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Published: June 22nd 2015
It’s amazing how much your perspective can change in only a couple of days. At home days pass by without much notice; each one similar to the one before it. When travelling, however, one day contains so many new discoveries, feelings, and sensations; it can feel as though a whole year has passed in the span of a couple of hours. Yesterday morning we woke up not having any idea what lay outside the walls of our riad. We knew we were in Morocco, but we didn’t know what that meant. The world beyond was a mystery. And now, two days later, we have seen and explored the myriad passageways of the Medina, eaten chicken patisse and lamb tagine until our bellies were full, explored the spacious courtyards of the historic Kasbah, wandered through the lush green of the Sultan’s garden, and taken in the view of the Straights of Gibraltar from a shady plateau in the Ville Nouvelle.
We arrived Thursday morning after a fairly uneventful but long plane ride. As we watched the continent of Europe disappear underneath the wings of our plane, and shortly thereafter saw the tip of Africa come into view, my stomach began
to flutter with excitement. The first thing I smelled when I stepped onto the tarmac was a subtle hint of flowers. A short taxi ride brought us to our riad in the Kasbah (an ancient fort) located inside the Medina, or the old city. The riad looks like something from my dreams – white washed walls, opulent carpets, colorful lanterns, stained glass windows, and fragrant flowers. The rooftop may be the most peaceful place on earth. Beyond the railing, the Straights of Gibraltar stretches in varying hues of deep blue and turquoise until it reaches the Spanish coastline. Orange trees, jade plants and hibiscus flowers line the patio. A trellis casts diamond shaped shadows on the tables below, and quiet music plays out of a small vintage radio in the corner. It oozes tranquility. If we did nothing but enjoy this space, I would be happy.
Friday morning we awoke refreshed and had pastries and thick, delicious coffee on the roof terrace before heading off into the bowels of the Medina. I was holding my breath and preparing for a forceful barrage of touts and hustlers as we have encountered in our previous travels, but it never came.
In fact, people seemed rather indifferent to us. They did not stare intensely into my soul as in Northern India, nor did they smother us in kindness as in Bali. As we got deeper into the Medina we received a little more attention, but it still paled in comparison to previous experiences. The alleyways were quite clean, with relatively little trash or pollution. (And no stray dogs! This is also a new experience in our travels). We spent the better part of the afternoon winding our way through the narrow alleys, ducking into dark corners, stopping to admire the carpets, lanterns, brass antiques, and jellabas (night gown like garment that both men and women wear) on display. After a while we stumbled upon the Petit Socco, a small open square surrounded by shops, and then later the Grand Socco, a larger circular intersection bustling with cars and people. Nearby the Grand Socco we inadvertently picked up a local guide who pointed us in the direction of the Mendoubia Gardens, and then unfortunately tagged alone with us for the better part of an hour. Wishing to have our freedom back, we paid him for his helpful (yet unrequested) guide services, and
we parted ways.
Since it is Ramadan, the streets are relatively quiet during the day. Many of the restaurants and cafes are closed, so for lunch we bought pastries at a small storefront and retired back to our roof terrace for coffee. Our hotel owner suggested we have dinner at a place called El Dorado, located in the Ville Nouvelle. We were a little tentative to walk at night into unknown territory, but she recommended it, as most of the taxi drivers would be busy eating their nightly meal after fasting the entire day for the holiday. As we rounded the corner of our street a local man tried to get our attention. As we have practiced a hundred times before we said “no thank you” and kept walking. This particular man was more insistent than the rest, however. He stayed with us, and kept trying to engage us. Politely but firmly we maintained our pace, and ignored him. When he finally realized we were not going to stop, he cursed “fuck you” at us and spat in our direction. It was very disconcerting, and left a little bit of a negative fog over the evening. We eventually
found our restaurant however, and have since then encountered dozens of friendly strangers who have greeted us with smiles and “bonjoir monsier”, and “bienvenidos”, etc. Another interesting phenomenon that I would be remiss not to mention, is we have seen young men getting into fist fights in the streets every day that we’ve been here. No one seemed particularly alarmed by it, and people would rush to intervene every time, but still…..
After dinner we took a taxi home, but as we neared the Kasbah, we noticed the entrance was blocked off. Locals explained that the new Bond movie was being filmed here, so no cars were permitted entrance. The next day our hotel guide confirmed this story. In fact, weeks earlier the film crew had called her and asked to rent out the entire hotel while they filmed, but unfortunately Travis and I had already reserved a room with them for one of the days. At the time ours was the only room taken. The crew insisted they have the entire hotel. Farida refused to cancel our reservation, so they ended up booking elsewhere. Sorry James, plan ahead next time. A guide walked us the rest of the
On our final night we decided to stay in and enjoy the amazing view from the roof terrace for dinner. We had the most amazing lamb tagine, a kind of stew with potatoes, carrots, and peas along with a bottle of red wine. Desert was fresh fruits. Amazing. That night we ventured out into the Medina once again, and for the first time witnessed the transformation of the evening during Ramadan. Everyone was out. The presence of women and children made me realize how few I had actually seen during the day. Kids were running through the Medina squealing in delight, everyone was smiling and singing “bonjour” to us. Women and young girls smiled shyly and tried a few words in English with us. Everyone was in much better spirits, after having broken the fast for the day.
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