Saturday, December 10, 2011


..or as we say in Spanish, Marruecos. In Spain, people love their holidays and any excuse for a day off work/school. So, it was only fitting that at the end of the semester we had a full off school. Long weekends are called 'puentes' meaning a bridge, but this break was taken to the next level. An aquaducto. I spent my 'aquaducto' in Morocco with four of my closest friends here...and 80 other people. It was the most incredible experience.

We started off in Rabat and made our way down to Fez. After Fez we stopped in a few towns along the way until we ended up in the Sahara! We drove through the Mid-Atlas mountains, the Atlas mountains, saw monkeys, snow, rain, desert and more. We were only in Rabat for a day so we had lunch at a beautiful restaurant on the water, walked through the kasbah and toured the famous square that Abd Al-Rahman III built. On our trek down to Fes we stopped for lunch in Midelt, drove through both the Atlas and Mid Atlas mountains, and stopped to play in the mountains with the monkeys that live there! We spent one night at our hotel in Fes before we began our 8hr drive down to the desert. Once we got there we hung out at our hotel in Xaluca (that we returned to the following night), had tea and regrouped. We proceeded to get into 4x4 jeeps and drove through the rocky desert into the Sahara (not kidding). I was amazed at how the drivers knew exactly where they were going when it was dark outside, not to mention the fact we were just driving through rocks and sand with no landmarks to stick by. Our group was greeted by camels which we then rode 30 minutes into our tent village (Desert Oasis) in the Sahara. We spent the night sitting around the campfire, talking with the Berbers and listening to them play the drums.

Our tents were made of beautiful Moroccan rugs..but we chose to sleep outside under the stars. It was 0 degrees Celsius (about 32 degree Farenheit) but we brought a ton of blankets outside and slept under the stars. We saw a total of 16 shooting stars that night..magical.

The next day we got back on our camels and rode 2hrs to a hotel in the desert to have lunch and relax for the day. After lunch we had the opportunity to tour a Berber village. This particular village is home to only 30 families. Education is only guaranteed for 3 years before the students need to find school in another town. However, as one can imagine, it is very rare for the students to continue their schooling past the first 3 years due to financial reasons.

That night we spent the night back in Xaluca at the most beautiful hotel I've ever stayed at. It wasn't ritzy, but the colors and traditional Moroccan decor made it more beautiful than any Ritz Carlton. It wouldn't have been a real Moroccan experience if I hadn't gotten food poisoning...which I did. That was the low of the trip, but even still I was in such a beautiful place I didn't even mind.

Our last day we toured the Medina in Fes (the oldest part of the city dating back to the medieval ages). There we were able to shop in the local markets and have lunch at a traditional restaurant. This was probably my favorite part of the trip (besides sleeping in the Sahara :) ) We got the real experience..donkeys, carts, and children running at you every which way in the most narrow streets you could ever imagine.

It was the most beautiful, yet saddest place I've ever seen. This was my first experience in a developing country like this and I think what I found most striking was the country's natural beauty but also the sadness of all the poverty. It seems to be the most beautiful places in the world are always home to the poorest as well.

There is so much more that I could write but I would probably be sitting here for hours..or days. The most amazing part of my trip was that even though this was Africa and not the Middle East, I was still in an Islamic country. I felt as if everything I've been learning was coming off the pages off my textbook and turning into a reality. That was the coolest thing of all, that all of my hard work and studies from the past year and a half have paid off in ways that I could not be more grateful for.

It was a great way to end my experience abroad (very bittersweet), but nonetheless I'm happy I had the best trip so far at the end. It is my last weekend/week in Sevilla so I don't think I'll be updating the blog too much, will be too busy with finals and spending the last few days with my friends and host family. Can't believe how quickly this has gone by, does not feel real that it is already December!

Happy early holidays :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

San Sebastián

Guggenheim Bilbao

País Vasco!

This past weekend Holly and I went to the Basque region (país vasco) of españa. We spent one night in Bilbao and the other two in San Sebastian. Bilbao was a great city, so modern! Tapas there are called pinxho's and they are little pieces of bread with toppings (essentially). Many have a mixture of sea food, meats, cheeses, vegetables and sauces on top and they are great ways to snack or you can make a meal out of it! In Bilbao we went to the Guggenheim which was the coolest museum I've ever been to. They had really interesting artists from all around Europe. My favorite was Francisco Torres, from Barcelona. His exhibit featured 6 slides of what he considered to be the most influential/groundbreaking political moments in the 20th century. On top of this, there was a small TV in the corner of the room with a live stream of today's news (CNN Live). The other corner featured a chimpanzee sitting on a chair turning at a 120 degree angle observing everything that was going on within the room. The beauty of art is how it is interpreted differently by everyone, but what I gathered from it was how the chimpanzee (the most pure and original form of mankind) looks over how far humanity has come. Also, Torres tries to demonstrate how much these 6 groundbreaking moments have influenced our world today. The viewer can see this as you simultaneously are absorbing history and watching CNN. This really blew me away, I had never seen anything like it. The Guggenheim was definitely the highlight of my trip to Bilbao.

In San Sebastian, Holly and I covered a lot of ground. First we went to the famous Aquarium which was beautiful! A lot of the Aquarium was dedicated to the history of the fishing port that was once the biggest in all of northern Spain. They had a great aquarium, lots of sharks and local fish/sea critters that could be found in the nearby ocean. Later that day we hiked up to "Jesus" as the locals call it, to see a panoramic view of the city. Breathtaking view, definitely worth the hike! We spent the rest of our time eating pinxhos and walking around, I can see why so many people fall in love with this city. Today we walked to the other side of the city to see the caves/modern sculptures built into the rocks along the water. Took a lot of cool pictures, even though it was freezing!

This was Holly and I's last trip together..hard to believe how fast time has flown by!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Medina Azahara, ruins of one of the main Muslim cities


Yesterday API took us to Córdoba to see the Medina Azahara and of course the Cathedral (once Mosque). It was incredible to see the ruins of Medina Azahara. 10-15,000 Muslims once lived here but today the ruins have only been recovered to demonstrate the area where the Caliph, the elite and the workers lived. Although there is not much left of the Medina, there is enough and I find it amazing that it has stood the test of time. Later we walked around Córdoba which may be my new favorite city in Spain (besides Sevilla of course). Historically, Córdoba was the capital of the Islamic empire in Spain due to its central geographical location and also its proximity to the Guadalquivir. Still today, Córdoba remains historic with the Mosque of Córdoba standing tall within the city center.

The Mosque was the single most interesting thing I've seen in my entire life. Later after the Muslims were expelled from the country, the Mosque was converted into a Cathedral. However, most of the building is still in its original form from the days of when it stood as a Mosque. The Arched entry ways, incredible columns and scriptures on the wall are all from the days of Muslim rule. Yet the newer part, is the Cathedral. It is fascinating to see the mixture of both Christian and Islamic influence in one area. The lamps that hang from within the historic mosque are garnished with crosses..something I found very interesting. The Cathedral and where the Mosque was once is only divided by floor marble and walls.

Today there is so much hatred between the Islamic and Christian world. To think that there is a building that encompasses both religions where people visit every day to not only tour, but also to pray is amazing. Originally I was ecstatic to tour the Mosque because of its historical significance. Now, I am more amazed by the symbolism of this building in today's world and that it is still being preserved. Although it is called the Cathedral of Córdoba, what remains of the Mosque is preserved and the importance of what this Mosque once symbolized is still respected.I think that's what struck me the most about the Mosque.

Dad comes today, can't wait! Weekend off to a great start!