“Shukran” (THANK YOU!) Morocco

March 26th, 2011 by nconnelly

Final Reflections

Bailey Booras – Well, the trip was indeed a “good price”, and the memories, priceless!  I especially loved camel riding in Essaouria and extreme walking along the base of the Atlas Mountains in Marrakesh. Reflecting on the trip, it was the guides who made Morocco as wonderful as it was for us.  Mo-Mo, Jamal, Hakima, Shafiq and Said all helped us feel comfortable here.  Zach and Nicole rocked too!

Joselle O’Brien – This trip to Morocco has proven to be so much more than I could have possibly hoped for and imagined.  This trip has definitely become one of the best experiences that I know I will surely cherish throughout the rest of my lifetime.  I will remain evermore appreciative of all the valuable people who all played an integral role in making this entire experience a reality for me.  My family, all the new friends I’ve gained and spent the last nine days with, all our wonderful guides and of course all the other amazing Moroccans I’ve had the chance to interact with!

Amanda Foster – Morocco has been such an experience.  I’ve learned a great deal from some great Moroccans.  I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life.  Actually, thinking back on what an awesome time I’ve had I might just stay and take Mo-Mo up on that marriage proposal!  The scenery was amazing and the trip wouldn’t mean nearly as much without our awesome guides.  My favorite part of the trip was Essaouira and our guide Hakima, our talks were my favorite part of our time together. It was great to build new relationships and make others stronger.  I would definitely recommend Morocco to UNE students.

Erika Newman – Overall I thought the trip was FUN and a great experience.  From the busy city of Casablanca, to navigating our way through the souks, “good price, good price”,  to camel calls, and finally visiting the cascading waterfall in the Atlas Mountains.  The memories of this trip will be held onto forever.

Ryan Warren – Morocco was a great experience and I am glad I was a part of it.  It was a great learning experience while also a very FUN alternative spring break.  I thank the University and the people involved with this trip for all their hard work.  And most of all, SHUKRAN MOROCCO!

Ouirka Valley and the High Atlas Mountains

March 19th, 2011 by nconnelly

Ahhhhhh!  An escape for the day to the Ourika Valley.

Today Jamal took us away from the hustle and crowds of the Medina.  We headed to the Atlas Mountains, and being only 30km (or 16 miles) from the Medina makes it the perfect getaway.

The terrain is a sharp contrast to Marrakesh’s desert landscape.  The High Atlas is a region of lush valleys, gorges and some of the highest mountains in Morocco.  The Ourika Valley is also the traditional home of the Berber people.  The Ourika River flows down from here feeding the valley’s many orange orchards, olive groves and cultivated terraces. Here, it was evident that some traditional ways of living were still alive and well.  We saw men working their fields and digging to maintain vital irrigation channels and women carrying barley on their backs.  One of the highlights of the day was a chance to go inside a traditional Berber home.  We were invited in with a smile from the father of the family, then he disappeared to go prepare us some mint tea as Jamal showed us around.

Jamal told us that they are farmers and that 14 members of their family live in the home together.  We had a seat in one of the several rooms they had for entertaining (we loved their “coaches”) and soon Marika joined us.  Marika (her name means Queen) is the wife and mother of the family.  She was very kind and showed us how they make their delicious mint tea.

After some mint tea and conversation (mostly between Jamal and Marika since we’re still working on our Berber) they brought out some warm bread, olive oil, honey and something that looked like butter but we think was their version of cheese since Jamal said it was made with milk. We enjoyed the warm hospitality of this family and then met the newest member of the clan, their granddaughter Ikran, which means kind.  Zach and Ikran got along great!  After a few games of peek-a-boo, we think we’ve recruited a new UNE student.

We thanked the family for their warm hospitality and continued toward the mountains.  Another stop along the way was a Jewish synagogue.  Here we watched the Rabi bless travelers-by.

Next we headed off to the village of Setti Fetima.  From here, we ventured off the paved road with a local guide for an awesome trek in the valley to see the waterfalls.

After our adventure, lunch was in order. Our local guide took us to the restaurant with the best view in the valley.

After lunch, we were sad to see the High Atlas in the rear view mirror of our van as we headed back to the Medina but grateful for the fresh air and adventure we had today.


March 18th, 2011 by nconnelly

Mountains and Minarets and Markets…Oh My!

Today was another magical day.  After breakfast, we were greeted at the hotel by our local guide, Shafiq.  Immediately, we knew we were in good hands.  Shafiq spoke wonderful English (he also speaks Italian, French, Arabic and some German) and had a great sense of humor, he promised his highness’s a special tour and boy did he deliver.  We began with a tour of several historic sites including the Menara Gardens which was built by the Berbers in 1070-1085 and had a most impressive irrigation system.  The garden was filled with olive trees and Shafiq told us about how one olive tree is harvested three times a year and each season produces a different color of olive.

It was here we got our first view of the snowcapped Atlas Mountains.  The Atlas clearly form an impregnable barrier with great massifs rising to heights of 10,000-13,000 ft.  The highest peak in Africa is in this range, Jbel Toubkal is 13,676 ft tall.

Next, we were off to the Koutoubia Mosque. The minarets in Morocco are topped with copper balls of decreasing size, a traditional design in Morocco.  The minarets provide a visual focal point and are used for the call to prayer lead by the Muezzin.  We learned that the largest copper ball on the minaret and the one on the bottom (furthest from God) represents evil.  This serves as a reminder that evil is a larger force and that one must always strive for good in order to be closer to God.

Next on the tour was a walk through the old medina (city). We loved our walk through the city.  Shafiq told us that all homes are humble on the outside as not to encourage the envy of others. We arrived at the Saadian tombs. and here we experienced some of the finest of Islamic architecture in Morocco. The ivory colored marble tombstones are covered with mosaics and inscriptions from the Koran and epitaphs.

Next on the tour was the Bahia Palace.  The Sultan that built this palace spared no expense. It is decked out with some highly prized materials such as marble.  We were in awe of the many gardens, fountains, elaborate tilework and cedar arches and ceilings with intricately carved designs.

Poems and verses from the Koran where carved in the ceilings and walls of every room.  This one meant “Well Being and Everlasting”.

After a busy morning, our stomachs were growling at us.  Shafiq took us to a great local restaurant within the medina where we had our best Moroccan meal yet.

With full belly’s, we were fueled up and ready to shop!  As soon as we entered the Jamaa El-FNA Square we knew why the Souks of Marrakesh are some of the most fascinating in the world.  The energy and excitement was palpable!  As we strolled through the narrow and VERY crowded alleyways we saw first-hand the talent of these craftsmen (and women) They are truly masters of their work.

The guy in the above picture on the right in the trench coat was Said, our “big brother” for the day, so joked Shafiq.  Said and Shafiq watched out for us all day in the Souks.  They helped us bargain for a fair price and made sure we were getting quality items to take home.  We TRULY appreciated their help and thanked them profusely — “shukran” is arabic for thank you — for helping us to emerge triumphant with bags, poufs, belts, bracelets and scarves in tow.

This is the view overlooking the Jamaa El-FNA Square.  It was like a massive festival, filled with castanet-clanging water-sellers, turbaned potion sellers,  snake charmers and food vendors….

And if that wasn’t enough, we ended our jammed packed day with dinner and a traditional show called Chez Ali. Many of us commented that it reminded us of the Moroccan version of Medieval Times.   Tha fantasia began with dinner under a fancy tent as waves of  Saharan folk singers, dancers, and musicians came by to entertain us.  We then went outside to watch the show that included belly dancers, arabian horses and trick riders, flying carpets and fireworks.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect day!

Further East to Marrakesh

March 16th, 2011 by nconnelly

On the Road Again!

After another great Moroccan breakfast, we started today with a sad goodbye, or as we preferred to see it…a “see you later”.  Hakima (her name means wise women, and believe us, she is all that) came to see us off.  We were shocked to also learn that she came bearing VERY thoughtful gifts for each us and one to take home to UNE’s President Dr. Danielle Ripich.  She had picked out and presented to each of us a personalized gift from her heart.  Hakima’s generosity left us all speechless.  We did however agree to say a prayer so that we might meet again someday.  That’s Hakima in the middle.  She gave us all traditional hijab’s…

Next we loaded up the van and headed East toward the Atlas Mountains to a medina called Marrakesh.  Along the way we spotted some goats standing on the branches of a roadside Argan tree (neatly placed by locals seeking tips).  We stopped to take some pictures and Jamal explained this spectacle.  Apparently, the traditional method of harvesting argan pits involved goats.  The Berbers (indigenous people of Morocco) would collect undigested argan pits from the waste of goats which climb the trees to eat their fruit.

Marrakesh has the largest traditional market or “souk” in the world called Jemaa el-FNA, which we can’t wait to explore tomorrow with our local guide…after we hit the ATM of course.  We haven’t been in Marrakesh long but we have observed that there is a very large international community here and most seem to be retired Europeans. Marrakesh must be Europe’s Florida.

During our driving tour of Marrakesh’s opulent new medina, including 3 golf courses, we observed an outdoor public prayer on the street.  Jamal said this was done five times a day according to the movement of the sun.  These are: near dawn, just after noon, in the afternoon, just after sunset and around nightfall. Jamal continued to explain that under some circumstances prayers can be shortened or combined and in case a prayer is skipped, like because you are working, it must be made up later.  He offered to show us later how he prays, what a warm and generous man he is.

We made it to the hotel around 5:30pm.  We were excited about the pool but not the temperature of the water, “burrrrr!”

The sun is out and the forecast looks great for the remainder of the week.  We have another exciting day planned tomorrow including more stimulation of the Moroccan economy and I’m sure we’re all in for another shocking cultural experience.  Bring it on!

Day 4 – Fish, Rugs and Camels

March 16th, 2011 by zschmesser

Food here in Morocco seems to be done right, with Breakfast being no exception.  This morning we were greeted by another wonderful array of breakfast foods (croissants, muffins, yogurt, cheese, cereal, coffee, tea, orange juice) and more rainy weather.  The weather however was not enough to contain our excitement and energy for the day ahead.

We began our day by heading down towards the water to explore the small fishing port and fish market with our guides Hakima and Jamal.  It was amazing to see and hear about fishing in Morocco.  Much of the fishing is done in smaller boats (pictured below) and a system of rotation is used to ensure that all fisherman are given ample opportunity for days of fishing.  I think the lobster industry of Maine could stand to learn a thing or two from this concept of sharing.

We were able to see several boats under construction and several that were being renovated after ten years of service.  All boats built here in Morocco are built of wood, with Teak being shipped in to form the extremely weather resistant outer hull.   It was evident through observing various stages of construction that boats here are well built!

Continuing through the harbor area we passed the local fishing cooperative.  The cooperative works to help the fishing industry with fishing concerns and regulations.  Further up the narrow road was the ice factory, this factory produces the much needed ice for the area fisherman to pack their catches on and preserve for transport.

Turning the corner of the street we could immediately smell the strong aroma of fish as we progressed down this side street we came upon the small fish market.  Here we observed a variety of fish in different size and color caught by the local fisherman and for sale.

Having seen the harbor we moved back into the Medina, to look at Rugs.  Hakima brought us to one particular shop, here we were greeted by a Rug Dealer.  He was very knowledgeable about the rugs, where they came from, what symbols and colors meant.  It was specifically interesting to learn about how the pigments for these rugs are produced by plants from each region. Truly a beautiful sight to see rugs of every size and color stacked to the ceiling on all walls.

We continued through the Medina criss-crossing areas we visited yesterday, most in the group in search of the perfect shop to purchase that perfect item to bring back as a souvenir.  One particular store that caught our attention was a small bakery with various delicious looking baked goods, as it was still prior to lunch we decided to move on (this decision would pay off later as we hit the baked goods jackpot!).  Several members of the group have become very successful at negotiating with local shop owners and have some great finds to prove it!

Another great meal for lunch at a small cafe located in the middle of the Medina.  A great spot to relax and watch as people walked by.  As we finished our meal, the sun appeared much to our pleasure.

With the weather finally in our favor, we headed towards the beach to explore this area more with Camels.  The camels proved to be very enjoyable and offered a great change of pace to the walking we had done previously and the sun felt GREAT!

When our trek along the beach was over we headed to a small cafe to enjoy some previously passed on baked goods and drinks.

Baked goods gave way to more relaxation, Hakima took us to a Hammam.  The best I can do to describe a Hammam and provide some semblance of justice is to describe it as a Sauna x 10.  It started with a massage and then moved into a small stone lined steam room, once inside hot water was poured on the skin, followed by a rough textured glove all over (used to remove dead skin), followed by a dark black mud used to remove this skin.  All this was followed up by soap and warm water rinse.  Leaving the entire group rejuvinated and rested!

When we got back to the Hotel, Ryan found out he had gotten into the Pharmacy School at UNE. Congratulations Ryan!  A great cause for celebration!  Following dinner we celebrated with more sweets, and a small cake with candle to celebrate.

We were fortunate enough (thanks to technology) to wrap up our day with a conversation with Anouar Majid Associate Provost for Global Initiatives at UNE and also from Morocco.  We were able to share with him our experiences so far, what we have enjoyed and provided an excellent opportunity for reflection on what we have learned so far, it is hard to believe it has only been three days.  It feels as if we are beginning to melt into the culture and community as we explore more and more.

Today was certainly another full, full day.  Tommorow we move inland to Marrakech for the next three nights.  We have thoroughly enjoyed Essaouria and it’s friendly people and hospitality!  Our time here has been very memorable, many more adventures await us in the morning.