Before studying abroad, I made a list of all the places I wanted to travel to. I picked the typical ones, like Paris and Italy, but my number one destination was Morocco. I remember telling my mom that the one place I wanted to go was to Morocco and to ride a camel. She gave me that “no way in hell” look and probably thought it was just one of my crazy ideas like the time I wanted to grow dread locks (this idea lasted for about 20 minutes). The closer my departure date came, the more adamant I was about traveling to Morocco and my mom realized that unlike the dread locks, I was serious. So, after getting a great travel book by Rick Steves and researching Tangier, I knew I had to go. Once I arrived to Madrid and met the people in my program, one of the first questions I asked was if anyone wanted to go to Morocco with me. I thought I might have to convince them it was a cool idea, but to my surprise, a lot of them were interested in going. So, a little over a month ago, we began looking at cheap RyanAir flights to Tangier and booked our tickets. This past weekend, my wish was granted and I was able to spend a weekend in Tangier, Morocco.
Like my mom, my dad wasn’t too keen on his 21-year-old daughter traveling to Morocco, but he knew that like when he was 21 back in the day, there was no stopping me because like him, I love to travel and explore new things. My dad told me it was okay for me to go as long as a guy was traveling in our group. So, after my friend Ian told us he wanted to come, I had the complete go-ahead. Unlike my past trips, I had to be much more conscientious when it came to the clothes I was bringing. Since Morocco is a very conservative, Muslim country, I had to pack accordingly. While my clothes aren’t provocative or “inappropriate,” I had to make sure that when I wore leggings, my shirts went well bellow my backside and that none of my shirts were too low cut. I also packed a bunch of scarves because we weren’t sure if we’d be going into any buildings where we needed to keep our heads covered.
Last Friday, after many Taken jokes, we set off for the airport on our Morocco journey. Was I nervous? Yup. Was I beyond excited to travel to Morocco? More than anything. While I was excited to explore the city, the one thing I was most excited for was the possibility of riding a camel. I was determined to make that happen. Whenever my friends and I got to together to plan our trip and they would ask what everyone wanted to do, I was always the first to pipe in and my response was always the same: ride a camel.
When we arrived in Tangier, I went through customs for the first time since arriving in Spain. Whenever you travel within the European Union (which all of my previous trips have been), you don’t have to go through customs and unfortunately, you don’t get you passport stamped. After making our way through customs, we stopped in baggage claim to figure out the best way to get to the hostel. We were approached at one point who claimed he worked for the airport (still not sure about that one) and he kept asking to see the name of our hostel. Since we didn’t know if this guy was legitimate and we’ve seen one too many Euro-vacations gone wrong movies, we declined and told him we knew how to get where we were going (lie, we had no idea). We decided that since we didn’t know are way around the city we would just take taxis to our hostel. Well, when we gave our drivers the address, they couldn’t figure out how to get to our hostel, The Melting Pot. After what seemed like 15 minutes (probably only five), the drivers figured out where they were going and we were off!
The airport was about 20 minutes outside of the city so it was pretty cool to be able to see the transition from the more modern where the airport was located to the older part of Tangier, which is what I thought of when I picture Morocco. Windy cobblestone steps, open markets, and traditional Muslim clothing.
Since we were in a new continent and there’s a lot of negative stigma surrounding Morocco, we were all a little bit more nervous before our trip than on previous ones. A lot of girls read a bunch of travel blogs to learn about the city and to have a safe vacation. All the blogs talked about potential scams and how to avoid them, which shout out of Megan and Lindsay for their research, we successfully avoided. A lot of people make money in Morocco by trying to be your tour guide or “helping” you find somewhere and then demanding money. So, being broke college students, we weren’t too interested in being scammed. So, we made sure our taxi drivers tell us the price up front on how to get to our hostel. It was 150 dirham (15 euros) for each taxi, which was great because divided between four people, was a cheap taxi. When we got closer to our hostel, we drove past a large group of boys who began chasing our taxi. We after first thought it was just the taxi in front of us (Ashley, Lindsay, Megan, and Diana) but when we looked behind us, a boy was chasing our taxi as well. Our time from arriving to the airport until we got to our hostel was probably the sketchiest part of our trip. I’m still not exactly sure why those boys were chasing our taxis.
The taxi drivers had called our hostel while we were in the cars, so once the taxis parked, a man from the hostel came to meet us and walk us to the hostel because the taxis couldn’t drive up to where our hostel was. As we were walking to our hostel, the man asked us where we were from. Before going to Morocco, we had heard that Moroccan dislike Americans so we should tell them we are Canadians. So, when the man from the hostel asked my friend Laura where our group was from, she told them Canada. After she told them this, we realized that once we got to the hostel, we would have to show them all of our passports so they would realize that we definitely were not from Canada. It was pretty funny when the men at the hostel looked at our passports and said, “We thought you were from Canada?” We then had to explain why Laura told them we were from Canada. The situation had potential to be incredibly awkward but luckily everyone just laughed it off. After we checked into the hotel, we met a man named Muhammad, who works with the hostel to give walking tours to guests. For five euros (500 dirham) a person, he would walk us around the city and through the big market and show us the sites of Tangier. It sounded like a great idea to us because none of us had any clue about what to do in Tangier besides riding camels. After we settled into our rooms and put on our incredibly attractive money belts or neck straps, we headed downstairs to begin our tour. He walked us through all the windy streets explaining the door signs and basic history to the port town of Tangier. Apparently, Morocco was the first country to recognize the United State’s independence from Britain and to have an American Embassy. Interesting.
On our tour, Muhammad showed us the coastline and told us how in the upcoming years, Tangier is changing it’s coastal front to be full of restaurants and clubs to help increase its tourism.
Muhammad kept repeating how there are three religions on Tangier: Muslim, Judaism, and Christianity and how the three religions live in harmony. Just by the sheer number of times he repeated this made me question the validity of it. He took us to the Jewish quarters and it was actually really interesting seeing the difference between this street and the rest of morocco. You could definitely see the distinctions between the two. After the market, we went to a jewelry shop that was owned by Muhammad’s uncle. Can you say kickback? The jewelry was pretty cool, and they had a large assortment of rings and bracelets, but I wasn’t looking to spend that much money on jewelry. After we got there, they brought out hot green tea for everyone. In the blogs that my friend Lindsay read about Morocco, she learned that many times when people enter shops like these, the owners will give customers hot beverages. Apparently, when you drink a hot beverage it causes a reaction with your tongue and it allows the store owners to tell when you’re lying so they’ll know if you really don’t have enough money to pay for their initial price or not. I’m not entirely sure how it works, but if it’s true, that’s a very interesting technique. After the jewelry shop, Muhammad took us to a shop that sells spices and creams. He showed us all of these spice mixes and herbal remedies to treat stress or insomnia, in addition to different types of lotions and makeup. I bought some spices for my mom (hope she doesn’t read this yet, it’s a gift!) and a cool lipstick that is green but when you put it on turns red. The store, like most other places in Tangier, was very cheap and everything in the store was buy two, get the third free, so we all loaded up on spices and lotions to bring back home with us.
After this store, we went to a local rug and scarf shop where all of the products were handmade and you can actually see them being made in the store. The man who worked there showed us all the different tapestries and rugs. He also showed us how to tie the scarves around our heads into headdresses. He showed me how to do it first then showed the rest of the girls in my group. It was pretty cool.
We were all starving after this shop, so Muhammad took us to a restaurant for dinner. It was a four-course meal full of authentic Moroccan food. We started off with different types of breads and dips, and then we had a Moroccan soup, which had small noodles and different vegetables. It was a Moroccan take on minestrone.
After the soup, we had a fried meat cake, which had cinnamon sugar on top. Then, half of us had chicken tagine and the other half (me) had chicken couscous with vegetables. For dessert, we were served a type of baklava and oranges. For four courses, the meal was 12 euros (120 dirham); totally worth every bite. It was so delicious and we were all stuffed afterwards. After dinner, Muhammad took us back to the hostel for the night. We all hung out on the terrace talking about our day and what we wanted to do the next day. So far, Morocco was awesome.
The next day, we woke up and took showers before eating breakfast on the roof of our hotel. It was a perfect morning. It was warm and sunny, and we had a great overlook of Tangier. Not to mention the great breakfast. We had a type of pita bread with butter and different types of jelly.
After a leisurely breakfast, we booked a two-hour taxi tour for the morning. Our driver took us to the new, more modern part of Morocco and showed us the place where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.
We saw the house of the King of Morocco in addition to the president of Morocco. Our driver also took us to a place….wait for it…TO RIDE CAMELS!!! Seriously, I was freaking out; I was so happy. I was told the name of my camel, but I couldn’t really understand it, so I changed it’s name of Pete.
We paid 10 euros (100 dirham) to ride the camels for 15-20 minutes and it was so fun! But okay, so even though I was excited to ride the camels, it was kind of sad at the same time. The camels’ conditions aren’t the greatest and I felt bad for these poor animals. They’re like the camels of Central Park. However, offering camel rides is a large source of income for these men and obviously a large tourist spot. So I had mixed feelings after I got off Pete.
That being said, riding a camel was probably the highlight of my trip and it gave me a great new profile picture for Facebook. Only four girls in my group, Nancy, Lindsay, Ashley and I rode the camels and our other friends walked with us and took our pictures.
After the camels, our driver took us to Hercules’s Cave. I’m not entirely sure on the background of the cave but Megan said something about according to mythology, Hercules was locked in these caves for a period of time. I should probably look into that. At the back of the caves, there was an opening that looked out over the ocean. For my Harry Potter fans, think of the scene in the 6thbook when Harry and Dumbledore go back into the cave to find the locket horcrux of Lord Voldemort. The entryway to the cave is exactly what this looked like.
After the caves, we went back into downtown Tangier and met up with Muhammad who showed us a place for lunch. It was a touristy restaurant, but the food was great. Nancy and I split the same soup we had for dinner the night before and I got chicken couscous, again.
Once we were finished with lunch we decided to explore the city on our own. Muhammad told us directions on how to get to the beach, but his directions sent us on the two-hour walk when we were probably only 20 minutes away from the beach. On the bright side, we found a great gelato place. We finally made our way down to the beach and it was amazing to finally reach the beach. There were tons of guys playing futbol on the beach, so we found a rock pier to sit on and just take in the scenery. We sat on this pier for maybe two hours and just people watched and talked. We sat down by the beach until about sunset and then set off to find a place for dinner. We found a cheap place that was full of locals, so we knew it had to be good food. Ian, Ashley, and I had shawarma and everyone else had pizza. After dinner, we headed back to the hostel. We met some guys from Wake Forest and some other people who had been on the same plane as us who are teaching in Madrid for a year. We talked to them for most of the night. It’s so cool hearing everyone’s stories and talking to them about their experiences. Everyone has different experiences while abroad and on their travels so it’s really interesting to hear what everyone has to say.
The next morning, we all woke up a little earlier than the day before and began packing up our stuff. We had met a little boy the day before who had offered to show us around the market, so we took him up on his offer. Mainly because he was precious. He was so cute and we knew we would have to tip him, but we didn’t care. At 10am, he met us outside of our hostel and took us all around the market. We went back to the same tapestry shop that we went to the day before so Lindsay could buy a tapestry and I ended up buying a scarf. We were all able to buy last minute, cheap souvenirs to take home or give to people as gifts. The little boy, Anwar, tried to take us to his family’s restaurant but we didn’t have enough time so he took us back to the hostel. He was so precious. We all wanted to take him home with us.
After we grabbed our luggage, we began wandering to find a quick place to grab lunch before we had to go to the airport. We ran into two taxi drivers who offered to drive us to a close place for lunch and then to the airport for 100 dirham per cab (2.50 euro per person). It was a great deal. They took us to a restaurant called Alli Baba where we had pita wraps, kebabs, and hummus. A great ending to a great trip.
So, to all the people who doubted my trip to Morocco or told me it was dumb to go, I proved you wrong and had an amazing trip! Yes, at times being in Morocco was intimidating, but I never felt unsafe. Any place you travel to can be dangerous, whether it’s New York City, Paris, or Tangier, but what dictates your experience is how you behave. Although sometimes things happen that simply can’t be helped, like being pick-pocketed, there are also those that can be avoided as well. I’m going off on this tangent because a few of my friends have been pick-pocketed/robbed and it was definitely a wake up call for all of us. While in the beginning of the trip we would all walk home together at night (don’t worry Mom, it was always in groups of three or more), we now take taxis. We don’t carry large sums of money on us or carry our passports. It has taught all of us to be more observant of our surroundings. When my friends were robbed, it was at 9am in our neighborhood. That situation was something we never expected to happen because it was broad daylight in a residential area. Sure, if they’d taken a taxi or a bus from the train station it could have been prevented, but they weren’t set in the mindset. We walk around Alcala everyday, whether it’s to go to school, to the train station, or to Nancy’s apartment, so the thought of getting robbed at 9am would never have occurred to any of us. It’s very easy to think that you can only get robbed or pick-pocketed abroad or that you only need to be careful when traveling, but that’s just not that case. What makes pick pocketing appear to be more prevalent while traveling or studying abroad is that generally, tourists are the targets of these instances. Generally, we’re not in the same place for a long time so we usually don’t go to the police. Also, since we don’t live here, we aren’t as familiar with the city or the customs so it causes us to be easier targets. Pick pocketing occurs in the United States, but we don’t hear about it as much, because for people like me who live in Columbia and Spartanburg, it just doesn’t happen as frequently as say, New York, Chicago, or other large cities. We’re tourists here and as much as we try to blend in, at times it’s impossible so we definitely have more of a mark on our backs than we do at home. I think that traveling teaches us to be more aware of surroundings and safety precautions, both for overseas and for when we return home. I’m not writing this to say I am constantly suspicious of everyone or that people should be scared when traveling at all. Not at all. That’s not my intention. It’s just that as travelers, you learn to become more conscientious, especially for people like me who live in smaller cities. Okay, back to Morocco.
So, while this trip wasn’t as glamorous as Paris and I may never have a chance to go back, it was a great experience and I am so glad I went. Study abroad is a great chance to go to places you may never go back to, like Morocco. The food was good, everything was cheap, we saw interesting sites, and I RODE A CAMEL!! Morocco was at the top of my list of places to travel to and my time in Tangier will be one of my favorites memories from my adventures in Spain!
- jolín – darn
- mago- magician
- varita- wand
- concienzudo- conscientious
- gracioso- charming/amusing
- abrochar- to fasten/button
- acariciar- to caress