September 23, 2009

Pictures From Morocco & Spain

These pictures are from our last destination in Morocco, the moutain town of Chefchaouen, and from our visit to the city of Granada back in Spain.

The Location of Image In Lonely Planet Guide

Spices in Chefchaouen

The Blue Walls Of Chefchaouen

Stairwell in Chefchaouen

Corridor In Chefchaouen

A Blue Doorway In Chefchaouen

The Ruined Mosque On Hill Above Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen At Dusk

After Long Day Of Exploring

Man In Traditional Moroccan Garb

Teas & Spices In Granada

Jess In Granada

Cathedral Of Granada

Granada From Above

Plaza In Granada

Until next time, be safe.


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September 20, 2009

Last Day In Morocco

We are spending our last full day in Morocco, and it is making us sad. This has been a great place to spend almost two weeks drifting through.

Our stay in Essaouira was really great. We arrived there with our nerves frayed, and within a few days, we again felt happy to be in Morocco. We were both feeling a little under the weather after sleeping out in the desert, and a sleepless night in the hostel due to techno beats pounding through our pillows at 3 am made me a grumpy boy. Possibly due to my late-night arrival at the party below ("Do you have a problem, sir?" "YES, I have a problem!"), as well as Jess seeming very tired and ill in their lobby the next morning, the hostel folks felt bad and moved us into a private room, and our stay in Essaouira dramatically improved. It is a very laid back town, probably because it is on the coast. We spent our days there strolling along the beach, drinking orange Fanta at the seaside cafe, and eating the best harira soup in Morocco each evening. The fish market was a marvel; most fish markets we have seen around the world seem to be so tame and clean, the fish laid out on displays of ice. This market was chaos; the fishermen brought their catch out along the street to lay it on sheets of newspaper. Guts and head flew as they cleaned and prepared the fish, and the screaming seagulls above competed with men shouting in Arabic about the price or the species of fish, which among the many species included eel, morays, sharks, and crabs and fishes of all kinds and shapes. Above all, the stench was enough to singe the nose hairs; it was a place that stimulated all senses, a true characteristic of the African experience.

The market street was also great, filled with people at all hours of the day, from the morning until even past 11 at night, when we headed back to the hostel. The only break in the crowds of people was during the Breaking of the Fast, being that it is Ramadan; the people, after fasting from early in the morning, would rush about in a spurt of energy to buy food, then desert the streets entirely as the call to prayer began to sound over the city, leaving the streets empty save the Tokens (tourists). At all other times, the markets were filled with all sorts of wares, from toilet paper to pencils, from vegetables to whole sides of beef hanging on meat hooks (usually beside a pastry shop, disturbingly enough). You had to watch your step, to avoid not only the bags of grain and buckets of eggs but also for the goat heads and the cow feet stacked outside meatshops. The combined scent of fresh meat, pastries, and mint leaves created an aroma unique enough that we will always remember. As bustling as the market and all of the medina were, there was a refreshing lack of touts and beggars that characterize larger cities like Marrakesh. Essaouira was a much needed escape, a breath of (mostly) fresh air. The icing of this cake was the beach, because nothing calms the spirit like the sea.

We had yet another epic travel day waiting for us when we left from Essaouira; I guess we should get used to them. We caught the mid-afternoon bus to Marrakesh, a three hour trip. After waiting in the train station in Marrakesh for a couple of hours, we caught the night-train to Tangier, which took 10.5 hours; fortunately, we managed to sleep a long portion of the trip, thanks to the marvels of Benadryl. Our only distractions on the train ride were the fellows who smooth-talked Jess for a long time, and then the ladies who came in our compartment at 4 am and made themselves at home, essentially taking over the seats that we had been sleeping on; they gladly left after 45 minutes or so. Once in Tangier, we had to wait about four hours for a bus to our current location in Chefchaouen; being Ramadan, the bus station was insanely packed with Moroccan travelers, like any station in the US on Christmas Eve (tomorrow is Eid, the end of Ramadan). We couldn't find any restaurants open, so our only nutrition from 6 pm the night before until 6 that night was a bag of chips, cookies, and a couple of Cokes I found in the only shop open in walking distance. Finally, we arrived in Chefchaouen after another 3.5 hours, only to find our hostel was straight up the hill a couple of kilometers. A hostel bed never looked so comfortable or such a relief, and food hasn't been so good in a long time.

Chefchaouen is yet another very relaxed town, like Essaouira in the mountains. It sits on the slopes of a high peak, which today was shrouded in clouds. It is a very compact city, of about 56,000 inhabitants, and its medina is a tight complex of passages that have mostly been painted an incredible blue-white. It makes for fun exploration, if only because it is small enough that one can't get lost for too long. Today we are relaxing and wandering around, planning for our trip to Granada in Spain tomorrow (another long day for traveling). Tonight we will have our final Moroccan tajine meal, with mint tea, a comfort to our palate, and a memory to add to the many of this trip. Au revoir, Morocco, it has been an adventure.

Until next time, be safe.

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September 18, 2009

Picture Crazy In Morocco

I have a ton of pictures from Morocco. Hopefully it won't take too long to load this page now. Pictures of the other young couple are of an Jonathan and Brittany, a pair from Tampa that we enjoyed good conversations with. Cheers guys, we'll send you the full version when we get back to the US.

 The High Atlas Mountains

 A Dashing Young Couple

 Jon and Brittany

 Village In Atlas Mts

 Ait Benhaddou

 Crossing The River

 Valley Of The Kasbahs

 Jon and Brittany Again

 A Crumbling Kasbah

 Drummer On Desert Excursion

 Sunrise In The Sahara

 Camels In The Sunrise

 Riding Them Camels

 Sahara Sand Dunes

 Look For The Pain On My Face

 Essaouira From Fish Market

 Essaouira Fish Market

 Essaouira Sunset

 Fish Market At Sunset

 Feeling Ill But Still Smiling

Until next time, be safe.

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September 16, 2009

The Moroccan Desert Excursion

We have gone on an excursion while in Marrakesh, an experience that will probably end up being really a pinnacle of our time in Morocco.

We had wanted to do the excursion, to see the different parts of Morocco that would be difficult to visit otherwise, and Jess really wanted to ride a camel in the desert, for some reason (I've already done that, in Tunisia, and could probably spend the rest of my life without having to do it again). So we booked an excursion through our riad, one that would take three days and cover some impressive parts of Morocco. It was expensive, but this kind of opportunity doesn't always come that often; who knows the next time we will be anywhere near the Sahara Desert? Besides, we have found out that Morocco is really an expensive place, being that it is the playground of Europe, and so our budget here has been shot anyhow.

Anyhow, we headed out early the first morning. We were picked up by a little mini-bus; there was no doubting that it was full of tourists (a label that I really don't like; I consider myself a backpacker, or perhaps a traveler) because the bus was labeled along its side with Tourist Transport in French and Arabic. Somehow in my mind I'd been hoping for a private guide for Jess and I, and so was a little disappointed when it turned out there were ten other people on the tour. They were a good crew, though, all tough travelers, which came in handy later, so I got over it quickly. We headed straight up into the Atlas Mountains. I'd heard of these mountains before, that they were really spectacular, and was not disappointed. I'm quite fond of mountains, especially ones that are massive, jagged, and leave me feeling very small; the Atlas Mountains fit all these definitions. Our little short bus did well going along the curvy roads that would go high up to one pass, drop back down to a river, then head back up for another pass. I loved it, though some of the others in the group, those who weren't used to mountains, weren't so fond of the driving.

We had a couple of main stops that first day, starting with the Ait-Ben-Haddou fortress, an impressive fortified town. We spent some time walking around the small town, up to a peak that had good views of the valley around it. Back in the day, the fortress had been a major stop along the caravan trail, but these days is mostly used as a tourist attraction and the backdrop of quite a few movies like Gladiator and The Mummy. It was pretty touristy, but then again, so were the other destinations along our route. After all, we were in a Touriste Transporte short bus.

Our other main stop of the day was the Dades Gorge, although along the way we passed through the Roses Valley, named for the roses grown there for perfumes and soaps, and along the Road of the Kasbahs, which are big, mud fortress like structures. Our route that day was quite beautiful; the kasbahs we passed were in various stages of repair/disrepair. There were many structures, from these big kasbahs to walled compounds to simple homes, that seemed to be just abandoned. As such, it was obvious that rain and other elements took their toll on these structures, and they seemed to melt back into the landscape, something like the castles of Ireland. They were quite scenic.

We reached Dades Gorge later in the evening, which was fairly unremarkable other than it was a deep gorge with a nice view. We stayed in a hotel there that night, and had quite a nice dinner. The next day we headed off to visit the Todgha Valley and its gorges. Again, the drive was as impressive in its views of the Moroccan landscape as it was long. We poked back into the Atlas Mountains for a few hours, then headed back out into the plains, where the day became very interesting. Although it wasn't the season for rain, we had the luck (if you would call it that) to see the Sahara Desert in the midst of a storm. We missed the initial downpour as we left the mountains towards the Sahara, but it must have been impressive, given the large amount of standing water on the ground as we drove along. The situation became more precarious when we arrived at the first of the many normally dry gullies. Having just come from Tucson, we understand the situation when it rains in the desert; roads often become impassable. The conversation in the short bus ended when everyone looked forward up the road and realized that there was a substantial river running across. We ended up braving that gully, as well as several others, although one in particular looked ferocious; it seemed tenuous, but the short bus didn't let us down. Soon we were hustling along to the dunes of the Sahara. We passed over one especially wide riverbed, dry but ominous nonetheless; our guide confessed that this one he had worried about, because if it had been flowing, we wouldn't have made it to the dunes and the camel ride. Actually, it started to flow not long after we crossed, and several other groups didn't make it to the dunes that night.

Finally we arrived at the Merzouga dunes; we brought the rain with us. From one standpoint, the irony was almost too much to bear that it was raining in the Sahara of all places the one night we were heading out to sleep there; on the other hand, it was remarkable in that most people never see the Sahara being rained on, for I'm sure that it doesn't rain there frequently. So we headed off into the dunes after mounting our camels, which are fun for about four to six minutes and then simply painful. We rode for almost an hour, which was beautiful with the clouds surrounding us, and then a whisper of a sunset below the cloud line. Unfortunately, as the sun dipped below the horizon, we could see a wave of rain heading our direction, and we caught a little bit of it before reaching our camp.

Fortunately, the bulk of the rain had preceded our arrival; of course, that meant our mattresses for the night were soaked, and the tops of our dining tent hung heavily with about a hundred gallons of dirty water waiting for an excuse to crash down on our heads. Our guides, none of whom spoke any English, sort of ditched us for about an hour, leaving us to mill around in the darkness of one of the sleeping tents until we realized a lamp was burning in the dining tent. Even there, we sort of sat around hoping the roof wouldn't spring a leak, looking at each other; we figured that as it was Ramadan, and since we arrived as the end of the day's fast arrived, our guides were breaking the fast and eating; we could even hear them cooking and eating in their tent. Not that we blamed them, though; for Ramadan, they fast from 4:30 am until 6:45 pm, so breaking fast is naturally quite important to them. Eventually they came and served us food; it was actually a very nice meal. There was the issue with communication; at one point they asked for aspirin, for the reason that one of the camels had a fever; we were mystified by this until we realized it was one of the camel guides who had the fever. Later they broke out their drums and played for awhile. Outside, the clouds had broken up, and a brilliant sky full of stars emerged, the Milky Way in full display.

Bedtime wasn't so great; as I mentioned, our mattresses were soaked, which was remedied by placing wool blankets over them. That kept us dry, but the pillows were incredibly musty and damp; from those pillows I'm sure that I developed a postnasal drip that has slowly worsened to include a sore throat, and Jess developed an ear infection that has plagued her even today. Still, no one in our group complained at all, they all made the best of the situation; this was a really good group, I was happy to have gotten the chance to meet them and get to know a couple of them. That night I slept like a log, and woke up a 5:15 to get back up on my camel to head back. En route to the short bus, the sun rose, in an amazingly short time, which was beautiful. That was even worth the sensation of being repeatedly kicked in the gonads that comes with riding a camel.

Speaking of camels, on the trip back to Marrakesh, our guide told us jokes that are popular in Morocco. The vast majority of them involves camels or donkeys, often in situations that are best not blogged about. A clean sample: How do you get a camel in a fridge in three moves? Open the door, put the camel in, shut the door. Not SNL material, maybe; then again...

The ride back to Marrakesh was nine hours long, but it was still nice. It was tempting to fall asleep along the way, but I found myself resisting, wanting to see as much of the Moroccan landscape as possible. My one complaint was that I couldn't have them stop whenever I wanted, to take pictures; next time I might have to rent a car, there is so much scenic landscape in Morocco. It is all very stark and rugged, and endlessly fascinating.

Back in Marrakesh, we arrived in our riad to find that our rooms had been lost to other travelers, but they put us up in a nearby riad. There was only one bed in that riad, so Jess ended up sleeping on a cot in a closet, but like I told her, at least she had a private room (she didn't find that too funny). It is part of the experience, I suppose. We headed out to the square for one last meal from the food stands, one last stroll around the craziness of the square, as we headed for Essaouira the next morning.

Until next time, be safe.

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The City Of Marrakesh

We have had quite the experience in Marrakesh, a place to bustling and exhausting that three days is almost too much. In fact, we had to escape to the little seaside village of Essaouira to catch our breath.

Marrakesh is a crazy city, a place that rushes about in pursuit of raw capitalism like an addict chases a hit. Our guide book really touts the place, most of the pictures seem to come from its medina or its main square, the Djemaa Al-Fna. The books describes it as being such a place of exchange, as though it belongs to the world and the world owns it. All very dramatic, but not so accurate. Really, it is a place where you hand over as much dirhams as the sellers can get you to part with, and you might get something out of it. In that sense, it is a very frustrating place. You literally have to haggle for everything, and they start out at prices that make it impossible to have a decent end-price at all. The book suggests starting the bargaining by cutting to a third the original price and starting there. However, when they start with 12 dirhams (nearly $2) for two bananas, you know already you will get screwed, and it's best sometimes just to walk away.

While I seem to be on a tangent, let me get something off my chest. I don't like to complain, nor do I like to subject an entire nation to a subjective observation. However, there seems to be a definite trend that we have experienced in relation to pretty much every monetary exchange that we have had with Moroccans, and it has led me to a simple conclusion. Basically, if you are a foreigner in Morocco, you can expect to get screwed out of a fairly large sum of money, the total depending on how much stuff you buy and how long you are in Morocco. Even when you are aware that most Moroccans who have something to sell to you is looking to take you for as much as they can, you still don't always succeed in avoiding getting jacked. The best you can do is minimize how much they rob from you.

Allow me to illustrate. For almost everything that I have had to purchase, I have had to haggle for it. In these exchanges, I have experienced blatant highway robbery, in several forms. In one small cafe that we ate lunch in, I watched the waiter add up our bill, and I still didn't notice that he'd added 30 dirhams ($4) to the total; I figured it out later, when it was too late. I have had shopkeepers try to give me the wrong change (the 10 dirham coin looks similar to the 5 dirham coin), and I have gotten different prices from different shopkeepers in the same store, though they were similar in that they were both far too expensive. I have had shopkeepers place weight in the basket with the bananas that he was weighing on a scale instead of against them. We were taken for 150 dirhams ($20) for four lousy, small beers, as well as charged almost $2 for two small bananas (I walked away from that man). My least favorite experience so far was when we were headed to the bus station in Marrakesh, and found a taxi to take us. We haggled for awhile, and settled on 17 dirhams, even though the proper price would have been 10 dirhams. Once we arrived in the bus station, the driver suddenly wanted 70 dirhams, telling me that I was confused. According to Jess, I became quite irate, and had a few choice words, but at least I didn't throttle him, at least not outside of my mind. He walked away with 20 dirhams.

To sum it up, what I have realized is that in any purchase, no matter how safe it seems, you always count your change. You always know how much it will cost before you ask for the bill. You avoid souvenirs, as this is where they really stick it to you. Sadly, what I have come to feel is that I can't trust any Moroccan in any monetary exchange. I hate thinking that, but I've been burned too many times already, and I've talked to plenty of other travelers, all of whom have similar stories. It is exhausting, because you always feel like you're being taken. We've gotten to the point where we don't even want to buy food in stands, such as bananas, because we are tired of getting ripped off. That ends up just hurting the people of Morocco, because for every sucker they take, they lose out on future purchases by that angry sucker.

Obviously, you expect to have some of this in a country that has the kind of poverty that Morocco has; you don't even mind paying more than locals given that poverty, because it is easy to do. Still, they take it to a ridiculous degree here; food is more expensive than in Spain, and we simply won't even waste our time shopping for anything besides food. It also causes us to feel more than a bit hostile and bitter towards Moroccans; it's like having that red-headed stepbrother who blatantly pesters you constantly, and occasionally gets in a good sucker punch to the kidneys. Only, in Morocco, that sucker punch is a monetary loss on the foreigners part. I've never been anywhere like this before; it kind of takes the fun out of it.

Anyhow, that was my rant; like I said, I don't like to be negative, but this is part of our experience, and so I feel like I should write about it. Traveling isn't all fun and games, there are irritations sometimes, and at times you just feel like getting back on the train, heading back up to the ferry, and heading into Spain. But, for the most part, it is easy to let these things go and enjoy the experience.

Of course, the experience if Marrakesh was certainly not limited to these things. We really enjoyed Marrakesh, at least for the first several days. Then you get tired of the rush of the medina, the countless motorcycles whizzing by, the noises and the strong smells. I think that a lot of travelers just have to head to smaller towns, such as Essaouri, to take some time off from Marrakesh, it is just so exhausting. But when you are in the mood for it, the city is quite exciting. The medina, with all of its souks and shops, and the constant adventure of getting lost in the narrow, winding alleys, is really exciting. The main square, Djemma Al-Fna, is a bombardment on the senses with all of its food stands, the orange juice sellers, the snake charmers, the henna artists and the fortunetellers. It is a big part of urban, ancient Moroccan culture all packed into a small space. We ate in the square, in the little food stands, every night in Marrakesh; our meals rarely cost more than $10 for the both of us (they have set-price menus). It really is quite an experience.

We also got a little culture in Marrakesh. We decided to try out the hammams, the traditional baths. I guess most Moroccans don't necessarily have hot running water in their homes, so they get their hot baths by visiting these public ones. We opted for the traditional version, the kind that Moroccans will get. Jess went off with her assistant and a group of girls, and had a nice experience. I went off with a fellow who worked for the riad, and my experience was a little different. He took me to the men's hammam, which started with a dark and grubby room in which I stripped down to the bathing suit I'd worn. We went from there into an adjoining room, which was heated like a sauna. There was a tank of hot water, which the guy took a bucketful from. He splashed it down on the ground and instructed me to lay flat on my back. Now, the floor looked pretty darn dirty, and I had doubts that the bucket of water did much to clean it, but I was there for the traditional experience, so I went ahead and laid down. He used a kind of natural soap to wash my arms, chest, back and legs, strangely avoiding the bottoms of my feet. Then he did a series of what felt like a combination of stretch therapy and mild torture, bending me around like a pretzel and using his weight to press down. It never was as painful as the deep-muscle "massage" I had in China, but I wouldn't have called it painless either. He moved on to splashing buckets of the hot water over me, then finished with a scrubdown with a rough glove that was to scrape off any unnecessary dead skin, as well as some live skin. All in all, it was a good experience, one that many Moroccans get, so I will take it for that. I'm glad for a good, hot shower, though.

A funny story about me and Marrakesh: we were walking around the souks one of the days, and I kept feeling coins hitting my legs. This seemed to always happen around some teenage hooligans, the kind that always seem to be offering a tour of the medina or advice on where you don't want to go, and so I figured it was some trick or another, perhaps to catch my attention, perhaps to figure out which pocket I kept my change in. But I wasn't going to fall for any tricks, I was too smart. One kid, hearing a coin bounce out on the ground, cried, "It's yours, it's yours!" Belligerently, I ignored him as well as the coin, smug in the thought that I wouldn't be lowered to picking up a coin worth a few US cents tossed at me along with the name "Ali Baba" (which I'm not sure the meaning of, only that I've been called it several times). Later that day, sitting in a cafe, I was wondering where all my change went; turns out I had a hole in my pocket and had been losing coins down my pants leg the whole day. I wasn't so smug after that.

Now we are relaxing in Essaouira. This little village is quite nice. It's much smaller, for one thing, and the souks aren't so crazy nor as confusing. It's nice not having to dodge speeding motorcycles in the alleys. The fish market here is something else, possibly the most intense one I've seen before. The beach of course is really great, and has calmed our frayed nerves. We might not even get on the train and head north to Spain, or not yet at least.

Until next time, be safe.

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September 11, 2009

Our Videos From YouTube

We have a few videos from Morocco and Spain, as I finally figured out how to upload them to YouTube. We are still learning this vidoegrapher stuff. Sorry.

Video 1 From YouTube - Call Of Worship, Marrakesh, Morocco

Video 2 From YouTube - Hello From Marrakesh, Morocco

Video 3 From YouTube - Eating In Marrakesh Market

Video 4 From YouTube - Hello From Madrid, Spain

Until next time, be safe.


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September 10, 2009

Pictures From Marrakesh

I was able to put some pictures up from Morocco. These are all from Marrakesh.

 The Marrakesh Medina Souks

 Olive Shops

 The Meat Man

 Street In Marrakesh Medina

 A Poor Donkey

 Exploring The Medina

 Buying Candy

 Exiting The Covered Souks

 Drinking Mint Tea

 Until next time, be safe.


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Random Mumblings

The life of a backpacker really is quite interesting, and it takes a bit of time to get used to such a different lifestyle. With each new country that we visit, we attempt to adapt to their customs and habits. In Portugal and Spain, we were able to cook our own meals and were able to rely on supermarkets for food. Just when we got comfortable eating pasta and marinara sauce every night, it was time to head to Morocco and meet a different way of life. There are some aspects to our current lifestyle that do not change. I have come to the realization that to continue to enjoy this much awaited trip, I have to be flexible and go with the flow.

One aspect that doesn't change is our laundry pattern. We both have only two outfits, so every day we take time to do our laundry in the sink.  We then hang it to try on the bed rails, which I think shocks some of our more modest bunkmates who take their dirty clothes to a be done professionally each week.  Also, this process doesn't really do the job of cleaning our clothing, so at baseline we always smell, even after showering.  This is okay. I am over it.

Another constant adventure is meeting our many bunkmates along the way. Most of them are nice and pleasant to chat with. It is always interesting to share different travel stories. It's been great so far, but you still have to go with the flow. For example, as the famous poem goes, if the couple on the next bunk over is going for a ride, the best thing to do is turn on your other side. Ahh, the joys of thirteen bunkmates.

It's all worth it, though, because of nights like tonight. We went out for dinner in the square and experienced a hectic but unforgettable meal. We sat outside in an open air restaurant and were seated right beside the chef. Throughout our dinner, he shouted and cursed in Arabic and even put out a large fire. Also, the waiter asked Aaron if he was done using his fork; before he could say yes, it was taken and given to a man at the next table. Who knows how many times that fork has been used tonight. It is all part of the experience. Looking forward to another funfilled and interesting day tomorrow.

فاهسخ نسمسم سخسخ خس سممسخسا ساسس

(Arabic parable: let not your nose wander into a tannery.)

Peace, Jess

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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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