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.

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