After my crazy, fun, amazing weekend with Mama G, I hopped on a bus and headed to Morocco for the weekend. This weekend’s trip was organized by the same company I went with to Portugal, but this trip was significantly better, partly because 4 other girls from my group went with us, but also, it is hard to compete with going to Africa!
The trip to Morocco was long, with a two and a half hour bus ride to Tarifa where we took the ferry to Tangiers, and then another another hour and a half in the bus to get to M’diq, the city where our hotel was.
(Holding a baby donkey)
We arrived to our hotel around 10 that night (12 o’clock Spanish time), exhausted and ready to eat! The tables were already set when we arrived and we were quickly sat and served an extensive three course meal including some sort of soup, a giant pot of vegetable and chicken couscous, and sorbet for dessert.
I love everything I eat in Spain so much that I had started to believe I am not picky, but an adventurous eater who can appreciate good, interesting food (in spite of years of evidence to the contrary). The meals in Morocco ended that delusion very quickly. Everyone loved the soup and couscous and gushed over how tasty it was, while I was fighting down bites and resigning myself to just eating bread and the chicken.
That is when I realized how mild and simple Spanish food is; Spanish food is never spicy (I have the weakest spice tolerance, which is embarrassing since I’m from Texas), and everything has a pretty simple flavor since it is usually just cooked with olive oil and garlic or is fried. Anyways, Moroccan food is the exact opposite of mild and simple. The couscous we had the first night was full of tons of spices and flavors, which I’m sure makes it good couscous, but for me it was just overwhelming and nauseating. One night we had spaghetti and I ended up not using the sauce because it too had that same tons-of-spices flavor, and at that point I gave up all hope that I was an adventurous eat
The next day we woke up early to head to the first city: Tetouan. Tetouan is really interesting because it seemed like a more traditional, small village that isn’t frequented by many tourists. We were guided throughout the town by a local man named Muhammad Ali (When he first said his name my friend thought he was making a joke so she started laughing, but it is his real name). I am very thankful to have had Muhammad guide us because the streets were extremely windy and complicated–we even went down a street that was so narrow we had to be in a single file line–and it seemed like he knew everyone in town.
(Market in Tetouan)
In our tour we walked by houses, saw the markets, a tannery (the worst smelling place I have ever been in the world), the old graveyard, and even made a stop at an oriental rug store and spice shop/pharmacy. The oriental rug store was an exciting stop because the man in charge of design at the store made a huge, animated presentation showing us all the rugs, having us feel how soft they were, and even demonstrating their fire-proofness with a lighter (his selling technique reminded me of the oxyclean commercials).
(Vegetable Stand and kitty)
After the presentation they went back through showing us each rug and if we thought we were interested in the rug we would shout out “na’am” (yes in arabic), then the rug we called for would be placed in front of us so we could look at prices later. I ended up calling out for a small rug because I imagined it was the only one I could possibly, maybe afford, and it wouldn’t be easy to travel home to the US with a giant area rug.
Once everyone had called out for the rugs we were interested in all the salesmen flooded into the room and a pair of us was sent to each salesman. At first I thought that this was for efficiency’s sake, but in retrospect I have decided they were “dividing and conquering” not unlike when animals hunt and separate a few of the pray from the herd.
(Me and Sarah with our guide, Muhammad Ali, in the tannery)
My salesman presented me with the price of the rug 400 euros, and then asked what I thought; I laughed. Obviously I can not buy a 400 euro rug. I tried to back out and explain I am a poor college student and it was silly to buy an oriental rug for a house I don’t have, but he kept insisting and then asked me to make my offer–50 euros–which he laughed at.We went back and forth for a while (mainly him offering some deal and me insisting I can’t afford the rug), but I couldn’t really see myself buying the rug for any price that he had in mind, plus, anyone who has ever been unfortunate enough to shop with me knows that I think out a purchase for a painful amount of time. I started searching the store to find one of my girl friends for advice, but, thanks to their animal hunting tactics, no one was in sight. At that point the group was leaving because we had to go to another store and then go to lunch, so I tried to say goodbye and end the conversation but the salesman would not be deterred so easily!
(Handmade rug store)
Eventually I had about 10 people from the group surrounding me (no one I knew), the salesman on my arm throwing offers at me, and I was in a panic.
Next thing I know I am leaving with two of my same rug for 100 euros. Everyone was impressed by the deal I had made (he originally offered one for 400!) and I have to say I was a little proud, but then I started thinking it must have been a trick if he was willing to let them go for so cheap. No matter what, I’m not sure what the thought process was behind getting two of the exact same rug. If anyone is interested in a nice, hand made Moroccan rug that can double as a fire shield, contact me! I’m willing to make a deal.
(Rugs–I think the little yellow one on top is mine!)
(Couscous…so much couscous)
From the rug shop we went to a spice shop/pharmacy where the store owner went through his products and explained their uses, like a salve to help with mosquito bites, hand cream, and some pebble-like herb thing that you rubbed together to release the oil and then inhaled to clean your sinuses, which supposedly helps with snoring. The owner went around and everyone tried inhaling the sinus thing which resulted in a strong coughing/choking reaction; the best way I can describe it is like huffing sulfur.
After the pharmacy we all went to lunch–couscous again–and then we walked through the town more before heading to see the caves of Hercules and ride the camels!
(Enclave de Hercules)
When I imagined how my camel ride would go I saw myself galloping across the sand on the African coast. What we actually ended up doing was pulling over on the side of the highway at a “camel ride stand” where we were quickly cycled on and off the camels and lead around in a small circle in the parking lot. I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t get to realize my galloping on the beach dream, but I can at least say I have ridden a camel in Africa.
(Riding a camel! I am the middle person)
After the camel ride we headed back to our hotel and called it an early night. The next morning we headed to Chefchouen, a town that is famous for it’s blue walls (which actually deters mosquitoes and wasps). This town is a more typical place to visit and it is easy to imagine with the beautiful blue buildings and doors and the fun markets. In Chefchouen we started with a tour, had lunch, and then were given 3 hours of free time to explore the city and the shops.
(Woman outside of Chefchouen with kitty friend)
One of the funny things about the towns we visited in Africa is the number of cats that roamed the city. When we had lunch at the hotel and at the restaurants in the towns cats would come in and wander around, and no one ever batted an eye! In Tetouan we passed cats in every alleyway cuddling, walking around, or meowing.
(On the edge of Chefchouen, man knitting)
(Street in Chefchouen)
When our ferry landed in Tangiers we all exchanged our Euros to Dirham–I exchanged 30 euros for approzimately 333 dirham. So, not wanting to deal with the hassle of exchanging the money again, I had to spend all of my Dirham (Que pena!).
(Houses in Chefchouen)
After wandering through the stores and admiring beautiful leather bags, fun jewelry, spices, and pottery, I ended up buying a bracelet, two vintage travel posters, and two giant plates which I bargained down to 200 dirham (10 euros each)! Of course, when making these purchases I didn’t consider the transportation factor.
The rest of the day I had to carry these giant plates in my arms so that they wouldn’t get chipped. After finishing in Chefchouen we loaded onto the bus (where the plates had to sit on my lap) to head back to Spain. Once we made it to Tangiers we had to unload everything from the bus and carry our bags (which now contained two oriental rugs, plus the plates in my arms) to the ferry.
(Spice, Soap, Potpourri shop)
Traveling home took extremely long, so we made it back to Sevilla at 4am Monday morning, and we were welcomed with fall weather and rainy streets! So after gathering all of my stuff up onto my shoulders and getting my plates in my arms, Sarah and I started the walk back to our apartments.
(Dyes in the market)
About halfway home I slipped on the slick walkway and had a slow motion fall where I knew I was falling, but I couldn’t do anything about it; I landed right flat on my butt in the mud. Luckily, the plates didn’t move a centimeter in my arms. In fact, I think they actually made the fall better because rather than trying to catch myself I just accepted the fall and landed on my butt, and then popped right back up with no damage to me or the plates.
(Moroccan Pottery–I got the blue and white plate in the bottom left corner)
I still can not believe that I have been to Africa! It definitely is one of the coolest, most different places I have visited yet. The program I went with was great because I don’t think I would have been able to organize all of the traveling involved or even known where to go or how to navigate the cities once I got there, not to mention how to do all those things and be safe. At the same time, I think traveling in a big group of American students hindered my ability to get a real feel for the Moroccan culture.
(Potted Kitty Plant)
The main things I observed were the visible poverty and the poor health of the people in the towns. When our buses were passing through the streets little boys would chase after us, trying to attach onto the back and crawl underneath the bus in hopes that it would take them back into Spain (according to our guides); for me their desperation was particularly jarring and upsetting.Although I understand the need to move around in groups and have giant tour buses for logistics and safety, it definitely resulted in a strange paradox of cultures crossing while there maintaining a clear level of separation.