Category Archives: Morocco

Essaouiera and the Atlantic Coast

We left Merzouga and the Saharra on June 2nd and started our journey to Essaouiera on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco.  We took a little bit different route from Merzouga to Ouarzazate than we took on our way there.  This time we went through the Draa valley, which was really beautiful, but the road was terrible with potholes that threatened to swallow the whole car.  We also had the adventure of getting a flat tire and having to change it in the middle of the desert.  In Merzouga we met a couple on our camel trek who caught a ride with us to Ouarzazate. David from Sweden and Greta from Denmark.  They also continued on with us to Essouiera, and then on to Casablanca as well. It was fun to meet some new friends and to have them along with us for the ride.

Essouiera is a nice beach town and fishing village on the Atlantic Coast.  We stayed there for 3 nights, which was nice since we were pretty exhausted from all of the driving, camel riding, etc from the previous few days.  Our first day in Essouiera, we took it pretty easy, sleeping in and going for a long walk on the beach.  The beach was nice although very very windy.  This is what makes it a destination for kite boarders who were fun to watch while we walked.  Our second day we drove South to the Amal women’s co-operative that makes and sells Argan oil. The Argan tree is native to this part of Morocco and it’s fruit is used to make an oil that is similar to olive oil, but with a more distinctive, nutty flavor. The process of extracting the seeds from the fruit is very labor intensive as it requires removing the outer shell and then cracking the hard nut inside to remove the seeds.  This is all done by hand by the women here and we were able to go inside and see the whole process including the fruit drying in the sun, the women extracting the seeds, and the equipment that they use to produce the oil.  On the way back we saw and Argan tree that was full of goats that had climbed up in the branches to eat the fruits I’m assuming.  It was quite a sight.  Also on our way back we turned off of the main road and followed a sign for a beach.  This brought us to a small fishing village with a really nice beach with interesting rock formations and tide pools that was thankfully not windy and did not have very many people.  We got there about the time the fisherman were returning and got to watch them pull the boats out of the water with a tractor. This tiny village also had a fish processing facility that, according to the sign, was financed by the American People.  It was refreshing to see a sign of our country doing some good in this small corner of the Muslim world.  I can’t help but think that seeing more of this kind of thing would do more to stop terrorism than all of the drone strikes and the “war on terror” ever will.  In the evening we explored the Medina a bit and had dinner at the fish market there.  This was a really interesting experience and the food was great.  we showed up there, picked out some fresh fish from one of the sellers (shrimp, a couple of sardines, and some bigger fish that I’m not sure of the species), and then took it up the grill where they rubbed it with olive oil, added some spices, and then cooked it right there for us.  We also got salad, olives, and fries all for a decent price.  The fish was super fresh having been caught in Essouiera that day, very tasty, and the cooks were really nice and helpful in navigating the whole process.  I definitely recommend this if you’re in Essouiera.

The next day we got up and made the 4 hour drive to Casablanca to get on our plane to Instanbul at 6:00 PM.  We really enjoyed our time in Morocco.  The people and culture are warm, friendly, and kind once you learn to steer clear of the scammers and the landscapes are incredibly beautiful and unique. It was eye-opening to see a Muslim country and culture first-hand since there are so many misconceptions about it in our own country.   I’ve learned to understand and appreciate the differences in Islamic culture from our own, but also that those differences don’t need to stand in the way of people showing kindness, decency, and respect to one another as the people of Morocco have shown to us.  Morocco has certainly left it’s mark on me and I’ll carry the experience with me for the rest of my life.

The Sahara

We left Marrakech on Friday, May 30th and headed South over the Atlas Mountains and towards the Sahara desert.  We decided to rent a car for the rest of our travels in Morocco in order to save some time on bus rides and to allow us to be more flexible and see some more things on the way.  At first I was a bit nervous about driving in Morocco after observing traffic in Tangier and Marrakech, but in reality it hasn’t been bad at all, definitely much easier than Ireland.  For one, they drive on the right side of the road the same as we do in the U.S., and the roads are much wider in general than they are in Ireland.  Once you get outside of the cities there also isn’t much traffic because there just aren’t that many cars.  On first observation, driving looks very chaotic with cars going all over the place, honking, not respecting lanes, etc.  However,  other drivers are really very courteous and since it is a bit chaotic it forces everyone to pay much more attention to what is going on.  I’ve found that people communicate much better on the road than in the U.S., making eye contact, using turn and hand signals, and yes, honking to let you know they are passing or just that they are there.  When on the two lane highways, truck drivers especially will almost always let you know when it is safe to pass either by turning on their right turn signal or by just waving a hand out the window.  There are also a lot of speed traps and people will flash their lights at you coming the other way to let you know one is coming up.  Besides all of the speed traps, there are also what seem to be just random police stops.  The police will set up a road block where everyone stops and if they think you look suspicious or something they will pull you over and if not, they’ll wave you through.  Luckily we’ve escaped both the speed traps and road blocks so far.

Our first night on the road, we stopped in the town of Ouarzazate on our way to Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara.  On our way we picked up a young man who’s car had broken down and gave him a ride the rest of the way to Ouarzazate.  There are a lot of hitchhikers on Morocco and we stayed clear of all of them although we felt bad a lot of the time leaving people in basically the middle of nowhere.  This kid seemed legit though and we felt more comfortable picking up someone who’s car had broken down than we did about just picking up random hitchhikers.  I suppose it’s a Karma thing, we would hope someone would pick us up if we were in the same situation, especially here.  He didn’t speak a lot of English, but we gathered that he was a Berber from another desert town called M’Hamid and was the proud owner of 60 camels there.  He was on his way to Ouarzazate to hook up with his brother before they left on their annual camel caravan across the Saharra to Timbuktu. That’s right, they still walk for two months across the Saharra in camel caravans to trade in Timbuktu just as they have done for centuries. When we arrived in Ouarzazate, we took him to his brother’s house and were invited in for some tea with his brother, Nayrawen.  We stayed for an hour or so talking about M’Hamid and the camel caravans, telling Nayrawen about Portland, and looking at pictures from their treks across the Saharra.  Nayrawen was really nice and genuinely grateful to us for picking up his little brother on the side of the road.  Like the other Berbers that we have met he is warm, open, and just fun to be around.  Once we finished tea and conversation, he offered to take us to an oasis town called Fint a little ways outside of Ouarzazate after we got checked in to our hotel and had  little while to rest after the trip.  We took him up on the offer and agreed to pick him up a couple of hours later.

We picked up Nayrawen a couple of hours later and drove out of town.  We turned off the paved road and onto some pretty rough dirt road across the desert.  The desert here is more rocky than sandy and it seriously looks like pictures that you see of Mars.  Just red mountains and red volcanic rock all around.  There are a few scrubby bushes, but not much in the way of visible life.  It is very desolate, but very beautiful at the same time.  After driving across this barren landscape for a few kilometers, we came over the top of a hill and were suddenly looking down into a lush green oasis filled with palm trees.  It is absolutely beautiful and the juxtaposition of the oasis with the surrounding barren mountains is really something to see.  We drove down into the oasis, parked the car a little ways in and then got out and walked around the small village and agricultural lands inside the oasis.  Nayrawen seemed to know everyone since he trades with the people here and we were really grateful to have him along since I don’t think I would have been comfortable walking around here on our own.  The people who live in this oasis are descended from Sudanese people who settled here in the 15th century.  They have taken on some of the Berber culture, but also retained a lot of their original Sudanese culture making for an interesting mix that you don’t see elsewhere in Morocco.  We saw gardens growing corn, beans, squash, and grain as well as almond, orange, fig, and argan trees.  We also saw a traditional earthen oven used for baking bread that was still warm from the days baking.  It was an incredibly beautiful and interesting place that we never would have gone to had we not picked up Nayrawen’s brother on the side of the road.  As the Berbers say, “one coincidence is worth a thousand appointments”.

After returning from Fint, Nayrawen invited us to have dinner with him and his co-worker.  First, however, he showed is his store room full of Berber carpets that they were preparing to load up on the camels and take across the Sahara.  The carpets were so beautiful and the prices so good that we decided we had to have one, two actually.  After many cups of tea and a couple hours of haggling (the favorite Berber pasttime), we are now the proud owners of two beautiful Berber carpets.  Each one was hand made by a Berber woman over the course of about 6 months from camel wool and silk.  They use natural dyes and each one tells a bit of a story incorporating ancient tribal symbols.  Nayrawen told us he will show pictures of the rugs to each of the women who made them and will tell us the stories behind the rugs and what all of the symbols on them mean, which is pretty cool.  We were very happy with the price we got including shipping as compared to what they were in Marrakech and these will be a reminder of our trip here when we see them every day in our house.  After the rug haggling game, we had dinner of home made Tagine which was delicious and then went for some much needed sleep.  Our first day in the desert was amazing, with good people and beautiful sites, exactly what we had in mind when we left on this trip.

The next day we drove to our final desert destination of Merzouga, which is right on the edge of the Sahara.  After Merzouga there is pretty much nothing but sand dunes for hundreds of miles.  We previously arranged for an overnight camel trek and stayed at the hotel the trek would be leaving from the next day.  On arrival, we were greeted by our guide Moha who got us checked in to our room at a hotel called Le Petit Prince and told us dinner would be around 9 PM.  We were just in time to catch the sunset so we walked out of the hotel, past the camels, and up onto a small sand dune to watch the sun set over the desert and Merzouga.  It was beautiful to say the least.  The next day we got up, had some breakfast, and then I drove to the nearby town of Rissani to check out some of the sights there as well as the souk (market) that was happening that day. I drove around the “Monument Loop” right outside of town, which included a bunch of Ksars, which are basically castles where people still live today as well as the ruins of the ancient city of Sijilmassa.  After exploring the ruins for a while I stopped at one of the more interesting looking Ksars to look around.  I was greeted by three enthusiasitc and sweet little boys who offered to give me a tour of their home.  They guided me through the narrow passages and showed me the well, gardens, and towers of the place.  It was really neat and all four of us had big grins on our faces the whole time.  I think I really made their day when I gave them 10 Dirhams each for their efforts.  I also went to the souk where I bought a kilogram of locally grown dates for five dollars and witnessed a man drawing what appeared to be a mustache on a severed cow head.  I went back to to Le Petit Prince and we prepared to leave for the camel trek at around 5:30.

When 5:30 rolled around, we went out to our waiting camels just outside the hotel.  We were in a group with another couple, him from Sweden and her from Denmark.  Getting on the camels and then getting them up on their feet is a little bit of a process.  They are very tall, so you climb on when they are laying on the ground.  After I got on mine, the guide gave it a little nudge in the front and it let out a gutteral bellow as if getting up was the hardest thing in the world it wanted to do. With a few more nudges it finally pushed up it’s back legs leaving me in a precarious position of leaning forward about 45 degrees trying to keep from sliding off.  After a few long seconds, it finally pushed up it’s front legs and there I was perched on it’s hump about 8 feet up in the air.  After everyone was on, we were off across the dunes to our camp about an hour walk out in the desert.  The scenery of the Sahara is hard to put into words, but once we got out of eyesight of Merzouga, the vastness of it really hit me.  It is just golden sand dunes as far as the eye can see with a very few tough scrubby bushes poking up here and there.  A sea of sand is definitely a fitting description.  There is a real sense of solitude and once I was out there I could understand a little why the Berbers,  who value freedom and liberty highly, choose to live there.  After an hour of riding we arrived at our camp and were shown to our tent.  We rested a bit and then walked to the top of the closest dune to watch the sunset.  Unfortunately it was very windy so we had a lot sand blowing in our faces, but it was still beautiful and we had fun.  We even did a little “sand boarding”, which just involves riding a snowboard down the sand dune.  After the sunset we went back and of course drank some mint tea and then had dinner. Dinner consisted of copious amounts of a delicious rice dish with vegetables, then chicken Tagine with carrots and potatoes, followed by watermelon for desert.  It was a hearty meal and hit the spot after camel riding and dune climbing.  Finally, we had a concert of Berber drum music and singing put on by our guides, which was delight to listen to as always.  After that, we went out to look at the stars which were great being out there with no artificial light to speak of.  We could see the milky way and the sky full of thousands of stars.  Unfortunately it was still too windy to stay out long.  We went to bed around midnight and our guides woke us up about 5:40 so we could watch the sun rise over the desert.  It was worth getting up early as it was just as beautiful as the sunset.  After that we got back on the camels and headed back to the hotel.  After breakfast and a shower, we hit the road back to Ouarzazate and then on to the Atlantic coast.

The Saharra was amazing and definitely one of the parts of the trip I was looking forward to most.  Being a Montana boy, I’m a sucker for wide open spaces and the Saharra doesn’t dissappoint in that regard.  We met some great people there and saw some beautiful landscapes.  I couldn’t have asked for more from the experience.

Finding “Enough” in Morocco

Tangier Turtle

Turtle on Tangier Rooftop (With Laundry & Abandoned Sandwich)

In my first post, I talked about how author Wayne Muller helped to inspire my concept of sabbatical, providing permission or even the requirement for me to “retreat” for a time. Six weeks later, I am re-reading his newest book, A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough, where he guides us in reflecting on what it could look and feel like to find ongoing spaciousness, ease and sufficiency. This book has been an important companion for my (far from unique) struggle to make peace with what I can or can’t accomplish in a day or in my life, while trusting that I am loved and worthy regardless. I returned to it for a refresher on tools to help me listen for the “next right thing” when faced with the constant small decisions of what to do or not do, as I move closer to the end of my period of going more or less cold turkey from most of my prior commitments. What has spoken to me most so far though, on the second read, is the chapter that reminds us how there are “literally billions of children, families, and communities all over the world for whom the issue of enough is not a meditation but a daily challenge to their life and death.”

 

Here in Morocco, although the country is well-off compared to many in Africa, the gap between the resources and comfort of tourists like us and locals is still incredibly wide and frequently challenging. Our British host in Chefchaoen described it like this: when he meets and talks to a Moroccan, no matter how much both of them may want to fully see and connect to each other just as human beings, money creates an unavoidable barrier between them. This may become easier to cross after some days, weeks, years of knowing someone and living and working together, but it’s still there. I experienced this feeling to some extent when traveling in Mexico, Honduras and Haiti, but it was mitigated by being part of a group, having local hosts and translators, and participating in service learning. Here, I have less protection from the emotional exposure of having so much more than I need in so many ways while being confronted with others’ lack of enough.

 

I felt quite a bit different reading this sentence here than I did when I was in the comfort of my own home: “Twenty-five thousand children lose their lives every day for lack of clean drinking water, food or inexpensive medicines costing less than a dollar.” Similar was the description of what sufficiency means for those who are never sure when they wake each day whether they will find enough bread for themselves and their children, or “shade from the punishing midday sun…”As we moved farther into the desert, even into the actual dunes of the Sahara, I began to internalize the precious nature of shade as a resource. I’ve had the thought at times in my life that I am just not cut out for hot weather, but now I wonder whether that may be along the same lines as thinking that I am somehow different than “the poor.” Mr. Muller emphasizes that “no one is an especially blessed person for whom poverty isn’t as bone-weary, soul-crushingly hard for them as it would be for us.” When I see people here walking or riding a bike across what appears to be a vast distance in the middle of nowhere with hardly any shade in site, it has been instructive to consider that they might be just as overwhelmingly hot and tired as I would be.

 

This chapter presents us with two questions, hand in hand, of how to know when we personally have enough, and how to know what is enough for us “to do, to give, to contribute” in the face of injustice and suffering. Although some of what has driven my over-committed lifestyle has been an unfortunate tendency to attach my self-worth to my contributions, I know another component is regular wrestling with these twin dilemmas of having enough and doing enough. Finally, there is the truth that, “When people in debilitating, soul-crushing poverty do, at the end of the day, feel and know they have enough…[they] will, more than likely, become instantly generous with whatever small portion of anything they may have left over.” Although I am not here long enough and fully immersed enough to know the reality of people’s situations that I encounter, I have indeed seen and experienced an abundance of generosity, kindness, and joy. Many people ask us if this is our first time in Morocco, and hearing yes, share an enthusiastic “Welcome!” with a big a warm smile and a hand over the heart.

 

Here are some other things I have seen here:

  • Lots and lots of feral cats and kittens, ranging from skinny to emaciated, and some locals petting and feeding them.

  • A large majority of women wearing at least a full head covering, often paired with jeans instead of a robe, and sometimes driving a motorbike.

  • Olive trees, date trees, apricot trees, argan trees, and real oasis palm trees.

  • Road signs with just an exclamation point on them, which I like to think means, “Prepare to get very excited!”

My time here has also been shadowed by the death of my remarkable and inspiring grandmother, and she is much on my mind and heart as I reflect and write. So, this post is dedicated to Eleanor Elizabeth Saunders Furbush, 3/6/1919 – 5/27/2014, who helped to instill my belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and who never doubted my own.

Chefchauen

We arrived in the town of Chefchauen Morocco on May 25th and were there for two nights and about two and a half days. Chefchauen is a Berber town way up in the Rif mountains of Northern Morocco bordering the Talassemtane National Park.  It is famous for the buildings in it’s old Medina that are all painted blue making for a really interesting and actually relaxing experience walking around as compared to Tangier.  The blue color is not only beautiful, but apparently has a practical purpose in that it repels the ravenous mosquitoes that grow up here.  It really has a kind of magical feel about it, like it’s some kind of fairy tale land.  However, there are real people who live and work here as you’re reminded walking through the narrow labirynthine streets with Berber women selling mint and grains, merchants selling everything from traditional Berber woolen garb to Snickers bars.

The bus ride from Tangier took about 3 hours over some more winding mountain roads. Luckily Jocelyn was able to find some Dramamine so we didn’t have any motion sickness problems this time. Our first night we got settled into our hostel, called Riad Baraka.  This was a really cool place in a renovated 600 year old building.  It’s owned and run by an Englishman named Joe, so it was nice to not have to get over the language barrier.  After that we headed out of North gate of the Medina and to a waterfall coming right out of the mountain where women do laundry and school kids gather to sing and play drums.  It was a lively scene with the music and the washing going hand in hand.  From there we walked up the opposite hill to what is called the Spanish Mosque overlooking the town.  On the way up we were approached by an entrepid young entreprenour selling flower necklaces that he had made.  He quoted us a price of 3 Dirhams (about 50 cents) for one of them.  When I accepted his price he tried to raise it to 5, but I stuck to my guns at 3.  Hopefully he learned that he should start out at a higher price and bargain down from there.  Bargaining is a valued skill among the Berbers and this boy was getting started young.  We sat at the mosque for a while looking over the town, listening to the music emanating from it, and watching a woman round up her goats on the hillside below.  After that we had some dinner at a place overlooking the square and did some good people watching which is always great entertainment here.

Our second day and only full day, we planned on doing a hike up Mount Kella overlooking the town, but after talking to Joe from the hostel we decided to make the walk to the next Berber village down the road called Kella instead. We started out around 10 am and the walk to the village took about two hours.  The walk wasn’t great as it was along the road and they were doing a lot of construction widening and improving it which made things not so tranquil.  Once we got to the village however, the construction stopped and the road turned back into the jeep track that I imagine the whole thing had been before they started the construction. We talked to a couple of people along the way however and they were all very friendly, welcoming, and curious about us.  Instead of following the road down into Kella we decided to follow it up into the mountains for a little while. About half an hour later, we looked around and noticed that we were in the middle of a giant marijuana plantation.  There was a man sitting up on a rock watching us and we decided this was the point we should probably turn around.  On the way back down we noticed even more marijuana that we hadn’t noticed before up on the hills and filling terraced farms above the village.  Marijuana is technically illegal in Morocco, but the authorities apparently look the other way here in the Rif mountains as it is the only crop that these people can grow that provides even close to a subsistence income and the they have been doing it for centuries. For the time being anyway it doesn’t seem have the violence and organized crime associated with it that it does in Mexico, Latin America, and the US, probably owing to it’s semi-legal status. The young men in Chefchauen offering hashish to tourists are annoying but harmless I think.  If anyone reading this is thinking of going to Chefchauen and sampling the hashish, I highly recommend against it.  It is still very illegal even if it seems tolerated and I think ending up in a Moroccan jail would really ruin your trip. On the way back down we stopped and ate our lunch in a nice shady rock overhang and then turned and walked down into the village.  When I say village, I mean it is a tiny village.  There seems to be only a mosque, a school, a cafe of sorts, and a few houses.  When we walked into town we were welcomed by children and the owner of the cafe who showed us there.  It wan’t much of a cafe, really just a building with some plastic chairs and some crates for tables.  He pulled out some plastic chairs and put them in the shady garden area for us and brought us some mint tea.  We talked for awhile as best we could in Spanish, which wasn’t very well, but it was a conversation and was fun and interesting.  On our way out of town we gave some pens to the children that we had brought with us on the suggestion of Joe from the hostel, which they seemed to really like although we should have brought more.  The kids walked us out of town and we headed back to Chefchauen via a different path that climbed up the mountain and curved back around and down into town.  When we got back, we were beat and took a nap before finding some dinner and going to bed.

The next day we walked around the Medina some more, met a really nice Berber man who also happened to be a great salesman and convinced us that we really needed to buy a small handmade silk Berber rug.  We got to practice our haggling skills which are important here and along with the rug we got some great lessons on Berber culture and spiritual beliefs as well as some mint tea.  Well worth the price.  We then got on the bus back to Tangier about 3:30 and then caught our night train to Marrakesh at 9:00.

Pictures of Chefchauen below and stay tuned for more from Marrakesh!

Tarifa and Tangier

We left Balcon del Cielo at 6:15 AM on May 22nd.  Axel was kind enough to get up with us before dawn and give us a ride to the bus stop in Trevelez where the bus was almost on time, which is about the best you can expect in Spain it seems.  Unfortunately, Jocelyn is a bit prone to motion sickness and the 2+ hours of hairpin turns on the bus was a bit much for her to handle.  Luckily we had a plastic bag on hand and we had not eaten any breakfast yet so there wasn’t too much to come back up.  Needless to say, she didn’t have a good time on the trip back down.  This was also just the beginning of our travels that day.  We arrived back in Granada at about 9:30 AM and then had to catch our train to Algeciras and then get on another bus to Tarifa where we were staying for the night.  Jocelyn recovered pretty quickly once we got back onto solid ground which was good because we had to walk a little over a kilometer from the bus station to the train station in Granada.  We boarded the train around noon for the 5 hour trip to Algeciras.  After the bus ride earlier however, the train seemed very luxourious with ample leg room and a smooth, straight ride.  Once in Algeciras we walked across the street to the bus station and were on our way to Tarifa about 15 minutes later.  After another 45 minutes on the bus we finally arrived in Tarifa around 6, 12 hours from when we left Trevelez.  It was a long day and we were happy to be at our final destination to say the least.  Our night in Tarifa was pretty uneventul.  I was out of clean socks and underwear and since the hostel didn’t have a washing machine, I spent the evening washing socks and underwear in the sink and hanging them up to dry in our room.  In all of my romantic daydreams of travelling I never envisioned washing underwear in a hostel sink as part of it, but you do what you have to do.  In the morning we got up and made ourselves some breakfast, checked out of our hostel and then headed to the beach.  Tarifa is in a very interesting spot right where the Atlantic and the Mediterranean meet. The beach we were on was on the Atlantic, but just a short walk away is the ferry port, which is on the Mediterranean.  Spending the day on the beach was nice and relaxing after the exhausting day previous.  From the beach we walked to the ferry port, and got on the 4:00 PM ferry to our next destination, Tangier, Morocco.

The ferry ride to Tangier was mostly uneventful.  We boarded with the rest of the foot passengers and then stood in line to get our passports stamped by Moroccan Customs.  The ferry ride only took about 45 minutes and there were comfortable seats and good views out the windows.  Once we arrived in Morocco it was almost immediately apparent that we were in a whole different world.  It is really amazing that in only a short ferry ride you can arrive somewhere that is so different.  Upon leaving the ferry port, we were approached by multiple people looking to give us a taxi ride.  Our hotel was a pretty short walk from the ferry port so we weren’t in need of a taxi and luckily a short “No Thank You”, or “La Shogrun” in Arabic seemed to do the trick. On the walk to the hotel we were approached once by someone who wanted to “be our friend and show us to our hotel”.  Luckily we had read about these guys in the guide books and heard about them from friends and knew that they are really just after money.  They are a little harder to ignore because they will follow you for a while, but after saying “No Thank You” a few times and then just ignoring them they mostly get the point and go away.  The hardest ones to ignore are the little kids that come up and point to their mouths and then put their hand out. These guys and the kids were pretty much constant the whole time in Tangier although it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.  Once we dropped our bags off and didn’t look so much like lost tourists, we didn’t get hit up nearly as much. The children especially are sad to see and it definitely tells you that you are in a poorer place and reminds you of just how lucky we are to live where we do and have the affluence that we do.  I can’t blame these people for trying since to them we are incredibly rich even if we don’t think of ourselves that way in the context of the United States.  it definitely puts things in perspective and makes me realize the incredible opportunities and priveleges that I’ve had in life.  All of that said, Tangier and Morocco in general seems to be doing fairly well for itself.  There is a lot of new construction happening and the investements of the new king, Mohammed VI are obvious with a new port and parks, etc. being built.  Morocco is very obviously a Muslim country with the majority of the women wearing at least the Hijab covering their hair and the call to prayer ringing out over the city five times a day.  While there are definitely Western influences present, it seems that Morocco is building it’s own identity based on a liberal take on Islam and succeeding in the world on it’s own terms without giving up its culture or bowing to the reactionary forces of religious fundamentalism.

We were in Tangier for two nights and one full day.  Our first night, we got to our hotel, which gave us a nice respite from the general chaos of the city and the culture shock we got on our walk from the ferry port.  Now it was Jocelyn’s turn to do some laundry in the bathtub and I headed out to try to find the bus station to buy tickets for our next journey to Chefchauen and also to find some bottled water since we were warned not to drink the tap water here.  I was successful in finding a giant jug of water that lasted us our time in Tangier, but not so successful in finding the bus station so I left that for the next day.  For dinner, we went to a Moroccan/French fusion place that was tasty as well as peaceful and quiet with good music playing.  Morocco was a French colony for a long time only becoming independent in the 1950s.  Therefore, there is a lot of French influence on the cuisine as well as the culture. The second language besides Arabic of most people is French since they are required to learn it in school and all of the street signs, etc. are in both Arabic and French.  Jocelyn took a couple of years of French in High School so she’s been able to practice that a bit and we have been able to get by.  Many people also speak at least a little Spanish as well given the close proximity of Spain as well as the inundation of Spanish TV coming across the strait of Gibraltar.  Unfortunately it seems the only people who speak much English are the con men, but it’s been a good chance for us to practice our Spanish and for Jocelyn to practice her French.

The next day, we got up and headed to a little restaurant close by the hotel for breakfast.  This was simple, just some bread with butter and honey along with some coffee for me and some of the delicious mint tea that they make here for Jocelyn. It was also really cheap just costing the equivalent of a couple of dollars. From there we went on a mission to find the bus station to get our tickets to Chefchauen and also the train station to get our tickets for the night train from Tangier to Marrakech after Chefchaen. We found the bus station and this place was a cultural experience in itself. Outside is a tangle of taxis and when you walk in there is a multitude of men shouting the names of different cities. These are all taxi drivers looking to get people to hire them to drive them to their destinations instead of taking the bus.  It’s a lively scene to say the least that kind of reminds me of videos I’ve seen of the New York stock exchange with lots of shouting and crowds. Capitalism at it’s finest I suppose.  We were successful in getting our bus tickets as well as our train tickets after a little struggle to overcome the language barrier. With a transportation mission complete, our next destination was the area of the city called the Medina.  Our first stop was lunch at a place called Darna that is a women’s center offering services for battered women and women suffering the effects of divorce, which here can be quite harsh.  They operate a restaurant to make money and the food was absolutely delicious.  They have a different set menu each day with a fixed price of around $6 each.  The meal consisted of two courses including olives, fresh bread, and Tajine which is a traditional berger dish served still sizzling in an earthenware dish.  They all have different ingredients and this one had meatballs and egg in a delicious spicy sauce.  Of course it also included more of the delicious mint tea.  The Medina is the old part of the city and it is maze of narrow streets lined with shops and people selling just about anything you can think of from spices and tea to cell phones and TVs.  It is sensory delight with all kinds of novel sights and smells.  We walked by a whole street of metal smiths making very nice looking metal doors and barbecues as well as some place piled hight with hoofs of some kind of animal that they were charring in a giant oven.  We also saw these guys walking around with wheelbarrows full of the charred hoofs.  What they do with them I’m not sure and probably don’t want to know.  After wandering the Medina for a while we went back to the hotel for a little rest before heading out to dinner at a place called Saveur du Poisson, or “Fish Flavor” in English.  The place was literally a nondescript hole in the wall and we got there right before opening time at 8:00 PM so we were the first ones.  As soon as they opened at 8:00, the food started coming and didn’t stop for about an hour.  This is another set menu place so you just eat what they give you, which I really like because I don’t have to worry about deciding or deciphering what is on the menu.  The first course was a whole pile of different kinds of bread, olives, hot salted nuts, and chili sauce.  Next was a kind of seafood soup with squid and fish.  It continued with a seafood Tajine with more fish and squid in a spicy sauce.  The main course was an entire fish for the two of us complete with head, tail, and eyeballs. Neither of us was adventerous enough to eat the eyeballs though.  We had no less than three desserts.  First was a sweet concoction of strawberries and rasberries, second was nuts with honey, and finally a big chunk of watermelon.  Throughout the whole meal, they also kept our glasses full of fresh fruit juice that I think was also made from strawberries and rasberries. Towards the middle of the meal the man who we assumed was the owner showed up and made the rounds to all the tables making sure everyone was enjoying themselves and the food.  He also gave us a beautiful earthenware cup and the wooden utensils we used to eat with as souvenirs.  The whole meal was about $20 each, which is expensive for Morocco, but for the amount and quality of the food, not to mention the service you would probably pay 10 times as much in the U.S.  All in all a great experience and I would say it made our time in Tangier.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take a whole lot of pictures in Tangier because I’m not sure of the expectations and cultural norms of taking people’s pictures without permission, and pulling out the camera also seems to attract the con men and “guides”.  What I did take is below.  Now it’s on to the blue city in the mountains, Chefchauen.