Saturday, February 7, 2009

Spain to Morocco

Feb. 6, 2009

The first intense set of adventures has come and gone and now all that students can think of is Namibia! Well, Namibia and seasickness. I thought that seasickness was just for the weak, but as I had to be given a seasickness shot today the size of a horse tranquilizer, I am rethinking that prejudice. Combining seasickness with the five students who have broken wrists, sprained ankles and pulled muscles gives the MV Explorer a less-than-cheerful student body. Why all the injuries you ask? Well yesterday as we left the port of Casablanca the ship was forced through a tiny gap in the seawall with huge swells surrounding us. My roommate Hannah and I were sitting on our beds when all of a sudden we go flying across the room, beds and all! It was like Bedknobs and Broomsticks combined with large waves! Luckily my seasickness didn’t set in until late last night when I was reading for my Military Force and Diplomacy class. And then today (after a night of unsuccessful attempts to take medication) I surrendered to the ocean and let our amazing medical team give me a shot. So now I am sitting in my cabin feeling like a mule kicked me in the shoulder and decided to write a Spain/Morocco update for everyone!

First of all, I have to say that words cannot give justice to my experiences, but I will do my best to explain everything completely. We arrived in Spain early in the morning and hundreds of students climbed out onto the decks to see land for the first time in nine days. Luckily the port of Cadiz was in a very nice part of town and we were able to get favorable first impressions. I spent the first day wandering around Cadiz with some friends. We didn’t have a set plan and so we simply walked around the entire city finding some amazing public gardens and drinking Sangria in the shadow of a beautiful cathedral. Spain is paradise for the homeless cats of the world and they are all well-fed and loved by the city residents. Before the novelty of stray cats wore off I would run after them taking photos. On the first night I went to a SAS sponsored flamenco performance that included a dressage exhibition and example of a bullfight. The show was excellent; although many people felt that it was completely unauthentic and that we would do better to find a real flamenco show.

The next morning I took a train from Cadiz to Sevilla with a group of four other students. We were hoping to spend one night in Sevilla before continuing to either Cordoba or Granada, but unfortunately all hostels were filled to the brim thanks to Semester at Sea and a soccer game that night in the city. In the end we decided to simply spend the day in Sevilla and then take a train to Cordoba that night. That one day in Sevilla was amazing. At first we had some trouble finding the nice part of town, but once we saw the cathedral, we knew why everyone praises Spain. We visited the Real Alcazar which seemed to me to be a miniature Versailles with amazing gardens and absolutely stunning mosaics! If I worked in Sevilla I would go to the Alcazar every day for my lunch just to sit and breathe in the peace. It was hard to believe that there was an entire city on the other side of the wall! That night we took a fast train to Cordoba and spent the night in a very nice hostel (Hotel Boston). The next day we were all too exhausted to visit any tourist sites so instead we spent most of our time relaxing near the hostel before taking a slow train back to Cadiz. The final day in Cadiz was a blur of grocery shopping, chocolate con churros, and postcard writing. We left that night and I was finally able to fall asleep with the gentle rocking of the ship once more.

The following day we pulled into Gibraltar to bunker (take on fuel), but thanks to extremely rough seas the Explorer was forced to spend a whole day there (without landing to look at the monkeys!) which pushed our Morocco arrival date back by about 18 hours. Our arrival in Morocco involved going through a narrow sea wall with heavy waves. The result was broken dishes in the dining halls and a flipped chest of drawers (caught on film) in my cabin. Since we had lost a day in Morocco, many of the trips were changed. Luckily my trip stayed on schedule and the morning after our arrival in Casablanca twenty-two students took a bus to the Roman ruins of Volubilis and the ancient city of Fes. I can’t find words to describe Volubilis and the surrounding areas. When I had pictured Morocco I had not expected lush green valleys with beautiful trees and mountains! The ruins of Volubilis were in amazing condition with mosaics made out of local stone filling the houses. It was easy to imagine a complete city filled with people living their lives. After visiting Volubilis our group continued to Fes for the night.

My second day in Morocco was spent in the city of Fes. Our tour guide was a Fes local and so he knew exactly where to take us. We spent most of the day in the Old Medina (Fes el Bali) where the largest “souk”in Fes exists. Some fun facts about the Old Medina:

· The Old Medina is home to the world’s oldest (859 AD) continuously running university; the University of Al-Karouine

· The medina is believed to be the largest contiguous car-free urban area in the world as well as the largest medina in the world)

· The medina is the craftsmanship capital of Morocco and almost all goods sold in areas such as Marrakech or Casablanca originated in Fes.

I have to say that the Medina was like being pulled into Arabian Nights or Aladdin. It was the first time I really felt like I was in another world. In one day I visited a ceramics studio where I saw how mosaics are created, a tannery with a view of the city, a weaving studio where we could buy Moroccan scarves fresh off the loom, and an apothecary’s shop filled with stuffed foxes and exotic remedies. I learned that when someone in the narrow street calls out “Grand Taxi!”to pull over to one side and let a pack-laden donkey pass by. I learned stories about ancient kings and modern ones who all found true love in Fes. It was like being pulled into a fairy tale and I never wanted to leave!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and we returned to Casablanca late that night. On our last day in Morocco a large group of students decided to walk to the Hassan II mosque which is one of the largest mosques in the world. We were told that it was a twenty minute walk from the ship to the mosque, but it tuned out that it was a twenty minute walk from the ship to the port exit! Morocco has strange weather patterns and when we were about fifteen minutes from the mosque there was a torrential downpour of rain! None of us had umbrellas and things would have gone very poorly if the “tourism police”hadn’t pulled us over and driven us the rest of the way free of charge! And so unlike most students, I have a good story about being picked up by the police and riding in a paddywagon. The mosque was beautiful and awe-inspiring, but it could not compare to my experience in Fes. We spent the rest of the day in the Casablanca medina doing some last minute shopping. My favorite Casablanca was buying a round loaf of bread for 1 dirham (about 15 cents) to eat while following a rainbow back to the ship.

Now we are on our way to Dakar for fuel before the adventure continues with a safari in Namibia!

2 comments:

Bad Dad said...

Gee, when they talk about the High Seas, I thought they were talking Opera! Give my best the the Lions, Tigers, and Dingo Dogs.

Momster said...

Brings back memories of my days in Morocco. You did a great job of describing amazing things in amazing places. I love reading your blog.