15.12.2012 - 15.12.2012 17 °C
We woke up much earlier than we would have liked today, about six in the morning. We were told this was necessary in order to catch the nine o'clock ferry over to Morocco. However, I mourned the half hour of sleep that was lost as we sat in the waiting room, letting the ferry dock. The ride over was rocky, but otherwise quiet and uneventful, which provided a stark contrast to the world we met on the other side. As soon as we exited, we were approached by various "guides", asking us if we would like a tour. Having experienced this before, my mom and dad quickly said no thank you and kept looking for a cab big enough to hold our luggage. However, a man that seemed to actually be a guide, or perhaps a friendly taxi driver, told us that our hotel was in walking distance of the terminal, and was nice enough to point us in the right direction. Arriving at the hotel, we found the decor both palatial and dilapidated. Most of the walls, floors and ceilings were covered in colourful mosaics and stained glass windows, but had fallen into disrepair. The hotel had been built in 1888 and was once one of the most impressive in Tangier, providing lodgings for people such as Queen Victoria's son. It has lost much of its former glory. We made our way up to our room, which was large and minimally furnished, and decorated with an ornate archway and mosaic'd ceilings. The porter, who had carried our one bag up before us, stood waiting as we set down our things and inspected the room. My dad finally gave him about 60 cents, which he looked less than pleased with. After settling down and preparing ourselves for the day ahead, we set out into the streets of Tangier.
The hustle and bustle of the town swept us up as we headed down the main road. After a bit of walking around, we sat down to people watch. All of the different outfits and activities were a lot to take in. Abby, Mom, and I were a rarity with our uncovered heads. There were a lot more men out and about than women. We were approached by a man trying to chat us up, asking us where we were from and how we liked it here. Seeing we were reluctant to get into a conversation, he simply told us to give him something. I was a little taken aback, but my parents were expecting something like this, and sent him on his way. Another good natured man came up to us a short while later, apparently very impressed by my hair. He told me that I would be worth a dowry of many camels, and parted by saying "may God bless you forever" without trying to sell us something once. Shows that you really only know what kind of person you were talking to after the exchange has finished, as my mom told me earlier. We had drinks at a cafe, where we suspect that tourists and locals get handed differently priced menus, and then went to visit the Medina fish market, a sizeable marketplace where meat, produce, and spices were sold in addition to a wide variety of fish. There were chickens everywhere you looked, hanging from various ceilings and window ledges, with their neck skin drooping from their bodies. They definitely weren't the freshest we'd seen. Heaps of sausages, pig legs, and offal were everywhere. We'd never seen so many butcher shops in place. Though it was definitely something to look at, we refrained from buying anything, as hygiene didn't seem to be in the forefront of any of the shopkeepers' minds. Lining the paths through the market were mounds of fruits and vegetables, artfully arranged and much more appetizing than the limp, headless chickens. We didn't purchase any of this either, for the same reasons concerning sanitation. There were also stalls selling spices and olives, all piled in seemingly precarious ways. At the other end of the market was the fish, the abundance of which was almost as overwhelming as the smell. Squid, crawfish, prawns and shrimp were among the few that we could identify. We saw a massive swordfish, just laying on the ground, perhaps waiting to be prepared or bartered for. On our way back through the marketplace, we had to duck as men carrying whole cow legs on their backs swung to turn corners. The atmosphere was loud, exciting, odorous, and exotic.
Stepping out of the market, we headed for the streets, preparing ourselves for the onslaught of merchants trying to sell their wares to us. The ambush was immediate. It seemed we couldn't go anywhere without being assailed by a man clutching anything from watches to teapots. We were followed by one guy who tried to lead us to his shop, and was so persistent that my dad had to turn around and tell him that we weren't going anywhere near his shop if he didn't stop pursuing us. He let up after that. My mom bought a couple of bracelets, showing off her bartering skills, and I got a sort of dress/robe, which wraps between the legs and over the shoulders, with a belt around the middle. I'll try to post a picture of me wearing it sometime soon. It was a little intimidating to shop for clothing there, as I had to follow the shopkeeper up into the next level of his store (accompanied by family, of course) and try on the various garments with his help. It all worked out in the end, however, and I ended up with a striking black and silver one, the price of which my mom whittled down from 500 dirham to 200. I'm going to do my best to find an occasion when I can wear it.
We kept our eyes open for a restaurant to stop at, hoping for a more traditional Moroccan place than a sandwich shop. As luck would have it, one of the many people employed to drum up business for restaurants found us and led us to a beautifully tiled and decorated one. We sat on couches and stools, and were given a choice of two different meals with various courses. After choosing one, we were quickly presented with bowls of harira, a tomato-based Moroccan soup with herbs and noodles, and a basket of flat, soft bread. Though we found this to be tasty, it was average in comparison to the bastillas we were given next. The triangular phyllo pastry looked like a samosa, and was filled with chicken, onions and saffron. It was topped with, of all things, icing sugar and cinnamon. Surprisingly, the combination was really quite delicious. I think it was the best thing I ate while in Morocco. Next came our main course, a large bowl of couscous made with saffron which contained chicken, carrots, turnips, potatoes, chickpeas, and cabbage. The couscous was light and fluffy, and we ate our fill with more still left over. The meal ended with the traditional sweet mint tea that my mom is so fond of, and crumbly shortbread-like biscuits. While we ate, we were serenaded by a group of musicians playing Arabic music, and watched by a couple of skinny stray cats, who seemed to have gotten in through the open doors of the balcony. We were able to see the winding, shop-filled street from where we were seated, and the environment made us feel as though we had stepped into a movie. The Moroccan experience is definitely worthwhile, if you're up to it.