Friday, April 13, 2012

How was Morocco?

Merzouga - considered the door to the Saharan Desert

My studio is wherever there are ideas flying around, bouncing off of the walls. Unless you count the studio where I store stuff, even if I'm reading in there, that's not where I get into a flow. I mine for ideas within the mountains of thoughts revealing themselves in conversation. At times I found this inspiration while in Morocco, but to be honest, in the future I will only stick to couch surfing travel only, anything else is too exhausting, taxing and has the possibility of blowing a ton of money due to fear based decisions. Thankfully Morocco is cheap and we were couch surfing.

Ok, so I find life at times, quite overwhelming. Partly because I set myself up for some interesting challenges and also because I am scatter-brained. Right now I'm freaking out a little at a time to try to figure out how to make a video that will feedback, but about 1 minute after the live video has actually been shot. I'm also trying to build a counter into a book. I also still need to memorize about an hour long script that a new job depends on. Everything feels intense because I don't know how to do/make so many new things really well in a relatively short period of time.

I'm back to a normally overwhelming graduate school experience from a little bit of an overwhelming travelling experience. 
One of the many spanish/french speaking tourists in Morocco
What is travelling anyways? If it's the act of movement where no single place is home, then I am someone who really loves making a place feel like home, if it's about the thinking time you get when you en route, then I prefer it in consistent doses, preferably not overnight. If travelling is about seeing something new and changing what you're used to, then I think from the way that my mind works anyways, I'm always travelling.

The lunch that Abdelilah Kannari's mom made for us when we arrived in the medina (old walled city) in Fez

Starting in Malaga Spain to Tarifa backtracking to Algeciras to go across the Strait of Gibralter into Tanger-Med which is an hour bus ride away from Tanger, stayed a day then onwards to Fes for the most days in one place with an overnight bus to Rissani which is an hour away from Merzouga (the Saharan Desert) and after two nights back to Rissani to take a taxi about six hours with travel-mates into Ouarzazate so that we can take another overnight bus into Marrakech where we can stay for a night to make it back up to Tanger onwards to Sevilla. From Sevilla we took another night bus to finally arrive in Lisbon where our plane would fly to Edinburgh where we could get a train back towards where we live in Glasgow which would be about another hour of travel.

So in a short period of time we travelled a very long distance in a very short time.

One of the many many views around the Dades Gorges

I'll touch on my three favorite highlights of our trip.

1. Couchsurfing in the old medina of Fez, the oldest Medina in Morocco where we were told 80% of the people there create some form of crafts, whether its ceramics, mosaics, fibers or leather. There is something like 9,000 small labyrinth streets and everything still works just as it probably did thousands of years ago. There is a secret to Fez, and that is that although the walls look dusty and old and are barely being held up, almost every interior is decorated beautifully in tile-work, so much so that it's not really that big of a deal to the residents of Fez. Also I fully understand the idea of communal living as each little portion of the medina would always have its own tailor, a place where people welded metal, a place where people were dying clothing, a butcher shop, vegetable and fruit stands and a bakery (where people would wait for passersby to hand them the uncooked dough to bring to the bakery for them because no single home had a large oven) Everything you needed was a couple steps away and you personally knew who made it.

Dying by hand that was not too far from where we were staying
One of the many streets where no cars can get through (was it something like 9,000 little alleys?)

2. Hanging out with Camels and Abdu Giri Giri (spelling?) We paid for a very touristy experience of the desert but what we were dissatisfied in terms of what you pay for, it was made up by the enjoyment of how ridiculous camels are in general as well as the genuine friendship with made with our guide who the other people on our trip weren't nearly as fond of. We have a great audio recording from his point of view as his lead the camels: Abdu Giri Giri in Merzouga, Morocco

Abdu is taking the picture, but you can at least hear him when you click the audio link

3. Not making any decisions. We sat in a taxi listening to great music and seeing amazing scenere from Rissani to Ouarzazate with Guillaume and Christine who were able to get great bargains because they could speak fluent French and make the people who were trying to sell you a service or good offer much better deals than we were able to muster. Honestly though, I don't think Rachel or I really enjoy haggling that much, so it made for a difficult time. We could feel our brains resting from the lack of needing to make any big decisions that would exhaust us and devolve us into confused messes.

This doesn't look like the hotel... (somewhere in Ouarazate after being dropped off by a young taxi driver that also didn't know where he was)

Morocco had its fair share of people that we would say were "scamming" us, but I still see those people simply as business people who recognized an opportunity when they saw it and found it quite natural for either person to get a bargain, whether that's the buyer or the seller. Also the "scam" is completely relative to what we consider is a "good deal", being scammed might mean that an 8 minute taxi ride might cost you 2 dollars a person instead of 5 cents per person (which is what the average person will pay crammed in with 5 other people and only going to one general place). If you look at the percentage markup from 5 cents to 2 dollars, of course you'd feel like you're being treated with disrespect, but if you think about the overall cost of living, you really have to wonder if you should haggle down the price for the sake of business as usual since otherwise it's not that big of a deal. 
This was also all offset by the fact that those who didn't speak any English would actually stop to help us out through hand gestures telling us to keep our bags closer to us or giving us rides out of what they considered were dangerous areas (for free). The protocol there is usually if someone is aggressively friendly completely ignore them.

Eating with Hassan (Filke)

Hassan, Rachel and I preparing the meal that is seen in the video above, (shared by about 8 people?)

Three most common occurrences:
  • You pour tea wayyyy up high to make foam, and it doesn't matter how long it takes, it must be done correctly. Also every meal has bread that you are supposed to either eat with olives, dip in delicious oil or to be dipped into the tagine's delicious juices.

    With couchsurfing host Huda Murabit at a cafe in Tangier
    • Cats with strange noses that made them look like people.

      This was going to be one of many pictures of stray cats but instead this is proof that we brought rain to the desert
      • People calling out to me with "Chino! KneeHowMa! Chino!" and to Rachel "Hola! Hola!" and something else usually along the lines of how hot she looks. (I was also often told in front of me to Rachel that she could leave me and come be with them and it would be much better, more than one person went as far to say that they'd kill me if I didn't treat her right. Awesome.)
      Rachel and I trying to fit in while we were on our way to the Black Desert in Merzouga

      Best aspects of the trip:
      • Couchsurfing is in fact a way of life for me, I am naturally helplessly lost and therefore any guide seems like just short of a miracle.
      Meeting up with Abdu's friend on the way to hear another one of his friends play traditional music. He knew 50% of everyone in the medina in Fez and the other 50% he didn't know, knew him because they see him everyday.
      • Hanging out with Rachel where both of us happily munched on some of the best food we'll ever eat in our lives. (much of it home cooked traditionally!)

      I wasn't able to photograph the appetizers well at all but they came in something like 10 little tagines @ this restaurant.
      • Looking back at the photos, it's unbelievable how much of a reward it is for me to see in detail those things that were so fleeting as we had to rush from one place to another just to get away from someone trying to offer us something that is inevitably not free.
      Captured forever, the moment I actually split my pants up the crotch and then had to tie my hoodie around my waist

      What worked really well: 

      1. Being open to absolutely anything is the best thing you can do for a good experience travelling (and having a rigid set plan is a setup for disaster), it didn't mean that we were put into any extreme conditions when I say "up for anything", but some of the best moments in our trip were the moments where we let someone else be our guide and we just went with the flow, we did however set it up through couch surfing and other means so that this would happen more often, and that worked out wonderfully.
      Rachel was matched with the only camel with a nose ring, unfortunately it was a bit grumpy

      2. Having our own hand sanitizer, a jailbroken phone, soap, toilet paper, and even pillows
      Rachel loves eating with her hands

      3. Having a good book to read and also always having pen and paper on me to write down useful Arabic sayings such as:

      Salam (Hello)
      Le Bess (How are you/Fine)
      Shookran (Thank you)
      Merhaba (You're welcome)
      B'Seha (Cheers)
      En Shala (God Willing/Good luck)
      Kant'loof Dhuria (I get lost easily)
      K'aje-bonee Nekool (I like to eat)
      K'aje-bonee N'Jerrob Je'haja - J'dida (I like to learn new things)
      K'aje-bonee Le Wayej Lee M'sa Woobinh Bily'd (I like things that are hand-made)
      La xhoff (Peach)

      I'm sure I butchered the way one would actually say it phonetically in English, but this is what I wrote down after hearing it about 20 times and still not being able to get the right.
      The famous tanneries in Fez, that week's color was red and brown

      What I promise to do for myself in the future when it comes to travelling:

      Plan to be IN a given city (if there's more than 3 different points of interest to see that place) for at least four days, one day is for when we screw up figuring out how to get there, one day is to recuperate from that screw up and to plan the next day, the next day after that is to book a train for the following day and to enjoy ourselves, the last day is spent seeing whatever is nearby but also to travel to the next place. So within fourteen days, one would see three cities total, in about sixteen days I think we saw about nine cities... now I know why people don't usually do that (Although travelling in Morocco was fairly cheap. It cost about 40 pounds through Easy Jet to get to Malaga and as low as 20 pounds to get a train that would take you almost all the way, top to bottom in Morocco, also you could spend 1 pound for a single meal if you got a sandwich or if you shared a large amount of food with people)

      The sun trying to poke through as rain clouds cover the rest of the sky, it rained all night

      Bring money already converted into the cash of wherever we're going, a separate backpack for day trips, plenty of warm clothes/jackets if it gets unusually cold (I was so cold for more than half of the trip because it rained off and on for six days straight, even while we were in the DESERT!)

      No idea what this is or where this is, but it's hand carved wood in Fez

      Bring a dictionary and multiple maps that show where we are going and how we'll get to where we're going from where we're getting dropped off. (Someone was showing us these amazing Lonely Planet guides and maps he had loaded onto his iPod, I felt dumbfounded staring at it) Also really helpful would have been a list of where the internet cafes are and the best known restaurants. (We spent a lot of walking time doing things like that)
      This is how dense Fez is, you can see that it doesn't help that we get easily lost

      Lasting realizations:

      Squatting to poop is in fact much more enjoyable and easier, it is so convenient that I truly believe that it offsets the smell.

      Sitting on a chair is better for working, not necessarily best for pooping

      When money is involved, satisfaction is a game of luck, however when money isn't involved, it's much much more likely.

      Both side dishes were complimentary, and they tasted even better

      I am awful at travelling and I find it very overwhelming, but that's not to say I didn't have fun and that I wouldn't do it again, I just need to think of it as another life skill to practice. Travelling also made me realize not only do I want to get better at conversational spanish and try to learn Arabic proverbs, I also want to learn Chinese because it's almost as if people not only have different personalities when they switch languages but also multiple ways of seeing the world that highlights the positive aspects of a culture.

      Hassan holding the painting he chose. He is pursuing a Ph'D in Arabic, at the time he was spending the day readings lots of books and poems.
      As a side note there is a whole lot more to this that Rachel and I could tell you about, Seville, Lisbon, how authenticity in tourism revealed its manufactured-ness, unique Moroccan attitudes towards the Arab Spring and the Israel-Palestine conflict... Also I have actually found that I'm unsure whether or not I'm happy when I am asked in person, but when I write a blog entry, somehow I understand much more how I consider how it all felt. There are also hundreds more photos that are equally if not more amazing, but I thought I would try to stick to photos that fit my lists, let me know if you ever want to see them!


      Unknown said...

      Very cool.

      benja! said...

      I love you guys.

      Beautiful photos; so, so, so jealous!