Can we talk about how much I like camels?

Two weeks of class down, five to go. Things in class are settling down into a regular schedule and I’m getting more used to the routine here, so that’s all good. The currents coup events in Egypt have kept me pretty interested and I have tried to spend time watching the news here and discussing the political situation in Egypt with my host parents. I’ve been thinking a lot about my friends in Egypt and how lucky I was to go during a brief period of stability; the Amideast summer students had to be evacuated after one of their interns was killed during a clash in Alexandria. I’m really hoping that this second round of revolutions will come up with a happy solution, but based on the number of Morsi supporters still taking to the streets, I don’t know how likely that will be.

This past Wednesday was the 4th of July, ad this was my first time celebrating the holiday outside the States, but I think I did pretty well by the founding fathers. A few of the students from my program, and a bunch of students from the other programs in the city did the most American thing that we could think of during the day: ate at McDonalds. To be fair there were also a whole bunch of Moroccans there as well that place is pretty much always packed. That night the AALIM center held a party for us where we spent the night dancing to a mix of Arabic and American music and socializing with the Flagship students that we have pretty much only seen in passing up to this point.

Work continued as usual after that until Friday, when it became necessary to prepare for our weekend trip: an excursion to the Sahara desert from a town called Merzouga. To stock up on some supplies, three other students and I decided to go to the closest grocery store, which required a taxi ride, which is always an interesting experience. There are two types of taxis in Meknes: grand taxis and petit taxis, the difference being, as you may have guessed, the size. Petit taxis hold three passengers, run on a meter, and will take you wherever you need to go, provided the driver feels like taking you. Grand taxis are big old clunkers that hold six passengers: four in the backseat and two in the front, plus the driver. These taxis are a little cheaper and run more like a bus, meaning that if there are only two people in the taxi it will stop to pick up more riders if they are going the same way, meaning that you may get crammed in the backseat with complete strangers in the 100+ degree heat. The four of us were able to find a grand taxi that was going where we needed to go, and squeezed in together (let it be noted that they are not all as small as me, which would have made the journey much more enjoyable). We got the grocery store, which operates the same exact way a store in the US does, and after buying extra water, granola bars, and something cold to drink at that moment (a cold drink has become somewhat of a commodity in my world as of late) we piled back into the back of another grand taxi, bags and all, to head back to the language center to do homework and wait for the bus to take us home to the suburb.

The next morning started early: 4:45 to eat and head to the bus stop which took us to meet the rest of the students and load onto a bigger bus that took us on the 9ish hour ride into the desert. Unlike the last trip we did, this bus had rockin’ air conditioning, so the ride itself was actually pretty pleasant. Driving through Morocco was very different than my experiences traveling through Egypt; you actually get to see more than sand and barrenness. Morocco has cool foresty areas, mountains, and then desert in the southern part of the country, so you get a whole variety. You also get to experience the terror of driving in a giant bus along narrow roads that are cut into the sides of a mountain with pretty much sheer drops 5 feet away from the edge of the pavement. There was a really cool part where we drove through part of the mountain that I guess had been blasted through to make a tunnel. After the long journey we finally ended up at Merzouga, where we rented three rooms: one for the guys and two for the girls, to change in and take a dip in the pool before we left all our extra stuff there and headed out for the desert portion of the trip, which meant we got to ride camels!

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We stopped the bus in this park area because we saw this monkey, and then like 50 people followed this monkey around to take pics of him.

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This is a nice panorama of the kind of mounts that we were driving through; not the desert that I expected. If you click on it you can get a bigger version.

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There was even an oasis!

Fun fact: camels are actually fairly uncomfortable; they are really wide, so you like strain your groin riding them, and they aren’t very soft, so if you have a bony ass like me, you bruise. But I still get excited every time I get to ride one, probably because it means that I am going someplace cool. I had previously been worried about cooking alive under the sun during the excursion but we didn’t end up leaving until about 7, so the sun was already on its way down and the temperature was pretty moderate, so we got to all look really cool in our new desert scarves without actually having to deal with the deadliness of the Sahara sun. We rode for about 45 minutes to a camp that probably could have been reached in about 15 if you didn’t take a winding path, but where is the fun in that? The camp was pretty much just a ring of tents at the base of a big sand dune, which we obviously set to climbing immediately, much to our bodies’ displeasure. The view of the desert was really awesome and we watched as the sun went down and all you could see was the light of the cities in the distance and a crazy amount of stars. The night was spent eating some traditional Moroccan food and listening to some musical entertainment, including a jam session from some of the students in our program who are studying ethnomusicology. I decided to crash around 12:30 and went to my tent and slept, not realizing that most of the other students had dragged their mattresses outside to sleep under the stars. Oops…

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Getting ready for desert scale wind and sun.

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The problem with riding camels is that you can’t actually get a picture of yourself that shows the camel, so I’m hoping that some other people in the group have some pics of me that properly show my awesome technique.

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Straight up adorbs

We got up early the next morning to climb the dune again and watch the sunrise; it’s so crazy to be able to look out at the desert and think about how there is literally nothing for miles and miles except for sand and hot. I actually forgot my camera for this part (oops again) but I stole these pictures from some people who did have theirs (and have better cameras as well). After we got out fill of the sun we hopped back on the camels again to head back to the hotel for breakfast and another brief pool break before getting back on the bus for what seemed like a never-ending, thanks to the numerous stops and different sites like mosques, traditional craftplaces, and music performances. Don’t get me wrong, I totally appreciate being exposed to all the culture, but when we left the hotel at 11 am and didn’t arrive back in Meknes until 11:30 pm, that’s kinda a long trip. I’m sure I will appreciate it in the future, but in the moment there was many a grumble going on in the CLS bus during the journey home. There was also some grumbling when I got to class today and the teacher informed us that he had sent us an email changing the homework assignment and said that we should make sure to check out email over the weekend, apparently not understanding that 1: we were in the desert (or on a bus) literally the entire weekend, and 2: 90% of us don’t have internet at our houses, so we only get emails when we get to school, a little too late for it to be any good. Not really a big deal, but slightly frustrating. The good part about the late return to Meknes was that classes on Monday were changed from 9 to 1 to 11 to 3, meaning we got to sleep in, plus we gained an extra hour from a time change during Ramadan. Let’s just say that I took full advantage of this extra sleep time, unlike my roommate who got up early to do homework and was like dying as we were heading to the bus to go to school.

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Sunrise from the dunes.

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This one is actually mine, taken as we rode the camels back to the hotel.

That’s right, I said it, Ramadan is upon us here in Meknes. As a country that is like 99.5% Muslim, the holy month is kinda a big deal here, and fasting during the day is definitely the norm. Not only do people not eat or drink, but most restaurant and food stores are completely closed all day, making it kinda difficult for foreigners like me who aren’t fasting to procure victuals. Ramadan officially starts Wednesday, so most of the students have been stocking up on granola bars and other things to help pass the time when we won’t be able to run down to the corner shop and buy something, but I personally have no idea what this next month is going to be like and how it is going to affect me; I’m both anxious about and looking forward to finding out.

I think that’s all I’ve got for now; ma salama ya shebab!

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