Rockin’ like a Moroccan


I am skipping out on many things, like studying for 4 midterms, a presentation, and 3 papers to write this, but Morocco was such an experience, I need to share it with you all! First off, Morocco blew my socks off with it’s beauty! I have been there before, but one day is not enough time to get a full feel of the country. I had planned to do a camel trek for the length of our stay (4 days) and see Marrakesh, Fes, and the Berber villages including the camels. When we were finally let off the ship, it was noon, and our tour company had already come and gone for us. Instead, we did a 3-day trip, leaving out Marakech. It actually worked out for the best, because I think we would have missed the ship if we would have done all of it. Morocco time is very similar to my sister’s sense of time x100. An 8-9 hour bus ride turned into a 12-14 hour ride. But more on that later…

So the first day, we had no idea what to do. Since we planned to be on this tour the whole time, none of us really did research on Casablanca. So we walked around, found a cool market, saw the Mosque and pretended to fit in with the people there by wearing scarves (we are so obvious, it’s embarrassing,) and dealt with a lot of drama! Since we missed out on one day, we were going to have to pay 50 euros less. Well, some people thought this was still not enough off our bill. They thought we could “barter” with the tour company and drop the price more. The student leader of the trip, my friend, was already super stressed about it not working out the first day and having to lead a group of 27 people!!, and could not begin to THINK about bartering. Plus, it’s through a tour company. You don’t barter with tour companies… it’s a set price. And if you do the math, it was sensible to take away 50 euro… it just made sense. Anyway, there was that stress, which began the stories of impossible people!

Where I am pointing is where we went in the span of 3 days... 30 hours of driving in a bus. But SO WORTH IT! The left picture is Casablanca (where we left from and returned) the middle is the Berber village in the Sahara desert, and the right village is Fes.

When we woke up for take two of our trip, I had a feeling it was going to be a better day. We were headed straight for the desert to the Berber villages to ride the camels. We were told to meet the bus at 8, and we were all nervous to miss it again, so we ran there. Come to find out, we had two large vans, and one didn’t arrive until 9:30. Once we finally hit the road, we were all pumped and ready to ride those camels!! The drive was very scenic and took us through the Atlas Mountains. We stopped every few hours, but when the sun started setting, a lot people began to get anxious. They thought the drivers were taking us way out in the middle of nowhere to kill us, sell us, or leave us. But they didn’t!! After a LOOONG ride of 12-14 hours and nothing but darkness surrounding us, we made it to the hotel where we left our belongings and headed for the nomad tents. To get there, we had to travel by camel… bummer, right!? It was beyond anything I could have expected. My camel was named “kush kush” after the nickname one of the drivers gave to me…

Drinking the natural spring water. We were advised not to drink the Moroccan water... oops.

…side story. I was trying to talk to our driver, but neither of us knew each other’s language, so we’d try to teach simple words, and one of his words he taught me for lights was “kash kash” or something like that. So when they wanted the lights turned off in the back, I pointed to the switch and said “kush kush?” He busted out laughing, and since then has called me kush kush… still don’t know what it means. I also said “Schvedka” – which is a Swedish brand of vodka, instead of “Choukran”- which means thank you in Arabic. Luckily Islamic religion forbids drinking, so they didn’t know what I just said to them…

…so we rode our camels through the desert, at night, under the stars, in Morocco. It’s still surreal to me! It seemed that all of the stars were visible–the milky way definitely was; none of us really talked because of the mesmerized state we were in. Once we got to the tents of the little village, we were led into one with candle-lit dining and extravagant pillows for all of us to sit on. It was a beautiful, yet I knew it wasn’t authentic when I saw the candle holders were simply water bottles cut in half filled with sand. We were brought the food by young men in turbans and Moroccan wear: bread, rice, “tajine” or sometimes spelt “tagine” (a Moroccan dish cooked in a clay pot filled with vegetables, some kind of meat, and spices,) and grapes and melon for dessert. We were all stuffed and ready for killing, or bed. Instead, they led us outside to a huge blanket and began to set up drums. Great!! Dinner AND show! This is awesome… yet still no women in this “village.” The men began to play the drums and sing Moroccan tunes. They told us they were going to show us the camel dance, which consisted of them pretending to be camels, riding each other, using twigs they had found as canes and dancing like old men, and mimicking what it would look like to kill a scorpion in the sand with your foot–it was not a real dance. My friends and I were in shock, watching this all go down, wondering what they were doing, and why since they don’t drink in their culture–what would drive them to act this silly?! Nonetheless, we were dying of laughter and played along with their silly dancing when they asked us to join their congo lines and sing their music. We had NO idea what they were having us say, but it was SO MUCH FUN! When people in our group were beginning to grow tired from the long trek and the silliness of this obvious tourist trap of a village of 10 men, they told us where we were to sleep. They made the mistake of saying we could sleep outside if we wanted, and we all jumped at that. So we pulled the mattresses and blankets out and set up camp under the stars. We counted numerous shooting stars before we settled down from the excitement enough to sleep. Before I crashed for the night, I made sure there were people keeping watch, and there were.

The next morning, I was awakened by the call to worship before anyone else in the group arose. It was just beginning to get light out again, so I decided to take some beautiful silhouette pictures of the sand dunes. My sleeping buddy (we shared a blanket) woke up and we both went and began to climb the tallest sand dune in sight. When we started we were running, when we reached the top, we were dead. My lungs haven’t hurt that bad since basketball season doing suicides. Seriously. But the view was so worth it!! It was the PERFECT place to watch the sunrise, and by that time, everyone had woken up and joined us. It was a definite bonding experience. Once the sun came up, another guide, Hassan, rode his 4-wheeler to the top of the dune (SO much easier than climbing it) and brought with him two sand boarding boards. Everyone got a chance to sled down (we couldn’t board… uncoordinated Americans.)

Sunrise in the desert. I felt on top of the world!

When we all had our fun of boarding/sledding, we saddled up and got ready to ride into town. The camels were locked and loaded for us giddy Americans! It was just as great of an experience as the night ride, and we were all glad to say we did both. By the time we reached the town, we were sweating and our butts hurt from the camel (it’s like riding a bike for 30 miles and not training for it.) We got some breakfast, some took showers (not me… I did the FULL desert experience!) and we headed for Fes.

Juergen and I... Brandy, I SWEAR I am not cheating on you with the camel riding!









HUMP DAY VIDEO! (Click Here) – Every 15 minutes my friend was saying this during our time in the desert. This video is for Dave Lewis!

The drive was long, yet again, and even though we just had an AMAZING experience, many on the trip were anxious and taking it out on the student learner. Poor girl; she worked so hard to make this happen and had NO idea it was going to be so much driving, but they signed up for it! Ugh… it made me very mad. My friends and I tried to make things light and goofed off the whole ride, but most of them weren’t having it. I even learned how to speak camel (very embarrassing noise) and my friend was speaking camera (maybe the hot sun was getting to us) but they all were only complaining. Oh well! My friends and I had a blast on the long road trip! We stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant and I tried some camel kebabs. It was interesting… chewy but flavorful.

We got to Fes, again when the sun went down and I thought there was going to be a cat fight! The student leader was trying to round up everyone and organize rooms for the night and some girls decided they were going to be inconsiderate and get their room key first. It messes EVERYTHING up when you don’t go with the flow, so we asked them to stick around until we figured everything out. They began to yell and say how this trip was poorly organized and blamed some people for being late all the time… while everyone was stunned. What a great face they were making for our country… urrrgghh… some people!!

I was roommates with the student leader and I really felt bad for her, so we did what every Moroccan does to have fun: smoked a little hookah!! It originated in Morocco and it calmed her down! We didn’t get to bed until 2:30 to wake up again at 6:45. They say the #1 problem for SAS students is sleep deprivation. I completely agree!

Our bus drivers took us on a special tour around Fes since we got in so late and couldn’t see anything the day before, but it was quick because we had to be back to the ship that day. Everyone was nervous on top of that we weren’t going to make it back in time since their time schedule is nothing like ours. So tension was in the air again until we reached Casablanca. Our tour guide told us it is customary to tip the drivers and it would be nice if we would. Well, some girls had a huge problem with that and refused to tip… another bad face we all had to wear due to the minority of us. But the rest of us covered the difference and tipped our tour guide as well.

Cool Bus Group with tour guide: Muhammad (far left) and bus drive: Usef (left of me) and other bus driver: Muhammad (squatting).

Overall, it was a GREAT experience! Frustrating due to some who didn’t know how to go with the flow, but worth every second and Durham!

Things I learned in Morocco:
- Moroccans are not scary or untrustworthy at all!
- Their food is DELICIOUS!
- Groups larger than 15 need more than one leader… it’s too much for one person’s shoulders.
- Traveling is about learning how to go with the flow. You will have the BEST experiences that way.
- Americans focus too much on time. We could learn a few things from other cultures about happiness.
- Water is a very valuable thing. Don’t buy a huge bottle of Fanta and think it is going to keep you hydrated and be tasty by the end of the trip.

Choukran (thank you) for reading! Until next time,


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About Kait Squanda

Semester at Sea is a study abroad program sponsored by University of Virginia. It is a cruise liner made specifically for college students, professors, hall directors, and lifelong learners to experience a hands-on learning atmosphere around the world. My voyage will be traveling to 15 countries: Russia, Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Ghana, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba. WIth some stops before-hand, it is bound to be a trip of a lifetime!

One thought on “Rockin’ like a Moroccan

  1. I’m so proud of you for embracing everything the experience brings your way. The positive and the negative. I love that you focus on the positive, and are reflective about what you’re learning along the journey.

    It sounds like you’re now starting to figure out who on the ship is good to travel with and who isn’t!

    I enjoyed how you noted that SAS students are so sleep deprived. It’s SO true. Does it remind you of any Alma students you know? :)

    Also, I’m SO glad you made it to Fes. I hope you loved it as much as I did.


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