Morocco has blown my mind. It’s a totally new place with a culture and an environment I have never experienced before, like stepping back in time with pieces of today stepping with it. Or maybe it’s an older time stepping reluctantly into a modern age where adaption is somewhat necessary but only in the slightest amounts. The balance between the two is fascinating to stroll through, to literally stroll though the city streets with vendors on each side of the cobble stone street selling fruits and vegetables, dressed like extras from a Hollywood Aladdin movie. That scene right there, right there in front of you, could be from 1400 or 2012, spanning hundreds of years through slow progress to the point of developing slightly with a solid foundation of the past. Yet, walking just a few steps further, someone is selling Dr. Dre Beats headphones along with cell phones and electronics and CD’s.
Our first stop was Tangier because we didn’t think the transportation was reliable enough to push it all the way from Seville to Chefchaouen in a days trip. We wereeeee probably right, it would have been a stretch to make it work and for all the moving pieces / transportation methods to click into place, but then we learned that we gained two hours in the day sooooo maybe it could have worked. But regardless, we took the ferry over from Tarifa, which would be a nice place to stay for a few days but it was booked out, COMPLETELY, and we understood this once we got there and saw the place. Beautiful beaches, a beautiful beach town, laid back, almost like a California small beach city, or a few steps up from a Port Aransas and a notch or two above South Padre. Once we stepped off the bus, that unique beach feel greets you kindly with a nice breeze and salt in the air. But that calm feeling you get with the beach between your toes immediately vacated when we realized that we had to run, packs and all, about a quarter mile down to the ferry to try and catch the ferry that was leaving for Tangier in about 5 minutes. So, Jude and I, me with my wisely packed 10kg pack and him with his not so wisely packed 20kg pack, running down the street following the other group of Aussies in the same boat trying to catch the same boat. But we missed the boat, probably by about 3 minutes. If we had caught it, we might have made the whole trip, like the Aussies were trying to do. But we didn’t make it and thus our back up plan of staying in Tangier worked out.
So we get off the ferry, equipped with huge targets on our backs, and immediately as we step out of the gate a very friendly English speaking Moroccan comes up trying to get us in his taxi. Now, in America, or anywhere else in Europe, people that are friendly and talk to you in English are a good place to start with exploring a city. However, in Morocco, it’s the opposite, you want to avoid the people that are over friendly and speak near to fluent English. They are the scammers, the ones that have experience with hundreds of people just like us two English speaking tourist travelers with backpacks and cameras. We keep pushing them off, saying No, we’re good, thanks and soon run into some Americans we met on the ferry, just as lost as us, trying to figure out how not to get scammed while simultaneously getting to their hotel. Turns out we are going to the same place, or close, we grab a cab with them and are soon in our hostel lobby drinking delicious mint tea.
And soon after that, we step out of our hostel, which is actually a hotel, and our hotel room which is a double which actually means it’s a double bed not two beds, so Jude and I, we’ve been traveling together for about a week and some change, are navigating how we are going to sleep. Turns out it’s two smaller beds pushed together and we make it work, but that’s later in the story. For now, we take about 30 steps outside of our hostel and immediately pick up a guide, which we don’t really want, but at some points that’s not really your choice. So he’s leading us around, asking us if we want hash, taking us to ATM’s and money exchange stores, down through the crowded streets, shaking hands with smiling Moroccans which is sketchy because they all say He’s a good guy *smile* and I’m thinking What is this guy doing and where is he taking us and how does this work when it’s all said and done? But he takes us to get money exchanged, which is sketch in itself because I hand the guy my money and he just hands me back abunch of bills and I have no idea how much he gives me or even if the exchange is even right. But I pocket the money in my hip pack from the great city of Austin Texas, hold my iPhone in my pocket and we set back out through the streets. Not really knowing where we are going, just getting lead around this chaotic city of hustlers and salesmen, by Omar.
At this point I’m thinking This isn’t right but it’s not a dangerous “this isn’t right” it’s more of “what the hell is going on? this isn’t right so we keep going following him around. Then we land at a restaurant, which, is fuckinggggg filled with white people and among these white people are the two Americans we took a cab from the port with. And for the small sum of 12 euros we eat a decent “traditional meal” which actually wasn’t that good and not that filling. For 12 euro which is about 2 meals anywhere else in the city if you go to a real restaurant and not a tourist trap where the funnel tourists in so they can over charge them and give the hustlers guides a slice of the foreign money.
And then we leave and, at this point we are trying to ditch him because we think that he got his cut from the restaurant but he pops back up and takes us on a bullshit loop to the Kasbah and then to our hotel. This is where it got interesting because the next words out of his mouth we’re Now you pay me for my services and I will leave you at your hotel but we are right in front of the hotel and we really don’t want to pay him. I ask how much and THE MOTHERFUCKER HAS THE AUDACITY TO ASK FOR 25 EURO…. A PIECE. That’s more than I’ve paid all my tour guides in Spain put together, and they did two or three or four or a hundred times as much as this hustler. Jude and I basically laugh in his face, saying You’re out of your FUCKING mind while trying to explain that he really didn’t do shit for us and he go fuck off for 25 Euro. And then the nice, friendly, amiable buddy buddy business flies the hell out the window and the negotiations start. The conversion rate from Euro to Dirham is about 1-10, roughly, but more like 1-8. So him asking for 25 Euro means he wants about 500 Dirham for an hour or so of work which is 50 dollars American, roughly. In Spain, I never paid a tour guide over 10 or 15 and that was for hours and hours of them leading us around the city. And this motherfucker wants twice as much for doing a small sliver of the work. I start to pull out coins, which would have equaled about 50 or 60 Dirham, maybe to his reply of What the hell is this? Coins? and I’m like Yeah buddy you didn’t do shit to escort us around. He tried to sell us on the fact that he was protecting us but that was bullshit. I’m about to walk off and not pay him anything if he keeps this shit up but he knows where we are staying and this is kind of scary because the rules are different in Morocco than in Austin, Texas. Different game, entirely. We end up paying him 100 Dirham, $12 roughly, and walk away. Thinking back that is still way too much, but it was a tenuous situation and thinking back that’s a $12 lesson in how to avoid people trying to sell you stuff. They don’t teach that class at UT, welcome to the real world. And that $12 will come in handy in SE Asia where the salesman are even better and more prevalent and more crafty. $12 plus a $15 dollar meal is not the cheapness that I was looking for in Morocco. Dirt off my shoulder, Let’s regroup and walk around the city.
The next morning we caught a bus to Chefchaouen. Normally busses are packed, every seat full, yet, this bus was fulllllll of only tourists which means it was only about a 1/10th full of all white people. The bus pulled out of the stop a solid 10 minutes early and we set off through the city. Boom, into my book I dive, trying to wrap up “Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Keeeeeseey and I only have a little bit left to go and I want to be done so im reading reading reading the entire way, occasionally looking up to realize we are on a small road leading through the mountains with beautiful views and amazing green and rolling hills and splash back into the book.
Enter French guy who likes to sleep outside with his tent who has travelllllled pretty extensively and who’s funny as hell with his blunt translation of humor and 4 minutes later we are in a 1.5 dollar cab ride up to our hostel. Whichisprettydamnimpressive in a Moroccan type of way, with small stairways where ducking down to avoid hitting a wall is necessary, where the showers are simply a faucet stuck out of the wall with no covering so everrrrything get’s soaked when you shower to the point of water everyyywhere and when you walk in after someone has taken a shower you really are scared to touch anything. But the walls are all lined with beautiful tiles and the floors are all a dazzling white and blue work of art in themselves and soon enough we are in our dorm that has no locks or lockers and fuck it, I’ll leave my $2000 worth of life possessions out in the open like everyone else and we set out to go explore the city and go eat some food because I’m starvvvvvving.
Have you ever been to Chefchaouen? You might have seen pictures, somewhere, if you haven’t because it’s pretty noticeable and recognizable for the fact that, in the old part of the city, every wall and some roads and most houses are all painted dazzling pastel colors of all shades of blue and purple and a mixture of the two to the point where a fraternity party would fit in perfectly with the backdrop, blending in exceptionally well to the walls. The atmosphere, here, is different than in Tangier. It’s more laid back, relaxed, calm, non-aggressive and non-confrontational, to the point where I can stroll through the coloring book walls without worrying about my phone or wallet getting stolen or getting hustled toooo much. Sure, little kids try to sell you bracelets and there are a few hash salesman, but for the most part, it’s calm, almost like Santa Fe, with the same laid back vibe, architecture streaming from the same vein of cozy streets that feel the same and offer relaxation and chillness.
Jude and I are cruising, walking around, when we head THAT WAY because that’s what feels right, following the curving blue and white and purple and more blueish purrrrple streets up. We end up at the bottom of a MASSIVE staircase going UP but we don’t really know what is UP so we start trekking up the awkward steps, UP UP UP towards the mountains and the rocky green hills above the city, with a feeling that Damn, there’s probably a pretty good view from up there so we keep going and going and soon enough we are outside of the protective wall to the north of the city. And the view is gorgeous, beautiful, with the sun setting in the west behind a sleeping beast of a mountain that is nothing more than a massive shape with no definition and no details and nothing except for a shape back lit by the setting sun that pulls with it the smoky clouds that linger over the city at dusk, pulling them back behind the monster, letting them go to reveal the starry night above that is accompanied by a cool breeze chilling the coooool little city.
*Snap snap snap* and I take some pictures, not because it’s beautiful because it’s amazing and unique and fresh and it’s something that I’ve never experienced before, something that western culture shies away from, with tradition hundreds of years old, way before our country was even beginning about being conceived. I have taken more pictures here than in any other place (except Pamplona) because, BAM it – the people, the culture, to food, the energy, the scenery, the lifestyle, the relaxation – all hits a new comer with soft and gentle intensity. So * snap * it is, click click taking pictures.
We settle back at the hostel after the venture through the city, reading on our terrace that provides us with a front row show to the sunset. Reading, meeting new people, and enjoying our time. There’s no rush to run around, this isn’t a two week American vacation where you check off Saw the blue city of Chefchaouen no this is a leisurely walk through history through time through culture where you don’t rush on to the highway and then exit, now it’s more of Sunday cruise through the country with no destination just the wind rushing through the windows and relaxing music pouring out of the speakers. That’s what this trip, not just to Morocco but around the world, is about: about taking the experiences as they come, with no true intent but to be in the moment and go with the flow and live a life on the road, moving when it feels right, staying put when it feels better, making friends in a few minutes, and learning lessons that will stay with me for ever, more so than pictures or video, but true memories of being there, actually BEING there, walking through the mountain village and stopping every once in awhile to think to myself You are in a small Moroccan city during Ramadan, playing soccer with a group of people who have no idea what your are saying but somehow we are all friends and that’s what is happening and maybe people will or won’t understand the freedom and the journey but it’s yours and you are doing the right thing, for yourself. Then, after that realization, I go back to kicking the ball, back to being present and enjoying the experience, and I’m back to living, true living and true learning and true experiences.