I was thrilled and honored last year when an abridged version of “Moroccan and a Half” was published on Hidden Compass, an online travel magazine. There, I got to share space with some amazing and even famous writers and photographers. This past March 1, I was equally honored when the original unedited version won a Solas Award in the Destination Story category from Travelers Tales. Here is that story.
Moroccan And A Half To understand a people, you must live among them for 40 days.-Arabic proverb
The taxi driver glared at me when I demanded that he use le compteur. “What do you think that is?” he snapped in French, pointing at the already-running meter under his dash. Looking both pained and angry, he glanced into the rear-view mirror at another passenger already in the back, then turned again to face me.
Switching to English, I apologized as I got into the front seat of his bright-red petit taxi, explaining that every other driver in Marrakesh had insisted on an inflated, fixed price for tourists like me. “Are you a tourist?” he asked, his voice still raised, chiding me. “Aren’t you living here?”
Est-que vous avez les cartes pour Maroc Telecom? Oui. Deux cinquante dirhams, s’il vous plait.
It’s strange, coming back to a place that is so familiar while still being so foreign. I arrived in Tangier last night after an adventurous day traveling from Granada, Spain. I’m not sure I would be calling it adventurous if finally arriving hadn’t been the most normal thing about it. Getting oriented in Morocco was easy the second time around. Getting here was not. Continue reading “The Angry Sea”
Note: A slightly different version of this piece was first published on the travel site Journey Beyond Travel
On our first afternoon in the Tangier medina, a soft-spoken, bespectacled old man invited my wife and me to step inside his carpet shop to have a look. When we showed interest in a small piece, he suddenly vanished, to be replaced by The Closer”the younger and rabidly aggressive owner of the store. After being served mint tea and then cajoled, manipulated, pressured, and begged for far too long, we finally stumbled out, exhausted. Undeterred, we continued our walk, dodging one shopkeeper after another, each shouting: English? Espanol? Just have a look! Continue reading “A Week In Tangier”
In the last thirteen months, I had the opportunity to spend more time traveling than in the previous thirteen years. Four months abroad! Three continents and seven countries! Travel by foot, boat, car, train, bus, airplane, and animal!
“Je ne comprends pas les plans, et je ne comprends pas beaucoup de français, so, est-que vous parlez anglais?” I actually figured out how to say that while walking to the Maroc Telecom store, without using a translation app! And don’t go commenting that the word “so” is English. I don’t care.
The last time I was in Tangier, I spent the entire week walking around and exploring. Now we were back for just 2 days, and today was Yvonne’s last day of work. The next day we were leaving not just for Chefchaouen, but also for the next phase of our trip to Morocco: Full-on vacation. So today, I took it easy. No exploring, no writing. But first, I had to learn how to renew our cell phone service; even Google couldn’t explain it to me. Continue reading “The Best Fish Restaurant Ever”
If all you have time to do is visit the souks and historical places of Morocco, do it! This is a beautiful country with a remarkable history, and any visit at all is worthwhile. But when you are only spending a little time in the most touristed places, it’s natural to get a very skewed view of Morocco because it seems like everyone wants something. “Come look, just take a look!” can get very tiresome when you’ve heard it 300 times during an afternoon in the Marrakesh medina. The surface view is so exotic for many westerners that it’s difficult to see what’s under it in a short time. Continue reading “Appreciating Morocco”
The train gets underway. As night falls, porters come around and magically convert our seats into beds. They make them up with sheets and light blankets. After a peaceful night of sleep, they come back in the morning to wake us up, and convert our beds back into seats. Another porter comes around with a cart offering breakfast. When we arrive, we disembark rested and ready for the adventures ahead…Continue reading “Don’t You Know We’re Riding…”
One of the joys of traveling is that because everything is new, it’s natural to be more present and open to what’s happening around us. But to be present in this way also requires slowing down. Here in Morocco where there is so much to see, I’m grateful to have enough time to slow down and just experience life. Though I started out yesterday afternoon as a tourist with a nice haircut, it turned out to be the richest day I’ve had here thus far.
After leaving the hair salon, I took the short walk to the corniche along the beach as the muezzin called the faithful to prayer, and waited to hail a taxi to the medina. On the narrow strip of grass sandwiched between the busy boulevard and the paved sidewalk, a man stood barefoot on an old piece of cloth. At first I thought he was talking to himself, but then I realized he was facing Mecca and praying. He prostrated himself several times, lost in devotion as the traffic whizzed by. In the U.S. we would think the man is crazy; here, it’s just life. Continue reading “Living In the Moment”
My first mission today was to find a place to get my hair cut. As I mentioned in my last post, there are an enormous number of barbers and salons here, but most seem to cater to older men with really short hair, just like the classic American barber shop. I wanted a more styled look.
I began with an early lunch at a noodle shop near our hotel. While I was there, they started playing a recitation of the Koran by a Saudi imam, which was unexpected since the employees were all young women in cute noodle-shop uniforms, and none seemed a bit conservative. I ate my lunch and asked them for advice on finding a place to get my hair cut. They recommended a men’s salon about a mile away, and I started walking. Continue reading “Fashion Statement”
Literally. While still in Casablanca, I created this title as a joke, knowing that Tangier is a ferry ride away from Spain and channeling Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin. But we didn’t realize how close. When we entered our hotel room after the 5-hour train ride north, we were amazed; I can see electricity windmills dotting the Andalucian coast (not Don Quixote, however).
Tangier has an extremely shady 20th century history, borne of its time as an international zone. Writers, spies, artists and pirates from around the world have all spent time here. But that’s the past of Tangier (though the artists and writers do still come). Now, it’s a weekend vacation spot for Spaniards and Moroccans alike, and the main boulevard along the beach is full of high-rise hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs. The long corniche (boardwalk) runs the entire 2km length of downtown along a sandy beach, inviting visitors to stroll. Yet, Tangier is small enough that with good feet, enough hours and some self-discipline, you could go everywhere worth going in a day. Since I have a week, I can slow down and explore more thoroughly. Continue reading “I Can See Spain From My Hotel”