Chefchaouen-City of Blue-Morocco

Erica will be studying abroad at Alcala de Heneres, Spain for the next 4 months.

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Animals and Adventures in South Africa

Jessica Zaksek is a senior Psychology student at Colorado State University. She is currently partaking in a Semester at Sea and will visit ports in various countries such as Russia, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Morocco and many more. Stay tuned to hear about all her adventures!

[Originally posted November 10, 2013]

Hi Readers!

How are you all? I am doing pretty well! I have been very busy during this long, oceanic stretch, but have also had plenty of time for fun and relaxation. We have been at sea for 11 days now. We are two days from arriving in Argentina, and I cannot wait to be there. During the crossing on the Atlantic, I haven’t seen much land. It will be a pleasant sight when I do spot it, and the image comes to mind of a pirate in the lookout region on the ship, yelling out “Land Ho!’ and the excited buzz of crew members. That is what it is like for us. Even so, being out in the middle of the ocean has been amazing. The sunsets have been breathtaking and I have enjoyed the views. The ocean itself has been both calm and rocky, depending on the day. Right now we are sailing through a rainstorm, so the waves are a bit choppy, but nothing major. Weather is not a good indicator of ocean swells, though. Earlier this week it was clear outside, the sun was shining, but the swells were giant and it was hard to get around.

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I can’t believe that my time in Africa is over. I have to say that my favorite port thus far has been South Africa. I had an amazing experience there. It was not the most intense experience I have had, but I found value in it through the fun and connections I made. It was not as challenging as Ghana was for me. Cape Town could easily be mistaken for a city in my home state. The weather when we arrived was temperate and amazing. It was sunny, in the mid 60s, with a light breeze. I got to watch the sunrise the day we arrived, which was spectacular. What makes Cape Town special, in my opinion is the presence of giant mountains behind a city. It was kind of like Denver, but much more pronounced. I loved it immediately and was fascinated by the clouds that seemed to creep down from Table Mountain and disappear, as it got lower to the ground. Cape Town is also unique in that it has the largest noticeable and pronounced gap between the rich and poor. As we drove to our field lab, one side of the road had beautiful affluent looking homes with high walls and barbed wire, overlooking the white sand and turquoise water. On the other side of the road was a township. The homes were very different there and appeared to be more ramshackle. If I have one regret from South Africa, it is that I did not get the chance to visit a township. I guess it just gives me reason to return, and soon!

I cannot talk about South Africa without mentioning the food. I have to say that it is some of the best I have had this whole trip. I loved it! I didn’t know what to expect but I was happily surprised the whole time. The first food I had was bobotie pie, which is like Shepherd’s pie but with an egg layer instead of mashed potatoes. It was really delicious and I loved it. It was sweet from the thin custard and from the meat itself. The pie was served alongside yellow rice and was accompanied by a thin crisp. It was a very balanced and composed dish. The second food experience I had that is worth mentioning was when I tasted a passion fruit Popsicle. For those who do not know me, I have this obsession with passion fruit. I love it! When I saw this Popsicle in the ice cream case I could not resist. It was so delicious and refreshing and I had five throughout my trip on the safari! I really wish we had these in the US. The next experience I had was tasting ostrich! I decided to be adventurous at a lodge and try some of the wild game. My favorite was the ostrich. It tasted like steak, but much richer. Ostrich is a healthy alternative to beef because it has low amounts of saturated fat. I loved the sear on it! I think we can learn a lot from South Africans about a healthy diet. Most of the other meals I had were full of variety and everything I tried was delicious. The only problem I had with the food was the eating times. Lunch is usually very light. Dinner was a lot later than I was used to and several times we ate around 7:30 or 8 PM. On the ship I have been eating dinner at 5:30, so you can see why that would be a problem for me. Luckily, I had plenty of snacks with me 🙂 Also, while I was in South Africa, I had two pizzas! One of them was from a mall, but it was far from typical mall fare I am used to in the US. It was fresh, hot and delicious! My tummy was very happy!

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We also had the opportunity to spend time with elephants at a special sanctuary. This experience might be my favorite of all the others I had.This sanctuary housed elephants that had been orphaned because of poaching or because they were caught in snares as infants and their mothers left them. The leader of the elephant herd was Marula, and I interacted with her the most. First, we walked hand in trunk with the elephants. When my turn came, I was assigned to the boss lady. You had to put your hand in a C shape and hold it behind you. The elephant would then place its trunk in your hand and you would walk along with them. Marula decided she would be the leader by sort of shoving my hand and indicating she wanted me to go faster. She had the best personality, and I had to laugh. After that, my hand was a bit snotty and dusty, but it was a unique experience I wouldn’t trade for the world.

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The handlers then let us touch the elephants and feel the different parts like the skin, ears, tail, tusk and feet. I think the coolest thing besides the rough skin was the tail. The bristles on it felt like the bristles on a plastic broom. It was not what I was expecting! The skin was also interesting. It was rough but much thinner than I expected. I liked the feet because they were squishy to the touch. It was super fun to get up close and personal with the elephants. We also got to see inside their mouths!

The next part of our interaction included a 10-minute ride on their backs. I was super excited for this portion! I didn’t know what to expect. When it was my turn, I had difficulty getting on Marula, especially since I have short legs. It was an amusing struggle. The ride itself was like riding a horse, but you had a wider stance and you could feel the backbone underneath you. It was such a cool moment to think that I was riding an elephant, in Africa. Marula stopped several times and even started to jog at one point. That was disconcerting, but overall it was a great time. Another experience I will always remember. Throughout the day, I found myself loving elephants even more!

We also got to feed the elephants as a thank you for letting us interact with them. Our guide told us that if you give Marula only a few apple pieces, she would hold out her trunk until you give her as much as she thinks she deserves. Like I said, quite the personality! I thought it was hilarious! J The last thing we did was have an anatomy lesson in an outdoor-classroom. It was pretty fun and I learned a lot. One thing I appreciated about the experience was that the handler’s loved the elephants, and it was evident that the elephants were happy and well taken care of. If the elephants did not want to do something, they did not have to. It was clear that free choice was present, and I think it is extremely admirable. The elephant needs come first, and their happiness does as well. It is a sanctuary after all. I loved my time there, and it was truly special!

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The last cool thing that I did that is worth its own section is our trip to see the cheetahs and the reptiles at Garden Route. The lodge has a cheetah sanctuary area within the vicinity of the resort. There were five cheetahs total and each had their own cage, save for two. I was lucky enough to film and witness the two cheetahs playing with each other. They really are powerful and beautiful creatures and they run fast!! Another cheetah was sleepy, and I got some cute pictures of him sleeping. It was really fun and I was excited to see the cheetahs. I did not know that we would get to see them. They are in the sanctuary to prevent inbreeding. We spent about 15 minutes there and then walked up to the Reptile Center. There, I got to see several crocodiles, a giant turtle, a baby turtle and some lizards. I also saw a python, boa constrictor, a green mamba and the deadly black mamba. It was definitely cool, and I enjoyed it.

Experiencing Real Culture Shock

Dani Langevin grew up Summit County, Colorado. Currently she is a junior at Colorado State University. Now it’s time for her to embark on my study abroad adventure with Semester at Sea for a four month journey around the world.

[Originally posted on November 13, 2013. To see more from Dani, check out her blog directly here.]

What a life changing experience! There was a whole new world at my fingertips, one I had not expected. All of the freedoms that I had ever known were taken away from me. I no longer had all of the freedoms that I do in America.

As soon as I stepped foot off the ship I had a different feeling and could sense that we were definitely in Africa. The streets were dirty with rubble everywhere. Stray cats and dogs run rampant through the alleys. Homeless people are begging on every corner. Being in Casablanca was a sad reality. Another one of my first observations were the gender inequalities. I felt as if the women in Morocco were incredibly suppressed. I understand that their culture is very different, which I respect, but on the other hand I find it hard to believe that they chose to live that way. Did I feel uncomfortable wearing clothes that were different than theirs? Yes. Did I adjust what I wore to fit in more? Of course.

The first day was by far the most uncomfortable day of my life thus far. People followed us. People yelled at us. People tried to take advantage of us as Americans. And most of all – people stared. One of our goals for the day was to see the Hassan II Mosque. I had no expectations for it, but was completely in awe once I had sized up the enormity of it. It is the 7th largest mosque and has THE largest minaret in the world. I look like an ant in a picture with it. Now trying to go inside turned into quite the adventure and is what I mean when I say we were yelled at. We first tried to follow some other people into an entrance and were yelled at in Arabic, so we backed away. Then someone pointed us towards another entrance which we were also yelled at for trying to enter (come to find out this was the men’s washroom). Then we tried to go in another entrance and finally encountered an English-speaking Moroccan who told us that visiting hours had been temporarily suspended for Adhan (call to prayer). Once we were able to go inside the mosque it was surreal. It is just one giant room with very high vaulted ceilings and rugs to pray on. To add on to the point I made earlier about the suppression of women, the women have to prayer in a closed off balcony of the mosque as to not distract the men while they are praying.

Another memorable experience of this day was a conversation I had with a Moroccan man at the medina (similar to a flea market, but much larger and secluded). I had looked around the corner into a little restaurant, although it wasn’t much of a restaurant, to see what they were selling and a man immediately invited me (and the two guys I was with) in. We were hesitant at first, but decided to see what they wanted and I’m glad we did. I talked to this man the entire time we ate our meal. What we ate was called crepes, but it was more like a thick, flavorless pancake with cheese on it. The Moroccan mint tea is to die for and the crepes weren’t all that bad either. But the point of this is the conversation with this man. The first thing he said to me when I sat down was – “here in Morocco we are not racist.” That’s an interesting way to start a conversation. We continued to talk about his country and he told us so many things to do/see/try while we were there. This just goes to show that you have to put a little trust in people because most people really do have good intentions.

I spent the rest of my trip on a camel trek through the Merzouga Desert. What I thought was going to be a nice drive to the desert turned out to be rather long. And what I mean by rather long is 12 hours. We (10 girls and our driver, Ebraheim) basically got to see the entire country by van on our way to the desert. As miserable as the drive was, the night in the desert was so worth it!

We met up with our “camel drivers” before Ebraheim left us to them for the night. Ebraheim was also the name of our camel driver. He’s from a Burbur nomad family, but left his family to work as a camel trek guide. As the van drove away I got my first glimpse of a camel – and I was going to ride it! I wish I could explain to you how nervous I was to even get close to it. I guess it’s kind of like the first time you ride a horse, except for the fact that it’s an “exotic” animal that most Americans have never seen.

Getting on the camel was thrilling! The way they stand up is like nothing I had ever experienced. You have to be very ready for a lot of forward and backward jolting as they stand up on their knobby-kneed legs. We walked about halfway into the desert before stopping to watch the sunset. Desert sunsets totally trump mountain and beach sunsets! The colors were incredible! After the sunset we rode our camels through dusk until we found the Burbur nomad camp that had been set up for us for the night. That night was dreamlike! Ebraheim and another guide cooked us a traditional Moroccan dinner of bread, soup, a tajine of veggies/chicken, fruit, and of course Moroccan mint tea (aka Moroccan rum). We danced the night away to their drumming. The stars in the middle of the desert are brighter than any other stars I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of shooting stars I had seen. Unreal. That night we had very rustic sleeping arrangements. We slept on the blankets that had been on our camels backs in these little tents at the nomad camp. In the morning we woke up bright-and-early for breakfast and a desert sunrise. Jimi Hendrix (my camel) so graciously took me back out of the desert to where our van driver was waiting for us. The whole experience was amazing! I’m not sure I would ride a camel again (it’s very uncomfortable), but it’s a bucket list item. Check. The dancing and night sky in the Burbur village will be a night to remember.

Another painfully long day of driving awaited us and 10 hours later we arrived in Fes. Sadly we got there too late to do anything, but a shower and a nice bed in a hostel was very welcome.

As for the first country of real adventure, I’d say it was a success.

Spending the Evening with a Moroccan Family

Jessica Zaksek is a senior Psychology student at Colorado State University. She is currently partaking in a Semester at Sea and will visit ports in various countries such as Russia, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Morocco and many more. Stay tuned to hear about all her adventures!

[Originally posted October 9, 2013]

I had the amazing opportunity to spend an evening with Muhrad’s family! It was the best field program I have participated in thus far. I really loved it because it gave me great insight into Moroccan culture and I got to observe and participate in a traditional meal. I was paired up with three other students and we were assigned to a family. Before we left, the coordinators made sure to give us a short lesson on etiquette and about what to expect so we wouldn’t be surprised. I couldn’t wait to get there, even though I was nervous. We did not have a guide or coordinator with us, so I was worried about what would or would not happen. In the end, everything went perfectly and I met some amazing people! I realized after this experience how much it means to make a connection with another person. Even when you have completely different ideas, you can still find common ground. It reminded me that no matter what flag flies behind us, we essentially have the same hopes, fears and dreams.

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When we got to the apartment building we were greeted by two of Muhrad’s friends that would be sharing the meal with us. They were both students and their names were Said and Mustapha. We walked up the stairs to the apartment where we got to meet Muhrad, his father and his two uncles. They were all really friendly. One of the greatest challenges of the night was the language barrier between us and Muhrad’s uncles and father. We weren’t able to communicate with them. I really wish I knew Arabic! Said, Mustapha and Muhrad all spoke different languages including French, Arabic, German, Spanish, and English! Our abilities paled in comparison. Casablanca is such a cultural hub, and it is advantageous to know multiple languages. It also made our night a little easier. We had so many questions for them and they also had many questions for us. We talked about a wide range of topics throughout the night. Said was a great rapper!! He would rap in French and then switch to English! It was cool. We made some great friends! Mustapha talked to us a lot about Moroccan culture, as did Muhrad. We talked about things like food, music, politics, marriage, religion, movies, and daily life. We also told them a lot about Semester at Sea. There was never a dull moment.

The conversation was fantastic and so was the food!! It was all fresh and delicious! Mustapha’s mother had prepared a giant bowl of couscous surrounded by steamed vegetables and chunks of beef. It had so many flavors and was one of the best couscous dishes I had! We each got our own spoons and shared from a communal bowl. I thought it was a really great experience. It allowed me to take a critical view of my own culture. I am so used to eating from an individual plate, even when a huge dish is served for our family. In Moroccan culture, sharing from a large bowl makes sense, and is a vessel for familial bonding.  I realized that Moroccan families are very close and there is a sense of collectivism rather than individualism. I now know how silly it is to have your own plate in a family setting. I realized how much of a germ-a-phobe I am! Experiencing this communal eating allowed me to see dining in a different way, and I appreciated the closeness created by it.

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After couscous, we enjoyed two platters of fresh fruit! They were piled high with bananas, red and green grapes, three colors of apples and pomegranates. Muhrad told us that all the produce was local and fresh and free from GMO’s and chemicals. The fruit looked normal in size compared to the United States counterparts. The fruit was delicious and you could taste the difference! Following the fruit was a really delicious soup made of beef, noodles, lentils and vegetables. It was so good I had two bowls of it! They served the soup with dates, which you could place in the soup if desired. Dates are an important part of the Moroccan diet. The soup had a lot of spices! I liked the cinnamon. It was a pleasant surprise! The final course consisted of Moroccan tea, olives and bread. When Muhrad poured the tea, he did so from a distance. Mustapha said that the sign of a high quality tea is foam and bubbles. Sure enough, the tea had small bubbles. It was delicious! Truly an amazing meal!

Moroccan hospitality was showcased through this event. It showed me a special side of Morocco and its culture. Muhrad’s family and friends were so kind and did everything they could to make sure that we were well fed and had a great experience. By the end of the meal, I was stuffed! My heart and my stomach were happy. I am so grateful to them for showing me something unique that could never be experienced in a tour group. Muhrad kept saying it was their pleasure to have us and that they were so happy to have us there. We all expressed how grateful we were and how much we enjoyed their company, as well as the food. They truly were great guys and we really related to them because they were around our age and were experiencing some of the same things we were. All I could think was, “Wow!” 

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