Saturday, February 6, 2016

Our Morrocan Odyssey, Part One

View of Tangier from the rooftop of our guesthouse.

We didn’t enjoy Morroco as much as we expected. It wasn’t Morroco’s fault—we had miserable colds the entire time we were there. But we were very glad we came. We felt we gained a great deal from our Moroccan experience, in spite of our illness.
We began in Tangier, where we flew in from Barcelona. 

Morocco, a land of beautiful mosaics.

I must admit, for some reason I was a little anxious about Morocco. Even though we have traveled in developing countries before, Morocco seemed very exotic, and we weren’t sure how we would be received. We needn’t have worried. The people were very friendly, and our anxieties quickly dissipated. We had no qualms, for example, in walking around even after dark.

Because we were a little anxious in the beginning, we chose a guest house in Tangier, Dar Nakhla Nacira, that was run by the most welcoming people you could ever hope to meet—the owner, Sue, and her manager, Said. (I'm sorry we did not get a photo of Said, but here's one of Kevin with Sue.)

Sue is retired nurse from Australia, who decided to take her retirement and buy the guest house in her adopted country. “To retire in Australia, I would have to work another ten years or so,” she said. So she decided to come to Morocco where she could work less and enjoy life more.

The view from the rooftop of the guesthouse, where we had breakfast every morning, was fantastic, (See the photo at the top that leads this post, and the inside was comfortable too.

One morning, over breakfast, we met a young woman from the U.S., an architect who is helping to preserve and update the ancient medina of Fes, to the south. The issues in preserving these ancient structures are complex. It isn’t simply a matter of repairing buildings that are about a thousand years old and updating them with plumbing and electricity, there are social concerns as well. Multiple families live in these buildings and share facilities, so how do you update them equitably, without upsetting the social structure? She was a delightful companion, and I am sorry to say that I lost my notes that included her name, but she certainly shed light on some of the challenges in integrating old Morocco with new Morocco. (Sorry, I got so engrossed in our conversation, I forgot to ask for a photo.)

In Tangier, the business of doing that integration is visible in  many new projects. The current king is very popular, and he is spending a lot of money to attract tourists to the country. Tangier is building the biggest port in North Africa, and everyone we talked to, from the taxi drivers to our guide, Mohammed, were excited about the prospects the new port will provide.

Construction is underway on the new port

We are happy for the people there, too, but we were also glad we came before the waterfront project was done, and before more tourists are sure to discover this fascinating city. (By the way, we were surprised to learn that Morocco was the first country to diplomatically recognize the United States when it separated from Britain.)

Sue put us in touch with a young man who guided us throughout the old city. His name was Mohammed. A bright, friendly person, he seemed to know everyone in town. Although he is engaged now, he encountered quite a number of beautiful young women friends as he took us about on our tour! I suspect he was quite the ladies­­­’ man at one time.

One of Mohammed's many friends. But you should see the photo of his fiancée! She is beautiful!

Mohammed explained that Tangier is a tolerant city. For example, Jews have been welcomed here since the time of the Spanish Inquisition. “We have Muslims, Christians, and Jews here,” he said. “We all get along.” And in the Muslim community, it is a matter of preference whether women choose to cover their heads with the hijab or not, or to wear dress that completely covers them, or  to choose Western-style clothes. “We respect people’s choices,” he said, as he escorted us through the city, including the kasbah, or fortress, where the Sultan lived.

The entrance to the kasbah at a high point above the cit

We also visited the café where Mick Jagger and the other Rolling Stones used to “toke up.” The proprietor posed with Mohammed.

The marketplace was alive with food and flowers, and everyone was welcoming.

I would not have hesitated to buy food at the market, had we a place to cook it. Everything looked clean.

When I took a photo of the flower stall, the merchant kindly gave me two white roses.

Sue recommended several good places to eat, including the charming French café nearby. (Sorry, I know I often neglect to take photos of the food. It’s because I’m usually hungry by the time it arrives, and afterwards, of course, the table is not very photogenic!)

The bakeries in Morocco perform a valuable community role. Not only do they bake bread for sale, but they also provide the centralized oven for everyone else. Women make their dough and form it into loaves and then they, or their children, take it to the bakery to be baked, where they will wait to take the finished loaves home. You can recognize the bakeries before you even see the name by the piles of wood heaped outside the door.

Too soon, we were off to Chefchaouen, our next stop. As we left the medina, where we had become familiar with many of the merchants, a man called out, “Goodbye, Seattle!”

We left on a bus. Besides the locals, we were the oldest couple on the bus, surrounded by twenty-something backpackers. It was a very nice bus, with plush, comfortable seats, and very cheap. Unfortunately, the clerk who sold us our tickets neglected to assign us seats, so the conductor had to intervene on our behalf twice, when people got on at a later stop who had been assigned to the seats we were in.  It was a little embarrassing when he harangued (sp?) one man, who obviously did not want to give up his seat, just so Kevin and I could sit together. I really wouldn’t have minded sitting in the other vacant seat nearby, but when someone looks out for you in a foreign country, you just stand there and smile apologetically.

So there we were, on our way to Chefchaouen.

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