Trip Start Aug 27, 2008
11Trip End Jan 02, 2009
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Hey guys, just thought I would give you a follow up on our trip to Marruecos (Morocco). Wow, talk about one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life! You canīt even imagine how people live there! The poverty was just crazy. It was so sad at times to see some of the kids or those who were living on the streets in the Medina (town center). The world has so much to teach you if you just listen. Iīve been finding myself learning quite a few lesson since I left. I canīt believe that I will have been gone for three months already next week...wow, that time truly does fly by. I mean, I hate to remind you all, but Christmas is almost here even! haha
We were off on our way early friday morning! Ick, 7am meeting time at the Torre de Oro (tower of gold in Sevilla). We set off for the strait of Gibraltar, only to be stuck in rush hour in Sevilla. We went about two miles in an hour or so. It was so gross. We finally found our way out of the traffic and we were off on the autopista headed for the coast. Most of my amigos slept the entire way. I however enjoy the peace and quite. Time to think but at the same time with friends. I just enjoyed the scenery. Itīs so nice to get out of the city even just for a few hours to see trees! TREES!!!!
We boarded the ferry and set off for Celta, a tiny area in Morocco that belongs to Spain. We watched the dolphins and took pictures of the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean. We proceeded to enjoy a bocadillo (sub sandwhich). Needless to say I was caught on camera stuffing my face with a tuna, olive, and pepper toasted sub! I was starving!
As soon as we hit Celta, the gypsies swarmed our bus, looking to rip off fanny pack wearing tourists. We didnīt have the fanny packs or the windbreakers, but they knew we were tourists. haha. We kind of had to beat them away so we could get on our bus to the border. No Gitano, no quiero una pulsera! Te va! (No gypsie, I donīt want a bracelet, go away) We joked but in all seriousness thatīs the way alot of people earn money in Morocco as well as Spain. The street vendors are everywhere!
As soon as we hit the border terror struck down upon us. Hundreds of people trying to cross the border. Barbed wire and double sided razor fences, drug dogs, millitary officers with guns, wire corrals....I donīt imagine many borders are what one would call pretty, but I sure as heck donīt remember those wire fences when I crossed into Portugal nor when crossing into France. lol Our passports were stamped and then a Moroccan border patrolman entered our bus, very stern, very loud and warning us not to take pictures of videos of the border. We were checked and then our guide for the weekend named Abduhl, who insisted we call him Michael Douglas entered the bus. He swears he was told that he had a similar appearance to the famed actor however we all begged to differ. We said Choukran to our new guide and the millitary personel and were headed along the Moroccan coast to our first stop Tetuan.
Along the way Michael Douglas enlightened us about Moroccan history with Spain and some of the traditions and customs we would soon be experiencing. He took a liking to one of the girls in our group named Mary right off the bat. It was all fun and games until he presented the idea of her being his fourth wife...silence, all but the cricket chirps of course. No one really knew what to do. I mean we knew polygamy was common in Morocoo, but we couldnīt tell if he was serious or not. He kept going off about one wife or the other...one in this town, one in that....we just smiled our awkward smiles. He of course also informed us of his three current wives as a way to destroy any notions that he might be in his words a ĻhomoĻ. When the homo word popped up, of course everyone on the bus just paused...all eyes on me....I guessed by then that homosexuality was kind of a no-no in Morocco. He was very awkward...he would randomly burst out in Arabic, French, Swahili, English, or Spanish...we had two of his five languages covered but the others just baffled us. I donīt know, I guess it was a good warning to us about how the rest of the weekend would proceed.
We arrived in Tetuán just in time for a tour of the school of arts there and then we took a trip through the Medina (town center). Talk about a shock! There were cats everywhere, fly covered pastries, eels being chopped up, chickens being thrown into black plastic bags still alive, beggers....it was quite a shocking site. I just tryed to act normal...even though deep down I was screaming inside....the stench was awful. The sewer systems run down the center of the 5 foot wide streets here and everything is packed so tightly. Every corner we made we got mysterious stares....it wasnīt really possible to blend in if ya know what I mean.
We made our way to lunch an hour or so later. I would tell you the name of the restaurant, however the sign was all in Arabic and the only word i knew was ĻThank youĻ. We sat down to cuscus, vegies, beef kebabs, and a squash cream soup. We sipped our cokes that were printed in Arabic and fancied at the decorated walls adorned with sequins, silk and fotos as we propped ourselves up upon puffy green and silver couches. We listened to traditional moroccan musicians clad in jilabs and their fezes. The waiter brought out a traditional sweat green tea and orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon as we watched a man clad in red satin and poofy pants do a fire dance. We applauded as we gasped with excitement everytime he did a flip or threw fire into the air. The whole inside of the restaurant was made of pillows, silk and wood....if he dropped one of those candles the whole place would have gone up in flames! Thankfully he was skilled enough that we ended lunch and left the restaurant without any burns or injuries.
We navigated our way through the market, back past the eels, jilab stores and henna stands until we reached our bus just outside the medina. We borded our mini-RV and set off for the hotel. I shared a room with my buddy chris. Heīs such an amazing guy. He served time in Iraq this past year and decided to go back to school for dentistry. He already has a political science degree and a pre-law degree. Heīs such a good guy, probably the best friend ive made since I left the states. We kicked back and caught a little bit of So You Think You Can Dance, which was actually in English! It was the first time we had seen english television in 2 1/2 months so of course we were ecstatic! We couldnīt stay too long however as we were meeting our Moroccan Intercambios that night at the University in Tetuán. We were all so tired as we had been traveling all day. All we wanted to do was eat and go to bed and here they were forcing us to meet students we would never see again....what a drag right!!!? Turns out it was probably my favorite part of the entire trip to Morocco!
We met a few girls and a few guys, all with names like Buzaina, Mohammed, etc. It was so exciting to see their perspectives on politics and hear about their pride for the country. I could never imagine living there considering health, standard of living...yet every student told us that if they had the chance to leave they wouldnīt. Itīs their home. We chatted about the election of Obama which they were extremely excited about. That and we talked about school, traveling and what not as we wandered the streets of Tetuán, past street vendors, fruit stands, stands of knock off louis vutton bags....I think the experience i will remember the most was when i was talking to one of the guys....i canīt recall his name which make me sad that I hadnīt been paying close attention when he introduced himself. I was too much in awe of my current surroundings to pay attention. Anyways, there had been something that had been kind of on my mind ever since we had arrived in Tetuán and I was finally going to ask this student. We had been seeing all these men holding hands and linking arms as if married or "together". What was this about? We were in a Muslim country. They couldnīt have been gay because that is banned in most Muslim countries and many gay people are killed in the middle east for homosexuality. The guy told me that it was a sign of friendship and unity with oneīs brothers/friends. He laughed at my comment and then proceeded to ask questions about cross dressers, gay people, etc. He had very false perceptions about what they each meant. It was so funny to see him. He had on these white little glasses and had a permanent smile plastered on his face. Of course I was curious as a gay man what the stance on homosexuality was there in Morocco....he told me that if a man was known to be gay by another group of men on the streets, I wouldnīt want to know what would happen.....it was the first time in my life that the reality of the violence towards gay people of that type (beatings, attacks) truly did exist. I always knew things happened, but there I was in the middle of a Muslim city, everyone speaking Arabic, and here I was, an extremely white, gay, American. haha. I do have to say though I have been mistaken for a Spaniard actually quite a few times! I like to think that my spanish has improved that much and that Im just as tan....Anyways, I shouldnīt create those sterotypes, but for a second I had a moment of hesitation after the guy told me what would happen. If that wasnīt enough, now that we had become amigos, he proceeded to link arms with me as a sign of our new friendship. wow, comfort zone was crossed. He tried to hold my hand but I wasnīt having it! Not on the first night!!! haha. It took a few minutes to get used to it but i was fine shorty after.
We said "choukran" to our new Moroccan friends and exchanged facebook URLs. We got on the bus and headed to the hotel for a huge dinner of bread, soup, bread, traditional meatballs, bread, pasta, bread, and we finished with flan. Oh did i mention we ate alot of bread? It seems like thatīs all we do here. Eat carbs and drink beer. Wow, my Guess jeans totally donīt fit as well anymore! Chris and I headed back to our room to catch a couple episodes of friends and a little bit of Letterman before bed. As soon as the lights were off I was out cold. Nothing like a nice hotel bed. But seriously, the bed was amazing!!! The best sleep Iīve had in weeks!
We headed to Tangier the next day which was very cool! We stopped at Las Cuevas de Hercules (Caves of Hercules) and looked out over the Mediterranean and Atlantic oceans! wow, the view was so breathtaking. We bought some trinkets and what not and headed up the mountain where we road camels and bartered with vendors. It was all great and fine until I got off the camel, which by the way was so fun! Iīve had a cough for over a month now and of course I start hacking up a lung as soon as a jump off the camel. Well one of the vendors keeps on pestering me to buy his 2 euro bracelets that cost like one centimo to make while im coughing my life away. Then he proceeds to take the fez off his head and put it on mine!!! I donīt know where that thing had been! heīs a camel hearder!!! I swore i had lice for like a day, but there I went with my stereotyping again. I managed to shoo him away and get my breath back in just in time to jump on the bus, just narrowly escaping the gypsies and the moroccan tshirts they were trying to sell us. We made our way down the hill and headed back towards the city center of Tangier. We got off the bus and had free time for shopping in the Medina. Tangier is a little bigger than Tetuán however....5 million people live in downtown alone! Of course we got the normal stares we had all grown accustomed to by now. The only thing we were advised about was to not eat anything from the streets. We agreed and went in search for bargains using our Dirhams (Moroccan currency). Wow, every head popped out of every stall to watch as we went by. They knew we had money and they were itching to make some deals! They could smell the 200 Dirham in my pocket, which is only 20 Euro. As my bartering skills are awful and I get frustrated so easily by how "in your face" they are, i ended up not buying anything that night. I met a group of kids from Canada who were studying in Amerstdam in one of the shops though. They were super nice and the guy was gay for sure! and cute! haha We chatted for a while and then we said our goodbyes as we headed back to our meeting point to go back to our hotel in Tetuán. We ended up seeing the Canadians about 6 times in the market. I kept getting suggestive glances from the guy. haha. Nothing wrong with a little flirtation I suppose.
We got back to our meeting point and met Michael Douglas. As we waited for the others to arrive, me and a few others went and bought some candy at a nearby store. Thankfully they all know spanish for the most part in northern morocco so we were able to pick out some sour licorice ropes. Of course the vendor just uses his hands and picks them out...no gloves, no tongs. When in Morocco I guess....haha. Everyone had finally arrived but of course I had to pee as my bladder has shrunk I swear. I told my professors and the guides i was going to quickly use the restroom inside the nearby teahouse and to wait for me. Of course the owner made me buy a coke to use the bathroom. I came back outside only to find my whole group gone!!!! It was dark, everyone was shouting in Arabic, there was arab music playing, and the market I was just shopping in and having fun turned into a prison! I was lost, in downtown Tangier. None of my friends, professors and guides could be seen anywhere!!! I forgot to mention that the medina is located on a hill so all the streets and alleys are slanted. I ran back up the hill from which we came to the center, dark eyes were watching me from every direction. I didnīt have a cell phone, I didnīt have a phone number, I had no credit cards, debit cards, and stupidly no I.D.! What would I do? All I had in my pocket was 200 Dirhams! I looked and found no one where we were dropped off earlier! What a nightmare. I decided the best thing to do was run back to where our meeting point had been and just wait. I was borderline freaking out! Thankfully I ran into who else but the Canadians and the cute guy! haha. I told them my predicament and they nicely agreed to walk back and wait with me! Thank God one of the tour guides was there when I returned!!! I thanked them for waiting and I breathed a hard sigh of relief! I really wish I had quickly exchanged names with the students whom now Ill never see again....Itīs so funny to think that I will remember them forever, yet I donīt know their names, where they live, nothing. All Iīll remember is that seeing a familiar face calmed me down. I had met them an hour earlier, but running into them in the crowd by chance and knowing they spoke english and that we had met before calmed me down more than you could possibly know! Funny how you have those run-ins with people in life.
Me and the tour guide returned back to the bus, of course I was greeted by a busfull of laughing students who to make things even better had to start a slow clap as I entered the bus....thanks guys, thanks. My hands were still quivering from my inner panic. I wasnīt panicking on the outside, but inside I was crying I swear! haha We slept on our way back to the hotel as it was a two hour bus ride. We had dinner and got to know our professors even more. Oscar whom Iīve despised since the first month I was here really opened up and we got to know him so well. He has a kid, he was a painter (art) in london for five years, heīs married....all things that he had never divulged to us during the last 2 1/2 months. It was so fun cuz he totally was like " screw spanish, this isnīt class" and so he spoke to us in English that night. We hit our hotel rooms, Chris and I watched a little bit of Bill Cosby on David Letterman and went to bed. Tomorrow we were off to Chefchauen, a smaller town in the mountains which is famously known for itīs breathtaking views, traditional life, and of course because the whole town is painted blue! Like, sky blue! Wow, we were so excited, what a unique place!
We awoke the next morning and watched a little bit of Jeopardy and the Wheel! Itīs so funny for some reason with Arabic subtitles on the bottom. Who knew people in Morocco were familiar with Alex Trebec and Vanna White. ŋExtraņo no? Bueno, un poco. We headed for Chefchauen after a breakfast of crepes and pancakes, coffee and traditional moroccan green tea. The guy at the buffet was so nice! He was so excited to ask about where I was from and what I was studying. Super nice guy! We hit the road for blue city and arrived an hour and a half or so later. The pictures sure donīt lie about this place. Everything was so blue! we learned that itīs good because it keeps the homes cool, but apparently itīs supposed to keep the mosquitos away as well....who knew. I guess thatīs why they paint their homes five times a year.
We had said goodbye to Michael Douglas (Abduhl) the night before. He was a nice guy but im pretty sure he made at least a couple of us nervous. He had been making jokes about my friend mary being his fourth wife all weekend and seemed to be drawn to her. Idk, kinda weird. He admitted to us before he left that he in fact did not already have three wives. Our new guide was this tall gangly moroccan man who in all honesty scared me. He kept grabbing my arm and peering into my eyes...idk, he definitely reached creeper territory! haha He led us through chefchaun and we did a little bartering and had lunch overlooking the mountains. what a breathtaking view. we had moroccan beers and pot roast. It was so great. We were finally setting our sites on home as the afternoon came to a close. We had a 5 hour trip ahead of us and weīd already had quite a long weekend. The trip home mirrors the one i told you about earlier. We finally reached Sevilla at 11.30, two hours late after we hit road work on the autopista. Of course once i finally got home Emilio fed me a shit-ton of veggies and fish. I wasnīt about to complain or protest though considering the places I had just left. I just ate and told Emilio of our adventures. Surprisingly he has lived in Spain all his life and heīs never visited morocco. Heīs never even seen some of the cities I have in Spain. Spaniards are so set on their lives that they hardly ever leave their home. Huh, kind of surreal to think Ive traveled to all the places I have so far and Iīm only 19....
School is going well. I got my midterms back in my other classes and I ended up with an A and two B+. Maybe im getting this spanish business down....Tomorrow we are heading to Granada early in the morning. Im very excited because weīre finally going to see the Alhambra and itīs been named as one of the top places to visit in the world. Weīll be there just overnight and then back to class on Monday. Speaking of classes, I registered this evening for my winter classes. That tells me how close I am to being done with my adventure in Spain. I come home in exactly 30 days. Im getting very excited, but at the same time Iīm feeling this total pressure to squeeze in all i can during my remaining time in Sevilla. Granada this weekend, Ireland the next, and after that Amsterdam and Belgium. I know the next four weeks will fly. Well this is probably the longest email youīve received well...since my last disgustingly long email! haha. Hope everyone had a great week and enjoy your weekends! I sure am jealous that you all will be having turkey and green bean caserol next week! man oh man my mom better just make a fo thanksgiving dinner for me when i come home! I better get going. I need to pack still and weīre leaving bright and early! I really hope we avoid traffic, but weīll probably be right in the middle of it. haha. Bueno, me voy y gracias para todo que lo haya leído el mensaje! Espero que todo os pase bien! Adiós y hasta! Lance