A couple of days ago we left our home in Andalucía, Spain to start our next adventure - in Morocco! We were all very excited to have a foot on a new continent: AFRICA! It was, for a bunch of us, our baptism into the African territory. Indeed, all students and faculty members were eager to experience its fascinating cultures and traditions, to discover its historical roots and, mostly, to get to know its people. Although our pre-established plan of travelling onboard our floating home for this branch of the voyage fell to pieces, we were able to cross the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry, thus arriving in Morocco five days ahead of the original schedule! Some of us were a little disappointed by that news, but, eh, if there’s a great thing that we could draw from our experiences this past month, it is that sometimes letting go of your expectations and stepping out of your comfort zone can lead you to delightful surprises and unforgettable memories. Besides, where is the excitement in travelling if you don't challenge yourself and have the occasional, spontaneous change of plans?
After the ferry docked in Morocco, "Class A-Coach" continued its journey by taking over the city buses with our oversized sail bags plus our numerous whiteboards and boxes of school supplies. This confused the locals, who faced us with astonished gazes. Then, after a draining day of travelling by bus, we finally arrived at our hotel, located in a small town that was 30 kilometers away from Marrakech. It would be our school for the following week.
The first thing that hit me when I arrived in the country was how hospitable and welcoming the habitants are. Indeed, even though we arrived at the hotel at 12 am, we were received as if on a red carpet, with a delectable and fulfilling typical Moroccan meal: lemon-chicken tajine. It was indubitably the best poultry I've ever had. The warmth of our welcome well-represented the Moroccan people as they are really friendly, open-minded, and kind-hearted individuals.
Here our “school” is surrounded by gorgeous verdurous gardens, reminding me of a fairytale. Leafy vines crawl up the ancient Arabic-styled walls of the structures and dozens of kittens dawdle around in the grassy area framing the large swimming pool, in which we can take a dip in our free time. We also have the opportunity to wander through the small towns neighbouring our accommodation, where local artisans weave wicker baskets and children play in the streets. Not to mention that we are lucky enough to get to savour traditional Moroccan cuisine at every meal.
Life is very different here from back home; most of the contrast between ours and Moroccan culture stems from their Arabic heritage. Indeed, here most people dress up in a more conservative way. As the Muslim religion dominates, women aren't safe everywhere without being in the presence of a male individual. Plus, Muslims prey 6 times per day. When the call to prayer goes on, you can hear the mellow symphony resonating across the country. The chant gives each Muslim a chance to move quickly in the direction of one of the less-than-10-minutes-walk-from-eachother mosques that blanket the Moroccan territory.
A couple of days after our arrival, the crew was all off for a port-programming day in the city of Marrakech. The "Red City" is one of the country's largest ones, and was established around 1062 AD. Everyone was very pumped for our touring exploration of the city that began with the visit to the Bahia Palace, a prodigious and ornate palace straight out of 1001 Arabian nights, previously owned by Viziers. The palace is enclosed by royal luxuriant gardens, where a great variety of fruits are cultivated. I can testify; the scenery seemed to be straight out of an Alice in Wonderland movie. Also, it is crazy to conceive that the palace has been used to film many Hollywood masterpieces, such as Indiana Jones! After, we went on with the tour of the Ali ben Youssef Medersa, a magnificent and grandiose Koranic school founded in the 14th century. We were all amazed by the gorgeousness of the Arabic architecture, as the white construction was adorned with Moroccan patterned woodwork ceilings, looking like gigantic and complex mandalas.
Inside Bahia Palace
The view from the second story of the Koranic School
For the rest of the day we were free to wander around in the area. We quickly became addicted to the "thrill" of bargaining and soon had mastered this local form of art. We sank deeper and deeper into the gigantic and infinite maze of boutiques that spreads over kilometers across the city, more commonly called the Souks, or markets. If you’ve ever seen the movie Aladdin before, you can maybe picture what I am talking about: dozens and dozens of merchants gaping at you with their greedy eyes, calling out "Heyo Canadian, come and have a look!”. Little kids with Puss-in-Boots-like stares, begging you for money. Kiosks brimming with baggy pants, colourful hand-embroiled scarves, conservative monk-inspired dresses, lip-smacking juicy dates and dried fruits. Countless stands of fresh fruits, so fresh that you could almost see a water droplet running down the peels. Persistent women tracking you for minutes at a time, pestering you to get a henna tattoo. People grabbing your arm for you to enter their store to enjoy their "good prices for students only". Shelves abound with delightful traditional local delicacies such as Pastillas and M’semmen (the first one is made of tender sugar-coat pastry dough filled meat and the second one is a warm rectangular thick delicious crepe), releasing a mouth-watering aroma of foreign spices. This is a whole new world.
Walking the streets in Marrakech
But this isn’t all… We concluded our stay by exploring the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square of the city that is also the heart of Marrakech. As soon as the sun started to set, we could barely keep sight of our group, as the place got overcrowded, almost as quickly as it suddenly vacated when the call to prayer went off. Numerous public entertainers and cheerful locals contributed to bring the place to life. In the hive of activity, we were surrounded by fresh fruits kiosks, monkeys, tourists dumfounded by snake charmers and street tents barbecues, cooking the appetizing Moroccan meat in the open air. Life doesn’t get any better!
Outside the main Mosque of Marrakech
- Written by Gabby, English 12 student