This is a belated posting as I put it together a few weeks back and just today had the time to return to it as I can only access the Internet at certain locations on the ship and the students manage to find me and ask questions that they say which will take a minute but end up taking us into the late night; Alicia and I actually love these "interruptions" as it's cool to hear about their cultural experiences, insights, and to waltz with them on questions on their progress and grades.
Morocco was a blend of old and new, familiar and weird, tasty and then odd (especially the big eel fillet smothered with caramelized onions and almost recognizable vegetables). We docked at the industrial port of Casablanca as it was cheaper but a long way from the gate leading to the city. Thew ship was surrounded by container cranes that surrounded us like sentinels. Casablanca sure looked a lot better in the Bogart movie than it did when we sat foot on the eroding streets that were jammed with motor bikes, scooters, and maniacal cab and bus drivers--not a place to rent a car unless the death wish is winning over common sense. On our first full day at port I co-led a student field trip to the largest Coca-Cola plant in Morocco and the second largest in North Africa where we met with the General Manager who was a well educated Moroccan who spent several years in Atlanta and answered some great questions posed by the students, such as how they rationalized using so much water to make their products in a land with severe water shortages. It turns out the Coca Cola started off when the US Army built a bottling plant in North Africa to provide thirsty soldiers during WWII with a taste of home.
In any event, we took a couple of field trips to Marrakesh and then to some "real" Moroccan cities along the coast. Marrakesh reminded me of Mexico City around 1960 with the streets filled with people, many of them recently from the country, and scores of mini-shops selling everything from hand-made shoes to sheep heads and stalls filled with an incredible assortment of spices next to shops selling all types of herbal/local cures. We did the "tourista" thing and visited the Mosque (which we disbelievers were not allowed to enter), the Palace, the souk, and the Medina. The Medina was incredible as it reminded us of the Zocalo in Mexico City as it was filled with people selling their wares and entertaining tourists with monkeys on leashes, snake charmers (think they were charming the local version of garden snakes rather than cobras), women ready to henna and sprinkle glitter on "ancient" designs configured on wrists and arms, all of this happening concurrently.
We left Marakesh the next day on a bus and traveled along a two lane road to the coast and the trip should have taken an hour but took almost three as the roads were in either totally disrepair or being repaired. Along the way we learned about the unique Argon trees and their fruit that is harvested via goat droppings and which is converted into elixirs with great curative powers, from diarrhea to cancer to dandruff to bad breath. We held out from the sales pitch but enjoyed watching the female "co-op" workers grind the nuts into a paste and then an oil. We finally arrived at Essaouira which was a beach side community where Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens did their thing a couple of generations ago. That's where most of the students rebelled at eating fresh eel but I managed to have a BIG chunk. After lunch we headed to the waterfront to see the men unload their fish and literally fight over prices and freshness--great to see the local color.
We shared a last meal at Rick's cafe (some enterprising French woman opened this over-priced but sort of cool place) where we had an OK meal and enjoyed a very nice jazz quartet with ex-pats ranging in age from 20 to 80; they played pretty well and it decreased the pain of paying premium meal prices for "Planet Hollywood" fare.