The sky is dark and the boat rocks methodically back and forth as it passes over waves. I think back to all the travelling so far leading up to this point. There was the plane to Malaga, Spain, then a few hours later a bus ride along the Coast of the Sun. Costa del Sol for the Spanish speakers out there. This stretch of coastline is a magical wonderland of fun for tourists, and happened to bridge our airport to the harbor where a boat would be taking us across the Strait of Gibraltar. The bus’ diesel engine whined as we passed over a large hill and proceeded towards a sharp bend in the road ahead; I could see the setting sun illuminating both the water and spinning wind turbines on the left hand side. The graceful sweeps of the massive blades cut through the air and reminded me of how beautifully nature and modern technology can exist at times. The view alone was enough to once again rejuvenate my spirits for the next few hours of travel until we reached our destination. The bus hugged the coastline for this leg of the journey, providing some spectacular views of bright blue water as backdrop and in drastic contrast against pristine white houses stretching upwards out of green trees and red rock. The beauty of this region attracts money, I can tell by the upscale houses and private hideaways. In fact, if my memory serves me, this coast line used to be a gangsta paradise for British mobsters. But, no time to reflect as we finally near our destination.
Finally the boat pulls into the Tangier harbor; we have made it to Africa. While trying to exit the boat a man blocked our path and insisted we must wait on ship until our passports were verified and stamped. The man stamping passports had already left the boat and dock yard; he would have to be called and brought back on board because of our error. “They requested this step be done before the ship docked in Morocco” the small, skinny, black-haired stamper man yells when he arrives 20 minutes later, “over the boat’s public address system in three different languages.” But this angry man’s words really meant, “How could you be so dumb!? Do they need to add a fourth language-idiot- for groups of Amerikaners like you who apparently cannot understand their own language, Spanish, or Arabic?” Face red, pupils dilated, he slams down his laptop, multiple stampers, and ink pad making his anger at having to return after leaving work even more clear. As if his outrage was missed to begin with. As if his continuance of a charade aimed at making us feel like idiots, will actually make us feel like idiots and not just tourists who made a mistake. He obviously did not know us very well. His 24 thumping stamps, 12 for the ink pad and two each for the six passports presented before him, were exclamation points to further highlight his anger.
After disembarking the water vessel Moroccan culture bombarded us. Their very friendly demeanour made you question if Moroccans are really so hospitable or just want to lull you into a false sense of security before robbing you or cutting out your kidney to sell for 1,000 dirhems on the black market. They are a disarming nice not often experienced by westerners, who hail from where genuine niceness is often lost to pleasantries and social protocol. Our culture causes us to ,when we meet someone who is authentically nice, initially distrust them all the more and search for ulterior motives because of the rarity their authenticity represents.
“5 euros for us and our luggage.” “No, ten” says the taxi driver. After a bit more haggling we both agree on a reasonable price, the way it should be. We both start our journey to the hostel feeling as if we got a good deal. Our parade of two taxis weaves in and out of the night traffic, down side streets, and past groups of youngsters on the sidewalks. Finally we arrive. Unfortunately our point of contact for our hostel check in is unreachable. Sweet, four girls (squirrels) and two studly dudes (including myself of course) stuck outside in a city we know very little about. Finally our Moroccan “friend” reaches the hostel owner and we gain admittance to our sleeping quarters. Through the white-painted, metal door with an inlaid crosshatching pattern over a glass window we trudged with backpacks, then up two sets of creaky stairs and through another door leading into our room for the night. A hostel big enough to hold six people comfortably, and decorated with colorful pillows, wall ornaments, mini chandeliers, and rugs. After settling in, and the night still being young, we set out to find ourselves some Moroccan mint tea, a Moroccan speciality.
Our one-tracked minds, meaning Kyle’s and mine, were easily distracted though. Before we even got a block away from our hostel we ran into a group of youngsters playing soccer in the street. We slowed our pace, enough to show interest in their game. One kid, who would one minute later introduce himself as “The football machine” and fifteen minutes later prove it by making Kyle and I look like we have never played soccer before by turning us in circles with his ball control skills, beckoned us over in Spanish. While the girls we were with declined to join, even though some of them knew how to play soccer and had even played in college (cough, cough schla…I mean Heather), Kyle and I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to play soccer in the streets of Morocco with some Spaniards and Africans. (Northern Morocco was heavily influenced by both the Spanish and the French in past decades, so even today there is a strong presence of both along with the Berber culture) So, not only had we digressed from our mission of finding mint tea, but Kyle and I spent the next twenty minutes getting worked over by this group of soccer players while the girls we came with stood on the curb taking pictures of us getting owned and batted their eyelashes at the group of young males flirting with them.
After ending our game, and preparing to leave, several of the young kids excitedly led us to the doors of a nearby building. Inside were sheep, probably five or six, just eating and baaing away. Our minds were boggled by the sight; luckily the questions would be satiated a few hours later during the morning of the following day. But for now, we continued our search for tea. Finally making our way to a busy street we cruised down the sidewalk looking for an open restaurant. Having no luck at this time of night we opted for a shop where we could buy the necessary materials to make our own tea instead. After paying mere pennies for what we needed, running into a man high out of his mind, and being followed by a kid part of the way back we arrived at our hostel.
The tea we made was great, even better after the long day. Settling in for the night, with the help of our bouncy ball for entertainment, I wondered what would be in store for the rest of the trip… and already began musing on how many blog entries this trip would take to fully explain. One sure in hell is not going to be enough.