Morocco: an enchanted, alluring melting pot between Europe, the Middle East, and Africa... My heart has longed to return ever since I left the first time, and last weekend I finally had the opportunity to dip back in.
I never realized until I was there in 2015 that the Strait of Gibraltar is only 14km (9 miles) wide, and that it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to Tangier from the southernmost surfing village of Tarifa, Spain. A short 40 minute ferry ride will get you across the mouth of the Mediterranean and a new stamp on your passport (finally.) When I was there last time, I stayed with a kite-surfing guide who told me he frequently kite-surfed between the continents! Be that as it may, we chose to take a plane from Madrid.
My dear friend Andrea came to visit me from Canada and we spent the week catching up in Zamora and surrounding areas, but when I realized I had a longer-than-usual weekend, we decided to hop over to Marrecos and go on a zesty new adventure together. Over the past 6 years we've traveled long and far to visit each other's homes, but had yet to go somewhere foreign together (we're both adventurous little ladies so it was long overdue.)
Andrea and I found each other on Craigslist back in 2011 when I moved to Montreal and needed to sublet an apartment for the summer. It was between her and a man that included a picture of himself (shirtless with a bowl of fruit) in his ad, and as intriguing as that was, I'm so glad I went with her instead, as we are soulmates that will be forever entangled in each other's lives. She's one of the most positive, inspiring, and contagiously radiant people I've ever met. I stand by the fact that she helps me grow every time I'm near her to be a more aware and present human being. I adore Andrea.
Conveniently, I had another dear friend named Katilin (who is also incredibly strong and inspiring) that was beginning her 4-month-long backpacking trip and wanted to meet us in Tangier before coming to see me in Spain. Squad! She flew in a few days before us then arranged to meet us at the airport with a taxi to take us straight to Chefchaouene (one of the two famous "blue cities" in the world.)
Taxis in Morocco are much cheaper than they are in America (as with everything) and due to the bad weather and bus schedule, we decided this was the way to go, even though it was a long trip. A lot of Moroccan taxis are old, lemon-chiffon yellow Mercedes Benzes that are souped up and personalized on the inside, which surprised me the first go-around, but this taxi one was not one of those. Typically you can just buy one individual seat in a taxi, like a bus, then wait for other people to show up that happen to be going to the same place you want to go and pay virtually nothing. It's a very different system than our taxis! The roads were hilariously bumpy, and I nearly stabbed Andrea in the thigh with a knife while trying to catch a run-away piece of fruit I was in the middle of cutting as we lurched over a pothole. A few hours in, our driver decided he wanted to stop in a village for some food, so we just pulled right on over in the pouring rain and crossed the street on a hill that was already beginning to resemble a chocolate-milky waterfall.
Mint Tea and Bones
Morocco smells like mint tea. Morocco smells like dirty puddles. Morocco smells like boiled snails and freshly squeezed juices. Morocco smells like hash. Morocco smells like manure. Morocco smells like textile dye and like metal polish. Morocco smells like tanning leather and like fish markets and hand-made soaps. But to me, Morocco mostly smells like mint tea. Andrea has a much better nose than I do, and I loved hearing her play-by-play as we walked down the streets. For the past 2 years the smell of mint shot me back to Morocco in my mind, that powerful olfactory nerve, and in this large dining room of a restaurant in wherever- we-were, I was finally reunited with this aromatic beverage from the heavens.
We had a difficult time ordering vegetarian couscous between French (Andrea) English (Kaitlin) and Spanish (me) but we were content and excited to be there in general, and eventually communicated what we wanted. I've noticed that every single restaurant in Morocco seems to have a prominently-displayed picture of their King looking over you as you eat. Once the food came out, it was sweet and savory and delicious all at once, and also distressing after I bit down a little too hard on a mysterious bone of some sort, a vegetable bone I'm sure, but it's all part of it, no pasa nada. I also got reacquainted with my foe from the previous trip: the pit toilet (a ceramic hole in the floor.)
We finally made it to Chefchaouen after a 4 hour ride and pit stop, and I was pleased to find we were staying in the Medina this time (last time I didn't.) In most cities I've visited in older parts of the world, there is a new section and and an old section. "Medina" is the name of the old sections of Moroccan cities and within them are "souks" which are the markets. Most of them are maze-like and lacking in any kind of structure, and is crowded, confusing, and bursting with life. It's easy to get lost, which can be both good and bad, as you wander through shops and lanterns and tunnels of colors and aromas and offers for marriage for life or leather goods. Our hostel had substantial, cozy beds with lots of blankets and a lovely red-headed Mexican guy named Ivan who befriended immediately before heading on our merry way to explore.
I'd reached out on Couch-surfing before going to Morocco to see if anyone was available to show us around, but we went out on our own initially anyway, as the lure of the blue was too much to put off even one moment longer. We had an unfortunate encounter almost immediately with a man that was harassing Katlin way too aggressively... Initially with trying to sell her hash then potentially trying to place said hash in her back pockets...This was a horrible and misleading way to begin, because we never had another encounter even close to as off-putting as that (thankfully.) Kaitlin handled it like a champ. Boo for aggressive men potentially ruining first impressions!
We began investigating Hammams (public baths- something I really wanted to do while we were here as I wasn't able to find a proper one last time) and Katilin found a man selling boiled snails and chick peas from a cart. I've been a vegetarian for most of my life but I eat shellfish, and decided that a snail was in a shell and I was in Morocco, so Andrea and I both tried them with her! They had the taste and consistency of mushrooms marinated in whatever delicious broth they had going on.
This little blue world is spectacular, and hard to fully convey in words... It feels like you're walking through a hypnotizing, intoxicating dream. Though there are many shades of blues and many types of doors, all of them are painted with a vibrant mixture of straight pigment and lye (I think) and they're electric, even on an overcast and rainy day... Tourists wander around in awe as the local children run past you to get to the nearest water fountain and the old men sit in their pointy-headed cloaks watching the world walk by. The vendors are less aggressive here than in Marrakech, and it's a delight to wander in an out admiring all the different goods they're selling. The moroccan aesthetic is colorful and rich and magical, and I constantly have to resist buying literally everything they're trying to sell...
Magic Magic Magic Magic Magic....
I realized at some point I'd lost my umbrella that I nervously smuggled through airport security, and we were walking back to the hostel to meet up with Ivan for dinner when a man leapt out of a cafe towards us. We all assumed he was just trying to sell us something like the rest, but he grabs my arm and says "I know you!"
"You KNOW me? How?"
"Couch surfing!! I'm the one you've been talking to on whatsapp! We're about to start a concert, come inside!"
Luckily I was wearing the same hat that I had on in my whatsapp picture, so he was able to recognize me when we walked by, and we entered in a candle-lit cave cafe with loads of pillows and even MORE delightful mint tea. They don't drink alcohol in Morocco, so the mint tea flows like wine. It turns out our new friend Ali Mohamed (ha) is an incredible percussionist! and we were serenaded by the flamenco-esque music he and his partners were creating. We all practically melted at how dreamy it all was. Just look at how happy my lil A looks here...
We shared a Tangine (roasted vegetables cooked in a volcano-shaped ceramic dish with lid) and Moroccan salad and debated paying 16 euros (and insanely large amount in Moroccan and Spanish terms) for a secret bottle of wine, then didn't. We made friends with the other musicians in the band, one of which was Spanish and eventually coaxed me into doing a really shitty flamenco dance attempt while they played.