I know, I’m a lean, mean blogging machine, right? Actually, thanks to meloui and kefta, “lean” is probably a fallacy. Whatever, I guess I just love Morocco so much that I can’t stop talking about it!
Last week was Eid, which is one of the the the the big holidays of Islam. It is tradition that families sacrifice a sheep. At first I thought this was kind upsetting but when you really think about it, it’s not much different than the American tradition of feasting on a turkey for Thanksgiving…especially for those who hunt…not to mention, Muslims donate portions of the lamb to those in need.
Anyway, Eid was just an all-around delightful weekend with my family. The weekend started off with a huge breakfast that was so good that if I could be stuck in that moment forever I most likely wouldn’t complain.
After that we sat outside and greeted relatives who trickled into the house for the day. My host sister gave me a jalaba, which is a traditional piece of Moroccan attire. Lunchtime rolled around and we were treated to lamb heart and stomach. (Think tripe and safrita). I sampled it but wasn’t feeling the love. I’m guessing it’s an acquired taste.
The rest of the night was spent sitting around with my family and their friends playing games and watching tv and honestly, I really started to feel at home. I started to forget that the people I was sitting with, have only been in my life for a short amount of time.
The big meal of day 2 consisted of lamb head and couscous. Again, acquired taste. Definitely worth trying, though.
The remainder of days 2 and 3 were more relaxed- my host sisters took me to the beach twice, put up with my attempts at speaking to them in broken Arabic, and cursed at men who cat-called me. Who knew you can feel so close to someone with whom you can barely even have a conversation?
Eid came to an end and classes started back up again. So, moving on. I guess it’s pretty much assumed by now that my friends and I just took the long awaited trip to the Sahara desert; the travel down in and of itself was one hell of a journey.
First, we hopped on a train to Mekenes. I entered the train with a good feeling about the weekend, believing that nothing could go wrong. It was at that moment when I realized that I forgot my toothbrush.
The train was super crowded and several of us had to stand in the small space between the two bathrooms for the better portion of the ride. Here, we made friends with a local man who spoke English and asked me to read his poem about Obama cheating on Michelle with a “sexy blonde woman.” You can't make these things up.
We got into Mekenes around 8 and walked around the block to find a place to eat. We found a restaurant called “Marhaba Restaurant,” which, if you know any Arabic, you can see is the most touristy name for a restaurant. Nevertheless, we had a very satisfying dinner that consisted of harira, a noodle and lentil soup; hard boiled eggs, bread, and some pillow of deep-fried gold that could have been socks for all I care but I was hungry and it was fried and that’s all that matters. Best of all, the meal was about 12 dirhams which equals about $1.50.
(This is where I would have inserted a picture of the meal but I was so hungry that the meal was gone before I can even see what it looked like)
Then we took our 8 hour busride from Mekenes to Rissani which, if I go to hell when I die, I won’t be surprised if I find my soul on that busride for the remainder of eternity. Now, I took a 24 busride once from Pennsylvania to New Orleans, so i thought 8 hours would be a breeze, but it was far from a breeze. Speaking of breeze, it was the first time since I came to Morocco that I experienced air conditioning. And it was so cold that it made up for all the other times in the past month when I actually needed air conditioning. Also, the bus had an occasional unspecified odor and my one friend got sick during the ride. To top it off, every rest stop only had squat toilets and I haven’t warmed up to squat toilets enough yet to use one in public. So, it definitely wasn’t most comfortable 8 hours of my life to say the least.
We finally made it to our hotel in Merzouga at at around 7 in the morning. Merzouga is a small village on the fringe of the desert. Apparently the hotel managers had a pot of tea ready for us upon our arrival but we fell sound asleep before he can even offer.
Our hotel was called “Auberge Sahara,” and in my opinion, it provided the ideal accommodations one could need for a weekend in the desert at a very reasonable price. They provided a room in the hotel for the day, giving us a place to sleep after our long bus ride and a place to stay while we waited to set out on our journey. At 5 o’clock, guides from the hotel took us out to our camels.
First and for most, riding a camel is nowhere near comfortable. It is a bumpy ride. The aftermath leaves you feeling like you just gave birth. Also they’re not super friendly.
Ok, that’s a lie, some of them are.
So after a scenic, uncomfortable ride through the dunes, we reached our campsite, which is also part of Auberge Sahara. The campsite was interesting. We were told we’d be staying in tents, but they were slightly different from what we expected.
The picture is pretty distant, but I hope that gives an idea. The tents were basically rooms separated by Moroccan carpets. There was even electricity! We had some time to run around in the sand and take pictures of the sunset.
When you think camping in the Sahara, you’d associate that with roughing it, right? WRONG! The guides cooked us a huge dinner that consisted of a rice and chicken stew, beef tangine and pomegranate.
After dinner, we spent more time in the dunes, went to bed and woke up the next morning to return to the hotel, where we were provided breakfast and coffee. We checked out shortly after and headed toward across the village where we rented a small house to spend the night.
Now for sand boarding….
A few friends and i decided early Saturday evening that we would attempt sand boarding on the dunes. Among the four of us, we split two boards and two pairs of boots (we’re on a college budget, of course we’re going to share shoes!). Sand boarding is pleasantly easy, provided you have stable weather conditions, which we had for a solid 15 minutes. We had just graduated from the bunny dune and climbed to a larger dune when I saw a dust storm in the distance, which was rapidly moving toward us.
The sandstorm provided two benefits.
1. A test of one’s survival skills: We made it out alive by huddling on top of each other with our shirts pulled above our faces. This also challenged my ability to prioritize: send suggestive messages to the guide by pulling my shirt above my face, or remain modest and choke on sand. We can’t have everything in life! My two friends hiked to the bottom of the dune where, apparently sand was not blowing and they were able to stand freely and go about their lives, while my friend Sherin and I took the dramatic approach that was lying on top of the dune in the midst of the storm, watching our lives flash before our lives.
2. A complimentary Hammam treatment: Having strong winds blow sand at you in every direction is not easy on the skin so I like to think that it exfoliated in the same way a trip to the hammam would. (Just let me think this so I could go to bed knowing that I got a lot out of the 50 dirhams I spent on this experience).
We spent the following day in Rissani waiting for our overnight bus home. Now, Rissani is not the nicest part of Morocco. It is interesting and worth visiting to catch a glimpse of a more traditional, Moroccan town, but it is very dirty and many of the people are less friendly than those I’ve met in Rabat. Nevertheless, we found a very nice clean restaurant n the center of town called Cafe la Baraka. The restaurant had free wifi and air conditioning. The owners let us stay in the dining room and hang out for the day while we waited for our bus. We also had Berber pizza and let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you try Berber Pizza!
We left Rissani an took an overnight bus home. We arrived in Rabat at about 8 Monday morning. I even had the privilege of sitting through 7 hours of class on 2 hours of sleep. Totally. Worth it.
In short, the trip to the Sahara was perhaps one of the most exhausting weekends of my life. But all the accommodations and trips fell together so nicely that experience was absolutely sublime. I hope that should you travel to the Sahara, In’Ch’allah, that this post provides helpful tips on where to stay!