Our First Day in Morocco

Date: November 24th, 2010

Weather: 13 Degrees Celsius, Overcast and Breezy

We awoke with groggy anticipation at 6:30 in the morning to prepare to leave the apartment and return our rental van to the Malaga airport. The sky was a calming grey over the Mediterranean Sea and a breeze blew, ready to carry us off to our next adventure across the water to North Africa. 

The past two days was spent packing and downsizing the contents of our backpacks. We needed to lighten our carrying weight to prepare for all the kilometres we planned to travel throughout Morocco. (By the end of our two-week trip, we travelled roughly 4000km on land.) We sent our heavy red suitcase of homeschooling books and extra clothes ahead to a Barcelona Correos (Post Office) closest to the apartment we would be renting out for the week after our Moroccan trip. [t]

From the Airport we caught a train to the bus station for an hour and forty-five minute bus ride to Algeciras. At Algeciras we bought our ferry tickets and exchanged our Euros for Moroccan Dirhams. Our ferry tickets came with a free bus ride to Tarifa port, where we were scheduled to board a 3pm ferry ride to Tangier, Morocco. 

Little Edmund made a friend on the bus between Algeciras to Tarifa. A lovely Moroccan woman offered him an orange, and he accepted it with his charmingly playful smile. Later on, to return the favour, he offered her some cookies. The lady was touched by the gesture and showed it by affectionately kissing his cheek and hugging him, asking Edmund in Spanish if he would like to sit with her.  Edmund politely refused with a shy glance and a shake of his head. He tells us he’s going to have a lot of girlfriends one day.     

The bus ride to Tarifa was a particularly memorable one for me. It was the first time I laid my eyes on Mother Africa, looming across the Strait of Gibraltar, ready to grant true my long-awaited dream of planting my feet on its continent. The bus carried us up and down the hilly terrain, curving and twisting down the path to the southernmost tip of Europe. Giant wind turbines sprung up like bon voyage banners, wishing us all a fare-thee-well as we prepared to cross the continental divide. I studied the image of the two continents separated by the blue jewel of the Mediterranean Sea, and placed it in the pocket of my heart, throbbing with thanksgiving and pregnant with anticipation. What kind of Morocco would we discover? It was like knowing a stranger whom friends have already met and told you all about. With nervous expectancy in the air between us, I was hoping She would embrace me and my family in friendship. With four little children in tow, I was  counting on it.
The ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar was our 45 minute transition phase between two worlds. Most of the passengers were North African women wearing headscarves. Being North Americans, we sensed our minority, and returned a wary smile to their unapologetic stares. It turned out that the ride across the short stretch of the Mediterranean was uncomfortably rocky. The sea took on its own being, exerting its power on the ferry-boat.  Its solid waves knocking it back and forth, making many people, including myself quite sea-sick. Several passengers clutched on to their vomit bags and held on to their seats.
Passport control involved two Moroccon Officials sitting at a table in the corner of the ferry’s dining room, stamping passports for a line-up of men followed by a line-up of women. As a family, we formed a small nebulous between the line-up of women, wondering self-consciously if we were doing the right thing. We weren’t interested in dividing ourselves from each other.

Fresh off the boat, we arrived at the port of Tangier at almost 3pm Moroccan time (1hr behind of Spain). From there we met a well spoken older Moroccan man who offered to connect us with a taxi driver and guide for the afternoon. He asked for 30 Euros for 6 hours of accompaniment and Grand taxi rides to and from Tangier Centrum to the train station. We took him up on his offer, refusing to barter in this bartering culture. The Lonely Planet Guide book suggests that the going rate for a guide was half that price.  As we saw it, we had about 6 hours to explore Tangier until we had to board our overnight train ride to Marrakesh. Five Euros an hour including transportation for the six of us was a win-win for both sides.

In the guide books and on-line travel forums, Tangier was described as an overpriced, dirty and shady Moroccan city. We were glad to have Mustafa as our Arabic speaking guide as we walked along its dusky streets. He directed our gaze to the body of water where the Mediterranean sea met the Atlantic Ocean. I imagined the currents of the two large bodies of water colliding and becoming that solid physical force which rocked our ferry about. 

Our senses were heightened as we skipped past the garbage in the narrow walkways of the medina, inhaling the unusual smells of animals and their excrement –uncomfortably numerous cats (I’m very allergic to them), penned chickens and rabbits, and work donkeys. Exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, firewood, dirt and grime hung over the lively atmosphere of the souk (market) filled with fresh produce and meats (can’t get any fresher than live chickens), and third-hand thrift stalls. We floated through Arabic and Berber music as we held hands studying the hand crafted treasures of slippers, ceramics, paintings, tapestries, jewelry, and silverware. We didn’t mind that Mustafa took us to all his friends’ stores, hoping we buy a little something from them. We refrained from buying anything, worried about the inconvenience of prematurely adding weight to our packs as we traversed through the country. We told Mustafa this in the beginning, but he took us anyway. 

We had supper at a humble little restaurant and soaked our taste buds with our first Moroccan dishes. We feasted on a savoury chicken tajine dish, a fluffy creamy heaven of vegetable couscous, tasty meat kabobs, cinnamon sprinkled chicken pastella, and scalding mint tea. We filled our bellies with the sweetness of our first day in Morocco, lingering a little longer around the table before we made our way to the train station.
At the station we waited for the arrival of the 9pm train to Marrakesh which held our reserved 1st Class Couchette room of two bunk beds. Exhaustion found us, settling into mine and Brian’s bodies after a long day of travel. The children however, were immune to it, running on the high of the adventures of the day, playing tag, and laughing their hearts out. They were excited for their first sleepover in a train. We couldn’t help but participate with them in their joy, taking pleasure in their animated discoveries, engulfing us in a state of wonder. 

We discovered that our Couchette room was the size of a walk-in closet, layered with the dust of Africa on its vinyl covered bunks. The children didn’t take any notice and staked claim on their top bunks -the boys sharing one and the girls the other. I was grateful for travelling with little children who can fit in just about anywhere they pleased.  Brian and I took a bottom bunk each.  Brian was confined to sleeping diagonally in order to fit his long frame comfortably. We voted on not brushing our teeth or washing our faces in the urine sloshed toilet room. Brian and I laughed nervously when we discovered that the “1st Class” toilet room directly emptied its wastes right on the train tracks.  You could see the tracks at the bottom of the toilet and feel the breeze on your heinie. The sink overflowed and there was no evidence of soap used for hands or the facility. I thanked my lucky stars for the bottle of hand sanitizer I packed.

We settled in quickly for the night, telling our bookworm Susan to turn off the Kindle light and go to bed. That night, our dreams carried us off to Marrakesh, throughout the frequent stops and starts of the train. Sleep was elusive to me, as I couldn’t shake off the excitement of the promises of adventures this exotic country held for us. I kept one eye on the children, moved by the realization that we were living our dreams wide awake.

Written By Jenn

[Tip]  I got this tip from Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide:  If you ever need to send or receive a package while travelling, you can send it via the poste restante system, whereby you can send and receive packages to post offices worldwide.  The post office will generally hold incoming mail for about a month.  For the Spanish Correos, packages are listed as Lista de Correos.

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11 Responses to Our First Day in Morocco

  1. Pingback: A Look Back: My 7 Links | At Home in the World

  2. Auntie Beth says:

    Jen & Brian,
    We, your dedicated fas and followers of ur family’s adventures, can’t read enough of your blog and enjoy each pictures u post on ur wall. So pls, keep them coming our way. So happy for each of u for following your dreams in such an extra ordinary way as a family. So proud of each of u! ‘Luv u guys! Hugs to all. Mahalo!

  3. Yolanda says:

    Wow Jenn, this is such a wonderful adventure you are having with your family. And so beautifully written! Children grow up, routines change, life brings you different adventures….but this is such a special journey which I know they will cherish for the rest of their (and your) lives!
    May God grant you all a safe and memorable journey!

    • Thank you so much Yolanda! I enjoy writing and sharing our adventures. Thanks for the well wishes and following our journey. You too must be having some great adventures in Vancouver. Wishing you and your family well.

  4. Grandma says:

    Thank you, Jenn, for your interesting story! Your adventures are made much more vivid with your writings and photos… and reach right into my heart. So amazing for you to be travelling in parts of the world that are only a phantom of my imagination. Sounds so interesting and such an incredible education for all involved! God bless you and your travels… to each of you. With love, Mom

  5. bruleeblog says:

    That Edmund, what a flirt! 🙂

  6. Lisa says:

    Beautifully written Jenn. And fabulous pics as always (whoever took them) 😀
    It’s so nice to read about the little events that make the journey. We decided not to go for the train based on the amount of time we had for Morocco so it was nice to read your experience. The toilet part cracked me up (pardon the pun). And I hear ya when you have to choose between routine and hygiene (the brushing teeth part). And thanks for the tip about poste restante system. I was wondering about that when I read about sending your luggage ahead of you. May have to try that if that time came.

    Thanks for sharing as always. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment Lisa. Here’s the template suggested by Vagabonding to put on your packages. Make sure you capitalize and underline your last name, and when picking up a package, bring your passport for ID. In Spain, the Poste Restante Line was replaced by Lista de Correos. It may change in every country you go to, so check on-line or at the post office you will be mailing from on what to write. J

      LAST NAME, first name
      Poste Restante
      GPO (general post office address)

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