Trip Start Aug 27, 2010
14Trip End Dec 13, 2010
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Hello all, I write to you from Morocco.
I have already let you explore Casablanca with me, but before I dive into my adventures in Marrakech, I have one more final note to add to Casablanca. The more time I spend in Morocco, the less foreign it feels. After five successful days spent in Morocco, I feel that the culture shock has evaporated from the air. As I walked around in Casablanca today I felt welcome and like a girl out on the town. Though the people whom I pass by still view me as a red head pale foreigner, I do not feel like a tourist per say. It is amazing what a couple days outside of our Western culture bubble can show you. The first day I stepped off the ship, I wanted to run back to the ship as soon as I stepped out into the city. But today, I felt like Casablanca, though it has different cultural traditions, language, customs etc., it is just like any other large city in the United States. In the grocery store, there were just everyday people getting groceries, in the post office there were just everyday people buying postage.
Enough of Casablanca, I know you are all anxious to hear about Marrakech. Come with me to the train station on the morning of September 10, 2010. Getting to the train station was an adventure in itself, but that story pales in comparison to the train station adventure. The independent group of students I traveled with arrived at the train station an hour early for our 8:50 am train. As the departure time approaches closer, we move to the platform hoping to board the train soon. At this point, there were many people gathered, a large crowd of SAS students as well. An announcement comes over the loudspeakers, but of course, that does not do me much good seeing that I speak no French or Arabic. Luckily, some of the members of my group could pick out some words. But what they had to report was not good news: the train would be an hour late in departing from Casablanca. Oh and before I forget, there are two class's for train transportation in Morocco; 1st or 2nd class. We bought 2nd class tickets because we heard there was not much difference between the two classes and me being Dutch, why not save a couple dollars right? The train we have all long awaited for finally zooms into the station a little after 10:00. But by this point, the scheduled 8:50 train now has made the scheduled 10:00 train late. So instead of waiting for their appropriate train, the passengers decide to join our train. As the doors to the train open, I felt like I was in a mosh pit. You just get in the crowd of people and literally let them push you along until you scurry in the door. Despite Alyssa and I’s grand efforts to try and quickly get on the train, we failed. We made it on the train, but barley….the only room left was standing room a centimeter away from the door. By the way, this door does not really close; anyone can open or close it. The train begins to leave the station and in the midst of this train are Alyssa and I squished between 300 other people on our compartment. I would honestly say that by the time we made some minor stops to pick up other passengers, there were at least 500 people crammed onto a 3 car train. Oh what an experience the next 4 hours were. We stood for probably 3 hours because there was no room to even sit on the floor. There was no air conditioning in the compartment. Finally as we got closer to Marrakech the train became for dispersed as people got off at various stops. Hurray, Alyssa and I could finally sit down on the ground!! This was a major victory, you have no idea. The closer we got to Marrakech, the hotter the car got because Marrakech is south and it reaches much higher temps than the coastal cities do. Last week Marrakech reached 55 degrees CELCIUS. I could not be more thankful that those high temps left before we arrived. At one point, the company I was with near the door of train just opened the door to get some air flowing in. I felt like a bandit that had just hitched a ride on the train. After what seemed much longer than 4 hours, we arrived in Marrakech. As we walked off, it was like stepping into paradise. This train station was recently built and it is very fancy. It had sun canopy’s, marble floors, neatly planted flower beds, and the best part….a McDonalds! I don’t care if you judge me, I could not have been happier to see and eat at a McDonalds after the crazy cultural experience we had just had in the train. Now that I have hindsight looking back on the train experience, I am very thankful I got to experience a true down to earth train ride in Morocco.
Once in Marrakech, it was all smiles. Marrakech has a much different feel than the big city of Casablanca. It is a much more tourist oriented city, so therefore it is kept up much better in terms of cleanliness, traffic rules, hotels, etc. Marrakech is a good size city but it has a much more relaxed feeling to it. If I ever return to Morocco or if any of you chose to visit, I highly recommend Marrakech. It is also more contemporary, so the cultural and religious dress concerns are not as important as in Casablanca. Upon our arrival we took a taxi to our hostel. I swore I would never stay in a hostel, and I find it ironic that the one place I do stay in a hostel is in the country of Morocco. Our taxi driver drops us off at a little café and gave us the directions to walk down the shady, very sketchy ally way and we would reach our hostel. Alyssa, Katie, Natalie and I all looked at each other and hoped he was joking. But no, we cautiously made our way down this narrow, dark alley way, and sure enough, after a couple turns we arrived at the correct door. We knocked and when the host came to the door he greeted us with a huge smile and said welcome. No sooner than our foot was in the hostel, they all gave us a huge welcome and told us to relax, sit down and feel at home. It was the best greeting I have ever received walking into a home. We sat around a table and they served us some of that famous Moroccan mint tea. Then they proceeded to give us a map and directions to everywhere we may choose to visit while in Marrakech. I was instantly at peace with this hostel stay and knew we would be in good hands for the trip. The hostel itself was called the Riad Massin. The outside is nothing spectacular, but once you step inside it is as if you stepped into a mini Moroccan palace. It was so beautifully decorated and it represented the ornate culture very well. There were three floors, bedrooms on the second, but the third floor was the best surprise. The stairs led up to the roof, where there was a beautiful terrace. That night we all just sat up on the terrace in the perfect Moroccan temperature and relaxed and reflected on our journeys thus far. Alyssa and I got to share a room; it was quite luxurious compared to the train we had gotten off of. It had its own bathroom, and the best part: an air conditioning unit!! The hostel also had free WIFI which for being out in the middle of the Moroccan desert was a plus. That night the group I was traveling with ventured into the city and we went to the famous market of Marrakech. The market in Marrakech is very elaborate and HUGE. That is where we saw monkeys walking around, snakes being charmed by a whistle and much more. During the day, this market is bustling and a popular place to be, but at night, this is the nightlife. The amount of people who are there during the day multiplies immensely by nighttime. The only comparison I can make to something you may relate to is imagining the Coast Guard fireworks after they are done and there are thousands of people out in the streets: this is Marrakech only multiplied. After the market, we proceeded to eat on the roof top of a hostel. It was such a beautiful view, we were seated around sunset and so during our meal we got the gorgeous view of the city as the sun was setting. It was one of those moments you wish that you could just freeze in time. The next day Alyssa and I had to catch a 11:00 am train back to Casablanca but before we left we visited the Jardin Majorelle Gardens. It was beautiful! There were everything from cacti to ornate trees and flowers. It was the perfect way to end our adventure in Marrakech because it put us at ease and in a state of content. The train ride back, I am sorry to say does not have a good story to go along with it because after our experience of getting to Marrakech we decided to "splurge" and get 1st class tickets back. What a difference that made! We got our own compartment, it was quiet, air conditioned, and we had comfortable seats to sit on the full 4 hours!
Well folks, that about wraps up my trip to Marrakech. I enjoyed every minute of that adventure and it was fascinating seeing a different side of Morocco. I hope you all are doing well, don’t forget to keep in touch, I want to hear about your lives as wellJ