Thursday, May 19, 2011


Okay, here's my confession: I've been out of Senegal for the past three weeks or so, prancing about in Morocco, mostly, with a brief sojourn in Barcelona as well.  What can one say?  It was all so delightful.  Morocco is truly the land that dreams are made of, a perfect intermingling between the wild sensory phenomena of Africa and the functionality and ease of Europe and the "West."  It certainly didn't feel like Africa, to say the least.  I hardly know where to start.

Traveling in Morocco with April, who's COS-ing (Completion Of Service, used as a verb, noun, and adjective inPeace Corps worldwide), Kim, and Amanda was a treat from start to finish.  We hit several of the bigger cities: Casablanca, Fes, and Chefchaouen, before flying out of Tangier to reach Barcelona.  After five days in Spain, the ladies continued on to France and elsewhere in Europe, while I returned to Morocco to meet up with other friends.

Leaving Senegal was a trip in itself!  Our minds were boggled  by the variety, the cleanliness, the giganticness of  the First World.  Take this huge lollipop I came across during our layover in the Lisbon airport, for example:

Then, as we stumbled jet-laggedly through the market of Casablanca, we were floored, over and over again by the abundance of fresh things, like delicious oysters-on-the-halfshell that Amanda couldn't help but take immediate advantage of:

Really, it was all too much-- we'd made it about four feet into the market before our wrists were laden down with way more fresh fruit and vegetables than we could possibly eat.  And olives, cured lemons, spices, hot sauce.... oh my!  

Casablanca is home to the world's second largest mosque, a 689-ft.-tall monster that can accomodate 105,000 worshippers and could easily fit Rome's St. Peter's Basilica inside it, complete with a glass floor set right over the ocean. 

A fish seller in the Casablanca market
Mosques aside, what was the best part of Casa?  Hearty fresh orange juice, squeezed right before you eyes, everywhere you turned.  Better yet, it turns out that this is the case everywhere in Morocco, and we certainly indulged.

After a few days of eating our way through Casablanca, we hopped a train for Fes, a large city known for its enormous walled-in Old Medina, now a winding maze of homes and shops selling everything from Argan Oil to Fes-made leather purses to nine different varieties of dates.  We spent a good deal of time wandering around that Medina, buying things, gaping at the medieval architecture, and benefiting from the total sensory overload that characterized the entire huge old city.  It's hard to describe the degree to which this "sensory overload" part is true.  Everything - the shoe displays, the nut displays, the archways and doorways and walkways - was not only gorgeous, but an aesthetically-intriguing site. vision. Aromas, most of them good, seemed literally to enshroud you at every turn.  And I wanted to eat everything in site - spicy olives, fluffy Berber crepe, veggie-pita sandwiches, marinated chicken shiskkebabs, and of course lots of fresh juice.

Beautiful displays at the Fes' Old Medina
My favorite olive man
Me, Kim, Amanda, and April, posing in the median of a
beautiful, wide, tree-lined street in Fes
(we don't have these things in Senegal):

Fes street food - yummy snails in coriander broth! 
Oh!  The other really fun thing we did in Fes was go to a traditional bathhouse ("Hammam").  I don't even know where to start with describing this experience.  We bought our tickets from a sketchy man at a sketchy ticket window in a sketchy alley, and he gave us soap, a scrubby mitt, and a weird brown blob of something wrapped in newsprint.  Then we filed into the locker room area, where we were instructed by a large gruff Moroccan women (using hand signals) to undress.... which we did, to our great amusement.  Then, wearing just panties and our towels, we walked around the corner into the bathing room.  We had absolutely no idea what to do.  The room was filled with beefy Moroccan women grooming each other; when we finally decided to drop our towels, we didn't know what to do with ourselves, so, for some reason, the four of us stood in a row, facing the wall -- Utter hilarity.  Finally some women who, bless their hearts, spoke moderate French, came over and told us to sit on our mats and wash our hair until our "women" showed up.  We did this, and after not too long the real fun started: our scrubbers (we'd paid extra for the full scrub down instead of just the do-it-yourself hot bath) came along and took control.  One-by-one, we were rubbed and scrubbed and man-handled by, again, huge beefy Moroccan ladies who, due to their total lack of English/french skills and our total lack of Arabic, could only access every inch of our bodies by tugging and pushing us around to get the right angle.  Perhaps too funny to be adequately described?

Jamal, our saint of a Couchsurfer host in Fes.
Next: On to Chefchaouen, which turned out to be this beautiful mountain hamlet, a cascade of stone buildings laid into the slope-side.  Interestingly, at some point in the past, the people of Chefchaouen decided to paint their walls blue – the reasons for this is are still under debate among town tour guides, but the fact of the matter is that it makes for one of the prettiest sites one has ever seen, whether seen from within a baby blue alleyway or viewed from above, as a mosaic of different shades of blue covering the mountainside.

Spices!  Gorgeous in their essence.
Chefchaouen is situated in the Rif mountain range, so we did a day of hiking that was a bit of a fantastic fiasco.  It started raining midway through the hike, though we were already soaked - at least from the knees down - because we had to cross the river upwards of 30 times and got tired of taking off our socks and shoes and rolling up our pants. After hitting the waterfall and starting our way back, we were wet and freezing, but also hungry, so we stopped in the rain to have the picnic lunch we'd planned - delicious veggie pitas with goat cheese.  Unfortunately, we hadn't planned well on the equipment side of things, and had just one pocket knife and no other utensils... so while I cut onions, tomatoes, and carrots, Kim ripped bell peppers with her hands and Amanda and April used their fists to shove goat cheese, avocado, and cilantro into the pita pockets.  Still tasted good, though I'm not sure I tasted much as I chowed down in the downpour.

One of many river crossings.

Pita pocket picnic in the rain

 We left Morocco via the northern city of Tangier on a cold, rainy day, and arrived in Barcelona that night.  Hitting Europe was even more of a shock to the senses than Morocco was after Senegal.  Everything was BIG and clean and easily accessible.  Also, expensive.  But my first delicious draft beer – real, hoppy, true beer, from a TAP – was worth every cent.  

It’s no Morocco, but Barcelona was a beautiful city with all the things I love about Europe – gorgeous old buildings, facades with intricate iron lattice work, trees, statues – plus a stunning waterfront covered in sailboats, making me itch to hop aboard one and cruise out of town.  Highlights from our time in Barcelona include:
  • Walking around alone, exploring the streets and the HUGE market that offered up an abundance of everything and anything, to a point of overwhelmed dizziness for a girl coming out of Africa
  • Tapas
  • Renting a bike and scoping out a good swath of the city
  • The brilliant and beautiful Sagrada Familia, a church designed by Gaudi according to the Golden Ratio and nature’s inspiration, which has been under construction for over 100 years and still is not complete
  • Gaudi’s Park Guell, an improbable, whimsical, Dr. Suess-like collection of stone and marble formations holding exotic gardens
  • The view of Barcelona from the top of Park Guell
  • Nestling into an Italian bar to watch an FC Barcelona – Real Madrid soccer match
  • Staring at all the sailboats and dreaming of sailing days of the past and future
  • An all-you-can-eat salad+ buffet, ala Souplantation
  • And so much more. 
Fish market in Barcelona

Yo-ho, yo-ho, a sailor's life for me...

My lovely travel companions.

Inside the Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia. 
(Read about it! A fascinating tale to which I just can't do justice here.)

Park Guell

At the top of Barcelona.

Gaudi had quite the imagination!
It was a trip to be in Europe, even for a few days.  Maybe this is what people call “culture shock,” though I didn’t really find it to be alarming or debilitating in any way.  I just found myself carrying a constant awareness of all the little and big differences between Spain and Senegal, or even between Morocco and Senegal.  

Great as Barcelona was, I have to admit that I missed Morocco, a place that is replete with ease and functionality  but is still pleasantly rough around the edges.  I was excited to go back there.  I parted ways with April,  Amanda, Kim, and Camille at two in the morning after a night of tapas and wine; they were headed North to France and I was headed back to Morocco the following day to meet up with Mary, Brian, and Kourtney for a trek in the moutntains and various other diversions.  

Biding my time at a sweet little terraced acafe in Tangier, 
I met a fellow Los Angelino - a phD student and photographer.

Men doing their sunset prayer in unison by a mosque in Marrakech.
Morocco round II, with a different crowd and different activities, was distinct from my first visit but equally intriguing.  The High Atlas mountains are a remarkable land form.  We hiked around for several days;on the last day, we climbed up Mt. Toubkal, 4,126 meters high.  Our guide Abdou was fantastic, and we brought along mules to carry our stuff, plus a mule guide who doubled as a cook and made incredible Moroccan feast three times a day.  Some of the more wonderful six days of my life.

Thanks for carrying my stuff up the mountain, Mules!

An old man cruising through the mountains.

Brian's going home to America! I'll miss him.

A Berber village in the mountainside.

Team Linguere does Mt. Toubkal.

Heading for the mountain.

Hanging out at the top of Mt. Toubkal, North Africa's big peak.

Kourtney, Mary, myself, and Brian,
with a couple other hikers we picked up along the way.

After our trek, Kourtney, Mary and I headed for the coast, to a popular tourist town called Essaouira.  We spent just a couple days there, sunbathing and soaking up the last drops of Moroccan goodness.

The best part about Morocco: the lovely doors.
(Pictured here with lovely Kourtney :)

Chwarma in the sand - what more could you want?
I'm clearly pleased.

One last sunset in Morocco.
 Returning to Senegal was a wild experience in itself, but one that may have to be saved for a future blog post or, better yet, a one-on-one conversation.

To ease the transition, Kourtney, my stalwart travel partner, and I took advantage of our nine-hour layover in Lisbon to cruise around the city, and take in many of its many of its alimentary delights:

A wine stop at the top of Lisbon's Sheraton hotel,
with some of the best views of the stunning city,
set along the river and dappled with those
endlessly gorgeous historical buildings.  

You know that feeling you have when trying to recount something very meaningful to you, and despite all your most earnest, pain-staking, and lengthy efforts at honest description, you just don't really feel like you've done the whole thing justice?  Well, that's where I'm at now, but so be it.  I have to get back to the village and you have to move on with your life, too!

Ergo, I shall leave it at that.  :)

(Though, if you really need more - yeah right - there's an album with a lot more photos on the right. ==>)