Archive for June 25th, 2009

Four dudes and the food

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

This past week I (Seth) have had the joyous privilege of hanging out with Matt, David, and the Daniels (whom I will refer to as “the dudes”). It’s been a blast showing them some of the sites in Fes, and also making a memorable trip to the Sahara with them. I will recall some of the good times we had from my point of view.

About 4:30 Wednesday afternoon, I answered the phone to the familiar sound of Matt’s voice and was informed that they were driving into Fes. I met them at McDonalds, the designated rendezvous point, and directed them to our house. After a rigorous game of Ultimate Frisbee, we spent the evening catching up on the details of their trip, swapping stories, and planning out their schedule for their week in Morocco.

Friday morning, my dad, Jesse, the dudes, and I set off for the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis. It was a scorching day to be outside as demonstrated by the distinct sunburn lines displayed on Dan Shenk’s arms and neck by the end of the day. Despite the heat, we had an enjoyable time wandering through and clambering over the heaps of rock and marble. We also had the privilege of running into a professor of archeology at Oxford who was a bottomless pit of information about the ruins and the stories and traditions behind them. After leaving Volubilis we stopped in a small town on the way back to Fes where we ate a scrumptious lunch of sardine sandwiches and pop. We then returned home where we spread out to various couches and beds where we rested our tired bodies.

At 8:00 on Saturday morning Matt and Dan Shenk joined Joel and I and some other Fessie men in our weekly game of basketball. We had some intense games featuring old farts vs. young bucks until the beating sun stole all our energy and we were forced to retire to our house for a filling omelet meal.

On Sunday, which happened to be Father’s Day, we attended the International Church of Fes. Afterwards we drove up a mountain just outside of Fes, where we enjoyed a delicious Father’s Day picnic lunch. Following the picnic, we returned to the house and spent the remainder of the afternoon lounging around and relaxing. That evening we took a walk along Hassan II, the name of the main street in Fes and also of the previous king of Morocco. There was a fun night atmosphere along the street which was packed with hundreds of people milling around and enjoying the cool night air. We enjoyed watching the two large fountains at either end of Hassan II, as well as playing with a bouncy blue balloon bought by my dad from a street vendor. After several hours of strolling along the street we returned home to get a good night of rest for the looming adventures of the next day.

We awoke on Monday morning, and after eating breakfast, all five of us piled into the dudes’ beast of a car and cavorted off towards the Sahara and the adventures it held. We made stellar time on our trip, making only a couple bathroom stops and also a quick dip in a gorgeous lake flanked by mountains. After 6 or 7 hours of driving, we arrived at the Casbah Tizimi Hotel where we left the car for the remainder of the trip out to the desert. We were picked up at the hotel by a 4X4 SUV which was our mode of transport through the rather rough terrain following the hotel. The 4X4 took us out to an Auberge (inn) that sits right on the edge of the swirling mass of sand dunes that is the desert. After a hot afternoon in the car we were all ready to cool off, so we jumped into the sparkling pool at the Auberge and splashed around to our heart’s content.

At six o’clock we were notified that our camels were ready for us, so we toweled off and hopped on our camels for the ride out the encampment where we stayed the night. A little while into the 1 ½ hour trek the wind began to pick up, and soon Matt and I were forced to put our shirts back on because of the vicious sand stinging our bare backs. We eventually reached the campsite, a large circle of cloth tents, in one piece and were escorted to a Berber tent where we were protected from the harsh weather and could sit around and relax while our supper was being prepared. In about an hour, our supper of vegetables and meat was served to us much to the delight of our hungry stomachs. After letting our food and the weather settle, Matt and I decided to try sand boarding using snowboards provided by the camp. We climbed partway up a dune, and started boarding down, but soon discovered that the boards were definitely only for use on snow, judging by the very un-exhilarating speeds at which we traveled down the dune. Tired out by our long day of driving and camel riding, we soon headed for bed. All of us, with the exception of Dan Ziegler, decided to spend to take our bed mats outside of the tent and sleep under the stars (all three that were visible that night) in the cool night air. After being briefly interrupted by a small bout of rain, we dozed off and slept peacefully through the night.

The next morning we were woken up at 6:30 and served a simple breakfast, and then it was back on the camel’s backs. We plodded back to the Auberge in beautiful weather, a contrast to the previous evening’s sandstorm. Matt and I enjoyed trying various stunts on the backs of our camels, including standing up in the saddle without any hands, and somehow managing to not fall off. After arriving back at the Auberge, we all jumped in the pool and then sat in or around the pool waiting for our ride back to the hotel where the car was waiting. At 11 o’clock our ride arrived, and we returned to the hotel, picked up the car, and were on our way back to Fes. We had a fairly uneventful ride home and made good time. We went straight to the Medina upon our arrival in Fes, where the dudes made some final purchases, and we enjoyed chatting with some of the vendors and Medina denizens. Following the Medina, we hit up a DVD store where nearly any DVD is available for 10 Dirhams ($1.24). We then returned home where we ate a late supper and sat around talking for the rest of the evening.

Ferry to Fez, Friends, and Frisbee

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

We awoke the morning of the 17th, accompanied by the figures of large beasts looming out of the mist. After some corn flakes and left the cow pasture. Ten minutes later we pulled into a terminal in the port town of Tarifa, about an hour before our ferry’s scheduled departure.

After presenting our passports and paperwork, we began detaching the roof box from the Passat. To avoid the additional €30 fee for vehicles taller than 2.5 meters, we moved the roof box into the car, snug inside the cavity formed by folding the seats and jostling the food, sleeping bags, and backpacks. David and I jumped atop the box, contorting ourselves into the meager remaining space. Their seats pushed forward, Ziegler hugged the steering wheel and Shenk kneed the dash. We must have looked comical to the border guards: four young men crammed with their earthly possessions into a vehicle like a band of migrants or gypsies.

We parked and were on one more boat. We did not see much of the Strait of Gibralter, spending most of the 45 minute trip queued to have our boarding tickets approved and passports stamped. The inefficiency of having a single desk serve all the boat’s passengers amused me. By the time we disembarked, the line to the desk still stretched half the ferry’s length. It was no cabaret show or disco club. We docked in Africa and began made small talk with two Moroccan men in car alongside us in the ship’s cargo hold. They offered their support for David Beckham and Barack Obama until we entered the border checkpoint.

A steady stream of men “welcomed” us to Morocco, each expecting money for their trouble. Over the next hour and a half we found the necessary vehicle tax documentation, lost track of that documentation, payed a man a couple Euro to return our passports, offered another man some cigarettes (that we had had found in Amsterdam), and refused to bribe several other men. Of the latter group, one man was ambiguously identified only by a name tag that read “2007.” We spent most of that time trapped in our car, waiting for anyone to gesture us 10 feet further.

After the final gesture out of the checkpoint, we drove a bit into Tangier and repositioned the roof box. David left to use an ATM around the corner for local currency, dirhams. Fifteen minutes later he reappeared with a local man, money, a Moroccan map, and a story of following the man to three different ATM machines around the city.

A little driving south and we made it to Fez in around 6 hours. We chose the scenic route and witnessed authentic Moroccan life in boys playing soccer outside rural villages and ridiculously overloaded straw trucks bouncing over crater-like potholes. Just outside the city we found a mo-ped operator more than happy to guide us into Fez’s medina, the old town, and specifically a hotel. Apparently, these guys target tourists to recruit business for hotels and shops for a cut of the profits. This advertising method seems quite effective for tourists wandering a completely foreign city. Our friend finally understood that we weren’t interested in a hotel but not before leading us to the city’s single McDonald’s, our designated meeting place with the Showalters. We looked around the nicest Micky-D’s I’d ever seen, until Seth and Peter Jon arrived on foot and rode with us back to their house.

It was an exuberant reunion to be welcomed by the entire Showalter family outside their apartment building. Each of us studied under Jon in at least one Rosedale class, and my family and I have close ties with their family. We lugged a few suitcases to apartment 8 before Jon drove Shenk, Ziegler, me, and the boys to a nearby dirt lot to join an Ultimate frisbee game with both children of English expats and Moroccan youths. A young man, a member of a university Ultimate team, had introduced the sport several years ago. The sport gained popularity despite the man’s return to the States, until now when a group plays once a week. The three Rovers greatly enjoyed refreshing exercise and teamwork. The group even taught us a new, more exciting way to play. Instead of stopping play to throw off to the other team after a score, they would never stop, reversing directions after scoring bur having the length of the field to drive. The game was too fast-paced for us to pay much attention to things like my skinned knees from the lot’s pebbles and Ziegler’s torn blister from running barefoot. We played numerous, exhilarating matches until returning to the Showalter’s, tired but satisfied. We had made it to Africa.

Matt