Guest Post: Visitors from Home

Over the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday the Erb Family visited Cori and Matt in Morocco.  Wow, what an adventure.

Arriving in Casablanca on the evening of December 21st, Ron, Cindi, Eric and Rachel met Matt and Cori at the airport and the adventure began.  Our indoctrination into the Moroccan culture began right away as Matt gave us our first lesson in bartering for a taxi ride.  Back and forth, walking away and then agreeing to a fee, the six of us (yes, six) joined the driver in a Mercedes sedan (designed to carry five at most) for a ride into town.  Taking a “grand taxi” in Morocco means you have to squeeze 6 people into the taxi.  If you do not have 6 people, you wait until you do.  Luckily for us, we were a group of six and never had to wait.  Doubly lucky for us is that we are relatively small.  Can you imagine 6 big people squeezing into a taxi ride that sometimes lasted us 2-1/2 hours? 


Our first night was a great time catching up and getting a tour of the local street shops.  We started off  in the bigger well known cities of Casablanca and Marrakesh.  In Marrakesh we stayed in a charming Riad just off the medina and enjoyed numerous trips in and out of the medina to shop, eat and tour the local culture. Rachel showed off her newly learned bartering skills (the above picture was one of her techniques… or, on second thought, one of the shop owner’s) and Matt and Cori really impressed us all with the ease in which they communicated with the local Moroccans.  While in Marrakesh we took a short two day excursion into the Sahara Desert (near Zagora) for a camel trek.  Nothing like showing up just after dark to jump onto (literally no training, just walk up, sit on and then get lifted into the air as your camel rises up) your camel for the ride to your camp.

Getting ready to leave the next morning

Getting ready to leave the next morning

What a blast! We rode to the camp, dropped our stuff into our tent, enjoyed a great tajine dinner,  music around the campfire and laid on the dunes in awe of the stars.  In the morning we were treated to a sunrise in the desert.  A bright blue sky, sunrise over the nearby mountains, and our camel buddies carrying us back to our vans made for an awesome start to the day.  The drive back to Marrakesh included a stop to an ancient Kasbah that had been abandoned in the mid-1900’s.  Talk about taking a step back in time.    

Uh, Dad... that's not a camel.

Uh, Dad… that’s not a camel.

We then headed to Azilal for our Christmas celebration. A great time was had by all and the best present was being together as a family. We even had bacon in the morning – it was a nice treat for Cori and Matt who NEVER get bacon.  We stayed a few days in Azilal and got to know the town that Cori and Matt call home.  We visited the Dar Chabab, met their host family and visited Ouzoud Falls where we hiked for hours.  Matt, Rachel and Eric took the plunge off of one of the falls and all of us were surprised by the local monkeys (that were not afraid of us in the least). 


After Azilal we were off to Fes for a visit to the local Medina, tannery, shops, shops and more shops, and then a trip to Taounate.  Taounate is the town where Cori and Matt spent the first three months doing their initial training.  We spent the day visiting with Mama Naima and her family, had a wonderful meal and tea, and danced the night away.  It could not have been better.  We were very happy to meet with Naima and to thank her for being such a great comfort to Cori and Matt when they had first arrived in their country. 

A delicious cousous meal at Naima’s!

 We also visited Volubilisan ancient Roman Settlement just outside of Meknes. We got to walk around these ruins pretty much by ourselves (except for a lone Moroccan guide who kept trying to explain to Cindi and Ron in French what everything was).  What a treat to be able to see these ruins that had been around since the 3rd century BC.


We  headed out after twelve great days with Cori and Matt. We got to see quite a variety of Moroccan landscapes – the high mountains, beautiful foothills, desert, small towns and villages and big cities. We immersed ourselves in the Moroccan culture by experiencing all types of public transportation; no big tour bus for us – we squeezed into taxis, got driven around by maniac taxi drivers (no rules of the road here), explored all types of Moroccan eateries and stayed in charming local riads and hotels (hot water never guaranteed).  Cori and Matt treated us to many great sites and introduced us to an ancient culture much different than our own.  Through it all we could not have met nicer people. 


 – Ron and Cindi Erb (pictures added by Cori)

A visit to Fez

So after being in Morocco for a little under a month and taking classes almost every day, Peace Corps finally gave us a (relatively) free weekend. We took the opportunity to take a break from our immersion in homestay by joining a group of trainees traveling to Fez. It was really nice to have the chance to catch up with people, relax a bit, be tourists, and just be in charge of our own schedule for a couple days.

One of the things we noticed immediately in Fez was how many other tourists there were. We still stuck out like sore thumbs in a city full of Moroccans… but so did tons of other people from all over the world. It was very freeing to suddenly be just another tourist instead of being one of 12 Americans living in a city that tourists never visit.

We did some of the typical Fez touristy activities, like visiting the tanneries and just wandering around the old medina:

Matt near the walls surrounding the old medina (the oldest part of the city).

Matt near the walls surrounding the old medina (the oldest part of the city).

One of the leather tanneries that Fez is famous for.

One of the leather tanneries that Fez is famous for.

Walking through one of the more commercial alleys in the old medina. The streets are mostly this thin, and they're very mazelike - very easy to get lost!

Walking through one of the more commercial alleys in the old medina. The streets are mostly this thin, and they’re very mazelike – very easy to get lost!

These massive doors are all over the place in the old medina - many of them are mosques, not sure what this one leads to.

These massive doors are all over the place in the old medina – many of them are mosques, not sure what this one leads to.

One of the more interesting occurrences was eating lunch with a group of Americans who were on a study abroad trip. It was great to hear about their trip and everything they’ve done, but it was obvious to both groups that we’re having very different experiences. This was underscored for Matt and I by how much the students spent for lunch (I know you’re all rolling your eyes because this makes us sound super cheap… just hear us out). They thought nothing of spending 95 dirham on a burger.  95 dhs is only about $11, but in Taounate we can get a sandwich for 12-15 dhs, so spending 6 times that in Fez seemed pretty ridiculous to us (although those burgers were delicious…).

So even though we enjoyed being tourists this weekend, we realized that after only one month of immersion, we’re already on a completely different page than most of the foreign tourists in Morocco. And as much as we would love to still be making American salaries and be able to splurge on all the fantastic things available in Fez, we’re definitely enjoying the immersion experience and the perspective we’re starting to gain from it.