Two weekends ago (I’m slipping on the blog posts here, I know) I had the great pleasure of stepping foot on a new continent for me: a group of friends and I traveled to Tangier and Rabat in Morocco! After visiting Andalusia, I was excited to experience the country that had such a profound influence on it. And also, I got to visit AFRICA! Throughout the weekend, I ate a sandwich made of a cow’s head, experienced my first real culture shock, saw many new and wonderful things, and drank more delicious mint tea than you can imagine. All in all, I would consider it a resounding success!
The weekend started on an iffy note, for when we touched down in Tangier, we discovered that our cards didn’t work in the ATMs in the airport. Fortunately, we had cash in Euros that we could exchange, but it added another layer of discomfort to the weekend – while we all had a working knowledge of English and Spanish, these were practically useless, for despite their proximity to Spain, people in Morocco really only speak French and Arabic. So with limited cash in hand an an inability to communicate very much at all, we hopped in a taxi to take us to our hostel and prayed that it actually would.
And it did! Mostly – we were staying in the Old Medina of Tangier, and the further into it you go, the smaller and more winding the streets get. We reached a point where the taxi could go no further, and we were handed our backpacks and sent on our way. Fortunately (and alarmingly) people throughout our time in Tangier would seemingly appear from nowhere and direct us around the city. Now, we are not (that) naive, and knew that they would be expecting money, but as it turns out, the money was not coming from us – the man who led us to the hostel worked with the hostel owner, bringing him business, and the man the next morning who called us a taxi got a commission from the driver. There was a whole web of relationships living beneath the surface, and as outsiders, it was a bit baffling to navigate.
Our day in Rabat was rainy and somewhat dismal, but we walked all over the Medina and saw some amazing things – artisans making their wares by hand in little shops, beautiful spots of color and architecture typical of the Islamic world (which I have completely fallen in love with – the use of geometric designs and color is utterly beautiful to me), stores filled with impressive handmade metal decorations as well as massive rugs that covered the walls, and much more.
One thing that surprised me (though not much) was the extreme disparity between the number of men and women out in the streets. The fact that we were foreign AND women meant that we got quite a few stares (as I am quite pale and taller than almost everyone in this country, I feel like I may have contributed a bit). But we had a great first day, staying inside the hostel after 8 PM, as the few women who were out and about disappeared around this time AND it was raining.
We spent the remainder of the weekend in the country’s capital, Rabat! In this city, we had the great fortune of having a guide who spoke both fluent Arabic and English and who we could trust completely! He was a friend of one of my friends on the trip with me, and he was an incredible asset – suddenly, interacting with shopkeepers became much easier, and having a very tall male present who can speak to people is never a bad thing.
With Daniel’s help, we explored this city’s old Medina (FILLED with places to buy cheap and delicious food, as well as fun souvenirs if you are so inclined), walked along the beach, drank many cups of mint tea, wandered the city, ate the infamous cow’s head sandwich (it wasn’t SO bad, but it isn’t something I would seek out again), dined on the incredible milwee (a type of bread that in this case contained tomatoes and peppers and onions and is indescribably good), sat by the sea in the dark and watched the waves crash into the coast, and ended the night with cakes and a big bag of incredible strawberries in our quirky little hotel room.
The next day, we were without Daniel but in a better position than Tangier – Rabat is a bigger city, and just felt safer and easier for us to navigate. We attended a mass in French with readings in English and Spanish, explored some awesome Roman ruins, walked along the street with all of the embassies on it (minus America’s – we moved to a different location where we could have a bigger building. Typical.), viewed the ruins of a mosque and the outside of a spectacular tomb, and spent all of our remaining dírham (the currency of Morocco) on food in the Medina before we caught a taxi to the airport!
It was my strangest airport experience yet – it was next to the king’s house, and for security reasons, you can only fly to Paris or Madrid from this location (what luck!). We were the only flight out of the airport that night, and we got there much too early (thanks to an email from our airline advising us to do so). Getting to our gate took a while, as what seemed like every single employee checked our boarding passes and passports. Luckily, we were cleared to fly, and after a long wait (made longer by the fact that they let us board 30 minutes late…) we were on the plane home!
This was definitely my most challenging weekend so far – Morocco is unlike any place that I have ever been. And I am incredibly grateful for every minute of it. Everything we did there, pleasant and less so, has helped me to see more of the world and to become more culturally literate. I could not have asked for a better weekend.