[Друзья, сразу скажу, что пост на английском, и если у кого нет желания читать его весь, прошу не минусовать именно за то,что он не на русском. Это первая часть четырехмесячного путешествия по западной Африке сентябрь-декабрь '11. Спасибо!]
So, we're in Morocco! Inexperienced first-time-in-africans. Salam Aleikum!
From Algeciras to Tangier, ferry trip is supposed to be the easiest way of getting in Morocco and take something around 35 minutes. Somehow it takes us two and a half hours, and the customs officer is just there on board with us, continuing to stamp the passports - mostly green Moroccan, purple European, blue, and, apparently, the only red - mine.
The port of Tangier-Med, said to be one of the largest in Africa, is still some 50 kilometers away from the city. It was already past sunset when we arrived in city center and picked up, or, let’s put it right - got picked up - by a local guy who walked us to the Medina, the Old Town, where we found a tawdry room in one of the numerous pensions. A little language insight – here, in the very North of Morocco, supported by vast amount of tourists crossing from the other side of the strait, Spanish is spread. We’ve got an impression - wider than even second official French. This guy, for instance, on the way to Medina gladly and fluently prattled something about his city en Español, and continued to do so, even when Amandine tried to clear confusion out in French.
Guesthouse keeper lowered the price, and we settled in 8-sqare meters with two narrow beds. Too narrow to sleep together. Fresh air coming through the open window. Talks outside. It was our guide talking to the guesthouse woman, apparently, they’ve known each other for a while. Rain was starting, making the will for a late evening walk sharper. So we went. Uphill, to the market. He asked to buy some food for, according to him, his kids – so a few boxes of La Vache Qui Rie, ‘melted cheese’ we used to call it, and a few packets of chips that’s what he thought was best for them, all at a triple price from someone of his acquaintance. We were not adjusted to say no, yet. In general, though, I can’t say, there was too much attention paid to us as foreigners, so gradually the excessive cautiousness was letting go.
We asked where we could have had some mint tea. He took us to a place right there at the market, ordered the tea, and left us as we were. Four dirhams, two long glasses well full of fresh mint, four spoons of sugar, and the only woman in the room – something between a large canteen and a waiting room – my wife. Take it slow. In the smoke haze men are playing cards and dominoes over a football game on tv. Take it slow, it’s still raining outside. It will be raining all night, why don’t we just love walking in the rain? Now that we have a company – it wasn’t long before we met Mustafa, the grocery sale. Half-hour conversation in combined Spanish-French, and there was no other reason that he took us around medina, to the places we would never find, or dare to go, on our own, rather than the wish to present his hometown to the foreigners. And for ourselves it was luck and revelation – we were looking to get to know the locals in the first place.
This was our first night in Morocco, and, yes, we didn’t get to see that much of Tangier, but the tangling streets of Medina, sellers offering exotic spices and pastry, horning taxis, men dealing hashish at every corner, the first, the sweetest mint tea, and not to mention meeting Mustafa and his friend, it all makes the reminisce of this time exceptional.
For the gourmands – avocado milkshake is another local specialty, and it’s a twister to come up with something better for breakfast. Cheap, too. We went out for one very soon, as the morning came, again just uphill to the market, we thought we had known well by then. Mustafa brought us to a nearby café stand. There we said our goodbyes.
The same day we were about to take the train to Rabat, the capital. First, we needed to get Mauritanian visas, and this is where the embassy is, second, it’s on the way south, third, and important, we’ve had an approved couchsurfing request to stay with the people we were looking forward to meet. If I remember well, we never checked the train schedule, neither, of course, bought the tickets in advance. The woman at the pension told us the train left daily in the afternoon, so we headed to the station right after breakfast.
Still unadjusted to the matter of a never-fixed price for foreigners we paid about 30 dirham (eq. to 3 EU) for a short taxi ride, which, we figured later, shouldn’t have cost anything more than 10.
Occasionally, we arrived in Morocco just on time for annual Greater Eid (Festival of Sacrifice), one of the most important holidays for Muslims, and clearly the most unwished time for the sheep. And the holiday eve means all over country migration, preparation, fuss, rush, and particularly hard-time travel. It’s been one hour past the scheduled time of departure, and we were still waiting inside the train station, exit doors to the platforms shut. Men gathered starting to make noise, whistling, as if at a stadium protesting against a referee’s decision. Later we figured out why. Taking the great chance, the company sold more tickets than passengers a train could possibly fit. And then, as the exit doors were signaled to be opened, the human stream flowed outside to fill the train. Anyway is good if it lets you get in. Have we hesitated for some ten more seconds, would have surely been left behind. The ride to Rabat lasted about four hours.
Little by little Morocco was revealing itself, and in return expecting same from us, challenging if we were looking for more.
The following seven days – much longer than expected – we spent in Sale, the peer city of Rabat, grown on the opposite shore of the river I don’t know the name of. Here, Zach and Snoopy, the local guys and amazing artists, together with Lina, Johanna and Arthur, the volunteers from Germany rented an apartment. For us, it was a great luck to find them, as, besides letting us to stay for entire week, they were really helpful to show us around, and give a useful insight on the city, local culture people, and religion.
In Rabat we arrived on Thursday, and I only remember that because Friday is the day of couscous, and earlier in the train we met a woman with a daughter who has invited us for one. So, we went, and then after day Malika was inviting us again and again – to her place, to the place of her relatives, or just to take a tour of the city - and slightly took offense if we couldn’t come. So, if we were not spending time with our new couchsurfing host friends, we were with the family of Malika. Finally, when the time came for us to leave, she gave us, and personally to Amandine, presents we couldn’t help to accept.
Only later, as we went on to see more of Morocco, we had got an impression that Rabat, and, especially, Sale, were not at all like other known cities of the country we’ve got a chance to see. Not being disguised for tourists, they keep, if it’s not much too say, more characteristic and authenticity. If at first sight you don’t reject what seems to be the dark side, you’ll find the sincere charm of these places, primarily, in its respectful and gregarious people.
On a budget overland travel with a far-away destination, where you stop, at it large depends on where you can find a couch to surf. Bakkar from Layounne, Western Sahara, was the only host we could have found on the way further south…