Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Break Baby!

March is in full swing. Although this month is usually associated with St. Patty's Day, there is another "holiday" that comes to mind--Spring Break. I guess it wouldn't really be termed a holiday as much as a week-long event full of parties, beaches, drinking binges, and hazy mornings. These are welcomed by most--if not all--college students, because spring break is a must, a right of passage, a memorable experience--if you can remember any of it.

But what about when college is over? The times of all-day drink fests and late-night parties are long gone once you enter the real world--at least for most college grads. So where do you go? Sure there are some popular Spring Break destinations where you can avoid the crazy college crowd and still enjoy a week of sun bathing on the beach. The Caribbean, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Mexico. I have nothing against these vacation spots; I would, in fact, say they are some of my favorite places to go for a relaxing week of lazing in the sand. But these days I am much more interested in going somewhere exotic, someplace new and different, where I can explore and learn about a new culture.

A place like Morocco, for instance. It has become a popular tourist spot due to it's mix of traditional and modern culture. Most of the cities still maintain that authentic, North African feel; with winding streets, bustling markets; delicious, fresh food; and camels galore. On top of all this, the historic sites make Morocco worth the trip.

As a lover of the movie Casablanca, I would have to make my way there first. The night life is said to be incredible, the clubs and bars worth an evening of exploring. During the day, you can see Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Morocco. Other than a few surrounding neighborhoods, like Corniche on the shore, Casablanca has little else to offer.

Next, I would head to Marrakech, located at the foot of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. The city is divided into two districts: The Medina and Gueliz, the historic part and the modern part. A day can be spent in Medina wandering around the souks looking for the best bargains on local art, food, and clothes. Djemaa El-Fna is a town square filled with snake charmers and monkey trainers by day; dancers, musicians and story tellers by night. To get a taste of local history, I would visit the Saadian Tombs or El Bahia Palace. This city also provides a glance into the ancient Berber people, the natives who used to inhabit the land. While the city features incredible sights, sounds and smells, it is in the surrounding mountains where the beautiful scenery lies. Ourika Valley is home to numerous different waterfalls, which can be reached via hiking trails. Old villages rest peacefully among the cliffs and trees, waiting to be discovered.

Morocco has the privilege of being on the edge of the famous Sahara Desert. The Sahara region of Morocco is where the small city of Ouarzazate is located. If I went to this city, I would have to see Ait Benhaddou, one of the best preserved Kashbahs in the world. (Rock the Kashbah!) From here I would venture along the route of 1000 kashbahs, to the town of Boumalne. And for a truly unique experience, I would drive out to the the city of Mhamid, saddle up on a camel and take a trek out into the Sahara.

Finally, I would make my way to Fez, one of the oldest medieval cities in the country. The medina in this city is a maze of streets easy to get lost in, and maybe that's for the best. It's when you get lost that you truly find something incredible. Within the medina is the tannery, where old leather-making techniques from the Middle Ages are still practiced today. Fez also provides a glimpse at some of the most authentic Islamic architecture, especially seen in the Bou Inania madersa, a 14th century religious college.

While taking a relaxing trip to the warm, tropical locales of a traditional Spring Break is wonderful, I would much rather venture to the exotic regions of the world, ones I have never seen. These places offer so much more than warm weather. They provide history, culture, diversity. Now that's a Spring Break worth looking into--at least for me.

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