“Guys, we’re in Morocco.”
“No, we’re in Africa.”
This was the running joke for the past three days, while my friends and I visited Tangier and Chaouen, Morocco. On our three-day adventure, we were continually awestruck and thankful for the opportunity to tour not only a new country, but a new continent.
Because of its proximity to Spain, Africa, specifically Morocco, was high on my travel list. When plans came together to go, I was excited to be going to such an exotic place for my first trip, and counted down the days until departure.
With a student-focused tour group of about 60 people, we left Thursday night for Tarifa, Spain. Because of a law, the bus stopped 45 minutes for every 4 hours of driving. With two stops throughout the night breaking up an already inconsistent sleep, we arrived at Tarifa for the ferry, groggy, but anticipating adventure with each passing mile.
By the time we arrived in Tangier, we all needed nutrition and rest. With time for only one, my friends and I stopped for a late lunch before our city tour. I was pleased to find that the menus were in French, and that that was the only language our waiter spoke, besides Arabic, because I have been hoping to practice my French since arriving in Europe. The waiter, though, had a heavy Moroccan accent, and I continued to mix Spanish words in with my French, so our communication was limited.
On the way from the hotel to our first excursion, the bus drove us around Tangier, one of Morocco’s most historically significant cities. There were German, French, Spanish, and English quarters of the city because each had been present in Morocco in recent history. The countries’ sections were distinct because of their varying architectural styles, with a common thread of Moroccan buildings mixed in. To relate what I saw to what I know, Tangier’s infrastructure reminded me most of the Dominican Republic, but only slightly. Morocco felt alive with ideas and improvement, exemplified in the amount of construction in the area. It seemed that the people of Tangier were ready to make their city great again.
Our bus tour took us to first to Cap Spartel, the African point of the western entrance of the Straight of Gibraltar, where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet. Below the cape, we explored the Grotte d’Hercule, or Caves of Hercules.
Afternoon sun, a warm breeze, and my feet in the sand, I would have been happy with just a few hours on an African beach. The main attraction, however, was the camels. Though I struggled with the idea that these animals were trapped in a life of transporting tourists up and down the coast, I chose to focus on the novelty of the special experience. Camels, though forced in the moment, have an authentic role in Africa’s history. Atop of this oddly cute animal, I realized how fortunate I was to be in Africa, learning more about the cultures of the world.
We continued into the evening touring the center of town. With the structure of the trip, we were not able to take time to explore the local vendors, but did visit a textile shop and spice store, both selling Moroccan specialties, such as silk blankets and argon oil.
To finish our first day, we enjoyed a three-course Moroccan dinner with plush seating and live music. Unlike my gastronomic experiences in Spain, my Moroccan meal was devoured; the soup appetizer was tasty and had an unexpected lemon complement, the kabobs and couscous were traditionally perfect, and I enjoyed, surprisingly, a honey pastry and Moroccan specialty mint leaf green tea for desert.
Though the day was exhausting, I loved learning about Morocco, and couldn’t wait for the next day’s adventure.
Up and out of the hotel early the next day, we drove 2 1/2 hours to the town of Chaouen. The ride to the city took us through African countryside, where we wound through the mountains and passed picturesque valley towns. Morocco is the most different place I’ve ever visited. Though there were sights similar to those that I have encountered through other travels, there was something about the the appearance, the landscape, and the people that kept me in a continuous awe. The feeling I experienced is difficult to explain because was related less to emotions and more to cognition. Though I was not quite curious or analytical, I felt like I was learning. Staring out the window, I was seeing things I never knew before, with a different mindset than a tourist who simply consumes information. I absorbed the views somewhat hyperaware, with the hope to return to Africa some day.
Chaouen from the road did not seem like the blue city that I had seen in pictures. Once inside, however, the color was plastered on every wall, door, and street. No one could give me a definite answer as to why the city was painted blue, but after a while, I decided it didn’t matter. From an adjoining hill, Chaouen appeared to be a patch of sky that had fallen onto the mountain, brightening the overcast day.
The day-long journey back to Madrid was much less agonizing with a start along the Spanish coast. Driving through the mountains in the south of Spain, passing quaint beach towns and lone plantation villas, I was exposed Spain that I had never seen before. I am newly curious about these sea-side cities, whose white homes called to me from the sparkling shore, saying there is always more to explore.
Salaam, Hubb, Morocco