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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Plunge

Marrakech, Morocco

Written on 03/06/2010

The past few days have been a whirlwind of activity and travel. I left Philly on Tuesday night at 7:01 pm eastern time and arrived at 7:40 am Greenwich Mean time, the local time in Casablanca. Thanks to a boost from a sleeping pill, I experienced no jet lag (thanks for the travel advice Dad!). From Casablanca, I boarded a bus to Marrakech with my fellow volunteers and enjoyed a sleepy 3 hour ride across a green and fertile countryside speckled with sheep, patchworked with fields, and punctuated by the sparkling minarets of the village mosques. The fields faded into a line of foothills and behind them loomed the Atlas Mountains.

Even growing up in the San Juans and working in the Teton Range in Wyoming, I was taken aback; they were massive. They loom over Marrakech like a breaking wave, a titanic barrier of rock, ice, and snow. Marrakech itself was my first taste of a Morrocan city, albeit a heavily touristed one (yes, there was an ad for “Mc Arabia”); the city is lovely. Every building is a rust color known as “Marrakech hamraa” that comes from the iron sediments in the soils used in the stucco. Our hotel was a complex of small bungalows and villas as well as some primary buildings around a large, still pool.

The grounds were very lush with many palm trees and blooming hibiscus flowers. Between the simultaneously informative and overwhelming training classes, we relaxed and socialized together; some of my new friends and I played Frisbee on the football (soccer) field.

We left Marrakech early the following morning and drove into the High Atlas, up the Tizi-n-tichka pass, in our buses. The road was serpentine enough that a couple of people in our bus got car-sick; happily, I was not among them. The city gave way to steep valleys dotted with tiny Berber villages which were bordered by terraced fields. The Atlas are quite rugged and their sheer scale and depth was incredible, Colorado prepared me for it somewhat, but was still unexpected. We stopped at the top of the pass for a breather and then continued down increasingly more arid valleys to the city Ouarzazate.

I have been in Ouarzazate for the past few days and have learned much about Moroccan culture climate and language, as well as gaining some small understanding of what I may be doing for the next 2 years. The whirlwind of community based training begins soon, and I move in with my host family on Sunday.