Spring Break Part 2: Morocco

We landed in Seville late on Thursday night and took a cab to our Airbnb. It was a funny experience because it ended up legitimately being in someone’s nice apartment and Tay and I slept in beds that had headboards labeled Elaine and Paula. We laughed about that one. We really only just showered and slept there because we had to be at the meeting point for Morocco by 9am. So here is an explanation about our weekend trip to Morocco. We were all interested in going to the country but were hesitant to go just as three North Americans with no solid plans, always best to be safe! So we booked with a company called We Love Spain that with our payment would provide all transportation, accommodation, food, tours, etc.  It was pretty much a 3 day guided trip for which we just had to show up! The only downfall to this type of travel is that chances are you’ll be traveling with a bunch of North Americans and it’s a bit customized to our “needs”, so it’s not really the same culture shock you can get when traveling alone. So we made it to the bus in Seville and met up with the rest of the group that just about filled two coach buses. Our first stop was in Gibraltar, the very most southern part of Spain. We had to go through a border because it’s actually a UK city, which is really unique because everyone has a British accent but you’re in Spain (kind of). Anyways, it’s a small city that has a cute little center and then this huge hill that is home to a ton of monkeys. The group organized a tour of the city, but we actually ended up doing our own thing after we made some new friends! Introducing: Kathleen 1 and 2, aka Kit and Kat, and Julie. They’re from Canada and Tay actually has some mutual friends through them. They’re studying in Seville and we ended up hitting it off with them pretty quickly. So we wandered Gibraltar a bit with them until we ended up deciding to go on our own tour of the hill. Our tour guide took us up in a van along twisty turny roads and stopped in various places. First was at monument representing the Hercules caves. I can’t remember much about the significance of this Hercules thing but there was a gorgeous view of Spain on one side and Morocco on the other. Europe meets Africa! The next stop was at Saint Michael’s caves, basically a huge cavern all lit up with a walkway through it for curious tourists. It was pretty though! A massive area with really old stalagmites(tites?). Can never remember the difference between those things. Moving on, our next stop was close to the top of the mountain where there was a feeding area for the monkeys. I’ll note that these monkeys are everywhere!!! Like in the gift shop at the caves, sitting on the guard rails, on the street, on top of cars, the works. They’re creepily human and quite funny to watch, but I didn’t want to get too close for fear of getting bit… Queue the flashback to Costa Rica senior year where this little creature punctured my index finger and I had to get antibiotics to repel the rabies LOL.  We got some good pictures way up high and then moved onto our last stop at some caves that were used as lookout points for canons during WWII. At the end we had some pounds to spend so we blew the equivalent of about 20 something dollars on chocolate. Let the healthy eating of the weekend begin!!!!! We got back on the coach buses and headed to the port where we would catch the ferry to Africa. The ferry was huge! We had a nice place to sit at a table and relax/get to know Kit Kat and Julie. When we got to the other side we got on a different coach bus that took us to the border and would be our mode of transport during our time in Morocco. The border was interesting, a lot of people were walking through and there were a mix of cars and buses. We weren’t allowed to take pictures and we had to wait a bit for our passports to get stamped. By the time we were through, it was getting decently late and starting to get dark. We drove straight to our hotel for the night through the surprisingly green and lush countryside. The towns are like out of a movie, from a distance they are just clusters of lights among a huge hilly landscape. We were in the north of Morocco, where there is more rain and seasons, whereas the Sahara Desert is in the south. Another fun fact: Morocco is 98% Muslim and 2% Jewish and Catholic. There is little religious unrest in the country because so many people practice the same religion. We arrived in our first stop, the city of Tangier, at our nice hotel in the city center. It was so exciting to have a hotel room after the hostels we have become used to! After jumping on our king sized bed (Jenna, Tay and I shared a hotel room) we met the rest of the group for dinner in the banquet area of the hotel. We were so hungry, and had a 3 course meal that made us full and sleepy! We went to bed early because we had an 8am wake up call in the morning. 
 
After a small breakfast on Saturday, we hit the road to start our packed day of activities. Our bus drove through the city of Tangier, and we had our Moroccan guide giving facts and information the entire time. Morocco is a kingdom, and apparently the king had been in the city the day before. They had their flag (red with a green 5 point star in the middle) flying EVERYWHERE; I guess as a welcome to his majesty. Our first stop was on a hilltop with a view of where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea. You really couldn’t see the exact line, like in some famous pictures of bodies of water meeting one another, but it was still a stunning view over a cliff top! In the little turn around area there were a few street vendors, a popular trend in Morocco.  A boy also had his donkey with its little baby! A calf? Not sure what a baby donkey is lol. Back on the bus we went, our next destination was the beach where we would have the chance to have a short camel ride. When we got to the beach area we were greeted by baby and teenage(?) camels! They’re pretty funny animals, they just snort and sound like they’re about to spit at you. I kind of felt bad for them because everyone was taking pictures and getting them all hyped up, but I did shamelessly take a selfie with the cute little baby one. We wandered down to the beach and were greeted by really enthusiastic Moroccan guides who would help us on and off the camels. The 5 camels had on the classic woven blankets where we sit and all that, it looked like out of Aladdin or something! We had to wait a while for everyone to have their turn, but it definitely wasn’t a bad place to relax for a little while. When it was our turn, it ended up being me, Tay, Jenna, Julie and Kit. In the mad dash to jump on a camel they all stood up and I was left behind!! There are a few hilarious pictures of me chasing the herd of camels a few feet down the beach trying to get them to let me catch up lol!!!! Once I had secured my place on top of a camel, we were all herded down the beach in a bit of a camel run. It was so bouncy!! We couldn’t stop laughing. It was a pretty decent rush of adrenaline and it was over so quick, but I can now say I rode a camel in Morocco! By the end they were so tired and I felt bad, poor guys, but I guess they can make it through the Sahara so they must have some crazy super power stamina. After the camel ride we were supposed to do a tour of the Hercules Caves, but they were unfortunately closed for the day. So instead we headed early to our next destination: Chefchaouen, the “blue” city. As soon as we entered the city limits, you could tell why it has this name. Everything is painted blue!! And it’s really interesting because you can totally tell that it is done by hand, and done regularly. There are all different shades of dark blue, light blue, greenish blue, purpleish blue.. it’s beautiful. When we arrived at the city we went straight to lunch at a local restaurant. Again, everything was really colorful and welcoming. We had a salad/chicken meal with some Moroccan tea to wash it down with. The tea is as good as they say! It’s similar to green tea but with it’s own flair. After lunch we went on a guided tour of the city. Our guide was a native Moroccan man and he was full of fun facts. As he walked us up and down alleyways of blue and white, in and out of doorways and up and down stairs, I typed up what I could retain on my phone:
 
– Chefchaouen means “look between the two mountains” as the city is located in between two summits
– Children go to school ages 6-16; it has only been compulsory since 2000
– The focus of studies is comparative religion because of how religious the country is
– Marriage is still arranged for more traditional families 
– Weaving is a  traditional business
– Morocco is a kingdom and a tribal country 
– The citizens of Chefchaouen repaint the city 3-4 times a year
– Only 95% of families have running water
– There are 80,000 people
– If someone meets the following requirements, they will never “die”: they must have a good educated son or daughter to carry on the family name, if they write something to benefit others in the future, if they build something to contribute to the community 
– They pray 5 times a day, times change every season because it depends on the sun
 
There was a lot of other information to learn about the city and it’s inhabitants, but I took in what I could! During our tour, we also stopped in a family owned home where they produced rugs. How I wish I could have fit one in my backpack! They sell absolutely gorgeous handmade rugs with endless combinations of colors and designs. It’s a beautiful trade. After our guided tour, the group was given some free time to wander around and buy things from the vendors in the city. Now this was an entirely different experience in itself. Tay, Jenna, and I set off with a shopping list that consisted of scarves and “fun” pants (you know, those colorful, flowy pants that people will pay way too much money for). After much bartering with locals we finally got our deals. I got pants for 8 euros and a scarf for 5! I’d say it was a success. Other than pants and scarves, these vendors sell anything you can think of. Leather goods: backpacks, purses, shoes; jewelry; dresses; rugs; knickknacks; drums; pottery… the list could go on forever. It was all really interesting to see, and even though I am not really fond of bargaining with foreign men (or bargaining in general), it was a great experience. When we finished up in the city we got back on the bus and headed to our next destination: Tetuan. It was another decent ride through the countryside until we made it to hotel #2. When we arrived, we had some free time before we met up to go to dinner and a show for the evening. When it was time, we drove into the heart of the city and walked through the local streets to the restaurant where we would have dinner and entertainment for the evening. The room was overwhelmingly colorful and decorated! We sat at a round table and were served another 3 course meal + tea. It was all so delicious, and I was sad to be full by the time we got to the main course! It was a delicious couscous dish with vegetables and spices and lots of deliciousness. Throughout the dinner, we were able to get some pretty henna tattoos, and watch some native performances. There was a belly-dancer-esque woman, a guy who danced and balanced a platter of candles on his head, and a traditional full band performance. It was so loud and festive! Definitely a cool way to get some exposure to the local culture. After dinner, we went back to the hotel where across the street the group all met up at a club. We DANCED for about an hour; I love how the friends I’ve made here have no problem actually dancing like no one is watching. When a live singer came in it got a little weird, and we decided to hit the hay; talk about a LONG day!!!
 
Sunday morning we were up bright and early again, and on our way to a guided tour of Tetuan after another delectable breakfast of 3 kinds of bread.. mmmm carbs. The tour through Tetuan was different than Chefchaouen because it was a tour through the streets that serve as a market for the city. It was not the same bright blue, but it definitely had it’s own personality. Here’s some things that I took away from the tour:

– there is a new “modern” part, an old city, and the Jewish quarter
– Tetuan is known for the “Medina” district, or medicine (mind you this is not like a doctor medicine, but more of a balms and oils spiritual treatment type medicine)
– there are 5 markets in the city including spices and second hand goods
– the Old city is surrounded by a 4km wall and there are 7 entrance gates
– The Jewish people no longer live in the Jewish quarter, they just work there, because of religious unrest
 
After walking the winding streets, we came to a local Pharmacy where we had another meeting set up. This was definitely my favorite part of the trip: I had entered a girls’ HEAVEN. The local Moroccan pharmacy guy gave us an introduction to all of the things that they sell but here’s what I took out of it. They locally make and sell every type of oil, creme, balm, spice, tea, aroma that you could think of in order to give you a nice spa-like experience. He went through all of the products and we got to sample them all as well. I had to stop myself from buying it all but here’s what I came away with: the famous Argon oil for my hair! It is a miracle worker that makes your hair super soft and shiny and is really expensive to buy anywhere else in the world. I got a red colored balm that you can use for your lips and cuticles to keep you all plump and soft. I got a lipstick that is dark blue in color but applies in pink, magic! I bought some tea leaves and the curry that was on the couscous dish the night before; 35 spices total!! (Want to laugh? That dang bag of curry STUNK up each of our bags for the rest of the trip and I had a shirt that was known as “the curry shirt” because of how bad it smelled. lololol) I may or may not have bought a few other things as well, so hey there loved ones, you guys can look forward to some fun souvenirs 🙂 After the Pharmacy, we were in heaven. We kept wandering through the city and we were given some free time to make any purchases we wanted. Since we had bought our goods on Saturday, the 3 of us wanted to get some fruit. We asked our guide if we could have someone take us and we were given the cutest man on earth: Mustapha. This old, frail Moroccan man hardly spoke any English and had a smile as bright as day. He led us through the maze of the market for about 10 minutes, constantly looking over his shoulder to be sure we were still following, until we arrived at a stand filled with peppers, strawberries, bananas, oranges… everything! We ended up buying 2 kilo, a whopping 4.4 pounds, of strawberries for 2 euro. Mustapha is the man. On the way back to the group, he kept pointing out all of the dress vendors. I thought this was really sweet because he was clearly trying to show us girls what he thought we would like to see. We thanked him a million times before we left; what a gem of a human. When we finished up in Tetuan, back on the bus we went to head to the border. Our weekend had come to an end! We crossed the border again and caught a ferry back into Spain. We boarded another bus and got carted back up to Seville. One giant circle! Morocco was a fantastic experience, it is definitely not what you think of when you think about Africa. If I were to go back, I would definitely want to do the south of the country with the Sahara and many other big towns known for their markets. Africa is a huge country, and I am glad to have started my exploration of it! (get me on a safari ASAP!)
 
We got off the bus in Seville and were greeted with the biggest shock of our trip. Semana Santa. Ok, so we found out (in Morocco) that Semana Santa is a huge celebration in Spain leading up to Easter and that there are parties and processions and all of that. We figured it would just be a little crowded; no big deal since we would be leaving Monday morning anyways. WELL WELL WELL, WERE WE WRONG. Our hostel turned out to be on the other side of the city, and by other side of the city I mean other side of the processions. So, we started walking and got swarmed by people amidst their celebrations. Young and old, people were dressed to the nines! And I’ll add that it was about 90 degrees outside. Already sweating, we finally made it to the street we would need to cross, and the procession. This was some CREEPY freaking stuff. All of the people in the procession were carrying candles and were wearing capes and hoods and hats that were exactly what the KKK wore. It was sooooo creepy. The little eye holes and all. Weirded out, sweaty, and tired, we were salmon swimming upstream through the mass of people to try and find a way to cross the street. About a half hour later it came down to one solution: cut through the procession. So there we were! 3 sweaty white girls with our huge backpacks squishing our way through a spitting image of the KKK. Talk about nightmares. But we laughed about it afterwards and finally made it to our hostel, which turned out to be a pretty cool place. We agreed to meet up with the other girls at their place that night, so we headed out and it took us another 30 minutes to go 5 blocks because of all the people and closed streets. It was really a sight to see, and a huge cultural experience but I just couldn’t get over how all the people looked so creepy!! We hung out on our new friends’ rooftop terrace (luxury compared to LLN) and convinced them to come to Lagos with us! And at that, I’ll head into the third and final leg of our journey: Portugal!
 

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