My friend Jen Nathan has taken the last year or so off work and decided to travel around the world.
She absolutely loves to travel and write about her journeys so I couldn’t think of a better place for her right now. I’ve tried to convince her multiple times to write a book and turn this into a profession but she just hasn’t taken my advice!
Well, I’ll keep trying but in the meantime I’m going to post her emails on my blog to share her experiences with everyone. She does publish some great information on her personal website www.jennathan.com but doesn’t always include the nitty gritty. This is the first email of part two of her trip around the world!
What an amazing week. Seriously.
I experienced a camel ride at sunset in the middle of some of the most amazing sand dunes ever. I experienced day turn into night on the terrace of my riad with my fellow riad peeps while looking out onto an ancient medina. I drove through palmeries. I saw Kasbah after Kasbah. I had a guy wanting me to pet his monkey (much more innocent than it sounds). I headed out for a sunrise camel ride under a starry sky while watching shooting stars and looking at the Milky Way. I had lunch with a local family‚ who happened to speak only Arabic and Berber (a bit of a challenge). I got scrubbed down (in every sense of the word) by a woman vying as a wet t-shirt contest winner who afterwards changed into her burka to head outside. I read my book in a beautiful park. I found a patisserie that I loved. I heard French accents all around me. A friend and I got swooped into the home of somebody we now call ‘The Spice Doctor’.
It all started in Fes, a word I used to solely associate with ‘That 70’s Show’. But no longer. Now I reserve it for the largest ancient medina in the world that doubles as a complete labyrinth. It was here I met Odine (sp?) who was my guide. Midway through the day he had me over to his family’s house for lunch. His family only spoke Arabic and Berber. He, himself, only spoke a bit of broken English. He used this to serve as translator between me and every non-speaker of English in the room. Things were going well. We were eating lunch. We were a happy bunch.
Then I realized something. I was in the middle of committing one of the biggest faux pas in the Muslim book‚ I was eating with my left hand. In my defense, I am left-handed. But these people didn’t know that. All they knew was that my left hand was dipping into the communal tagine. I apologized to Odine and had him tell his family that I was sorry and that I was left-handed so that is the hand I automatically eat with. He translated and everybody at the table laughed.
Phew! Next awkward moment came when Odine went to have a cigarette. This left me and his Berber grandmother in the room. I was at a complete loss of words for what to say. Literally. It felt like Odine was smoking a pack of cigarettes. Where was he? There was only so long I could sit facing the grandmother with a goofy smile on my face.
In the evening I would go back to my riad and head up to the terrace and hang out with the other people from my riad as we watched day turn into night. So wonderful.
Then came Merzouga. Smack in the Sahara desert. Sand dunes as far as the eye could see. Ali was my camel guide. I joked to him that he was Ali Baba. He said Ali Baba wasn’t a Berber. Therefore, he was now Ali Berber. He would also take me out on a sunrise ride where I trusted his sand dune navgation skills in the pitch black. There are few things better than watching a sunrise from high atop a dune.
The only way to get to Marrakech from Merzouga was one of the regular local buses. This would have been roughly 14 hours…overnight….picking up anybody and everybody who waved their arm on the side of the road. With t minus two hours I pulled out the princess card and ended up paying quite a bit more to have a private driver. This way I also got to see the Moroccan countryside…complete with Kasbahs, palmeries and gorges…on our way to Marrakech. And I also had leg room. And space. And the luxury of being able to stop wherever I wanted. After zig-zagging our way around the Atlas mountains, we arrived in Marrakech.
The main square here is like no other. Sensory overload with acrobats, snake charmers, storytellers (can’t quite tell you what these Arabic stories were though), guys making dentures (odd, I know), guys wanting you to pet their monkeys (I caved and got my picture with one and he literally climbed up and plopped his monkey butt on my head – gross but I was laughing too hard to really be disgusted until afterwards), dancers swinging their tassels on their hats, food vendors, etc.
Yes, people constantly try to talk to you and get you to their stalls. But it always seemed friendly here versus in Egypt where I had people get mad at me when I ignored them (and you really must ignore them – it’s a rookie move to answer when they ask “Where you from?”). I actually came up with a winning answer when they would be eye-to-eye with me. I would look at them with an empty look on my face as they started listing languages. Then I would simply say ‘Deutsche’. Nobody speaks German here. And a winning answer was had!
A friend and I also got suckered into going into a man’s home in the Jewish Quarter. He showed us his full array of spices from every container in sight. Ethan decided he would buy a couple knowing he was being ripped off but feeling okay about paying for this crazy experience. Moustafa (the man) wanted us to buy this other stuff as well. The spices were 135 dirham. The other stuff was 50 dirham. He was going to give us a bargain price of…get this….200 dirham for both. This was an offer we could refuse.
Another experience included a Moroccan hammam. Let’s just say I let a woman take full advantage of me. Not only that, I more or less let her take full advantage of me with a scrubbing mitt that felt like I was getting a scrub-down with sandpaper. I could get more graphic. I won’t, though. Some of you might be close to eating lunch and I don’t want to ruin your appetite.
I never had a chance to make it down to the beach. But that’s okay because I know this is a country I will return to in the future!
I am actually pretty amazed by how well I was able to throw myself back into the ‘traveling’ life again after being in the U.S. for three months. My bag weighs much more this time – that is the only challenge I foresee for the coming months.
On that note, consider this the first email of a series that you will be getting.
Looking forward to hearing the haps with you guys. 🙂