Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Semana Santa 2017 - A trip to Morocco, an adventure in the Sahara Desert, and three days of holy week processions in Sevilla

Hola chicos!

I'm back with absolutely loads of new stories to share with you! Since I wrote my previous post, so many things have happened that it's hard to know where to begin. However, I've come to the conclusion to tell you about last week as this was Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is a very interesting experience in Sevilla. It was also the week that I went on my trip to Morocco so it seems like the ideal week to write a blog post about as it was very exciting indeed!

I'll start off by taking you through my experiences in Morocco as this was where I spent the first five days of Semana Santa.

At 4:00am on Saturday 8th April, I set off bleary eyed but super excited to catch a bus from Plaza de Cuba in Sevilla in order to travel down to the ferry port in Algeciras ready to cross the strait of Gibraltar and begin my adventures in Morrocco. However, I was not only excited about going to explore lots of new places and have a range of new and exciting experiences. I was also slightly nervous but very excited because I went with Erasmus Club Sevilla, a company that organises trips and events for international students, and did not know anybody who was going on the trip with me. Therefore, it was a trip during which I met a lot of new people from all over the world. I felt a little bit shy when we all arrived at Plaza de Cuba ready to get onto the bus as most people there already had friends on the trip and knew each other well. However, once we got going on the journey, I found some people to talk to and started to feel much more at ease as I could see that everybody was very open and friendly.

The ferry crossing from Algeciras to Tangier was not the most pleasant experience ever as there were very high winds over the sea that day so it was very rough. I felt pretty ill because we had to queue up for over an hour whilst the boat was moving to get our passports stamped and give in the relevant information. It was at the point when I could really see the room moving back and fourth that I had to take a break and lie down for a bit. However, I did eventually make it to the front of the queue with two girls that I met on the journey. It was such a relief! This partucular ferry crossing was particularly busy because of the wind and various boat cancellations between Tarifa and Tangier. For that reason, there were a lot more people on that boat than there would normally be! 

So although the ferry crossing was not great, once we arrived in Morrocco everything went upwards from there. On the first day we had a long drive to the city of Fez where we spent the first night. However, we stopped off at the beautiful blue city of Chefchouene for a visit. This is an incredible city because most of the buildings are painted bright blue and it is located in the mountains so the views from the town are absolutely stunning! Whilst we were there, we had a tour from a local guide who told us all about the history of the city, the people, the food, the culture, and many other interesting things. Once we had finished exploring Chefchouene we drove to Fez and had a very early night as we were all exhausted from the early start that we had had.

On our second day in Morrocco we had a very long drive down to Erfoud where we would be spending the second night but we stopped off in some places along the way. The first place we stopped was the village of Ifrane. This was a beautiful little town located on the edge of the Atlas Mountains. We walked around the town for a while and then we went into a nearby forest where we saw loads of wild monkeys which was incredible! They were everywhere and were all different sizes! I managed to get a few pictures with them :) I also had a ride on a horse there which was a bonus experience! Once we were back on the bus we went on down further, right through the Atlas Mountains which was incredible as the scenery was stunning! We had amazing views of valleys, snowy summits, and gorges. It really was unforgettable!

When we arrived in Erfoud it was very late so we enjoyed a lovely meal in our hotel and then went to bed ready to get up early the following day to venture into the Sahara Desert and begin our adventures there. I slept extremely well that night and felt really nice and refreshed when I left the hotel with the group and got into the 4X4 jeep that would be taking me into the desert. And I must say, I was very glad that  I felt refreshed as the journey into the desert was incredible and definitely something that I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on! It was in fact unlike anything I have ever experienced before as we sped through the middle of nowhere, driving over numerous sand dunes which, believe me, was extremely scary at times! At one point I jumped so high off my chair that I hit my head on the ceiling of the car. It certainly was a bumpy ride! This ride lasted for about two hours as the Sahara Desert is ENOURMOUS! However, you will be pleased to hear that along the way we stopped off at a number of view points and little villages that were really interesting to see and learn about. In one of the villages we were invited into a family home to see how they lived which was fascinating. When we eventually arrived at our destination, where we spent the night, we had more time to explore the velvety sand dunes and take in the overwhelmingly beautiful scenery that was in front of us. I really enjoyed the afternoon there as I went for a walk around and met quite a few local people who told me about their culture, life in the desert, and showed me hand made ornaments and jewlery that they make for a living. It really was an incredible experience as I feel like I learnt a lot as well as enjoying myself. I also got to practice my French which was very useful and rewarding! 

The night in the desert was perhaps the most adventurous part of the trip for me as we slept in tents. I say tents but they were really tents made out of sticks and blankets which was pretty awesome if I do say so myself! Comfort wise, one night was definitely enough time to spend there but that one night really was one of the coolest experiences of my life. One of the definite highlights was the amazing spread of moroccan food that we tried whilst being serenaded by really wonderful local morroccan music played/sung by a live band. The band consisted of two men playing bongo drums and four men playing metal maracas whilst all of them were singing. It was a really energetic and inspiring performance and I loved every minute of it! Once I had finished watching that I went to sleep until 5:30am when we all did a half an hour walk out to the highest sand dunes to watch the sun rise over the desert. Although the walk was hard work, it was totally worth it as the scenery that the sun rise created was absolutely spectacular! The colors in the desert were so beautiful that I felt like I was living in a painting. It really was something that I had never previously imagined myself seeing. 

Once the sun had risen we walked back to where we were staying and were welcomed by a huge breakfast followed by a camel ride during which we saw more scenery of the nearby desert area and generally really enjoyed the rare experience of riding on camel back. I will try and add a photo of me on my camel to the blog as I do have a really good one on my phone :) 

Once we had finished our camel ride in the desert we made our way back to our bus ready to begin the journey back up to Fez. As we had not actually looked around Fez when we were there before, we had a tour of the city on our last day in Morocco which, again, was something incredible that I feel very lucky to have done. Fez is a city known for its art, primarily pottery and mosaics. Therefore, we visited a selection of different pottery and mosaic factories, watched various items of clothing and pottery being made, and we also visited a traditional moroccan pharmacy where we were taught about the different herbal remedies that are made in Morocco and we also got to sample some of them! As well as entering all of these places, our guide gave us a fantastic tour of the narrow streets of the old town, took us up to a view point where we could see the entire city, and took us on a ride around the city walls where we could see some of the monuments very clearly. This was a really nice visit to end the trip as it was a city full of life and color and bursting with places to explore! I would highly recommend a visit there if you ever go to Morocco because it really is the type of city that will amaze you! 

At approximately 3pm we all got onto the bus, exhausted but very happy about all of the adventures that we had had throughout the week. We all slept quite a lot as we drove from Fez to Tangier to catch the ferry back to Spain and even better once we were on our journey from Tarifa to Seville. I hardly remember that journey because I was fast asleep! I got back to my flat in Seville at 5am and went straight to bed as I knew that I needed to catch up on sleep before heading out the following day to see the Semana Santa processions. 

So the last few days of the Holy Week  I spent meeting up with friends, going along to watch some of the processions in the city centre, and making the most of the fantastic weather that we currently have here in the south of Spain as it is about 30 degrees daily at the moment! As those of you who have been following my blog for a while will already know, I was here for Semana Santa in April 2015 so I had already experienced it once before. I must say, it was useful this year knowing how it all works as I had much more of an idea as to how to get the best views, avoid the crowds of people, and which days I wanted to watch it. In fact, this year I was incredibly lucky as some of the processions on Good Friday went right past my bedroom window and I got the best view that I have ever had! 

I always find the Holy Week in Spain really interesting as it is celebrated in a very different way to the UK. For example, in the UK we do not have religious processions in the streets (or at least not that I'm aware of) and there is much more in the way of Easter eggs than in Spain. In the UK many people go to church on the Holy Days but it is still very different primarily because of the fact that the processions do not take place in the UK. I feel very lucky to have seen how it varies between the two countries as it is very interesting to see the differences and experience Easter in a different way. I like Semana Santa in Seville as it is very traditional and I think it really portrays the meaning of Easter. The smell of incense in the air, the steady drum beats, and the pasos that recount the events of the holy week are incredible to see and certainly something that I will always remember about Seville. 

So there you go! Lots more things have happened recently. I think I've told you enough for today as, if I continue, I am worried that you will be reading this post all day. So for that reason I will end there for now and return in a few weeks time to tell you all about the Feria de Abril which is an annual fair that takes place in Sevilla and many other places in Spain and is a week in which a lot of people dress in traditional flamenco dress and dance 'Sevillanas', a traditional dance of Sevilla. It is an absolutely wonderful occasion and I am already excited about it! I even have my Flamenco dress all ready to wear! So I'll look forward to telling you all about that in May! 

But for now, I hope you have enjoyed this blog post. Keep watching this space for the latest updates from Spain. It really is incredible what exciting experiences my year as a Language Assistant is giving me! There is so much to experience and explore here! 

Hasta luego! 

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