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Morocco: A Weekend in…Paradise? August 10, 2010

Posted by Maziar Adloo in Travel Log.
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Sunday, June 13th

Dearest readers! Oh how good it is to be able to speak to you again, safe and sound. Maruecos was CRAZY. It was a great experience, and I’d definitely do it again given the choice, but it was truly an adventure from start to finish. Let me tell you of my trans-continental journey…

“There and Back Again” by Maziar Adloo

Yes, I know it is a borrowed title for my short work (all hail be to the great Tolkien), but it’s appropriate for my story because, quite frankly, getting there and back again was far more interesting than actually being there.

Our arduous journey began with ten of us, five guys and five girls, leaving class as soon as possible and rushing to the nearest bus stop. We rode the city bus to the bus station and caught a different bus to take us to the city of Tarifa. In Tarifa, we managed to find the ferry company’s store, buy tickets, and make it onto the ferry 10 minutes before it lifted anchor. We were hoping to catch the 5:30 train to Rabat, our final destination, but the ferry didn’t even land until 5:40. So, finding ourselves in Tangier, Morocco with nothing to do until the next train at 9:00, we decided to follow Lisa’s guidebook and take a side trip to the Kasbah.

The Kasbah used to be a fortress of sorts but had since been converted into a museum; it had another appeal as well – being the highest point in the city, it afforded great views of both the coast and the city itself. After pushing through crowded market streets, enduring catcalls of “Hello!”, “How are you?”, and “Howdy, howdy, howdy!” (yelled at us by shop owners who knew little to no English but these phrases but could recognize us as American), trekking up several rather steep streets, getting lost a few times (no one in our group knew Arabic or French and could read the signs or ask directions), and winding our way through a few narrow alleys, we wound up in front of the Kasbah Museum. However, to our dismay, it had already closed for the day. Lucky for us, there were a couple of young guys about our age hanging around in front that were all too willing to help us.

One of them spoke fluent English and Spanish, and he instantly became our self-appointed tour guide. Telling us that he was taking us back to a main street, he instead took us on a back-street tour of the old part of Tangier, stopping at photo-opp spots. During these walks back and forth through alleys in single file, Erik’s backpack had somehow become open and we had been approached by children on multiple occasions that had suspiciously stopped playing soccer and snapped at each other as soon as we came into view. We were already on high alert and, after a traumatic experience in a rug shop (let’s just leave it at I never want to hear the words “we’re going to cut your neck” in Spanish, or any other language, again), we urged our tour guide to get us back to a main street. After paying him for his troubles, we found a couple of taxis and went to the train station; though we had almost two hours before the train arrived, we figured it’d be best spent at the station.

The train ride was the second scariest part of our trip. We boarded it just fine, but once we got on we had no idea when to get off. There was no map, and there were no announcements; people just got on and then got off at their stops. So, we were in a dilemma. We knew we had to get to Rabat and we knew we were supposed to be arriving sometime around 3am, but we had no idea which stop was ours. And there was no way we could ask anyone else. This is when the miracle happened.

Around 2am, a woman (who looked surprisingly like Shakira) walked into our compartment and put up her bags. She then turned to her male companion and kissed him on the cheek goodbye while he bid her safe travels. After he left and she sat down, I realized that I understood what he had said because he said it in Spanish, so I turned to her and asked “¿Habla usted español?” She replied “Sí,” and with that one word all five of us became visibly less anxious as a tension was lifted from our bodies. This woman, who was half-Moroccan and half-Spanish (explaining her looks), was travelling to Casablanca to visit her sister-in-law who was giving birth and had come to sit with us because we looked friendly. Yes, she spoke Arabic. Yes, she knew which stop we needed to get off on. Yes, she could recognize it by sight but would double check with a conductor. Yes, she’d let us know a few stops ahead of time.

This woman was truly a godsend; she got us off at the right stop. The taxi drivers on the other hand, not so much. They took us to the wrong hotel, and we had to sketchily walk around a foreign city at 4:30am until we found some police loading an armored car to ask for directions. Finally, after much stress and worry, we made it to our hotel, split into two rooms, and passed out.

The next morning, we woke up just in time for breakfast, and then set out upon the town. We weren’t out for more than a few hours, but they were a very productive few hours. We visited the mosque and mausoleum of King Hassan I, some used-to-be-royal gardens, an art exhibit, and the bazaar. While some of the group went shopping, I took the time to truly observe the city of Rabat.

Rabat is a wondrous place, full of culture and history. Another part of its appeal is how different it is from any city stateside; on every corner you hear people hawking their wares, at any time of day you can smell food cooking on the wind, and five times a day without fail, the call to prayer rings out and practically stops all traffic. The streets were rather dirty, but the people were nice. (In fact, someone approached me and remarked that I had the “visage” of Moroccan royalty and that we were all welcome in Morocco any time.) After eating a late lunch, we headed back to the hotel to nap, play cards, and chill until dinner.

The next morning, we got up early, ate breakfast, headed to the train station, took the train to Tangier, caught a ferry to Tarifa, rode a bus back to Cádiz, and made it home in time for dinner. The return journey was much the same as the one going, except this time we knew were everything was and managed to catch every planned transport on time. (Though, to be fair, we were the last 10 people to board the ferry.) Back home, warm and full, Morocco seems an even stranger place, distant in location, culture and time, but it was also a new sensation, a new flavor that left a pleasant aftertaste that will last for a while to come.

Would I go back to Morocco? Probably, but only with someone who actually speaks Arabic. I suggest you do the same; you’ll save yourself a lot of stress.

Hasta pronto,

Maz

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