Morocco

This post has been a long time coming. In January of 2013 I flew into Tangier, Morocco. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was I was doing, or even where I was going on this particular trip, I just knew I wanted to be somewhere different.

I arrived in Tangier’s relatively tiny airport though a connecting flight in Madrid. As much as I’ve flown in my life, I can never seem to remember to bring a damn pen with me to fill out customs forms and whatnot. Luckily I sat on a bench in the airport with about a half-dozen other people, all Moroccan, who were all in the same boat, waiting our turn for the lone pen being passed around. I had actually noticed that everyone I had seen getting off my flight appeared to be Moroccan. I knew I was traveling in the off-season as it was January, but I thought there’d at least be another traveler to talk to, maybe explore the medina with.

After making it through and getting outside a little before noon, I decided to put my contacts in. My eyes were super dry after the flight, and I was sitting outside on the ground having a pretty tough time when a nice Morrocan girl came up to me and offered me some eye drops out of her purse. She smiled and nearly ran away after she had given them to me, but I think (I hope) I was able to thank her in broken Arabic before she left.

Once I hopped in a cab outside the airport and told the driver to head to the medina, I was in for a fun ride. The painted lines in the road didn’t seem to have any meaning here, and every time a light turned green, my cab driver bumped the car in front of us to alert him it was time to get moving. I arrived at the entrance to the medina about 15 minutes later, dusted myself off, and from there it was a mad dash to find my guesthouse so I could drop off my backpack and go exploring.

I thought I’d get a bit more lost than I did, but the Tangier medina is relatively small, so while I had trouble finding specific places, I was never far from a main street. Although I don’t know if they’re really called streets, as there are no cars allowed in the medina.

The architecture was really great, like nothing I had ever seen before. The attention to detail in the ceramic tiling on some of the buildings, especially the mosques, was just amazing.

It was here that I found a bit of refuge from the marketplace to grab a bite to eat and settle down. The main fare here was Tagine, a food unique to Morocco which consisted of meat and veggies with cous cous steamed in a conical clay pot known appropriately as a Tagine. It was here that I had also discovered my love for Moroccan salad, which was tomato, cucumber and onion all diced up and served with a vinaigrette dressing.

Since I was decidedly the only tourist in the entire medina, it seemed like I had the sole attention of every tout and beggar in a 5 mile radius. After a few days this got a big tiring, so I decided to head southeast into the countryside.

While I normally like to sleep in, even on vacation, waking up early here was never an issue. I had conveniently booked a room directly outside of the minaret of a nearby mosque where the Muezzin leads the city in the call to prayer every morning at sunrise over the array of loudspeakers. This was the view out of my guesthouse room window that morning.

So after a quick breakfast and a cab ride down to the bus station, I was on my way to the town of Chefchauen.

Nothing had prepared me for how lush and picturesque the Moroccan countryside would be.

We passed through a few small towns in the mountains as well.

At last we arrived at our destination. If you’ve never heard of Chefchauen, it’s a smallish Moroccan city built on the side of a mountain, and the medina is painted almost completely in different shades of blue.

It was here that I met two German travelers by the name of Kathi and Anja. I had spent the next few days with them and a few other travelers we met exploring the medina, sampling the local goods and going on hike or two.

A lot of shops here sold vivid powdered dyes. I’m not sure exactly what they were used for, but I was told I shouldn’t eat them.

Another common item in the markets were brightly-colored leather shoes. Or Moroccasins as I affectionately called them.

Back at the guesthouse, we had a fantastic view from up on the roof, even as some storm clouds were rolling over the tops of the mountains

One day we met up with a fellow German traveler, an Austrian, and a Canadian and went on a hike up a nearby mountain. The name of the mountain itself escapes me, but it was in the Rif mountain range if you’re curious.

Ran into these nice young ladies at the start of our journey.

Breathing in the fresh, crisp Moroccan air.

You can see we got most of the way up, but lost the trail and after about 15 more minutes of trying to climb our way through thick bushes and loose rocks, we decided it might be best if we called it a day and headed back down.

Back in the medina I wandered around by myself for a bit to take some pictures.

This was one of the looms they used to weave the famous Berber carpets.

I wasn’t really here for photography as much as my previous trips, so I only had a point and shoot camera with me which wasn’t all that great in low light. This was about as dark as I was able to manage pictures here, as these small lamps scattered sparsely around the medina were my only real source of light once the sun went down.

Here I was wandering around the city itself, outside of the medina, in search of some shaving cream and other toiletries.

So after a few days here I said goodbye to the girls and decided to head on out to Fez. This was another 4 hour bus ride, and again I was blown away by the scenery.

The weather wasn’t as great and it started to rain a bit, but it made for some pretty cool atmosphere.

About halfway there, the bus stopped at a small roadside stand for lunch. I wasn’t expecting this at all, but it turned out to be one of the best parts of my trip. I’m not sure if these are goats or lambs (I seem to recall them being goats), but basically there were two parts to this stand. One part was the butcher, where you’d go and select your freshly-slaughtered meat. I opted for a wad of ground goat. Then once you had your meat, you brought it over to the other part, the grill, and they cooked it up for you in a matter of minutes. They seasoned the meat and pressed it into little nuggets, grilled it up and stuffed them inside a slice of pita bread.

I can’t even describe to you how amazing it tasted. I would have been solely responsible for holding the bus up while I got seconds if half a dozen others weren’t doing the same.

After another couple hours I arrived in Fez and after dropping off my backpack, again hit the medina for some photography.

Fez-style Moroccasins.

It was here that I found one of the burgeoning Moroccan spice markets I had heard so much about.

Unfortunately most people here weren’t exactly thrilled about the idea of having their picture taken.

One night while I was here, I was talking to one of the owners of the guesthouse I was staying at. I started to ask him if he knew any places I could get some nice, authentic Moroccan food, and he said to just hang around, that he and a friend of his were just about to have dinner and he’d have more than enough for me as well. So we killed a bit of time while it was cooking and played a game of soccer in the tiny lobby, trying as best we could not to knock over anything expensive. After we were all pretty worn out from this, we sat down and had some of the best tagine Morocco has to offer. You can’t beat that kind of hospitality.

Now the medina in Fez was huge. Much bigger than Tangier’s. I only maybe saw half of it in the few days I was there, but was able to get myself hopelessly lost at least once every 15 minutes. It almost reminded me a bit of Venice, but there were no canals and instead of gondolas it had donkeys.

Since cars aren’t allowed in the medinas, they were the main mode of transportation for a lot of the goods brought into the marketplace. They also might have been mules, I wasn’t sure. I asked this fella what he was but he didn’t seem to understand what I was saying. If only I spoke Arabic.

Now, at this point I was at a crossroads. Like I said earlier, I had zero idea what I was really doing here. I had no plan, no goal, no clue as to what I wanted to get out of this trip. So I had a few ideas as to what to do next. First, I had thought about traveling east across North Africa, but that plan was quickly squashed as the border to Algeria was closed. Then I had thought maybe I’d head down to a town called Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara where I could take a 3 day camel trek into the desert, setting up encampments along the way to sleep and eat, then head to Marrakesh when I got back. This unfortunately required a 24 hour bus ride each way to and from the desert, which I’m not proud to admit, was feeling somewhat reluctant to do.

I made a snap judgement to take a train back to Tangier, hop on a ferry over the Strait of Gibraltar to the border town of Tarifa, Spain, and make it to Madrid by the next day. So be sure to join me next time where my adventure picks up in the Iberian Peninsula.

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