Early this morning 198 students gathered in the fifth deck dining hall to prepare for our camel trek into the Sahara desert. I was slightly grumpy because 1) there are way too many people on this trip and 2) there were too many clouds to see the sun rise this morning. The trip leader Michael Pearson divided us into 2 groups and passed out our passports. Jon and Janae ended up in the other group but I knew Jay Roberts in my group. Since there are so many of us we have to stay in two hotels in Marrakech. Our group loaded into 16 mini buses (about 15 people per bus) with our 4 guides (2 of which actually spoke English). The drive from Casablanca to Marrakech was approximately three hours. The scenery was surprisingly like the Texas country side. It was relatively flat and since it is summer, mostly brown. Our caravan stopped a few times along the way but our bus mostly slept. Matt Place actually slept on the floor of the aisle.
We arrived in Marrakech at the main square/plaza/bazaar around three o’clock and took over a whole restaurant for lunch. My first experience with Moroccan food was interesting. The first course was an assortment of veggies served with bread. We had potatoes, carrots, beets, eggplant, and peppers. The second course was chicken with some sort of yummy spices. Dessert was a variety of cookies and very thinly sliced oranges topped with cinnamon and some sort of crushed nuts. The oranges were fantastic and I highly recommend looking up a recipe.
We had some free time to explore the square before going to our hotel. The square was like a scene from a movie. There were snake charmers, monkeys, ladies doing henna, and carts selling food all around. Music filled the air as did all sorts of smells, good and bad. Jay and I browsed the shops for a bit but didn’t buy anything. He got a snake thrown around his neck by a local man and had to pay to take a photo and get it off. There was a man playing with a cobra and a man who got a funny looking snake to bite him on the nipple.
After this lovely cultural experience, we headed to Hotel Oudaya to check in and put our bags down. Kate and I decided to share a room so we cleaned up and got ready for our evening activities. We went by bus to Chez Ali for a folk show and horse fantasia, whatever that means. As we walked down the promenade around the arena, we passed several groups of performers, each playing a different tune. All around the complex there were rooms full of tables set for dinner. We were ushered into various rooms to await our meal. I found Jon (a little tipsy) and sat with him, Catherine (ex DASH) Kira, Euphae (sp?), Galla, Chen and Huong. Chen, Euphae, and Huong are from China and Galla studies in Mongolia. Huong and Chen are in ethnomusicology so we talked about how much we like Dr. Jones and his class. The performers walked from room to room, giving us a little preview of their music. I was really tempted to join in the dancing.
Dinner was similar to lunch but involved some couscous. Dessert was delicious fresh fruit: peaches, plums, and oranges. The folk show started after dinner and took place in the arena. There was a camel with a little house on top that you could go on for a ride around the arena. The main group of horseback riders galloped across the dirt in a straight line, back and forth with rifles in their hands. There were a handful of riders who did tricks like flipping off, running alongside the horse, and jumping back on. There was also some belly dancing by a lady on a platform built over a car that drove around the arena. The finale was a bunch of fireworks while the musicians from earlier played a song fit for movie credits. I fell asleep almost instantly when I got back to the hotel after such an adventure packed day.