Sunday, 6 May 2012

Long-Weekend Hiking Adventures


The Dry river valley we followed for a lot of the trip

Took advantage of the long-weekend that we got this past weekend and headed south with one other guy where we had ambitious plans to hike from Todra Gorge, which we’d already been to during our spring break road-trip, over to Dades Gorge, which we never managed to visit on our first time through the area.  According to google earth, the distance we would have to travel was around 30-35 km or so, so we planned to try to make the trip in three days. Finally made up our minds about actually doing the trip Thursday night, so Friday was kind of a scramble as we packed all our stuff up, consulted some google earth topographical images of where we’d have to hike thoruhg, armed ourselves with some print outs of google maps of the general area as directions and headed south for a good time. 

Got down to Errachidia where we jumped onto a chicken bus and headed west towards Tinghir.  I don’t know how they got their names, other than maybe packing people onto them as if it was a massive crate and we were a bunch of chickens, because it was pretty crowded by the time we finally pulled out of the station and started our way towards Tinghir.  The ride itself was quite uneventful for the first half.  It was super hot so felt pretty gross and sweaty after only a couple of minutes.  Didn’t help that I had my pack on my lap, but thankfully we’d bought some water before we’d left and it was still cool, so we tried to lower our body temperatures by sticking them our shirts.  Worked for a little bit I guess.  Somewhere along the way, at one of the stops that we made an interesting character got on, who ended up at the back of the bus sitting next to me, sipping red wine that he had not very well concealed in a black plastic bag.  Quite loud and on a number of occasions tried to convert me to Islam or just entertained himself by asking me random questions like when my birthday was or whether I was single or married.  He seemed quite excited and got pretty loud announcing the fact when I told him that I wasn’t married.  I’ve never considered it before, thinking only girls got harassed about such stuff, but it might not be such a bad idea to carry a ring around, keep some creeps away when needed.  It did help to pass the trip though, which definitely lasted longer than was hoped and it wasn’t until around 9:30pm or so that we finally rolled into Tinghir where we then headed out to find, first a place to eat, and then a place to spend the night.  

We found food at a small café restaurant place that was still open where we got some sandwich poulet and jus d’avocat, definitely a good start to our trip.  Once finished with our food we moved on to the next thing on our schedule and managed to find a place to spend the night nearby in a shady establishment that gave us our moneys worth for sure.  We paid 45Dhs each and got a bare room with three small beds in it, (one with a blanket on it and two with pillows, though we did end up getting another blanket later) a small sink a towel rack that fell off the wall when Christo hung his shirt on it, and a faded sign on the back of the door that had a list of instructions for all patrons of the place to abide by including, “no noise after 11pm,” “No alcohol in the rooms” and “no doing prostitution in the rooms.”  Thankfully we didn’t have any problems with any of the rules and went to sleep pretty fast.  Chirsto refused to use the blankets and pulled out his sleeping bag, but I just ignored the spots and fuzzy patches and went to sleep wrapped in my blanket anyways. 

The next morning we grabbed a breakfast of omelets, bread, tea and some yogurt before finding the marche where we loaded up on enough food and water to hopefully last us for the three days that we’d be gone; bread, happy cow cheese, figs, chocolate, almonds, sugar covered peanuts and 6 liters of water each.  We went back to the café where we’d had breakfast and ordered a couple more jus d’avocat while we repacked and organized our packs and got them ready.  Packed and full of omelet jus d’avocat we grabbed a taxi that took us up to the gorges where we officially began our hike. 


The next several hours were spent hiking in what we hoped was the right general direction, and eventually, after a couple of wrong directions, where we had to backtrack, we made it into a dry river valley that ran in the right direction and that we hoped would take us all the way across, or at least deposit us somewhere not too far off from where we should be.  We were literally on our own out there, and after a couple of hours of hiking we lost cell phone reception as well.  Fastest way out of there in case of emergency would probably have been finding the nearest nomad that we came across occasionally in their mud huts and tents huddled along the mountain side with their flocks of sheep and goats and camels living off of who-knows-what and getting them to carry us out on one of their donkeys.  Not an altogether relishing thought knowing the terrain that would have to be covered, which no doubt would not be all that pleasant riding on a donkey, even if you weren’t injured or in pain.  We tried our best to not get hurt.  Hiked for most of the day, stopping for a couple of breaks for lunch of bread and happy cow cheese washed down with water and snacks of figs and almonds. with  Further along, in the afternoon, we came across a small creek that steadily grew bigger the further we hiked up the slightly narrowing, now more rocky river bed until we finally stopped for the night in an area a couple of trees and a relatively flat, less rocky area where we decided to spend the night.  Despite the less rocky aspect of the area where we chose to spend the night, it wasn’t very comfortable and ended up getting colder during the night than we had anticipated.  After a supper of less-than-fresh bread and happy cow cheese improved slightly with some figs and mars bars we bedded down and tried to get as much sleep as we could.  I can’t say that I slept a lot, but the night did go by faster than I thought it was going to at first, so I guess that means I got at least a couple hours of sleep before the sun woke us up.
Our awesome place where we spent the nights trying not to destroy our bodies on the rocks 
 
Quick break before turning back after the gorge rejected us
Packed up and filled with more bread and cheese we moved further up the river valley, only to discover that it increasingly got narrower and narrower the further we hiked up, until it eventually ended in a dead end gorge with no way through, except over the top, which was out of our reach.  We took a break, indulged in a couple of mars bars and decided to head back to Tinghir instead of trying to go back and looking for a different route that we couldn’t be sure would lead us in the right direction.  We established after the first couple of hours into our trip that our maps were pretty much useless, so didn’t want to try anything stupid and actually get lost out there without cell reception.  The hike back was pretty straight forward, retracing our footsteps the way we had come the day before, and knowing we weren’t going to run out of food or water now, we definitely used up more than one days rations giving what we had left afterwards to a Berber women near the end of the hike who we followed for the last stretch back to Tinghir.  It felt good to get back to the gorge, especially knowing that we weren’t going to have to spend the night on a bed of gravel again.  We hitched a ride with two young guys in their Mercedes back down from the gorge and got them to drop us off at our friend Ali’s hotel where we’d stayed at during spring break.  Met up with Dylan and Guilia there and spent an awesome evening, having tea overlooking the oasis, later cooking our own tagine for supper and messing around with some drums and Berber music. 

On our way back looking down to the Todra gorge valley and the road running through it
Went back up to the gorges the next morning after breakfast, hitching a ride in the back of a semi-truck so Dylan could check out the gorges and shortly after that around noon started our trek back to Errachidia and then northwards back up to Ifrane, which we reached after about 7 hours of traveling in three of four different grand taxis that each took us one step closer to our destination.  Definitely a good trip overall, and well worth the sunburn that I managed to get.  

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Spring Desert Part One: The Desert


All dressed up like a berber tourist and ready to explore the Sahara desert. 

Spring break started by heading down to Fez right away Friday afternoon once classes were done where we spent the night and then headed south again with a group of 13, including myself towards the desert.  After a long ride in some vans, that were at least pretty comfortable, especially when compared to grand taxi standards, we stopped in Rissani where we had a late lunch of Tagine and then switched to more desert appropriate vehicles and drove further out into the desert to a compound in the Merzouga area where we spent the first night right on the edges of the sand dunes about 15/20km from the Algerian border.  The next day after a tour of some nearby oasis we headed out into the sand dunes, riding camels.  Definitely an awesome experience, though the camel riding got kind of sore after a while.  After an hour or so of riding we arrived at our destination, a bunch of Berber tents nestled amongst the sand dunes waiting for us.  It was kind of weird thinking that if anything was to happen to us, the fastest way out of there would have started out with an hour-long ride on a camel.  Kind of made me feel like we’d jumped back in time a couple of hundred years or so.  We had a supper of tagine and then wandered to the tops of some nearby sand dunes to enjoy the stars. 

Where we spent the night on top of the sand dune.
A couple people had brought some bottles of wine, so we enjoyed the stars with some of that along with cheese that got a bit sandy as it got passed around.  We were all going to sleep in Berber tents, but me and another guy decided it would be way cooler to spend out night in the Sahara desert out on top of a sand dune under the start so we dragged some mats, and blankets up there along with our sleeping bags and went to sleep with nothing but the wind to keep us company under a sky full of stars and the occasional satellite.  I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere where there have been so many stars or where it’s been so quite.  It was pretty weird, too, knowing that if anything happened to any of us, the fastest way out of there would start with an hour on top of a camel.  Felt almost like we had jumped back in time a couple of hundred years, except for having a cell phone in my pocket that worked better than it does at my house in Kamloops. 


On our way back from our night in the desert watching the sun rise.


Just after the sun rose above the dunes. 
The next morning we packed up and were riding back through the dunes to our compound by the time the sun rose out of the Algerian desert.  Back at the compound we enjoyed a breakfast and showers for those who wanted it.  I headed back out to the dunes with a couple others to get some last minute pictures jumping off of dunes and doing cartwheels down them, ensuring that everything we were wearing was full of the fine reddish sand of the desert by the time we were done.  Loaded back into the 4x4 vehicles we retraced our steps back to Rissani where we switched to the vans and made our trip back north again full of memories of the desert and loaded down with bottles of sand as souvenirs to take home with us.  

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Shrunken Pajama Pants – March 6, 2012


            Did my laundry the other week and when I was going to bed, was putting my pajama pants on and they were definitely a lot tighter than the last time I had put them on before I had washed them.  They’d shrunk a good inch or two.  Oh well, its Morocco.  I was talking to this other girl the other morning when we were at breakfast, and we were talking about how things aren’t always the way we expect them to be, when she discovered that her ‘hard-boiled’ eggs were in fact not hard-boiled, but quite liquid inside still.  We came to the conclusion that we’d just say, ”it’s Morocco” and that would be our answer for anything that went wrong or was just out of the ordinary, so I’ll live with my shrunken pajama pants.  It’s Morocco after-all. 

            Things have been going pretty good lately, since my last blog post.  I decided about two weeks ago to try to work towards a half marathon that’s going to take place on the first of April in Rabat, so I’ve been trying to run at least 3-4 times a week, and so far its not going too bad.  My legs were a bit sore after the first couple of runs, but the last couple that I’ve done have all been quite a bit better.  I think it also helped that I switched to running in the afternoon instead of in the morning when it was a lot colder, so maybe that’s why.  I just tell myself that my body is getting more used to it. Ha It will be pretty fun either way, even if I don’t get a really good time or anything, because there’s about ten of us that are thinking of doing it, so we’ll probably all go down to Rabat together and just make it a fun weekend. I’m looking forward to it. 

            School is also going pretty well.  I figured that since I am here at AUI on a semester of exchange, I should probably mention schoolwork at least a couple of times.  I can’t lie, I don’t have a lot of work to do for some of my classes, compared to what I’ve had in the last couple of years back at TRU so I’ve had more time to do other things, but my classes are all pretty interesting and I’m really liking them. 
History of the Arab world can be kind of confusing at times when we go off on tangents about random stuff, but other than that most of what we learn about the rise of Islam and the disorganization of the world of Islam in the years afterwards is really cool.  The professor can get pretty distracted sometimes though, it’s pretty funny. 

           And then my French class is a lot of fun, and I think I’m actually learning quite a bit, so I’m really happy about that, and the trips that I’ve done around Morocco have given me good opportunities to practice my French.  I definitely think it’s improved. Either that or I’ve just gotten more confident with the French skills that I already had. 

           History and culture of he Berber has been an interesting class, learning about how the Berber’s first originated in North Africa and what roles they have played in the history of this area as well as that across North Africa throughout the past centuries.  The professor is quite funny, a short little, mostly bald Berber man, also quite disorganized sometimes, and quite biased a lot of the times, though he tries not to be biased he told us.  It does get some good discussions going though, as there are a number of other ethnic berbers in the class.  The exchange students that are in the class usually just sit there and listen to them argue about stuff, because we don’t really know what’s going on half the time, not having grown up in a Berber context.  That class is also my only class that I have twice a week, so it’s 80 minutes long, and I’ll have to admit I’ve almost fallen asleep sometimes when the professor goes on some long ramble about some organization or something that exists today that’s trying to bring back Berber culture into Moroccan culture.  I tried to help myself stay awake throughout class by bringing some m&ms and lining them up in front of myself and eating them one at a time after every five or ten minutes or something to help the time go by.  I think it worked for the first class, but last class it didn’t help at all.  I’m good for the first 50 minutes, which is the length of my other classes, but anything after that it seems, my brain just wants to shut down and do nothing. It’s pretty terrible, so I’ll have to try to find some other way to entertain myself now. 

           Then my geography class isn’t too bad.  Once we got over the boring section at the beginning where we were just covering basic geographic concepts that are used and moved into more looking at how people migrate around the world and different factors that affect migration patterns, etc it got a bit better, but the professor just moves really slowly it seems in that class. 

This is just an awesome picture all around.  and yes, we did get stared at while trying to get this picture. 
           This past weekend I went to Casablanca from Friday until Sunday with five other exchange students.  Had some good adventures, including one right away when we got to Casablanca.  We took the usual route of grand taxi to Meknes, and then the train from there onwards to Casablanca.  One guy though had forgot his passport at AUI though, and as foreigners in Morocco, whenever you check into a hotel, they look at your passport and have to get the number that is stamped into it when you enter the country for their records and technically they’re not supposed tolet anybody stay at their hotel without that number.  So that caused some problems for us.  

          The first three hotels that we went to, refused to let us stay there without having that number, (like they are supposed to, which at the moment wasn’t the best for us though).  Finally, however, we found one who agreed that we could stay there, as long as we went down to the police station and got some kind of form filled out and stamped by them, so that we would still all be following the rules and nobody would get in trouble.  I don’t know why any of the other hotels didn’t suggest that, because they just lost business from the six of us, but anyways. 

           So, Brian, the one who had forgot his passport and Beth, who probably had the best language skills of our group headed off in a taxi to find the police station, and thankfully after about an hour and having to find a second police station after the first one they went to proved pretty empty which they found out by pretty going into it and finding nobody there and everything dark they finally got back to the rest of us who had stayed behind with the right forms all filled out and stamped, so we were good for the night. 


Part of the Morocco Mall, huge aquarium, and there was some kind of music afternoon or something going on, because there were a couple different groups that got up and played songs while we were there. 

Found ourselves a Starbucks and enjoyed a caramel frappuccino, which tasted pretty much the same as one you'd get back home, expect for the whipped cream on top, which was weird and not the best.  

Pigeon plaza in Casablanca. Actually I don't know what it's called, but it should be called that. 


Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, third biggest mosque in the world, can hold 20,000 people inside and the outer square can supposedly hold another 80,000

One of the many massive doors of the mosque
           We spent the next day and Sunday morning wandering around Casablanca, exploring the mosque and Morocco mall and some other places, before heading back to Ifrane.  We stopped in Rabat for an hour on the way and got ourselves almond/avocadoe smoothie things, which are awesome, and some pastillas and oranges for the rest of the train ride back to Meknes.  Good weekend all around.  

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Roman Ruins, Skiing and another couple days in my life in Morocco



View across some of the ruins at Volubilis

Had a bit of an awkward start to my day this morning.  Slept in a bit and then went and had a shower, but because Redouane (my roommate) hasn’t been a round, I just took my clothes off in the room and then went into the shower, because there’s nowhere to really leave them in the bathroom except on the floor, so only had my towel with me in the bathroom.  So far so good, but then when I was drying off afterwards I hear the door to my room being unlocked.  At first I thought it might be Redouane, so I just locked the bathroom door, not too worried.  He walks around in his underwear all the time so I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal if I just had my towel.  But then I hear someone say, “Cleaning” and realized that it was the cleaning ladies coming in to clean my room and not Redouane, and I had no clothes with me.  Shoot, starting to look around for something that I could put on, but couldn’t find anything, so I just shouted, “Cinq minute.”  Then I heard the door shut, but they didn’t say anything, so I wasn’t sure if they had left or not, so I wrapped my towel around myself and poked my head out, hoping that they wouldn’t be there, which thankfully they weren’t.  I think it would definitely have been more awkward for them.  I managed to get some clothes on before they came in again, so I just grabbed the rest of my books and stuff and headed down to the café for some breakfast and to get some homework done before my class started at 12:30.  I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty awesome to have your room cleaned for you, but it would be nice sometimes to know when they’re going to show up at your door.  I don’t know what they would do if you were still in bed, but hopefully I wont have to find out. 

            My week has been going pretty good.  Nothing too exciting or out of the ordinary has happened.  Just had my classes that went well for the most part.  I did have a sort of pop quiz in my history of the Arab world class, just to see kind of how much we know and so that we have an idea of what to expect when the midterm comes rolling around in a couple of weeks, but I don’t think that it was too bad. 

Some graffiti that we found in Mulay Idriss







            Had a pretty good time last weekend too when we went to see the Roman ruins on Saturday at Volubilis and then skiing on Sunday.  It was me and four others who got a grand taxi together and then just went for the day out past Meknes to where the ruins are about an hour and a half from Ifrane here.  We stopped at a small own a couple kilometers from the ruins where we spent an hour or two looking around, having a bit of a tour of the town and stopping along the way to have awesome keefta (ground beef kebabs) sandwiches with onions, tomatoes and olives for lunch.  


Looking down the columns that lined what used to be the main street of Volubilis

Awesome fruit and vegetable market in Mulay Idriss
One of the hills that Mulay Idriss is built on



            The ruins themselves were smaller than I thought they were going to be, but were still pretty cool to see, especially some of the arches and mosaics that are still around and intact.  It’s crazy to think that they’re around a thousand years old and still around for us to see. So we spent a couple of hours wandering around the ruins, taking pictures, venturing some planking shots on some of the thousand year old Roman architecture when the caretaker guy was busy blowing his whistle at someone else who was doing something they shouldn’t.  It was a pretty awesome day all around and a good trip. 

At the Roman ruins at Volubilis

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            On Sunday I went with four others and we grabbed a grand taxi up to Mischlifin, about half an hour from Ifrane, where one of the few ski hills in Morocco is.  I can’t say that I had that high of expectations to begin with and I think I was right in keeping my hopes low, because it was quite different from any other ski hill that I’d seen or been to.  Generally it’s understood, (at least I thought it was) that you don’t stand around at the bottom of the hill where people are going to be coming down, but not in Morocco.  The longer I’m here, the more and more I’ve come to realize that things are generally not the same here in Morocco as what I am used to, so I shouldn’t really be surprised anymore.  Anyways, there were hundreds of people all over the hill, at least all over the really gentle slopes and then the bottoms of the more steep slopes, though there weren’t even a lot of those.


            Around the bottom of the hill area, and on the sides of the road as you come up to the lodge area there are numerous guys who just have piles of ski boots and skis and poles lined up, so we just found one guy, who after asking our shoe sizes rummaged around in his piles of ski boots until he came up with sizes that semi fit us.  Then got skis adjusted to fit the boots.  I think I was pretty lucky and actually got a pair of skis that weren’t too bad, but the boots were a bit too big, and like most of the rest of the boots there looked like they had been top of the line about 5-10 years ago, but were kind of on the way out now.  Some were missing buckles, or had the buckles, but just wouldn’t work properly, like one of mine, but it was tight enough so I just went with it.  It’s Morocco after all.  They also gave you small plastic bags to stick over your feet before sticking them into your boots, because I guess they never dry them out properly. Ha, I thought it was pretty funny.  Once all five of us had found boots and skis, or snowboard for Jesse, that fit we hit the slopes, or kind of hobbled in our ski boots down to where the mud and ice stopped and the icy snow started. 

             Most Moroccans can’t ski, or just didn’t want to, so most of the people that were milling around were just playing in the snow, having snow ball fights and stuff, or were sledding down the hill in make shift sleds that were made out of what looked like a wooden crate with two sawed off skis nailed to the bottom.  Zero control on those things, and I saw numerous people go flying down the hill, yelling at people to get out of their way, or just taking them out at the bottom as if they were playing human sized bowling and they were the bowling ball.  It was also quite entertaining to watch those Moroccans who were brave enough to try skiing, out of control, not knowing how to stop really, crashing at the bottom in a heap of skis, poles and sometimes other people that they took out in the process. 

The hotel/lodge buildings at Mischlifin

The crowded slopes at Mischlifin
The whole “ski hill” came together into a big bowl with one short platter tow on the left side and a longer on going right to the top on the right hand side.  Doesn’t really matter that they were even there, because they weren’t functioning when we were ready to hit the slopes.  Later we figured out you have to go find the lift operator and sometimes pay him for every run that you want to do.  So being ignorant of that fact, we grabbed our skis and hiked up every time we wanted to get ten to fifteen seconds of down hill skiing in. 

I don’t think I need to say that we didn’t last all that long, but after a couple of hours we called it a day and decided not to punish our ankles anymore by hiking up the hill and retired our skis, boots and plastic bags for our shoes again.  It had still been pretty fun, the couple runs that we got in, and now we can tell people that we’ve gone skiing in Morocco, even if it wasn’t that impressive.  It’s just fun to hang out with friends too, so we grabbed some lat lunch in the Marche back in Ifrane before heading back to AUI.  

Roman Ruins, Skiing and another couple days in my life in Morocco


Had a bit of an awkward start to my day this morning.  Slept in a bit and then went and had a shower, but because Redouane (my roommate) hasn’t been a round, I just took my clothes off in the room and then went into the shower, because there’s nowhere to really leave them in the bathroom except on the floor, so only had my towel with me in the bathroom.  So far so good, but then when I was drying off afterwards I hear the door to my room being unlocked.  At first I thought it might be Redouane, so I just locked the bathroom door, not too worried.  He walks around in his underwear all the time so I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal if I just had my towel.  But then I hear someone say, “Cleaning” and realized that it was the cleaning ladies coming in to clean my room and not Redouane, and I had no clothes with me.  Shoot, starting to look around for something that I could put on, but couldn’t find anything, so I just shouted, “Cinq minute.”  Then I heard the door shut, but they didn’t say anything, so I wasn’t sure if they had left or not, so I wrapped my towel around myself and poked my head out, hoping that they wouldn’t be there, which thankfully they weren’t.  I think it would definitely have been more awkward for them.  I managed to get some clothes on before they came in again, so I just grabbed the rest of my books and stuff and headed down to the café for some breakfast and to get some homework done before my class started at 12:30.  I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty awesome to have your room cleaned for you, but it would be nice sometimes to know when they’re going to show up at your door.  I don’t know what they would do if you were still in bed, but hopefully I wont have to find out. 

            My week has been going pretty good.  Nothing too exciting or out of the ordinary has happened.  Just had my classes that went well for the most part.  I did have a sort of pop quiz in my history of the Arab world class, just to see kind of how much we know and so that we have an idea of what to expect when the midterm comes rolling around in a couple of weeks, but I don’t think that it was too bad. 

            Had a pretty good time last weekend too when we went to see the Roman ruins on Saturday at Volubilis and then skiing on Sunday.  It was me and four others who got a grand taxi together and then just went for the day out past Meknes to where the ruins are about an hour and a half from Ifrane here.  We stopped at a small own a couple kilometers from the ruins where we spent an hour or two looking around, having a bit of a tour of the town and stopping along the way to have awesome keefta (ground beef kebabs) sandwiches with onions, tomatoes and olives for lunch.  The ruins themselves were smaller than I thought they were going to be, but were still pretty cool to see, especially some of the arches and mosaics that are still around and intact.  It’s crazy to think that they’re around a thousand years old and still around for us to see. So we spent a couple of hours wandering around the ruins, taking pictures, venturing some planking shots on some of the thousand year old Roman architecture when the caretaker guy was busy blowing his whistle at someone else who was doing something they shouldn’t.  It was a pretty awesome day all around and a good trip. 

            On Sunday I went with four others and we grabbed a grand taxi up to Mischlifin, about half an hour from Ifrane, where one of the few ski hills in Morocco is.  I can’t say that I had that high of expectations to begin with and I think I was right in keeping my hopes low, because it was quite different from any other ski hill that I’d seen or been to.  Generally it’s understood, (at least I thought it was) that you don’t stand around at the bottom of the hill where people are going to be coming down, but not in Morocco.  The longer I’m here, the more and more I’ve come to realize that things are generally not the same here in Morocco as what I am used to, so I shouldn’t really be surprised anymore.  Anyways, there were hundreds of people all over the hill, at least all over the really gentle slopes and then the bottoms of the more steep slopes, though there weren’t even a lot of those.

            Around the bottom of the hill area, and on the sides of the road as you come up to the lodge area there are numerous guys who just have piles of ski boots and skis and poles lined up, so we just found one guy, who after asking our shoe sizes rummaged around in his piles of ski boots until he came up with sizes that semi fit us.  Then got skis adjusted to fit the boots.  I think I was pretty lucky and actually got a pair of skis that weren’t too bad, but the boots were a bit too big, and like most of the rest of the boots there looked like they had been top of the line about 5-10 years ago, but were kind of on the way out now.  Some were missing buckles, or had the buckles, but just wouldn’t work properly, like one of mine, but it was tight enough so I just went with it.  It’s Morocco after all.  They also gave you small plastic bags to stick over your feet before sticking them into your boots, because I guess they never dry them out properly. Ha, I thought it was pretty funny.  Once all five of us had found boots and skis, or snowboard for Jesse, that fit we hit the slopes, or kind of hobbled in our ski boots down to where the mud and ice stopped and the icy snow started. 

             Most Moroccans can’t ski, or just didn’t want to, so most of the people that were milling around were just playing in the snow, having snow ball fights and stuff, or were sledding down the hill in make shift sleds that were made out of what looked like a wooden crate with two sawed off skis nailed to the bottom.  Zero control on those things, and I saw numerous people go flying down the hill, yelling at people to get out of their way, or just taking them out at the bottom as if they were playing human sized bowling and they were the bowling ball.  It was also quite entertaining to watch those Moroccans who were brave enough to try skiing, out of control, not knowing how to stop really, crashing at the bottom in a heap of skis, poles and sometimes other people that they took out in the process. 

The whole “ski hill” came together into a big bowl with one short platter tow on the left side and a longer on going right to the top on the right hand side.  Doesn’t really matter that they were even there, because they weren’t functioning when we were ready to hit the slopes.  Later we figured out you have to go find the lift operator and sometimes pay him for every run that you want to do.  So being ignorant of that fact, we grabbed our skis and hiked up every time we wanted to get ten to fifteen seconds of down hill skiing in. 

I don’t think I need to say that we didn’t last all that long, but after a couple of hours we called it a day and decided not to punish our ankles anymore by hiking up the hill and retired our skis, boots and plastic bags for our shoes again.  It had still been pretty fun, the couple runs that we got in, and now we can tell people that we’ve gone skiing in Morocco, even if it wasn’t that impressive.  It’s just fun to hang out with friends too, so we grabbed a late lunch in the marche back in Ifrane before heading back to AUI.  

Thursday, 9 February 2012

February 3/4/5 2012 – Agadir/Marrakesh


Found in one of numerous little stores in the Marrakesh Medina

            Not going to lie, we didn’t really get a good start into our trip.  First of all, I didn’t really decide that I was going to go down south until Thursday morning; I was thinking of possibly going hiking with a couple others in Chefchaun, a bit north of here, but in the end changed my mind because it would be pretty cold up there still and I had a bit of a cold, so didn’t want it to get any worse, and warm weather was way more appealing than hiking in the cold at that moment.  Anyways, I finally decided to go south with the group that was going, so we went that Thursday afternoon to get our tickets. There were three of us who still needed to buy tickets, but we were told that there were only two seats left on the bus that everybody else had bought tickets on, heading down from Ifrane to Agadir.  So in the end we bought tickets for the bus traveling from Fes to Agadir, and would just have to get ourselves down to Fes by 6:30 on Friday.  So far not totally according to plan, but still ok. 

Friday we were going to meet at 4:30, grab a grand taxi and make it to the bus station in Fes with lots of time to spare, seeing as the ride down should, if everything goes well, take about an hour to an hour and a quarter or so.  Got off to a late start though, so didn’t actually end up leaving in our grand taxi until 5:15, which was going to be cutting things pretty close.  6:30 rolled around and we weren’t at the bus station yet, though we were already in Fes and should have been pretty close to it.  I was starting to think for a little bit there that we weren't going to make it and would have to come up with a secondary plan on what to do, though I didn't really know how many options we actually had at that moment.  Thankfully we’d paid our taxi fare before the trip started so we could just grab our bags and run into the bus station when we arrived at 6:33. The bus had already backed out of its stopping place and was ready to exit the compound when we finally caught up to it. Definitely got a lot of Moroccans to stare at us as we ran past, backpacks swinging around on our backs, but at the moment I couldn’t care less.  I just really wanted to get on that bus.  The prospect of spending the night somewhere in Fes or trying to catch a later bus ruining my long weekend, wasn’t all that appealing to me right then.   But we finally did make it onto the bus and were on our way before we had found seats to fall into.  The next 11 hours of the trip weren’t really all that exciting, though we did stop a couple of times.  I got out at a couple of the stops, once to go to the bathroom, which thankfully wasn’t too far into the trip, because nothing I could have done would have gotten me to Agadir without that bathroom break without something drastic happening I’m sure.  And another time around midnight, 1am or something, we grabbed something to eat to make due for the supper we never got and to last us until we got to Agadir. 
The sun rising just after we arrived in Agadir
            Finally around 5:45am or so, we pulled into Agadir, half asleep and slightly cold, but happy to finally be done with our bus ride.  We literally chilled at a small café that was open in the bus station, had some hot green tea and some kind of cheese sandwiches, before heading to find the beach.  The rest of the group that was coming down wouldn’t be arriving for a couple of hours and we didn’t just want to wait for them at the bus station. Once at the beach, which took us a lot longer to find than we thought it would, we just spread our towels out and tried to catch up on a bit of sleep that we missed over the last 12 hours.  I finally got a call after a couple of hours and was informed that the others had arrived a bit earlier and were already at the beach somewhere further along, so we grabbed our stuff and went off to find them.  They weren’t all that hard to find, a group of like 15 exchange students, some already wading around in the water while others were playing Frisbee on the beach.  We spent the whole morning and part of the afternoon just enjoying the beach, switching between playing Frisbee, sometimes with random Moroccans who joined in, building sand castles on the beach that we had to defend from attacks from the rising tide, and just lying around on our towels on the sand, soaking in the warmth of the sun.  It was perfect weather for sitting around doing things on the beach, probably around 20 – 25C or so, but not quite warm enough to go swimming, though that didn’t stop a few who were determined to jump in anyways and get a taste of the salt water.  Mid afternoon or so we packed up our things and headed towards the port where we found a small restaurant where we had fresh grilled fish and calamari, and fried shrimp and some other small fish that I don’t know the names of.  It was excellent fish and seafood, though the whole meal could have been vastly improved that they served us French fries or something alongside the fish, but were only given bread to eat besides the fish.  It was still good though, although slightly over priced I thought, but oh well.  I’m only in Agadir probably once, so I didn’t worry about it too much. 
The beach in Agadir
We then split up, the girls going to find the hotel where they were going to spend the night at, and the seven of us guys in the group headed to the apartment that Ahmed (one Moroccan guy in our group) had found through some kind of family connections for only 300Dhs per night, which worked out to be less than 50Dhs each.  A couple of the guys, particularly the French guy and Ahmed, started rolling and then smoking a couple of spliffs right away, with the chunk of kiff that they had bought somewhere in Fes, filling the main part of the apartment with sweet smelling smoke.  Dylan and I decided to go walk around for a bit in town.  We ended up calling the girls and went back to the apartment where we all went as a group up to the Kasbah, or old part of the city (the only part of the city that was left standing after an earth quake destroyed the rest of it in the 60s.) that was up on top of a hill on the edge of the city.  We had an awesome view of the whole beach and most of the city behind it, and stayed up there long enough to watch the sun set into the Atlantic Ocean.  It was pretty awesome, and we got a lot of good pictures at the top, with the view behind us and silhouette ones as the sunset.  We then split up and some went in search of alcohol, while the rest of us went out for supper. 
View of the beach from the Kasbah

Up near the Kasbah on the hill above the city of Agadir, taking advantage of the awesome view
We found this awesome restaurant, not a touristy place, but one where locals were all eating, so we knew that we were getting good food at reasonable prices.  And it was good food; we had lamb tagine and some French fries, with green tea to wash it all down with.  It was quite delicious.  After our meal we grabbed some taxis and headed back to the girls hotel where they had to get some stuff, before we walked back to the apartment where we were going to hang out for a bit for Corontont, the French guys birthday.  We ended up getting kind of lost, but not before we found a little patiserie where we had some pastries and fresh fruit smoothies, before heading out again in search of the apartment.  We thought we knew where it was, at least in the right general direction, but after wandering around for good while we decided it might be better to just call Ahmed and have him come pick us up form where we were.  We didn’t know where we were though, so in the end we gavethe phone to a random girl who was walking by who managed to get across to Ahmed where we were so that he could come pick us up in the car that he had rented when he got to Agadir.  So we finally made it all back to the apartment, though it took longer than we had planned it on taking. 

All that went down over the next couple of hours was people drank a bunch and those who smoked kept filling the room with smoke and got a couple of the others to try their self-rolled creations, but I past on both.  Most of them wanted to go out to a club later, but discovered that they were all closed due to its being the holiday weekend of Mohameds birthday, so they just stayed at the apartment.  I headed to bed though, around midnight or so, and let them drink and smoke.  Not exactly my idea of having an awesome time. 

            The next morning, I went with Dylan to the girl’s hotel, where we were able to grab some breakfast before heading off in search of a grand taxi.  We were originally going to travel to Essouaira for the day, before going to Marrakesh for the night, but after calculating how much more driving that would be, we figured it might just be best to head straight to Marrakesh, because we didn’t really get an early enough start to make it to both places in one day.  Found a grand taxi, squished ourselves into it, and headed off up to Marrakesh.  It actually wasn’t that bad of a drive, but would have been so much better if you’d had your own seat to enjoy it from, (sitting four across the back of the taxi isn’t too bad for about half an hour, but can get pretty uncomfortable after a couple of hours.) Thankfully we stopped after about two hours at a roadside restaurant and had something to eat there for a late lunch.  The six of us who were in our group got some sort of kebabs and a tagine to split, which was really good, and we left in slightly better spirits than when we had arrived at that place.  Slept, read and wished I wasn’t squished into the back of a crowded taxi for the next hour and a half until we finally reached Marrakesh where we unloaded ourselves and headed towards the Medina where we hoped to find a place to stay for the night.  With my lonely planet guidebook and the help of a “helpful” man who later demanded money for his services, we found a place to stay for the night down some back alleys in the Medina.  Got two triple rooms for the six of us.  Evan, who had spent the whole weekend so far in Marrakesh with the rest of the West point guys called us, and after getting our stuff into our rooms we went back out and met up with a couple of them in Jamaâ Al Fna, the big square that wasn’t too far away from our hotel.  It was around 5 or 6pm now, and the square was just packed.  It almost felt like some kind of food carnival was going on or something; little numbered stalls covered a good chunk of the square offering everything from freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice to spiced teas to snails to dried fruits and nuts, soups that you had to eat with massive wooden spoons, soft serve ice cream, tagines of all sorts, beef, lamb, brain, chicken, grilled fish and I’m sure a lot more that we didn’t even see or know what it was.  
Some of the numerous stalls that lined the square, Jamaa Al Fna (there were a lot more the night
before than there were in the morning when we went back)

           Everywhere you went, people tried to get you to eat at their respective little stalls, some accepting your refusal, or even cussing you out when you tried to politely say that you’d either eaten, or just didn’t want to eat there.  We spent the next couple of hours walking around the milling square and exploring the edges of the nearby Medina stores that surrounded the whole area, trying out the fresh orange juice, spiced tea, ice cream, and soup eaten with the massive wooden spoons by the time we left.  I also bought a Jelaba by the end of the evening as well. Brian, who was with us when we were poking around in the little shops, helped bargain the price down to something more reasonable than the guy was originally asking with his Arabic skills.  In the end most of the group went out to a club, but I didn’t really want to pay the 200Dhs cover charge that I would have had to pay, so I just went back to the hotel to sleep instead.  Walking back through the now half empty square and then through the little alleys of the Medina back to our hotel I realized how touristy I looked with my small backpack on and a shopping bag in my hand so I took out my Jelaba and pulled it on over everything, putting the hood up as well.  Not quite as bit of a target now that I just looked, hopefully, like any other Moroccan wearing a Jelaba.  Regardless of whether it helped or not I found my way back to the hotel safely without getting robbed or mugged and just crawled into bed with my Jelaba on, because it was so cold in the room when I got there.  There was nothing going in the way of heaters in any of the rooms so I figured I’d just wear my own heater to bed. The others got back somewhere around 4:30, so for the rest of the night I had to share the double bed that I was in with Dylan who was the only other guy in our group, but it wasn’t too bad and we slept until around 9:30 the next morning. 

            After looking around the Medina a bit more, eating chocolate covered milwee along the way for breakfast, (Milwee is some kind of fried layered dough thing, really good, and usually you can get different things to put on it or get cooked into it, like cheese, onions, eggs, onions, honey, chocolate spread, etc.).  Around noon we headed back to towards the train station to be there on time to catch our train at 1pm back to Meknes.  Right on schedule, to the minute, our train left and the next 7 hours were spent reading or trying to sleep, passing the hours slowly until we arrived in Meknes ready to be done with traveling for a little while.  But once again we had to pile into a grand taxi, 4 in the back and two in the front passenger seat for the drive back up to Ifrane where the cold weather was waiting for us again.  I don’t know if I’d call it lucky even though it did get us back to school faster, but our taxi driver drove like he was trying to race someone all the way back to Ifrane, reaching 145km per hour a number of times on the more straight stretches of the road. Thankfully only on the straight stretches of the road, thankfully there wasn’t too much other traffic on the roads, and thankfully we only hit fog when we were almost back at Ifrane, but we made it safely in the end, though slightly cold and stiff. 
Squished into our grand taxi on the ride from Agadir to Marrakesh
            It was definitely a good trip overall, though a lot of traveling in the space of only three days, so I think I’ll to go somewhere a bit closer next weekend, do a day trip to Fes or Meknes or something. We’ll see.  After a quick pizza for supper and a warm shower I was ready to get some sleep in my own bed to be ready for the rest of the week.  

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

First Couple of Weeks here at AUI:


This is where we went hiking, south of Azrou, in an area called Zuid-Ifrane

     So, for those of you who think that I’m not doing any school at all while I’m over here, I’m just letting you know that I am.  Not a huge work load, that’s for sure, but I am now in my second week of classes, though start thinking of where I want to travel to the next weekend, usually starting on Mondays. Ha

     It’s crazy that the first two weeks here at Al Akhawayn University are already past.  Not going to lie, orientation wasn’t all that fun the whole time, but there were some parts that didn’t make me want to go to sleep right away where I was sitting, and I did get to meet all the other exchange students, the ones who I’ll be with along with Moroccans for the next four months.  Orientation also included filling out a bunch of forms for our residency cards, which is nice, because now we don’t have to do anything else about that anymore, just go pick up our passports when they’re done. So the entire weekend wasn’t totally wasted.
     
     One nice thing that they did do though, well kind of did. It was organized for us, and we paid our own way, was to take us, using grand taxis, down to Azrou which is about 30 minutes south of Ifrane.  It was a really cool little town, actually slightly bigger than Ifrane I was told.  We spent 4, 5 hours or so on the Sunday during orientation, and were able to see another little corner of Morocco and taste some more of their good food at a little restaurant place our group descended upon for lunch.  It was really good food. We had what they called keefta, or ground beef kebabs with some kind of spices in them, stuffed into a half circle of bread, along with amazing French fries.  They actually tasted like real potato, and were quite delicious with salt and a bit of red peper or some sort sprinkled over top of them.  A little group of us even managed to get a bit of hiking in during that afternoon when we ditched the rest of our group and hiked up through the houses until they ended and then up into the forest a bit until we had an awesome view of the city.  Overall it was a pretty fun day.  A good way to get to know some of the other exchange students as well, especially in the grand taxis on the way there and back, squished 4 in the back seat and two in the passenger seat in the front of an ancient Mercedes that sounded ready to fall apart at every little bump in the road.  Our particular Mercedes on the way down had around 550,000km to its name and had the drivers shade thing stapled into place, it was awesome. And you couldn’t open the doors from the inside on the passengers’ side. Where the handle should have existed, or did in past years, was now no more than home to a couple of random wires and electrical tape.  To say nothing more, I can’t wait until my next trip in a grand taxi. 
In Azrou on our little trip that we took during orientation
      Classes started on Monday the 23rd, but I didn’t actually get all the classes that I was going to take finalized until Thursday, so I kind of went around not sure about things. In the end though I think I figured things out for the better or worse, and ended up with 4 classes, cultural geography, history of the Arab world, History and Culture of the Berber, and a French class.  They’ve all been pretty interesting so far, and I’ve really enjoyed the French class over these first two weeks as well, so I’m happy about that. I’m hoping I’ll be able to learn a good amount of French while I’m here. History of the Arab world is a bit of a dysfunctional class some days.  Today, two guys were supposed to give a presentation on the specific chapter that we are working through in the book. It was supposed to be 10-12 minutes, or so they were told, but it was more than half an hour before they finally came to the end. The professor told them it was way too long on the spot in front of everybody and even said that a bunch of the time they were just repeating what they had already said. In some ways I like the class, I find it pretty interesting, learning about the rise of Islam and the different factors that contributed to that, and the professor can get really excited about the topic when he’s lecturing, but he can be a bit blunt sometimes.  He also refuses anyone to leave the room during his lectures. One guy got up the other day, probably to go use the washroom or something, and was promptly told to sit back down again and that he couldn’t leave the classroom.  No freedom here. Anyways, I’m glad my presentation isn’t due until week 8, so I can sit through a couple more and figure out what to do and what not to do when my turn comes.

     History of the Berber is taught by a short little, half bald Berber man, who, in the first lecture, told us that calling the Berbers, “Berbers” is what we would call politically incorrect today. They are technically known as Amazighen, and we’re not allowed to call them Berbers in that class anymore.  So much for the name of the course. I’m pretty sure that instead of just teaching us the history and culture of the berber, or Amazighen, the professor is set on having us reading and writing in Amazighen by the end of the semester.  He’s constantly writing stuff in Amazighen on the board and telling us how to pronounce the words in class, almost as if it was a language course and not a history course. He even sent us the Amazighen alphabet, so that we could learn to write our names in Amazighen.  It’s actually pretty cool.

     The food here isn’t really that bad either.  From all the stories that I’ve heard from others living in dorms, I was expecting something along the lines of MRE food, or those German rations that we had in Kabul a couple times that were super processed and about ten years old, but so far I haven’t really had much to complain about concerning the food except that sometimes its almost cold.  There’s 4 different places where you can eat on campus, a grille, where they serve burgers, fries, paninis, etc, a pizzaria that serves different types of pizza as well as spaghetti and some other pastas. There’s a café where you can get little snacks, such as heavenly chocolate crepes that are quite the snack if you’re feeling down, or just want a lot of chocolate in your system, and then there’s the main restaurant that has a variety of different meals available depending on the day, Moroccan and other.  And there’s also awesome chocolate and caramel, (not together, but they have both flavours) puddings that are quite good to end a meal with and not even that expensive, which might prove a problem after I eat too many of them, but for now I’m enjoying them immensely.

On the edge of the Plateau that we hiked up on to, looking out over the Zuid-Ifrane valley. 
     Actually went on another trip already last weekend with a group of ten others down south of Azrou to where we hiked to some waterfalls, which was really neat.  It was a pretty awesome day, complete with having breakfast and then a really late lunch in a local Amazighen house, that our guide took us too.  Really good food, served in two communal dishes with lots of bread to eat it with.  It was a good time.  We finished off the day by going to find some monkeys in a cedar forest, where I guess they just wait for the tourists to come feed them.  Quite the greedy little things, pretty much grab anything that was edible out of your hands eat part of it and then grab for more, but they were pretty cool.  It was a good trip all around, and I can’t wait to do more like it in the future.
     
The day after it snowed, on our way to the main gates where we caught our van to go hiking. 
The last couple of days have been like this, super blue skies.
     So, things are going pretty well over here in Morocco, nicely settled into my dorm room by now, and have even done laundry since getting here too, so I guess that makes me fully settled in.  It was nice though, the semi weekly cleaning of our dorm rooms happened today, so after lunch I walked into a cleaner room than I had left. It’s quite a novel thing, having someone else clean your room for you, or most of it.  Something to look forward to every two weeks. Ha but for the most part we keep the room pretty clean, so it’s not too bad.  We actually got a big dump of snow on friday, making our world all white for about 24 hours, but it all melted really fast, and the last couple of days have been super nice, blue skies with absolutely no clouds. I can't wait until the days are warmer to stay.  Sadly though I have some homework that I have to get done, so this will have to be all until next time. I’m sure I’ll have had some more adventures until then, so will have more to write about then anyways.