Sunday, July 17, 2011

Working in DC

Well I have been back in the US for about a month and a half now. I'm currently working in Washington DC at the Department of State in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. I'll be returning to OH sometime around mid-August. Stay tuned for posts about my time in Morocco and more photos!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Crossing God's Bridge to Paradise: Salvation by Muhammad

So a lot of things have developed in the last week that need to be addressed. Namely, the bombing of a cafe' in Marrakech, Labor Day Protests, and now the death of Osama Bin Laden but I will first address my birthday weekend.

So I celebrated my 22nd Birthday with a trip to the North of Morocco to a town known as Chefchaouen. Chefchaouen is well known for a couple of things: 1 - Its old city which is completely painted blue, 2 - its hiking, as it is nestled in the Rif Mountains, and 3 - its hashish.It was supposed to be a five hour bus ride from Rabat to Chefchaouen however, the bus that I happened to be on with some of my classmates broke down and we were delayed for a couple of hours (it ended up taking us a total of 8 hours). To make it worse, the guy who sat next to me this whole time was intent on convincing me to buy some of his family's hash. And, as he said, if I didn't want to smoke any of it, I could just come to the farm and see the whole process from the fields to the bags. I politely declined, several times.

Once in Chefchaouen we ate, explored a little, but decided to get to bed as we planned to hike the next day. Our plan was to hike in an area of the Rif Mountains known as Paradise on our way to God's Bridge, a very high natural bridge over a canyon and river.

As we slowly made our way out of bed we looked out the window of our hostel to witness the beautiful sight of the clouds falling away down the mountains as the sun climbed into the sky. It was an absolutely gorgeous spectacle.
We took a 45-minute taxi ride (for $4) out to the bottom of the trail up to God's Bridge and began our journey. The trail followed the river up into the mountains getting steeper and higher and zigzagging up the mountain. (the trail and people on the trail are visible in this picture)

One of my classmates and I were insistent on exploring everything while we climbed, including climbing out to some cliffs overlooking the river.We continued to climb until God's bridge came into view as well as the trail we decided we wanted to hike down to the river on the other side of the valley. (looking down from the bridge)

Following our arrival at the bridge, we decided to stop for lunch. In the process of unpacking my lunch and my friend's lunch from my bag I dropped both off the cliff we were sitting on and they fell to a landing down the cliff a way. I was quite hungry and so was my friend so I decided to attempt to retrieve our lunch. In my quest down the cliff I was hanging on to a tree with my feet planted on the cliff. Part of the cliff gave away under my foot and I swung from one side of the tree to the other, smashing my nose against a branch in the process. I gave up trying to get our lunch and began to worry about my nose. My classmates took a look at it as it rapidly bruised and swelled. Faced with the prospect of a broken nose, I decided to continue our planned hike down the other side of the valley. This ended up being one of the craziest hikes of my life.

Literally, the "trail" was no more and we were descending down the side of a mountain that promised at the very least severe injury with a single misstep. We were sliding, grabbing, scaling and slowly making our way down.
At one point when we thought all was lost, we looked down to see a mountain man motioning for us to stop. Five minutes later he was standing next to us, barefoot, and Muhammad was his name. He managed to guide us down to the river safely but it took us much longer than 5 minutes.He then informed us that to hike back, we would need to hike down the river. This was an extremely cold, fast-flowing river. Several times we had to cross the river, clinging to rocks as water flowed quickly past us and holding on to cliffs on the side of the river to avoid being swept away.
After 45 minutes of hiking through the water with cold, cut up feet we arrived at a place where we could climb back up from the river to the trail and make our way back to Chefchaouen.
Overall, it was a great birthday weekend. Luckily, after visiting the UN clinic and getting an X-ray, it turned out my nose wasn't broken. Regardless, I celebrated my 22nd birthday by embarking on the most dangerous adventure of my life; and I loved every minute of it.

Drinking Liberally: Morocco

So here's the thing about bars/clubs in Morocco: you have to be careful where you go because it may just be a brothel. In fact, one of the main hotels of Rabat, Hotel Balima, where I stayed my first night in Morocco, has a "nightclub" in the basement full of prostitutes and prospective customers.

The other pitfall of Moroccan clubs/bars: the alcoholic selection. Consumption of alcohol by Moroccans is technically illegal though the law is not enforced. Plus, the sale of alcohol to a Moroccan is also illegal. These two factors combine to make bars, clubs, and places that sell/serve alcohol somewhat hard to find and a little shady.

Luckily in a surprising twist, travelers to Morocco have the French to thank for the existence of quality drinking establishments. Being a former French colony, Morocco is rife with French ex-pats and French culture, including alcohol.

All of this leads to a weekend of craziness and merriment. Some of the other students and I managed to find a "club" that was highly acclaimed as a Western-styled club with Western-style music. It also ended up having the cost of a Western-style club as well. However, it ended up being everything it was billed to be plus some. Moroccan youth live in such a repressive society, from both religion and cultural traditions, that when they get a chance to let loose, they let loose. It's like the old adage about someone who had really strict parents in high school and arrives in college to just become a party animal.

Hence, Moroccans have no self-control when it comes to alcohol. Even more, everyone was participating in the sexual freedom to get some action on and off the dance floor. Speaking of the dance floor, Moroccans are horrible at dancing. Their dancing maybe suited to an Arab wedding but that's about it. This makes for a rather odd scene at a Western-style club; lots of wedding dancing. Now, my friends and I are nothing special when it comes to dancing but we didn't need to be great dancers to impress in Morocco. We quickly took up the dance floor and the attention with a couple "neat" moves but many more corny, cheesy moves that would get us laughed off the dance floor in the US. Oh yea, we busted out the sprinkler, and people ate it up. We were the stars of the show all night long.

But alas, Moroccans party long and hard. There is only so long we could go dancing and drinking horribly over-priced bad beer. We headed home around 5:30am. My ears were still ringing the next day.