5 Things I Learned in Morocco

Our group of nine set out by car from Madrid to spend the December puente exploring Morocco. The brutal 8-hour drive to Tarifa allowed us to see more of the Spanish countryside.

If you can find an inexpensive way to get to Tarifa, the southernmost part of Spain, taking the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco may be your best option. I believe it cost about 40 euro for a round-trip ticket. The ferry was very comfortable and there were bars, food, and a duty-free shop. We took advantage of the duty-free liquor since finding it in Morocco can be difficult and usually very expensive.

1. Take a Guide

We were extremely lucky to have two Moroccan guys with our group. Not only was it great to have friends with us that spoke the local languages, French and Arabic, but without a doubt, we had a better experience than if we had gone without them. Thanks guys! They made the arrangements for houses and in restaurants (see #4). They were able to show us around to different tourist sites and cool local spots. We even met several friends and family members. If you have made the trip without someone who knows Morocco well I would love to hear about it and whether you would do it alone again.

2. Eat camels, Not Ride Them

Have you ever wanted to ride a camel? You might change your mind after you view one of these roadside set-ups. The camels looked downright depressed. Although I didn’t actually board one I was ushered in between two grumpy camels by their handlers for a photo. In the end I had to duck to avoid some angry camel bites. HOWEVER, if you can find yourself a camel tagine that’s another story. We had one in Casablanca with cheese and it was amazing! I was happy to add camel to my “weird foods eaten” list. I think camel and jellyfish are tied for first now.

Now I know what happens when I type “camel vs jellyfish” into Google.

3. Don’t Expect to Get “Liquored Up”

As I mentioned before, finding alcohol can be expensive and sometimes impossible. If you can fit it in your luggage just bring what you need with you. If you don’t feel like lugging all that weight with you don’t worry. There are plenty of other things you can try in Morocco like avocado shakes, and of course, mint tea! Don’t forget to pour from well above the glass, like sidra.

4. Food is Cheap (Just Remember #1)

I don’t think I’ve eaten so much bread and egg in my life. In Chefchaouen we found a breakfast of msemen, cheese, honey, and tea for around 2 euros. During our travels I don’t think we really paid more than 4 or 5 euros for a complete dinner. As opposed to what I’ve found in Spain, the food in Morocco had plenty of flavor and a bit of spice. We ate very well and for almost nothing! Our Moroccan friends told us that prices are often different for foreigners and locals. When we went with these friends we had no issues with prices. However, one time we stopped at a cafe without them and we were charged a crazy amount for coffee, tea, and cake.

5. “If You Can Drive in Morocco You Can Drive Anywhere”

One of our friends from Tangier told me this during our trip when I mentioned my desire to drive in Morocco. The only problem was I didn’t want to drive in the city with the mix of pedestrians, motorbikes, animals and crazy drivers. In Tangier my friends decided I had to drive because one of the guys was staying behind. Oh, and they didn’t tell me this was their plan until we were walking to the cars. Let’s just say I spent my time behind the wheel shouting expletives at the friend driving the car in front of me. Okay, so I’m sure there are worst places to drive in the world than Tangier, but it was definitely “exhilarating.”

Have you ever been to Morocco? What did you learn?

It’s Been a While

Hello everyone!

Bad, bad, BAD me for not writing a post in months. My procrastination turned into a cycle of sorts. “If I write a post now I need lots of time to cover everything that I’ve done.” eventually led to “There is no way I can write about everything that has happened since September!” Here it goes, dear friends; a brief summary.

It seems I’ve eventually settled into an everyday routine. I live in an apartment with 7 other people so sometimes it is the furthest thing from normal, but it’s going well. I’m teaching 28 classes (24 hours) a week in the school and 5 private classes a week. The students in the school range from 3-5 years and from 12-18 years old. One of the first questions people ask is which age group I like the most. I can’t choose because each age level has reasons why I love them. The younger children are very loving and energetic although they can be rowdy. When they see me on the street they stop and wave. This weekend I saw one of my 5 year old students walking with her mother. When she saw me she started waving and tugging at her mother to show her that I am her teacher. Sometimes I even get besos on the cheek or a “Te quiero mucho!” They are most challenging to prepare classes for since they have a short attention span. The older children can be really fun to talk to, but sometimes it’s difficult to converse with them. It’s also frustrating when they don’t prepare the assigned topic. Some days are fun though. Last week in the 12 year-old classes we talked about extreme sports, I showed them a video of me skydiving, then we made origami hearts.

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The teachers in the school are very kind and have made an effort to make me feel included during and outside school hours. I feel very lucky.

In addition to the school classes, I give 5 private lessons a week. The ages range from 5 to 37. For the younger students I normally charge 22 euros a class and for older students 18 euros. Even with all of this the money situation is tight. At the end of every month I find myself scraping money together and playing “let’s see how long this loaf of bread can last.” I don’t regret my decision to come to Spain. Far from it. I’ve decided to renew my contract here for next year! Bring on the vida española!

I’ve made some amazing friends here so far. I’ve been lucky enough to travel with several and even found myself in a recording studio with my violin! Okay, so I didn’t play very long, but it’s a start, right?

I’ve started cooking a lot more. This includes cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for my roommates (substituting chickens for turkey), and various weekend breakfasts.

french toast last weekend, for example.

Travels

I’ve returned to Sevilla. Oh, what a marvelous city!

Plaza de España

Took a trip to Toledo.

Made it to Valencia

Morocco was spectacular and also the most terrifying driving experience! I was able to add camel to my “weird things eaten” list. Luckily, one of my roommates is from Casablanca and we traveled with him and another friend from Tangier. Having Moroccan friends with us really made things easier. We even met the mother of one friend and the father of the other.

Breakfast in Tangier

The amazing blue city of Chefchaouen

Tannery in Fez

Casablanca

For the future

I signed up for the Madrid half-marathon so I’m in the process of shaping up and training. I’m also looking to get back into bellydance and I’ve been searching for classes here.

That’s all for tonight, but I’ll do my best to post more regularly.

Settling In

I’m here! I have a place to live and groceries in the fridge and cabinets. I have a Spanish phone number. I’m meeting with everyone at my school tomorrow… I can’t believe it! The last couple of days have been very busy and tiring, but I wouldn’t trade that for the alternative. I’m meeting some others from the program in 30 minutes so this is a quick post, but I wanted to add some random photos. I’ll try to post more often!

 

I’m Getting on a Jet Plane

I’m currently sitting in the airport in Philadelphia. I’ve finished my cheesesteak and it’s the last “Amurican” meal I’ll have for a while. Within a couple hours I’ll be in the air and headed for MADRID! Next you hear from me, I’ll be on a whole different continent and plotting a whole separate course.
Leaving is bittersweet. I’m sticking to my decision to test out these dreams and try them on for a while.

Wish me luck.

Suspending My Disbelief for a Moment

Hello all!

I’m really sorry I’ve been incognito for a while. I made it through skydiving! I have been dealing with a few personal things….yeah.. I’m not going to go into it so much, but this past Monday I finally received the confirmation that there is nothing left for me here to hang on to. My flight for Madrid leaves on September 4th!

 

I am still in disbelief.

 

Everyone who needs to know at work now knows. I’m so lucky that they have been so supportive. Today, my manager told me that he was talking about replacing me anyway…. but because I was almost certainly about to be promoted to a new position I had applied for. Oh well.

I have to write my letter of resignation tonight, but I really have no idea where to start! There are so many feelings and thoughts running through my mind right now. I’m also worried about when I should actually tell my students that I’m leaving. I don’t want it to turn into some kind of crazy countdown. O_o

 

I guess I should let all of my friends know and plan some sort of bon voyage party, right?

Travel theme: Night

Gallery

Here’s my try at this weeks theme posed by Ailsa.

This week, the theme is “Night” and the first thing that came to mind was Seville and the performances we witnessed and the smell of jasmine (one of my absolute favorite scents) which seemed especially strong at night in some places.

I loved this mural. Doesn’t it look like the man and the goat have history together the way the man is eyeing the goat so cautiously?

Inside the building with the mural, we watched a wonderful performance.

We never made it into Metropol Parasol, but they really did look like giant mushrooms.

This spot definitely seemed to be more of a local hangout. Anyone could get up and dance.

Puente de Triana over the Guadalquivir River.

If you also participated in Ailsa’s theme I would love to see what you chose.

Euro Venture 2011 Pt. II Spain “Try Not to Be an Idiot Foreigner Next Time”

This is a continuation of the story here. It’s been interesting how many details I’ve remembered while writing these posts. Hopefully having them here will be a good way for me to remember the little bits.


After my morning journey to the hostal and jet lag beginning to kick in I found myself completely exhausted. I showered and napped for a while until I couldn’t ignore my stomach and my hunger. I roused myself to make myself Madrid-presentable. Both adapters shot sparks around the room when I tried to plug anything into them. After that, they both seemed to be completely worthless. That’s the last time I buy from that Amazon seller. 


While out wandering the streets, I found myself at a chain called “Casa del Jamón“, or “Mundo del Jamón“, or something like that. The serrano and melon hit the spot, but the waiter raised an eyebrow when I ordered vino tinto AND cafe together. 

“Urr…” It seemed he was looking for a polite way to tell me I was an idiot foreigner. “Just to let you know… Most people prefer to drink their cafe after the meal. It is best that way.”

“Oh, yes, I understand. It’s just I have terrible jet lag right now and I’m afraid I will fall asleep if I do not drink it sooner.”

“I see. Really, it is best after the meal. Are you certain?” 


In the end, I drank my wine and coffee at the same time. 

Don’t worry. I won’t do that again. 

Jamón hanging from the ceilings! I think I like this country.



After I found some replacement chargers for my camera and iPod I headed back to the hostal to wait for my Penpal to arrive. I was nervous. What if this person I’ve known for years is crazy? What if she is totally different from what I imagined? Will we kill each other? Eventually, I heard an Australian accent drifting from the reception area. I shyly opened the door and went out to greet her. 


It was wonderful to finally meet her. I think we were both a little shy around each other at first while we both tried to figure the other out. She told me stories about her weeks of travel before meeting me in Spain. I told her about how I arrived at the hostal. We both shared our excitement about the upcoming program. We are quite different from each other. She seemed straight-to-the-point and bold whereas I believe I tend to be more shy and keep my feelings inside. 


We explored the area around our hostal that night. The streets were absolutely full of people. I remember wondering whether this was a very popular part of the city, but later I realized that people seem to take to the streets everywhere! 


We found some interesting things like giant balls where you were supposed to write your dreams on a sheet of paper and then drop it into a slot in the ball. We also found the Desigual store. Sometimes I wish I could pull off wearing all of their crazy creations…


A nice sentiment, no?






Our first dinner together was entertaining. My friend doesn’t really speak or understand Spanish so I found myself doing the ordering and translating even though my Spanish abilities were pretty horrible. In the end, we ordered and ate about six different delicious offerings of tapas. 



The next morning, we visited the Palacio Real. I wish I could illustrate how beautiful the interior is, but we were not allowed to take any photos. All I have are photos of the outside. 




In the afternoon, we travelled to Casa Patas for our program orientation. The “Anglos” enjoyed a flamenco show, paella, and the company of the people they would be spending most of their next eight days and nights with. The newcomers and program veterans all spoke excitedly about what was to come. The next morning we would all file onto a bus for a four-hour trip to La Alberca. 

Travel Theme: Art

Gallery

Here’s my response to this weeks challenge created by Alisa.

It took me a while to decide which of my photos represented art to me. I feel like I saw so many wonderful pieces of art while I was in Europe and I couldn’t figure out which to choose!

In the end, I chose a few photos of street art in Paris. They aren’t exactly something you would find in the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay, but I think they capture a beauty and whimsy of their own. Some are downright creepy, but others made me smile instantly. These street pieces all evoked some sort of emotion or thought from me.

Let’s see something that you believe best describes art and why!

Stuff like this was everywhere!

I would love a spaceship and giant bandage on the side of my house.

I had to add this one for the creepy factor.

How cool is this?

Now, I Wait

This morning I made the couple hour trip down to Washington, DC to finish up my visa application. Luckily, things went without any problems and they told me I should receive my shiny new student visa within 5 weeks!

First, I had to find the Department of State Office of Authentications which, in all honesty, was completely different from what I was expecting. The office was a small location very similar to a mini MVA setup. You walked in, stood in line for a number, and then waited for your documents to be completed. There is a form necessary for each authentication order which I already printed at home. There were several computers set up there for this purpose. I ended up chatting with the girl in line behind me about our mutual visa methods and experiences. She was getting everything together to apply for her visa to work in the UAE. I would recommend getting there EARLY. I arrived shortly after the office opened at 7:30am, but the room was already filling up.

Call me Bond, James Bond.

 

After my FBI letter received the Apostille, I took it to the convenience shop right next to the office. They made copies of the newly Apostilled document for me. I already made copies of everything else at home.

Next, I walked back toward the Foggy Bottom metro to the Spanish Embassy and Consulate. I was lucky everything was so close. The walk was only about 10 minutes. I was a bit early so I waited in the waiting room until the Consulate opened at 9am. I was the first one to enter the visa application line and in 15 minutes was informed I would receive my visa within 5 weeks! Apparently, I take my medical and criminal background check letter to a police station when I get to Madrid. There, they will give me my real student visa. The one issued here is only good for 90 days. Oh, and if you make friends with the guard it seems he will let you use the bathroom on the Embassy side! 🙂

The Stories Will Continue, but First….Visa Things

Two days ago I emailed the Spanish Embassy in Washington, D.C. to find out if there is a limit on how old the medical letter can be in order to be accepted for visa purposes. I’m so glad I asked! The response I received (the very next day. Speedy service?!) said the letter could not be more than three months old. My letter was right about to pass the three month mark so I needed a new one. I called my doctor to see if they could just update the letter, but they said I needed to come in for a physical this time. The following day I went to my appointment, received my letter, and took it to Annapolis to have it notarized, certified, and have the Apostille placed. Now I’m good to go! All I have to do now is fill out the visa application, get passport photos taken, make copies of everything, and then run down to DC. Since I had the FBI criminal record check I need to get the Apostille from the Department of State. Then, I can copy everything and take it to the Embassy! That’s my game plan for next week.