High Atlas Mountains
Ferry from Tangier, Morocco to Sete, France
Ten days ago my mom and I landed in Tangier, Morocco after a short ferry ride across the choppy Straight of Gibralter. On the way from the train station in Algeciras, Spain to the ferry terminal we got a little preview of what was to come in Morocco. One man, then 2, then 3 all telling us – loudly and enthusiastically insisting and gesturing actually – that the ticket offices were closed and we had to get tickets back on the other side of the street. Well… we kept on walking and they weren’t closed, of course. I have subsequently heard “It’s closed! Closed! Square [palace, market, substitute whatever tourist destination] other way!” more times than I can count. Young dudes are hanging all around the ancient walled cities – called medinas – trying to get tourists to think they’re lost (half the time we are, but when you have nowhere to be, it’s hard to get lost!) and then guide them to a destination and demand a hefty tip. Walk by any store or restaurant and someone greets you in French or English or Spanish trying to tempt you into their lair. It’s pretty much a given that you’re getting charged way too much for everything and bargaining for something usually brings the price down at least half or more from the original price. And being without a man definitely doesn’t help as far as attention and shout outs go. Ahhh to be a tourist in Morocco! Onto the good stuff…
Morocco is absolutely captivating. It is very Muslim, yet diverse, and quite traditional as far as people’s dress goes, even in the three big cities we have visited – Tangier, Fes & Mareakech. Multiple times a day I am taken aback by how exotic it is here. I often feel as though I could be walking through an ancient archway today or two hundred years ago and it wouldn’t be so different. The sounds of Arabic and Berber fill the streets. French is taught to everyone in schools and widely understood, though not commonly spoken everyday between natives. Music with a melodious and nasally flute, hollow lolling drums and rhythmic singing floats effortlessly amongst the chatter of life and commerce. The food is delicious. Cumin, cous cous, slow-braised lamb and chicken, flatbreads, olives and preserved lemon are recurring themes in both street stands and upper end restaurants. Shops selling mounds of decadent honey-soaked sesame and filo dough sweets dot the market streets. Fresh fruit is gorgeous, plentiful and cheap. Booze is hard to find and pricey to buy when the search is successful. The architecture is old. Crenelated towers and minarets dot the skyline and ancient walls and layers of multi-storied buildings with smooth mud façades are an understated yet powerful backdrop; a constant reminder of the long histories that have played out here. The palaces are grand; the tilework, and painted wood carving mindbogglingly intricate and colorful. The mazes of cobblestone streets inside the desert-colored stone walls of the medinas and old souks (markets) are barely wide enough for shoppers to negotiate during the busy evening time around sunset. Yet donkeys, bicycles, motorbikes, shopkeepers, pedestrians and all the wares being presented and carried to and fro somehow all find their way to their destination. The smells are everchanging and transporting. From eucalyptus being carved into furniture to red peppers roasting for the midday meal to wood fires being stoked to bake bread to fresh figs being sold from a cart passing by; from subtle to arrestingly strong, the smells of the streets are a constant sensory delight. Colors are bright and bold, set to a sand-colored background.
Just outside the medina walls life speeds up a bit more. The streets widen to allow for cars and trucks to zoom by. Scooters weave in between taxis loading passengers, mothers holding their children’s hands as they cross the busy streets and men pedaling old bicycles laden with awkwards bags filled with who knows what. The sidewalks outside the medina walls are sprinkled with beggars, fruit and sunglass sellers and women selling freshbaked flat round breads sprinkled with cornmeal. Cafes are open to the streets and filled with men drinking espresso and sweet mint tea, discussing life and watching the scenes of life pass by.
We’ve spent the majority of our time in and around the old cities, opting to avoid largely the “Ville Nouvelle” section of the cities, so mine is a biased account to be sure. I live in a monde nouvelle though. No need to visit the new world here.