This past weekend, I traveled to a new continent, Africa, to explore Morocco. We boarded a bus at 9 a.m. on Friday morning. I left my apartment at 8:56 a.m. but luckily my athletic ability allowed me to make it / I sprinted. Then, we headed south – who knew you could take a bus to Africa? JOKE. The trip included buses, boats and lots of walking.    Our first stop was at the Rock of Gibraltar. It is located just south of Spain but is actually on British territory so we had to go through customs upon arriving.    Gibraltar was incredible and has such a rich history making its influences very diverse. We visited La Punta de Europa (Europa Point) and St. Michael’s Caves to make some new friends, in the form of monkeys. Gibraltar is known for having monkeys that interact with the tourists. Sometimes they are a big problem in the city as they’ll climb down the rock and break into people’s homes or stores to steal food. It has been said that when the monkeys leave Gibraltar, the British will be gone too. One time, Ernest Hemingway visited the Rock and saw there were only about four monkeys left, so he shipped out for more to ensure the British would keep the land. Today, there are around 200 monkeys occupying Gibraltar.    After Gibraltar we drove to Algeciras, Spain, to board the ferry, which would take us to Africa. The ferry was so big that it hardly felt like I was on a boat unless I stood up. After about one hour, we arrived in Ceuta, which is a Spanish territory in northern Africa.    From there, we boarded our same bus (it came with us on the ferry) and headed towards the border.  Crossing the border took a lot longer than expected – about one and a half to two hours – but the process was pretty easy. Our program guide took our passports (no one was super enthused about abandoning our passports but there were about 50 students on the bus, and I guess it sped up the process) and brought them to customs to get them stamped. Our passports were returned as a customs guard came on-board to ensure we matched our photos and information. Then, we drove to the city of Tangier, ate dinner (soup, fish, vegetables, bread, a lemon crème tart and bottled water) and went to bed. The accommodations were nice, and I took one of the best showers I have had since being abroad.    We woke up at 6:20 a.m. Moroccan time (it is one hour behind Spain), got dressed, brushed our teeth with bottled water and ate breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was very European style – lots of bread, meats and cheeses. There was also dried fruit, pistachio flavored yogurt and very good fruit juice.    The day started with a bus tour of Tangier. It is a beautiful city with many luxurious homes that looked like palaces. One truly was a palace: the King of Morocco has a vacation home there in which he spends a lot of his time. Then we went to Plage Achakar (Achakar Beach) to ride camels. In reality, we were on the camels for less than five minutes, and it was more of a photo opportunity than anything else but it was still a fun experience. The only negative aspect was that we could tell the camels were not as well taken care of as we are used to seeing with most animals in the States so it was difficult to justify the excursion as 100 percent worthwhile. In the end, my friends and I figured the program takes hundreds of students on this trip every weekend, and we probably would not have another opportunity in the near future to ride camels on a beach so we hopped on the hump.    After our camel adventure, we drove to Chefchaouen (about a 90 minute drive). It is a beautiful town with almost all of its buildings painted light neon blue to keep it cooler in the summer and to keep mosquitoes away. We had lunch, which consisted of different types of salad, chicken and mixed fruit with orange sauce. The food was good but not as flavorful as I was expecting. After lunch, we went on a walking tour. Our guide was a nomad originally from the Sahara. He and his family move from one town to the next, working for a bit in each place. After the tour we had free time in which my friends and I explored the town, took lots of pictures, tried Moroccan sweets (really good – lots of pastries with sesame, honey and nuts) and bought pashminas and sandals (I tried on about 10 pairs and bought two – they were being made right in front of us). Per usual, I excelled in the bartering game.    After our free time in Chefchaouen, we boarded the bus and drove to Tétouan (about a 45 minute drive).  We arrived at the hotel, which was located more on the outskirts of the city but it was nice and had very comfortable beds. We had some free time to settle in and rest. My friends and I had some delicious Moroccan mint tea and attempted to connect to wifi, which was more or less unsuccessful.    Saturday night we had dinner in the city center of Tétouan. We were served soup and then the rest of the dishes were served family style and included a variety of salads, chicken, couscous, a powered sugar cookie and mint tea. Throughout dinner there were different entertainment acts – a belly dancer (who was dressed very differently than one would expect – she wore a long wool top and skirt and a woven straw hat), two different bands and a drum crew with a fire dancer.  Dinner ended around 12:30 a.m., and we returned to the hotel and went to bed.    On Sunday morning we were up and out early to explore Tétouan. It was a much bigger city that the others we visited in Morocco. We had a walking tour through the main area and saw a bit of the marketplace, a tannery, a place where carpets are made and a pharmacy. The by far coolest part of the day was the pharmacy. It had jars of spices all over the walls and specialized in herbs and oils.  We had the opportunity to try different products such as Moroccan argan oil for our hair and special oil for motion sickness/hangovers (many of the students invested in that product). They also sold special Moroccan-grown herbs and spices such as eucalyptus and saffron. The pharmacist gave us a presentation on what everything was and how it could be used. I bought a variety of different products and upon checking out, realized the cashier was trying to overcharge me about 70 dollars. I called him out on it, of course, and the tour guide was furious at the store. I received two or three free items and we left.    After the pharmacy, we reversed our trip and bussed/boated back to España (Spain). In the end, it was a very interesting experience and not what I was expecting at all. I was expecting to be completely shocked by cultural differences and the truth is, I wasn’t. Most people spoke Spanish and some spoke English, the food was not very different and actually not too flavorful, and I never felt threatened or unsafe. Overall, I am very happy I had the opportunity to explore Morocco and put a checkmark next to another continent.
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