Tuesday, March 15, 2011

MOROCCO!! (Day 1)


Today Amy and I got up, ate breakfast, and hurried off to the bus stop to go to the airport and fly to Marrakesh, Morocco!!  It was my first flight with Ryanair (an airline company that has cheap flights all around Europe) and it was probably the sketchiest plane ride of my life.  The plane was shaking the entire time (I’m not sure if it was normal turbulence or the older aircraft) and the cabin crew came around selling lottery tickets (maybe as a way to take everyone’s mind off the shaking plane?) and when we successfully landed a trumpet fanfare sounded of the PA system.  The security and customs in Sevilla and Marrakesh were also very lax compared to the U.S.  Unfortunately when we arrived in Marrakesh one of our fellow API students was sent back to Sevilla due to a Visa issue…since he is Chinese he needed a special Visa to enter Morocco, which the travel agency failed to inform API about.  All of us were shocked to see him escorted back onto the plane and it really put a damper on everyone’s spirits especially since he had been so excited to go to Africa and had been singing songs like ‘Waka Waka’ all week.

Kara and I safely on the ground in AFRICA!!!

It did not take long for the culture shock to set in as we drove from the airport to our hotel.  It felt very strange seeing signs only in Arabic and some French and not having any clue as to what they said.  When we arrived at the hotel we were greeted with the traditional minty green Moroccan tea and cookies in the lobby as we waited for our room assignments.  We also had to exchange our Euros since it is illegal to take large amounts of Durham (the Moroccan currency) out of Morocco.  The exchange rate was around 11 Durham for 1 Euro and with all of us trying to exchange money before heading to the market the hotel ran out of Durham to exchange.

Tea in the lobby.

If it hadn’t been obvious that we were in a completely different world yet, the walk to the market and afternoon of attempted bartering definitely jerked me into the reality of being in a third world country.  Not being able to understand the billboards along the road is a relatively small inconvenience compared to not being able to understand a word of what is being said around you or to you.  While my two years of high school French was somewhat helpful, I had to really rack my brain to understand and remember things like shopping vocabulary and larger numbers.  Our first stop in the market was a dried fruit and nut stand where we got a mixture of almonds, peanuts, figs, apricots, etc. and to my surprise it was acceptable (or probably the norm) to barter for food even.  The first major bartering experience was pretty much a major fail for all of us and we quickly learned how to start lower than what you want to pay so you can raise your price as the salesman lowers theirs (rather than starting at your absolute maximum price) and timing when to walk away (which will usually lead to them selling it to you at your last price).

Kara and I in the market!

The entire afternoon in the market it rained and rained….something we were not expecting in Morocco.  That evening we had an “early” dinner (at 8:00) in the hotel and even though everything was delicious, I was expecting more of a kick to the Moroccan spices.  While waiting in line for the buffet I met an older couple from Holland and when I told them I was from Wisconsin the man commented “Oh, that’s where the revolution is going on, right?”  I was surprised that news of all this political craziness had reached Europe and even more surprised that when I told him I went to school in Duluth, MN, he had been there before on business trips!

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