Friday, April 27, 2012

In general

Morocco is a really amazing place. It is so full of history and life and flavor and culture. Ancient traditions still carry on and give morocco its unique quality that's unlike any other maghrebi country, and certainly unlike any other Arab country.

I love that moroccans value themselves, and their families. Love runs deep here. And I noticed that fathers and husbands play a much more hands on and affectionate role with both their kids and wives-- far more than I ever saw in Egypt.
They still exude the generosity and kindness that is undeniably an "Arab" thing, sometimes the chauvinism too. But whenever someone learns I'm Egyptian, their whole demeanor changes. They're so much more generous and they look after me like one of their own. They say, wow, we never have another Arab traveling here, please how can we make you comfortable?

And I find the hamam to be a fascinating establishment. it is not just the fact that both men and women have careful rituals for maintenance and health of the body, but it's a social and family event as well. Everyone huddles in groups. Butt naked, chatting away. There are special gloves, soaps, ghassoul clay masks, oils, etc. All to take care of the physical body. We consider it pampering, but they just consider it health. and they've been doing it for a millennia.

I love that food is so fresh, animals are slaughtered for the meal. And produce is hand picked that day. Everywhere you travel, you see the sheep and the lamb grazing the fields.
Even the grocery stores are stocked with quality produce and meats. And the bread, yogurt, and the butter... Everything is so delicious!!! There are hardly any packaged or prepared foods.

For the most part, women wear jelabas in the street. And they are beautiful. Not all women, there is still a largely progressive population here too, but traditions are kept. And women marry in kaftans, with henna, in an elaborate affair.

And I love that for me, it is like the best of my two halves. I get to indulge in the fun and rich Arab side without neglecting my french side. The Arab half that loves life and food and people, that knows the culture and language and customs. And the French half with the food, history, language and influences. French is spoken everywhere and the fashion is very French. Not to mention, in the grocery stores they have ALL the French products that I hoard whenever I go to France.

Oh and something needs to be said about the infrastructure. Because the roads and public transportation are phenomenal. Extremely reliable and available. It is so easy to get around and it's cheap.

So generally, I was really impressed with morocco. It far exceeded my expectations and every idea that I ever imagined about it.

It completely changed me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fes - trois ... Again

I am so happy that I came back to fes!!

I was a little worried that it was foolish for me to backtrack, but once I arrived, I knew there was a reason why I had such strong feelings about returning. Amidst all the chaos of the medina, fes gives me this really great sense of calm. I just think it's the best city that ive been to in morocco. The people are very friendly, and it's small enough that there is a real sense of community here, but big enough to give you plenty of opportunities to spend your time. The food is excellent, and everything, for the most part, is within walking distance of the medina so no need for taxis to get around.

Everyone remembers me and has been greeting me warmly. I even came right to cafe clock, and they were like,"Sabeel is back!!!" the chef from my class and the guy who translated came over and chatted for a bit... so it feels really good to be here.

What's more wonderful is seeing mr. Y. I called him once I got to the medina and he met me right away. I ended up just staying at the same riad- I know where it is and I know he's there.

We went over to meet his friends who were really cool and were making fun of his newfound giddiness. It was cute to watch Y squirm. They kept making comments to make him blush. His best friend is actually engaged to a girl from NYC and she's moving here to help him run his riads together. He buys fixer-uppers as investments and is in the process of renovating one of them, so naturally, he and I had lots to gab about. I told him that what he does is my dream. So i got invited to stay and buy some riads with them and help fix them up. Tempting. :-)

Then to pick on Y a little more, they told me that apparently there's a saying in Arabic that, "A man never truly marries, until he marries an Egyptian woman". Duh, cuz we're awesome! Egyptian women are known to be powerful, bossy, and passionate. I could see Y getting so embarrassed and mouthing to his friends to shut up out of the corner of my eye. So we left.

For the next two days, we were inseparable. We ate all our meals and spent all of our time together.

Still tired from my travels, that night he had a pizza delivered for me and we sat up on the roof chatting.

On my last day, we wandered in and out of the medina. For lunch he invited me to have "BBQ". This consisted of us buying 1/2 kg of beef, having it ground by the butcher, then walking it over to the grill where someone made us grilled kofta sandwiches. It was incredibly fresh and delicious. And finally, finally, finally, we bought ceramics. The fes designs and colors are especially fantastic (dark blue and white) and I couldn't find them in Marrakech. They are much more expensive, but worth it, so I'm glad I held out until I came back to fes, and it all worked out.

We decided to go out into the ville nouvelle for dinner. We were the only people in the restaurant. I couldn't believe this trip was ending on such a high note. I met him 2 weeks ago, I came back, and there we were talking like we've known each other for years. I don't know what it is, but I feel like the best version of myself with him.

I had to make the 4:50am train to Casablanca and he not only took me to the station, but helped me load my bags in the cabin. We totally cried and hugged and had a weepy train scene like they do in the movies.

I will definitely be back.

Rock the kasbah

The only real thing to see here in ouarzazate is the taourirt kasbah and the studios where they shot a lot of films like gladiator, kingdom of heaven, etc. Many of the Arabian or desert-y movies are filmed here, so they call it Ouallywood.

I took some really beautiful shots inside the kasbah and wandered through the adjacent town that 1500 ppl still reside in. it never seizes to amaze me to see how some people live. But they can have the poorest living conditions... with satellite tv.

I went to the ensemble artisanal across the street to see if maybe, yet again, I might find a carpet I like. They have these in every city- it's supposed to be a coop for the workers who make carpets, clothing, souvenirs, etc. You can watch them making their crafts, and it's supposed to be an educational experience, as well as a program supporting the makers, since you're buying directly from them. But call me cynical, they had all the same shit sold everywhere, at much higher prices, and I felt like they had only put the women making carpets there as a prop to justify us paying so much more. When I walked through, i actually finally found a carpet that I LOVED, but it was only 2x3, overpriced, and too big to carry.

What really threw me off was when he tried to sell me an Indian scarf that I KNOW is made in India, because I bought one there--- the ones you can buy on the streets in the city for $5 each, well he tried to sell it to me for $20!!!! I thought, if he's trying to pass that off as hand made by them, and justify its price, it's all a scam. That completely changed my mind and I left as quickly as I could.

I'm not meant to have a Moroccan carpet.

Ouaw ouaw ouarzazate

Ouarzazate (wear-za-zete) is such a beautiful town, but there isn't much to do here. It's pretty empty.

This city is really only a stop-over for those on their way to the desert excursions, so most people only spend one night and see the kasbah, and then linger by the pool until they depart for their next destination. But I like it here a lot. Again, the weather is perfect, it's quiet, no traffic, and no one gives me a hard time!!

I had the most delicious lunch today at a fabulous place called Douyria. It is really cute, clean and the menu is so interesting. I had a tajine with camel, figs, and almonds. It was divine. Pricey, but worth it. I'd recommend this place to anyone coming here.

It took me the entire day to recover from the bus trip yesterday. I sunbathed, swam, and read. Tonight I decided to stay in since I have to be at the airport at 3am. The hotel is about 2km into town- which I'm fine walking during the day, but I'm not going at night.

Wow the city just erupted because barca scored!!

I sat and chatted with a man at my hotel who is from the desert and lives there. He organizes desert excursions. We talked for hours of many things, and honestly, i didnt want to talk to him at first, but then found him really interesting. Ppl stare at him questioning why he wears a turban or the traditional cotton robes. He says matter of factly it is his tradition and tradition is important. He has a very good heart and told me that he won't marry before 30 to give him life experiences that are important. I found that so surprising coming from a self proclaimed simple man who lives a simple life in the desert. You would think he'd be married with a soccer team of kids by now, but no. And he was telling me about the lifestyles of some moroccans and how they drink and smoke hash, and he said, "these are Muslimeen-light." (like coca light, or diet soda). I found it really funny. He said "here in morocco we have the Muslimeen and the Muslimeen-light. People who do bad things, they are light. " Funny.

From the restaurant's terrace, I saw this beautiful oasis/lake in the middle of the desert there. I had contemplated going over to check it out. But good thing I didn't!! The guy from the desert told me that that lake is dangerous-- it has quicksand!!! Many people have died going swimming and/or going near the lake. It actually exists!?

After he left, I ordered dinner and wandered my way into the kitchen to ask the women if I could help them with the cooking. They were so sweet and surprised, but happily shared their duties. We talked about Moroccan food and Egyptian food, and we laughed at the fact that Egyptians are planning lunch at breakfast, and dinner at lunch-- all we do is think about food.

Only downside was that I saw how unclean the kitchen is, and that the veggies arent fresh or worse- some of them were canned and smelled so bad. And for the price I was paying, that was not cool. They had chicken that was cooked earlier this morning hanging out in a pot and they put it in a tajine and pretended it was "tajine". The more i saw, the more afraid i felg, so i had to leave and hope for the best. Well it was not good at all. The salad tasted rotten, the tajine terrible. I was scared to eat but I also didn't want to offend or embarrass these women I just hung out with. Since I have become very friendly with the preggers cat here, she very loyally ate all the meat that I secretly diverted to her. Just like a kid, when no one was looking, I threw the chicken her way. We looked out for each other, I am a crazy cat lady.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Grand vs. Petit taxis

Every city has both grand taxis and petit taxis.

Petit taxis are little hatchback cars that you take to get around the city. Each city has a different color petit taxi: red, blue, beige, etc. Prices vary, but typically you never pay more than 20 dh for a trip within the city. I never ask how much the fare is, I just hand them what I think is fair.

The grand taxis are meant for traveling out of the city. These are all the same through morocco, beige Mercedes' from the 1970s. Usually door handles and window cranks are broken, but who's counting? Grand taxis are meant to have 6 passengers plus the driver. When you're taking one, you have a choice: you either just take a seat and wait for the other passengers to fill it up, or you can pay for the other passengers' empty seats. So if I'm the 3rd person in the car, I can pay for 3 ppl to make up the difference and go, so that I don't have to wait.

I can't decide if it's environmentally conscious- and thereby good, or just a really dumb idea. But i don't mind paying a small share, and I don't feel like paying for no-shows, so I'll sit back and wait. :-)


Moroccans, like the French, love their yogurt. In fact, it's their snack of choice. Grocery stores and little bodega-type places stock loads of varieties. When we get to a rest stop, they buy yogurt, when they're hanging out, they drink yogurt.

And I have to say, I have really never liked yogurt, but the yogurt here is incredible. I've never had so much of it before!! AND it is uber cheap at like 2 dh a drink (25 cents!!)

It is tart and sweet and the texture is like custard. And they make flavors like mango, pistachio- which is out of control, and avocado drinks... I love it.

I'm trying to figure out how to get this at home. Maybe on Steinway st?


Wow, my bus ride to ouarzazate was no joke. 5 hours of super windy roads through the atlas mountains. We were at a very high altitude and again, the sharp turns, if missed, can have you falling off hundreds of feet.

The driver was a real jerk, and took no opportunity to exercise caution on the roads, or care for the passengers. I sat in the back, and nearly every person in our back half was vomiting the whole way there. The poor children had it the worst of course. One sharp turn after another, and he didn't slow down for a single one-- our half of the bus just kept rocking back and forth. Our stomachs were turning and heads were spinning. I kept hitting my head against the window, or the seat in front of me, or the annoying person next to me.

I was so car sick and i tried using every trick not to vomit. I had to breathe very heavily and I just got to a point 2 hours in, where I just broke down and I cried like a baby. One person is puking after another, I could barely breathe bc I feared I was next, and I dunno, I just lost it. But the weird thing was that crying actually made me feel so much better. Maybe the gasping for my breath... I dunno. It was really rough.

When we finally got to a rest stop, you should've seen how many barf bags were being thrown out. I wanted to punch the driver. If my father had been on that bus, he would've started a major scene and cursed out the driver and threatened him to slow down for the sake of the kids. I wish someone had done that.

When we finally got to ouarzazate, I was so weak, I could barely stand up.

I decided then and there that my voyage ends here. I'm not going further south. I was thinking about getting down to zagora to get closer to the sand dunes, but I can't endure another bus trip like that, especially not another 7 hour one. I'm going to just take it easy, swim in the pool at the hotel to try to restore my strength, and just look around town tomorrow.

If I want to see sand dunes, I can always just take a walk in Cairo, or go to see the pyramids near my aunt's house. I don't need to travel for hours here and feel miserable during my last few days here. Anyway, I would only see the tip of the sahara here when really, I'd be better off seeing more in Algeria, but the borders are closed.

Thank god I had decided to book a flight back up north. I could not go back through those mountains again.

Quenching thirst

So I met up with my new israeli friends and we did a couple of laps around the djema and then ate dinner there.

Again we had great conversations about everything: family, travel, Nepal, Egypt, Israel, politics, religion, food, everything. And personally, I thought it was a real treat to bond with them.

We decided that we were thirsty and we were determined to find beer. But, where? We tried looking for Brits-- they would know. We found an American couple, but they had no idea. I only remembered one place I saw in my book, but I left the book at my hotel. So we walked there from my memory, and luckily did find it easily. The place was Jad Mahal, on recommendation from a friend. We were dressed like backpacking tourists: flip flops, curly hair everywhere, scarves...u know the look. Well the bouncer gave us a really uncomfortable scan of our outfits, and honestly we didn't want to drink there anyway. So they recommended another place. Still posh. Went there, 60 dh a beer. No. Another place, same thing. We ended up walking way out in the ville nouvelle and places got seedier and seedier, so we took a taxi back and tried one last place near the djemma. Same thing, 50dh. As we walked away, the bouncer recommended one last place- grand tazi hotel. And guess what, it was literally down the street from our hotels and only 30 dh for the Moroccan flag beer. That's where all the Brits were. Boy, were we laughing at ourselves. We toured parts of Marrakech we would have otherwise never seen, and in the end, it was so close to home.

I gave her my email, so hopefully we will meet up in NYC, and who knows, maybe we'll go to Cuba together with our French/Israeli passports. :-)

Off to ouarzazate!!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

So I missed the bus...

When I checked in the morning, there were still seats available to ouarzazate. but when I went to buy the ticket at night... Not so much.

I'm so bummed about having to spend another day in Marrakech. Today I really hate morocco, moroccans, and Marrakech. This city is only nice to tourists when they're spending money in a shop or a cafe, and even then they're not polite- they just want your money. Besides that, not so much. It's not like thailand where everyone is smiley and friendly; or India where they are so happy you came to visit their country. The only time someone talks to me is to sell me something or is making comments at me in the street.

My plan for the day was to go sit in cyber park, which is a public park that has free wifi. I thought i'd relax, get a tan, hang out, and chat with cousins abroad. What a mistake. God forbid a girl be alone in a park. She must be a whore or something. I had 4 separate men follow me around. One even came up to me, and asked If I was available; and a homeless man threw rocks at me, so finally I just fucking left. I still really don't get it-- I don't dress differently than the girls here who seem to really be asking for it. WTF?

I might be really impressed with the modern infrastructure, the reliable public transportation, or the beautiful natural landscapes, but as long as the culture remains as antiquated and ignorant as it is, tourists will stop coming. After all, it's not that cheap here and I wouldn't recommend a friend to come here alone at all. Only couples or groups. It is really sad to me though, because as long as I want to get out in public and immerse myself in the culture, I'm asking for trouble. And hanging out in hotels is so not my idea of fun. (which is why I never go to the Caribbean--- boring!!!)

I'm lonely, I'm bored, and my money is spent. I tried to get a ticket to essaouira for the day, sold out. Thought about getting a day pass at a fancy hotel's pool, and i was even willing to spend $200 for mamounia, the king of hotels here, but i woke up to gray skies.

But while sitting in a cafe, I met a brother and sister from NY who are now living in Israel. She was so interesting and we really clicked on our thoughts on travel, and career, and the whole lot. She is smart and beautiful and her free spiritedness actually reminded me so much of my last boss who i love. This girl is studying landscape architecture at city college, so when I told her what I do for a living, even i was shocked to hear it myself. I work in construction? What? She asked me about my day to day work and about the culture. It felt weird to talk about work when I had really done a great job at forgetting about it. (one week from now I start my new job, holyyyy shittttt) So I did actually tell her about my last boss who's one of the very few women in her place, who she reminded me of. We had a nice conversation about feeling conflicted with wanting to have a successful career but also wanting to have a meaningful life. The things we value in our travels are lacking in NYC, so what do we do?

Anyway, since it's their first day, I gave them some suggestions on where to go, and we're going to rendezvous tonight. Finally!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

setti fatima

setti fatima is just about an hour south of marrakech, in the valley of the atlas mountains. berber villages are sandwiched between the peaks and it is just a beautiful place, known for its treks and waterfalls. it serves as an escape from the heat of marrakech in the summer. i took a grand taxi for 25 dh each way and enjoyed the day!! my brother would be really proud of me today for mountain climbing, especially in my slippery chucks, wahoo! at one point i totally didnt have any grip trying to climb up a 10' rock, and i just slid the entire way down, got a bruise for that one. i was totally out of my comfort zone, but i kept telling myself that if the other people are doing it, i can too!! most of the moroccans were climbing in flats or flip flops, i was going to manage. at one point, i sat down to take some pictures and catch my breath, and what did i do? i sat on a cactus!! ouuuuchhhhhh!! i was picking pricks out of my ass for like 15 minutes! how's that for comfort zone??? exhausted and sunburned from too much sun and 3 hours of hiking; i am taking it super easy on my last night. ouarzazete is tomorrow and i just booked my flight to go back to fes!!

More Marrakech

After the jardins, I took some more strolls through the souks and I've really had it with the shopping. I just won't shop in Marrakech, it's not worth it. I know im being ripped off and I am sick and damn tired of being hassled. Fucking leave me alone. Why does everyone act like they never saw a woman before!?!?! Im not that beautiful and I'm still pretty conservative, it's not like I'm prancing around in booty shorts or something. Cut the shit.

i even met 2 american guys at my hotel who are so annoyed with it, they went out tonight in full length garb-- the jelaba and they took it a step further and wore turbans. too funny. I spent a half hour in a carpet shop trying so hard to find something and even THEN the guy kept trying to ask me to go to dinner with him. I said, if my boyfriend found out, he would kill me. And he STILL kept insisting!!

Finally, at night I stayed in the djemma and enjoyed the tete, or the head, of lamb as well as the tanjia which Marrakech is known for. Tanjia is meat that's cooked in a covered ceramic pot-- get this, in a hamam. The heat from the hamam slowly cooks the meat to amazingness. Talk about energy efficient!

What was more fun than eating (although it was super delicious) was watching the Swiss man next to me play magic tricks. He drew in crowds from every corner of the djemma. I saw a girl selling sweets so I bought a box from her, and she was so impressed with me traveling alone, that she asked me to have lunch with her tomorrow and gave me her number. So sweet. Pun intended.

Some guy with dreads as long as my brother's was joking with his friends and asked me if he could have a cookie. So I stopped and gave him one. I don't know why I did, I usually just ignore any guy that talks to me, but with this one, I stopped. And he was so taken aback, he wouldn't stop talking to me and asked me to go to a cafe nearby. Maybe if he had his teeth, I would have been willing. But god knows why a guy my age is already missing his teeth. Need I spell it out??

My whole body is super achy. I need to be ok with not moving every hour of the day. It is ok to stay in or chillax. I'm on the go non stop for fear of missing something.

After chatting with my mom and my friend who is my virtual companion here, I decided that I will return to fes. I'm going to ouarzazate as planned, and I'll fly back to casa and then train back to fes. I can spend my last days in my favorite city, maybe shop, if I have the appetite for it, and see the boys. Then I can just take the early trains from fes to casa airport and I won't have to go back to that awful city!!

Les jardins majorelle

I mentioned before that Yves Saint Laurent is what/who inspired me to come to morocco. After seeing l'amour fou and learning the story of YSL's love for Marrakech, I just HAD to see les jardins majorelle.

i felt a little pressure to look presentable since it is YSL after all, so i put on a dress that is now too big to be flattering or cute. i tried. i hope he understands...

Getting there was a little less than exciting. I decided to take the bus and the asshole driver charged me the highest rate and failed to mention that it was like 2 stops from the djemma. So when I caught on 20 min later, in the middle of nowhere, he just shrugged his shoulders and smirked. Argh! I wanted to punch the man!! I had to take a taxi just to get to the jardins; that's how far i was.

Then when I got there, I didn't have enough cash to get in, so I had to trek back out to find a bank. At this point, imagine that my blood is boiling, because I was ready to kill someone. I found a grocery store and I wanted to see if they had sunscreen. Instead, I ended up buying a ton of les marseillais (French creams). Found an ATM, didn't buy sunscreen, and finallllly got to the jardins. It is much smaller than I imagined but beautiful none the less. The electric blue and neon yellow are so beautiful. The Berber museum inside was even worth the 25 dh and I hate museums. YSL's ashes were scattered there and his memorial will be kept there as well. It was a really beautiful place, so isolated from the rest of kech's insanity. But while taking photos, guess what, i ran out of memory, it just wasn't my morning. Thank god for the iphone, i took the rest of my pics there. but you know what, thanks to my journey to the bank/grocery store, i knew exactly where i could go to buy a new memory card. So all's well that ends well!