World Map of My Route

World Map of My Route
Fall Semester 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010


So you can fall in love in Spain, but I fell in love WITH Morocco. Where to begin?


I was fortunate enough to link up with Sara, a native of Morocco who was adopted as a child by a Peace Corp volunteer and raised in America. That morning, Sara gave a comprehensive overview and customs briefing to the entire shipboard community. I’ve been encouraging her to try her hand in travel writing. Her presentation was rather captivating/humorous, as anyone who witnessed it would agree.

We disembarked at 0900 after breakfast on the ship and set out into the city of Casablanca. We decided to trek it rather than taking a taxi, hoping to get a better feel for the country. We walked probably two miles approaching a decadent mosque. We just happened to port on Ramadan. One might compare this day to Christmas in the US. If Muslim countries are strict, generally speaking, on Ramadan they outdo themselves. It was entertaining to see the get-ups that SAS girls threw together to make sure hair, shoulders and legs were covered while combating 90* weather. Toward the front of the mosque we found masses of locals, mainly filthy children, jumping into even filthier waves off the giant stonewalls. I struck up a conversation with a man watching the chaos and much to my surprise was able to communicate quite coherently. I could feel my years of French studies flowing back into my brain and somehow out of my mouth in response to his rapid-fire words. The primary language of Morocco is French, secondary Arabic and as you approach the Atlas Mountains, Berber- a language unique to the indigenous peoples or “gypsies” of North Africa. This makes for, in my opinion, an interesting mix of language.

As we circled the mosque, taking photos and admiring the intricately colored tiles I stepped aside to breathe for a second. Sitting on the stairs looking around I met eyes with an adorable I’d say 3-year-old boy. I smiled and spoke to him in simple French assuming he was likely fluent in Arabic. He ran to his fathers’ side, ducking behind him out of my view. His dad leaned down, and whispered something in his ear, pointing my way. The little guy bashfully shakes his head, no way! His dad whispered something to him again and this time, to my surprise, he comes running toward me. At this point I’m not entirely sure what to do so I just keep smiling, anticipating what might come next….he gets up on his tip toes and plants the sweeeeetest cold little kiss on my cheek! He runs back toward his dad, again, hiding behind him. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the most incredible feeling. I pushed my sunglasses down over my eyes and stared at the ground (tears, what tears?). Apparently a lot of my friends witnessed this special moment. Someone even happened to have their camera ready and captured the kiss ☺

We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking the city, waiting to break the Ramadan fast with locals at a authentic little restaurant. I mentioned to our server how much I loved the glass tea cups. At the end of the meal he approached me asking “blue or green?” green is my favorite color, when I told him this he proceeded to wrap up a cup and place it in my hands. I tried to offer him money but he refused. “No, no! Just remember me. It is a gift…un cadeaux!” he kept repeating. Of course, I will.

10. Trust the “time”
9. Eat the ice! You’ll get sick! 
8. Forget to tell SAS where you will be on 9/11
7. Let bugs hang out in your ear
6. Put the scarves on your head! You’ll get lice!
5. Forget toilet paper (they wipe with their left hand)
4. Dance with you pashmina off in front of an all-men café
3. Shake hands in greeting with your left hand
2. Wear and Ibiza mank-top to a Berber village
1. Eat with your left hand

DAY TWO/THREE- Camel trek in the Sahara

Hopped a train to Marrakech, rode standard class to again maximize our time interacting with locals. Had my first encounter with Moroccan bathrooms. The train broke down twice, so the 4-hour ride took 6. Around hour 5 I broke down and staggered (the ride was very bumpy) toward the restroom. There were women crowding outside since there was no more room left to sit in the stuffy cabins. I walked in, nearly threw up and walked immediately back out. No toilet paper. Lucky for me I had packed some tissues in my backpack so I grabbed those and headed back making my way through the crowd. I tried to be as discreet as possible, but it was obvious the women were on to me. Hysterically laughing and pointing, making the biggest scene they shouted “Na, naah, naaaah! Not in Maroc! NOOOOT in Maroc!” I laughed and went in, ready to take on whatever lied ahead. Peeing on this moving train while managing to not make contact with anything around me was challenging to say the least.

We were traveling in white vans up narrow, winding mountain roads. Views of shantytowns and high altitudes shocked us at every turn. We quickly learned the concept of African time (or lack there of). “Go with the flow” takes on a whole new meaning. I assume this would have been okay with most of us, had it not been September 11th, had there not been threats of Qur’an burning in America and had our French/American drivers not switched to primarily Arabic hardly French speaking after dark (when we should have already arrived at our camp). It began raining and it seemed that we were driving straight into nowhereness. Needless to say, things good a little eerie. I tried to rationalize…”no worries guys, everyone registered the trip through Semester at Sea, they know to expect us…” Nope. Not one person in my van had informed the ship of where we were traveling. True feelings of worry didn’t set in until we turned off the main mountain road and onto…dirt? So now we are with an Arabic man, off-roading, in the middle of the High Atlas Mountains, on 9/11, nearly 5 hours off the time our itinerary showed us arriving, after dark and nobody has record of where we are “supposed” to be. Being one of two who could semi-communicate with our driver I tried to keep cool. I tried asking what road we were on? “LA RUE?” as simple as I could say it. Nope. This word meant nothing to him. Continue driving…toward…where? I wanted to call the ship. BlackBerry…way dead. One girl had her BlackBerry but no international plan. I took her battery, put it in my phone and called the ship. That eased my mind a little. Finally, about the time I get off the phone, we arrive at a place with a sign reading “TOUMBUCK TOO” sound familiar?

At this point I was somewhere between hysterically laughing and crying. I think we all were (minus the bro’s who just wanted to get on a camel and drink---idiots) I asked them to at least wait until we got to camp to start celebrating and to drink at their own discretion. After a 2hour trek into the pitch-black Sahara (minus the stars which were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen) we arrive at our camp. “Chez Mohammed”

We spent the night dining on a traditional 5-course meal, using our right hands as substitutes to silverware. After dinner and some Saharan Red Wine that I shared with my table, we began drumming. Daniel and I kicked things of with some impromptu beats, but we were soon moved to the front of camp where the Berber men began to play. The sound was all encompassing and the energy that consumed that camp made some tribal dance hard to resist.

The following morning, after sleeping under the stars we woke up at 5am (those who preferred to sleep-in were bombarded by drums) and saw for the first time the vast Sahara desert spreading for miles around us. The dunes were as high as mountains; so we set out to climb, roll down, sprint down and Sandboard over these sandy hills from all angles. After a few hours of frolicking we set back toward the main camp on camel back. Mid way through our trek we stopped once more in the middle of the Sahara for an impromptu dance/drum party. Success.

DAY FOUR/FIVE- Home stay in Elgara

After an exhausting 2 days in the Sahara, a part of me wanted to take its easy back on the ship. Sara had invited me to an overnight home stay with the family who housed her dad back in the 80’s while he was volunteering in the Peace Corps. After minimal contemplation, I made up my mind…how could I resist?

13 of us SAS girls set out in pre paid cabs to Elgara. After a Moroccan music filled cab-ride (standard, la musique s’il vous plait!) we arrived at a shabby looking apartment. As we walked inside ohhh’s and ahhh’s filled the echoing hallways. It was decorated like a small palace! The room we stayed in had bench seating around the entire perimeter, a large balcony overlooking the town, carved light fixtures and the charming hand painted tile from ceiling to floor. The family could not have been more welcoming. I felt like I was visiting an old friends or long lost relatives (minus the language barrier). They did speak a good amount of French so that was helpful. We, again, ate an incredible 5-course meal. The best lemon chicken with fresh green olives, garlic-dipping juices, some sort of sweet spaghetti with white raisins that we sprinkled powdered sugar on… MmMmmMmmm! Moroccan food is so fresh. We ended each meal with honeydew or “Moroccan Melon” is what I was told when I inquired.

After a wonderful dinner we walked a few blocks to a Hemmem. For those who don’t know, a Hemmem is a bathhouse that Moroccan women visit once/twice per week to cleanse themselves. As soon as we entered, a teenage girl who held my hand the whole way there began unfastening my bra and throwing my clothes all over the floor. She turned and did the same to my new friend Adora. We were hysterically laughing and pretty unsure of how to react. We went along with it as everyone else was doing pretty much the same. For the sacred nature of the Moroccan Hemmem I’ll spare you the details from here. In short, I had the most thorough shower via bucket water of my entire life. I’ve never felt so clean!

The following day we woke up to enjoy yet another extravagant breakfast. Moroccan Mint Tea, oh yes! After breakfast we ventured outside to see the town. I had slept fairly well, minus waking up to the call of prayer and an extended (from 4:30am-5:30am) reading of the Qur’an. It is sounds somewhere between creepy and soothing, but after about 15 minutes I was able to zone out and fall back asleep. In town, I managed to gather my typical following of kids. I started out with two little boys who I tossed a bouncy ball and ended with roughly 10 young boys and two of the sweetest girls tugging at my crazy-pants (you’ll understand when you see photos). I offered the girls my extra large bottle of water and they ran quickly away. Thinking I had offended them, I sat down on a bench to contemplate the interaction. Suddenly the two little dolls came running back toward me, holding hands open they offered to me a mound of sunflower seeds. In Morocco it is common practice to always return a gift with an equal or better gift. Rats. Not my intent. I sat on the bench enjoying sunflower seeds with the girls, one on my lap the other holding my hand. Freeze frame…happy moment.

A group of the girls I had traveled with started yelling my name. Apparently Yasseif, the son of the family we were staying with had taken it upon himself to track down the local Peace Corp volunteer and introduce her to me. Alex was her name. She was wearing an “As Tall as Lions” tee shirt and had a tattoo on her wrist reading Only Human. We went inside and shared tea, consumed in good conversation, new friends and funny coincidences. Overwhelmed, again, by the subtle beauty and surprises of Morocco. I love this country.

As you can probably tell, Morocco rocked my world. Between the language and kindness of those I encountered it stamped a permanent place on my heart. I’m sincere when I say I hope I may someday return to this wonderful place and send a little love back their way.

*Is that enough Emotion for you K-Ham?
**Photos soon, Ghana in T-2days---holla!


  1. LOVE this post! I was cracking up at all of your crazy adventures and tearing up at how special this place sounds. When you told me about this trip I thought about how lucky you are to have this experience but I didn't realize how much this is probably changing your life! I love you and cant wait to see pictures!

  2. I love your spirit....I always have from the day you were born!!!!!!!!!