where we've been and where we're going

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Okay. I'll do better. I'm going to finally finish our Moroccan trip and then update on smaller trips we've taken throughout the year. Sorry.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Castle Made of Sand

So we didn't see the actual castle. But we were near it.

After dawn broke over the wedding, we took a taxi back to Casablanca, from where we took a Moroccan bus to Essaouira. This was a five hour bus ride, but the bus ride was a mess. It was an old bus, but functional, and open windows made it pleasant to ride in. However, it was smelly, and it was very sketchy. We stopped very often, picking up passengers on the side of the road, and it looked like the driver was stopping to run his errands all the way there. A mess. And we were so exhausted that it made the process kind of stressful, but really it wasn't as bad as our flight experience, in proper perspective.

Essaouira is a beautiful city on the Atlantic Ocean, where Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, and Bob Dylan have all lived or vacationed. Most of the buildings are white, against a blue sky and a blue sea, with palm trees and a gorgeous white sand beach...a person couldn't ask for much more. And while the latitude we were on should have meant it was VERY hot, the position of Essa makes it a wonderfully sunny but 75 degrees cool. It was perfect. Unfortunately, we were so exhausted we didn't see anything that first day. N had arranged for an apt there (rather than a hotel...it was wonderful and super cheap!), and once we arrived, we laid down for a nap at 6pm at woke up at 830am. Whew.

We woke in the morning and headed out for breakfast, which we ate on the open Plaza Moulay Hassan near the marina. We had lovely Moroccan mint tea and omelettes and crepes and squeezed orange juice and the like. Afterward, we walked around the medina and shopped...mostly looking rather than buying...to see what was out there. Terracotta wares, rugs, clothing, silver, art, beauty products, leather, thuya woodworking, lanterns, stoneware...you name it and it can be found there. And for cheaper than in Marrakech, the location of a more famous medina.

We walked around the medina and port for a little while, with Darick taking hundreds of photos for painting references, and then we had lunch at the fish grills around the square. These little shops buy fish fresh caught that day from the port, line the seafood in a row, and then you point to the very fish you want to eat. They grill it up and you eat it. The freshness of the seafood was really wonderful. And we had so much fish!! It was quite a delicious (and messy) adventure. Note the photos of our lunch before and after.

To walk off our big lunch, we walked along the beach for a few hours. Darick went into the water and reported it was much too cold for swimming, though that never stops the 14 and under crowd. We, however, laid ont he beach for a while. The unique geographical position, mentioned earlier, keeps the city cool, but the beach very windy, which makes it ideal for windsurfers but not for loungers. So we walked instead of bathing.If you walk far enough, you come upon men with camels and horses who would love to take your money to let you ride their animals along the beach. This sounds romantic, but not for us, so we walked back toward the center of town and had a drink overlooking a makeshift soccer pitch on the beach.

After a rest in the apt, we went to a bar, Taros Cafe, which is a rooftop bar overlooking the square, the medina, the ocean, everything. From there, we watched the sunset and drank expensive drinks in order to stay for the show, which is why we had come in the first place. Essa is known for Gnaoua music, which is a Moroccan style of music involving cymbals, a stringed instrument, and wild jumping and dancing. Our photos of this didn't turn out, but N's were great. It was really a fantastic concert. The bar is expensive, but worth it. We finished the night with kebabs for dinner, and who can beat that? Love me some shawarma.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Moroccan Wedding

After lunch, we checked out of the hotel and took a harrowing taxi ride to the Gare Jelel, to then catch a grand taxi to Ben Ahmed, where our friend (well, my cousin's friend) lives and works. Grand taxis are the workhorse of the Moroccan public transportation system. You pay for your place in the sedan-like vehicle, usually a Mercedes from the 80s, and when the taxi is full (6 people plus the driver in a car built for 5), you head toward your destination. So I basically sat on Darick's lap for an hour drive to Ben Ahmed, in a very hot car with some very smelly men.

After some phone trouble and some hassle, N's fiance, I, found the only Westerners at the taxi stand and took us back to N's apt to hang out until her hair was done. He made us Moroccan tea and we lounged and napped for a few hours before heading to the wedding of I's good friend, Youssif. Youssif was so kind as to invite us to come to the wedding party with N and I—apart from us four, the wedding guests were all family.

Moroccan weddings last from around 11 pm or midnight until sunrise. We hung out with family members until the party started at 11, when N and I put on our borrowed Moroccan wedding clothes. Youssif and his family and in-laws were so kind and
welcoming to us! They fed us tea and cookies and invited us to be around them. We were seated at the guest table, and the bride's uncle, Hajj, kept handing us the best parts of the meat, insisting we kept eating. Family members grabbed us and kept pushing us to the front of crowds to see the action more clearly. Youssif's mother held my hand and made sure I felt comfortable. All of this and everyone spoke little or no English, or even French. It was wonderful.

And the party was wild! There was a band of women playing Berber music (Berbers are the original Moroccans) and great dancing, particularly by the women in their beautiful wedding clothes. The bride and groom parade into the party, dressed to the nines, and they sit in this chariot-like thing. They carry the bride around in it over their shoulders, and then the bride and groom sit in these silver and gold thrones so that everyone can have their picture taken with them. Then they exit, the bride changes into a new dress, and the parade begins again. She wore six dresses that night. Somewhere in the middle, we all stop for dinner, which is tagines eaten Moroccan style—communal, and with our hands.

It was crazy, and so much fun. People kept pulling us back up to dance again. At one point, the electricity went out for an hour, and we had to run the party on generators! By late morning, I was exhausted and crashed on a couch, but the party didn't end until breakfast was served around seven am. All weddings should be that fun.