Morocco

Morocco

Just typing the name of this country reminds me of the contrasts which we experienced in the short 3 days that we were here. Alec and I visited Morocco about 30 years ago – each before we met the other – and so we each arrived with our own pre-set memories of the country and a bit of pre-judgement. In addition, many Americans who watched as planes flown by radical Muslim extremists crashed into the World Trade Towers have a different view of Muslim countries. Many of you already know that Alec and I are both retired airline pilots. At the time of the World Trade Center disaster, Alec was flying for American and I was just beginning my flying career with Gulfstream Airlines while on a leave of absence as a flight attendant for American Airlines. Watching as our colleagues, along with their charges, perished will haunt each of us, and most Americans for the rest of their lives. In addition, my cousin, in New York on a short business trip also perished on that day.

I would love to say that the hours of media coverage after the disaster didn’t do anything at all to impact our view of the world but Im afraid that would be a lie. Whether or not we want to admit it, we viewed Muslims differently after that and it is the media who enjoys profits directly related to the fear that they peddle who capitalized on this. I have had many conversations with scared Americans citing the Christian extremists who have also committed murder in the name of their religion and imploring people to see that the VAST majority of muslim worshippers are loving and kind people simply honoring God through a different tradition but if Im 100% honest, I have to admit that even I watch a praying Muslim in the airport a little bit more carefully.

When we were in London I had the other new experience of discovering that Jack was a bit scared and nervous around Muslim women wearing burka. This completely shocked me as Jack has not heard anything about the trade center disasters nor has he EVER been allowed to watch or be in the room when the news is on because we didn’t want those images to be in his head when Mommy and Daddy went off to work, but really, there was simply no need for him to know anything about it. In fact, even now he is old enough to know and we have just begun to wade into telling him and he said “stop talking, I don’t want to hear this yet.” Well, long story short, the only reason he was scared of Muslim women was because he was not able to see their face. He is also a bit scared of clowns for the same reason. Ok – I get that – in fact, how much of our own discomfort is caused by this same reasoning. How much information do we routinely gain from our surroundings simply by having the freedom to gauge another’s emotional status by looking at their face.

Jack holding court in the ferry departures lounge with a bunch of guys who had not a clue what he was saying

So all of this is to say that when we booked this trip to Tangier we did so admitting that we had a bit of trepidation about the plan and I spent a bit of time coming to grips with my own personal biases.

Well the trip was really wonderful and so many aspects of it were a complete delight. For one thing, the people were lovely and quite possibly the very best part of Morocco.

We spent only 3 nights here but we crammed in as much as we could including taking a 2 hour drive to see Chefchaouen.

Chefchaouen, – also known as the “Blue City” – has a population of roughly 43,000 people and is set amid the dramatic backdrop of the Rif Mountains of Northwest Morocco. This was truly the most enjoyable stop on the trip and if you find yourself headed this way, I would recommend spending the entire trip here and journey out from here. It is completely unspoiled and remains as I imagine it did 100 years ago. Time has stood still, in the loveliest ways. Not only is the blue so very much more vivid than any picture could possibly portray, but the cobblestoned streets and charming shops filled with handmade rugs, blankets and ceramics are manned by the loveliest and warmest shop keepers. If you have ever been to Morocco or if you know of anyone who has, you no doubt were left with the experience of being absolutely accosted by shopkeepers refusing to take no for an answer but here more than any other place we have been in this country you may do so. Yes, they are more aggressive while making their living than you will find at the local car dealer but still, not nearly as disconcertingly as in the local Medinas in other Moroccan cities we have visited.

One of the most charming things we saw (and enjoyed) was this local “baker” where women of the town bring their breads and cookies and cakes in the morning to be baked. They then give a portion of the baked goods to the keeper of the “oven”. Below are pictures of the “city wood” which feeds the fire of the “city oven”. At night the women return with their tagines – a stew made of meat and vegetables prepared and cooked in a earthenware crockpot to cook the evening meal. How could one possibly pass up the chance to try such delicacies? We didn’t and Im here to tell you that I have never eaten a more delicious cookie than this.

Returning to Tangier we were again faced with the faster paced rhythm of city life and here is one of the many contradictions we observed. Where time has stood still in so many ways, the 21st century has arrived in others. In Tangier as in 2 other ports in Morocco there exists full service marinas and although this is the oldest port in Morocco (created in 1925 though completely updated) it is as “state of the art” as we have ever seen. Housing 1400 moorings in 2 basins there was ample dockage available and I had the distinct impression that a last minute weather stop would not be a problem. There is a ton of construction going on there and we were told that the Med-mooring now in place for most of the marina was soon to be replaced by the “preferred by Western Yachts” pontoon finger piers. Yah – we agree – though we have never “Med-Moored” – we aren’t very excited to do it.

Just across from the marina is the old town and medina. This was absolutely the highlight of Tangier for us. Below are the pictures taken on our shopping expedition to the market. The fruits and veg are so incredibly beautiful and delicious – just as across the Straight of Gibralter. Stuff from the earth just tastes better here and as we walked around we loved the sights and sounds and smells of the city. The spices and herbs were fantastic and I brought a few home with me. Again, walking through the medina I felt as though I had slipped back in time 100 years though just across the street was this 1400 slip modern marina- another contradiction. As we approached the meat section (with nary an ice cube or refrigerant in sight) my stomach began to object and then further on we came to the beginning of the fish – Im out! I had to leave as my stomach continued to churn. Alec and Jack made the trip though and Jack took these photos. I skipped lunch.

Jacks says the smell – horrible!!!
and the ground “disgusting with dead fish and guts”

So it is my nature to smile and be friendly to everyone and saying no and then no and then no…. well, you get the picture, it was really tough for me to be tough. Also, when we arrived at the ferry terminal we were approached by someone who didn’t speak much English but he asked us if we wanted a taxi. We said “yes” and he gestured, follow me. We did and soon we were being loaded into a taxi. I thought that it was his taxi until he jumped into the front passenger seat. Then, as Alec and I struggled to guess why he was in the taxi with us, he sat in the front chatting with the driver. I thought – well, perhaps he needed a ride to Tangier and was waiting for people going that way. Well, nope I was wrong. Apparently, we now owed him taxi fare back to the ferry terminal and to pay him for escorting us on the last 30 km of a 4000 mile journey. Lesson learned – I suppose I have paid a lot more for lessons in my life but here is the next contradiction. I want to be kind to people and I want to chat and get to know people but how am I to know when a little chit chat now becomes employment? How can I be gracious and still make it clear that we have no room on our boat for your lovely 8X11 carpet?

The primary reasons for taking this trip were to ascertain the likelihood that Gratitude would stay here next winter. We are still working around the Schengen requirement to be out of the Schengen area for 90/180 days and this would be a nice way to arrive in the Med with a clear clock. The original trepidation we felt over the calls to prayer awakening us never happened in fact, those that we were able to hear were actually a lovely reminder to say a little prayer ourselves. And the conversations that this visit in a Muslim country sparked with Jack were really wonderful and in the process we discovered that again, and as usual, we are FAR more alike than not. We too pray 5 times a day – once at each meal and at bedtime and in the morning. We have so many similarities and it was a nice bridge to learn about and be reminded of this simple truth.

One reason we would rather not stay here next year is there is a huge difference between visiting an area for a week and “living” in an area for several months. I can without reservation recommend this marina as a stop on ones way elsewhere – for example going to the Canaries, but for us to get enough time out of the Shengen area to make it worth our while to “live” there – we just don’t want to do it. There was a basic “heaviness” to the city – to its feel. The buildings in the area were basic concrete block construction not charming in the least but with missing windows and mostly fallen into a state of disrepair.

It felt heavy and unkept and we didn’t feel it was safe to be out at night. There were groups of young men standing about and while they may have been perfectly harmless, they felt very “gang” like to me. The medina was wonderful and interesting but I would not prefer to do my weekly shopping here. I honestly don’t think our stomachs have the right combo of bacteria for any of the protein for sure. We have heard great things about the marina in Rabat and there is a fast train from Tangier which will get you there in an hour – something to consider if you are headed that way. For us it is headed in the wrong direction and we would prefer to just hang out in Gibralter, if we can get dockage that is…. More on that in the next post.

I have decided to break up our week long “road trip” into a couple different blog posts and I have done so in the reverse order of how we accomplished it beginning with Morocco rather than the Roman city of Italica. In the next post Ill talk about both of those stops.