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(Todra & Dades Gorges, Chefchouan in the Rif, and the Sufi Festival in Fes) Since writing the exhaustive report from our trip to Tunisia the both of us have been suppressed with the turn in of draft term papers, food poisoning, and a general transportation strike that has immobilized the country until a couple days ago when the King ordered that the strike be lifted. In so much as term papers Alicia is writing one on U.S. involvement in women’s education in the Maghreb, and Grant is writing three. 1) Cultural preconceptions between the Maghreb and the U.S. between 1776 and 1815, 2) The underground dwellings of the Matmata Berber tribe (mentioned in the Tunisia report), and 3) The Armenian genocide and weather it classifies in technical terms as a genocide. We have been able to do some traveling though. On March 13th we left by rental car to explore the Todra and Dades gorges on the eastern side of the High Atlas mountains, on March 27th we travelled to Chefchouan in the Rif to the north of here, and April 17th we went to the Sufi Festival in Fes.
Todra and Dades Gorge (March 13-15)
On Friday the both of left Ifrane to Azrou some 15km away to purchase a rental car for the weekend and after about an hour of negotiation we secured a vehicle for two days at about $75 total. We then headed back to Ifrane to pick up the other three members of our group (Ben, Hannah, and Emily). Leaving at 3pm, and with nearly eight hours of driving ahead of us most of the driving was at night. Arriving in our departure city for the Todra gorge, Tinerhir, we soon voted and decided to spend the short night in one of the “Kasbah” hotels which fortunately had a room for all five of us. The next morning we had our petit breakfast of crepes, bread, honey, butter, and Berber tea (extremely bitter tea) and headed out to the gorge. Leaving the city we soon gained a prominent vantage point over the area and began to make out beautiful traditional Berber settlements set among vast palm tree groves that lined a crystal clear stream flowing from well within the gorge. Just before entering the narrow canyon we stopped and proceeded by foot in to the gorge. Here, rock climbing was just as popular as tourism with dozens of people top roping at the gorge entrance and several others exploring further in to try less popular routs up the sheer sides. This perhaps the true claim to fame of Todra, as for nearly 500m you can walk through this deep crevasse that is sometimes no more than 20ft wide. After the 500m you step out into a barren but far more visible landscape as the cliff of the right wall follows the terrain around several more bends. At the first of these bends sits, at the foot, a small picturesque Berber garden, above which are numerous climbers. Heading back to go onto the Dades gorge we stopped briefly to take pictures with some of the Berbers who were watch over camels and selling tourists on rides. Hannah got a short ride for
free. Moving on we stopped for lunch in Tinerhir, where we all, unexpectedly, got five pounds of pasta. Figuring that this was good for food latter on we boxed it and moved onto the Dades gorge. Arriving some 45 minutes later, the Dades gorge starts out as what would appear to be a large ravine that begins to develop opposing cliff faces. Entering the mouth of the gorge the road follows a large river that once carved the canyon and still continues to today, meandering through a half dozen Berber villages huddled in the bottom of the drainage next to the river and creeks the road reaches its first impasse. For the typical American car this impasse would have been just a hill, except for our four cylinders Ford Fiesta this might as well have been a mountain slope consisting of maybe a dozen switchbacks gaining a spectacular view down the gorge. However, moving further up the road the view became magnificent as road descended into yet another Berber village. The village would have been the epitome of sustainable design to some architects with the buildings made out of the same light brown soil that they sat on, nestled against and atop cliff faces, and with old Kasbahs (fortresses) lining the edge of the valley commanding strategic locations. As we move forward through this spectacular landscape of orange-brown buildings, lush palm groves, and massive boulders formations that looked like monkey fingers we realized that not only was the gorge turning into a rather narrow canyon, but that the water level of the parallel stream was becoming increasingly more threatening to the road. Reaching the narrowest portion of the gorge the road appeared to be flooded by what looked to be about a foot or so of water. Braving the water, our little car made it through with no problem despite some fears about flooding. By this point it was thought that we could continue on the road for some 60km or so, passing over the high atlas and linking up with the city of Ilmichil that would serve as different way back. Soon after passing the flooded portion, we yet again began our ascent onto the side of a now massive gorge. Through the next 3km or so we discovered that the Dades gorge was really the Grand Canyon of Morocco, that guard rails are a scarcity, and that we all shared a fear of heights. Passing through a few villages straddling the gorge and after Alicia had given a soda to a group of random impoverished girls, we came upon some workers critically maintaining the rutted dirt road. We had a talk with one of them, in English, who had spent some time in New York and after explaining that we were headed over the mountains to Ilmchil we got the red flag of “not possible in this little car.” Odds, he said, would slightly be in our favor in midSummer, but now with the mountains still snow capped a heavy duty truck was needed. Disheartened by thiswe made the 1 ½ hour journey back through the gorge to the connecting city of Rachidia, determined to find ourselves an alcoholic beverage. Lonely Planet only had one listing for such a place, a four star hotel on the edge of town. To summarize this night we basically ate and slept at one of the most expensive places we’ve been to in Morocco ($15
dinner / $30 a night rooms) and just so happened to run into my Berber teacher who was there for a conference and was destined to think of me as an explorer of Morocco ever since.
Chefchauen (March 27-29)
We planned a weekend trip up north to the Rif Mountains and a small, mountain community called Chefchauen, known locally as “Chauen.” This town is very popular with Spaniards and is quite famous for growing Kif (refined marijuana). We had initially planned to go to Chauen and hike and camp there for the weekend; however, we ended up going with a friend and since we only have a 2-person tent at best, we opted to stay in a pension rather than on our own at the campsite at the base of the mountains. On Friday after school, we had a heck of a time leaving campus that day as we tried unsuccessfully to get a 5 or 6 person group to share a cab ride to Chauen. We had at least 5 of the international students bail on traveling together as a group, and we were pretty peeved to say the least. It ‘s quite hard to travel anywhere without a larger group as it is so much more expensive if the cab fare isn’t split by more people. Anyhow, so while we had planned to leave that Friday afternoon by noon, we ended up not leaving the university grounds until 4:30pm that day! We were able to negotiate a cab ride to Chauen fairly quickly as luck would have it, a Moroccan student was going to Meknes, a town on the drive to Chauen, and she could successfully translate our intent to the driver. It was on this 6-hour drive to Chauen that Alicia began to feel terrible. Initially, it seemed like it was just the car ride or the windy, curvy rounds, but the last two hours of the drive were rather hard to get through. Six hours later, we came around a bend and were graced with our first evening view of Chauen. It was spread out across the valleys and had hills and valleys all around. It was a very beautiful town even in the evening. We were dropped off near the medina and our cab driver helped us to find our way to our pension. It was just a quick walk and thankfully so because as soon as Alicia got to the pension, she got sick. Thinking back on it now, we are fairly certain that Alicia got food poisoning from something she ate on campus. Unfortunately these circumstances prevented the trip to Chauen being the most spectacular as Alicia was sick all of Friday and Saturday, and was still feeling the aftermath on Sunday. On Saturday, we went out to breakfast and then Alicia went back to bed for the day, while Grant and our friend went to explore the city. Our friend went shopping and Grant took a short hike around the base of the mountain, arriving in a small village where completely operated off growing and selling the Kif. As a souvenir, Grant bought a Suezi which is what people use to smoke the Kif. Later on, Grant was able to walk the short walk up the hill to the old mosque in Chauen. On the route to the mosque there were quite a few people/tourists who were wandering around here as well because this area had a river that passed through it
and there were the local women from the community crowded around this river where they could both wash their laundry and more importantly, socialize. On Sunday, Alicia was feeling slightly recovered from her food poisoning and so we decided to try to hike around a bit that morning, hoping to get to the top of one of the mountains that looms directly over Chauen. We ended up taking a right on the path and it turns out we should have taken a left so deciding we had enough of a hike that day, we looped back around and just went back into to town, this time Alicia got to go to the old mosque as well. It was a beautiful day and it was just nice to be out of the pension room and back out it the gorgeous Moroccan sunshine. We met up with the cab driver to head back to Ifrane at around 4:30pm that day, and arrived back in Ifrane by 10pm that night. Chauen was a beautiful town but the drug culture prevented our “true” appreciation for the draw of this Moroccan city. The harsh reality of Chauen, though, is that it is comparable to being the Afghanistan of Morocco in that just as Afghanistan was deathly dependent on its opium production, so is Chauen with its production of Kif. Driving in and out of Chauen, you can easily discern the government’s approach to the situation. On the drive there, our taxi driver was stopped 6 times to have his documents checked and to make sure there wasn’t anything suspicious about our car; however, as we are leaving Chauen, we were never stopped once which is just the exact opposite of what needs to happen to truly rid Chauen of its economic dependence on the Kif agriculture and production. In essence, the Rif Mountains are the harvesting grounds for harvesting marijuana with Chauen at its heart. For a developing country, nothing short of famine and turmoil is going to stop the export of a product that has such an economic influence in northern Morocco.
Sufi Festival (April 17-19)
The Sufi Festival in Fes is an annual event that takes place around April of each year. This event should not be confused with the much larger “Sacred Music Festival” that takes place around July as this was somewhat confused during our visit. The difference between the two is decisive and critical as the “Sacred Music Festival” is aimed at a public promotion of spirituality whereas the “Sufi Festival,” while also focused on promotion and awareness of Sufism in this case, is geared to more of a elite crowed. This event does serve as a good starting point for explaining the cities history and dynamics as what will be attempted in a brief concise manor. Today there are three main districts to Fes, Old Fes, New Fes, and Villa Nouvelle. Old Fes, was once two fortified cities that have since been merged and now serve as the most impoverished part of the city and the center of the Medina. New Fes, which is a result of overpopulation expanding beyond the limits of Old Fes into what would be the middle class of Fes. And Villa Nouvelle which was established during French occupation is predominantly French and houses the economic elite of the city. The social class the zones in Fes are clear and defining when moving from Old Fes where the dirty narrow 10ft wide winding streets are filled
with beggars and hagglers to the Villa Nouvelle where thousands of non-Moroccans have built multi-million dollar homes. To get back on track the Sufi performance for this night was being held at the Dar Batha Museum in Old Fes, so one would think that this would be catered to the general populace, but with an admission fee for the conference conducted in French of 60DH/8USD and a 200DH/25USD admission fee to the performance it was well above the daily income for many residents in the area. To put this into perspective there have been a few general transportation strikes over increased road fines up to 50,000DH for running a red light when the typical monthly income for a taxi driver is between 5,000DH and 10,000DH or between 166DH/20USD and 332DH/42USD a day! Consequently what was supposed to be a performance for the general population has become one for those who can afford it, in this case the French residents of the Villa Nouvelle. The performance itself was well orchestrated, set against the backdrop of a large cedar in the courtyard of the Museum with florescent lighting; the 2H performance consisted of a Sufi singer from Morocco and one from Syria. Both with noticeably different styles. The Moroccan singer tended to focus more on a rhythmatic beat, while the Syrian singer sounded more fluent and spiritual. As what also became clear, each Sufi order wore a distinct outfit. The Moroccan singer wore a white robe with a classic Moroccan fes (red with a tassel). The Syrian singer, on the other hand, wore a white robe covered by a black robe, and wore a clack skull cap. The climax of the show occurred in the last 45M or so when both singers got together and sung a compilation of spiritual songs. This was not the highlight though, the main attraction was the whirling dancer that looked to have come from the same Syrian order as the singer. Accompanied by a spotter to insure his safety, both were dressed in white robes covered by an exterior black robe, and wore 16” light brown hats that almost formed a cone shape. The dancer however wore a much larger dancing robe that sprawled out some 20’ in diameter around him. Approaching the platform the spotter removers the dancers outer black robe to reveal the white robe wrapped around the dancers body. Making his way onto the platform the dancer goes through a series of bobs and bows in sync with the music, centering and focusing his spiritual energy. After about a few minutes of doing so the dancer signals the start as in a fraction of a second he breaks from his meditative state to begin spinning. The robe he wears instantly unravels from around him and is crisply pulled outward by the syntriphical force. Spinning like a top perfectly balanced the dancer goes through a series of devotional arm gestures as the music plays. The dancer endured a performance of some 20 minutes, which by the end he was both physically and emotionally delirious despite his finally of being able to stop on a dime with the music with his robe naturally re-wrapping itself around him. This was not the end as about 5minutes later he once again put on another dizzying 15-20 minute performance.
*As a note. The Mevlevi Sufi order in Turkey also has these dancers that dance together in large groups known as whirling dervishes. A performance we hope to see while there.
(Alicia’s sleepover on Meknes <to be completed>, Grant’s hike to Tazizout, and climbing Jbel Toubkal)
Hike to Tazizout (24-26 April)
This trip was inspired by one of Grant’s teachers Dr. Michael Peyron who advised on of the Grant’s friend, Mike, to write a paper on an epic and mythical battle that took place between the French colonizers and the indigenous Berber tribes of the central high Atlas region of Morocco. For the trip relatively little was actually planned for getting there and hiking around our teachers advice was merely to hire a car and travel through radical Islamist country until we reached the small Berber village of Ikassen some three hours later. Upon arriving our teachers guidance was to allow for Berber hospitality in not bringing supplies or a shelter, in a sense sleep and eat with them at their homes. To get to the site though we needed to find a guide he took some 10 years earlier by the name of Omo. Due to the shortness of the trip we opted to rent a car from Azrou, but finding that all the cars had been rented we took a cab to Kenifra some 150km away. Once we arrived we had relatively no problem finding a rental car company after asking a few people and making a few phone calls. Nearly as painless, thank god, was our three hour venture to Ikassen on several meandering single lane roads. With the clock hitting 11pm we knew that we were getting close, but didn’t know which out cropping a building was Ikassen, we were hesitant to ask for directions due to the area being known for its radical Islamists. Cautiously we decided to stop at the next village which by mere chance turned out to be Ikassen. In Ikassen we met a few of the men working at the café and tried to convey what our purpose was in their village. Graciously, they allowed for us to sleep on the ground in one of their communal rooms. The next morning we woke to discover that a landscape in which we envisioned being forested was in fact an area of arid, sandy, almost volcanic soil. Working in favor of the village was the presence of a larger stream that allowed for some agricultural production. Packing our packs we asked around for Omo, our guide and about 20min later we approached by him and another guy. Agreeing to take us to Tazizout for 250DH with donkey for two days we joined him for a small breakfast of tea, sweetened goats milk, bread with butter and oil, and biscuits. Finishing up we loaded the donkey and started our adventure. Due to the language barrier this was to be a rather quiet journey for the guide. Leaving the village we passed some eight women herding a herd of cattle up a river bed, who nagged our guide for leading to white people. Further up, we crossed over some rather exposed terrain
following a dried up river bed up a ridge where the French had once stationed artillery pieces that laid bombardment for three days on the dug in Berber. Making our way further, descending along a creek we diverged and ascended a small ridge that let us out just above our “basecamp” at the village of Tazra. Making our way into the village it soon became apparent that the men were either traveling long distances to conduct trade or passing the time with meaningless chores like saddle building, while the women were herding livestock, gathering firewood and water, cleaning the houses, or preparing meals. Our host family seemed to greet us reluctantly and about 10 minutes later we sat down for lunch on the floor in a large communal room that looked to double as a bedroom. For lunch we had supper sweet mint tea that was prepared by breaking of chunks of sugar from a block the size and shape of an artillery shell, and bread with the usual olive oil. After eating enough bread to make us sick Omo asked if we would like to explore Tazazout today or tomorrow as originally planned. We agreed on today and headed up the dry gulch to the hold foxholes dug by the Berbers. Crossing the river of blood, where Berber women and men had been shot by the French while trying to retrieve water. Making our way closer to the ridge we found the old foxholes and stone walls around and under old cedar trees that provided cover. Attaining the ridge we traversed over to make our way to the “sacred cedar.” Passing a half dozen shelters used by pilgrims in late August we ascended a small gulch to an area that was being cut apart by logging. Making our way further up the hillside we approached the Tazazout ridge properl on our way to the summit and to the “sacred cedar.” The “sacred cedar” is a tree that is surrounded in mythology. The legend of Tazazout has it that during French occupation the tree had shriveled to barley more than a small bush, but that once Morocco declared its independence the tree immediately began to flourish once again, and flourish it has as this tree is truly a magnificent tree. Starting our descent on the main ridge back to Tazra it was apparent that the entire ridge had been used by the French as a fighting position with old French rifle cartridges littering the ridge top. An interesting note, in no place were there more than two or three cartridges clustered together. Heading down it quickly became apparent that our guide was trying to speed through everything in order to get back to Ikassen early the next day. Since we had agreed to pay him for two full days, we concluded that if we were to get back before noon the next day that the payment would be reduced by a half day. We still had one more night though, that consisted of sitting around drinking tea, eating bread, and finally when we were about to call it night at 9pm a chicken and potato stew was served. Which didn’t taste half bad, despite the use of chicken that had been used several times before. After a fitful night of sleep, we woke early the next day to head back to Ikassen. There isn’t much to say about this leg except that we ended up getting back at 11:30 and paid him 200DH instead of the agreed upon 250. Mike had fallen ill from some sort of stomach sickness and so we decided to head back to Kenifra and then Ifrane a day earlier than planned.
Jbel Toubkal Climb (29 April – 01 May)
Jbel Toubkal sits at the southern end of the High Atlas in Morocco and not only claims the title as Morocco’s highest peak, but sitting at just below 4000 meters it is also the highest mountain in North Africa. The climb itself is rated between a difficult hike and a basic snow climb depending on the time of year. If snow is present then a pair of crampons and trekking poles would be advisable. If no snow is present then perhaps a pair of trekking poles depending on how sturdy one’s knees are. All gear can be rented in the town of Imlil which sits at the trailhead to Toubkal. I was once a believer that an ice axe and crampons were inseparable, but this would be the exception as an ice axe is only needed if you’re going to be doing a lot of glissading. We had been asking around all semester to gauge whether or not there were fellow international students who were not only interested in doing the hike with us, but also that they were in good enough shape and reliable enough to do it with us as well. In the last couple weeks before going, we had nailed down our group to Brian, who was from Missouri and had hiked Pike’s Peak in Colorado and Ryan, who had never really been above 4,000 feet as he was from Ohio and currently lives on the East Coast; however, he was a West Point cadet so he had to be in good enough shape for the hike. We had a 3-day weekend from school (Friday-Sunday) and so we decided to leave after classes were over with on Wednesday afternoon. Grant and I had tried to rent a car from Azrou, but they were apparently out of rental cars so we had to catch a cab from Ifrane to Khenifra to go to the same car rental company Grant had been at the week prior with Mike. We arrived in Khenifra around 5 in the afternoon, rented the car, gassed up, and started on the road south towards Marakkesh and our mountain. We stopped at a rather large Afriqua gas station where they had a restaurant and we all got some food in us before our hike in the morning. Our ride south was fairly uneventful. We saw Marakkesh by night, none to impressive, Grant had burned a CD for our car ride; unfortunately, not even the radio would work in our little car! We got to Imlil around 2am where we luckily and painlessly found a place to stay for the night. We slept about 5 or 6 hours that night and had started on our hike before 10am after renting what Grant thought to be the essential gear of a crampons and Ice Axes (total for two days 120DH). Before leaving the villages behind, Grant had decided to stop at a stream along the way, using his water pump to purify some water for us. There was a group of young Moroccan kids, girls and boys who watched on with fascination with what he was doing, wanting to try pumping the water and drinking it as well. We all had a good time watching their curiosity. We ended up giving a couple of the kids a Snickers bar – but of course they wanted more than one.
We had great weather for our entire hike. We walked at a rather leisurely pace to the refuge where we would sleep that night, as we knew we had the whole day to get there and we wouldn’t be making it to the top of Toubkal that day. We arrived at the “hut” and realized that it was certainly not deserving of the title for it was by far the most impressive site we had stayed at while hiking/climbing in the outdoors. The one hut alone slept something 100+ people. While it was probably a little more expensive to stay there than we would have wanted, we certainly were living in luxury on that mountain. While we are happy to say we hiked Toubkal, it was a mountain that given how much it catered to tourists, we couldn’t very well say it was a huge accomplishment or any such thing. As mentioned, the hut was just one of the luxuries to be found on Toubkal. Additionally, you could hire a guide as many people did and you could even hire a donkey and somewhat of a servant boy to lead a mule up the mountain so that you wouldn’t have to pack your own stuff up the mountain. While this wasn’t probably the worst example, we met about 10 people from Britain who were members of the self-proclaimed prestigious British Mountaineering Society and they not only had a guide, but even had whiskey and wine with them in the pitiable conditions in the hut! As I mentioned, this was probably not the most deserving of examples but they were some of the few we met on the hike. Anyhow, we got to the cabin, laid down our packs, were served lunch of omelets, bread, and a green and fruit salad for Alicia. Then, we took a 2-hour nap before we went to dinner. The main room downstairs was rather full and we sat by the fireplace, yes a fireplace, and met that British mountaineering group. While there were some in the group we certainly took to, including the guide who was from Morocco, there were a couple “bad apples” in the group who seemed to be making fun of our lack of gear, our lack of knowledge, etc. and it left us ready to prove ourselves on the mountain. Dinner that night was a shared tajine for the guys, tea, and spaghetti of sorts for Alicia. We went to bed before 10pm that night and had a somewhat restless sleep, anticipating our 5am wake up. While one member of our party didn’t really want to wake up that early, he agreed to it based on our judgment and none of us regretted the decision. With the sun hidden behind the mountain, we were able to walk with a little cooler, more enjoyable temperatures and the sun rise was gorgeous to behold. Before starting Grant gave a quick lesson of how to use crampons and Ice Axes, in theory only as no-one had ideal clothes for playing in the snow and being wet before the climb would not have been good. We made good use of our crampons that morning as the snow was still hard from the overnight chill. It was steady going to get to the top and there were 3 people who summated ahead of our party that day. Scores of people would be following us though, and again, this diminished the uniqueness or difficulty of this mountain for us. Arriving at the top, as always, it was well worth the effort. We had panoramic views all around and it was a gorgeous area to behold. Suddenly, we were transported from the
continent of Africa, from Morocco, from Middle Eastern culture, here we were simply outdoor enthusiasts sharing the love of travel, activity, the outdoors, challenge, and adventure. This was only half the battle though. Statistically, some 80% of accidents happen on the descent either by climbing above ones ability level or from complacency after achieving a tiring ascent. Starting the descent the option became quickly available of glissading down the mountain to help expedite the descent. Both Alicia and Brian were reluctant to use the Ice Axe and preferred to glissade cautiously down while, after a quick instruction of how to break and self arrest with an ice axe, Grant and Ryan took every slope energetically. Shortcutting instruction on the use of a vital piece of equipment almost spelled disaster as on the second to last slope Ryan lost control. An account by Grant: Some five hundred feet above the refuge I started my glissade down and to the left of the runoff, following Alicia along the glissade trail, in order to avoid a cliff in the middle of the slope. About half way down I heard Ryan give a yell, “YEAH!,” looking to the left I smiled to see him roughing the steeper slope. Nearly as soon as I saw him though, my smile went away as a gauged that he was going must faster than me and headed for the cliff. A second later it became apparent that he too realized the danger and wildly flipped over, swing the ice axe into the snow in an effort to self arrest. Poor form and lack of control of the ice axe pulled it strait out of his hands, the force of with sent snow flying and flipped Ryan back on his back. Snow sliding uncontrollable towards the cliff edge, by sheer luck he was on a collision course with a boulder protruding above the snow. Sliding as first into the boulder, Ryan was flipped into the air and came to rest about 7 feet before the drop off. After seeing this and Ryan laying still on the ground. I notified Alicia and traversed/glissade to the cliff edge to check on Ryan. Miraculously it appeared as though no serious injuries had occurred. An incredibly sore ass seemed to be the stent of the injury. Climbing about 30 feet up to retrieve his ice axe,it was amazing how much harder the snow was, almost to the point of being ice. The way down after Ryans accident was slow going, what we had projected as a 2-3 hour return in fact took us more the 5 hours. Even the bumps along the car ride were painful for Ryan. As a note: about a week later an X-ray showed that Ryan had fractured the left hip bone. Further note: 1) If glissading an object for self arrest is mandatory. 2) I, Grant, assume responsibility for the accident being the organizer of the trip. In the future no matter what the inconvenience may be hands on training in the snow will be conducted. Once back in Imlil we decided to go the Marrekesh for the night to get a feel for the city. Upon arriving though, not only was Grant going to kill someone because of the traffic, but any hope for a relaxing night was lost with the bustling of merchants. Exhausted we got a hotel room near the “square of the dead” where all the performers are and ate chwarmas. Before going to bed Grant, Alicia, and Bryan walked around the square looking from a distance at the
hagglers and snake charmers, and taking a stroll through the eateries frying brain, camel, and anything you can think of. The next day there was little decisions to be made, with Ryan hurt we had to make our way back to Kenifra so we decided on a scenic way. We thought that we could head over to a lake that would have boats or beaches for us to relax at…We were wrong though, and after exploring a few roads around the lake, including one bazaar restaurant that had a lounge area representing more of an orgy we made our way over the dam, which by the way contribute 60% of Morocco’s electricity, back to Kenitra. Arriving in Kenitra a day ahead of schedule we returned the car, secured a taxi back to Ifrane, and were back at AUI sometime around 9pm.
Post AUI Posting
Spain (16-26 May)
After a relatively painless check out process on the 15th we were set to leave campus early on the 16th of May with the only thing in our way was turning in the keys to our room. Waking up early we contacted Housing Services and waited for the attendant to inspect the room one last time which only took a few minutes. Arriving to the taxi station we hired a cab for 200DH to Meknes where we barely missed the train to Tangier. Four hours and our last breakfast in Morocco later we were on board the following train. We got into Tangier at around 3pm and had no problem getting to the port and securing a fairy across as we had been through the process before. A forty minute fairy ride with the usual custom of changing out cell phone SIM cards and the taking off veils and we were in Tarifa, Spain. Getting in somewhat late and, frankly, rejoiced to be out of Morocco we stayed at a rather expensive (50 EURO) hotel in Algeciras. The next day we took a six hour bus ride to Sevilla to the north west. Sevilla’s draw seems to be its blend of metropolitan life with a laid back and active/sporty lifestyle. Well defined bike paths line the major streets in the city while kayaking and canoeing can be seen along the main river. On the day of our arrival the main street paralleling the river was packed with bicyclers, hundreds if not a thousand of them… It looked as if they were on a tour, but the group was large enough to not only block and divert traffic an looked as if it was apart of some kind of event. As usual our hostel was in the old Muslim quarter of the city, something reminiscent of the Umayyad Empire of Spain that have left there mark on many of the cities in southern Spain. Narrow streets, lack of window sills and backyards, and maze like route finding are just some of the characteristics. Once finding the hostel (Oases Hostel) we had to book our stay in a different dormitory the following night which was not nearly as nice. Our first afternoon we
went for a walk around the city and were treated to a kayak race on the river. Grant had the ambition to see a bullfight, but after stumbling across an airing in the high definition TV section of a store, any desire was gone. For those who are unfamiliar with this sport let me take the time to share our limit knowledge of the event. I don’t really know what happens when the bull first enters the ring, but what inevitably happens is that it’s threshold for pain, stamina, and aggression are tested to the limit before the bullfighter enters the ring. How? For about 20 minutes or so, three of the bullfighters companions run around teasing the bull and then hiding behind barriers. This session climaxes with the armament of two barbed spear tip pitons for each companion to confront the bull and while evading a charge, stab each piton into the torso on either side of the spine. Once all six pitons are secure the Matador or bullfighter enters the ring. His goal is to provoke the bull to attack using a brightly colored cape and to stand as still as possible while he manipulates the bulls movement with the cape, brushing close enough sometimes to stain the Matadors pants with blood from the pitons. After about ten minutes of doing so, the Matador removes his hat placing it on the ground and unsheathes his saber. His saber s not a traditional stabbing saber as it is manufacture with the fron quarter of the tip bent slightly crooked. This is now the Matadors finale and where he is judged the harshest. As the bull is exhausted the Matador approaches the bull, saber pointed forward, reaching a matter of feet in front of the bull the Matador tries to stab downward into the bulls torso, it may be that he is aiming for the spine, but in this instance the goal was to stab through the ribs piercing either the heart of the lungs. On the fourth try he succeeded. The bull made a few more attempts to charge, but life was fading. Once utterly exhausted with his head hung low, the Matador approaches to finish it. This time he aims for the spine at the base of the neck. In this instance it took him about three tries, with the bull too tired to do anything more than shake his head. On the final strike the results are very pronounced, the bulls body jerks stiffly as if being electrocuted for a split second, and fall to the ground. There is no criticizing this as it is their culture and there are taboos to be found in any culture when viewed by an outsider. In either case the bull met the same fate it would have in the pen, setting aside the practice by which this is done, an important question to ask is if bullfighting is done in the name of culture or in the name of tourism? Yes, bullfighting is available for viewing in Sevilla, but the bigger attractions seem to be either taking a stroll through an extensive garden outside one of the palaces, visit the cities citadel which was built on top of an old Umayyad mosque, or eating tapas. We made the mistake this time of going on a tapa tour that included flaminco dancing. This may not have been a problem normaly, but since southern Spain is known for its free tapas with the order of a beverage, we ended up spending way more as a group than we should have. The flaminco was also a disappointment as it was clearly catered to tourists and took place in a large open bar. Of interest also is that today was Sunday and every Sunday afternoon a Spanish Christian
denomination from the cities cathedral perform a kind of march to the beat of drums through the city while carrying a cross. From Sevilla we travelled by train to Cordoba, where Grant wanted to see the Great Mosque of Cordoba. The largest of the surviving Umayyad mosques in Spain, this Mosque went through three expansions, the last of which occurred shortly before the Umayyad’s were defeated by the Christians who immediately renovated the middle third of the mosque to build a towering church right in the middle. In its architecture the Musque is known for two things, 1) Due to its size many of the pillars were taken from Roman sites. And 2) Mosques are traditionally short in their height, but for the size of this one a second arch was added to increase the ceiling height. We stayed three days in Cordoba partially because we wanted to see the city more than Madrid, but mostly because we could camp for a relatively cheap price at one of the RV parks. During our stay we not only were able to see the Great Mosque, but also an old Jewish Synagogue from the Umayyad era. We were able to enter for free early in the morning around 8am before mass, which not only allowed for an exploration of the site with few tourists present, but also the opportunity to watch the morning sermon being held. This trend of dwarfing a defeated empires religious monuments with ones of the new regime as also found in much of the Middle East, to include Israel and Turkey as we’ll later discuss. This trend seems somewhat dogmatic, both for the time it took place and now. When first created, there is no doubt that these monuments served a religious purpose, but the nature of them seemed to be more politically symbolic. Now, in the case of Cordoba and the Citadel in Sevilla, the world and society has recognized a need for inter-faith religious harmony and even though these buildings carry the clear sign of being both a church and a mosque, only one faith prevails rather than equal opportunity. Moving on from Cordoba we took a train to Madrid, our initial intent was to get a Hostel in the city, but when we arrived everything cheap had been booked. Once again we resorted to camping some 10 minutes by metro outside of the main city. This may have been an inconvenience if it hadn’t been for a guy at the campground who approached us and gave us two tickets good for 10 rides on the Metro line. Over all our time in Madrid was rather unremarkable. Walking around the city we developed a passion for an outdoor experience. Old Churches with fabulous architecture were dwarfed by the surrounding city and a large part of the University of Madrid’s campus looked to be renovated with buildings covered with graffiti. What we did find remarkable were the number of parks, there size, and there cleanliness. Our camp ground was near the enormous park of San Juan, which was incredible with its complex children’s playgrounds, vista hills of the city, a river for kayaking or canoeing, and a stadium for concerts. In Madrid we explored the park of Retirement where we saw landmarks such as the first ever statue in Europe to be dedicated to the devil and the memorial sight for the victims of the Madrid train bombings. Our last night there we had decided to spend the night at the airport, but to pass the time we went
and saw “Angles and Demons.” In the theater, which was a fund film since in just over a month we will be exploring that area of Italy. Speaking of Italy, a restless night at the Madrid airport and an incredibly cheap flight on Ryanair, and we were in Italy for our two day layover until catching a flight to Israel.
Italy (26-29 May)
We arrived in Bergamo at around 6am and had a decision to make. Whether to go west to the coast or east to the mountains for our two day wait. Given weather forecasts for the coast and our growing desire to get outdoors we opted for the Mountains. Catching a train our target was Bolzano near the Dolomite Mountains of North East Italy. Spendign time in the cities waiting for trains and commuting through the country side, Italy gives a definite feel of uniqueness. This area in the northern region, many of the cities appeared to be nestled into the landscape rather than taking over it, with rolling green hills of numerous wine vineyards set to the back drop of the Alps, it was truly pictures. We arrived in Blozano late that afternoon and after receiving some incredibly helpful advice on camping from the information office we bought groceries and sat down for our first Italian pasta, which was perfect. Bolzano is a beautiful, ritzy, little town settled at the entrance to a canyon that runs next to the incredibly vaulted cliffs of the Dolomites. Finishing our meal we headed for the bus station to catch a bus to the campsite. We asked the bus driver about our destination and we got the affirmative and off we were. About an hour later though we arrived at a final destination for the bus, which was not our campsite or even close. In reality the bus driver had stopped at the site for us to get off, but didn’t notify us and we were now some 10km away. After exchanging some harsh words, Grant in English and Alicia in German, which by the way everyone in this region speaks. We found some guys sitting at an outside bar who were more than will to hail us a cab for the ride back. We arrived at the campground pretty late, so we didn’t get to see the scenery, but just by going into the bathrooms it was clear that this was the nicest campground we have ever stayed at! The next morning we woke up to the breathtaking view of the Dolomites. Leaving our campsite we explored one of the trails that circled most of this particular peaks for a bout four hours. Remarkably in this short section of trail there were several old castle outposts you could visit and if we had continued further a full fledged castle would be in store. We stopped short though, since we planned to spend the night in Bolzano for our train ride back to Milan the next day. What made the trail fun was that it was also a children’s learning activity with a couple dozen stations established that would blend actual history of the area or site in with a fairy tale along with the frequent ruined castle outpost. After about a four hour hike, we headed back to the campgrounds and with relative eze, packed up and caught a bus for Bolzano. Going to the train station we decided to catch a series of trains beginning at 1am and putting us into Millan at around 8am with plenty of time to catch our 4pm flight. This was an incredibly rough night, between sleeping on benches at train
stations and not sleeping on the train to avoid missing our stop, not to mention the fact that both of us were feeling a little sick after eating gigantic serving of Ice cream prior to our departure from Bolzano. All in all, the trip to Millano was smooth, arriving in plenty of time to scout out the city and meeting points for when we rendezvous with Suzi in August. As it turns out the airport for Milano is nearly an hour outside of the city, so we switched our meeting point to the main train station.
Israel (30 May – 02 June)
Departing Milano at 4pm we arrived in Riga, Latvia a few hours later for our 6 hour layover until catching a flight to Tel Aviv, Israel. From Latvia it was only a 5-6 hour flight and we were in Israel. It quickly became apparent the level of security and paranoia this country has with foreigners and general security of society. Though we both had U.S. passports the passport agents were still suspicious wanting to know where we were going in Israel and suspicious of Grants badly worn passport. Getting through passport control wasn’t really a problem though, a bigger problem as we would soon find out is that we needed transportation and a Jordanian visa from the embassy and today was Friday… the start of not only the Sabath, but also on this particular weekend the start of Shavout (the Jewish holiday for when Moses brought down the 10 commandments from Mt. Sinai). We had no luck contacting the Jordanian embassy, leaving the visa out of the question and leaving us with the northern and southern border crossings only. The other concern, transportation, would not become a concern until after noon when the holiday officially begins. For now we found little trouble in securing a sherut (a shared taxi van) to Jerusalem. About an hour and a half later we had cleared the city of Tel Aviv and were in Jrusalem with the only sign of a military presence on our way being a sign for an armored cavalry base. Perhaps we were given a false impression of Jerusalem with the occurrence of such an important Jewish holiday, but Jerusalem is truly a fascinating city of religion. Being dropped off a few block from the Damascus gate near to where we were staying we made our way on foot to the gate where there were about a dozen IDF and what seemed like hundreds of Jews leaving the old city in their traditional outfits. To this point we had little information about the holiday of Shavout except for that the “Jews pray and eat cheese or something.” This hord of Jews was the conclusion of prayer at the Wailing Wall within the old city. After finding and checking into our hostel which was operated by a couple of Palestinian gentlemen we went for a walk into the old city to see the festivities. Following the steady stream of Jews dressed in there almost Mormon clothing, we passed through a security checkpoint and entered the site of the Wailing Wall, Temple Mount, and the Dome of the Rock. We tried to get a few pictures while remaining sensitive to the religious nature of the event, consequently we have relatively few picture of the event. As with Islam, Judaism is segregated by gender so for religious events men and women will usually pray separately. At the wailing
wall this is no different with about 2/3 of the wall allocated to the men and the rest the women on the right. Practices for each side vary slightly though for the men and women recicitation from book of Job (I think), while swaying back and forth is customary. While the men pray in organized groups between and 10, the women pray in couples differing at the end where instead of taking a step back and leaving like the men did, they would walk backwards until they had left the prayer grounds completely before turning around to leave. Wanting to see some more of the city we walked outside of the old city towards to the Mount of Olives where Jesus was reportedly crucified and the throne of God is on Judgment Day. At the base of the hill sits the tomb of Mary and going up the hillside present to millennium year old graves are dug into every available piece of land. Today, any available land for a grave site is horrendously expensive as all three religions find importance of the area on judgment day and believe that being laid to rest here allows for them to be geographically close and the first in line for the throne of God when resurrected on judgment day. We ddn’t make it all the way up to the Mount of Olives this day, instead, with the day getting late and needing food we decided to head back into the city for dinner which ended up being more Middle Eastern than Jewish (Chwarma and Falafel). The next day we woke up with the intent of going to see the Wailing Wall again, to try and see the Dome of the Rock, go up to the Mount of Olives, and in general explore the old city. We accomplished all of this, with the exception of the Dome of the Rock which wasn’t open Saterdays. For this day we fell short of exploring all of the quarters of the old city seeing only the Muslim and Jewish quarters neglecting the Armenian and Christian ones. Spending a day exploring the city you soon obtain a grasp on the dynamics of the city. There is little question as to the presence of the Muslims and Jews in the city as the Muslims make up an overwhelming majority both in population and size, the Jews on the other hand are the second smallest population in the city, but not only does is there section spotless with clearly wealthier buildings but the presence of Jews from outside the city ensures a dwarfing presence. Even more fascinating are the various Christian denominations that frequently make processions through all quarters of the city. Usually retracing Jesus’ footsteps (the stations of the cross) ending at the Church of the Holy Seplecur where the tomb of Jesus supposedly is. The Jews, for the most part, avoid the Muslim quarter, only sporadically passing through if need be, but rarely ever engaging in conversation or business. Here in the Muslim quarter, or rather the Palestinian section, of the city you start to get a feel for some of the discrimination. IDF soldiers are frequently seen patrolling all sections of the city in small teams of two or three, equipped with new and old M-4 rifles. The discernment of there presence tends to be concentrated in the areas where Jewish people are massed, but its clear that they aren’t watching the Jews but protecting them from any outsiders with specific attention on the Arabs. In the Muslim quarter, the IDF patrols looking for Arabs that fit
a certain profile in the age group of 15-40, randomly approaching and checking identity card information. That afternoon we walked through the old cemeteries on the slope of the Mount of Olives to tray and see the sight of Jesus’ crucifixion and to see the sunset over the city. Reaching the top we failed to find our way to the Church of the ?Resorection? that sat on the site of the crucifixion. Wondering around it was our first time outside of the Main city of Jerusalem in what was clearly a Palestinian section. Walking around there was a sense of insecurity due to the void of IDF, though everyone was very friendly. This hill top provided not only a view into the city of Jerusalem, but also onto the wall of the West Bank a few miles down the other side of the hill. After watching a beautiful sunset over the city we headed down to try and find Jerusalem’s “New City” that is renowned for its nightlife. On approach we were detoured though by a large crowed of Jews going home for the evening. The crowed filled the streets and as we followed them we soon realized that the Jews are very private in this part of the city. On the peripheral of this area signs were hung asking tourists not to enter, let alone take photographs. This being the Sabbath the use of technology is strongly discouraged. Trying to find traditional Jewish food for the night we ventured further and about the same time that Grant pulled his shirt over the camera to try and appear less like tourists we were approached by a guy named David. Perhaps it was his vulgar nature or the dirty raggedy clothing he was wearing, but he was definitely more sleezy than the properly dressed and mannered majority of the population. Noticing the camera he assumed that we were not supposed to be there and soon got to talking first about our curiosity in the fashion of traditional Jewish dress, then his profound hatred of all Arabs, and then to going with him to have dinner. By this point we were a little creped out by the guy and hadn’t planned on eating dinner or sitting down to a meal with him, but too polite to tell him to “bugger off,” we let him lead us to a place he recommended that was apparently ran by an Jewish American couple. On our way David snuck off into some ally to take a leek and returned with a yamakha that he insisted Grant should wear to show respect at the place we were going to. Arriving at the place for dinner we encountered a large group of people standing outside with several other foreigners from the USA, Canada, and Sweden. As it turned out this was the house of an American Rabi that now lives in Jerusalem and as is customary on Saturday night of the Sabbath the Rabi opens his doors to the community and serves a multi course dinner while reciting verses from the book of Job. This night would prove to be a extremely active night full of singing, chanting, and eating with the Rabi presiding constantly over the guests. Alicia sat at one of the women’s tables while Grant sat at one of the mens, ironically the same table as the Rabi. During the dinner Grant met a college freshman from the states who was going to a Jewish school in the old city and had a grandfather to the north who owned a wine vineyard. After dinner we walked back to the old city with hi and picked his brain about what he felt the
situation in Israel was like after his one year there. It seems that since the wall around the West Bank was put up, violence in the city has dramatically decreased. Though animosity exists on both sides still, his only recollection of violence in Jerusalem were a few instances of disgruntled Palestinian construction works going rogue with bulldozers. As far as peace between Palestine and Israel he said that most Israelis are in support of a two state solution, but that the right wings on the both the Palestinian and Israeli sides are inhibiting progress in this direction. The next day, our last full day in Israel, we decided on taking one of the free tours of the city (tips strongly encouraged). The tour was nice from the standpoint of having an organized approach to seeing the old city. At about 4 hours long we saw all the quarters of the city. Starting in the Armenian Quarter we saw an Armenian church built around what was arguably clamed to be the site of the “Last Supper.” Moving on, we past through the Jewish quarter where we saw our friend from the dinner the previous night, stopping on the roof we were able to get a skyline view of the Church of the Holly Seplecur, then going down we were able to see the original street level of the city some 40ft below the current level which was preserved in a small courtyard these old streets now form tunnels under the Old City, a little further on we passed a synagogue that had been ruined during the Six Day War where reconstruction had been suspended due to a controversy in whether to leave it in ruins as a reminder, the Jewish portion of the tour was concluded with a visit to the Wailing Wall which we had already seen so we felt little need to explore again. After having lunch in the Muslim quarter we followed one of the meandering roads that retraces Jesus’ last steps as we saw four churches marked with a one of the stations of the cross before we arrived at the Church of the Holly Seplecur. We parted from the tour group here to see the inside of the church. The Church of the Holly Seplecur, as stated before, is built on around what is generally accepted to be the tomb of Jesus. The church itself is partitioned off with a half dozen or so rooms controlled by various denominations. Interestingly because the church, originally, faced conflict over which denomination should control the entirety of the church or hold the keys to the main door it has been a long standing tradition that the keys are handed down through the generations of a Muslim family, acting as kind of a neutral party. Entering the church we saw all the main shrines, some harder to figure out the importance of than others, the two main ones seem to be a marble slab where Jesus was laid after dying on the cross and his tomb which took about an hour of waiting in line to see the cramped cavern with many people dysfunctional with the grief. It should be said that the rooms which houses the tomb is the most spectacular of all other rooms. Having a domed ceiling with a small circular window at the top, the countless lit candles and overpowering scent and smoke from the incense gives an aw inspiring sense as the sun beams down through the opening in the ceiling. At the previous nights dinner and through the Lonely Planet’s text Alicia had wanted to go into the “New City,” and we had herd that it could offer a lively night life. Going into the city
around 8pm we found no such activity and an hour later no change to the activity left us resorting to a 24 hour Chinese food restaurant. Wondering back into the center after eating we found that things had dramatically changed with people crowding the streets and performers that included street side break dancing, harp playing, and a Japanese choir group. The next morning we woke up early to visit the Dome of the Rock which had been closed the previous day. The site is the third holiest site in Islam as the domed structure is built around a rock that Mohammad conducted his “Night Journey” from, and event that established the number of five prayers a day. There remains a complexity in this though, as the site itself sits on the Temple Mount (the site of the original Jewish temple). Getting to the Dome of the Rock was not hard at all, arriving at the entrance to a large ramp leading to the Temple Mount at 8am we were one of the first in line, behind a small group of Jews visiting the site. Security for once was sided with the Muslims and as a result the Jewish group was extensively searched and screened while we breezed through the security check. While passing through the check point one of the Jewish visitors had the audacity to complain about the excessive screening of them because of being Jewish in “their own country,” while another made a comment along the lines of “as if were the ones who need to be screened,” to which we replied that extremists exist on both sides. As it turns out they were just finishing going through the security check point, some 30 minutes later, as we were leaving. Entering onto the Temple Mount is truly spectacular, if this really was the footprint of a former Jewish temple it must have been magnificent. Now, what remains is a large flat platform elevated on one side where the Dome of the Rock sits and on the Aqsa Mosque on the other side. We couldn’t enter the Dome of the Rock so we took the time in looking at the beautiful Ottoman tile work that decorates its exterior below a brilliant gold domed roof. As a reoccurring theme we keep accumulating way to much change (coins), which only posses a problem when we go to another country that won’t accept anything but the bills, with this being our last day we gave a generous amount of our change to an old lady just outside the Dome of the Rock. She was incredibly grateful. A couple hours later after locating the main bus terminal we were on a bus, along with maybe 15 soldiers, headed for the northern border crossing known either as the Sheikh Hussein Bridge or Jordan River crossing. We passed briefly through the arid and much deserted region of the West Bank and made it to the city some 5km from the border check point around two hours later. Hiring a cab we made it to the border shortly after and after paying the exit fee and clearing customs we were forced to take a bus the 2km across the river for an extortionist price.
Jordan (02 – 04 June)
Egypt (04 – 11 June) Greece (11-15 June) Turkey (15-22 June) Bulgaria (22-25 June) Serbia (25-29 June) Kosovo (29-----)
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