A Day of New Experiences with Badhr

We woke up the night after the Enrique Inglesias show to mint tea and bread. After showing us around Rabat’s attractions, Badhr led us toward the Atlas Mountain Range. The sun set approached quickly and it was time to set up for the night. We asked some locals if we could camp in their yard.

They were more than happy to welcome us into their home. It was just two guys living in a basic place… It seemed a little bit run down, but I wasn’t one to judge.

We all spent the evening sitting around the table drinking tea. It was nice to have Badhr as a translator for us. He was not only our translator for the night, but he also was our chef! He showed me how to make a simple tagine with what resources were available.

The younger of the two guys was acting very peculiar and we started to wonder if he was on some kind of substance.

Badhr took the glue out of his tire patch kit and hinted that he also thought the guy was on something. The older man pointed and laughed… And from that point on the younger guy no longer went outside to sniff glue. He did it right in the room with us. It was definitely something new for all of us to see.

I was glad we had set up the tent, as I was tired from the night before. As soon as dinner was finished, we headed out to the tent.

Badhr called it- we all had enough experiences for the day.

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The Capital City of Rabat

I have talked about Couchsurfing and Warm Showers on here many times before, but for those of you who missed those posts, I will explain again. Couchsurfing is a popular and well used social network that links travelers with local hosts. I have a profile with a description of myself, my hobbies, preferences, etc. My profile also consists of over 50 references from people I have hosted in Flagstaff and from people I have stayed with around the world. I have been part of the community since 2009 or so. Warm Showers is very similar, but it is geared toward people on cycle tours. If you aren’t already a member of the CS community, I’d recommend checking it out! I have created many good friendships and opened my eyes to new ways of life through the site.

We found a Warm Showers host in Rabat, which is the capital city of Morocco. When we arrived to our host’s home we were (not so warmly) welcomed by the guy working in the shop below the flat.

The man looked at me and said, ‘non-muslim girls, we kill!’. As he said this, he made the gesture of slicing his neck.

Call me a crazy American, but I did not find this to be too funny. Maybe it is because of the tension between America and the Muslim world right now. Our host, Badhr, sensed my discomfort and came to my rescue. He let me know the man was actually his brother and assured me he was only joking. We all shared some laughs and I realized it was all in good fun.

Many of the Moroccans we have encountered have been very eager to share their Islamic views with us Westerners. No one has been too pushy with their religion, they have simply explained their beliefs. It has actually been nice to see people so passionate about what they believe in… Unlike America, where many people only speak of religion in church on Sundays.

We spent a lot of time discussing the Muslim religion with Badhr, but this time in a much different sense. He turned out to be the first Atheist Moroccan I have met. He shared many of the extremist views against the religion and the Koran. It was really nice to hear and learn about the opposing views for once. It was a very interesting discussion, because Badhr’s Muslim friend was also there to contradict him from time to time. We lost track of time enthralled in the topics… And realized we were late for the Rique Englesias** show!

The Moroccan government throws a week long festival each summer that is free of charge! Badhr explained that he hadn’t attended in previous years, because he didn’t agree with the way the government wasted millions of dollars. There are many needs in Morocco, just like any other country… But the government pays each artist a crazy amount of money to perform. Maybe it is to keep the people happy and supportive?

Everyone around us was definitely happy and having a great time around us! We danced the night away to Enrique’s new and older songs. It didn’t take me long to notice the crowd was at least 90% guys. Where were all the ladies??

The lack of females in social settings in Morocco was something I had to adjust to. It was strange at first, but by the end of my time in Morocco it didn’t even phase me. I could walk into a cafe and order two mint teas before taking note that I was the sole female in the entire place.

Before we knew it the show was over. Badhr cooked us an awesome egg dish before we called it a night. The next day we would cycle on and hopefully Badhr would join us for a section!

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Staying w the Locals in the Agricultural Villages of Morocco

Yesterday was a long day. A car swiped my bicycle mirror on the highway, my phone was stolen (but later replaced), i had no appetite and couldn’t eat, vomited during the night, had awful stomach cramps, cycled 40 kilometers or so in the wrong direction…

Even with all the downfalls, it turned out to be a good day. Cycling in the wrong direction got us off the national highway and into farm country. The highway had no shoulder and drivers don’t have the same respect for cyclists here in Morocco. The dirt roads were suited for cycling and the people were all very friendly.

The sun was setting and we had no idea how far we were from Moulay Bousslam, so we decided to ask some locals for a place to sleep.

I saw an older woman sitting in her doorway and made the universal sleeping sign. She had a huge smile on her face and brought us to her family’s home. No one spoke a lick of Spanish or English, but we managed to communicate okay.

The whole family gathered around to welcome us and make us feel comfortable. One of the young girls painted henna all over my arms and hands- it was really beautiful! I have always seen women with it, but was waiting for the right opportunity to have it done on me.

After the henna we gathered around on the floor to eat together. The grandma prepared a noodle dish, much like watery mac & cheese. Our stomachs were cramping and we hadn’t had an appetite all day, but we managed to get a little bit down. The family didn’t seem to understand why, but they would soon see how bad my stomach was hurting.

I was ready to sleep as soon as we finished eating, so I went to gather my belongings. My phone was gone. I am known for losing things, so I didn’t want to make any accusations before I knew for sure that it was missing. I began thinking of my pictures, all the writing I have done, contact information, and all the other lost information. The iphone was replaceable, but the data from
the past year was not.

I didn’t have any hope and wasn’t comfortable stirring things up before sleeping in a stranger’s home. That didn’t stop Kyle though, he was on a mission. He got the grandma’s attention and explained what was going on. We decided to just to go to sleep and see what the family would do.

We heard the family members yelling and the kids swearing to the father they didn’t have it. After about thirty minutes of commotion, my phone was returned to me. They blamed it on the young boy, but we will never know the truth.

I tossed and turned with severe cramping and nausea for what seemed like hours. I was sweating and couldn’t come to a comfortable temperature. Without much warning, I had to vomit. I jumped up off the floor and ran to the front door. Kyle and the grandma (who was sleeping in the same open area as us), heard me and came to help. I didn’t make it to the bathroom and felt awful. The grandma cleaned up like nothing had happened and we all laid back down.

My stomach got a good cleanse that night and the next morning. I don’t think there was anything left in me. It drained me of what energy I had left.

I was longing for a room for comforts and privacy, so we decided to cycle on the next afternoon. After resting up in Azilal we didn’t have much time to waste. Our flights to Turkey were just three weeks away.

The cycling was on the coast most of the day, so we didn’t have too much change in elevation. I was feeling the effects of food poisoning and needed to rest. We didn’t make it to a pension or hotel by dark, so we once again had to rely on the locals.

I asked a few men if there was a hotel in the area and they all gave me a little chuckle. None of them spoke English or Spanish, but one of the men invited us to stay in his home that night. I was thankful, but also hesitant to accept the offer. I couldn’t stand the thought of another Arabic woman forcing me to eat.

A European car pulled up before we even had the chance to deny the offer. I couldn’t have been happier to hear the words ‘hola amigos’! At least someone we could communicate with, and I couldn’t help but hope that he had an actual toilet in his home.

Just minutes later we entered the home of another Moroccan family. Our new friend Sean spoke such good Spanish because he had been living in Spain for the past seven years. He was on holiday to visit his mother and family.

We were given many cups of tea, an excellent dinner, and our own room to sleep in. I imagine we were much more comfortable than we would have been in any hotel. Sean and his mother were so sweet and caring. They have a ‘no problem’ kind of home and we were thankful to be experiencing a night with them.

It is common in Morocco for families to live all together in the same home. Sean’s two brothers and their wives & children share the home with his mother. The wives were very sweet to me. They showered me with attention and did more henna for me! This time I got my feet decorated.

We planned to leave the next moning, but we quickly learned that is not the customary thing to do here in Morocco. It is part of their customs and culture to stay for three days.

We walked down to the beach with Sean and his cousin. We met many people on the walk through the fields, because Sean’s family owns the whole area. The workers were all very sweet to us. We saw a couple guys working on a well, so we decided to check it out. One man was about 50 feet down, hammering away. The two men had been digging the well for two weeks and said they have about two more weeks to go. Kyle grabbed his camera and accepted the offer to be lowered down into the well. He even hammered one piece of rock for the guys. :).

Kyle and I made an effort to leave again when we returned to the family home. I had my bag packed and threw it on my back. Sean’s mother came in and gave me a push back toward the bed. With body language, she let me know I would not be leaving that day. This was truly one of the most bizarre experiences of my travels. After one more shove, I accepted we really weren’t going anywhere.

We headed up to another beach town w Sean and his brother. I realized his mom sent us with her two single boys, and was trying to set me up with one of them. It was quite entertaining.

We returned to the home that night around ten for a nice family dinner. I’m not sure how it is possible, but I manage to understand some of what the family said between themselves. Maybe the Moroccan Arabic has a Spanish influence?

We were taken aback when Sean asked us where America was located. ‘Next to Saudi Arabia, right?’ Wow. There is a first for everything. I was so surprised, because he had been working in Europe for seven years- it isn’t like he spent his whole life in this small village.

Kyle and I put on an hour long fire show that night. The family had never seen anything like it, and we all had a great time. It was two am before we knew it, so we decided to call it a night. The adrenaline rush of the fire dancing keeps me awake for hours sometimes!

The family allowed us to leave the following morning. Not until after a nice breakfast though! We enjoyed our last mint tea with the family and thanked them for treating us so well. We left feeling much stronger than we had when we arrived, and created more memories & stories to tell.

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A Week Full of New Experiences in Azilah

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We ended up spending an entire week resting in Azilah and a nearby village. One of Abdulahdi’s friends, Faoud, set us up with a home stay near Paradise Beach. It is one of the most well-known beaches in all of Morocco!

Apparently the beach is packed full of tourists and bars during the summer months, so we were stoked to be two of the only people in sight. The one man we did see was setting up his beach bar before the others. It turns out the government does not allow the bars to be constructed until June, but this particular man did not care. When approached on the subject, he explains that he served the country for 20 years, and for that he deserves to do what he wants.

We sat down near his place and the owner came over to greet us. He didn’t speak any English, but Faoud was there to translate. The man asked where we were from, and we were quite surprised by his reaction to us being from America.

He almost looked in shock for just an instant, and then immediately gave Kyle a huge hug. It was a passionate hug, and it was even followed by kisses on the head. I was obviously quite surprised by his reaction. I have now been to twenty different countries, and have received very little positive feedback about America. Most people have what I consider to be an ignorant image of our country. We have so many negative stereotypes that I was wondering what this guy knew about America.

It turns out that he was a POW in Algeria for fifteen years until Bush pushed for his release. He thanked us many times, and soon brought us tea and a big lunch. He told us we were welcome in his bar anytime.

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After an awesome first experience of Tagine (traditional Moroccan dish we would soon know very well), we headed back to our ‘home’ for the week. It was located in a very small village with no guesthouses, and we saw no other tourists there. We were happy to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city and turned down many invitations into town. We made the most of our rest days by truly letting our minds and bodies relax.

We slept ten to twelve hours a night, ate huge Moroccan meals, asked the locals dozens of questions, drank mint tea at least twice a day, and went to our first Moroccan bathhouse (hamam).

The men and women are separated in the hamams, so I got to experience this on my own. I paid one a one Euro entrance fee and three Euros for a lady to help me. I was surprised to see the women were all topless in such a conservative culture. Most of the women I had seen before this point were covered enough only to show their faces.

There were three rooms, each one slightly warmer than the last. I chose to fill my buckets in the middle room to call it safe. A lady directed me in what to do and referred to me as ‘madam’ rather loudly. She pored buckets of hot water on me and washed my hair. She then roughly scrubbed herbs all over my body.

I left the hamam an hour later feeling refreshed and cleaner than ever. I was outside my comfort zone, but hey, that’s one reason I travel anyway.

The girl living next door in the village would be getting married that week. Faoud and her father invited us to stay for the celebrations. Seeing weddings in other cultures is always a dream of mine, so I was willing to wait around for a few days.

When we arrived to the village we were told the two day wedding celebrations would take place on Wednesday & Thursday, which was only two days away. On day two it was clarified that the wedding would take place on Thursday & Friday. Well on Wednesday (day three),we found out the wedding would actually be goin’ on Friday and Saturday.

I actually wasn’t too bothered, because the break was exactly what we needed. It was a reminder of how to slow down and get to know one area.

We left the home-stay early Friday morning so the family could prepare for the Arabic Wedding. We assumed we would return later, but didn’t want to push any buttons. Faoud was kind enough to host us for free in town for the weekend. It was a nice apartment and really nice of him!

Long story short, we were only at the two day wedding celebration Saturday night. It was a really special experience for us and we were glad to share it with Abdulahdi (our Couchsurfing host).

We learned that the bride and groom have seperate parties and join only at the finish. We were of course at the bride’s party, so the crowd was around 80 to 90 percent women.

The women and men were separated for the entire night. A DJ played while one female stood up to belly dance at a time. I was envious of the way these girls could move! I was glad to see the boys finally doing some dancing of their own a couple hours later. They were dancing quite provocatively together, which was so foreign for me to see. The American culture would have considered them homosexuals, but it was all in good fun.

The women all sit together until around five in the morning when the groom comes to pick up his bride. That is when the traditional food is served. We unfortunately didn’t make it that late, because the taxis don’t run all night.

We were happy to have experienced
the Arabic Wedding. Kyle got a little bored and said he would prefer to be dancing with me :).

I learned and experienced a lot during our stay in Azilah. We created memories that I will always remember, and learned lessons that would prove to be important for our one month stay in Morocco.

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Day Two

We woke up in Tangier, without much of a plan for the country at all. We searched out an Internet Cafe to look up maps, routes and potential Couchsurfing hosts.

We decided to start our journey along the coast before heading inland to the Atlas Mountains, and then South to the Sahara Desert. I searched Couchsurfing and found a host just 45 kilometers South, in Azilah. Last minute couch requests don’t always work, but Abdulahdi had his phone number on his profile.

We were in luck! Abdulahdi couldn’t provide us with accomodation, but was available to host and hang anyway.

The 45 kilometer ride passed quickly as we were seeing and experiencing one new thing after another. I was pleasantly surprised by the traffic. Cars did come much closer to me than my comfort level allows, but it seemed pretty similar to Portugal. Not too bad, because I was expecting chaos on the roads like India.

Our Couchsurfing host, Abdulahdi and one of his buddies met us in the Medina when we arrived to Azilah. The Medinas in Morocco are the old parts of town, many are built with castle-like walls and structures. The Medina in Azilah was especially beautiful and I had a feeling this town was just what we had been longing for.

We spent the next hours walking through the town and sharing cultures. Kyle and I had loads o questions about the country, so it was great to have a local host.

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Camel Rides in the Sahara

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Morocco’s Khaosan Road

Khaosan Road is a busy street set up to fulfill the needs of tourists in Bangkok. It is where many Westerners start there adventure in Southeast Asia. I see it as kind of a warm up to the rest of the country, because everything is geared toward travelers. The convenient services bring in good money for the locals because they can charge much higher prices and foreigners are willing to pay that price.

You can find every souvenir you can imagine on Khaosan Road, tons of restaurants and bars, taxis and what seems like a million Thai’s looking to make a buck off of you.

Kyle and I took the ferry to Morocco from Spain about three weeks ago. We didn’t make it to the port until the four o’clock ferry, so we decided to stay in Tangier, where the ferry would drop us off.

We cycled to the first road we saw with hotels and were instantly greeted by a Moroccan man. Whether we liked it or not, this man would help us find a hotel room that suited our preferences (cheap, but clean). We told him many times we could manage on our own, but apparently that was not an option.

After finding just the right room we headed to the ATM to withdrawal Dirhams (the Moroccan currency). The man who guided us to the hotel was waiting outside to demand his tip. We REassured him we had absolutely no cash on us and had to go to the ATM. After begging again for at least a euro, he guided us up the road toward the ATM.

The streets were packed full of tourists, street vendors selling new and used items, cafes, and beggars. It was a bit overwhelming, but nothing I haven’t experienced before. Nothing (at this point in my travels), has even began to compare to the busy street that greeted my family on our first trip abroad. The feeling I had when I stepped out of the airport in India is one I will never forget. Those experiences have helped shape me into the traveler I am today.

Anyway, back to Tangier. After paying the guy 20 Dirham (2 Euros), we walked around for just a few minutes before sitting down at a ‘restaurant’. It didn’t take more than a couple moments for us to realize this area wasn’t our type of place, but we were ready to try some Moroccan food! The food in Spain is rather simple and it lacks spice, so we were looking forward to the change.

The meal of spicy chicken and rice was delicious and only cost six Euros. As we finished eating, a man sitting at the next cafe greeted us and welcomed us to Morocco. He was excited to hear Kyle is from San Diego, and let us know he himself had visited the area. He had attended a wedding near Point Lima.

After some small chat, this guy invited us to check out HIS herbal shop. He just let us know he was smoking a pipe with some friends before returning to the shop.

We walked through a maze of narrow streets and alleyways to find the herb shop did not actually belong to our new friend. We still bought some relaxing herbal tea to help keep my peaceful dreams. We weren’t sure how to make it back to our room, so our friend offered to walk back with us.

Our friend said he needed to make a quick stop to buy a little hash, and tried to get us to buy some. Before we knew it we were at a door with a line of Moroccan guys. They were handing Dirhams to a man who stepped outside just long enough to grab the money and return inside. He returened moments later to make a quick hand off with the hash.

We have heard about Westerners being set up by Moroccans and the police. I guess people buy a little hash and within twenty minutes the police find them to search them. They find the hash and fine the tourists. With those stories in mind we were quick to turn down the offer. We parted ways with our friend and headed straight back to our room.

We had experienced enough for the day cycling to the Southern point of Europe, crossing into Africa and learning about the street business of Morocco. Our first day in Morocco turned out to be much like our first day in Thailand, on Khaosan Road. I was surprised to see how similar a place on the other side of the planet can truly be.

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