The past two weekends, I have been lucky enough to explore more of Morocco. After our amazing trip to Dakar, the entire group caught the travel bug and was ready to see more of our host country. For those of you reading this and considering taking a trip to Morocco or studying abroad in Morocco, traveling around within the country is a must. It’s very inexpensive and the train system is convenient and easy to figure out. Plus, Morocco’s rich and diverse landscapes and history means that there are more amazing places to visit than I could have imagined before I arrived.
The Saturday we arrived home from Senegal, we all spent the day in Rabat recovering from our busy week. On Sunday, we decided to check out Casablanca. Casablanca is only an hour train ride from Rabat, which was perfect for a day trip. We arrived in Casablanca around 11 am. We should have done a bit more planning, because when we arrived we were at a bit of loss for where to begin. Casablanca is home to the Hassan II Mosque, which is the seventh largest in the world and the largest in Morocco. It is also the only mosque in Morocco that is open to non-Muslims, so we decided that was the best place to start.
The mosque is truly massive. It’s built right on the shoreline and lots of kids were swimming in the water nearby. The architecture was also impressive. Each arch had amazing details and the tiles on the building and surrounding fountains were in beautiful shades of blue and green, reminiscent of the water surrounding the mosque. We learned that the next tour was not until 2 pm, so we decided to wander the gardens of the nearby mosque museum and enjoy the Moroccan café culture with a leisurely lunch nearby.
At 2 pm, we returned to the mosque and embarked on a tour. We were each given plastic bags for our shoes and headed into the main worship room. The inside of the mosque was just a majestic as the outside. The ceiling has dozens of crystal chandeliers and there were several elaborated carved wooden and marble archways. The worship floor can host up to 20,000 men and the second level, just above the main floor, holds up to 5,000 women. On days during Ramadan, the outdoor pavilion hosts around 80,000 additional worshippers. The mosque was not air conditioned, so the ceiling of the mosque is designed to open like a car roof window during the summer to help with airflow. It was too bad that the roof wasn’t open while we were there—I would have loved to see how that works! The mosque was also very cool because it was built entirely out of Moroccan materials. On the lower level of the mosque, there are two Turkish bath-style hammams. Currently, they are just for show. Our tour guide said that every year they say they will open the hammams to the public next year, but it never happens. I wonder if they ever will! After the mosque, we were decided to wander through Casablanca’s medina. We searched for Rick’s Café (from the movie Casablanca), but no such luck. Overall, the experience in Casa was incredible!
The next weekend, I got to check an item off of my bucket list—we ventured to the Sahara desert. The Sahara desert is a bit of a hike from Rabat, but in my opinion very worth the trip. On Thursday afternoon after class, we went straight to the train station and headed to Fes. When we arrived in Fes, we stayed the night at a hostel that helped organize our desert trip. We got up at 5:45 am Friday (which was painful), met our driver and began the eight-hour trek to Merzouga, where our desert experience would begin. The drive was really pleasant. Our driver was friendly and we stopped at a few interesting places between Fes and the desert. We briefly visited Ifrane, which is known as the Switzerland of Morocco. It was very quaint and really did look a European town that had been dropped in Morocco. We also stopped at several scenic overlooks and got some great pictures. We also got to see the famous Barbery apes! It was a strange experience—there were several of them hanging out on the side of road, the way deer do in the Hill Country in Texas. We were a little uneasy being so up close and personal with the apes at first, but it was still pretty neat. The babies look like tiny gremlins. We decided to leave the apes after two male apes got into a huge fight over a piece of watermelon.
After several hours of driving, we arrived at the auberge right on the edge of the desert. We dropped our luggage in our rooms and immediately mounted our camels to head into the desert to camp for the night. The men at the auberge helped us tie our scarves in a special way to protect our heads from the sun and cover our noses and mouths so we wouldn’t breath in sand, which proved to be important. Then we headed into the desert.
The Sahara desert is phantasmagorical. It looks just like the Windows screensaver. Every dune is huge and expansive and the desert itself seems to extend into eternity. If you have the opportunity, visit the Sahara. Something about the vastness and crisp edges of the dunes lends itself to self-reflection and spirituality. It’s also perfect for photos. After about an hour’s camel ride, we arrived at the Berber tents in the desert where we were staying the night. We played on the dunes until Iftar (which is the meal that breaks the fast at the end of day during Ramadan), which we ate with our guides and some Spanish, Australian and British tourists who were also camping in the desert that night. As we ate, the stars began to come out. Since we were so far away from major cities, the night sky was sparkling with millions and millions of stars. We elected to sleep outside on the ground so we could admire the desert sky. We used my space junk app to identify constellations, planets and satellites, which was really fun. I personally haven’t seen such an amazing night sky since I was in Big Bend National Park in west Texas.
The next day, we got up and watched the sunrise over the desert. We then got back on our camels and went back to the auberge. We spent the rest of the napping, doing our homework and sandboarding (which sounds exactly like what it is: snowboarding on sand). It was a weekend I will never forget. I can’t wait to see where our weekend wanderings take us next.
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<p>Chloe Zagrodzky is a rising junior at Claremont McKenna College majoring in Government and Leadership. When not reading the Federalist Papers for the 100th time, she can be found practicing her French skills, running or preparing to compete with her Mock Trial team. Her list of favorite things includes dogs of all shapes and sizes, reasonably priced mochas and creative Instagram captions.</p>