Hands Stained with Henna & a Head Full of Memories…

All of the previous ports don’t compare to the experience I had in Morocco. I didn’t stay more then thirty minutes in Casablanca. Instead, I met a whole new group of students on the ship that I’ve never hung out with before and caught a train into Marrakech. The plan was to stay in Marrakech one night and the next start hiking. As I stared out the window of the train I was mesmerized by the vast landscape of valleys rolling into the distant High Atlas Mountains. All I could think about was getting up those mountains. I had a great feeling about this trip and it hadn’t even started to begin yet…

Marrakech was wonderful. Unlike other places we’ve been the past month, Marrakech was a clean and uncrowded city. The market square was a complete trip in itself. As you walk into the square you begin to hear horns and flutes become louder and louder. I was shocked when I realized these flutes were taming real cobra snakes. I really didn’t think people did that…but they most certainly do. Other people, as you walked into the square, were giving henna tattoos, and selling handmade baskets. Inside the market: the most amazing handmade leather bags hung on the walls, baby turtles and lizards crammed in small cages, squirrels on leashes, the most amazing smelling soap I have ever smelt, quality jewelry, handmade chess sets, shoes, clothes, spices, and everything else you can and can’t imagine. Everything at a fraction of what it is worth in the US. A handmade leather bag with intricate designs carved onto the leather ran for under 200 dh which is like 15 American dollars.

After the market me and the new group of girls I befriended (3 from Colorado, one from Texas) went back to our hotel to get ready for that night. From what I’ve heard I really need to go to Colorado. Everyone seems to think I’m already from there and when I tell them I’m not they’re shocked and immediately say I need to be there. Anyways, that’s besides the point. That night I caught a cab to the square to meet up with my other friends who had booked a villa for the four days in Morocco. Their villa was super cool, it was like a mini palace all to themselves surrounded by this indoor/outdoor pool. The center of the house was entirely open and the surrounding areas were doors that lead to each individual bedroom, a full kitchen, a chill room, and a roof top terrace. At the center of everything was a pool and if you didn’t look up you would have thought you were inside the house completely but in reality the ceiling was the real night sky. We hung out there for awhile then decided to go to Pacha, the biggest club in Africa. Pacha is in NYC as well so I already had a good feeling about it. When we got there we found out there was a 350 dh cover charge. Since I had been to the market earlier and they hadn’t yet I said I wouldn’t pay that because I could have got three leather bags for that price. They all just paid and went in while Sam and I stood outside contemplating what to do. Then, this fourty-something year old sweaty man comes over and starts to talk to me. He’s asking why I’m not inside and I tell him I don’t have the money for that and it’s my only night in Marrakech. Within ten minutes Sam and I were walking in, free of charge and V.I.P. We sat a table that had been reserved for 4000 dh with an abundance of full bottles. Sam and I really just wanted to dance with our friends and decided to sneak away after one drink. The rest of the night I was constantly on watch to make sure he didn’t see me anywhere because I felt so bad but it was totally necessary – my only night in Marrakech should be spent with my friends not some sweaty Moroccan man.

The club was fun but the adjacent smaller bar was even more fun. The Rose Bar, which is connected to Pacha, was not nearly as crowded and drinks were a fraction of the price they were in Pacha so naturally my friends all migrated over there. They were playing swing dance music for over an hour and all of us were dancing like we’ve never danced before. I felt like I was in a completely different era. Jordan was swinging his arms and shuffling his feet. Maeghan and Kim were spinning each other around. It was a great time! Around four thirty I met up with the Colorado girls and headed back to our hotel to try and get a bit of sleep before the trek up the mountains began.

In the morning I packed my bag and headed down to the lobby where I met up with the other people in my group. We met our tour guides, Mohammad and Oyher, and the teacher who was also coming along – Mike. The group was still a bit shy but I knew by the end of the trip we would all be good friends. Our journey started in a small village, Tachbibt, where we loaded up mules with supplies to last the next three days: vegetables, couscous, fruits, cheese, bread, and an abundance of mint tea..We hiked about two hours to our first destination, Ait Zitoun. I was stunned at the reality of these villages. It was right out of a movie or documentary on small village life – houses made of clay, stone, and mud, children running around everywhere, shepherds herding sheep, and smiles on each passerby’s face. This was exactly what I wish I had done in each country. I didn’t even think shepherds actually still existed…it was so cool! After settling into our gite, a local village hostel, we explored. It started the rain and a nice older women invited us inside her home to escape the rain and have some coffee. She had a fifteen year old daughter who had been schooled in Arabic and French. Luckily, one of the girls I was with spoke enough French to help us converse quite a bit. She stopped school at fourteen in order to help out around the village which is common to the Berber community. The family was incredibly friendly and hospitable. We sat with them for over an hour, enjoying coffee and nuts. I was surprised to see that the little house had a tiny television where the girl said she had learned about Istanbul before. Afterwards the young girl took us around the village and taught us how to eat and pick the ripe figs off the trees. We invited her to dinner but her father said there were too many young boys by our gite and didn’t want her walking home after sunset. We exchanged email addresses because she said she would be getting one soon. That night our neighbors invited us over to play with the children. Some of the young girls gave us henna tattoos and drew pictures with us. They were just as excited to see and play with us as we were to do the same with them! Two little girls, Fatima and Hasna, were my favorite. They saw me writing in my journal and started writing with me. Fatima wanted to learn how to right my name so I taught her and she taught me how to write hers in Arabic. Later that night she ended up writing my own name across my foot in henna, haha. We ended the night sleeping under the stars on the roof of the gite reflecting on an incredible day.

The next day we did a five hour hike to Ait Hamed. The views on top of the mountains were incredible. We passed abandoned villages, tons of sheep herders, small villages, and crossed dry rivers. Half way into the hike we stopped for lunch. Our lunched was prepared right in front of us. Two Moroccan cooks had joined us on our hike to make sure we experienced real Moroccan food at its best. They prepared a huge fresh salad with homemade lemon dressing, bread, vegetable couscous, mint tea, and the most delicious yellow melon I’ve ever had. Talk about a picnic, these guys prepared a full Moroccan feast without any kind of kitchen. We all ate, family style, on the top of a mountain sitting on blankets and mats laid out for us. It was amazing. We gathered water in a neighboring towns well and purified it with iodine tablets before continuing the hike. Ait Hamed was another village filled with generosity. Our gite owners greeted us with mint tea and hot pastries as soon as we arrived. Another girl and I drew pictures and made paper toys for the children who gathered around us. We brought some coloring books and fun workbooks that the children loved. I saw nothing but smiles everywhere I went. The men, women, and children all waved and said “bonjour” on each corner. More henna was done that night and I was really surprised at how intricate this young girl did it. It was so amazing, she painted all the girls (even some guys!) hands (tops and palms) and feet! Eric and I hiked to the very top of the village mountain and got an incredible view along with heavy muddy sneakers. The weather in Morocco was really unpredictable. One minute its sunny then the next its raining and this repeats every hour. The rain was refreshing nonetheless, the only other time this entire summer that we had rain was one afternoon in Turkey, so it didn’t bother us at all.

The next morning we said our goodbyes to our new friends in the village, packed out bags, and headed out. It was only about a two hour hike to the road where a few vans were waiting to pick us up but the whole way we were all pretty upset it was coming to an end. Not only was the coolest experience ever ending but we knew that we would be heading back to Casablanca that afternoon and boarding the ship for the last time.

We ate lunch in Marrakech then got a train back to Casablanca. The train’s air condition broke making it a moving sweat box but I just listened to music and admired the incredible landscape that Morocco has to offer.

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