocco, you’ve got a big chunk of my heart.