Refreshed and Rejuvenated

First of all, I just want to apologize for how long it's been since I've posted! I'm making it up by this ridiculously long post about our travels. November 1st marked 2 months of living here in Morocco and I honestly can't tell you if that feels really long or really short. In some ways I can't believe I've been here that long, but at the same time it feels like I've been here forever.

Today was my first day back at school, well if one hour of physics counts as back to school... We've been on break since last Friday, and it's been really great! We traveled last week, and since then we've been having casual classes at AMIDEAST.

Last Sunday, by 8:30 in the morning the 8 YES Abroad Morocco students and our amazing coordinator, Sarah, were on a bus and headed off to Fes! The 2 hour drive flew by, as we were all lost in the gorgeous landscape. Before we knew it, we were at our hotel and ready to explore the city! We quickly dropped our stuff off, headed to a café for a quick lunch, and then met back at the hotel for a tour. Our guide, Hamza, was absolutely amazing and made the "tour" more of a discussion, which was really great. We visited the Royal Palace gates, (those picturesque doors you almost always see when you google image Morocco), walked through the Mellah, visited an old synagogue, and finally went into the biggest Medina of the world.

Palace Gates in Fes

When Fes was first founded, the people living in the area were Jewish and were forced to convert if they wanted to keep their shops. The huge door indicating the entrance to the Medina was closed for quite sometime to separate the Jews from the Muslims living inside of it, although the door was opened sometime around the 15th century. There are very few Jews in Morocco now, but the trace they left cannot be denied. The world renown Fes Medina is split into two parts by the river that ran through it; the Andalusian side and the Quarione side. The sides were completely separate until a woman on the Andalusian side built a mosque to bring them together, and a bridge was soon built over the river. The same woman's sister was the founder of the first University in the entire world, which was also in Fes.

Catherine and I woke up bright and early, ready to conquer the Fes Medina as soon as possible! After an amazing breakfast buffet, we were in a RED taxi and at the Medina by 9am. By 9:40, we had already visited the famous Fes tanneries and splurged, (majorly), on beautiful handcrafted leather bags. Feeling accomplished, but also a bit disgusted by the money we had just spent, the two of us went on a hunt for the perfect pair of Fezzian babusch. We both already owned a pair of the classic Moroccan slippers, but we had heard that Fes was hands down the best place to buy them, and the rounded shape unique to Fes was a big plus too. After about 30min of exploring, we found them, and next door I found my very first djellaba, (Moroccan dress/robe), that just happened to match perfectly with my new babusch.

It wasn't even noon yet and the two of us had found everything we needed, and even gotten lost in the numerous narrow alleyways that is the Fes Medina. We were shopped out, exhausted, and needed something to get us back on our feet. We found an adorable rooftop garden café looking over the Medina and the gorgeous surrounding mountains. Two refreshing avocado juices later, we were back on the street heading towards the main entrance. We met Sarah on the way and turned around to head back so that we'd have time to get ready before our Moulay Yacoub adventures. We got lost one more time, then we were back in a RED taxi on the way to the hotel.

One of my favorite things about Fes was seeing the Medina at different times of day. The first day, we saw it bustling in late afternoon, but also the transition when the sun went down and the lanterns came out. It didn't feel like night or day. The close alleyways kept the light in, but looking up you could see stars dotting the dark night sky. It was as if time had paused to let us fully enjoy the shadowy alleyways. The next morning I was able to see the Medina wake up as shop by shop opened up their doors to prepare for the next day. Children and teenagers were headed to school, and not a single other tourist was up to crowd the streets. Not 2 hours later, the streets were full of vendors, tourists, and simply daily life.

Back at the hotel, we packed our bags for Moulay Yacoub, prepping for the sulfur water hammams we were about to encounter. Moulay Yacoub is a tiny little town built into a side of a mountain. Hundreds of people every year make a pilgrimage there to take a bath in the natural sulfur water that rests underneath the town. We arrived in the quaint little town, left our stuff at a café with Sarah and then hiked to the top of the neighboring mountain. We had been told it was "just a walk," and looking at the mountain it seemed like a pretty simple stroll, but on closer inspection, the path was steep and straight up the mountain. By the time we arrived at the top, we were all flushed and sweating, but the view was simply breathtaking, (not that we had any left).

I could've stayed up on top of that mountain soaking it all in for the rest of my life, but I had to tear my eyes away and head back down the mountain to go to the hammam. As I carefully shuffled down the mountain, trying not to slip, (Toms were not the best idea...), and topple down head over heels, U passed people of all different ages and genders making their own trek to the top. I smiled and greeted each one. It was an incredibly beautiful experience for some reason that I'm not totally sure. Maybe it was the fact that we had all made the pilgrimage to come to this same exact place. Or maybe it was the freedom to simply smile and say, "ssalam w aalaikum." Whatever it was, it was one of the first times I felt completely welcomed while walking around in public. No one was harassing me, no one was calling out, we were all there for the same reason and it was beautiful.

 I got my stuff from Sarah and headed to the private hammam to wait for my turn. I had been to the hammam twice before, but that was nothing like this. This was an actually bath tub. Once your number is called you have 30min in your own personal room to bathe  in the greenish, egg smelling sulfur water, and then your time is up. It was daunting, but worth it. I came out, dressed in my brand new djellaba and wet hair wrapped up. We headed to a nearby café of sorts and had fresh squeezed orange juice while waiting for the others. We had dinner at an outdoor vender type restaurant and headed back to Fes for the night. We were greeted in the hotel with plenty of "hammam! hammam!" and enthusiasm by the staff, I doubt they have many costumers that visit Moulay Yacoub or go to the hammam at all for that matter. After a failed attempt at ice cream, we all crashed, exhausted from the busy day we'd had.

We were on the bus by 7:30 Tuesday morning, awaiting our trip to Azrou. As we drove up the mountains, the stereotypical Moroccan landscapes became reminiscent of Germany. The bushy olive trees became tall cedar trees, and the houses went from concrete to stone. It was if we had suddenly jumped across the Mediterranean and ended up in the black forest. We passed through Ifrane, a beautiful University town, and then pulled into Azrou. We stopped at a weekly souk for about an hour and a half. People from all the neighboring towns and villages had come to sell their produce, used clothing, sheep, mechanical parts, etc.

We left our stuff at the hotel and then went out to explore Azrou and find lunch. Catherine and I teamed up once again and checked out the little shops lining the main road, as Azrou is too small to have a Medina. We found some really beautiful  cedar that Azrou is known for, and Catherine bought a small camel. We grabbed some yogurts and sat by the huge rock that Azrou is named for. (Azrou means rock in the local Beber dialect). Back at the hotel, we reconvened with the rest of the group and got on the bus to go see the monkeys! We got off the bus and suddenly they were everywhere! We were all super excited and thus started the race for as many pictures and selfies with the primates as possible.
When we had enough of the monkeys, we got back on the bus and headed back to the hotel. The mountain air was much colder than what we're used to in Rabat, so getting comfy in warm ups and Nicole's hoodie was pretty much the best thing ever. The others headed off into downtown or to the hammam, but I stayed and journaled by myself out in the garden. It was so great to be alone with nature. Though exchange can be lonely, privacy is not an option when you live in a Moroccan family, especially with a roommate. After about an hour or so it got too dark to continue and my stomach reminded me that I had to find dinner. I found Jordan and he and I walked into town together. We met up with Sarah and the others and had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the little town. I had one of my first pizzas since coming, and although it was nothing like a homemade Ramsing pizza, it hit the spot.

We finally got back to the hotel around 8 or so, but it had been a full day so I climbed into my Swiss Family Robinson bed and fell asleep.


The sun peeked in through the curtains, and even through my bed with 3,000 layers of blankets was just so comfy, the early morning was just too beautiful to pass up. It was 6:40 and Catherine and I were already strolling through town. I am so lucky to have a friend that will get up that early to go on a hike. We passed a graveyard and found a beautiful path along a stream leading up the mountain and into the forest. It was difficult in babusch, but hey that's what made it an experience. By the time we got back to the hotel around 7:30 our cheeks were pink with the cold and in dire need of a cup of hot chocolate, but breakfast had been pushed back to 8. So we packed up our bags and brought them down. Half an hour, and plenty of rife and honey later, we were back on the bus and on the way to Ain leuh for another weekly souk, this one much smaller and much more remote. Even with my hair wrapped and my djellaba on, it was clear that our presence caused quite a tremor in the souk. The surrounding areas contained only small villages, so the people who came knew who else was going to be there. It was definitely NOT normal to have a bus full of 9 foreigners show up at their market. We walked around for some time enjoying the gorgeous landscape and exploring the little market. I bought some homemade olive oil for my host family, and then we continued our journey to Oum Rabia.

For the next hour or so we saw very little civilization, there would be a donkey or two to one side of the bus and then a moneky on the other. Then, a couple minutes later, there would be a whole herd of sheep on the hill to the left. We got to see a glimpse of  what  the life of a Beber subsistence farmer looks life. Every now and then there would be a little tent like building in the middle of nowhere and some crops growing nearby. Then, as we grew closer to Oum Rabia, there were little farms all over. A little boy would pass us on his donkey, and then five minutes later we'd see an old woman walking up to her tent. It was really cool to see a way of life in Morocco so drastically different from what we experience on a daily basis here in Rabat.

We wound our way down the mountain, trying to hold in our breakfasts, and there we were at Oum Rabia, or Mother Source. I cannot even begin to explain how absolutely gorgeous everything was. From the rushing river to the craggy cliffs above, it was just all so breathtaking. No camera could ever capture the beauty.

Kate and I followed the river up to find the waterfall. I was wearing a djellaba and babusch, but there was no stopping me from getting over there. The rocks became slippery and the bridge wasn't exactly stable so I took off my shoes, hiked up my djellaba and went for it.

When we got back from the waterfall, Kate and I joined the others in a little structure next to the river for tea and tagine. We finished our tagines, washed our hands in the river, and got back on the bus to go back home to Rabat. The way home was long and tiring, but nothing is ever dull with our amazing group! We stopped for coffee and then got back on the bus for the last time until pulling up to AMIDEAST around 7 o'clock that night. A short taxi ride brought Belinda and I back to our apartment where our adorable host family welcomed us home enthusiastically.

Overall, the trip was absolutely AMAZING! It was great to see other parts of Morocco and get out of the city for a bit. I had been settling into life here, but this trip made me fall in love with Morocco again and put me back in the honeymoon stage. I knew it was going to be a great trip, but I had no idea just how relaxed and rejuvenated I would feel afterwards.


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