Alex Norman’s Study Abroad Blog: Camels, Macaques, Schoolgirls and Dune Boys

Alex Norman

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Well, as usual, this post is a bit overdue, but a couple weeks ago we had our Southern Excursion and WOW, what a trip! To be sure, we spent much of our time travelling to the Middle Atlas, Ouarzazate, Merzouga, the High Atlas, Marrakech and Essaouira in a bus, but each stop we made was well worth the trip. We did so many things and saw so many places (imagine: snow, sand and sea all in the same trip!) that I’ll just keep this entry to a highlight from each day:

Day One: Although the internationally-attended Al Akhawayn University was breathtakingly beautiful,  the highlight of this day was definitely the Middle Atlas’ Cedar Forest and its Barbary macaques. The macaques were quite large: some were about 2 feet tall on their hind legs: and some were unfortunately overweight thanks to thoughtless overfeeding by tourists.

First, the university, then...

Barbary macaques in the Cedar Forest


Day Two: The highlight of this day and the entire trip in general was riding camels into the Sahara at sunset…

My camel!!!

On our way into the dunes

As was listening to Gnaoua musicians by firelight and sleeping in tents in the dunes.

Listening to Gnaoua

A small group of us stayed up into the wee hours of the morning chatting and trading jokes and riddles with some young Moroccan men who had guided us into the dunes, and by the end of the night we had used SEVEN total languages to communicate with one another (if you’re curious, the languages were Darija, Fus’ha, Amazigh, English, Spanish, French and German).

A drawing in my journal by one of the dune boys

Day Three: We travelled to “Moroccan Hollywood,” Ouarzazate, to spend a night at the Association Tishka, a women’s association and secondary school for girls from all regions of Morocco. Over dinner we talked with the girls in Darija about subjects ranging from our families to vegetarianism to the fact that one of the boys in our program apparently looks like some famous Turkish movie star (seriously, it was weird, about ten girls asked for his autograph at the end of dinner).

Day Four: This was the first of two days that we spent in the “Red City.” The highlight of the first day was strolling the Majorelle Gardens, lately owned by Yves St. Laurent. Marrakech is known as the Red City because of the distinctive sandy, rusty color that covers the exterior of nearly every building. From the outside, the Majorelle Gardens are no exception to this rule but the interior is marked by vibrant lapis lazuli blue walls and an impressive variety of palms, cacti, and waterlilies.

The gorgeous blue gardens

Day Five: I explored Djemaa El Fna Square in the Marrakech medina for a fair portion of this day. Djemaa El Fna is constantly bustling with snake charmers, storytellers, Gnaoua musicians, and food vendors who speak literally ten languages. Tourism in the square supposedly took a hard hit from the April 28 bombing, but Djemaa El Fna remains probably the most touristy site I’ve visited since I arrived in Morocco.

A snake charmer in the square

Day Six: Our second to last day was spent in Essaouira, a port town with gorgeous ocean views, delicious seafood and an annual Gnaoua music festival. The high point of this day was, for me perhaps more than others, simply the sheer amount of water associated with this city. On our only day in Essaouira, it was raining heavily and, in combination with the grey sky and the ocean, it reminded me a lot of a typical day back home in Olympia, WA.

Alright, well, this place might be a little prettier than Olympia, WA...


But they still had seagulls.

Our final day was spent almost entirely on the bus ride back to Rabat, so I’m leaving it out of my list of highlights. My northern excursion (which as of just recently includes a town that is geographically located in Morocco but technically belongs to Spain) followed less than a week after the trip southward so I’ll hopefully be adding a post about that trip in a bit.

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