Arrival on Easter Sunday. We had booked our digs through Airbnb and the owner recommended the services of her property manager, Abdellah, as a guide. It was our good fortune to take her suggestion as over the course of our visit we were given what felt to be a real inside view of life in this part of Morocco. This photo was taken just as we go off our ferry. The tall building to the right is a mosque. Our rental was just below that orange arrow, within the walls of the Kasbah and set amidst a warren of narrow, winding streets. (“First the Continental Hotel, then to Hawmat Zaitouna (rough translation: Olive Street), then to #73” were the directions we repeated over and over as we memorized our route.)
We had to go through 3 passport check points and two security screenings on our crossing from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier. Bob did get a brief rest break aboard the ferry. Abdellah arranged to meet us at the ferry terminal. Before he arrived we were confronted by a bevy of locals offering us rides and tours and various tourist services. It was a cacophony of marketing and persuasion techniques. When he reached us, Abdellah diverted their efforts but not before he was taken to task for “stealing” us from the folks who felt they had first dibs because they worked the terminal parking lots.
Our first evening was an unexpected treat. We were invited to the engagement party of Abdellah’s niece, to be given in the home of his parents. We tried to gracefully decline as it seemed like it would be an intrusion, but he was adamant. Upon arriving at the house we were first introduced to the men gathered upstairs. Bob stayed with them and I was escorted (not by Abdellah, but by his wife, Sara) into the women’s lounge downstairs. The main room had a large display at the entrance holding significant items and representative symbols for the engaged couple.
The party, planned for 6-10 p with dinner be served at 9p, was running late – very late. We had arrived by taxi about 7p, and spent the next two and a half hours waiting for the family of the future groom to arrive. While waiting, we were served beverages and chocolates and small snacks were passed around. There was music playing and many of the women danced. Bob says that upstairs they were pretty quiet with a number of sessions of prayers.
Finally, from out in the street we hear the sounds of the family procession, bringing gifts to the bride to be. If you look closely you can see Bob, with a smile on his face, in the far left side of the photo.
The gifts are brought downstairs and put under and around the entry table.
The engaged couple and all of their family members proceeded into the house with the trumpets and drummers following behind. The music they played sounded for all the world like a traffic jam in Times Square on New Years Eve. This lovely little lady and I (who became quite friendly over the course of the evening) held similar sentiments, but I kept my hands away from my ears.
Following the entrance there is a chunk of time devoted to photo taking – 2 hours worth, actually. Everyone is expected to get a photo taken with the couple. Abdellah, our guide and host, is the gentleman on the right.
And when I said everyone was expected to be in the photos, I meant EVERYONE. Sometimes it’s just best to smile and keep things moving along.
Finally, at about midnight, dinner was served and then the cake cut. It is another photo opportunity and the whole group gets into the action. The videographer had to fight for her space in the front row. By now it is close to 1am and the party pretty quickly breaks up. We get a ride back to the Kasbah and make our way home repeating “Continental Hotel, Zaitouna, 73.” It works.
The next morning we head out to meet Abedllah and our driver, Azding, whom Bob had actually gotten to speak with a bit during last night’s events. Along the way we come upon a tangle of ropes and look up to see…
scaffolding on a work in progress. This give an idea as to the extreme narrowness of the streets we were navigating through.
We admire the many murals we see along the way. This one is at an intersection/crossroads. During the afternoon and evening there are food stalls and merchants doing business here. Oh – and the cat! There are almost as many cats as there are people.
The first stop on our driving tour is to Charf Hill, which overlooks Tangier (on the left) and the Mediterranean (on the right). Down the slope is a cemetery with some of the oldest graves in the city.
Many people plan herb beds atop the graves.
Next stop is Malabata Lighthouse with it’s castle spire and Moroccan star. Bob, Abdellah and Azding look across to locate Charf Hill, where we just came from.
My favorite sight was the cluster of bouys that were scattered among the cedar trees.
On to Cap Spartel.
We watch the fishing boats coming in and note the variations in color in the water, indicating the rocky and hazardous entrance to the harbor. In the lower left corner is a rock painted with the Moroccan star, a task that gets repeated frequently and faithfully as it is a point of pride for the local fishermen.
Cap Spartel is also noteworthy as it is where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. Legend has it then if you are there at the right time in the morning there is a green line that can be seen separating the two bodies of water.
On our way back into the city we stop at the Caves of Hercules. Moroccans will tell you the opening represents a map of Africa. When I took the photo I saw a man sitting upon a ledge (to the lower left of the opening) looking out to sea. Speaks to varied perspectives and the delight of a found optical illusion.
Final stop: Cafe Hafa, overlooking the Bay of Tangier and known for both its mint tea and for its gatherings of writers and musicians – from Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs, to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Our evening is capped off by a dinner made for us at our flat by Abdellah’s sister, Loubna, who is also the mother of the to-be-bride from last night’s party. It was another feast with enough food to last us through the next day’s dinner as well.
Our third day, and we are off to Chefchaouen, the Blue City. It is an almost 3 hour drive so we have plenty of time for conversation. Abdellah is very candid about his thoughts and feelings about Morocco. He is frustrated with the political and economic conditions, particularly bemoaning the lack of jobs, poor educational opportunities, and difficulty in accessing health care services. (He and his wife of 7 months are expecting their first child and he will be paying privately for her doctor visits and hospital stay.) We are told that they and their friends are always looking for opportunities to improve their lives and wish for capitalism but are wary of the regulations that they feel would come along with it. Since Abdellah had arranged for Azding to drive, I asked if they had Uber in Morocco. “What’s this Uber?” he asked. What followed was a lively discussion of how the car service worked and a number of expressions of disbelief on their part. They told us that taxi licenses in Morocco are given out by the king – mostly as favors. When we questioned if their frustrations ever led them to think of relocating they tell us that they are not allowed visas as there is a concern that they would leave and not come back.
Upon arrival we walk through beautiful blue hued streets and plazas.
I am tempted by the food stands – especially those long strands of dried figs, which are delicious.
Abdellah urges us to hold on to our appetite until we get to a restaurant he favors. It is typically Moroccan, serving the same array of dishes to every diner. Bob and I are the only non-locals and I am the only woman. We have chickpeas in broth, fava beans in tomato sauce, chicken with vegetables, olives, fish, chickpea porridge, french fries (!?!?) and bread. Our bill comes to 130 MAD (dirham) or $13.45 for all four of us.
Part of our walk around the city takes us to the waterfalls.
As we leave we are taken with how much Chefchaouen reminds of of Guanajuato, particularly if Guanajuato had been done in blue.
We have collected great memories of our Kasbah days and it’s quirky and intriguing style.
We loved the warm and gracious, up-close-and-personal style of Abdellah’s tour guidance and our comfortably authentic house.
We won’t miss the many flights of stairs we had to take to get from street level to bedrooms to bathrooms to kitchen.
Yup, from the medina to the Blue City; we rocked it.