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An Epic Day In Morocco

I am writing from a little cybercafe in Marrakesh, Morocco. Hence, if I make a bunch of errors, it is because of a very screwy keyboard. I can write this from my keyboard: زقغلطئلالاتيهقغسىسظ ز ف (That means "white men can't dance" in Arabic).

Anyhow, it was a pretty epic trip down here. We started from a nice visit to the beautiful city of Sevilla, and headed down by a three hour bus ride to Tarifa, on the coast. That little town is a beach bum town in some respects; it has a perfect beach, and there are surf shops all along the main road. However, the wind blows almost constantly, and hard; we tried walking the beach, to get completely sandblasted.

The next morning (yesterday), we caught the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar, and found ourselves standing on the pier in Africa, which turns out to be quite different than Spain, apparently. We caught a taxi (our first haggling experience in Morocco) to the train station, where there was a two hour wait for the train. The train ride itself was quite an experience. It was a nine hour ride from Tangier to Marrakesh, which by itself was significant. That was my fault; I had booked a riad (hostel) in Marrakesh without looking at the train ride time, as the country doesn't look all that big. I was wrong, though. Marrakesh is as far south as you can travel in Morocco on the train.

The length of time mattered little in the face of the whole trip. The train was at times absolutely packed with Moroccans of all types heading to different destinations, as the train stopped in Rabat, Casablanca, and went on to Fez (we had to change trains). There was air conditioning in the compartment cars, which was so inadequate we changed to the open cars, where there was at least a draft running through. During the daytime, the train began to swelter at each stop, when the draft stopped, and sometimes even when the train was moving. We were wearing very light clothing, and we were at times drenched in sweat; some of the Muslim women in their heavy garbs must have just been dying (as a moderate Muslim country, there seem to be few full body garbs, but the women generally dress conservatively, and often have on dresses and head scarves).

In addition, it is Ramadan, and so Muslims are fasting during the day, without food or drink. As non-Muslims, we aren't expected to follow the fast, but it is quite rude to scarf down food in front of them, so we tried quite hard to follow the fast. In the end, we started to get very hungry and dehydrated, so we had to sneak off to grab a bite of Snickers or a swig of water. No one would have said anything, it is simply that we want to be respectful. I ate my Snickers in the bathroom on our train car, which was very smelly, and the toilet was simply a large pipe down to the rail bed flashing by. I thought it was pretty gross; then I saw the bathroom on the next car. Still, nothing yet has ever beat the bathroom in the train station in Guillin, China; that place still haunts us both.

Still, the trip was fantastic. Being that it cut through half of Morocco, we got to see a lot of countryside, and during the day no less. It was quite interesting to see how normal Moroccans travel, to see them in their normal state, their normal activities. Then, as the sun was setting, we were heading up into the hills surrounding Marrakesh, and I pried the doors open on the car and sat watching the countryside flash by. The hills were bathed in red from the setting sun, and were completely void of any humanity except an occasional baked clay compound, with little buildings inside and little figures with herds of goats moving around them. We were approaching an electrical storm, and lightning lit up the skies in the distance. It was a stark, lonely, beautiful landscape; it felt good to be back in Africa.

We arrived in Marrakesh at about 8:30, and caught a taxi to the medina there; we had our second effort at haggling, and got screwed out of 5 dirham (75 cents). At the medina, we were planning on trying to find our riad by ourselves, being the independent folks we are. It became almost immediately clear that this was impossible, and one kid was persistently trying to be our guide, so we heaved a sigh of frustration ("Fine!") and followed him. Good thing, too, because as soon as we walked through the door of our riad, the electrical storm became a thunderstorm, and a pounding rain started. Our reception in the riad was great; they served up mint tea, and after we took showers and washed a load of clothes in the sink, the manager Kameel took us out to the main square, which was packed and crazy. We found some couscous and staggered back to bed.

Today we have been walking through the souks (markets), looking at all the goods for sale; capitalism is alive and well in Morocco. The medina is endlessly interesting; it is easy to imagine this place hasn't changed in centuries. We are taking a break from the heat and activity outside, though we can hear the muezzin calling the adhan, the Muslim call of worship, as well as the flute like sounds of the snake charmers with their cobras in the main square outside. It sounds like we are going to have a good day.

Until next time, be safe.


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