Day Five: Travel Day! Ifrane, Azrou, Ain Louh, Errachidia, Arfoud, Midelt, and Merzouga [May 30th 2013, Thursday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Program – 2013 (Day 5)

This leg of the trip is by far the most exhausting – but it is made easier to handle because the group stops regularly at many different cities and towns along the way so that it is broken up. There are hours of driving ahead. If you are able to sleep, I would suggest catching some zzz’s on the bus TODAY while driving because later on tonight is going to be full of dancing, laughter and music when you arrive in Merzouga.

—- *Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience. —-

Today we left our hotel bright and early, we were all packed, and had eaten breakfast by 7:30 am. We began our travels on the roads in the Low Atlas Mountains. Our first stop of the day was in Ifrane. This town was incredibly clean, beautiful and for some reason reminded me of Switzerland. It is a college town up in the mountains and is very well maintained. We stopped to fill out some postcards and dropped them off at the local post office. Storks flew over head which we recognized from the birds that were nesting at Volubilis on the ruins. We walked around perfectly manicured grounds to a giant stone lion that was carved out of rough stone.

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A stone lion carved in Ifrane.

Side Note: ifran means “caves” in Tamazight, the regional Berber language.

Ifrane is definitely the cleanest town or city we have been to so far. We really enjoyed this quick visit. All of us girls (Me, Meghan, Kayla, Olivia and Victoria went shopping for gifts). I found a nice set of matching ammolite fossils. Surprisingly, there are many fossils around here in the mountains and they are very inexpensive! The air was crisp and refreshing. Such a nice little stop and shop.

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Countryside in Ifrane, Morocco.

Here we go…back on the road – Christopher snapped pictures of the countryside. There is very beautiful country out here.

Driving. Stopped at this castle place that we dubbed “Moroccan Disney Land”. Took pictures of two giant pots. We are all uncertain as to what this place is called. When I asked Mohamed about this place, he said, “The country of UAE built that, I am not sure what is the name.” I guess that I will need to do a little more digging to find out.

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We drove through many practically deserted towns (Azrou, Hajab, Ain Louh, Errchidia, Arfoud).

While we were driving, Mohamed taught us about a town nearby named Ain Louh where prostitution rate was really high. NY Times did an article on this town and helped create micro loans to teach women different trades (like basket weaving) to have a source of income different than through prostitution. We did not visit this small town, just drove by it. It is in the Middle Atlas region. I have learned that azro means “rock” or “stone” in Berber language.

Adil stopped driving in the middle of the woods in the mountains because he saw three monkeys. They live in the cedar forests and are Barbary Macaques, or Macaca sylvanus. He fed them cookies through the window and we took pictures of them. I have never seen monkeys in the wild before. It was an interested experience. The forest was beautiful – called the Cedre Gouraud Forest in the Middle Atlas Region.

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A little ways up the road we stopped. Everyone spent a good 30 minutes snapping pictures of a whole group of monkeys. There was even a mother and her baby. At this stop, there were a few stalls selling wares. I bought 2 camels made of the same stone that the pyramids were build with. I’m not sure if this is true or just a selling ploy, but either way, the stone was warm, alive and very smooth to the touch. I couldn’t help buying them. In the dark shadows of the shop I saw a pile of items wrapped in newspaper. Curious, I took one down from the dusty shelf and unwrapped it. A beautifully preserved fish fossil swam before my eyes. I was intrigued. The one that I had taken down from the shelf was probably as long as my forearm and perfectly intact.

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The shop keeper could see that I wanted it and asked a ridiculous amount for it. I believe that he asked for 2,300.00 dirham. This is approximately the equivalent of $630.00 US Dollars. I couldn’t be swayed. In Morocco, you learn to walk away from shop keepers but that doesn’t keep them from following you around. “How much you pay?” “How much for this?” “What you pay?” “What can you afford?” NEVER show interest in an item. When I threw back a number at the shopkeeper, he laughed. “300 Dirham? – sphsawww… I need to live for my family!” I shrugged and walked away. I wish I got that fish!

Brightly decked out horses stood on the side of the road with braided reins for photos, but none of us rode them. They were immaculately groomed dark chestnut beauties with long silky manes. This was the location that started the dagger obsession. Everyone, especially Megan, was obsessed with daggers.

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Monkey family.
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Pat, Meghan, and Mr. Monkey.
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Joe giving a monkey the stare down.
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Tim, “I’m not afraid of the monkey…. YES! I’M AFRAID OF THE MONKEY!”

The monkeys loved AJ — they were jumping all over him trying to get food!

We drove through a small town called Timahdit. I looked up information about this town and details online say that the 2004 population of Timahdit was only 2,507. This small town is found on the N13 National road through the Atlas Mountains which is where we were traveling. The town has very harsh winters and the roads can sometimes be impassable for months during the winter months due to heavy snowfall.

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We needed to take a driving break. Out in the Middle Atlas Mountains.
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Gorges du Ziz

There are fields and fields of bright red poppy flowers out here. We were out of the hotel this morning at 7:40am and it is only 11:40am — we have seen so much in just the past 4 hours! A farmer and herder just waived a stick with a piece of cloth on the end to get his sheep out of our way on the road. Our van has passed numerous nomadic tents out in the dry arid landscape. Every once in a while we will see manmade obelisk or stone structure that seems completely out of place in this broad, empty landscape.

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Sometimes characters are painted onto the landscape in gigantic characters. Other times they are created with rocks in patterns against the mountain walls. I wonder what they read.

Drive to Midelt

Midelt is known for its apples, there is a very large apple fountain in the center of town. We are literally out in the middle of the desert. My pen died from writing notes about our travels in the black book so much, Olivia was nice enough to allow me to borrow hers for a while. If you are planning on recording your travel experiences on paper, definitely make sure that you have backup pens. They are very hard to come by out here.

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Group photo by the oasis in the mountains.

We took photos at an oasis out in the mountains after visiting Midelt — there was no vegetation lining the water, the water was a magnificent turquoise blue color. We drove through the gorges called Gorges du Ziz. The roads were very windy through here, but not nearly as bad as the Road of 1000 Kasbahs which I will talk about later on!

We stopped in Er-Rachidia for lunch at a café and to charge the battery for Christopher’s camera since we were going to be way out in the desert without any real way to charge the batteries once we were to arrive in Merzouga.

There was a very strong military presence here with trucks passing and many men in military uniform. The convoy spanned far down the road. Mohamed quickly ushered us into the café for lunch but did not dissuade us from taking furtive photos of the military personnel. We were told to be tactful with taking photos of them.

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Lunch was only 70 dirham apiece for salad, water, tea, chicken, rice, french fries, and olives with bread. This is a standard meal and very filling. Our lunch was a little late today, it is around 5pm now. Moroccan time frames for meals are definitely different, at least from what I have experienced so far. We all eat a very light breakfast (usually sliced cucumber, tomato, olives, bread, tea), coffee and/or orange juice. Every so often there are hard boiled eggs. Dinner has consistently been at 10:00pm or later. It is a long day, but completely worth every moment.

After shaking up AirHead candies like crazy people and Kayla’s attempts to secretly feed the neighborhood cats – we loaded up in the van and took off again so that we could make it out to Merzouga before the sun set. Mohamed really wanted to get a photograph of the entire group on a sand dune in the Sahara on our camels as the sun set. It was a tall order and we were falling behind schedule, but we were hoping to get there in time.

It was pretty hot out here in the dusty desert, the AC was blasting but not really doing all that much. It is to be expected though. It wasn’t intolerable, just really warm. We were cruising through little towns and saw a large group of kids on bikes leaving school. Adil asked for directions to Merzouga.

We quickly drove through Arfoud stopping only once. Our group stopped to feed a camel some Coke and take pictures of the giant dinosaur out front of the fossil museum. Inside of the building, we all bought some scarfs for out in the desert for pictures and to protect ourselves from the whipping sandy winds. The sun was setting so quickly! It is 7:18pm and we are still not there! It seems to be taking us forever to get to Merzouga but none of us want to say anything about it. We all keep glancing at the sun.

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Camel says, “Hey! Thanks guys for the Coke, I was parched out here!”
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Look at MEE!

The van bounced all over the place, off-roading at only 10 mph. We were frustrated that we couldn’t go any faster but there wasn’t even a road to see in the sand any longer! We passed another fossil museum with a giant brontosaurus and a giant triceratops out front.

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A road into the desert — will this take us anywhere?

7:45pm — still not there yet! —- All of a sudden an ATV came out of NOWHERE to pick us up. We couldn’t seen any buildings on the horizon but this ATV came bombing out and we all had a dilemma of who would go in the ATV and who would go at a snail’s pace in the van. We ALL decided to go in or ON the ATV. Five or six of us climbed inside and the rest of us climbed on top of the vehicle and clung on for dear life. I’m surprised that nobody bounced off the top!

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Kayla and Tim inside of the ATV on our way out to saddle up on our camels for our night ride.
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Sunset on the edge of the world… no, just Merzouga.
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Saddled up and ready to go camel-trekking!

As soon as we arrived, our camels were already laying down waiting for us all outfitted in their colorful saddles. We threw our leg over and our camels were guided to their massive feet. You never realize how LARGE a camel is until you actually have one stand up with you on it. It seems to be much higher than a horse. It was really neat. All of us started naming out camels to make it more fun. The camel ride was one of my most memorable experiences in Morocco.

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Pat, Victoria, Olivia and Cassandra are ready to go!

The ride itself seemed to last forever, but I didn’t want it to end. Our camels plodded out into the falling darkness and the men who were leading our two caravans of camels would yell back warnings if there were valleys to ride down.

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Joe being a pro rider on his camel.

We were up and heading out into the darkness of the desert. Throw your head back and look at the stars. It is unbelievable.

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Mohamed and Olivia look back for a photo in the dark.
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Kayla hangs on tight while Omar and Christopher get goofy for the camera.
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Tim in the green head scarf looks very comfortable on his camel.

To have a little bit of fun, we started singing songs and clapping our hands. Pat shouted out, “I don’t hear safe riding!” — commenting on our unsafe riding habits when we should be hanging onto our handlebars in front of us on our saddles. We passed a small adobe village that looked abandoned and faded into the darkness. It was very difficult to see. There were absolutely no lights lit there. All of a sudden, a baby cried out. It is strange for me to think that people actually live out their daily lives in the middle of this desert and this is normal life for them. It is so unreal… so different.

We arrived to our destination, a little building warmly lit and inviting after being in the pitch black. We all said thank you to our camels for our ride and walked up to the building. The walls were decorated with tapestries and blankets. There were instruments and random pieces of artwork all around the place. We were immediately offered tea, like usual. Dinner was definitely an experience. We ate at a long, low table by candle light, propped up by pillows. Our meal was a huge tagine with vegetables and beef. It tasted just like beef stew. Christopher and I were just talking about how we really enjoyed having meals with everyone. No matter where we went, it was always very comfortable and plush to relax and talk at the table. We were never rushed and always had a good time. It is expected that after your meal, you would take your time to spend with each other and not just get up and leave. We really like that about sitting down for meals in Morocco.

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A candlelight dinner with friends on a low table seated on plush pillows is the way to end a long day of travelling.

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Pillows and stools were all around for us to use and be comfortable, especially on the floor around the spinning hookah.Some of us enjoyed smoking the hookah but we couldn’t put our finger on the flavor of the tobacco; and we all forgot to even ask.

We were guests.

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Performers sang, danced and played cymbals for us after dinner. Omar decided to join in on the fun too.

A few Moroccan performers were clothed in old traditional garb with turbans. They jammed out with us on instruments and finished up the evening by singing/chanting and dancing while playing drums around midnight for us. We said our goodbyes to them and some retired. Others from the group came back out to hang out and dance around.

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Pat surprised us all with his ease of picking up a good Moroccan beat.
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Meghan and Pat really got into the dances later on at night!

A couple people from our group were getting sick at this point in time and retired early in the bivouac tents outside set up in a Bedouin fashion. They were brightly colored and had beds made up inside for us to sleep at. When Christopher and I finally retired for the night, a giant sand storm had kicked up and we needed to cover our faces with a thick scarf to be able to see our way back to our sleeping tent. The storm howled all night. We set our alarm for 5:30am so that Mohamed, Christopher and I could see the sunrise over the dunes and take photos. We wrapped up against the sandstorm but wind was still kicked up and too sandy for the camera, we didn’t want the lens to get stuck so we went back to bed for a little longer.

Bed… for a while….

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Day Six: Merzouga, El Joref, Erfoud, Todgha Gorges, Qalaat Magoona, Ouarzazate [May 31st 2013, Friday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Program – 2013 (Day 6)

This morning dawned very windy and sandy. Each of us trekked up the slight hill from the tents outside to the building to have breakfast. The wind was starting to die down (finally). Breakfast was brief and we said our goodbyes to our homies out in the desert.

—- *Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience. —-

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Some of us still had school supplies in our gear so we gave them to the men who performed for us last night so they could give them to their children. They were very kind to us and showed us how to tie up the turbans in Moroccan fashion for our last photo opportunity out in the sand dunes. It was quite comical seeing all of us running around in the reddish sand jumping and cheering for our photos. It was so much fun though!

Here is a link to learn more about where we stayed: http://www.sand-fish.com/

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A view in the morning after the sandstorm of the terrace at the Sand-Fish location where we did camel trekking and stayed in the bivouac tents.
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After our breakfast, saying goodbye to our new Merzouga friends.
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Yeah! Worcester State University rocks!

Flickr Video: “In the Desert” — http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696110606/

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Check out how windy it is out in the Sahara Dunes…
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A group shot at the bivouac tents where we slept last night during the sandstorm.

“Tent Accomodations” – Flickr Video: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9692881533/

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Christopher and Pat out in the dunes.
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We ran into a caravan of camels leaving Sand-Fish.

After thanking everyone for their kindnesses, we boarded the van again to take of on the next leg of our journey. We were driving through a small town outside of Merzouga called El Joref (or Al Jarf) and we learned about the drop out rate of the children that went to school there. It really isn’t their fault… there is no real means of transportation for parents to get their kids to school and there are no school buses. Some kids need to walk 5km to school. People have donated many bikes to the children so that they are able to get to school which is why we saw so many of them biking around.

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Pat gifting a soccer ball to a group of local children.

We found a small group of young boys ranging in age from maybe 8-12 years old. Pat was the first person to give away one of the first soccer balls that we brought with us on our trip.

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Precious. Olivia and Intisar sharing a quiet moment outside of Intisar’s family tent.
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Holding Intissar’s hand. Our henna is made from the same stuff.
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Intissar sits on Omar’s lap while Casandra and Kayla start teaching her hand games.

Later on we stopped at a colorful tent on the road by an ancient water system. There is an underground network of waterways interconnected and this family lives there to show a plaque in various languages explaining what the place is. The family consisted of a little girl around age four named Intissar (my spelling is probably way off – but it means Victorious in Arabic), her father and his mother. The old woman made us at home in her tent and gave us cups of delicious tea. This tea served to us she claimed was supposed to be able to cure something like 42 different ailments. She was clucking at her son saying that he was not being hospitable and made Mohamed laugh.

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Panoramic of the desert outside of Merzouga.

Right behind their home tent, there was an old irrigation system under the ground connected by different vertical shafts. This is called Qanat. They created a reliable supply of water for human settlements and irrigation. It was interesting to walk up to one of the holes and see how far down into the ground shaft they went in order to hit a water source.

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A deep qanat irrigation well.

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Intissar’s Grandmother at their home.
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Pat is deciding on which piece of artwork to purchase from the family.
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Casandra looks like she is finally home.

Everyone in the group bought little trinkets from the family’s tent — like the paintings that were stretched over cloth. Everything was overpriced, but we gladly paid the asking price without haggling so that we could give a little donation to the family.

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There’s always a little time to play a game and maybe sing a song or two.

I personally gave a piece of jewelry as gifts to Intissar, her father and her grandmother. they were a necklace for Intissar, a ring for the father, a bracelet for the grandmother. Intassar was extremely smart, the girls in the group taught her how to snap her fingers within a few minutes.

We all wanted to play with her, she was very precious.

The grandmother gifted us with a generous pinch of the medicinal tea wrapped in plastic to each of us. It was kind of her to gift us with this.

We drove a lot this day and we were all beat from being out in the desert. I don’t think anyone really slept last night because of the sandstorm outside. Most of us slept while we could between Merzouga and Ouarzazate. At this time, I did not have a pen so I did not write anything in the book, I simply left pages blank with spaces to write in the details later on once we returned to ‘civilization’. Higher and higher we drove into the Atlas Mountains.

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Mohamed and Pat survey the landscape.

We took a side trip through the Todgha Gorges to a freezing, broad stream. There were many people here hanging out – it appears to be a popular tourist spot. The scenery is amazing out here in the mountains.

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Group shot at the Todgha Gorges.

Graffiti covered the walls of the mountain cliffs. We wrote ‘WSU Was Here’ again. Casandra and Joe were climbing the rocks all over the place. Patrick and Tim were doing the camel walk in the water. That water was cold!

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On to the next location….

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WSU challenges you to a soccer match!

We stopped at one small town named Qalaat Magoona. This town is known for its roses. The town thrives off of its rose products. There were so many things made with roses it was unbelievable. Rose perfume, shampoo, lotions and oils. Everything was packaged in pink. The weather up to this point had been perfect for our trip but it decided to sprinkle a little bit while we were in town shopping. There was a small square where the girls played with a rambunctious kitten and many people in the group played a game of soccer with some kids. We gave them the soccer ball to share as a gift and some school supplies and candy too.

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After our soccer game with the children of Qalaat Magoona. Smile!

One boy wanted us to come visit his karate club, so he jumped into our van with us to give directions. We all piled out and were treated to a little sparring session. All of the students were happy to see us and sang us songs.

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Joe presents gifts to the teacher at the karate center.
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The Karate Kids!

They were very well trained and all wanted to show off for us, begging their teacher to let them spar one another.We were on a tight schedule so we needed to go. We took quick pictures with the kids (all of them crammed into one room, perhaps 50 kids, all ages). We gave them what school supplies we had left. I felt bad that I had nothing left so I gave some dirham to help kids buy new kimonos.

We left feeling good, but we wanted to stay.

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Omar showing off his moves during a late night soccer match.
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Christopher presents a soccer ball to the kids on the street after a quick matchup.

We continued driving and it was after darkness fell that we found another group of young boys playing with a dilapidated soccer ball (soccer of course — is a religion). We all piled out again and the guys played a quick game while I snapped a few photos. It was very fun to give the balls away to the kids.

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Our first view of Hollywood sets in Ouarzazate, Morocco. These walls were used during scenes of Game of Thrones!

We kept driving and arrived late to our next destination, our hotel called ‘Le Perle du Sud’ or ‘The Pearl of the South’ in Ouarzazate! Our luggage was hauled upstairs to our rooms where we got a glimpse of our opulent rooms. This is by far my favorite hotel on our trip! We dropped off our luggage and ran downstairs for dinner where there were still many people dining even though it was probably between 10:30-11:00pm at night. After glutting ourselves, we went outside to check out the pool that was surrounded by high private walls and lush greenery.

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Meghan and Casandra walk on water at Le Perle Du Sud Hotel.

Casandra and Meaghan were walking on little pedestals under the water so from a distance it looked like they were walking on water. Christopher snapped a few shots of them. We were all contemplating going to a swim but were waayy too tired. We decided to retire to our room in order to update our emails to family since we did not have any internet connection for the past few days.

Bed… — I cannot wait to see what Moroccan Hollywood has in store for us tomorrow!

Posted in Magical Morocco - WSU Travels for 10 Days | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Day Seven: Travel Day! Ouarzazate to Marrakesh [June 1st 2013, Saturday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Program – 2013 (Day 7)

La Perle Du Sud was a beautiful hotel to visit, no matter how short our stay was. Today is June 1st, 2013 — and Saturday. There is no sleeping in on THIS Saturday! This is our beautiful suite for our rest last night. This hotel is incredible.

—- *Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience. —-

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A view from our balcony at La Perle Du Sud.
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Our hotel today.

We are up and off to visit Atlas Corporation Studios bright and early. Here is a view from our balcony at La Perle Du Sud — we didn’t want to leave!

Atlas Corporation Studios is a film studio where many films have been shot including Romancing the Stone, the Mummy, Gladiator, Cleopatra, The Jewel of the Nile, The Passion and many others. We got there very early and pretty much had run of the entire place with our own guide. Our tickets were very inexpensive, only 35 dirham apiece and we probably could have stayed there for the entire day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA DSC04912

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A movie set from Atlas Corporation Studio in Ouarzazate, Morocco.
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A very large movie set built away from Atlas Corporation Studio where film producers are filming “Atlantis”.
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It looks like stone, but it’s foam! Completely fake movie sets were mind bogglingly real looking here.
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I (Beth) had to pose with James Dean.

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Casandra laughs as Pat strikes an incredible funny pose. Joe looks off in the distance while Tim tries not to laugh.
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Funny picture time.
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Olivia gets a little freaky with her acting from “The Ring”.
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Tim kicks AJ and Pat kicks Casandra into a bottomless pit.
Such are the ways of Spartans.
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Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco students have taken over Egypt it appears.
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Beth just lounging by some massive statues on set at Atlas Corporation Studio.

Our guide told us that there was one set that took three entire months to build for a two minute scene in a movie. That is insane! We took some crazy photos here. Every single movie set was different and we were able to take as many pictures as we wanted. The movie props were really cool too. Tim allowed us to take his iconic photo in front of the jet for his ‘Tom Cruise’ look.

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Olivia, Beth, Meghan, Tim, Kayla, Mohamed and Christopher inside of the hull for the movie Ben-Hur.

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Tim aka Tom Cruise taking a moment from his busy Hollywood lifestyle to take a picture with Omar in front of a movie prop jet

While we were walking around the studio, we saw some people involved in shooting a new movie entitled “Atlantis”. At one location on set, we walked into the hull of the ship used in scenes from Ben-Hur. We sat on the benches and rowed the oars. It was a pretty neat experience There were many Egyptian decorations, wall paintings and buildings created on sight.DSC04947

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Movie people riding out to the set of Atlantis to film.

Once we had our fill of wandering around Atlas Corporation Studios, we were back on the road again.DSC05096

Everyone was sleep deprived so we tried to nap a little bit during this stretch of the trip. We traveled for a few hours through the mountains and finally reached the famed Road of 1000 Kasbahs. It was intense to say the least. The corners were very sharp and curved around the sides of the mountains.

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Road of 1000 Kasbahs.

We had a couple of close shaves. While we were driving, Adil and Mohamed talked about a bus of 42 passengers that tumbled down the side of the mountain a few weeks earlier — we had driven past a monument erected for the deceased. …. That was comforting. We stopped on the shoulder of the road and took funny pictures together where you could see the road winding around everywhere like a snake around the mountain.

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Omar, Joe, Tim, Mohamed, Pat and Christopher — the boys sitting for a shot in front of the Road of 1000 Kasbahs.
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Beth, Olivia, Kayla, Mohamed, Meghan, Casandra, and Victoria posing for a shot in front of the Road of 1000 Kasbahs too.

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There was a stop that we made that is worth mentioning. We stopped at a picturesque place between two mountains where a stream creeped between them. We pulled over and saw a young girl with a head wrap helping her mother wash clothing in the stream. Mohamed said we needed to stop here. There was an old bridge over the stream where he said that “Joey threw up at once”. Joey must have been a student from a previous trip — and he will never live down that event! Mohamed talked with the little girl’s mother in a different language, one that is not regular Arabic, Mohamed explained. We gave them some clothing that we had left, some school supplies and a little bit of candy. It was nice to meet new people and make friends along the way.

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So nice to meet you.
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Little girl helping me (Beth) across a stream to meet her mother.
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We are getting these little children hopped up on sugar (pixi-stix) and also gave them some clothing that we had left from our donations bags.
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Tim walking across an old concrete bridge where we wrote our names in charcoal to mark our passing.
He’s being a goof, as usual.

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This part of the trip was very beautiful to see through the windows of the van — very picturesque but we didn’t stop much because we were on a tight schedule to get into Marrakesh. On the way to Marrakesh we stopped for dinner.

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WSU Flickr Video: “Driving in the High Atlas Mountains”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696533586/

We also sat on the terrace at this restaurant relaxing after dinner and we kind-of expecting Moroccan mint tea to be served to us because literally, every single meal was served with mint tea up to this point in our travels. It was just funny that we got so used to tea after dinner meals.

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Lunch Time!

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Late in the evening we made it into Marrakesh. The traffic was crazy! Everything was crammed into the streets — people, mopeds, donkeys, carts, horses, horse-drawn carriages, taxis, cars, busses — you name it, it was there. Everyone wanted to go all at once. Jumping into the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh was difficult to get accustomed to after being out in the desert for a few days.

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After checking into our hotel, we went out to explore the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square in Marrakesh. It was jam-packed when we got there at 10pm.

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Jamaa Lafna Square in Marrakesh.

We walked through the souk and the girls got some really good deals on “camel leather” bags. There were small alley-ways in the souk was home to the moped 500, and there had to be at least 100,000 people there. We drank some spiced clove tea at a sellers stall and it was delicious. It felt really good on our sore throats. Some of us could not drink it all, however. It was just too spice-y!

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Taking a break from shopping to drink some spiced clove tea from vendor.
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I don’t even know if Mohamed knew this man at the square or if they were complete strangers, but for the 5 minutes we hung out with this guy, he was our best friend.

So much surrounded us… there were snake charmers, trained monkeys, hawks on leashes, fortune tellers, small groups of people playing music in circles around Moroccan lanterns.  We asked if it was this busy because it was a Saturday.  A man laughed, “No, it is like this every night!”

 There was even a teenager on a motorbike leading two horses by lead ropes through the square at one point. Everything was chaotic but it was so much fun to be a part of everything going on around us. The girls did a little bit of shopping and got amazing deals on “Camel Leather” bags. We know that the bags are not made of real camel, but we thought that it was funny that this was a ploy to make the bags more desirable from the shopkeepers.

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Master snake charmer Omar and his assistant, Meghan.

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Everything was shutting down at the Square at this point so we decided to head back to our hotel for the evening. Tomorrow is another day!

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Day Eight: Day in Marrakesh [June 2nd 2013, Sunday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Program – 2013 (Day 8)

It is Sunday, Day 8 of our travels. I am starting to get a little sad knowing that our trip is almost over and that we will be boarding a plane home soon. We are going to make the most of our last few days in Morocco!

—- *Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience. —-

Today we left our Ryad Mogador Hotel and we had a guide to take us around the city to teach us about Marrakesh and its history. Marrakesh is called “The Red City” because of the ochre color of the buildings. We learned that Marrakesh is the Capital of Berbers and the first inhabitants of Morocco lived here. This city is one of Four imperial cities: Rabat, Fes, Meknes, and Marrakesh. I find that it is amazing that we have been given the opportunity to see all of the imperial cities in the past few days on this journey. We also learned that Marrakesh has only 65 days of rain in a year — 300+ days of sun. This is my kind of place to live!

We did a lot of walking to see many different cites around the city. We learned that the holes in the walls of the city were for scaffolding to build it up. There are more than 10 gates in Marrakesh including the Bab J’deed “New Gate”. Someone in our group had a good question about the calls to prayer … “What if someone is deaf and they cannot hear the call?” Our guide told us that a white flag is raised on top of the towers as a visual sign that it is time for the call to prayer. This was so interesting.

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We walked past the ruins of an ancient mosque. When we questioned why they tore the old mosque down, our guide replied that they build the new one right next to the old one because it was not “aligned properly with Mecca”. Mohamed and the guide told us a little bit more about the calls to prayer and that they follow the rising/setting of the sun, and that it is not at any exact period of time, it can vary.

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Gardens in Marrakesh.

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We learned new Arabic today: “Yell-AH!” = “Let’s Go!”

Our group visited a cemetery where we saw servant tombs outside of the mosque. There are no names carved anywhere. The slabs are covered in beautiful yellow, turquoise, royal blue and white diamond tiles. Very near the servants tombs there was the Tomb of Three Arches where the women in the royal family where buried.

A short video clip of some architecture walking through the Bahia Palace. Video Clip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9693133729/

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Next we visited the Melah, or Jewish Quarter. Within the Jewish Quarter was the Bahia Palace or “Palais Bahia” where there were beautiful central gardens. Bahia actually means ‘beautiful’. The Bahia Palace was built in 1984 when the grand vizier married four wives, and the most beautiful was named Bahia. Down a corridor we found the Harem Quarter where the vizier’s 24 concubines and 4 wives lived together. The architectural style is Spano-moorish gardens.

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Gardens inside of the Bahia Palace.
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Listening to our guide give us history lessons about the architecture in Marrakesh.

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Intricate tile work.
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Carved plaster inside of the arches of the Bahia Palace.

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A group photo… with Christopher behind his lens, as always.
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Weathered painting, but still vibrant.
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Olivia, Casandra, Pat, Tim, Victoria, Christopher, Joe and Beth catch a little tiny rest under a bit of shade in the courtyard.

Inside of the bustling city we stopped at a shop called Rosa Huille. This was my favorite store. We were given a presentation of spices at this shop. We learned so much!! Ras el Hanout is ‘heat of shop’ which is a 35 spices blend for meats. Moroccan Curry and cumin, chili pepper, Saffron lipstick balm, orange blossom and jasmine oils… the list of items in this store is endless.

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Upon entering Rosa Huille shop, two woman sat grinding nuts to draw out their butter and oils.
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A man gives us detailed explanation of numerous uses for each item that Rosa Huille sells in their shop. You can see many canisters on the shelves all around the room.

A Video of this room and our presenter starts his informative demonstration of the items sold at Rosa Huille. Video Clip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696637870/

Black seed was one of my favorite things to purchase and bring home, it is great for the sinuses, asthma, snoring… there were different kinds of argan oil – some for cooking others for using in hair. Pat got a massage with some oils that Rosa Huille was selling. A few girls received a ‘clavicle’ massage.

AJ also ate a handful of cumin to help with his indigestion that he had been battling during the trip. This shop was incredible and we all spent quite a bit of time at the end of the presentation in the check out line.

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Olivia and Casandra look on as AJ prepares himself before he swallows a handful of cumin.

AJ eats a handful of cumin to help his digestive system. Video Clip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696628482/

Afterward, we went to a few other shops that had incredible wares. Some of the shops were very pricey but it was interesting to see different and unique things. We also stopped at a rug shop but nobody bought anything. I wish we had saved up more money for a rug. Maybe next time!

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Moroccan treasures.
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Handmade Moroccan leather shoes in a rainbow of colors.
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A superior example of metal-work molded into the image of a bird of prey.
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A treasure box with pieces of bone and semi-precious stone inlay.
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Various ceremonial daggers on display with vintage looking metal work.

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Our stop in the rug shop. An image from the ground floor looking up into the building to the ceiling.
Notice the many layers on the walls and ceilings of ornamental tile work.
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Some examples of rugs for us to purchase. Hand tied and loomed.

Checking out the Rug Shop — Video Clip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696623346/

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More vibrant rugs to choose from.

We went to lunch and had the option of eating American food. Our table ate traditional tajine dishes to keep with the culture while visiting. Let me tell you something, if you go with Worcester State University on this trip, fully immerse yourself into the trip! Even though Mohamed gave us the option of eating American food, why bother? You are only in Morocco for 10 days and will be in the U.S for the rest of your life. Be adventurous and get something out of the ordinary! Okay, I have said my piece. We kept asking our waiter for more bread!! Meg yelled for more bread – we were famished!

Everyone wanted to go back to the square after lunch to do some more shopping. AJ and everyone else became kings at bartering. There was one point when Joe came back and showed us all of the cool things he was able to get for next to nothing. We were pros!

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Crimson died wool looped and hung in the sun to dry in the alleyways of Marrakesh.

We walked around the city some more and saw people dying different fabrics in handmade dyes. The fabric and strings were hanging from the walkways drying in the sun. It was very interesting to see where the materials were made from the start.

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So many textiles and colors in Marrakesh!
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A child’s handprint on a wall in Marrakesh.

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After our shopping excursion we went back to the hotel to have dinner. There was a local event for teenagers in the hotel so it was very crowded and loud. It was interesting to see how they were dressed. We were going to go to the hammam but we ran out of time. Mohamed has vowed to get us to one before we leave, he says it is something we cannot miss out on experiencing.

“Remember people, it’s 12 o’clock here. So let’s be as loud as possible.” – Pat

At night, we visited the Ali Baba show. We were not sure what to expect!

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Mohamed and I (Beth) posing for a quick photo on our walk through the caves to get to the Ali Baba show.

We sat and had nuts and sodas while Joe got up and danced with some singers that were going table to table under the tent. There were thick, brightly colored carpet coverings everywhere.

Dinner and singers walked around visiting the tables. Here is a video of us having a repast and listening to the cymbals and seeing the dancers. Video Clip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9693375415/

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Joe is persuaded to get up and dance with the performers at the Ali Baba show.

A video clip of the Actors performing on horseback during the Ali Baba show: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696578708/

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Moroccan musicians.

A Video Clip of the Ali Baba Performers: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696546750/

Outside, there was an oval arena where Moroccan performers raced up and down firing their guns acting out a story. There were trick riders and a belly dancer. We had the best seats in the house, right up front to see the action. There was a “magic carpet” up on cables that “floated” down and over the arena at the end of the show. The show was very stylized and did not help the typically “Moroccan stigma” of what some Americans think of the country, but it was fun and entertaining. I enjoyed myself and the music was awesome and the people were super friendly.

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As part of the performance, there was a bridal caravan.
In the distance you can see a white and blue carriage.

At the end of the show, we were thanked for coming with a flaming finale.

Video Clip:http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9693311165/

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Kayla passed out on Meghan’s shoulder on the way back to the hotel.

Bleary-eyed, we made our way back to our hotel. Another day — tomorrow!

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Day Nine: Leaving Marrakesh, Setti Fatma Falls, Casablanca [June 3rd 2013, Monday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Program – 2013 (Day 9)

We were not going to be returning to Marrakesh after our travels today, so we packed up everything nice and neat and loaded our bags into the van once more. We are getting very good at packing and unpacking our things! This morning our destination is the Falls at Setti Fatma which would be a short one and a half hour drive. Trust me, at this point in the trip, an hour and a half drive is nothing!

—- *Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience. —-

We meandered along a stream at the base of the mountain through a small village. There were little cafes along the water set up with brightly colored pillows strewn about. None of the cafes were open yet because it was still early in the morning. All was quiet and we were immersed in the natural atmosphere of the mountains. People were just starting to wake up and come out of the small, squat buildings peppered in the hills. We walked over rickety bridges to get across to the path to the Setti Fatma Falls.

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Our first glimpse of the stream near the Setti Fatma falls.
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A wooden bridge to cross to find the path up the mountain.
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Local ladies doing wash in the frigid waters from the mountain.
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Many little cafes with tables set up under willow trees in the gorge between the mountain.

Walking up the path to Setti Fatma Falls — Video Clip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696519408/

A kitten crossed our path. Olivia scooped him up and carried him with us for a part of the hike through the village. All of the girls in our group were enamoured with the animals we came across in our travels.

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Olivia steals a neighbor’s kitten to take on our walk with us.
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We are heading up the path to find these fabled Falls!

We hiked for about a half mile up the side of the mountain to reach the first of seven waterfalls. The hike is very easy, many of us climbed up easily in sandals but looking back I would recommend sneakers. If you go on this hike with Professor Brahimi through WSU, I would strongly suggest bringing a well balanced back pack to stow away your electronics and water bottles safely. Mohamed was having a little bit of trouble balancing a bottle and his iPad while hiking up the mountain but we all made up there safely.

Once we arrived at the pool of water by the bottom falls we all chucked off our shoes and rolled up our pants to jump in the water. I have never felt water that cold in my entire life! It was so cold that it was physically painful but very refreshing and definitely worth the climb up to play around in the water and to see the falls.

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WSU found the falls of Setti Fatma!

WSU makes it to the Setti Fatma Falls! Video Clips: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9693255925/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696494704/

The water is so cold! Video Clip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9693271931/

We got some great pictures of the group such as Pat staring off into the distance, Tim taking off his shirt and waving it around like a cowboy with a lasso, Casandra being a billy-goat on the rocks, AJ trying to kill himself on the rock cliffs… again. Oh, AJ. AJ was by far the Daredevil of the group. We all became quite close on this trip. After playing around in the falls we all decided to stop at some small artisanal shops located a little ways down the path on the way back to the village. We stopped where everyone paid 20 dirham (about $2.50 USD) to have a local hammer our names in Arabic on a piece of tin to attach to a colored leather bracelet. We lounged around while we waited.

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Kayla, Olivia, and Pat pretending the water isn’t cold.
Omar couldn’t pretend any longer.
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Victoria hangs out in the water at the Falls while Pat, Kayla, Joe, Tim and AJ debate on who is going to go in next.
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Kayla and Meghan grin and bear the cold water of the Setti Fatma Falls.
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Casandra is dubbed our ‘bathing beauty’ as she soaks up some Moroccan sun on the warm rocks by the falls.
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A local craftsman taps our names in Arabic onto little scraps of tin and attaches them to different colored leather scraps of our choosing for bracelets.

We sipped on Hawai which was actually chilled by the water from the falls. What a wonderful idea! The water worked as a natural refrigerator.

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Sodas on display under running water off the mountain.

Video Clip: Meghan asks, “What Town Are We In?” http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9693276415/

While I was waiting for the artist to finish his work on my handmade bracelet, I went way from the group to a different shop found further down the walkway. You could stand and watch the artist work with soapstone to carve it. All of the carvings looked dusty and unfinished. I said they were magic stones because when you put the little figures in water they take up the colors of the stone as they should be. There was an old man that talked to me saying that all of humanity are equals, we all have the same eyes, nose mouth – two hands, two feet. He appreciated our visit and offered me the opportunity to apprentice in the stone shop for a year. You can completely go off the grid here! The old man told me that I could live in the village and work with him. Everyone was so kind and welcoming. After this meeting with the old man, I could not help but reflect on the differences between U.S. hospitality and our experiences with Moroccan hospitality. On a scale of 1-10, Morocco is at least a 13 and the U.S is probably a 5 in the ‘hospitality and kindness’ department.

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Mohamed and Omar pause on our walk down the path for a photo.
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A different color for a different café perhaps? Very cool to see from above on the path by the falls.

A Walk at Setti Fatma: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696478774/in/photostream/

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Horses and camels bedecked in brightly woven saddles for tourists to ride up the mountain.

Lunch was at a giant restaurant down the road. We laughed and discussed our adventures so far. After our relaxing lunch, we took a few photos out front of the building with AJ holding our banner — a roll of TP. It became very symbolic during this trip.

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An opulent restaurant all to ourselves for lunch.
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Steamy chicken tagine, anyone?
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Leaving the restaurant we decided to fly our TP banner proudly.
It became a symbol during our trip.

Casablanca seemed like forever away. We drove through the countryside up from the south to the Atlantic coast. When we checked into our hotel we regrouped later on and met up with Mohamed’s cousins and some students from a nearby University. We were pleasantly surprised when Ali and a student from his own program came to join us for dinner. We exchanged stories, thoughts about the trip and gifted presents around to one another.

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Tim says, “Paint me like one of your French girls.”
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Dinner at our final hotel in Casablanca with Ali, Mohamed’s cousins and some students from a local college.
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Joe presents a gift to one of Mohamed’s cousins after dinner.
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Mingling and talking after dinner.

The evening ended with us saying our final goodbyes to everyone that we met on our journey and we promised to keep in touch online and to make every effort to travel back to Morocco in the future.

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Good bye, new friends! We will never forget you!
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Mohamed with his cousins and Ali saying our final goodbyes.
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Day Ten: Last Day, Casablanca and then Home [May 4th 2013, Tuesday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Trip – 2013

Our Final Day in Morocco

Everyone was a little subdued this morning when we gathered for breakfast in our hotel.  We all took extra precautions packing up our Moroccan treasures to take home with us because we are going to be heading to the airport shortly.  We stopped briefly at the Brahimi household in Casablanca to say one final goodbye to Mohamed’s family.

—- *Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience. —-

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Goodbye Brahimi home!

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One more crazy pic.

Mohamed was able to work wonders in our schedule and we were able to visit the hammam called Le Pacha.  It was very inexpensive, I believe it was only 50 dirham or about $7.00 US.  The ladies and the men were separated and led down different halls.  I personally had never experienced a hammam or bathhouse before and did not know what to expect.  We were given wraps and were escorted down a long hall.  We stepped into a nice humid, warm room surrounded by tables for massage and little stone basins along the walls that poured out piping hot water or freezing cold water. We were given little bowls to bath ourselves.  There was a big pedestal in the center of the room covered by a mound of what looked like obsidian (lava rock).  It was smooth and dark like smoked glass.  Each of us took a giant handful of this black soap called in arabic “Saboon Al baldi” and walked into the steam room.  The air felt good on our lungs in here. There was a bowl of herbs and eucalyptus which purified the air.

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A wonderful way to wind down after a long 10 days of traveling a foreign country.

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We washed all washed up with this magical soap.  After a while, we walked out and were accosted by a couple of women working in the main room with the tables.  Even though we couldn’t communicate at all in Arabic or French, there was a woman inside who helped us translate a little bit back and forth for us.  We all got incredible massages — we felt bad because we were taking longer than Mohamed asked us too but we just could NOT resist, especially after our long journey.  After that we wanted to sleep for a month.  The massage was only a little dirham extra and well worth it.  I could write for hours about this magical oasis of rest and relaxation but it is time to move on to write about other, more important things that we were able to do on this trip.

The boys were a little antsy when us ladies emerged from our royal treatment.  Everyone piled into the van again and took off to the school before we needed to go to the airport.  We went to visit Mohamed’s family member who worked at the Deroua School.

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Victoria and Olivia greet the students with a little bit of Arabic.

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Victoria learns the names of the students.

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A picture together at the Deroua School.
Victoria says, “This… is a dinosaur.”

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One of the classrooms at the school we visited.
We learned that these students learn Arabic, French and a little bit of English by this age.

Those of us who spoke a little Arabic were able to converse with the children.  It was a nice, short visit to the school and we took photos with the children in their classrooms.  I could not help but be amazed that children at this age are taught to become multi-lingual.  It was impressive and really puts the U.S. to shame.  High schools here in the United States struggle to teach students a second language as required courses and these students were so eager to learn and show of their language skills to us while we visited with them.

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After the visit to the school, we drove to the Mohammed V Airport to check our bags and we walked around a little bit.  Most of us still had a bit of cash left so we bought some last minute gifts for friends and family.  We said goodbye to Olivia who was taking a different flight on to Spain for her extended journeys abroad.

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Time for takeoff! We will miss you Morocco!

Leaving Morocco we flew over the Hassan II mosque and marveled that we were able to visit such a wonderful place.  Everyone was extremely tired from our 10 days of incredible journeying in Morocco, but ask any one of us and we would tell you we would go back in a heartbeat.  I could not believe how welcoming and warm every single person was.  From Mohamed’s family welcoming us to the Brahimi home on day one to our new student-friends in Meknes, Ali in Rabat, and everyone else in between — no one could say that we are not welcome back again.  Ali always tells me to come back next year and I really hope to do so!

Visiting Morocco with the WSU Study Abroad Program was one of the best choices that I made.  Yes, it is an investment — but you need to think that you are investing in memories of a lifetime and you are creating new friends, seeing an entirely new country that you may know very little about, and you are making a difference in many different lives of people you will meet along the way.  The history, culture, religion, food!, friendship, hospitality is so overwhelming that you really need to take as many pictures as you can, write it all down and just soak it all up.

By the time we touched down in NYC, we were on our last legs of this trip and feeling a little tired, but relaxed.  We took some photos but we were all feeling a little depressed about saying goodbye to one another.  We drove back to Massachusetts and pulled into WSU later at night – somewhere around 10pm, grabbed our bags one last time and gave a round of hugs.

Man, what a trip!  Lets go again!

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