Saturday, March 7, 2009

Off on the road to Morocco, part 2

Our wake-up call came at the ungodly hour of 6:45 on Sunday morning. We checked out, ate breakfast, and were on the bus by 8. Our morning was spent driving up the Rif Mountains to the town of Chefchaouene (or Chef Chaouen or just Chaouen). The drive was beautiful with moutains rising up surrounded by mist. I even saw a rainbow at one point.
I couldn't help but notice, though, the layer of plastic grocery bags, paper, and general trash that was over every lovely green field. The horses, donkeys, goats, cattle, and stray dogs had to nose through it to find food. The people had to trudge through it to get to their houses. It really is an absolutely beautiful part of the country. It's just a shame about the trash. It's definitely different than anywhere I've ever been before.
After twisting and turning our enormous tour bus up unstable mountain roads (part of one of the roads up to Cape Spartel had been washed away the previous day, so that was fun), we finally came to Chef Chouen, a beautiful city in the mountains known for it's blue-washed medina walls. Also, according to Vito, it's the drug capital of northern Africa. We were warned that, if we were going to buy anything we shouldn't be buying, we had to use it before we crossed the border into Spain.
We met with our local guide for the day. He spoke mostly Spanish, so I didn't get quite as much out of his talks as I did the day before. I didn't really mind. I was too busy looking at the fantastic view we had of the valley and the surrounding mountains. We stopped briefly to use the toilets at the hotel were we later had lunch. Then we walked through the medina and up to Talassementane National Park, a joint EU-Moroccan effort. The scenery was incredible, and, even though it was raining, Chad and I couldn't help but gush about how amazing it all was and how wonderfully our trip was turning out.
We went down from the park and back into the twisting, turning mountain streets of the medina. By this point it was raining pretty hard, so we all stopped under an archway for about 10 minutes, waiting for the worst of it to pass. In the afternoon we were given freetime to shop and explore.
Chad and I had been waiting for Chef Chauoen to do our shopping: first, because we wanted to save our dirham until the last day, to make sure we had enough and, second, because Chauoen is a tax-free city and the prices would be lower. The first thing on our list was a fez for our friend Siobhan from LitSoc. We gave it to her on her birthday this past Thursday, and she seemed to get a kick out of it. It was only 30 dirham (or 3 euro), so we didn't even bother trying to talk the price down. Then we moved on for our own souvenirs. Chad and I had decided that, if we could afford them, we'd both like to buy a jilaba, traditional Moroccan dress. One of the undercover cops who was following us that day directed us to a male jilaba shop (probably because he knew the owner) and I helped Chad talk a nice gray summer jilaba down from 175 to 130 dirham. He probably could have done better, but, still 13 euro is not bad at all.
From there our friend the undercover cop directed me somewhere where I could buy a woman's jilaba. At this shop I looked around for a while but eventually settled on a caftan, a shorter shirt that I figured I could actually wear around England and back home. I got it for 100 dirham. I was pleased.
I had some money left over and I still wanted to buy a real jilaba. I had seen them in every medina we'd been to so far and they had always been really beautiful. I eventually found one I liked hanging high up in a shop, and talked it down from 300 to 200 dirham. I didn't actually see it in full until I took it out of the bag back in Norwich. It's incredibly detailed, with lots of embroidery and sequins. I'm not a sequin person, but I still think it's tasteful. In any case, I think I definitely got my money's worth. I just wish I knew where to wear it.
(When we got back to Norwich, Chad and I had a jilaba party, so we could take pictures of us in our jilabas to send back to parents, etc., at home. Hence why the pictures of us in our jilabas all look like they were taken in my room. They were.)
We ate lunch at a hotel in Chef Chaouen, then drove back down the mountain, stopped briefly at our hotel in Tetouan to use the toilets, and then drove back to Ceuta to catch our ferry. The trip across the Mediterranean was a lot shorter and a lot less choppy on the way back. We got on a bus in Algeciras, drove back to Malaga, and bid farewell to our tourmates. Chad and I got a bus back to the Residencia Backpackers. We checked in again, said hello to Daniel and everyone else we had met from our previous stay, talked a little bit to a German girl in our dorm who had come while we were gone, and went to bed. In the morning we ate breakfast around 11, and, even though our flight wasn't until 4:15 Spanish time, we went straight to the airport and sat around until our flight left. The flight was uneventful, but the sky was pretty clear and we could see the coast of France as we crossed it. I could even spot Le Mont-Saint-Michel!
The trip had been fantastic, but it was exactly the right length. Chad and I were both ready to go home by the end of it. We landed at Heathrow around 6pm GMT, then the long haul on the Tube from Heathrow to Liverpool St. Station. We waited around for a bit at the station, then borded our train back to Norwich. We got back to the Village around 11.
I had a fabulous time. Every piece of this vacation was perfect. The most incredible part is that we planned it ourselves. We found the flights, the hostel, and the tour. We got around a city where we didn't speak the language. I realized that I can actually understand a good bit of Spanish. I got to use my French and even my very limited Arabic (thanks Fadi!) while in Morocco. By the end of our tour I had so many languages running through my head, I didn't know what to say. The worst was "Thank you," because I could go with "Thank you," "Gracias," "Merci," or "Shokran." Ever since I went to Munich I've had "Danke" swimming through my head, and since I was around a couple German speakers it almost came out a couple of times. And then occasionally I'd find myself wanting to say "Multumesc," which is Romanian.
But it was wonderful, both Malaga and my tour of Morocco. I think Chad and I are the first people from the Norwich Program to go to Malaga, and certainly the first to get to Morocco. I encourage everyone to check it out, because both of them are beautiful places. And I'd love to go back and see more of Morocco, possibly more of Africa in general. I hear Egypt is amazing. And now I have a serious case of wander lust. I can't wait to plan my trip to Romania, and I really want to go somewhere in Scandinavia...
Maybe I should take a break and actually do some work, first. Only four more weeks until Spring Break.

Off on the road to Morocco, part 1

We didn't see the Morocco that everyone usually thinks of. We were miles away from the desert. We didn't see Casablanca or Fez or Marrakesh. It rained most of the time, and the landscape was very green. We stayed up north, in the cities of Tetouan, Tangier, and Chef Chauoen near the Rif mountains, right against the northern coast. It's not what you would expect to see on a tour of Morocco, but it was amazing.
We took our tour with a company called StudyTravel, and, from what I could gather, the tour was mainly designed for English-speaking international students studying in Spain. Chad and I were the only people on the tour who were not living in Spain at the time. We were also the only ones who did not speak at least a little Spanish. This wasn't too much of a problem, since most everything was said in English. Our guides did switch to Spanish occasionally, but my French kicked in and I was actually able to understand about half of what was being said. And since French is one of the more common languages in Morocco, I was able to serve as Chad's translator all weekend.
We had some interesting people on our tour. There was an elderly British couple who had relocated to Malaga and were taking Spanish classes at one of the many language schools. There were two older German men, one with a really nice camera who kept taking pictures of everyone. There were two younger German students who mainly kept to themselves or talked to the older German men. There was a Japanese girl and an American guy from South Carolina who was teaching English in Malaga. Both of them kept to themselves and were pretty quiet. Then there were Chad's and my hotel suitemates: Angelika, an Austrian, and Jessika, a German. They mostly stayed together, but would eat meals with us and talk. They were both very nice. Our guide, Vito, was a fun Malaga native who had lived in Indiana for several years before returning to Spain. He was funny, sarcastic, and liked to pick on some of the more annoying Americans on the trip. And there were PLENTY of annoying Americans. I had never realized just how bad the stereotype of the "ugly American abroad" can be until I went on this trip. They were loud, inconsiderate, crude, and mostly concerned with shopping. Well, obviously not all of them, and I'm sure if I had gotten to know them, they would all have been lovely people.
There were three main groups of them who were studying at different schools around Spain. There were about ten people in each group, and they remained pretty insular throughout the trip. I can't think of many specific examples of what they did, but many of them continued to rub me the wrong way. When Vito suggested that we not drink the tap water, one girl asked in a stereotypically air-headed accent, "Oh my God. Can we eat the food? Will it, like, kill us?" And when we were leaving dinner at the hotel on the first night, one girl stopped Vito and said, "I don't have a face towel in my bathroom. Ya know...Like a small one for my face." The bathrooms came with two towels for each person, one body towel and one slightly smaller one. It was perfectly sufficient. Vito sort of laughed and said, "No, man. This is Morocco. You've got enough." She walked away looking disappointed and confused.
I guess these little things weren't all so bad on their own, and I'm not going to pretend that I've never had an "ugly American" moment. I know I have. The worst part was the way some of the Europeans regarded Chad and I, as if they expected us to be just as loud and obnoxious. Particularly the elderly British couple, who were very snobby. On the second day, Chad and I sat with them at lunch. I tried to make polite conversation, and the old man just kept trying to expose how stupid I was. I mentioned I was studying at UEA, and he asked me if how I found it compared to Dickinson. I think he expected me to say that it was much harder than an American university, and seemed genuinely shocked when I said that the expectations and UEA were much lower. Then he asked me what I "read," which I assumed to mean what books I was reading...I am an English major, after all. So I started listing some of the things I'd been reading in class, and he laughed and said in his pretentious posh accent, "No. In England, when someone askes what you 'read,' they mean, 'what are you studying?'" Actually, dude, "reading" only applies to Oxford or Cambridge. Maybe some of the other Red Bricks (British equivalent of the Ivy League). You would never "read" at UEA.
They seemed to like us by the end of the trip, though, once they realized that Chad and I weren't as obnoxious as the other Americans.
So we left Malaga around 3:30 on Friday and drove two hours to Algeciras, a port town even further south, right near Gibraltar. The drive was beautiful. We waited at the port in Algeciras for about half an hour, and then borded the ferry to Ceuta, a Spanish town in Africa on the border of Morocco. It was a little unsettling, because Vito had to collect everyone's passport in order to speed up the border control process. I've always been told never to relinquish my passport...and it was especially unnerving when Vito kept joking that he was going to sell our passports at the border. But I figured if the company was still in business, then they probably weren't criminals. It all turned out fine, and now I have cool Moroccan stamps in my passport.
I stood on the back deck of the ferry to take pictures of Gibraltar as we left, but the sea was very choppy, so mostly I attempted to sleep. It took an hour and a half to cross the Mediterranean, and the sky was dark by the time we landed in Ceuta. At Ceuta we got on another bus and drove to the border. We waited in line at the border for over half an hour, waiting for Vito to get all our passports stamped. It was a little sketchy, probably because it was dark. Leaving Ceuta (and, hence, Spain) we had to change our watches. For some reason Morocco is an hour behind Spain, back on GMT. I have no idea why. Then we drove for another hour down to Tetouan, although I couldn't see too much on the ride. We checked into our hotel, the 4-star Dream's Hotel, which was wonderful. Chad and I were given a suite with Angelika and Jessika. Two bedrooms, to bathrooms, a living room and a dining area. The view of the mountains was wondeful in the morning. Certainly more than I had expected for the price we paid. It was around 10pm when the four of us met up with everyone else in the hotel restaurant for dinner. The food was good, but nothing special. By this point I think we were all just starving. The bread, however, was consistantly good in Morocco. Vito sat with us and entertained us with stories from previous tours he'd taken. After dinner we went back to our room, showered, and went to bed. If I have one complaint about the hotel, it's that the walls are a bit thin, so we could hear all the road noise outside and, in particular, the loud Americans from our group who were upstairs having an impromptu party.
Our wake-up call came at 8 the next morning. We dressed and went to breakfast with Angelika and Jessika. It was buffet-style, and pretty good. I even managed to snag some Moroccan mint tea, which I don't think was officially part of the buffet but the teapot had been left on the table for just a second. How was I supposed to know? At 9 we borded the bus and met our local tourguide, a Moroccan man named Abdul who said his friends told him he looked like Michael Douglas, and that we could call him Michael if we couldn't say Abdul. The bus took us to the main square of the formerly Spanish portion of Tetouan. We exchanged euros for dirham (1 euro = 10 dirham) and then walked up to the medina, or "old city," of Tetouan, followed by several undercover cops. Abdul took us on a wonderful tour of the medina. It reminded me at first of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. It's a maze of alleyways lined with shops. But this medina was much narrower, uncovered, and pretty dirty. We entered through the gate nearest to the fish and poultry section. There were women sitting on the ground selling vegetables, men with cartons full of fish, and plenty of shops with dead and soon-to-be-dead chickens. Lots of stray cats. The smell was just lovely. And it was drizzling, so the mud just added to the whole atmosphere. Actually, I really enjoyed it. Like I said, at first it reminded me of the Grand Bazaar, but I soon realized that it is distinctly different. The Grand Bazaar is a tourist attraction, but the Tetouan medina is a living marketplace that has remained virtually unchanged for several hundred years. We spent several hours touring that maze and learning about medina life. Each section of a medina must have five things: a public bathhouse, a public oven, a fountain, a mosque, and a Koranic school. We saw all five at least once. We stopped in the large public square outside the Royal Palace, then walked through the garment district, the flea market, and the residential portion. Around noon we came to a Berber co-op, where we were given a carpet "show" to show us the main types of carpets produced in Morocco: Persian, Berber, other one. Camel-hair, cactus silk, woven, embroidered, etc. They were all beautiful. But, mostly, the guys at the co-op were trying to sell things. And they did. At least one girl bought this beautiful but rather small embroidered piece for 300 euro! She obviously hadn't gotten the hang of haggling. Chad and I walked around the carpets, then downstairs where all the crafts were. We weren't in the mood to buy anything just yet, and had to fend off a couple eager salesmen before we left for lunch.
We ate lunch in the medina, at the Palace Bouhlal restaurant. The food was very good, though possibly a bit bland. Carrot soup, kebabs (which I, obviously, didn't eat), and cous-cous, with fresh clementines and mint tea for dessert. God, do I love Moroccan mint tea. Our company at the table might not have been too great, but we were still entertained by a contortionist who could lie on the floor and crawl underneath his own arm, and then would spin around with a tray of lit candles tilted at an almost vertical angle. Quite impressive.
After lunch we left Tetouan and drove to Tangier, about two hours away. At first we drove through Tangier, driving up a mountain for a lovely panoramic view of the city. We passed palaces belonging to the King of Morocco, the King of Saudia Arabia, and several other important people. The socioeconomic gap in Morocco is ridiculously obvious. We were driving up to Cape Spartel, where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet.
On the way up we stopped to ride a camel at this side-of-the-road pony-ride type place. The camels didn't look very happy being up in the mountains, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to ride one.
We were only at the camel place for about 20 minutes. From there we continued up to Cape Spartel. I can't say we stayed there long, either, but it was a beautiful view over the water. There wasn't much there other than the view: a picturesque old lighthouse, a cafe/bar, and a few vendors there to take advantage of the tourists.
From Cape Spartel we went back down the mountain to Tangier. Tangier is a more modern and cosmopolitan city than Tetouan, at one time an international city divided between several European nations (and the US). Here we were given time to explore the medina, which was actually more like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Although uncovered, it had wider streets and was much cleaner than the one in Tetouan. Mostly clothing and souvenir shops. Chad and I wandered around, but were a bit afraid of getting lost before we were supposed to go back to our meeting point. I took a couple pictures of some cute Moroccan kids, and then we went back to a cafe in one of the squares. Chad and I sat down and ordered mint tea, then Angelika and eventually Jessika came to join us. We sat and talked for a while until everyone had reassembled to go back down to the bus. As we left a couple vendors kept harassing us, trying to sell some cheesy bracelets for any amount they could get. We eventually got away, with the undercover cops there to fend of the harassers. We took the bus back to our hotel in Tetouan, ate dinner, showered, and went to bed.

Friday, March 6, 2009


I just got back from my trip with Chad to Malaga, Spain, and northern Morocco. It was amazing, and I enthusiastically suggest that everyone consider both places as travel destinations.
I have never been terribly interested in Spain. It was never on my list of places I wanted to visit. But Chad's friend Chris is studying in Malaga, and many airlines run cheap flights there from London, so we figured it would work as a destination for our Reading Week. Mostly, though, we wanted to use it as a jumping-off point for a tour of Morocco.
I was, then, pleasantly surprised to find that I really liked Malaga. Although I don't know any Spanish, my French worked pretty well to help me translate street signs and the more basic spoken Spanish.
I woke up at 4am on Wednesday, February 25. Chad and I left the University Village at 4:30 to catch our 5:10 train to London. We pulled into London Stratford at a quarter past 7 and took the Tube down to London Bridge, where we boarded a train down to Gatwick Airport. Check-in was easy, since we didn't have to check any bags. Then we went through security, which was surprisingly quick, and waited for our 10:50 flight. I was tired and a bit cranky.
Our flight landed sometime after 2pm Spanish time (GMT+1). After getting off the plane, bothering with customs and passport control, etc., we finally got on a bus and headed into the city to find our hostel. Which was fun, since we didn't speak Spanish or know where we were going. But the directions said "Take bus 19," so we did. And we actually got off at the right stop.
The hostel was pretty cool. A big open living room with couches and a flatscreen TV. Two computers for guests to use. A dining area and a kitchen. Free breakfast in the mornings and free pasta for you to make in the kitchen. Clean sheets and down comforters. Ten euros a night. We slept in an 8-person mixed dorm with four sets of bunk beds and lockers to store our valuables in. I can't say we got to know our dormmates terribly well, but we did talk a bit to a guy named Daniel, an Aussie who had come to Malaga to find a job, even though he only knew limited (South American) Spanish. There were a couple other people in the dorm, but we didn't really get to know them.
I was starving, so I availed myself of the free pasta. Then Chad and I caught a bus into the city centre. The sun was out and shining, which was a major departure from the gloomy, misty weather we had been enjoying in Norwich. It was still a tad chilly, especially due to the wind blowing off the Mediterranean Sea, but overall the weather in Malaga was pleasant. Our bus took us to the Avenida Principal, the main route in the city centre, right on the water. We got off and looked around, took lots of pictures. First we had to find the Catedral de Malaga, since we would be leaving from it for our tour of Morocco later in the weekend, and we wanted to be familiar with it. It wasn't hard to find.
It's a beautiful cathedral, but strangely constructed and entirely unfinished. Only one tower was ever completed, and the cathedral is oddly round. My guess is to utilize the foundations of the mosque it's build on top of.
Since it was Ash Wednesday, the cathedral wasn't open to tourists, so we just hung around in the gardens outside, sitting by the fountains underneath orange trees. Life is just so hard.
We continued to explore the city, coming across various city landmarks like the Plaza de la Constitucion, the Plaza de la Merced, the Alcazaba and the Teatro Romano, various smaller churches, etc. We walked down one main street that followed the dried-up river. I stopped to admire some adorable bunnies in a pet shop window before we realized we were probably going to get lost if we went any further, so we headed back toward the cathedral. We doubled back through some of our earlier stops, resting int Plaza de la Merced to take pictures with the statue of Pablo Picasso (born in Malaga). I must have been a pretty miserable travel companion at this point, because I was hungry and exhausted, having been up since 4am. But I really shouldn't complain, because Chad hadn't gone to bed at all, and he hadn't eaten since 2am that morning. I don't know how he does it.
We were supposed to meet Chad's friend Chris at the cathedral at 8pm. Chad had left him a message on Facebook, but that was our only means of communication. We later learned that Chris's Spanish phone doesn't accept international calls, which is why he never responded to our attempts to contact him while we were walking around. Oops. We waited until about 10 past 8, and then left to find dinner. It turns out that Chris showed up five minutes later and waited around for almost two hours.
Chad and I walked around until we finally settled on a cafe/pub that served fantastic pizza. And I think it was legitimately good and not just something that my food-starved brain was telling me. We stayed for a while watching our waitress take shots of tequilla with two guys at the bar, but I started spacing out pretty badly and was very quiet. So we got on a bus that went back to the Avenida de la Paloma, near our hotel. Except that we had previously come to it from the other direction and weren't sure what to look for. Thankfully I spotted the landmark Supercor grocery store and we made it back alive. It wasn't late-- maybe only 10:30 or so--but we were certainly asleep before midnight, along with the rest of the people in our room, which I found strange.
I woke up blissfully rested about 11 hours later. We ate breakfast and then headed out to explore the Ciudad Historica once more. We went back to the Catedral, walked around. We met Chris, finally, and walked down the Calle Larios, one of the main streets though the old town where all the street performers hang out. There we ran into Mark Aldrich, the director of the Malaga Program, who suggested an excellent cafe in the Plaza de la Merced for lunch. After lunch, Chris left for class.
Chad and I went over to the old Roman ampitheatre, the Teatro Romano, which is being excivated right beneath the Alcazaba fortress. We sat in the Teatro for over an hour, just talking and taking pictures, enjoying the lovely weather. Then we got tickets to the Alcazaba (60 cents with a student discount!) and spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the walls and gardens of the beautiful 11th century Moorish fortress.
We left the Alcazaba when it closed around 5. We still had a couple of hours to kill before we met Chris for dinner, so we went the Parque by the coast, sat by a fountain, talked, walked around some more, looked at statues. Nothing terribly exciting. Then I wanted to go back to Plaza de la Constitucion to take a picture of the giant Spanish flag that flew in the center. Around a quarter to 7 we returned to our meeting place, the Catedral, to wait for Chris. And we waited. Maybe he was on the other side of the cathedral, we thought, so we walked around it. Then we waited. Maybe we missed him on the other side. So we walked back. We must have circumnavigated the Catedral three times before we finally ran into Chris about 45 minutes later. He had missed us on one of our tours around the Catedral, and had gone back to the Teatro Romano, which had earlier been discussed as a possible meeting place. But we did eventually meet up and we went to this cafe in a part of town that Chad and I had somehow missed on our wanders. Once again, the food was excellent. We ate very well in Malaga. At this point, however, it was getting cold (for me, anyway) and so when we sat down at a bar by the Teatro Romano 2o minutes later I was warming my hands over the tea candle in the middle of the table. I ordered a Baileys and hot chocolate (It's delicious. You should try it), and we sat talking for a while.
Chad and I needed to go to an ATM before we headed out for Morocco the next day, since we had to pay on the bus and neither of us had enough cash on us. I had tried to use an ATM earlier in the day, but, after entering my PIN and choosing my withdrawl amount, it said there was some fault and I should contact my bank. This sort of freaked me out, because I'm neurotic when it comes to money, and I had not anticipated not being able to use an ATM in Spain. So we walked down to an ATM that Chris swore had worked for him in the past. It wouldn't work for Chad or me. At first even Chris had trouble withdrawing money, but after several attempts he took out enough for the both of us and said we could pay him back whenever. Thank you, Chris. You're a life-saver. Eventually Chad's card worked, so he took out a bit extra. In the end, it all worked out.
Then we returned to the bar near the Teatro Romano to meet Chris's friends Kennon and Xochitl, two fellow Dickinsonians in Malaga. Thanks to the Baileys and the adrenaline, I wasn't cold anymore, so I sat outside and ate gummy bears and peanuts while everyone else had a drink.
I'm not sure how, but by this time it was past midnight. We got the night bus back to our hostel, with me paranoidly checking for landmarks, since the bus took a route we'd never seen before. Chad spotted the Supercor, though, so we got off at the next stop and walked three blocks back to the hostel. Our Aussie friend Daniel tried to convince us to go out to a bar with him and some other people from the hostel, but we were tired and wanted to save money, so we declined the invitation and went to bed.
We woke up around 11 on Friday morning. We ate breakfast, checked out, and went back into the city centre to hang out until 3:30, when we had to meet our bus to Morocco at the Catedral. By this point we had seen a good portion of what there is to see in the city centre. We walked up the Calle Larios again, stopping to watch a juggler and some other street performers. We sat in the Plaza de la Constitucion for a long time, just talking and watching small Spanish children kick around a football. Oh, and everyone in Malaga has a tiny dog, so we would watch them, too. Then we decided to see the inside of the Catedral, which is supposedly very beautiful, but it had been closed the last few times we had wanted to see. We got to the visitors entrance, only to discover that it cost 4 euro to get in, so we sat in the gardens again until 3, when we went to where tour buses meet. We had heard that some Dickinson students in Malaga who had wanted to take same tour the previous weekend had received an email that the tour was cancelled due to lack of interest, so we were terrified that the bus wouldn't come. But, after a couple of minutes, we heard the familiar sound of American college students coming around the corner. I asked them if they were waiting for the StudyTravel tour, and they said yes. So we waited. The bus came at 3:30, we borded and set off on the road to Morocco!


Ok, finally updating this.
Around 4pm on Friday, February 13, I squeezed into the back of a rented car and drove with Matthieu, Samantha, Robin, and Jak up to York for Chocfest 2009, an annual chocolate and juggling convention. The should have taken about four hours from Norwich, but with a couple of stops and a lot of traffic, I don't think we got to York until about 10. Even with Robin driving as fast as 120 mph when conditions allowed.
Along the ride Jak suggested that we play "the lorry game." It reminded me of a game I invented when I was 3: spot the banana truck. In the lorry game, you get a certain amount of points for each supermarket lorry (British for "truck") you see, but you have to be the first to shout it out, and it must be on a dual-carriageway (two-lane highway). Five points for a standard ASDA or Tesco or Sainsbury's lorry. I think it was ten for a Marks & Spencers lorry because they tend to be harder to spot. Some amount of points for a brewery lorry, and then some ridiculous amount of points for a certain supermarket that only has one lorry in all of England. We didn't see it. Eventually it got to the point that we would shout out any lorry we saw, including Royal Mail.
Eventually we arrived in York. We parked outside a pub and went to meet Jak's girlfriend Anna, our host for the weekend. Then we piled back into the car, this time with an extra two people, and drove to Anna's house. Matt, Samantha, and I settled in Anna's room while Jak, Robin, and Anna's friend James went outside to smoke and Anna was downstairs with her housemates cooking us dinner. Robin made us tea. We ate dinner up in Anna's room, then attempted to sit all of us in a circle on her double bed to play Jungle Speed. Eventually we moved downstairs to the living room where there was more space. It was the most intense game of Jungle Speed I've ever played, and although we were exausted and had to wake up early the next morning, the game went on until 2am or so. Anna's housemate was kind enough to give up her double bed so that Samantha and I could share. Matt slept on the floor. I think Robin set up his sleeping bag in the living room.
We woke up at 7:30 the next morning, dressed, and had some tea and toast. Since Anna and the York University Juggling Society organized the event, they had to be there particularly early. Robin and Jak drove Anna out to Selby, a town about 20 minutes outside of York where the convention was being held, then came back to pick up Matt, Samantha, and I.

The convention was held in Selby Abbey, an odd site for a juggling convention, but it provided a lovely backdrop for the day. Anna said Chocfest is usually held in a secondary school auditorium or something of that nature, but I think they should continue to hold it at the abbey.
We parked by a supermarket about 10 minutes away from the abbey, so we grabbed our juggling balls, clubs, poi, and Diablos and walked (Robin unicycled) over. After paying our entrance fee and dropping off our stuff, Matt, Robin, Jak, Samantha, and I decided to walk into town to find breakfast. We stopped at this little cafe. I ordered scrambled eggs on toast. It seems to be the only way the British will eat scrambled eggs. Fried eggs are more popular.
Anyway, after breakfast we returned to the abbey where people were starting to arrive. Samantha and I spent the majority of the morning practicing poi in a corner. There was a group of people from another univeristy practicing sock poi in the middle of the nave, and they were quite good. Eventually, we timidly went over to one girl and asked her to teach us a few tricks. Samantha and I ate lunch in the abbey's adjacent social hall, where members of the church community were selling sandwiches, soup, and muffins, etc. Then we returned to watch the boys in a Diablo workshop given by, as Jak described him, the god of Diablo, the guy who, literally, wrote the book on Diablo.
Samantha and I bought juggling balls. We practiced some more. Mostly we did a lot of watching, because eveyone else was so incredible. In the afternoon we went to the side chapel where they had been holding workshops all day. We attended a poi workshop on the 5-Beat Weave, a more complicated move that I had been trying to learn for ages but hadn't been able to master. I can do it know. I'm very proud.
After the workshop the chapel wasn't in use, so we got a game of Jungle Speed going with Matt, Robin, Samantha, me, and several random people who wanted to learn. It was the biggest room we had ever played in, which made it far easier for people to run after and wrestle for the totem. Hugely entertaining.
In the evening we were kicked out of the abbey so they could set up for that evening's juggling show. Samantha and I went to the social hall to sample the cakes that had been submitted for the chocolate cake competition, then we returned to the abbey to help set up seats and place chocolate bars on each chair.
The show was great, with some pretty impressive acts. They varied from hula hoops to juggling balls, rings, and clubs. The god of Diablo performed some ridiculous feats of Diablo. My favorite, though, was the "Catrobats," a pair of acrobats who dressed like and performed to the musical Cats.
People hung around for a while after the show. It was dark out now, so we watched some people who had taken out fiberoptic poi and glowing juggling balls. Then we helped put chairs away, watched Robin and Jak attempt to ride an enormous unicycle, and stood by the door eating the remnants of the winners of the chocolate cake competition.
We stopped to drop our stuff off at Anna's house, and then went to a pub to have a drink with some of the convention organizers and acts from the evening's show. The pub kicked us out around midnight. Several people came back to Anna's, so I hung around in the living room for a while until I was too tired. I excused myself and went to bed.
We woke up a bit later the next morning, ate breakfast, and drove home. The lorry game didn't last long, since Jak, Matt, and I slept through a good portion of the drive. Occasionally Samantha and I would glace warily over at the speedometer, which would often be pushing 100 mph. But we made it back alive.
I can't say Chocfest was exactly what I expected. I thought there would be more chocolate, first of all. I certainly didn't expect it to take place in an abbey. But I had a good time. After Chocfest, I got really excited for the British Juggling Convention, the second biggest juggling convention in Europe, which Jak and (officially) the UEA Circus Soc is organizing, to be held over Spring Break. However, Jak found out a couple weeks ago that UEA has renigged on its agreement to let the BJC be held on campus, and therefore Jak is having to postpone it until August, when hopefully he will be able to find another venue. It's sad, because I was looking forward to it.
Maybe I'll just have to start a Circus Society at Dickinson.