Two weeks ago I went to Morocco, specifically the cities Tetuan, Tangier, and Chefchaouen. I went with a trip program over here because I thought it might be dangerous to be an American in a Muslim country who doesn't know Arabic, but the whole trip ended up being completely safe, if not involving a lot of tourist traps. Just to keep everyone on the same page, Morocco is on the Northwest corner of Africa just across from Spain.
We crossed the Straights of Gibraltar in a ferry that really wasn't much for views due to the fog...
and then took a short drive to Tetuan, where we spent the first night. I was surprised to find out that the countryside of rolling, rocky hills interspersed with largely white towns and villages was not so different from southern Spain.
Although I will say that everything being in Arabic makes things a bit different...
After about 7 total hours of travel, it was nice to retire to my hotel room, which I had to myself, and must say was really really nice.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but beforehand I thought the whole Muslim-law thing would really make Morocco a foreign world of sorts, but as you can see from the view from my balcony, it at least appears pretty normal...
Our dinner the first night was curry chicken, much spicier than I'm used to, but it was really good. Since this was the first trip I'd taken without my buddy Mark, I was a little out of whack trying to fit in socially. I made friends with two girls from Canada who were really cool, and also with some girls from Appalachian State who although can't be as cool since they're not "foreign" were still great company. But I spent the first dinner talking with our spanish guide Maria, who is 33 and looks 23, and is incredibly nice. Although she may have chosen to talk with me out of pity, I'd like to think she knew that I'm down to talk in spanish, which we did, and I must say I felt pretty cool being the only American making an effort.
After dinner, I watched some news in Arabic, and went to bed. I must say, I think we're way more conditioned than we think because even though you know you're just watching normal news, when that ticker starts scrolling right to left and Arabic music fades in from the background, it's hard not to at least feel a little uncomfortable like you're watching a terrorist internet leak.
The next morning, we headed out to see Tetuan, which is a city of around 320,000 inhabitants. I can't say the city is beautiful, but it's definately not dirty like my preconceived notions had me believing. There are Moroccan flags literally everywhere because while we were there, they were preparing to host the Moroccan king for a week or so.
Though Tetuan is certainly modern, we visited the old Jewish quarter (I swear the Jews have literally been forced out of every place they've ever tried to live), and it revealed the old market style living where there are specialty vendors for everything.
We first visited a spice market where they let us sample all their herbs and spices which are used equally for cooking and health. For example, ginseng is a popular spice, but they also believe (not that we don't have the same ideas) that it will clear your blood and give you energy. Smelling all their samples was great, but it did turn into a sale by the end where they were flat out asking you what you wanted to buy. Needless to say, I bought some saffron (which is the royal spice of Morocco and is about 10 times more expensive in the States), and also some magic lipstick which turns from green to red when you put it on. This was for my sister, of course.
The spice market:
Here's a stand for dried fruits and nuts:
And lastly, a silk store with any color you could imagine:
Our guide, Mohammed, had a woman dress one of the girls in the traditional Berber attire, but sadly there wasn't ever a display of the men's dress.
Next we went to a house of tapestry, which is a luxury good in Morocco. Although there are women who weave the tapestries inside, most are done up in the mountains in the surrounding areas where women spend up to a couple months working on one carpet (carpet doesn't really do it justice).
The tapestries were very elaborate and the men who explained the process and revealed to us the hallowed rugs were very suave, but I just couldn't put down 40 euro on any of them.
After a full day of the markets, I was shopped out and ready for a nice sleep. Fortunately for me there was more to see and do, so we got on the bus and started the drive to Tangier, a city of 700,000 people.
Along the way we stopped at the Cave of Hercules, which I think is mostly a man-made tourist trap. However, in the very back there is a beautiful and natural view over the ocean, where waves crash in a mist your camera if you're not cafeful.
At the next stop, I got to ride a camel with my friend Mary. It was a strange ride because camels just lumber very awkwardly. It feels like your sitting in an old fashioned ice cream maker that churns really slowly so you never get knocked around but just bounced around randomly.
After the ride I wandered off to look over the sea and get contemplative...
...and then we met up with the ocean again at the next rest stop, where there were more vendors with cheap goods to show us. (Honestly it's not that bad, just that I have a tendency to be really interested in cheap crap that I usually lose on the way home.)
At our hotel in Tangier, I found another hotel room all to myself, though not quite as luxurious as the hotel of the night before. Nonetheless it had a small balcony, where I sat for an hour or so reading and listening to the rain. It's another strange thing that I expect things like sun and rain to be different in different places around the world, but it's very unifying to directly see that they're the same everywhere. Though the smells of the markets were not always pleasant, the smell of the rain and right after it stopped was fresh and made me think of sitting on my front porch at home, watching it rain and just letting my mind wander.
The room, night 2:
Saturday night I got to experience a Moroccan supermarket with Maria, who didn't want to walk there alone. The supermarket was...just like a Wal-Mart. I mean even down to the organization it was exactly the same. The only difference was very loud techno music that was playing everywhere, which made a nice contrast with the relatively old crowd.
Later that night Maria took us to the discoteca, which was adjacent to our hotel. It took me around 10 seconds to see that it was the oddest nightclub I'd ever been to; live Arabic style music mixed with hip hop type beats and a crowd of men all wearing 70's style suits that mixed John Travolta with Al Pacino. Saw a lot of chest-hair that night, that's for sure.
The next morning, we took a bus through the mountains to the small city of Chefchaouen. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, and quickly shattered any stereotype I had of Muslim countries being deserts.
An important side-note taken from a rest-stop bathroom: this should never be considered a toilet...
Chefchaouen is a small city up in the mountains that's absolutely beautiful and known as the "city of blue" because it's blue. They paint the walls blue instead of white because it's easier on the eyes when the summer sun beats down on them. We had the funniest little guide who kept snorting pepper off his thumb (seriously, pepper), and saying it was for his sinuses. It's not a stretch for me to believe that would clear 'em out but there's gotta be an easier way, in my opinion.
After seeing the city that made me think of CandyLand, we headed to the coast, caught a ferry, rode a bus back to Sevilla, and about 10pm I walked into the apartment to greetings of "Dolores! Dolores! He came home! The Moors haven't taken him!" Apparently older generations of Spaniards think Morocco is a little dangerous.
All in all, great trip. Would not want to live in the cities there but the countryside is beautiful and all the people were incredibly nice to us. We didn't come across anyone who didn't have a good command of English, and I was surprised at how normal everything was. The one thing I will say is that from the workers in the market to the loiterers everywhere we went, it was apparent that men have a much more social role in the community. I'm sure there's an intricate social web behind closed doors, but it is definately behind closed doors.