After being out of internet (and blogging) reach for over a week, we are back within reach, so enjoy the recent blog posts and a few more to come along with photos of our adventures in Southern Morocco!
Since the group left Ouarzazate, we have been on the move every few days taking every (reliable) type of transportation to reach the ends of the Earth - the Sahara/Algerian border. After Ouarzazate, the group ventured eastward to a town called Taghzoute (outside of Tinghir) where we collaborated on a service learning project with local Peace Corps Volunteers. With the assistance of a local dentist and our Peace Corps friends, we led dental hygiene lessons at 2 local elementary schools in different villages. The Global LAB students helped distribute toothbrushes, teach the children how to brush, and helped the young ones determine which foods are good and bad for the health and longevity of their teeth. In addition, we had the opportunity to have a cross-cultural exchange with local high school students and discuss and dispel stereotypes. We also collaborated with these students to create a Peace Mural that we painted together at the school. While we were in Taghzoute, the students lived with homestay families and we also celebrated Halloween with costumes, sweets, and apple bobbing - great fun!
Satisfied with our rewarding experience of service-learning in Taghzoute, we headed to the Todra Gorge for some rest and relaxation. Our hotel was nestled at the foot of the gorge - rock walls towering above us and a beautiful palmary and river below. We spent half a day hiking through the gorge. Along the way, we stopped to have tea with a local family and learned more about the nomadic lifestyle in this area. On our way back, we walked through the palmary and learned about this fertile valley and all the varieties of vegetables that grow there. In the afternoon, the group visited a local artist who showed us the unique art form of painting with saffron and tea. The students also gave this a try!
From the gorge, we squeezed into "the grand taxi ride of our lives" as I like to call it. While we had had some experience squeezing all six of us into a taxi beforehand, this 4 hour ride definitely made us closer as a group and we learned the words of an Amazigh song along the way! We drove through the lush palmary of the Southeast. Dates branches lined the street as the seasonal date pick just finished. We witnessed the landscape become more and more barren until we reach the dunes of Erg Chebbi.
Pleasantly surprised by the new pool at our auberge, we took advantage of our surroundings by basking in the sun by the pool with the sand dunes feet away. The next day we rose early for a sunrise hike - trekking through the mountains of sand by headlamps only to be rewarded by a gorgeous yellow sun breaking over the dunes. That day, we began our 2 day camel trek. We spent our days getting to know our camels a bit better, chatting with each other sometimes, but also enjoying the utter silence of the desert. The night sky revealed more stars than most of us (if not all) have seen in our lives! On the last day of our camel trek, we mounted our camels before daybreak and saw the sunrise from our camel's humps. We continued onto Itzer (about 45 minutes North of Midelt) passing through the Ziz Valley along the way.
The small town of Itzer is situated between the High and Middle Atlas mountains which provided stunning views! After spending the past 3 weeks in the warm sunny South, the winter cold of Itzer took us by surprise, but most of us enjoyed the change of weather. While in Itzer, the students lived with homestay families and we were hosted by a local association. In addition to learning about the local artisan work in this area (mostly carpet weaving, but we also met a talented artist), we had the opportunity to learn how to make couscous from scratch! It look about 4 hours, but it was well worth it! We also had a chance to hammam (go to the public bathes) and try some b'sara (a split-pea like bean soup dish perfect to keep you warm in the winter) before we departed.
As the group left Itzer, we noticed quite a few police officers along the road. We knew that the King Mohammed VI was in Midelt and it turns out he was headed in our direction. So when we arrived in Ifrane, we quickly hurried to get our spot to see the King drive through town. The Moroccan time estimates for his arrival were just a few hours off, but we waved our flags when he drove by and all got a glimpse of royalty - well worth the wait! Last night, we dined with some bright and active students from Al-Alkhawayn University (AUI). AUI is an elite university that was created in partnership between the former Saudi Arabian King and the late King Hassan II. At AUI, all classes are taught in Enlgish and the education system is modeled off of that of the States. During our dinner, we learned about their experience as students, they inquired about our lives in the US, and we shared a lot of laughs. This morning, we participated in two lectures given by AUI professors - one on the pressing conflict in the Western Sahara and the other on Rai music. In the afternoon, we had a tour of the beautiful Al-Alkhawayn University campus.
Tomorrow the group will spend the morning in Azrou exploring the cedar forests in hopes of spotting some endangered Barbary macaque. We will also discuss some pertinent ecological issues. Afterwards, we will head home to Fes. All the students are looking forward to rejoining their homestay families. While we have loved our journeys in the South, we have missed Fes and eagerly await our return.