Tuesday, October 15, 2013

You've Been Moroccoed

Riad Idrissy, Fez, Morocco
The Tanneries, Fez, Morocco
A week ago, we said our farewells to Europe and set out for Africa. After Granada and Cordoba, we headed to Seville which was a perfect balance of culture and chores. We went on an awesome walking tour through the Juderia, saw the Cathedral (the world's largest) and ate tortilla de papas. I also got a haircut (Mike got one in Cordoba) and we stocked up on probiotics and dry shampoo from Lush. We took a bus from Seville (Departing Prado de San Sebastián) to Tarifa. Mike and I have been trying different bus seats after accidentally putting ourselves next to a toilet on the bus trip to Granada. For this one, we chose front row seats which ended up also being front row seats to an intimate concert starring our bus driver singing along to his favorite American pop songs from the summer of 2012. Still, it was better than the poop deck seats, and even bad music from home is still comforting.
Fez, Morocco
We ended up in Tarifa around 1:00 and headed to the port to pick up our tickets for the ferry. With time to kill, we parked ourselves in our last little tapas restaurant and ordered fried fish and papas bravas and dos cervezas, before we headed to a dry country. We read up on Morocco, but also knew there was no real preparing oneself for Morocco.                                                                                                                                    We took the 5:00p.m. ferry from Tarifa to Tangier and got our passports stamped on the boat. When we arrived in Tangier, I covered myself up with a scarf (at least the décolletage) and we set out. To be honest, I expected more touts than there were. I expected a flurry of touts! We still got a few very persistent ones and even well outside the port, on the street walking to our hotel, we got a tout who was not only persistent but angry when we said "No Thank You" in Arabic. Everything you read in the guidebooks is true. They will try to ask where you are staying. They will say your hotel is closed. They will tell you that you don't know what "no thank you" means. But you kind of just have to brush it off and keep moving. No handshakes, just a smile and persistent firm, NO.
Butcher, Fez Medina, Morocco
                                                                  We checked in to our hotel in Tangier and I noticed when I asked a question, the answer was directed at Mike. I remembered my friend V telling me about her experience in Morocco, and so I went with it. It has not been like that everywhere, but in the busy cities, I've tried to be more respectful of the way things are here.
Erg Chebbi, Morocco
Fez Medina, Morocco
It didn't take long before we got slightly ripped off. We tried to get a SIM card for our phone which in the guidebooks says is 20dh. We got that SIM card and through French and English and sign language we upped what we thought to be our data plan. But in the end we paid 50dh for a SIM card that can send texts but doesn't get internet. Since we don't have any Moroccan friends, the text messages have largely gone unused but come in handy when contacting hotels.
Tangier left much to be desired. But our hotel staff was very friendly and clearly used to Western tourists breezing through. I kind of felt bad when we asked when the train to Fez was and the hotel manager suggested we take a later morning train otherwise we wouldn't see much in Tangier. We did not make it to the medina in Tangier or where Paul Bowles used to hang. But we left Tangier on a good note with a fun petite taxi driver who took us to the train station after we realized our clocks had not set to the proper time because the day before Morocco decided they were not going to do daylight savings.
At the train station, we caught a train to Fez and enjoyed a nice cabin and met a young Australian couple and later an older American couple. I have so loved meeting people along the way and swapping experiences and tips. There is no best time in life to travel. Every age is a good age to travel.
A few stops from Fez we were joined by a very friendly Arabic man who was very charming. He got the cabin chatting and before long asked where we were staying. Red flags went up and I said we were meeting friends. Sure enough, he ended up trying to see if we would be interested in an official guide, a cousin of his. He could even meet us at our hotel. The older couple and the two of us said we were not interested and we sat in silence until the next stop. This was a perfect introduction to Fez. We had booked a driver to meet us at the train station to take us to our Riad in the medina which has been the smartest thing we have done all trip. The driver took us to the gates of the medina where another man took our bags in a wheelbarrow and we braved the medina maze. We would have never found our Riad which was a true oasis. (Riad Idrissy) We met up with our friends and the next few days were a blast! Our friends had just come from Chefchaouen where they met a grad student abroad here who introduced them to the phrase "You've been Moroccoed." She learned this phrase when buying alcohol for a party (no easy task here) and putting it in the freezer to chill. But everything froze because they water down the alcohol here. That's when she first heard, "You've been Morrocoed."

What the Doctor Ordered
Two days into Fez, my stomach had been Moroccoed, as well as Mike's and eventually one of our friends, even after we parted ways. We spent one whole day hanging out in the Riad playing cards and laughing. But not to worry, we also got out and saw the tanneries, went through the food souqs and saw a camel's head and testicles, were hassled by many touts, and haggled with the best of them. (Well, I cheered on the haggling!) The tanneries were by far the most mind blowing. Here, men and boys take dried hides of leather and soak and stomp on them in vats of dye. The dye is made from dried flowers, saffron, fruit peels and chemicals and the skins are dried using pigeon poo and cow urine for the ammonia and potassium. But the vats have been used since medieval times. Many of the tanners come from a long line of tanners. And despite the health risks, the process continues to this day, the same as it did centuries ago.
Sahara Sand Dunes
Sunset in the Sahara, Africa
On our fourth day in Fez, my stomach cramps got the best of me and with an overnight bus ride ahead of me, I crashed for a few hours. That night we parted ways and Mike and I caught the CTM bus (had to buy tickets ahead of time and traveller's note there is a CTM office right outside of the medina!) to Rissani. At 6:30 in the morning, we met a driver who took us to a little Berber pension outside of Merzouga right across the street from some of the famous Erg Chebbi dunes. Being in the desert has been one of my favorite parts of the trip. There is nothing to do, which is what we needed. We have spent the time resting up and taking care of our stomachs. We have slept, and planned some of the next legs of the trip. We walked around the dunes barefoot and we took a camel ride at sunset. The dunes change color with the sun as the earth moves across it and the sky is some of the prettiest natural colors I've ever seen. Desert pinks and golds and violets backdrop burnt orange dunes with rose colored sand. The other cool thing that has happened is that slowing down has allowed us to chat with Ali, the owner of the pension. He was born a nomad in the desert and lived in the Sahara in Morocco and Algeria and Mali. But when politics closed the borders, finding water wells got harder, so he settled here - a little hotel where he also runs camel treks and camping treks. He took us into town to get our bus tickets to Marrakech and then drove us around the dunes in his 4x4 and eventually out into the desert to meet some of his Berber people, the "nomad people" he calls them. We had tea in a tent and on the way back, took four of the nomads back into town with us along with a goat riding on the top of the car.

Every time I think I have stepped too far out of my comfort zone and it's okay for me to pull back, I surprise myself and see myself stretch just a little bit more. Before Morocco, I could not tell you the difference between Arabic and Berber or most other Arabic or Middle Eastern cultures. And while I believed myself to be pretty open minded, I could feel my discomfort around Arabic culture. Part of it is the aggressiveness. Part of it is a lack of education on such cultures. And part of it is living in post 9/11 America, where enemy number one has been presented as an assault of images, many without context, of people who look a lot like Moroccans. I have felt my own nasty prejudices come through mainly in the form of fear. I then feel myself get frustrated. I want to be open and the desert has certainly allowed that. But I also know, I have to be a bit of a hard ass so not to be a sucker. And so the push and pull to find balance continues. But the more I trust in the greater good of people, the more that natural balance seems to find itself...even if it costs me an extra 30dh now and again.
Erg Chebbi, Morocco (Sahara Desert)

2 comments:

daleboca said...

morocco sounds great! are you still there?

Lindsey said...

Oh Yeah! Until the 24th!