Monday, September 21, 2009


WHERE DO I BEGIN. First off I'll say this: I deleted all of my pictures from Morocco. I can't even blame it on a thief, a technical problem, or a flood. I was just leisurely strolling through my photos and then clicked "delete all" instead of "delete just this one I took of myself from underneath my chin."

But I borrowed some from my friends (see above) and things look more magical from my minds' eye anyway. So I will now give you a glimpse:

We ported in Casablanca and stepped off the ship into the beginnings of a monsoon. Pissed-off-looking storm clouds hung low in the African sky as Megan, Kelly, Jeff, Jeff's brother Jordan (simply "The Brother" for all intents and purposes) and I made our way to the train station with 5 days to kill and high hopes to fill. We accidentally bought 2nd Class tickets to Marrakech; we realized this after a Moroccan girl said "Oh... you are peasants?" After awhile we managed to wrangle some seats but for the first portion we were stuck at the joint between two cars, open air on either side of us, just one unfortunately-placed banana peel away from becoming road kill. We played Go Fish and laughed ourselves into comas.

Four hours later we arrived in Marrakech and were greeted by the absolute 100% most torrential downpour I have ever ever ever witnessed. There was no distinction between raindrops... walking = swimming. We ran/hydroplaned in the apocalyptic manner of the street people in King Kong, and we finally made it to a taxi soaked to our bones. The streets were rivers and we couldn't see 2 feet in front of the car. After floating into the medina (the old walled city), we found our way to the riad/hostel where I stayed last time I was in Marrakech...walking through the streets and tunnels all lit up in the rain was among my favorite moments of my life.

We were in Morocco during Ramadan, meaning the entire Muslim population (aka the whole city... there is no separation of church and state. It's all one thing... "Chate") fasts from sun up to sun down. Everyone eats huge feasts after sunset and people of all ages are out in Jmaa el Fna, the big square with all the snake charmers and story tellers and pickpockets, until the early hours of the morning. So we jumped right in and did the same... Best chicken kebab I've ever had, even though we watched the cook lick his fingers and then individually manhandle each piece.

The next morning the five of us set out for the nicest hammam in town. This is a traditional bath house where huge half naked Moroccan women scrub you, throw buckets of water at your face, gossip about your lack of muscle definition in Arabic, bring you mint tea, and have you sit in a beautifully tiled steam room. Then you get a massage (set to a soundtrack of Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You played on traditional Moroccan instruments... I'm not kidding) and they run Moroccan oils through your hair. It's so cool and I emerged cleaner than I’ve ever been in my life. We wandered into the souks (markets) with every intention of getting lost and then spent four hours walking through the maze of treasures, turning corners on a whim and amassing collections of leather purses, antique bangles, "magic boxes", and love potions. I bought a tambourine from the man who sold Led Zeppelin their exotic instruments; he had pictures with Robert Plant to prove it. We started playing the instruments and it transformed into a massive jam session... people gathered to watch and photograph us.

That night we went out to a restaurant on a rooftop with a bunch of SAS people we ran into, and the night culminated with the five of us playing Monkey In The Middle with 10 Moroccan hipsters and their soccer ball. The next morning we had crepes and orange juice on our hostel’s rooftop then we instantly and irrationally decided to go to Essaouira, a beach town 4 hours away that you could only get to on the one bus per day they had out of town. We RAN to the bus station and barely made it. Essaouira’s medina walls drop right into the ocean and its colorful maze of alleys and markets are charmingly illogical. For example, there is multicolored string that hangs in the air lengthwise down the alleys, and everyone has to duck to get around it, but no one could explain to me why it’s there. In the 70s the city was a major stop on the hippie trail and Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, Bob Marley, etc. would come and stay for weeks on end wallowing in the sun and the cheap drugs. Speaking of addictions, I ate a sick number of street pastries. The marketplace was seemingly untouched by time or tourism and looked straight out of the year 17; I could easily picture teenage Jesus on any given corner, eating a chocolate cupcake with sprinkles (these were inexplicably everywhere and cost about 5 cents) and negotiating a renegade sprinkle out of his beard. We sunbathed down by the seaside, "chilled" with fellow travelers on the mural-covered candlelit roof of our hippie hostel (the #2 hostel in Africa!!!), hung out at the water’s edge at night, and saw the most beautiful sunset ever while standing on the city wall. We also discovered this one secret cafe up a spiral staircase where we found the owner painting amidst a collection of guitars and pillows. We were the only ones in there so he let me play his guitar and I wrote a song while we waited for our food. The unfortunate thing is that the song ended up being "Closing Time" by Semisonic. We sang it like we owned it and Mohammad will never know the difference.

We were having such a great time we forgot to figure out how to get home and ended up having to take a desperate midnight bus back to Casablanca, arriving with the sun at 6am in time to catch the boat. While waiting for midnight, we ate a 5 course dinner at the 5 star Hotel Des Iles where Jimi always stayed and where he wrote a lot of music. Then after a series of ridiculous mishaps (including the three of us girls chasing the bus down the street screaming), I ended up crammed into the window seat with one old toothless Moroccan man dead asleep on my shoulder and another sitting at my feet with his elbow propped up on my knee. But I turned on the music in my ears and watched the Milky Way float above my window, so all was well with my soul. Got on the ship and slept for 12 hours.



Wednesday, September 16, 2009


PARENTAL ADVISORY: This will be obscenely long. I'm not sorry.

Let me set the scene…

I’m sitting in a wooden treehouse. A suspicious black cat comes slinking out of a shadowy hole (presumably a den of thieves) in the adjoining red tile rooftop. The echoes of the gypsies’ tambourines come drifting down the alleyway. Nearby, someone is whistling “Everybody Dance Now”…

Welcome to Spain.

But let me rewind. I awoke that first morning to someone running down the corridor screaming “LAND!” in a British accent. We ran up to the top deck as the sun was coming up and saw birds circling for the first time in over a week. We watched the ship pull into Cadiz, Spain, and a good friend turned to me and said in all seriousness “I’m so happy right now.” Going against all my natural instincts, I didn’t mock her.

We had no plans except a vague (burning) desire to attend Cascamorras, which is a festival near Granada where everyone throws paint at each other and runs through the streets. So we hopped on a bus to Granada and 5 hours later we turned up at an abandoned wooden door that turned out to lead to the best hostel I’ve ever been to. The treehouse is only the tip of the iceberg… a huge courtyard and bean bags and floor pillows and hammocks galore. Basically what I’m saying is this place is the Seating Capital of Spain. We met so many unruffled (I just used Thesaurus to get a synonym for “cool”) people hanging out there and that night Fernando, a Spanish guy who worked at the hostel, took a few of us out on the town with him to the haunts where the locals go. We went salsa dancing and there wasn’t an English speaker in sight. I twirled with the best of them and by the end of it all I was hoisted above the crowd into the DJ booth and was spotted spinning with DJuan Antonio. Back at the hostel we ditched our bunks to sleep in the hammocks under the Spanish sky.

The next day we walked through the winding alley maze of the Albaizin, down the narrow Moroccan markets (there’s a huge North African influence in Granada), and climbed the hill in the middle of town to tour Alhambra, which is amazingly beautiful/huge and reminds me of the following SAT problem… Hogwarts:Alhambra::Harry Potter:Jarrí Póter. A huge portion of the day was devoted to sitting in various tapas bars across the city eating plate after plate of little food and talking about life, love, and the infinite abyss with our new friend collection. That evening at 4pm, this British guy Ed was supposed to pick us up in his rent-a-car to take us to Guadix, the town where Cascamorras was held. HE NEVER SHOWED. “The Most Vivid Hatred Ever Felt” is a good way to describe the general Ed-related feelings that night. I gathered the troops and made a valiant effort to get us there by autobus but by the time we got there the festival would be over. (Epilogue: I later found out they were actually throwing motor oil at each other… I’m speechless. That’s just sketchy is all.)

Later that night my Australian friend Eliza and I went to get ice cream at this lookout where you could see Alhambra all lit up. On our way back we heard music in the distance and followed it through the streets until we stumbled upon a walled park where gypsies were playing music in a circle. They invited us to join them and were so welcoming, aka they didn’t touch my purse. The music wasn’t like anything I’ve heard before, and they all wear cool clothes and smile and dance and sing and all I want to do is be a gypsy for the rest of my life. We hung out with them in the park clapping and dancing for awhile longer and then got kebabs in the street and called it a night. ‘Sleepover In The Hammocks II,’ if you want to get specific about what kind of a night we called it.

Next day we took the train to Sevilla with 3 of the people we had met. Checked into another great hostel after a 3 hour long hunt in the heat. The boys hunted and we girls actually just ate gelato in various air conditioned buildings. Beds were scarce so I ended up in a 4 person room with The Trifecta, as I affectionately christened them: Three 60+ year old men from “Holland” who never wore shirts, were tanned to a crisp, and smelled worse than anything I’ve ever imagined, if the ‘anything’ in question lived inside a toilet in India. Anyway, we bopped around the city and went out for Paella Night with a group of Australians from the hostel who were hilarious and had a waterproof camera (# of pictures of ourselves taken through the inside of a glass of sangria: infinity). We found an extremely authentic (i.e. the best dancer was wearing zip off cargos and a polo shirt/belly top hybrid) Flamenco place where everyone just gets up on the stage at will to show their stuff. One of the Australians, Chris, and I practiced SO HARD in the corner and got really good and asked if we could dance onstage. They said “si” enthusiastically, then proceeded to ignore us until 2:00 in the morning when the festivities ended. We were so unnecessarily nervous. The place closed so we all went and hung out down by the river for the rest of the night and I finally rejoined The Trifecta as the sun was rising. A great day.

The next morning we took the train back to Cadiz and hung out with everyone there until we had to be back on the ship at 6:00pm. I had such an unbelievable time in Spain and I can’t even wait to see what’s next. NEXT STOP: AFRICA. Hasta Morocco mis amigos.