We are pretty much through with Morocco. We actually have 3 more days once back from Spain to slowly get to Casablanca, where we found our cheapest flight to Tunisia. We'll be spending those days in our beloved Chefchaouen thankfully =) but I doubt I will have much else to write, so I may as well summarize our time here.
Differences in culture (the immediate ones)
Well we're in an Islamic country, so I'd say those are the obvious differences. Women dress modestly and mostly in dresses, though some teenagers like to wear skinny jeans and flowy shirts or short dresses over them. Hair is usually covered, and rarely more of the face will be too. Older women are more likely to cover up more of their face and about 5% of the time, maybe even less, did I see full hajibs covering every inch except a thin slit for the eyes. Though I must say, after a month of being here, I was definitely looking to adorn a hajib of my own and can see how women feel so much more comfortable covering much of themselves up. The men here aren't even that bad, but with so many eyes on you, some days I definitely wanted to slink away and hide under a mountain of clothes.
What I expected vs. The reality of Morocco as a whole
Morocco surprised me. Jake too. We definitely did not expect to like it as much as we did and it grew on us pretty quickly, though almost immediately we obtained a love/hate relationship with the country. I expected a lot more gawking being white and especially American. I think there were a lot of things I thought would be different, but now that we've been here a little while, it's hard to remember what I thought I'd encounter. Maybe things not being so modern and European looking as they did. I didn't expect to come across as many English speaking people as we did, but our time in hostels allowed that.
Probably what surprised us the most is the food! We both thought we'd be overwhelmed with spices and flavor, but the food here is actually quite bland and all the seasonings seem to be as well. It says there's cumin... But it tastes like it's been in a cupboard for 10 years...
-These are the things we noticed everywhere that describes Morocco:
1. Stray cats - apparently they had a rat problem at some point and you can guess how that turned out..
2. Sugar is a primary sustenance - We like to think of Morocco having a sweets pyramid rather than a food pyramid. Maybe it was the dawning of Ramadan, but Moroccans seriously love their sugar way too much. All sugar packets are twice the size of normal, and sugar is added to every drink (including sweet orange juice!) and just about every meal, too. Want something savory? You will get it with sugar sprinkled on top.
3. Hashish? - Apparently though it is forbidden in Islamic religion(s) to consume intoxicants such as the ganja, Moroccans have been smoking it way before Islam came to town and they henceforth refused to give it up because Mohammed said to.
4. Three words to know in English to be a tout: "Best price" and "Maximum" - Our favorite in bartering with the locals is hearing "400 dirhams, maximum price!" And as we walk hear "Ok ok, 300 dirhams MAXIMUM price!" And every time "best price."
5. Cops here are awesome!! - They have the best humor and are super nice when you ask them for anything. Even when they don't know English (and most don't) they would be very visual in gestures and get their point across beautifully. I always felt safe around them once we kept having good experience after good experience in asking for help.
6. Doors and entryways are elaborate and gorgeous - Even the poorest homes have entryways to die for. They are a hospitable nation and they love to make a good impression on guests, so what better way than the best decorated doorway and tiled entry?
7. Bread is delicious and super cheap. 1dh is pretty standard for a loaf of bread, which translates to about 10-12 cents. The standard loaves look like they'd be dry and crumby and maybe even stale, but even at the end of the day they are soft and scrumptious in the middle and ridiculously filling. We made the mistake too many times ordering a small to medium sized meal we thought would never be enough, and because bread is served with everything, end up walking away with stomach pains because we ate way too much.
- Also, the locals rarely eat the delicious centers and rip them out to discard them on the table or floor since they use the harder crust as scoopers for the sauces, meats, and veggies (right-handed of course).
8. Their favorite music which I heard everywhere is Cheb Mami! I later read in our lonely planet guide that the music genre he is classified is called "rai" and it started in Algeria. I discovered Mami while living in Hawaii and still obsessing over my recent Renaissance Faire gypsy life. So cool that it's relevant here hah. They also love country music, the twangier the better. I told them it was shit.
9. No trash cans. Anywhere. Parks, buildings, even hotel rooms, you're hard-pressed to find one. Most of the time people just throw it on the ground and someone comes later to collect it. Kind of sucks, but I also hardly see people throw much away. A family of four or five will throw as much trash away in a week as the smallest canister you'll find in somebody's bathroom. Talk about efficiency!
Other tourists here?
Mostly European, and all pretty awesome. Generally Morocco likes the tourism and treats foreigners well, and they treat her well in return. I've enjoyed everyone I've encountered for the most part with the only odd characters the ones who seemed to be there only for the hash while we were in Essaouira (our hostel was well-known since the 60's for it).
Overall Rating: 7.0/10 would bang
Personally, I liked it here a lot more than I thought, but that's not to say Morocco is without its stresses. What I hate is the desperation of the touts and shop-owners in some cities. What I love is the genuine hospitality you CAN find if you have the right connections or are just outside tourist spots. It also would have been better with a group of people or if Jake and I fit better traveling, personality wise. We're great at home and putzing around Denver, Hawaii, or wherever we happen to be at together, because we have friends to see and things to do. But having an open-ended travel agenda and both of us being extremely nonchalant and laid back, it's made me want to throw bricks through windows after playing the "No, what do YOU want to do?!" game nonstop. Note to self: plan a fucking trip before you go.
We left Morocco this morning to catch a 35 Euro ferry across to Tarifa, Spain. We weren't hassled at either port and got our visa stamps without question. I will miss Moroccan officials, I hope there are other countries where the cops are just as awesome...
In Tarifa things got a bit confusing, we weren't quite sure where the bus station would be to take us to Malaga where we have a plane for the next day to Barcelona. We found out there are two stations and one supposedly bigger and better, but upon arrival (and after backtracking to get to said better station) we see it's the tiniest station that could possibly still be called a station and here I wait while Jake treks to the other one to find out if we are actually in the right place.
Sitting here, I'm watching a couple outside, perfect golden skin, dark hair, matching eachother in persona. I envy them as they look so cool and comfortable together, affectionately huddled, and not looking the least bit out of their element. They're idly waiting for their next bus, but seem to have everything in order and under control. I envy them because that is much how I anticipated this trip. Jake and I share a friendly affection for eachother and it would be nice to have more of a camaraderie since we also have a deep admiration for one another's accomplishments and our passions equal (especially about traveling obviously). But it has not been so smooth since we left, and it feels there's more tension and apprehension than unification. We have our moments, and luckily similar tastes in food and drink that tends to be what binds us the majority of the time. But there's still a sense of getting to know eachother that maybe a spontaneous unplanned trip was not the best idea for just the two of us. Perhaps if more came along with us, or we had gone somewhere we had been before, or if we just planned and coordinated pre-departure better, things might be as cool and smooth as the couple outside. But we've only been here a month and it seems neither of us are super crazy about North Africa, so maybe when we finally venture south and especially the Ethiopia part we're both highly anticipating, things will be better and flow easier.
Until then, it's espresso and baguettes and trying not to strangle eachother while sleeping...
Found a cute market on the street close to Hotel Chellah where we decided to buy some supplies and long-term food stuffs (nutella, really). This shop also happened to have Milka bars and Kinder Eggs! Girl you know I gots me a KingerEi. Well I didn't realize it was the soft scoopy one and not the hard-shelled with a surprise toy center one. I was like NOOOO MY TOYS!!!! But then I'm dumb and remembered I totally had this one before and I still get a toy.
We spent the day with our new blanket (seen above, the orange) and picnic'ed by the pool with our newly acquired nutella, candy bars, best-bread-ever-in-the-ever, veggies and cheese. It was glorious.
The bus ride to Tangier from Tetaouen was mostly uneventful. But when the bus pulled into town after several odd stops, we didn't think we were in the right place and hesitated getting off the bus. We expected to see coast, but all we saw was an unimpressive grungy town. But we were told that is where we deboard.
However, once we got our bearings by asking someone what direction the Medina was in, we set off without bother from the locals and that was a very pleasant surprise. After crossing a main street, however, we found out we were told slightly misleading information since we assumed we were at one bus station, but actually ended up being at another. It worked out in our favor, though, and our hotel was closer than originally planned.
Hotel Chellah was pretty ritzy in comparison to most of our camps, but very reasonably priced and we gladly extended our stay for one more night to relax by the tropical pool. I would definitely love to stay there for a week, the location was good for food and not very far from a water view either, though it would be worth it to trek a bit to the beaches, and if you're not lazy, it could also be easily done from the hotel's location. The staff were all really nice too, and our bellhop, dressed in 50's style Moroccan wear (complete with Fez), was the spitting image of Tim Curry, I had to refrain from smiling too much because of it.
We did want to save a bit more money though, so thanks to the lonely planet guide, we found a place that seemed nice and wasn't a far walk from our current place, and even closer to the port where we needed to be to go to Spain. This place turned out super adorable and we were relieved not to totally regret leaving the beautiful Hotel Chellah!
So far, walking around has been pleasant and we haven't been harassed here nearly as bad as everywhere else we've been. They assume we just got here from Europe and will try there "Where are you from?" schemes but we tell them we've been here for a month and they soon back off, realizing we're on to their trixies.
Arrived and via the only map we could really find online, tried finding our hotel by foot from the bus station. The map, unsurprisingly, turned out to be very wrong and only after asking a few cops were we able to find the main circle in the New Town. Most towns we've been in it was advised only to stay in the old Medina since it's where the tourists like to be and the New Town tends to have much higher crime. But Tetaouen is not very touristy to begin with, so most of the budget options are in this main circle of the New Town (Ville Nouvelle).
When we arrived at the hotel, however, they informed us only that night was available but they would help us find accomodation elsewhere for the subsequent nights we wanted to stay. Turned out okay, and the next day Jake was able to find a place just as cheap with the same atmosphere as before (simple, but cute in its own way, I think Jake posted pictures). This place is slightly better in that the main reception guy knows a bit of English and we're able to ask questions about the area.
The first two days here proved annoying, regardless of the lack of tourism. This country is so desparate on foreigners, if you're not the kind that likes constant harassment, I'd work up to Morocco as a vacation destination. I know I'll be better equipped to handle the people next time (especially if I come back with more French and/or Arabic knowledge), but it probably wasn't the best opening to this trip. Who knows, maybe it was exactly perfect to better kick my ass into gear and realize where I'm in fact at.
So, starting again, the first two days here weren't the greatest and made me feel Fez-rage all over again, I just wanted out of this stupid place. We decided to walk down this adorable Füssgangerzone and almost immediately a nice guy who spoke fairly good English began to chat us up. He happened to do it just perfectly that we initially trusted he just wanted to converse. Plus, we were in a not-so-touristy place, we needed to stop being cynical, skeptical assholes sometime, right? Not in Morocco apparently.
First, we witnessed a fight that included so many cops and so much yelling and confusion it felt like a small-scale riot. I was a little nervous, seeing that the middle east is slightly high tension at the moment, but the crowd didn't seem impressed and security is tight because the King lives here, so we moved on. Our new friend followed, or rather led, us down a few blocks to where the Medina and souqs started. He talked like a tour guide and after a few minutes, my patience was spent and I assumed the worst - he's going to ask us for fucking money soon. I'd subtly hint here and there about going a different direction, but Jake didn't pick up on it and pressed on. After being taken all over the Medina, and to the tanneries, and to some guy's rug place to be convinced to buy a rug, and probably some other places I was to terse to notice, we headed back. When we were close, we asked to leave and go off on our own and then it happened. The scheme. I had a whole angry speach ready, but Jake was on top of it and told him exactly what needed to be heard. He was a little sad and distraught and still tried arguing a bit, but we both stood firm and as politely as we could told him to fuck off. I heard in Marrakech faux guides are illegal, but I'm pretty sure it holds everywhere in Morocco and I was thankful we were in proximity to so many cops because if he pressed any more, I was going to tell him that I would talk to an officer. He backed off, but my mood was already shot. When were we going to be left alone and why do all these idiots think we're so stupid to fall for it? How many do? Sure we've overpaid cab drivers and assistant people in the beginning, but we've still never fallen for "Hashish?" But everywhere we go here it starts the same way "Oh hello, where are you from?" in either Spanish, French, or English. We respond the same way every time, "NO" and yet they continue to prattle on and on and fucking on no matter how many times we repeat the word, they try to direct us and talk to us before 10 minutes of screaming NO at them until they leave, seemingly butt-hurt too.
The second day was no better and pretty soon I was ready to hole up in our hotel room and not deal with any of it. We only went out once to eat and I was already done. Done done done. This morning I even woke up stressed, anxious, and annoyed, knowing that sometime that day, we were going to need to go out, if only for a bit of food, but also internet to book our next stay, and I dreaded talking to anyone to ask questions. Sure enough, we stop for two seconds to say to eachother "That was pretty nice, what do you feel like doing next?" and someone came up to start the same stupid conversation, "Hi where are you from?! The medina is this way! Hello. Hashish?" And this time I just took Jake's arm and began speed walking away. If "No" doesn't do it, maybe blatantly ignoring and turning heel will. He didn't follow, thankfully, probably because it was a fat guy with no teeth and a pink shirt with a huge spider on it. Didn't really look like a winner. I've also started the habit of staring angrily, steady as a rock, and not saying a word to see if they get the hint I'm extremely volitile with their kind. They haven't noticed much, but I think it's because Jake placates them too much with responses. Pretty soon I'm going to put my fingers in my ears and start singing loudly "LA LALALALLLALLALALALALLalalalalalalala" Maybe that will shut them up, or think I'm praying to Allah... Could cause the same response. As long as it's shutting-up, I'm happy.
However, the day took a turn for the better. The cafe we were hoping to Wi-Fi at wasn't open and we think they closed a few days early for Ramadan, so we decided to head back to the circle and ask if there was a wi-fi cafe we weren't seeing nearby. Everyone just pointed us to the cyber shops where you pay, so we finally did that. It was only 5DH (around 50-60 cents) for an hour, it wasn't a big deal. However, the arabic-french keyboard was a hassel so we only took care of absolute necessities before being too frustrated.
On our way to the circle however, we came through a back way where some farmers market shops were set up and we happened by some of our favorite bread. We decided on some bread, yogurt, tomatoes, bananas, and grapes in case we get stuck for Ramadan tomorrow and have some backup. After the cyber cafe, we decidedd to hit up a bakery we found the day before because they had savory pastries, pizza slices, and great croissants, danishes, and doughnuts. We also realized we were pretty hungry and everywhere we go, people eat these stuffed baguette sandwiches, so we went looking for one at a dine-in place we ate the first night here (we got a burger that night with a fried egg and fries on top that was delicious). We ordered the sandwich we thought right and instead got a platter of fillings and three big baguettes for the same price and stuffed ourselves silly. There was one waiter there, the same guy as the other night, and he is amazing at keeping everyone's orders straight (the place is always packed) and had a bit of humor with us too. Tipping here is normally 5-10% (if anything, it seems not a lot of tipping happens) so we gave him 20% when we left because we thought he was so cool and totally works his ass off! His apprecation really picked me up, as well as the guys making our food, they are always very patient with our language barrier.
We go to the bakery afterward, which I was a little anxious about because though the people helping us pick out delicious pastries were really nice, the guy we had to pay seemed extremely annoyed with our inability to read the price due to poor penmanship. This time he wasn't there though and a girl helped us who had a bit more trouble understanding what we wanted but the few numerals in Arabic we knew as well as the word "Safi" (meaning "That's all/done/finished") made her super happy and we had a lot of smiles of appreciation post translation. The guy we paid was also extremely kind and patient with us too. Another pick-me-up!
The final pick-me-up that fully readied me to take on Morocco again was an ice cream stop. We found this place the day before as well and had a lot of luck with the little Spanish we knew to order two scoops of some of the most delicious ice cream we've ever had. We had to go back! This time it was a different girl who didn't know Spanish or French, but the menu was in Roman lettering, which allowed us to read what we were looking for. Except two of the items are very hard to differentiate by speech, so there was miscommunication at first and we felt really bad that we confused her. Yet, after clearing things up, she was smiles the whole time and we all had the common understanding that we goofed but meant no harm and we didn't mind the patience needed to try to get our point across. Saying "thank you" in Arabic also helped her feel like we weren't total tools and we all laughed about it in the end. On top of the sugar rush from some delicious cherry tart gelato, I felt right as rain again.
I really do like this place, and a lot more than I expected to. But three weeks here when I wasn't ready for so much harassment is a little tiring and I'm pretty happy to be leaving this country soon. It hasn't deterred me from future visits though, and I'd love to come back with new people and more knowledge than before because I'll have the confidence to get exactly what I want and I won't be annoyed with hagglers and faux guides.
I'm holding off on my "Summary of Morocco" until after Tangier, but what I'll cover are things you can answer about your own places you've travelled (foreign or domestic!):
1. Summery of each country (or state, town, village, city, provence...)
A. Differences in culture (or your home town if domestic)
B. What I expected vs. Reality (any rumors you heard? What is the place known for, if
C. Little nuiances (from people, signs, common occurances)
D. Other outsiders/travellers/tourists
E. Overall rating (i'll probably do a 1-10 scale)
A. What feelings were invoked here? Maybe if you could sum the place in a few key
B. Specific stresses/annoyances?
C. Comforts, things you wished were back home?
Arrived in Tetauan today. We got the 2pm bus and before checking out of our Chef hostel, went to some vendors we found for some souvenirs. We got two gifts and three things for ourselves o_o haha. I found a super awesome utility belt that ended up costing me a little over $25 which looks like a belt I was interested in on Etsy selling for $120. Ha! Also the one on etsy wasn't handcrafted leather locally tanned, so there.
Jake got a laptop satchel, also leather and roughly the same color as mine. Lined in tan suede and really great stitching with an adjustable shoulder strap, he got it for about $40ish. I won't mention the gifts since we want them as surprises, but they are for tiny people if you get my drift. The other thing we got, though, was a blanket made from local wool that looks like it should be scratchy but is soooo soft to the touch. It's pretty huge too and my guess is there is only minimal cotton and therefore really warm as well. We can now have picnics wherever we're at and if we get stranded at a bus station or airport, we now have snuggle material for comfort. That cost us about $15.
We intended on dining at a pizza/panini/burger place for breakfast to have a fried egg burger, but the place never opened in time, so we sought a nearby cafe for a simple tomato and goat cheese platter with buttered baguette toast and some lattes. It was delicious, filling, and we weren't charged for one of the coffees, score!
Then we checked out of our hostel, made our way to the bus depot happy as clams and looked forward to our next adventure. Another nauseating bus ride, this one only an hour and a half but with no a/c, I wasn't even interested at the beautiful scenery at that point. I managed some pictures, but focused on sleeping through the heat to not make
any additional energy of my own until we got to Tetauan.
So here we are. It was a mission and a half to find our hotel because of horrible maps and sparce directions, but we ended up finding it without too much backtracking and some friendly cops (best cops ever btw). We're only able to stay here one night because they are booked tomorrow night, but the guy in charge here says he'll help us find a
reasonable option for the one night and then we can come back here for a few more nights. Then we need to figure out if Tangier is too expensive to stay there long or if we need to continue crashing here for cheap since our flight to Barcelona doesn't leave until the 26th. But first place without internet (plenty of cyber cafes, though) so this blog may
take a minute...
So when we were in Moulay Yacoub, I had a posted a picture of the sunset. One thing we have enjoyed being here is that with the extreme amount of dust, there is a long while the sun is viewable with the naked eye as it's setting. This time when we were watching it, we noticed a faint dark spot on the lower hemisphere that we sort of assumed was a sunspot, but we were also in disbelief since we did not think one could be so big that we'd notice it just with our naked eye. Since it wasn't moving through the atmosphere and continued to be in the same place on the sun as it was moving down, we couldn't imagine it'd be anything else. Finally last night we looked up the latest space weather to see if anything had been occurring, and sure enough, we found out that July 11-12 was sunspot 1520 (and minor spots 1519 and 1521) and it was indeed what we had witnessed.
My camera/lens was too weak to capture it, but Jake's pictures are definitely evidence:
It certainly seems to be a peak in activity lately for flares and sunspots, though I keep reading that the height is still expected in 2013. I am even more excited about our planned Alaskan cruise for some spectacular Aurorae pictures! Maybe I'll even be lucky enough to have a telescope by then to take awesome sunspot pictures or planetary nebulae and the like. One can dream...
So we finally figured out our next leg of the trip and booked our tickets until then. We still have about 3-5 days to play with, but it goes like this:
We're slowly working our way toward the Mediterranean, there are two other towns after Chefchaouen we would like to see - Tetouen and Tangier. We have been spending 2-4 days in each place, but because we have some time to kill, we may spend 4-5 days in each of those towns (they sound way cooler anyway). We also extended our time in Chef a day (as well as got here a day later than we wanted due to our bus from Fes selling out before we got tickets that day). It's very easy to spend a ton of time here though, I could probably even live here the town is that adorable.
Then we'll cross the Gibraltar and see what Spain has to offer. We originally had about 2 weeks to prolong, so decided to fly to Barcelona for one of those weeks and couch surf. Then when we get back to Gibraltar, we head back down to Casablanca since that airport had the cheapest fares to other places.
Next we spend 3 weeks in Tunisia, hopefully spending the entire time tanning on the beach. This puts us at the end of August when we'll fly to Egypt from there. We didn't want to spend a lot of time in Egypt since we heard it's so harsh there with tourists and getting ripped off left and right and trying to get you to buy shit - basically Marrakech x1000. Otherwise, all the people we have talked to who came to Morocco from there said it was a pretty awesome place with lots to see. We're going to try to see the usual: pyramids, Luxor, sphinxes, etc etc, but I don't know if I can handle the people that long. I hate haggling for every little thing and still overpaying because we're not from there. It's quite tiring.
Then September 5th is our flight booked to Johannesburg, South Africa. We wanted to wait until September to go due to weather, which is why our timing is a bit weird and we even have "days to kill." There's not much else we want to do in Morocco, we can't go across Algeria and Lybia, and Europe is expensive as shit, but Tunisia looked pretty sweet, and while we didn't intend on 3 weeks there, it was that or Egypt, and I've said how I felt about that, so....
It looks like I'll be spending my birthday in Egypt this year, and though I'm apprehensive about dealing with hagglers the whole time, I'm hoping for some birthday luck and to see some cool shit that day.
I woke up craving this song, though video wise, I'm partial to the song Islands.