Marrakech, Morocco. This is where I journeyed to last weekend.
Rosie and I woke up at 4 A.M. on Thursday morning to begin our voyage. We caught the tube to London Bridge, ran to catch the train to London Gatwick, and ran through the airport to catch our plane. Once in the airport, I realized I left my camera memory card at home. Bollocks. I bought a new one in the airport, only to find out on the plane that my camera is broken. The lens won't open. So, I didn't have my camera on the trip, and I bought this memory card for nothing.
Not the best way to start out, but no worries. Once we got off the plane, I felt like I was on the set of Aladdin (it's always been a personal dream of mine to be Princess Jasmine). We took a bus to our riad (a riad is like a Moroccan bed and breakfast), which was absolutely GORGEOUS. It was like an Arabian palace inside. This is when I REALLY felt like Princess Jasmine. I shared a room with two girls, Bethany and Courtney, who are both studying in London. Rosie, Bethany, Courtney, one of the leaders Khalid and I went out to lunch, and I tried Moroccan beef tagine. It was delicious. I was so excited about the Moroccan food, but just nervous about the meats because I know they eat weird meats like mutton and pigeon, but luckily I got to choose what to eat each time so I just stuck with simple meats.
After lunch, we walked around the square a bit, and walked through a little garden. I got involved in a fight between a Moroccan man and an old British couple when the Moroccan man was following us trying to talk to us, and the British man said something to me about how they always want your money, meaning they want tips for everything. Which is true. People will literally come up to you, start dancing around you and then want a tip for it, even if you didn't ask for that. The Moroccan man misinterpreted him though and thought he was saying that they try to steal from you, so he was following us screaming, "Why did you come here if you just think we're going to steal your money?!" So, in a matter of an hour, I potentially started a war between the UK and Morocco. Great.
Then we were taken to a local spice market, where we got to smell and taste all different spices and other cool items. I bought two bags of the traditional mint tea (which is beyond delicious), a perfume bar which looks like a bar of soap but it's solid perfume, and this awesome crystal stuff that's essentially crystal menthol. You put one tiny speck of crystal in a mug of tea and it completely clears out your throat and sinuses, and smells just like Vicks vapor rub. Amazing. I have a lifetime supply of it. They gave me a free gift, which looks like a piece of terracotta stone but if you lick your finger and rub it, it's a poppy lipstain that you can put on your lips and it'll stay all day.
We were then separated into small groups of eight for the weekend activities, so Rosie and I were in a group with these six girls studying in Florence (Lauren, Brianna, Christen, Sam, Rachel, and Christina). Our first activity? The Hammam spa.
The Hammam spa could be an entire blog entry on it's own. It was potentially the most traumatizing experience of my life. We were briefed beforehand that it was not going to be a typical spa. They don't give you facials and massages and paint your nails. The Hammam spas are where locals go to take showers if they don't have showers in their homes. Our "massage" is when you go there and a lady puts this black salt stuff on you, and scrubs it off, removing all of your dead skin. Sounds refreshing, right? We were warned of the naked women, but told we would be able to wear our bathing suits the whole time.
We get there, and immediately have trouble with the front desk because they wanted to charge us to leave our clothes there, but it was all paid for already and our leader had already left. These two girls from Switzerland who knew both English and Arabic (conveniently) translated for us and we were finally able to get in. We decided we would all take our tops off, but leave our bottoms on. We're walking around this huge steamed tiled set of rooms, clutching our chests to hide from each other, and all these Moroccan women are laughing at us. This fat woman grabs us and leads us to a room where we all sit against one wall together, fearing for our lives, and all these Moroccan naked women come over and just start laughing at us and talking about us in Arabic. In retrospect, this should have been the time to leave.
The poor first victim, Christina, is pulled up first. The lady throws her arms down so she isn't covering herself anymore, starts laughing, and unties her bathing suit bottom and throws it aside. This poor girl was stripped down by a naked Moroccan lady in front of us all, staring dumbfounded. She proceeded to push her flat on the floor and starts giving her a rubdown all over with the black salt. We all sequentially received the same treatment. After that, she went around again, moving us on the floor, rubbing our skin off with the scrub. The lady is scrubbing our arms and keeps running our hands into her breast, and we just fight to hold back our tears. We started off covering our chest from each other, and ended up not even caring about that because everything else was exposed and violated.
Then this other old Moroccan lady pulls up a little chair and grabs us to wash our hair with the black salt. She's rubbing this stuff into our hair, moving her hands back and forth between our hair and our breasts, laughing the whole time. We were traumatized. Oh, and that stuff didn't come out of my hair for about 5 washes, AND the scrub down gave me a rash. So, terrible experience. We all looked at each other after and said, "I know we just met, but we're going to be friends forever because we went through this together." We are now called the Hammama Mammas.
The worst part? We went back and told the other groups in detail what happened to us, to prepare them for when it happens to them over the next couple days. When they came back from their turns with it, NONE OF THAT HAPPENED TO THEM. They got to keep their bathing suits on, they were taken into separate rooms, and they didn't get their hair washed at all. What. the hell. happened to us? I'm pretty sure this constitutes as rape in America.
That night, we all went out for dinner in the market, where they gave us a ton of little plates and dishes to eat from. All of the food was so good. Afterward, we were exhausted, so we passed out around 9:00 to wake up around 7:00.
On Friday, we first went to a Moroccan museum where we saw some pottery, tapestries, and traditional clothing. On my way there, a man grabbed my ass. They're quite bold in Morocco. Afterward, we went to the Yves Saint Laurent memorial garden, which I loved since I'm studying fashion. It was absolutely gorgeous. We had to walk about a half hour to get there, and they hadn't told us it was the Yves Saint Laurent garden, they just said it was a garden, and I was starting to get pissed that I had to walk all that way just to see another garden. When I realized just what garden is was, I was thrilled.
We ate lunch at a rooftop restaurant, where I got an avocado and tomato sandwich and a fruit smoothie. It was, of course, delicious. Then we had time to shop around the markets, which you know I went buck wild on. Over the course of the trip, I bought four necklaces, three bracelets, a tapestry, a plate, the mint tea, the perfume bar, the crystal stuff, two eyeliners, a lipstick, natural eczema cream, two scarves, a belt, a peanut and honey bar, and several glasses of orange juice.
We also saw snake charmers and monkey tamers in the market. I got pictures with monkeys on my shoulders, and some guy came up to me and put a snake around my shoulders. Was it scary? Hell yeah. I was terrified. I hate snakes. I guess I just figured, well, I'm here. Might as well. Plus, he didn't hesitate to put it on me, so I really had no choice. Luckily the snakes are so well trained it like barely even moved.
What I didn't like about the markets? The cat calls. Now, I'm not some prude who has never had a guy say something inappropriate to me in passing. I can usually either successfully ignore it, or stand up for myself and say something to him though. That wasn't the case here. There literally wasn't a single man that I walked past that didn't give me a creepy look or a creepy comment. Some comments were funny, because they don't know many words in English so they just say whatever they know, like, "Nice woman," "Very well," "Good lady," and, my favorite, "Fish and chips!" (because they think we're all British). One of my favorite quotes from the trip is:
Moroccan Man: (to Bethany and Courtney) Fish and chips! Beautiful flower!
Bethany/Courtney: ...So which one of us is beautiful flower and which one is fish and chips?
However, even these harmless comments get to me when they're said in such tremendous bulk. Also, some comments weren't nearly as innocent as these. I also got some extremely inappropriate comments like, "Nice ass," "I like big tits," "How much?", and "Hey pretty lady, do you like Moroccan cock?" Yeah, those ones get to me (although I later learned from Simo, my leader, that "How much?" just refers to how in ancient times men would have to offer animals and other trade products to a girls father to buy her hand in marriage, NOT them implying that I'm a prostitute). Still, I've never been in a country where I was treated like a slut because I was in a sundress, and I've certainly never been somewhere where I've potentially been the only blonde girl they have ever seen. I brushed off the comments at first, but by the second day I was really getting bothered. The creepiest man of all was the shopkeeper who sold me my tapestry, who wanted a picture with Rosie and I, gave us his e-mail so we could send it to him, and told us he's looking for a girlfriend to make his wife and we're both perfect for the position. I told him thanks, but no thanks, as my boyfriend is also looking to make me his wife and that would be a complete conflict of interest.
Later on, we got henna tattoos! Mine was so cool, but I didn't leave it on long enough because the lady put this sticky stuff on it to make it last longer, but I couldn't sleep with the sticky stuff on so I washed it off. She redid another one for me the next night, because my first one came out so light it just looked like a weird skin disease. Afterward, we went out for a late dinner, and I tried chicken pastilla. Chicken pastilla is a flaky pastry with chicken and spices inside, but it's topped with cinnamon and sugar. So, it's like a chicken dinner inside of a crumbcake. It was interesting, but I probably wouldn't order it again.
Saturday was the big deal. Yes, this was camel day. But first, our voyage began at the Argan oil producing place, where women make Argan oil. This oil is produced from a nut only found in Morocco, and it's incredibly good for your skin, hair, and nails. They make it into everything from oils and butters for eating, to cosmetics, to medicines. This is where I bought my eyeliners and lipstick. The eyeliner looks like a lipstick tube, but it's entirely charcoal eyeliner. Eyeliner originated from the Egyptian region where they would use charcoal on their eyes medicinally, because it would clean out your eyes. Since this eyeliner is 100% charcoal, it does the same thing. However, since this eyeliner is 100% charcoal, it also runs all over my face when I try to put it on because I'm not doing it as well as this lady did. The lipstick is awesome too, because it's lime green but when you put it on it turns pink. I also bought an anti-eczema cream, for practical purposes.
Then, it was camel time. There was one white camel there, and I knew I had to have it. I named him Nigel, and he was quite the diva, going off the path as we were walking along. It was so cool though, despite the smell. Only I would try to ride a camel in a sundress. Afterward, I wanted a picture of me kissing Nigel, but he spit on my face instead... so I just took pictures kissing a different camel. I really had to pee after this, so we went to the shop across the street. They had a traditional Moroccan bathroom... meaning I had to pee in a pot. Cultural experiences.
Then we drove up to the mountains, and we got out to start hiking. Morocco is so interesting because it'll be beautiful and warm in Marrakech but you drive just outside the city and there are tall, snow-covered mountains. The mountain we climbed is the highest peak in North Africa, and I made the climb in my sundress like a badass, even in the snow. We were walking to this mans home, where he and his wife prepared lunch for us. They were such a cute family, despite how he was really trying to marry me. He was interested in me because I can cook at least a little bit, and he said he needs me to bear about 20 children. Yeah, that's not happening. Sorry dude.
We climbed down the mountain a different way, and it was so beautiful. I love doing outdoor activities like that, which is something I miss being in London. When we got to the bottom, we piled in the bus and rode back to Marrakech. That night, we ate dinner in the riad, and then went out to a place called Afrik'n Chic, a bar/nightclub which was beautifully decorated but a little slow. The music was good, but it was slow jazz kind of music: not what we wanted to hear to pump us up on our last night in Morocco after a long day of riding camels and hiking. Afterward, we went back to the riad, and went to bed for the last time in Morocco.
Sunday was goodbye. I woke up early, packed my things (which took a while, because despite how lightly I packed, I still bought so much stuff to fit into one carry-on), and left for the airport. Upon arriving in London, it was gloomy and rainy and it was very depressing to think that I was in sunny Morocco just a few hours before. It was a bittersweet ending to come back to London: on one hand, it's cool that even after a vacation, your journey continues because you're still coming back to a foreign country. On the other hand, it's kind of depressing. After a long trip like this, I kind of wished going home was going home. It felt weird to come back to my room in Alexander Fleming, not coming back to my home in Jefferson, kissing Zoe on the head, and curling up on the couch with my mom and dad to watch a movie. I guess I'll have that soon enough.
The trip was an awesome cultural experience overall. There were things I liked more than others, but I definitely learned a lot from it and I'm proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone a little more.
My man, Nigel.
The moral of the story? Morocco: Conquered.