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Monday, December 9, 2013

Day 1 -- Arrival in Morocco

Aeroport Mohammed VI in Casablanca

My first Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) trip began in Detroit with a cross-Atlantic flight to Paris that then connected to a three-hour flight to Casablanca. It was uneventful and a smooth ride, thank God.

However, with this trip--as with most of my trips--I discovered how small the world really is. On the plane from Paris to Casablanca I met a man from Farmington Hills (near Detroit) who earned his degree at WMU. When I met my group, one of the members said she studied at Oberlin, but took her junior year abroad in Ghana through the Kalamazoo College program.

The French men on the plane were an incredible sight to behold. The young ones sported a short beard, tight jeans, a jacket and pointy shoes. The women know how to wear a simple scarf, stylish slacks and a top so that they look astonishingly beautiful. Both men and women are thin and in good shape. They both look so self-assured and fit my stereotype of the French as having one of the most civilized cultures in the world. With baguettes, cheese and wine as regular staples, how could they miss? Today, I made a vow to myself that I will go to France for an extended stay and become fluent in the language.  Maybe I might capture the secrets to French spirit of beauty and poise—or at least gaze upon it.

I began to see more Muslims on the plane to Casablanca. The women wore colorful outfits and covered their heads. The men were nondescript, but some of them wore small mini-fez hats.

When I arrived at the airport in Casablanca, Nees from OAT met me.  He then led me to his mini-bus and welcomed me to Morocco as he handed me a giant bottle of water. Although I thought our group would spend the first night in Casablanca, we instead began our trip in Rabat, the capital of Morocco where I would meet the OAT group at the Hotel Belere. The hour-long trip to Rabat took nearly two hours, but we arrived at the hotel, just in time for the group's first briefing. I would have liked a shower and a rest, but that was not to be until after the briefing and dinner.

Nees gave me a bit of a tour on this ride to Rabat, the first stop of our two-week trip in Morocco. We drove on a modern freeway where people might be picked up or dropped off on the side of the road. I saw several women carrying water or herding cows near the road on the adjoining road.

I was surprised to see farm fields in the countryside. The soil was red-colored and it supports corn and cactus crops. There were also several farms with dairy cows, sheep, and chickens. This was not the desert part of the country. The Sahara part of Morocco is located quite a bit east of here. As we neared Rabat, the capital of the country, the Atlantic Ocean appeared. There were several vessels near the shore that looked like the ore boats of Michigan, only they were fishing boats.

Phosphorus is one of Morocco's main exports and a vital ingredient used in American agriculture. They do not have oil in Morocco, but they do trade the phosphorus for oil.

Nees is a Berber, among the original people who settled Morocco. He is dark-skinned but not black. The other predominant ethnic group here is the Arab. They have a lighter skin and finer features from the Arabs of the Middle East.

It was a warm, sunny evening (sundown occurs about 5:30) where a jacket would protect against a slightly chilly night of 57 degrees. I was way over-dressed in my flannel shirt and flannel jacket. I ended up carrying a thick hoodie that I only needed in Detroit where it was a more bitter cold. The hoodie might come in handy during our two-day tour of the Sahara Desert, but not now.

I should mention that I carried on a conversation with Nees in French, one of the languages spoken here. Arabic is the other national language. Nees also speaks German, which is helpful with the large numbers of Germans who visit this country. My French, which is highly unpracticed, came in handy as I tried to remember words and phrases I had studied so long ago. (My idea in school was to learn French and Spanish so that I could gets around most of the world where these language, together with English, were spread by the colonialists of the nineteenth century. The only problem is that I am not fluent in either language so I frequently mix them together as I grasp for words to ask a question or express an insight.)

People ask me if I am vacationing in Morocco, but I resist that characterization. As a travel writer, I'm always looking for stories about the people of the country and their lifestyles. So, I'm always working and learning. That's why I chose OAT: it seeks to bring people from different cultures together to learn about each other and how they live, so its mission and purpose appeal to me. Some members of my group have been on seven or eight other OAT trips and they still keep coming. They are well-traveled and curious. I think I'm going to enjoy this trip as much for the group members as for the adventures we will have in this country.

I arrived at the hotel just in time for the 6 p.m. briefing.  Abdul, the OAT area manager for Morocco met me, and told me where are meeting would be held.

In the briefing room, I joined the group that had already convened with Yemni, our guide.  He gave us a map of Morocco so we can outline our route through the country.  He gave us a chance to tell each other why we chose this trip.  Finally, he gave us an overview of our two-week journey and advised that we relate to each other as a family.  That means that we should take care to respect each other by being on time and looking out for each other throughout the trip.  Although some people have been on OAT trips before, Yemni reminded us that this is not just a tour but an adventure.  If he finds interesting things along the way, he will stop the bus and check it out.  (He was true to his word.)    

Lester (left) and Garry (right) accept their tagine meal
After the meeting we had our first meal in Morocco, which consisted of a tagine of chicken and vegetables.  

For more background on tagines, see a previous blog entry (click here and scroll down).

I ended this long, first day with a hot bubble bath and then wrapped myself in a comfortable, terrycloth robe. What a treat after a long journey!

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