Back story: Pete and I have known since early 2011 that our friends Erin and Adil were planning on hosting two weddings in order to celebrate with her family in the United States and his family in Morocco; the state-side wedding was held joyously in her parent’s rural backyard the weekend before our trip, and it was wonderful, casual, and exactly the kind of thing I could imagine having myself if we were married in the summertime. With the intention of celebrating with them twice, I saved pennies for 18-months. It all paid off and was made official in when our reservations were made in late June. We love to travel and explore and immerse ourselves in new experiences; neither of us had ever been to Africa and had very few expectations for our transportation, hotel, or activities, and with that said, we never expected that we’d have a hotel balcony overlooking this, so, way to go Expedia:
An amazing sight. Huge waves, rows of umbrellas, and literally hundreds of scrimmage futbol games at any point in time. The horizon you can see in this and the above photograph is about 2.5 miles away, so don’t be deceived – it’s a huge beach.
As the purpose of being there was to prepare for Erin and Adil’s wedding, we spent most of the time being toured around with him and his family. Tagging along on their errands was our preference; her parents were the only other Americans who were able to make the trip across, and I’ve known them for many years (Erin was my college roommate Freshman year). Also, we don’t speak or read French or Arabic, and that was a huge obstacle anywhere, even in our own hotel (the bartender didn’t understand what I meant by ‘water,’ or ‘agua’ for that matter). Safety was also of serious concern, so we never ventured very far by ourselves, but felt safe when accompanied by Adil and his family who could serve as tour guides, translators, and negotiators. Yeah, Pete’s wearing a vest. Claimed it shielded his neck from the sun.
The tides were amazing. Note the rocks in the first picture at high tide. The middle picture is at low tide. It’s a wonder the fisherman in the third picture even dared to navigate them.
The building on the edge of the ocean you see in the above first two pictures is a heavily weathered concrete structure rising from the rocks, known for housing Casablanca’s local fortune tellers. People climb the rocks to it in low-tide, or else take a raft in like you can see in the background of this picture of us with Erin and Adil.
The sand was multi-hued, with shades redder than we’re used to seeing along the Great Lakes. It looked particularly artistic between crashing waves.
It was evident that any sea glass we found was remnant from bottles broken and discarded on the shore itself, only tumbled through a few tides, not drifting in from the miles out in the ocean; the beach itself had some very rough areas. Sad-trashed, with dead chickens, cigarette butts, and plastic bottles. Morocco’s non-existant Clean Sweep program leaves something to be desired. We brought home a small handful of beach glass for our collection, including a tumbled glass drug bottle (no kidding), and a few shells, of which there weren’t very many.
On the day that we arrived in Morocco, we toured the Hassan II Mosque. It’s one of the largest Mosques, and noted as being the tallest in the world. We tried hard to take pictures to scale it, an effort that was nearly impossible with my nifty fifty.
I was almost taken for hostage after climbing onto a forbidden platform moments after Pete snapped this shot. Not really, but I got the whistle and you never know what people are shouting at you in Arabic. The thing though, there was no red tape or warning signs.
This is undoubtedly one of my favorite photos from the trip. Those doors behind Pete? Titanium. The scale was unreal.
The tour itself, I will tell you more about in a future post about the beautiful architectural aspects of this country. For now, here’s a picture of me inside, surrounded by brilliantly colored tiles. I’m lucky to have bought that $10 scarf at Marshall’s the day before we left. I had briefly realized while wandering the store that I’d probably want to be covering up my bare arms if I began to feel overexposed. It was a mandate in the Mosque, but we found that the area we were staying in was pretty casual otherwise, in part being because Ramadan had just ended.
The Mosque itself had a large (huge) terrace that overlooked the ocean. I don’t even know what to compare it to in terms of square footage – the Mall of America, maybe? 64 football fields?
We sat on benches along one edge of the Mosque’s terrace for awhile. Pretty tiles, relaxing moment. Residences, libraries, and cafes lined the streets behind us.
I don’t think I could even comprehensibly explain how driving in Morocco happens. Unless you’ve toured Africa and the Middle East, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Lanes don’t matter. Turning lanes don’t exist. Pete likens it to a school of fish. In fact, I should just leave a post on Moroccan driving tendencies up to him. Adil did let him chauffer us at one point, and I’m sure he likened himself to Jeremy Clarkson on a mission for those 4 minutes.
Remind Pete to tell you about the various forms of vehicular transportation too. The man did take about 300 pictures of scooters while we were there (scooter love!). Our main source of transportation was Adil and Erin’s rental Fiat Panda, a charming (i.e. mini) vehicle that’s sized similarly to a Fiat 500. (Note to self: Start DVRing Top Gear again, that’s good stuff).
Often loaded with the 6 of us Americans, the Panda looked more like a clown car.
I know segueing from clowns to heavy makeup isn’t ideal, but we joined Erin on the afternoon of her wedding to get her traditional Moroccan wedding makeup applied. I have almost no words, only that I am completely bare-faced-makeup-free, and Erin is not. I think it probably was more makeup than she had ever worn cumulatively in her life. But wait until you see some choice wedding photos; it’ll all fit into place.
Pre-wedding the girls (Erin, her mom, and myself) received henna treatments on our hands and feet. The artist, a young Moroccan girl who was a friend of Adil’s family, transformed us over the course of a few hours, rotating between us doing feet and then hands. It was beautiful, she was amazing. It’s been nearly a week since it was applied on me, and still present, most identifiably on the palms of my hands, which because calloused, absorb the henna more intensely. That’s not my hand.
Neither is this one:
But this is my foot, just getting started:
The wedding itself, the reason we went to Morocco, was amazing (I know, I can’t think of any adjectives otherwise) event. Her mom and I had decided to rent elaborate traditional dresses from the same shop the bride was renting her dresses (of which there were, ahem, five!), so it was a lot of fun to feel more a part of the culture than we would have in an off-the-rack dress.
Seriously, cool; very ornate, very beautiful.
Moroccan weddings are traditionally evening affairs, and highly focused on the afterparty instead of a formal ceremony–this wedding went from 8PM until 6AM, but the bride and groom didn’t arrive until 11PM. It’s a customary delay, we were told, although I don’t know why, maybe to add drama? Time to let guests settle in and relax? To swoon over all the other women’s pretty dresses? It gave us time to admire the decor in the hall, and come across as uncouth overheated Americans with our dresses pulled up to our knee caps. Good grief, girl, photo evidence will not be shared here.
We spent time introducing the kids at the wedding to magic; while we couldn’t share a common language, Pete has mastered some simple visual tricks that left Adil’s young nieces and nephews overjoyed. Cashews were a highly appreciated token that night.
Live music welcomed the bride and groom when they did arrive. It was kind of a big deal. Thrones and men carrying her around and such.
The bride and groom spent most of their time ceremonially changing their wardrobes and having their pictures taken (as I already mentioned, the bride had 5 dresses that she changed into over the course of the night). There was a feast of a sit-down dinner, complete with truly authentic cuisine and lots of fruit and desserts, live music and dancing, and a second henna decoration for the bride. Erin received lots of special treatment by her coordinators, who made certain that every tiara and veil was perfectly poised. It was super orchestrated.
Loved this wedding.
Other things that we did in Morocco?
We toured a Souk, a traditional open-air marketplace where anything and everything is bartered and sold. Think: Mass quantities of tea herbs, jalabas (traditional attire), kitchenware, and 16 kinds of olives.
We went to a public bath. For real. It’s not what you’re probably thinking–a pool with hot water in the city center with naked people everywhere–but more like a really spa where groups of men and women separate into different areas, sit in a sauna, bathe themselves (together) in a room on benches, and are rubbed down aggressively from head to toe with a glove coated in low-grit sandpaper. No pictures of that party, but I will say that after our individual scrub downs, our skin all over feels like a baby’s bottom. We were all about experiencing customary traditions on this trip, and I think that one takes the cake.
Drank Moroccan beer, enjoyed live Moroccan music, and ate bottomless plates of fresh seafood. Cheers, Casablanca.
Watched the sunset:
We went to Morocco Mall (twice). One of the largest malls in Africa, it was just a few miles down the street from our hotel and actually one of the nicest malls I’ve ever been in. Very glam with stores ranging from Louis Vuitton to French boutiques to American Eagle Outfitters and The Gap. Pete and I felt safe enough walking the 3 miles alone to avoid having to hail a cab (and risk being overcharged–I can’t stress enough how frightening even touristy areas can be when you have no idea what people are speaking and shouting in your direction). We bought some souvenirs for ourselves and friends, items that I still need to photograph and share with you another day.
Whether or not we used the Starbucks app to locate the nearest Starbucks cafe and used that as fair reason to walk three miles along the beach to the mall, well, we’ll never tell. But the barista was the only local we met who spoke English (I almost kissed her).
We can’t wait to go back someday. And we’re committed to there being another trip with our friends sometime in our future.