University of Wisconsin–Madison

Moroccan Adventure

Last month, I had the opportunity to go to Morocco with City Life for four days. This trip was definitely my favorite so far, and I’ll never forget the adventure. Although it was fairly short, we covered a ton of Morocco. The first night blurred together with the next day because we took a ten-hour bus through the night to Tarifa and then a ferry in the morning to Tangier. My travel companion and I held arms and set foot on Africa at the same time, gingerly boarding the pier. Once in Tangier, we immediately started our journey by bus to Asilah, a small beach town on the west border of Morocco. We only stopped there for a half hour, making our way quickly to Rabat for Thursday afternoon and evening. The Americans on the trip and I were ecstatic to learn that this hotel had wifi so we could call our parents and tell them we had set foot in Africa.

The next morning, we made the five-hour journey to Fés, the cultural capital of Morocco. This was my travel companion and I’s favorite city by far. Fés is divided into an old city, called the Mezquita, and the new city. These two halves of the city are wildly different– the old city offering ancient tradition and winding streets and the new city offering modern accommodations and western-style supermarkets. It is said that Moroccan residents of the new city (one half of Fés) frequently get lost in the old city– not just tourists. Once we arrived, I saw why. In an attempt to shield the streets from the blistering sun which can rise well over 100 degrees, many of the streets and byways are shaded with dwellings several layers deep. This shading technique essentially created a haphazard pile of two or three cities on top of one another. Many streets were no wider than a few feet and occasionally short enough to prevent me from walking upright through them.

This city looked like a scene out of the Disney movie Aladdin with pools of dye for leather and spice vendors lining the streets. The whole feel of the city was otherworldly. That night, my friend and I tried to go out at night to see “the blue wall”, which google maps told us was very cool and only two miles away. It wasn’t that late, so we thought we’d be safe with no problems, but the sun went down quickly. We soon found ourselves walking down dimly lit winding streets with locals huddled around trash can fires on each side of the street. There were no women walking alone on the streets, let alone two women who were also pale tourists. The smell of home-cooked rotisserie meats and pastries was amazing, but the streets were getting dangerous. As the battery on my cell phone began to fade, I decided that we should return to the hotel.

After discussing our return for a moment, we realized neither of us had turned around to write down the name of our hotel. We knew how to get back for the most part, but once we got close we had to wander the streets by memory. We took a few wrong turns and it took us an extra half-hour or so to get back. With the help of several kind locals, we were able to find our way back. This was a fun night, but it probably won’t go on the list of most intelligent tourist decisions Abbie and I have made.

The next day, we boarded the bus again for Chefchauen – the blue city. The bus ride into the mountains was harrowing. After four hours of moderate turns and zips around highway roads– the bus began a treacherous ascent through mountainous gravel roads. This fifth hour was a killer. I swear the bus driver made 150 degree turns and never dropped his speed below 40mph. Abbie and I had been playing a game on paper and had to stop because we couldn’t look down anymore. I had brought a bag of oranges as snacks on the bus, and I was seriously considering the possibility of an alternative use for that bag. I was also dehydrated at this point as a result of trying to make it through three consecutive five to six-hour bus rides without bathroom stops.

I was mad at the tour company for dragging us so rapidly all across Morocco. We didn’t get much time in Fés, and the tour guide obviously had more things to show us but had to cut our tour short because we really only had four or five hours to see the old city. Instead of staying to see things longer, we were doing these awful five hour drives through the mountains every morning to see cities for three or four hours in the afternoons. All I was thinking was– this blue city better be pretty damn cool because I’m about to loose my cookies in an empty orange for it.

All of my anger vanished when we saw the blue city come up on the horizon. It was beautiful. We spent the afternoon enjoying the views and trying not to get lost in the blue maze. As the sun set, we began to freeze, so we quickly located a tea shop to drink some warm mint tea. We met three other travelers there and enjoyed the sound of live music as we warmed our hands. We sat with three French students who had been working their way through Morocco as farm laborers and a German girl. It was really cool to sit at that table. I thought to myself– this is what travelling looks like. I’m sitting here with people from all around the world enjoying the simple pleasure of a warm tea, music, and good conversation.

Afterward, we returned to our hotel to find it didn’t have electricity or heat. I would guess the ambient temperature was somewhere just above freezing. Luckily, there were four or five massive blankets in the closet that we used to keep warm. In the morning, the view outside our back porch was stunning. We could see the whole beautiful city nestled in the mountains as the sun came up. The tour group gave us a merciful wake-up time of 9:00 so I was able to spend an hour or so sipping my coffee looking over the beautiful place from our back porch. The city almost had an eerie glow to it. There was no civilization for hundreds of miles around this place– and the whole thing was the same stunning blue shade. The city had an other-worldly quality.

Morocco is not known for its coffee. Most of our hotels didn’t have any coffee or watery instant coffee at best, which was usually consumed by the 63 other Americans in the tour group who managed to get up earlier than Abbie and I. To make matters worse, our wake-up-in-time-for-breakfast record was not stellar. The hotel we stayed at in Chefchauen had a gourmet coffee press with a milk steamer– you know, one of those expensive varieties you might find in an upscale coffee shop. This hotel had no heat, electricity, or running water to speak of, but a coffee press and full time employee stationed to make fresh cups. Go figure. I enjoyed mine.

Shortly afterward, we boarded the bus for the second to last time on our way to Tangier, the second largest city in Morocco. There, we rode camels and saw the Hercules caves. Compared to the other cities we had been touring, Tangier was much more modern. My favorite part of that day was sitting with my feet dipped in the Atlantic Ocean drinking water and absorbing sun with the new friends I had made on the trip after my camel ride. It was a nice rest before we made the long 15-hour journey back to Madrid.

We took a ferry across the ocean and then boarded the bus to drive through the night from Tarifa to Madrid. I had taken some Nyquil to sleep through the first bus ride, but I had shared my other dose with Abbie so I didn’t have enough for the return trip. When we arrived on Monday morning, I hadn’t showered or changed my shirt in three days because the hotel in Chefchauen was too cold to bathe. When I got home to look at myself in the bathroom mirror, I laughed for about five minutes. My backpack was weighed down with pottery that I had bought, my hair was plastered in an upright position, and my face was puffy and red on the side I had attempted to sleep on. Abbie and I had also eaten what was left of our acidic candy to overpower the taste of morning breath earlier on the bus, but this had counterproductive results. I-slept-on-a-bus morning breath is really a unique thing without comparison.

Abbie– the strongest adventurer of the two of us went straight to school. I went home to wash my face, brush my teeth and stuff my bag with a few notebooks.

This was the trip of a lifetime and I would have done it again in a heartbeat.

 

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