Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land

“Just go straight for a few hundred meters, then turn right, and your hostel will be there.” This is what the Moroccan taxi driver told us, in French, when could could go no further into the medina. From the moment Patricia and I stepped out of the car, it was all too obvious that we were no longer in Europe: the smells, the streets, the sounds of an unfamiliar foreign language blended with the noise of goats and motorcycles and the stares coming from the faces of locals who could sense our states of confusion quickly overloaded my senses. Moroccan cities are not easy to navigate around, they are centuries and centuries old, with many small, nameless streets leading to nowhere, sketchy neighborhoods, or back to where you started. Think: "Assasin´s Creed" or "Aladin". So after looking helplessly lost for a few minutes, a man walked us to our Riad (Moroccan hostel).

We were only going to be in Morocco for 4 days, and we had planned to spend each day in a different city. The cities we decided upon were Marrakech, Fes, Chefchaouen, and Tetouan.


Hot. Our riad was conveniently situated in the Medina (a medina is the old neighborhood, where the market and shops are), so everything we wanted to do was within walking distance. However, walking around these old neighborhoods is like navigating through huge laberynths and so we spent a lot of time being lost. But once we found our destinations, it was well worth the frustration. Especially when we found food, because Moroccan cuisine is fantastic (we ate a lot of cous cous and tajine) and rediculously cheap. It was all smooth sailing until the sun went down and we found ourselves in unfamiliar settings. After about an hour of walking in circles, we made it to the neighborhood where our riad was located, only to be led astray by a bunch of little Moroccan hoodlems who were around 10 years old and tried to tell us where our hostel was. When we finally found our Riad I took the best shower of my life.


Fes is another big (and thus confusing) city in Morocco, which boasts a massive medina conprised of an even more complex system of streets than Marrakech. However, if I were to return to Morocco, I would definitely plan to stay longer in this city because it is more or less what I had expected when I pictured the country in my mind prior to going. There are markets and people everywhere trying to sell you the same stuff as the guy across the street, and the smell of trash blended with fine, potent spices provides one with an excellent sense of third-worldness. Also, Fes is home to the oldest university in the world (sorry England) and a famous tannery, which we were able to peek inside of for free.

Maybe the biggest surprise about Morocco were the people, while Muslims may get a bad reputation, these people are super friendly, and at times they seem too friendly. In fact, I am tempted to say as a whole, Moroccans are the friendliest people I have ever encountered. Again, the the Riad that we stayed at was like a museum/mosque/palace and we were treated like royalty.


Chefchaouen is a must-stop if you are travelling through Morocco. It's a small town tucked away in the moutains in the north of Morocco and get this: it is painted blue. That's right, the entire center/medina part of the city is painted a royal blue; probably the most photogenic place I have been to in the third world. However, in Chefchaouen we didn't stay in a riad, no no no, we decided to stay at the home of a Scottish expat. His place was called "Ri-For-Anyone" (refer for anyone). If you didn't get the pun automatically don't feel bad, neither did Patria or I. It was not until our host started to roll a hash joint while we were filling out our passport info and we saw everyone else doing the same that it his us. Basically, the local farmers gives this guy free hash and he gives it to people staying at his hostel/home for free. He and his wife are basically baked throughout the day, and everyone we met that was staying there had either been there for weeks or was planning on being there for weeks (could you really blame them?). However, they were super nice people and waking up to the wife blowing down a fatty and cooking you cheese eggs isn't all that bad isn't the worst thing in the world. And even though it was pretty tempting to just chill with them, we spent most of our time within the blue city walls. Hands-down my favorite place in Morocco.


So Patricia has this friend, Omar, whose family is from Morocco and lives in Tetouan. At first, we were going to pass through and just say "hi" because Patricia had never met them, however they decided to display the Moroccan hospitality and they invited us to stay the night with them. The parents cooked us traditional food, Omar's brother showed us around the city and medina-he even bought us moroccan shoes and patricia a dress!-before meeting up with his wife and taking us to Rincon, a nearby beach. This is where we decided to act like models and take a lot of photos before eating freshly grilled sardines. The next morning, another brother of Omar's privately escorted us through the border because the Spanish border-control was on strike (surprise!) and the border was like something from "Children of Men." I might still be in Morocco if it weren't for his help.

I am writing this from Munich. Clay arrived yesterday and tomorrow we are heading to Austria. We are already having way too much fun.

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