22 October 2010

Like the Hat

Fes was our first foray into a large Moroccan city and it didn't disappoint.  We stopped first at a pottery where we saw them throwing Tagines (the dish of the national dish) and more importantly (or dear to my heart) they were making the most beautiful mosaic tables I'd seen.  The work was so labor intensive and amazing I could have stayed all day watching them make them.
After a couple of other stops at an overlook and the royal palace, we headed into the Medina (or old part of town) where an enormous variety of goods, meats, and materials can be purchased.  Fes was founded in 789 and still boasts the oldest functioning university, located right in the city center.  We were led through the souks (market stalls) in the medina as there are thousands of roads in this area that are largely unmarked and very narrow. It was a feast for the eyes, ears, and nose to wander through the medina here.  We saw many, many merchants selling textiles, leather, meat, food, fresh fruit and veg, live chickens, and probably anything else one could think of.  We had to listen for oncoming 'traffic' in the forms of donkeys and mules.  We were told that having a donkey in this area was as valuable as a truck, as they are used to to transport purchased goods to the main part of the city.  As we neared it, the smell of the leather tannery wafted through the narrow streets.  When we arrived, we retreated to an upstairs viewing area after we each received a fresh sprig of mint to guard against the smell. 
The sight before us were many tanning and dying pits used to treat the leather.  All around these, hung out of windows, or laid on rooftops, hides dried in the afternoon sun.  It was easily the most strange site I have beheld, and I was eager to join the brave souls on our trip to get a look at the area on street level.  Not wanting to know what was beneath our feet, we headed down to the pits, equal parts admiring and ogling at the many workers standing waist deep in the muck and the dye, and the skins.  It was nothing short of amazing.

When we had our fill (which didn't take long) we headed back through the souks clinging to the smells of fresh bread and spices enticing us away from the insanity of the tannery.  The whole area is difficult to describe.  It was labyrinthine, confusing, and busy to the point of chaos.
Everything I saw was equal parts fascinating, disgusting, and entertaining.  I could have spent days wandering the streets there, but I fear that is what would have happened if I had become separated from the group.

21 October 2010

Far from Home

From the moment I stepped off of the ferry in Morocco, I felt conspicuous, confused, lost, and nervous for the first time in my travels.  I had to walk about a half a mile to my meeting point and I spent most of the time getting there refusing help from a great number of local 'tour guides' who could offer me...well, anything I wanted really.  Especially a hotel room, a personal tour, or the location of the nearest cash point.  One guy followed me to the nearest ATM, pointed it out to me and said "Don't you want to get some money out?"  Haha, really, does that work on people?  Another guy literally ran after me to ask if I needed somewhere to stay.  There are only so many times I can politely refuse things.  But Morocco has a way of testing that type of patience and I was just getting my first taste of it.  Happily, I found the meeting point, clamored into an 80's Mercedes taxi, and, clutching my backpack and hoped fervently that it would take me to the right place.
It did, and my adventure had begun.
There were 24 on the trip and we rode in our trusty steed, an enormous overland Merc, that would essentially be our home for the next fortnight.  It held our food, our tents, our belongings, and would take us many miles throughout the country.
Our first stop was in Chefchaouen (chef-showen (kind of)) a city of about 35k founded in 1471.  It was open to tourists only in 1956 after Moroccan independence.  It is a charming place with brightly blue colored buildings throughout the old town and our tour somehow felt obtrusive as we wound through less touristy back streets admiring the bright blue buildings, and amused by local children who delighted in our presence.
It was a great, relaxed day here complete with dinner in the city center that evening.
We set up our first camp and much to my surprise/delight were were camping in a proper camp site which was an experience in itself.  Throughout the trip we reveled in finding actual toilets, getting the key to the one hot shower, and sleeping on the 'nice' cots.
The next day we went to Volubilis, a Roman outpost dating from the 3rd century BC.  It is fairly well preserved and has most of the modern amenities typical of Roman life.  A brothel, for example.  More importantly, it has some spectacular and very well preserved mosaics which are worth the trip.


In the afternoon we arrived in Fes and I had my evening of 'unwellness' which unfortunately robbed me of a five course dinner.  Oh well.

20 October 2010

So,

I should probably start blogging again. Sorry It's been a while with narry a mention of Morocco details, what I'm up to now, or general belly-aching about how things are weird and different and my complete loss of the ability to make long term life decisions.

What I have done is get rehired at work, woot! I start back on Monday and I am looking forward to being a semi productive member of society again. Secretly, I'm a little nervous and not totally looking forward to feeling like a stupid noob again. But I doubt it will last past the first shakey-handed IV start. Like riding a bike...I hope.
Oh, and speaking of that, I took the bike out on ten miles of our old route and it was awesome! I was reminded just how crap my crap bike was. The kayaks got a work out today too, which was amazing. It took me a few minutes to remember how I got it on my roof, but after that it was all good. The weather has been unusually cooperative, and I am hoping to squeeze as many autumnal outdoor sports activities in the next couple of weeks as possible.
But enough about that- back to Morocco.

18 October 2010

A little bit of both

It is difficult to describe the feelings of joy, excitement, sadness, and utter weirdness I have felt over the last week. I finally arrived back in London after a tiring couple of days traveling and living like a hobo.  I felt such comfort and contentedness when I arrived, and I headed to my friends house, reunited with my suitcases, and overjoyed to stretch out on a proper bed.
The next day, I absorbed my Morocco souvenirs into my suitcases, barely keeping them under the allotted 23kgs. 10 lbs of chocolate seriously doesn't help. And all of it is to give away.  Most of it. Some of it.  A few pieces.
I spent part of the afternoon checking up on my favorites in the National Gallery.  Then I met my cousin which was super weird as we usually only meet once a year at Christmas.  But it was really awesome to catch up and exchange our love of all things British.  It felt as though it had been far longer than a month since I left Coventry as I met a couple of cov peeps and  headed out for dinner to catch up on our four weeks apart.  (How will we feel when years have passed?!)

I was, of course, very sad to leave England, but I felt ready to get back to the 'real world' and definitely missed people here and work (I know, it's sad).  On Thursday I basically wanted to cry the entire day from parting with the tube to parting with my friend who is irreplaceable and more kind to me than I deserve.  I didn't have long to wait which was probably a good thing, and made the last calls with my UK phone.  I'll keep it, maybe it will come in handy in years to come.  If I need a flashlight.

It was a very tolerable flight with plenty to eat and thankfully good company.  I wanted to sob with excitement for the last hour, and happily, the lady next to me was so nice and chatty, the time flew by.  When we landed I tried to remain calm and not make any national security incidents, but I seriously wanted to run through the airport like a maniac.  The absolute joy of seeing both of my bags emerge from the depths to the luggage carousel was nearly unparalleled as I prayed not to be secondarily searched (as this would have taken hours with over 100lbs of luggage).  I happily presented my landing card and suddenly found myself searching through the sea of people at the arrivals gate.  It was an immensely happy reunion with balloons, signs, gifts, and tears.  Who cares about luggage?

It is a few days later and the surreal but nice feeling has not worn off.  The strangeness piled up as I felt culture shocked in my own country.  "Do you see how big that truck is?  I mean seriously?!"
I ate at Chick-Fil-A, shopped at Target and skipped through Walmart wanting to shout "You're so American!" at everyone (in the most endearing way possible).  Also, I'm glad to have hulu back and caught up on 30 Rock right away.  And Pandora is my new DJ.  Seriously, the UK needs these things!

I was reunited with my truck and happily reminded myself how to drive and get around my city (which hasn't changed much).  With much trepidation I pulled into traffic, and am beginning to look the right (actually left) way first.  Singing in the car was something I truly missed. 

With a fair amount of dread I entered where all of my things are stored and pawed through for a while to find my kayak paddle.  Priorities, man.  Hopefully this weekend I'll get some time on the water and enjoy this glorious fall weather.  I found my work clothes too, and truly had to search for my stethoscope, but I am ready and all but rehired and learned today I won't have to suffer through orientation again, woot!

So, "happy to be back" barely describes the feeling.  I am excited and overwhelmed and stoked to find somewhere to live and get back to work and feel like a functioning member of society again.  My friend asked me if I had 'gotten it out of my system.'  For now...

When I fly, I like to ask my seatmate if they are going home or leaving home. For this trip, my answer was a little bit of both.

09 October 2010

The little things

I am back in Spain, fresh(ish) from a fortnight in Morocco, a little more tan, a little more blonde, and a lot wiser on all things Moroccan.  More details will undoubtedly be spilled here in coming weeks, once I am more organized. But for now I can tell you how much Morocco made me appreciate little things.  Little things like modern plumbing, toilet paper, soap, and quite simply, toilets.  Any combination of these (or all) were conspicuous in thier non existance throughout our stay, which sometimes made that rather mundane aspect of life amusing and adventurous. 

Additionally, I never fully appreciated going into a shop, being left alone, browsing in peace, and having clear prices.  Like bathroom essentials, all of these shopping elements were conspicuous in thier non existance.  I have never been so popular in my life, being constantly bothered to buy things in Morocco.  "Just have a look", "to look is free", "no price is fixed", "what's your best price", "I'll give you good price" and the like.  Over and over again.  It is impossible to walk down the street let alone browse, and it is impolite not to haggle.  By the end of our day in Marrakech, I was weary of asking people to take a picture of their amazing shops, and quite enjoyed watching people bargain, as it truly is a game there.  Now that I'm back in Europe, I am still in a bargaining mood. Fixed prices are so boring.  And expensive.

Anyway, it is great to be in a place with proper beds, hot showers, and toilets, blessed toilets!  More updates to come, but for now, I am ready to stretch out on my luxuious bottom bunk and take a calm day to enjoy Grenada.