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A new method of travel

Kaitlyn Rabach | Sunday, February 10, 2013

IFRANE, Morocco – While studying abroad last semester, I was introduced to a new form of transportation: camels.

My classmates and I traveled to the town of Erfoud in the Tafilalt Oasis on Nov. 16. We went on historical tours, visited a fossil museum, attended Quran recitations and, my favorite part of the weekend, took a sunrise camel ride into the Sahara Desert.

Although we had to wake up at 3 a.m. to catch the caravans into the dunes, the experience of riding a camel into the desert as the sun rose in the distance was unforgettable. There are few words that can describe the beauty of the desert.

The landscape looked artificial, but I was quickly shaken into reality when I hopped onto the shaky, two-humped camel. Camels are definitely an interesting form of transportation, but they are not the most comfortable. I think I’ll stick with trains, buses, planes and cars.

The Tafilalt Oasis is the second largest oasis in North Africa, behind the Nile Valley. It is manmade and said to date back to the Paleolithic Age. Because of its age, it is considered the best place to buy fossils in Morocco. In fact, the owner of the local fossil museum, Ibrahim Tahiri, is the main exporter of fossils from the Moroccan desert to Europe and North America.

The fossil museum was not the only history Erfoud had to offer. Our professor, who organized the trip, arranged a tour of the Qasr al-Fada, a palace complex built by prince Moulay Abd al-Rahman in the early 19th century. Today, curators and descendants of the prince’s slaves still live in the parts of the complex that are not open for public viewing.

The weekend reminded me how true and genuine Moroccan hospitality can be. We traveled to many small villages within the Oasis. Each time we walked through the gates of a new town, we were welcomed with Moroccan mint tea and an array of nuts. Our group consisted of approximately 25 people, but Moroccan men and women welcomed us into their homes as if we were old friends.

This hospitality continued throughout the weekend when we were received at two different Zawiyahs, places of prayer and retreat. Not only did the people there welcome us as honorary guests, but they also provided us with entertainment, Quran recitations and tasty Moroccan tagine, a type of stew.

My favorite part of the evening was the Quran recitations. Although I don’t know Arabic, listening to the men sing the verses was surreal. The verses became more upbeat as the evening progressed, and the musicians even broke out some drums. Islam is sometimes perceived negatively in the Western world, but I was able to witness a side of the religion that is rarely shared with the wider public.

Contact Kaitlyn Rabach at krabac01@saintmarys.edu