Saturday, 26 October 2013

mo-roccan beats.

Which are..."hey, my friend, what you need? hey, my friend, you can trust me! hey my friend, tip?" With only slight variations, these are the beats of Morocco. Though, I am sure our cynical, weary, tetchy judgement of  country we were in for only two and a half weeks- and only in the 'big hitters'- is entirely subjective and not an accurate representation of the people at all. In fact, our few encounters with "real" Moroccans- those who are not at all involved in the tourist tricking racket and don't live in any of the massively touristy areas- were very positive.

The very first hour we were in the country, we encountered some very helpful lifesavers (unlike those pesky 'unhelpful' lifesavers...). Having caught the "8.30pm" ferry from Spain (it left at about 10pm), we arrived at midnight, at the new port 50kms out of Tangier. Having no idea of the existence of this port until we arrived (we thought we were at the other port, 5 minutes from the centre of Tangier), we had no idea how to get to the city without being completely ripped off by an over eager taxi driver who'd spotted us. Luckily there were some other men who lived in Tangier and needed some people to share a taxi- save money, you see- so in we jumped. All six of us, and the driver. Off at about 120km, into the night, down roads that would be comfortably navigated at about 80km, with a driver who had no qualms about tail-gating every single car he came upon.

We made it alive, obviously, though as Will and I were sharing the front seat I was white-knuckled on the door handle every time we rounded a corner. With a huge sigh of relief we arrived and our new friends helped us get to the medina to find a hotel and bid us farewell. We thought everyone would be like this- especially after a kindly old taxi driver gave us a discount on the fare because he didn't understand where we wanted to go, 'only' speaking French and Arabic. We soon realised that almost everyone else who offered us help was doing so with the expectation of a great big tip for their troubles. One man at one bus station literally begged us to go and look at this hotel- we did, only because it was night time and he wouldn't take no for an answer- and then once we arrived and discovered it was actually lovely and decided to stay, demanded a tip! Oh, the audacity.

But I will move on from our dubious relations with the Moroccan people to the towns we saw which, overall, we had better relations with (just don't talk to us about Fez).

We started our jaunt off in celebrity style...drinking incredibly sweet tea in the very square that William S. Burroughs (friend and collaborator of Jack Kerouac) used to admire the local 'talent' in. In the evening we moved on to the very posh (as in, when the waiter came over to ask if we were here for dinner or drinks I had a fleeting fear he was discreetly going to ask us to leave) hotel which has served the likes of Yves St. Laurent, John Malkovich and William Hurt. And a bunch of others. We drank fairly expensive wine, ate all the free snacks provided and pretended to be fancy for a couple of hours. This was in Tangier, a surprisingly nice port town, full of European style cafes and French accents.

The next stop on our hastily and rather unresearched route was Chefchaouen, a little village  surrounded by mountains and notable for all the blue paintwork in the medina. (Quickly, a medina is like the old part of every city we went to there was the medina- usually the touristy part- with all the little alleys and picturesqueness you can imagine, and then the ville nouvelle (new town) with all the administrative and important city buildings.) We spent a lovely few days exploring the medina, rocking the kasbah (old king's quarters, walled off from the rest of the medina), climbing a very steep, very rocky mountain and admiring all the lovely shades of blue upon the houses. This was especially exciting once we discovered the colour select function on our new camera...we now have far too many pictures that are black, white and blue. Once we had been charmed out by the adorable little village,  we left Chefchaouen bound for our one mistake of the trip, Fez.

I'll say this first. We were both a little ill in Fez, we got very lost upon arrival and ended up choosing a hotel on a very loud and busy road just because it was getting dark and we had no idea where we were really. A map is a purchase that will never be regretted. So the next day, after a sleepless night in a hotel on an incredibly busy road (Will slept a little and all his dreams were driving related), we decided to look for greener pastures and set off to the medina. Where we were immediately accosted by somebody who had rooms- without toilet or shower- for 150DH (about $19). To put this into perspective, in another far nicer town, we stayed in a "pent-house suite" (but seriously, for us it was) with a balcony, bathroom and even a couch for 150DH.

I digress. Fez. Wouldn't recommend it. Insanely, inanely touristy, unjustifiably expensive, hot...and just not worth it really. My fondest memories are of sitting in a cafe in the ville nouvelle writing my last blog post and of sleeping.

Next! Rabat, the capital of Morocco. I'd say come here over Fez. There is a medina, it is smaller, less crowded and still sells all the same things. It was really quite nice to wander through (apart from one very, very, very crowded street)...there was the main street with all the hotels and the smells wafting around from the delicious sandwich stalls and the clothes shops and carts piled high with pomegranates, grapes, herbs and figs and dried apricots and garlic; there was the "market" lane...think fruit and veg stalls, little shop fronts piled high with glistening olives, every second tiny shop selling bread, boys lounging in shelters with boom boxes selling coal, a big room full of sheep and kids running all over the place and the smells of mint, cumin, olives and preserved lemon mingling in the air. Chaotic and my favourite part of the medina. Then there was the ubiquitous tourist alley...alluring shops calling to those with fat wallets with their lovely leather bags, colourful textiles and other shinies. Nice to wander through, but don't get too close.

This lane opened out onto the kasbah, which opened on to the ocean. Right across the road from the kasbah was probably the biggest cemetery I have ever seen...I'm thinking a couple of acres...complete with tomb-stone guarding cats. There was a little carnival near the beach where we spent a good 10 minutes deliberating which ride to spend our pocket money on. (We went with the spinny-around-in-the-air-in-little-cages option). There was a beach, but not so good for swimming, better for people watching at dusk when all the strollers came out. And then sunset watching.

We visited some Roman ruins, with a lovely little garden green with fruit trees and pretty flowers and a lot of storks who had made their homes on the tallest towers. We visited the sweets stall in the medina and went a bit overboard, walking away with at least 15 different treats (they were very small though...). We drank fresh orange juice in the street, coffee and mint tea on the cafe strewn footpaths and avocado milkshakes in the milk bar.

Then we left Rabat. And there I will leave this post. We still had two more towns to visit before we returned to the stress-free shores of Spain, but I will return to those in another post...this is quite long enough I think.

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