Our one and only port in Africa; Morocco is an amazing blend of city, slum, culture and religion. It took a grand total of about 27 minutes for me to fall in love with this port. I was so shocked by how different it is from all the other ports and how it was a genuine foreign country to me. The other places had their moments too, especially Istanbul, but Morocco was just so much more different. It wasn’t a place you could feasibly go on a tropical vacation for a week like the other ports.
Anyway, here’s why I fell in love with Casablanca and Marrakesh: On the first day, me and a couple friends just walked around downtown Casablanca. We found a little bazaar area and checked out the awesome drums, outfits, etc. they had first. So, remember the whole “man this place has crazy awesome places to shop and barter” from my Istanbul? Well, the Wal-Mart that is Morocco makes Turkey look like the Container Store. Bad simile aside, the products, prices and ability we had to bargain in Morocco blew every other country out of the water.
So, after the bazaar, we met a couple locals who brought us to their rug shop and did the typical sales pitch where they serve tea and sweet talk us into trying to buy their 1,000 dirham rugs. Not happening. But they were really cool guys and cordially invited us to “get high like bird” with them later that night. Okay then. The rest of the day consisted of visiting the huge mosque in Casablanca that is brand new and absolutely gorgeous, then heading back to the ship for the night to pack for Marrakesh in the morning!
But, before we could do that, my roommate convinced me to go back to the mosque later that night to see the evening prayer for Ramadan. I could not be happier that I went. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. They all lined up facing Mecca and the overflow outside the mosque was enormous. Thousands upon thousands of people crowded around and praying in unison to this booming, beautiful prayer. Also, while we were waiting, a bunch of little local kids came and started messing with us and taking pictures with us. They absolutely love taking pictures and seeing pictures of themselves, which got our group to thinking that a Polaroid camera (if they were still being made) would be a perfect gift for a child in another country.
The next morning I went alone for a bit downtown in Casablanca, to buy train tickets for Marrakesh and just explore on my own for the first time on the trip. It was actually really rewarding having no distractions and doing whatever I wanted in such a foreign place. I had to run across streets, dodge traffic and find my way around unfamiliar streets. I had two locals approach me at one point when I was waiting to cross the street and was a bit nervous until they asked in French if I was American. When I said “oui,” they shook my hand, smiled and said “Welcome!” in a thickly-accented excitement.
Another thing I forgot to mention about Morocco is that it was the first time I got to use a language I learned in school. The primary language there is Arabic, but there is also a huge presence of French because of the former colonizing of the region by France. That was really fun for me trying to converse with the people of Morocco (and I’ll admit, I was shaky at first but got pretty comfortable with it again by the end!). On the train that night, I spoke enough French to accept an invitation to share an authentic Ramadan meal with two gentlemen in our cabin, thank them and find out where they were from.
That night, we got to our ghetto little riad (hostel, basically…) and immediately went to check out the medina/main square of Marrakesh. It was really cool at night – there were monkeys, cobra charmers, tons of drum circles and all sorts of cool street shows going on.
The second day in Marrakesh, we went back to the main square and shopped around a little bit, before grabbing a horse and buggy and taking it out to La Palmerie, (palm groves, basically) and going on a 30-minute camel trek! It was very hot, loud and smelly, but it was so much fun and such a cool experience! My camel’s name was LuLu and our guide was very friendly despite the language barrier. That night, we had drinks on the outdoor terrace of our riad (the place was nice, but the area was scary…unfortunately, we took a better price to sacrifice A/C in our riad. It was about 100 degrees every night in our room! And at least 105 outside!) before going back to the square and meeting some friends to go out to a club. The club we ended up at is closed during Ramadan, but the bar was still open and it was an awesome place! Maybe you’ve heard of Pacha? It’s supposedly the 2nd-largest club in all of Africa!
On our third day in Marrakesh, we signed up for a day trip through the owner of our riad that took us to a Berber village (the indigenous population in Morocco are called Berbers) in the Atlas Mountains. We went on a waterfall hike and spent the day wandering around the village. It was a really incredible experience for our last day in any port on Semester at Sea. We met a couple from Spain and another from England who were all very nice and came on the trip with us. Also, it was our last night – so we tried to do it big, went back to Pacha, drank in the medina, etc.
Overall, Morocco was an absolutely perfect ending (in fact, in my English class the next day when my professor had us go around the room and say two words to describe the port of Casablanca, my choice was “perfect, ending”) to an unforgettable, life-changing trip. It was one of my favorites, if not the favorite port for me on this trip and I really cannot wait to come back and explore it more in depth.