Monday, March 18, 2013

Winter Break, part 2

I don't feel like writing much, but I will post some pictures of our trip. We drove up north, to Assilah, Tanger, and Chefchaouen.

Assilah is a small seaside town, originally a Portuguese port. The medina was small and almost entirely empty (it was Friday) except for Spanish tourists. It was really nice.

some statue

Every year there's a mural festival.

We then went to the Cave of Hercules, where the hero slept before performing one of his Labors. (Morocco's Atlas mountains are where, according to the myths, Atlas held up the sky.) The cave has a famous window looking over the sea, which apparently is shaped like Africa.

or something
Spain on the horizon?
Just a few miles past the cave we came to Tanger (Tangier, Tangiers, طنجة, Τιγγίς), one of the country's main ports. For a long time is was an international zone, frequented by the wealthiest Europeans and Americans and known for its lavish parties. Paul Bowles, Allen Ginsberg, and other important American writers spent time here.

We visited the American Legation, a building given to the new United States for their diplomatic presence and used until just a couple of decades ago. It now houses a museum.

From Tanger we drove south, into the Rif mountains and to the town of Chefchaouen. Chaouen is known for two things: its blue buildings, and hashish. In fact, most of Europe's cannabis comes from this mountain range. (I didn't actually get any offers.) But the town was beautiful. It was swarming with tourists, but still much friendlier than Tanger or Rabat.

The whole town is blue and purple.
Ras el-Ma', a spring just outside of town
inside the Casbah

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Winter Break, part 1

February 23 was the beginning of two-week break, officially Winter Break. This one, I think, was more exciting than any we've had so far.

Monday morning I went back to Chellah, the Roman/Islamic ruins just outside of town. It's springtime now, and it was beautiful, with flowers all over and dozens of noisy storks.

On Tuesday we went to Fes again. In the morning we had a guide to show us around, then he left us and we went out in search of lunch. After asking the natives (our Moroccan chaperone did the asking) and then repeatedly asking for directions, we ended up at a small, smoky, family-run place that served the best beef I've ever had. (It's great when an adventure like that turns out well, but there's just no guarantee that such food won't make you sick.) After lunch we went around for the sole purpose of shopping, which went well. I bought, among other things, a nice teapot and a common sort of Moroccan hat. We returned to Rabat that evening; the three-hour drive means that a day trip to Fes is possible if somewhat exhausting.

Nice mounds of spices (cardboard) outside the entrance of a shop selling
Argan oil products, the new craze in America. You can see women
grinding it by hand—what fun for the tourists!

Another old medersa, or Islamic school

Fes is an unmissable and unforgettable Moroccan experience; just the size of the old medina makes it world-famous, and the sounds, smells, crowds, and hustlers are legendary. I've heard its touristy nature compared to the Pyramids of Egypt, only less so. Now that I've been several times I'm glad to have gone, but I don't think I want to go back anytime soon.

On Wednesday we went to the zoo; in a word, meh. I mean, it's a fine zoo, and it was fun to have the Arabic names of the animals (especially the mahas and gamooses), but it was almost completely empty, with only a couple French families and local school classes.


On Thursday we had another class with the master calligrapher Mohammed Qarmad.

He's really good.

Early Friday morning we boarded our AMIDEAST bus and started driving north.