Tuesday, September 15, 2009

We’ll always have Marrakech Part 1

After a great time in Spain we said adios and set sail for Morocco. It was a very short trip, only one day and most of it was spent off the coast of Gibraltar to refuel. Preparing for the forewarned rough seas entering Morocco, we were all reminded to remove heavy items from desktops and not to stand in doorways for fear of swinging doors and severed fingers. I went to bed expecting to be woken up due to the tossing when at 5am I was startled awake by water splashing against my window with great force. ‘Here we go’ I thought and jumped to look out the window only to be greeted by the window’s cleaning sprinklers and calm seas. A bit anti climatic if I say so, but I quickly went back to sleep for a while longer before going out for sunset.

The arrival to Morocco was nowhere as enjoyable as Spain. It was cloudy and it rained briefly as Ana and I stood outside waiting for the city to come into sight. We had been told that Morocco was an industrial port and that we would have cranes and shipping containers all around us. I don’t know why I thought the admin team was exaggerating but as the ship approached the port it became very clear that the admin team had actually been kind with the description. Not only were we between shipping containers and cranes but also the entrance to the port and gateway to the city was a good half-mile walk. While SAS did provide a shuttle to the port entrance I was told the service was questionable at best.

While the ship found its final position I being somewhat disappointed ran back to my cabin to get the rest of my things together for my 4 day/3 night trip to Marrakech and the Sahara. A quick breakfast and then it was time to gather with the 170 other people who would be joining me. We picked up our passports and a boxed lunch and made our way to the buses. I received my roster of students I would be somewhat responsible for as a bus leader (each trip as 1 trip leader and then bus leaders should numbers require it) and I quickly I had a few concerns. My students were great but I had 3 older life long learners. I thought that a camel trek and camping in the Sahara might be a bit of a challenge for some of them. I tried to stay positive until one woman walked off the ship with a cane. More on that later.

The first portion of our journey was a 2 hour bus ride to Marrakech during which our tour guide Mulay told us about the 5 pillars of Islam, and various facts about the area including that they usually only have rain 20-25 days a year. Pulling away from the ship I was I relived to be on a SAS excursion as I was intimidated by the conditions of the area and less then welcoming feeling even from the comfort and safety of my tour bus. I looked with concern as I saw some of our students standing at the port gates looking back and forth before crossing the streets that were anything but pedestrian friendly. Lanes were just an idea and stop lights a suggestion. Scooters, taxis, and semi trucks filled with who knows what zipped back and forth.

Happy to get off the bus upon our arrival in Marrakech we were taken to lunch just outside of the ‘famous’ Jemaa el Fna Square in the old part of town. The meal was really quite good and my ever-prevalent food fear was put to ease for at least one more meal. After lunch the sky looked dark and I realized that once again living in southern California had made me forget about weather. I did not bring an umbrella or raincoat on this trip. I pictured them hanging in my closet on the ship and just shook my head hoping for the best.

Walking through the souks or markets of the square we were invited in to each shop by eager owners hoping to make a sale. Ana, Eddie and my favorite computer-lacking student Lucas who clung on to us were in the back corner when the winds picked up and the sky turned black. Looking down the isles to the outside dresses, scarves, and ropes of hanging shoes began to flail about. It was a bit scary as we tried to get out and under some substantial structure as apposed to the haphazard draping of various tarps and flags over the souks. Street venders with henna tattoos, snakes and various types of food also ran for protection as their umbrellas previously shielding them from the harsh afternoon sun had gone cart wheeling across the square due to the high winds. The rain came down in sheets and at the same time the afternoon call to prayer and ended and what seemed like hundreds of men spilled out of the mosque as we all crammed together hoping the rain would quickly pass.

Hearing different languages being shouted back and forth, smelling fish and various other meats, spices, incense, while being crammed in the mosque entry was pretty overwhelming. I looked at Ana, Eddie and Lucas with big eyes trying to take the experience in. We eventually had to make a run for it in order to make it to our bus on time. Pretty wet and feeling pretty nasty we arrived to our hotel and we had a few hours before we met again for dinner.

Dinner as described in our field book was as follows “a Moroccan dinner with folklore show and horse fantasia at Chez Ali.” Dinner as I describe it was the worst of Epcot Center at Disney World and Medieval times combined. All 170 of us are paraded through this manufactured little town as packs of performers danced, sang and played instruments expecting money after students took photos of them. We eventually were taken into our dining room where throughout the evening what must have been a dozen groups of musicians and dancers walked through to perform for us all while looking dead inside and truly hating their life. At least at Disney they have learned the art of the fake smile. The food was great, in-between the musical interruptions every now and then.

We were then escorted back outside to find our seats around the area for the horse fantasia. Words cannot do this production justice. It began with a parade of people, who I will call the cast, including all the musicians and dancers we had gotten to know during our dinner. The music I’ll assume was traditional Moroccan music. Then a sort of float/platform/stage was brought out to the center of the ring and a belly dancer performed followed by a fire performer, a group of guys doing tricks on horses to the music of Star Wars, guys shooting rifles and the big finish was a short fire works show set to O fortuna – a classic piece of loud intense opera, you would recognize it if you hear it. We all left wondering what we had just experienced. Returning for our hotel I was eager to get to bed knowing that we had an 8 hour bus ride to the Sahara the next day.


  1. I can totally see you with the wide-eyed expression of "WTF?" on your face during most of your day. It all sounds pretty awesome and ridiculous at the same time.

  2. EXciting! Star Wars music? Weird. Really enjoying your dispatches, and thanks for the pics! And if you ever live in Chicago, you will never leave home without a raincoat again. But wait, you grew up in Michigan! What's wrong with you!?! Be safe! Probably won't rain much in the desert at least.