We expected to get robbed at knife point, harassed endlessly, lost continuously, battered by the Kafkaesque traffic and shunned because we were Westerners based on all the “advice” we’d been given on what to expect in Morocco. Karen was genuinely worried, which is rare for her given where we’ve traipsed, and was only willing to step off the ferry and see if we should go further.
Well, none of that happened of course, with the possible exception of being lost (but not continuously). We spent 4 1/2 days in Morocco, keeping to its northern most area, wandering south from Tanger to Fes, then south and west touching the Atlas Mountains to Meknes, then north to the Atlantic coast in Asilah, then back to Tanger and the ferry to Spain. My guess is that went about 500 miles total.
We saw a lot, but I know we barely touched the surface. Yet, if I were to be honest, this was enough for me. Why in a minute.
First, the really good stuff. Life inside a Medina, which is the name for the oldest part of a city surrounded by an ancient fort’s wall, is Other Worldly. I’m not able to describe it, but everything is different: smell, sights, colors, noises, space, style, etc. Medinas are shops/stalls/housing contained in a labyrinth of walkways and alleys. All set in what feels like another century. Well, another century that still sells cellphones and every kind of sneaker you can think of:)
On the hills on top of Tanger’s medina, is the remains of the old forts that protected the inner city – the Kasbah. As is often the case, we end up where we shouldn’t, but had a terrific time trying to find our way through the kasbah around midnight. All the shops are gone, replaced by windows and doors that give a peek into how people live. Fascinating in a voyeuristic way:)
We ended up in the Kasbah late at night as KR had read a review of a restaurant, the El Morocco Club, that sounded really neat. How hard could it be to find? You know the answer to that with few street signs, most not in English, and a restaurant facade that looked rather… run down.
But, once inside, ohhh man now this was a restaurant! Downstairs there was a piano bar that you’d swear was high-line London bar, with the most wonderful music and walls covered with photos of the rich and famous that had been there. Upstairs was a high style, sophisticated intimate dining room.
The El Morocco Club was great, which is how we found ourselves at the top of the Kasbah needing to find our way to our hotel, the well-worn but still dignified, Hotel Continental (NOT part of the Intercontinental chain:) around midnight. This was a walk to remember.
The next morning we went south along the Atlantic coast, then cut inland southeast toward the ancient town of Fez, about 200 miles away in the low mountains of north central Morocco.
About 30 miles into the trip, I can only assume I made a wrong turn as we started down a single+ lane road. Mrs Garmin was telling me that we were going the right way, so onward we plowed. Long story short, we spent 8 hours pretty much lost in the Moroccan countryside.
This was both scary and fascinating. The scary part was we found ourselves way out there, where the predominant mode of transportation has four legs, and there was nothing around. If we had a problem; say we fell over in one of the dirt sections, or we had a flat tire, or NVII suddenly turned into NVI and stopped running, we were really shit out of luck. No cell phone. No Internet. No electricity. No English. No gas stations. But, none of that happened fortunately.
As a result, we got to see a part of Morocco (and indeed the world) where there was one communal water well for a village, where the only mode of transportation was a mule, donkey, pony, beat up horse or the power of your own feet. This was farm land farmed the old fashioned way- by hand and beast of burden.
We would go for miles and miles and not come across a single village. And when we came upon one, it was too small to be on the map or in Mrs. Garmin’s database. Whenever we came across a junction, my hopes surged: is this the road to the highway? Answer: no.
We wound our way toward Fez, on these back roads and trails, for almost eight hours. When we got to Fez, a pretty big city as Moroccan cities go, we didn’t know where our hotel was as it too wasn’t in Mrs. Garmin’s GPS database. The only reason we eventually found it inside Fez’s Medina was because a local scooter rider called his brother, while riding his scooter of course, and then led us to it. There is no way in the world we would have ever found this place without Annan’s help. Which he expected to be paid for, of course.
Another night, another Medina, but this night was pretty short and we found ourselves in an upstairs restaurant, “Cafe Smiles” (I’m not kidding), listening to a band of young men play what we assume was traditional Moroccan music. You’re invited to come over sometime and listen to the CD.
The next day we went a total of 50 miles into the Atlas Mountains to a beautiful old town called Meknes. We spent most of the day in…. its Medina… but with some success as Karen a couple of rugs she liked. Dinner on the hotel’s terrace was lovely way to spend the evening, having a glass of wine and overlooking the walls surrounding the… Medina:)
The next day we went northwest to the Atlantic coast, stayed a night at the Moroccan seaside resort of Asilah, and caught the ferry back to Spain the next morning.
Seeing life in the Moroccan countryside and deep inside Tanger’s Kasbah were the highlights for both of us. Just for these experiences, we’re thrilled we made it to Morocco (admittedly, a very tiny bit of Morocco).
But, both Karen and I found the Muslim life that we encountered to be colorless, humorless, and pretty desperate. Whether in the cities or countryside, few people were smiling or outwardly having fun. Each city street’s were lined with cafes in which the men of the town sat, sipping coffee and chatting with no women in sight. I found it hypocritical that many of the men dressed in Western clothing, but none of the women were allowed — 99% of the women we saw were dressed in the traditional style.
There’s no doubt that my view is fully colored by being a Westerner, a liberal Westerner at that, and one who lives life pretty much to the “live and let live ” philosophy of my neighbors.
In the last hotel in Morocco we stayed in, there was a sign on the wall warning that if either member of the couple was Muslim, they’d have to show their marriage certificate in order to check in.
We checked out next morning.