Human Cheese Maze

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September 15th 2008
Published: September 23rd 2008
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Thanks for making me a star Maria

I've never been to Africa or a muslim nation, and with Morocco I wouldn't be able to say that any longer. It's the same for Maria, otherwise known as Fatima from here on and I will be her Mohamed.

Arriving at the airport, the architecture, women's dress, and writing - my first impressions - give no doubt of arriving in a non-western country. In regards to arabic, it's nifty to watch an arab read right to left, then moments later read french left to right. Moroccans do this naturally and often with English, Spanish, and their native Berber as well. Later I met our camel guide, a Berber in the sand dunes near Algeria, who spoke fluent arabic, berber, french, spanish and intermediate level german, english, and then even a decent amount of Japense (The Japenese in our group confirmed of course, not me) and he learned it all from tourists.

Morocco accomodations:
Morocco's accomodations consist of hotels, Riads (similiar to western B&Bs or guest houses and are typically located in Medinas or old parts of the cities), and then finally Hostels (travel note: Consider your hostel carefully, read reviews, and moderate your expectations - I've heard horror stories).

Travel note: I do not recommend navigating a Medina to find food, your Riad, or anything else ones first night in Morocco. You WILL get lost, kids will constantly direct you to the "Square" all the while pointing in random directions and of course in any direction you travel they will assure you that "it's closed". Consider their help and you will be expected to pay as much as 100DH (9 Euros), but you can probably talk them down to 10DH, but careful, because they do learn the F word pretty early and they can be a hassle. Pull out a map and they will be all over you like white on rice. Careful in even doubting your direction, they sense it, and once again they'll be white and you'll be rice minus 10-100 DH. Stay confident even if you're wrong, do your best to remember landmarks, if it's light remember the orientation of the sun to help in your direction, perhaps even a compass, ask the people behind stalls for help, and as a last resort, agree to pay one kid upon reaching your destination a pre arranged price. (10DH is usually fair).

Boldly, I thought to myself, as long as I have a map, an address, and my will I can find anything. Let me assure you the Medina is like none other. A medina is best described as a human cheese maze, with high walls, narrow streets, sometimes only 2 feet wide. They are busy like american shopping malls during christmas, but add cars, motorcycles, donkeys, mules, and various stores and their assertive, crafty and sometimes pushy store owners. Medinas can have thousands of nameless streets and as always, don't forget the unrelenting children (can you tell I am scarred?). Nonetheless, stained in my memory, I'll most remember the energy, charisma, and quaintness. I actually liked it after a few days. Familiarity breeds appreciation, right? For more clinical description of the Medina areas check out wikipedia:

Riad 5 Sens
The riad we stayed at was great, I owe it to Maria and countless hours of research. I may have barked at her for spending TOO much time researching the accomodations, but in the end she was right, our stay was great. (did I mention I was married?)

Le MarrakechLe MarrakechLe Marrakech

A traditional Moroccan quizine of beef, eggs, and a tomato/beef bullion with numerous spices
enjoyed 4 nights at an oasis among the craziness of the Marakesch medina. With riad we experienced amazing architecture, tranquility, hospitality, and a small pool. If anyone is considering a night or two in Marakesch, check out 5 Sens. It's absolutley surreal inside, I'd have thought it to be the house of a very wealthy family and then renovated into a riad. There is a common room with a pool in the middle, and at night you'd sware you were inside, but look up and you see the stars. Surounding the square are 10 guest rooms or so, a library, a dining area, a little Hammam, and few other common areas to rest and relax. There's free wifi internet (I highly recommend an IPOD Touch for any back packer!) and the chef makes a kick ass tangine chicken! Bon apetite!

Our host was Abdilah who was very helpful and even managed to find some obsecure tooth paste my little Fatima loves (like anyone can tell the difference in tooth paste?). Although I give this a 5 out of 5 on the value scale you should note a few things: 1.) We stayed in the "Etnik" room and I do
And here comes dessert And here comes dessert And here comes dessert

Dessert has two "s", you can remember this because you always want more...compared to desert.
not recommend it for those that can't handle a little athletics or a firm matress. The room is two levels that require some tricky stair navigating to get up to your bed. 2.) Do not attempt traveling to the 5 Sens your first time without a taxi. 3.) Mint tea is offered 2 or 3 times a day and it cost 1 euro except during breakfast when it's free. I mention that because we were never told nor did we ask, but we assumed it was free.

The Square
The previous night we bravely set out to find the elusive square and failed miserably, but the with day time and patience we were set to make it there. Thankfully, two french tourist with a weeks worth of practice, guided us to the square (for free) and pointed out all the nifty landmarks to help us remember our way.

Sahara Expeditions
We signed up for a day trip to Essouriah, and a 3 day 2 night expedition where we'd experience the todra gorge, sand dunes, camel rides, a night in a tent (we slept in Sahara open air, it was an experience!), and other points of eastern
Maria on the beachMaria on the beachMaria on the beach

Deep thoughts? I think not.
Morocco. It was amazingly less expensive (950DH per person for 3 day 2 night tour) than many booking agencies we found online, through hotels, Riads, or by word of mouth. They were good, not great, but not bad either. We walked around the squre, checked out a few carpet and clothing stores, spices shops, and just walked around with wide eyed, never been to a Islamic country, tourist eyes.

Ramadan is a muslim observance that takes place on the 9th month of the muslim calendar or about every 11 christian months. Activities include fasting during the day, seeking forgiveness for past sins, seeking future guidance, purifying one's spirtuality, and refraining and finding strength from the future avoidance of every day sins. For the every day tourist this means maybe half the stores and restaurants are closed from about 2-7PM, less traffic during the day, being sensitive to the fact that locals might get a little cranky towards the end of the day (No food or water for 12 hours in 95F heat - I'd be cranky too), and being especially sensitive to muslim culture (ladies cover your shoulders and dress respectfully), it's also polite not to eat
or drink too much in public during the day. During Ramadam a peculair thing happens at about 6:45PM. The streets empty, people disappear, it's almost a ghost town as the locals typically pray then get ready for a feast. At about 7:30PM or so it's a party atmosphere no matter where you are, you can just feel it in the air. People are laughing, smiling, and carrying on with a swelling of energy after a day of fasting.

Generally speaking, I wouldn't deter anyone from traveling to Morocco during Ramadan, despite being warned, I just don't see the impedence.

Cooking classes
Morocco is well known for cooking classes, we tried to find a class that was available when we were and at a reasonable rate and had limited success. We did find a Riad with an english speaking women that allowed us to help prepare our own lunch, which was kind of a cooking class. I did most the work, Maria took most the notes as we made Cheesey spiced stuffed tomatoes, tangine chicken, and a heart attack sauce for a cholesterol cake. I'd write more, but eyes are tired, and I'm impressed myself I've written this much...

A few ineresting Facts about Morocco:
- Morocco was the first country to recognize US independence in 1777.
- The US has its longest standing peace agreement with Morocco.
- If it wasn't for the US, Algeria would probably have attacked Morocco at some point, especially over the disputed Western Sahara territory.
- The King is Mohamed the VI, the son of Hussan the II and a berber wife.
- Morocco's largest industries are mining (mostly phosphates), expatriated Moroccans sending money back to Morocco (Western Unions are everywhere), and tourism.
- Morocco's population consist of Berbers (natives) and arabs.
- "Arabs" is a term meaning ancestory from Saudia Arabia and may include both Jews, Muslims, and others.
- Nearly all Moroccans are Muslim and nearly North Africans are Sunni
- Coca Cola signs can be found in the smallest 5 building village.
- Survivor skills: If you're lost in the desert, find a low point and dig, you may find water merely meters from the surface.

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