Day 3 – The Medina at Essaouira

March 14th, 2011 by zschmesser

Our hotel sits just beyond the wall of the Medina.

This morning started out a little differently then yesterday morning…the enormous amounts of rain we received over night caused a power outage in the section of the Medina we are staying in, resulting in cold showers.  Despite cold showers we were treated to another great breakfast (by candle light)  that would prove to provide us a lot of energy for a busy morning/early afternoon!

We began our morning adventure by meeting our local guide Hakima, a very intelligent, knowledgeable and sweet woman who showed us around the Medina.  The Medina provided ample opportunity to take in all the sights ranging from the long narrow streets complete with shops of every type to the beautiful ocean views from the fortress on the edge of the Medina.

Following our tour of the fortress we moved onto the old Jewish quarter of the Medina, Hakima was able to explain to us that most of the Jews had left, but their impact was still felt; evidenced by blue and white (blue which was believed to have kept bugs away and white because it appeared sanitary) awnings and entry-ways and Star’s of David adorning the top of doors.

After winding through the Jewish quarter we found ourselves at the Argan oil co-operative, we immediately witnessed the work that goes into creating Argan oil and it’s dual purpose (Beauty and Cooking).  We were treated to some fresh flat bread to sample the Argan oil and delicious mint tea.

Further exploration took us past a small bakery, where we sampled a fresh loaf of bread for a mere 1 dirham (12 cents US), we all decided it was so good we purchased another!

We then headed to the School of Jewelry, there we saw students learning to make silver jewelry with a variety of different stones and settings, complete with showroom.  Needless to say some folks might be bringing back some great gifts.  The craftsmanship of the jewelry was amazing and was neat to see the art being learned.  This was our last stop within the Medina, which is completely closed off to vehicles.  We boarded the van and headed nearby to a local shop where crafts persons created various objects out of local Thuja (wood), much of which with beautiful inlay of citron wood.

Finally onto lunch at a nice spot by the beach, I think we were all shocked at how late in the day it was by this point (2pm), we enjoyed a good lunch varying from Fruit Salad to Fish Tagine and then headed back to the Hotel for a brief rest.

We again met up with our local guide Hakima and she provided us with a brief overview of Morocco ranging from History to Politics.  Again the group was thoroughly impressed with her breadth of knowledge and wisdom and were sad to part with her for the night.

I think by the end of the day it was clear to us why Essaouira is and has been such a cosmopolitan city.  Rich in culture, history, shopping and art, it is no wonder why it captures the attention of so many visitors and has done so for some time.  Although we have seen so much already, there is so much more to be done in Essaouira tomorrow.

Tomorrow looks to have even more in store than today!

Call to Prayer

We can hear this from our Hotel, a call to pray from the local Mosque, up to five times a day.

Journey to Essaouira

March 14th, 2011 by nconnelly

Day 2 – Our coastal adventure south from Casablanca to Essaouira

After a delightful breakfast of strong Moroccan coffee, coconut yogurt, croissants, hard boiled eggs, homemade bread and apricot jam and a sort of pancake called a beghrir that was served with honey,  we were fueled and ready for the day.  We left Casablanca and headed south along an excellent road system to El-Jadida where the Portugese settled in the early 1500’s. We spent the morning exploring an old Portugese stronghold called Mazagan. We strolled with our guide Mohammed (or Mo-Mo for short) among the fortified walls facing the ocean.

Our very friendly and funny guide Mo-Mo (he really did want us to call him that) then took us through the market.  We stayed a while in one particular store.  Here,  our Arabian nights fantasy became reality…

After seeing Amanda this way, Mo-Mo quickly offered us 1000 camels to marry her…we did decide however to decline this VERY generous offer…

After a yummy lunch of fresh fish, pizza?!!?, and the best calamari I’ve ever had, we got back into our van to continue our journey south along the coastal road to Essaouira.  The journey south was breathtakingly beautiful with fertile farmland atop cliffs overlooking the sea.  Here, in the countryside, it was clear that life has not changed in generations…except for the ubiquitous satellite dishes.  During the long drive we stopped several times along the way to get out of the van stretch our legs and breath the perfume of the sea air.

Not so perfume-y were the public Turkish toilets….

Jamal also stopped to show us the strange twisted Argan tree which is important ecologically and economically.  Vitamin-rich oil is extracted from the seed of the fruit and has a wide range of applications (ie: cosmetics and cooking).

We finally reached Essaouira around 6pm and found our way through the medina to our hotel, a 19th Century House where story goes artists like Jimi Hendrix stayed.  We like Essaouria already and can’t wait to explore it more tomorrow.

Day 1 in Casablanca

March 12th, 2011 by nconnelly

Hassan II Mosque and 1st Impressions of Morocco

We arrived today at about 9:30am Moroccan time (4:30am EST) safe and sound and slightly exhausted from traveling all night.  We met our wonderful guide Jamal at the airport.  Jamal is from Casablanca and was thrilled to provide us with a tour of his home city.  As soon as we stepped outside we knew we were in for a week of complete sensory overload.  Our regular certainties of Maine, USA were immediately swept away by the full technicolor of AFRICA!

We first headed to the hotel to checkin and freshen up for our day.  Jamal then took us to the “beach” for lunch in an outdoor seaside restaurant.  Thankfully they had some indoor seating too because it started to rain.   Jamal  translated the menu for us and we all had an enjoyable lunch.  Then we were off to the Hassan II Mosque.  The Mosque is the second largest religious building in the world.  It is enormous! It’s almost 1 million sq. ft. and two-thirds of it are built over the sea.  Over 35,000 Moroccan craftsmen worked on it and it is incredibly ornate and beautiful.  We learned that it has a prayer hall that can accomodate 25,000 and another 80,000 can gather outside for large religious celebrations such as Ramadan.

It was clear to all of us that Morocco is a land of vivid contrasts and this is very evident in Casablanca.  Casablanca is the commercial and financial capital of Morocco and it is a baffling metropolis.   None of us were quite prepared for the traffic jams and skyscrappers of Casablanca nor for the contradictions of the city with its well-kept parks, fountains and striking colonial architecture next to some huge shanty towns and obvious poverty.  Here, we were also struck by the way that tradition and modernity co-exist. For every fashion conscious Moroccan woman wearing a name brand (Nike, Dior, Chanel) there was also a woman wearing the traditional Hijab.  Or for every street-side donkey there was a cell-phone-wielding ten-year-old. Clearly, there is a broad spectrum of ideals among Moroccans.

Now for some much needed sleep.  Tomorrow we head to Essaouira!

At the Airport!

March 11th, 2011 by zschmesser

We made it! Well, at least to the airport..ready for our first leg of flights.  Boston to Paris!

Meet the students

March 11th, 2011 by nconnelly

Meet Bailey Booras


She is from California

Her Major is Undeclared

She wanted to go to Morocco because “Spending Spring Break in Morocco sounded like an amazing opportunity and it was offered at such a good price too! I can’t wait for this adventure! New cultures fascinate me.”

What is she really looking forward to? “I am so excited to ride a camel and to explore the city of Marrakech!  Lively street markets, the Hassan Mosque and the history alone of Casablanca are some things I am looking forward to the most.”

Meet Amanda Foster


She is from Epping, New Hampshire

Her Major is Biochemistry

She wanted to go to Morocco to “Experience new cultures!  I also want to help the University decide if they want to create a study abroad program there…it’s cool that my opinion matters.” 

She’s most looking forward to “Everything!  I am particularly excited to (hopefully) ride a camel and shop in Souks.”

Meet Erika Newman

She is from Livermore, ME

Her Major is Pre-Pharmacy

She wanted to go to Morocco because “I thought it would be a great opportunity to travel and see other places.  I am looking forward to having memories that will last a lifetime.”

She’s most looking forward to “the sight-seeing and the once in a lifetime opportunity to ride a camel!

Meet Joselle O’Brien


She is from Trinidad & Tobago, West Indies

Her Major is Medical Biology & Math

She wanted to go to Morocco because “first and foremost, going to Morocco and experiencing the culture full throttle has always been at the top of my mother’s bucket list.  So, of course, I have grasped this opportunity with the help of my mother and other family members in hopes that she can experience Morocco vicariously through me! 🙂  Secondly, to me, this world is an open book, the pages of which are waiting to be explored.  The first chapter truly began with my leaving the comfort of my home to live and go to school here in Maine. Morocco is the next chapter waiting to be written!”

She’s most looking forward to “the explosion of Moroccan culture that awaits!  I am looking forward to completely (within reason) immersing myself as much as I can!”

Meet Ryan Warren

He is from Nashua, NH

His Major is Pre-Pharmacy

He wanted to go to Morocco “for the opportunity to learn and explore another culture and nation.  As a pre-pharmacy student, I am unable to study abroad for a semester length so this is a great alternative!”

He’s most looking forward to “the overall experience of traveling and being able to share our experiences with the UNE community.”

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