Arriving in Tangier marked a significant change in the flavour of our holiday. While Spain was all about walking, we came to Morocco with more elaborate intentions: to immerse ourselves in all aspects of this exotic culture through food, exploring its ancient cities, venturing into its vast natural spaces and meeting and interacting with its people.
So far we have not been dissapointed. Tangier proved an intriguing first stop. The tightly packed labarynth of the Medina (ancient, walled-off area found in most cities here) was like a treasure hunt and it was very difficult to walk out of a shop without buying bags full of local craftwork. The very tenacious salesmen (for which this country is quite rightly famous!) don’t make it any easier, but we have managed to restrain ourselves so far.
Sadly, this same tenacity is exhibited by the numerous locals who try to offer their services as unofficial guides. Their persistence continues to be quite a nuissance but we have come to realise that it is an unavoidable aspect of being tourists here. Unfortunately, this seemingly endless hassle (which includes being shouted at and follwed down the street) can easily leave one with the impression that Moroccans are overly pushy and in some cases extremely rude. However, at other times and in other situations we have seem another side and been made to feel welcome by everyone from shopkeepers to street kids and been offered useful help – usually in the form of critical navigational advice – by numerous kind citizens. Not surprisingly, this place continues to reveal its multi-faceted nature to us.
Our beautiful riad (a traditional Moroccan house that has been converted into a hotel) in Tangier provided a welcome refuge from the temptations and pressures of the streets. While sipping delicious mint tea (a classic Moroccan speciality) on the rooftop, we enjoyed incredible views over the almost impossibly chaotic buildings and streets of the medina and further to the beach and seafront beyond.
From Tangier, we moved on to Rabat (the capital) and spent two very relaxing days on the beaches to the south of the city. This is a well known area for surfing and I had looking forward hitting the waves, but the sea wasn’t playing along. Nevevrtheless it is well worth a visit. From the beach we took a short though very hot train ride to the famous streets and sights of Casablanca. Here we were once again staying in a hotel in the medina and had the chance to enjoy wanderig the narrow streets crowded with their eclectic mix of shops and markets selling everything from fresh cut herbs and live chickens to handmade leather shoes and Chinese stereos. A visit to the impressive Hassan II Mosque was a confirmation of my new found love for Moroccan architecture. The soaring 210m high minaret makes this landmark the tallest building in the country, and the intricate carved ceilings and elaborate mosaics are quite spectacular. If you visit here, don’t miss this!
Throughout our trip so far, we have continued the culinary side of our Moroccan adventure, and everything we have tried has been excellent. From the selection of breads and pastries served with breakfast to the traditional Tagine and couscous dishes, everthing is super fresh and served with a minimum of fuss. The summer heat has required (as I am sure you can understand) numerous trips to the ice cream parlours found on almost every corner and that has proved to be a cool, creamy highlight as well.
We’ve had the inevitable ups and downs due to map reading errors and language barriers, but overall its been fantastic. Our next stop is the ancient city of Fez, famed for the size of it’s convaluted medina and the frequency with which newly arrived tourists lose their way in it. It is also apparently one of the best places to buy handy crafts, though this is facilitated by salesman who are considered masters of persuasion even by Moroccan standards. Well, we shall see. Until then, bessalama (Arabic for goodbye).