If—for some unfathomable reason—this blog is of particular interest to you, you may have noticed that I didn’t post last week. Rest assured that I’m still alive and writing, and I’ll do my best to relay a whole two weeks of my life in this one, brief post.
I’ll start with my jaunt to Chefchaouen, the blue city. A better writer would go into passionate detail about how picturesque, how quaint, or how remarkable this city is, but the inside of my head isn’t a pithy place, so I’ll get straight to the point: It really is blue, but not inordinately so. Imagine that some giant, clumsy toddler knocked a bunch of blue and white building-blocks down a mountain, and these all sort of stayed clustered at the bottom. Now imagine that these blocks are actually houses. That’s how I see Chefchaouen. It’s a actually a gorgeous city, but it’s also overwhelmed by a horde of tourists. My friends and I spent a weekend ambling around the city by night, in order to avoid the searing heat of day (and also because I am nocturnal). It was a pretty low-key excursion, unlike the one I’ve recently returned from.
This last weekend we went to Merzouga, a city about 500 miles south of Tangier, near the Algerian border. Tangier is genuinely beautiful, but it has strong European vibes. Tangier feels Moroccan, French, and Spanish all at once, which can be overwhelming at times. Moroccan culture is incredibly multifaceted in its own right, so I was glad to leave Tangier, where I feel like I have to crack through some sort of veneer to figure out what it is to be Moroccan. So I was excited to drive south, but I was not excited to travel by bus with 30+ other people. It was not an ideal situation, but I digress.
It was a rihla (a journey) of highs and lows. First, the highs: We stopped in Volubilis, or in Arabic, Walili, the ruins of a city that was established by the indigenous Amazigh people in the 3rd century BCE, and was later ruled by the Romans. A lot of the Roman architecture is still intact, and it’s definitely worth visiting if you ever find yourself nearby; it’s about an hour from the major city of Meknes, which is worth seeing as well.
But the best part of this trip was the camels. Merzouga is near a sea of sand dunes (for the geographically-disinclined, a lot of Morocco is part of the Sahara desert), so the program arranged for us to ride into the desert and sleep in a “traditional” camp. I’ve actually been to Merzouga before and done this exact thing, and the fact is that we camp fairly close to the city, and the whole thing is a tourist trap, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that camels are some of the most incredible creatures in existence. They’ve perfectly evolved to live in the hellacious terrain better known as the desert, and they’re adorable. I was jazzed about the camels.
Now some lows: On the way to Merzouga, we stopped in a patch of forest known for its “wild” monkeys. You’re able to buy peanuts and bananas to feed them, and the whole set-up gives me uncomfies for a number of reasons. On one hand, I feel uncomfortable interacting with wild animals in that way, making them so trusting of humans and exploiting them for money. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s my place to come into another country and say “Hey, I know you depend on these monkeys for your livelihood, but my morals say don’t do that.” Not because I think my viewpoint becomes invalid when I try to express it in a country that’s not my own, but what right do I have to offer this criticism to strangers without offering viable alternatives, especially when they don’t have the same opportunities as me?
I also felt uncomfortable visiting the monkeys/participating in the camel rides to the sand dunes, because both activities are centered around a very artificial idea about wildlife and culture in Morocco, anyway. I know programs that send students abroad often include activities like these, which sacrifice authenticity for entertainment, which leads to a lot of conflicting feelings for me. In the end, even if I’m having fun, I don’t think that I have a more genuine understanding of Morocco after this trip, and I worry that I’m going to find myself framing my view of the country from a stereotypical perspective.
However, I had one experience in these last few weeks that’s really stuck with me. A Moroccan friend mentioned that in all her 20 years, she had been to three cities in Morocco, and she had not visited another country before. Then she asked me how many cities I had visited. In my whole life, 20 years, how many cities have I been to? The truth is, I don’t know. Even as a kid, I visited different cities in Colorado, and several nearby states. My family never really had “vacations,” but even visiting Denver for the weekend was a big deal to me. In high school, I started traveling even farther across the country, and in the last 3 years alone, I have visited Asia, Europe, and Africa. For the longest time, I thought of myself as just some girl from Pueblo. Occasionally, especially when I’m talking to other Northwestern students who seem to travel everywhere all the time, I still feel like just some Pueblo girl. And yet, I’ve always been able to say that I’ve seen more than three cities. Even though the world seems so vast, and there are surely sights I can’t even fathom seeing, I’ve actually had quite a few adventures of my own. All at once, it’s a humbling thought, but still pretty impressive for this Pueblo girl.