The last 4 days have been an absolute blast, it feels like somewhat of a dream but at least a good dream. Thursday night I was busy packing and getting ready for the trip and at the same time working on a project that was due today. We were scheduled to leave around 5 am on Friday, I believe I went to bed around 2:00 or that same morning. So after only 2 hours I was waking up and showering. I was so tired! Everyone looked like zombies (pretty much our look for the weekend because of all the traveling and time spent on the bus). Our bus left at 5am or so (we had to pick up some people who almost missed the bus!) and made a 5 hour trip to Tarifa stopping only twice for some food. Everyone was munching down on there bocadillos or just staring off in space, we had no idea how much of the trip we still had left! We boarded our ferry, the Tangier Jet, at 11:00am. I was worried about getting seasick so I took several dramanine and took my seat on the ferry. The ferry was organized like an actual jet, with seating and beverages, etc. It was only a 35 min ferry ride over to Tangier and I slept most of the way. I was excited to step foot in Africa for the first time.
Our bus came with us on the ferry, it was our transportation in Morocco. Our fist order of business was to meet our tour guide and exchange currency from Euros to the local Dirham (about 11 dirham equal 1 Euro or 7 Dirham to the dollar). Our tour guide was named Jonas, he also had a companion whom we just called GPS because he was there solely for the purpose of helping our bus driver (from Spain) navigate in Morocco. Jonas began the trip by explaining several of the sites near Tangier, palaces and some of the general customs in Morocco. We made our way up to a faro or light house and we're able to get a clear panoramic of the straight of Gibraltar. From there we made our way down to the hercules caves (where it was said Hercules rested before doing his tasks...in greek mythology)... from there we made an hour or so drive to have a typical Lunch on a town near the Atlantic Ocean. We were all in for a surprise, though most of us had prepared ourselves for strange foods.... The meal consisted of fresh fish from the Atlantic, literally placed in a fryer whole and then straight to our plates. Along with Octopus and calamari rings, YUM! One girl on our trip was laughing so hard at the food that she started to cry, then she actually started to cry. I couldn't really stomach much of the food but I tried. I was hoping that this wasn't going to be every meal. After lunch we jumped back on the dreadful bus and drove for another 5 hours to our stay over in Meknes. I slept for most of the way but every time I woke up on the bus I saw new and exciting views and some shocking ones as well. A lot of what I saw was farms and small towns where donkeys were the trucks the cars and basically essential to life. Once the sun set I was kept up by the drivers constant yelling and honking. Several times on the narrow, pitch black, windy roads we almost hit other cars or visa versa. We arrived at the hotel tired and cramped but compliments to AIFS for finding us a great hotel in Meknes. This hotel was decorated in traditional arabic tiling and served us an amazing dinner!! The rooms were comfortable and roomy and the shower felt great. I was in Africa but all I could think about was getting some sleep! I fell asleep at 11:30, and dreamed of what the next day would bring when the sun rose in Mekenes.
I slept like a log that night and the next day I felt a little more refreshed, I opened my window and took my first look at Meknes (it had been dark when we had arrived). It looked like a giant forest had grown around a city. It was dry and fairly gray with green splotches scattered about the landscape. Every once and a while the level horizon was broken by a tall tower, the minarets of the mosques. I was in Africa. Break fast that morning was interesting. It was mostly bread, bread made in about 6 different forms but all still bread. I had fresh squeezed orange juice (which made my day) and flat type of bread that was kind of flakey but tasted pretty good with some butter and jam. After filling up on carbs and starch I ran off to shower and pack. The tour of the city that day took up most of the morning. We got some great views of the city and its different sections from afar and then we proceeded to traverse the inner sections. We visited one of the few mosques that non-islamic people could actually enter since it had been turned into more of a monument (there were also several tombs of past monarchs there and from what I understood it is forbidden to practice in such a mosque). We were able to enter, still removing our shoes out of respect and get a look inside. The architecture was absolutely astonishing!! We were able to also walk through a market that day and get a look at what goes on there. I wish I could have gotten a picture of before and after. Let me try to paint it for you. Before: Everyone was smiling and pointing... After: Every one was still laughing but their hand had now moved to their noses. The market in general wasn't that bad, fruit and all sort of food. There were A LOT of bees in there swarming to all of the dulces and it was a tad bit smelly but I think what really got people was when we walked into the meat section of the market. Cow heads and vendors skining the animals right next to the meat they were selling that was just sitting out in the open. It was fresh that was for sure, you could see the blood droplets still on the meat. It smelled awful, and I've had my fair share of smells. In Northern Minnesota deer hunting wasn't much better. I've had to gut and butcher deer and I can tell you that it is not a pretty site to see or to smell. Here though it was different, there were dozens of stores packed into this market with narrow winding paths. The smell was just so strong in there!!
I'll admit that I had to cover my nose, but as Jonas explained it wasn't a bad thing. They had super markets there but why go to a supermarket when you could just get fresh, literally fresh, meat. It was just something that made sense to the people there. We toured Meknes for about 5 hours that day, ate lunch, returned to the hotel for bathrooms and then got on the bus for a ride to Fez. The us ride only took an hour or so and during the trip I was able to get Jonas to write my name in Arabic for me. He also explained some facts about daily life in Morocco. For example, in the schools they taught language at a young age. They taught French (mandatory) and then you had the choice of what you wanted to learn after that. Most of the population spoke Berber, French and at lest two others. German, Spanish were common and I forgot to mention that English was also mandatory. Kids would walk up to us on the street and speak to us in French, Berber, English, Spanish, or sometimes Arabic (depending on where we were). That day in Fez I remember our Fez guide, Habibi, telling us that in the market places you could find vendors that could communicate in almost every major language there was. Habibi was an interesting and fantastic guide. He knew so much about the city it astonished me. He took us through the market and every person that he met he knew. Not only did he know them he knew everything about them. In that market alone there were 4,000 streets all winding and moving throughout the mini city/medina. He knew everyone there by their voice and made frequent stops to talk to them. He was greeted at every corner and had an amazing talent to make every one we walked past laugh. His favorite joke was to walk up behind a car or bike and pretend to pull the air cap off of the tire, while doing so he made a hsssing sound making it appear as if he was letting the air out of the tire. This usually caused the owner of the bike, car or wagon to turn around suddenly. Once they saw it was Habibi though they broke out into laughter!! That night we just made our way into the massive market to a see a Jalaba (traditional dress) shop and to shop for clothes for that nights traditional dinner. Most of the girls and guys in the group, including me, purchased one. We had to barter for the cloaks because well that was just the way it was done there. They say a price and you say something that is 40% off of that then you barter and meet halfway. Some people didn't get the concept and others got it too well. I didn't want to rip the vendors off but I didn't want to get overcharged either. They were hand made and took sometimes several months to make. Most of the jalabas were going for 40-30 euros. I mean the sellers were asking 60-80 euros for them but that was like 100 some dollars. I was able to get mine for only 25 euros. I was lucky. I had forgotten to bring more than 25 euros with me. The seller and I bartered for a long long time. And finally he said 30 was his last offer. I only had 25 and he agreed that that was okay. What a deal. He seemed okay with it. That night they had just hit the jackpot on tourists. I don't think they were complaining. Later on in the trip my bartering skills improved and I found some really good deals. As for that night though I was just excited to dress up in the Jalaba (which looked a lot like the star wars cloaks) and go to dinner.