If you know me well, you understand that I am a wanderer. I am restless and curious. I believe that I take this characteristic from my mother, who begins planning a new trip in her mind while still aboard a cruise ship, or even on the airplane to her latest destination. So, ever since I landed on Spanish soil, I have had my eyes set on Morocco. Being able to see but not touch the African continent from Marbella this summer was tantalizing. Looking at flights was expensive and frustrating and my daddy was worried about a young American woman visiting the Middle East alone. Just as I was losing hope, an excursion through a program called Discover Sevilla happened upon my radar. It was booked the next day.
Through this program I was provided with food, accommodations, activities and transportation to and from Sevilla for one flat price. While it was frustrating to move such a large group of people from place to place, this offered me a perfect first look at a new, exotic country.
We arrived by ferry to Tangier, the most populated city in Northern Morocco with over one million inhabitants. Less than 9 miles from Spain, Tangier is a very Mediterranean city that houses tourist activity for Moroccans and foreigners throughout the summer. We were greeted by the Moroccan flag on every street: plain green with a red star in the center with five points, representing the five pillars of Islam. While Tangier is a Mediterranean city, it was a completely foreign experience for me. Every woman was adorned with a headscarf and many people wore a traditional robe; Islam plays a very prominent role in the daily lives of most citizens. It was interesting to hear the call to prayer numerous times during the day in the different cities that we visited. We saw French and Spanish influence, as many Moroccans also speak French, and we drove past a Plaza de Toros from the short era of Spanish reign. Morocco is a strange place where Europe meets African and Middle Eastern culture.
In Tangier I conquered my fear of large animals and rode a camel for the first time. While terrified at the beginning, as you can see in the photos, I quickly warmed up to these little guys and spent an incredible afternoon playing with them– of the things I never thought I would do in my life, riding a camel was probably one of them. Once I had parted with my new cozy friends, we headed to the caves of Hercules which is the alleged home of Hercules. Here we explored the caves and got a great view of the rolling Moroccan beaches. Afterwards we took a break at the place where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean sea.
We then boarded our bus and took off to spend the afternoon in the small town of M’Diq. We entered the Medina (city center) which is surrounded by walls built by the Portuguese and still stand. Here we wandered the small colorful roads for a few hours and found a great view of the Mediterranean sea just outside of the walls. We were able to see bread being made in a communal oven, and bought a hot loaf for just 2 dirham, which is about 20 euro cents.
Morocco’s landscape is indescribably beautiful. Situated in the Rif mountains, we climbed and climbed until we were in the clouds in the magical city of Chefchaouen. The entire town is blue and white and looks like it’s only real place is in photoshopped hipster photos and National Geographic. In reality, the indigo color has a dual purpose and works as an insect replant. We wandered the narrow, winding, blue streets while I attempted to bargain for a Moroccan rug (I couldn’t leave without a magic carpet, could I?). Walking towards the river outside of the Medina, we were able to see the communal laundry where women were washing clothes in the river. We did take a pit stop on the way to Chefchaouen in the city of Tetouan where we saw the royal palace.
This post would be incomplete without mentioning the Moroccan food. I had been looking forward to this cuisine for weeks (possibly months) and I was not let down. We had amazing couscous with chicken and vegetables cooked with the most amazing spices. We had fresh salads with many types of vegetables, and always we had fruit. We also tasted traditional mint tea. Moroccan food is simple and it is fantastic and potentially it will make an appearance at our Christmas party.
Our return travel was not as smooth as we would have hoped. Departing Chefchaouen around 4pm, we made the 9:00 ferry which was an hour late. We spent the next few hours on the bus to Sevilla and arrived at the airport around 3:00 am. Without security being opened at the airport, we plopped our backpacks and my new magic carpet down and fell asleep on the dirty concrete floor with a great wind that seeped through the semi-opened doors. When security opened around 5am we went through and sprawled on the benches at our small gate for the next few hours until our flight. Upon arrival in Valencia around 10am we were faced with a full day of class.
With that complaint out of the way, I can say that this trip was amazing. It was the perfect taste of the Middle East and left me wanting to explore so much more. With more time, I could easily fall in love with this country. Until then, I’ll set my sights on my next few weeks in Valencia full of school work.