I first became interested in Morocco watching that great movie The Sheltering Sky starring John Malkovich and Debra Winger. sheltering sky I wanted to climb off the boat in Tangiers and see what they did.

So we drove from North Wales to the very southern tip of Spain, the same as driving from Philadelphia to Denver adding in the English channel, the Pyrenees and much better food in the middle. Fifteen hundred miles of a left hand drive car on right hand drive roads. It felt good to park it in Tarifa, Spain and jump on a ferry to Tangiers with only backpacks. Tangiers was almost as weather worn, rattly and dusty as the Renault Four morac 089 petit taxi that got us from the ferry to the bus station, us holding the doors shut as it rattled along. We heard there were tears if you stayed in Tangiers so we were looking for anything going south. In ten minutes we were squeezed in the back of an old bus, looking over the packs on our laps,off to a place at the foot of the Rif Mountains called Tetouan. Around us head scarf covered women held shy babies with big black eyes on their laps and screamed into their cell phones. Tetouan is a medieval walled city looking up at jagged peaks and down to the Mediterranean. We gave a taxi driver at the bus station the address of a 300 year old riad (an old courtyard enclosed mansion) formerly the Dutch consulate, now a hostal in the medina (the walled old town). He got us as far as he could. It was there we realized that many/most medinas in Morocco do donkeys,

morac 049carts morac 063  but they don’t do cars. The taxi dropped us outside the walls at the souk (outdoor market) next to the bab (gate) ???????????? and we waded into the crowds. Souk rats (hawkers) smelt us coming and soon dispatched us with a questionable guide into the the dark maze of the medina. Every turn the guide made took us into darker, more cramped, less traveled alleys until we could only fit through one at a time and the sky had totally disappeared. I thought for sure he was leading us into a dead end and was about to turn on us. Sure enough the next turn was a dead end, but he knocked on a door that turned out to be our hostal. He overcharged us for what turned out to be the scenic route to our riad. Oh well, you have to expect that the first day in a new place.

Moroccan people  morac 065faceThat was the last negative exchange we had with anybody, hawkers, taxis, bus drivers, teenage boys, anyone for the rest of the trip. Moroccans are really lovely, look you in the eye with a smile kind of people.

True to form the owner of the riad graciously served the ubiquitous mint tea morac 009before showing us our room. Our room was much taller than deep or wide. The only exterior light came through double latticed doors that only would lock with help from staff. Outside the riad walls the medina was closing down for the night. The fifty tiny shops within 100 ft of our room were shuttered and bolted, the souk morac 054 the tailer, morac 057 hardware store morac 065 the barber, the dentist, the drugist, the short order cook, and all was serenely quiet considering the density of population, well except for multiple mosques each with loud speakers calling to prayers.  Not even dogs barking broke the quiet. Cats are the preferred pet in Morocco. morac 022 Dogs are only found on farms for the most part.

The next day we hopped a bus to Chefchaouen, a Rif mountain hide out. Its remote location allowed the local Berbers (barbarians) to hide from the Moors, the Moors to hide from the Castillians, the Jews to hide from fascist Spain, the biggest marijuana (kif) producers in the world to hide from everyone and us to hide out for awhile. The medina is built on a steep south facing hillmorac 020 where we found a south facing room for 4 nights. When the sun was out we basked like medina cats on a sill and wandered the alleys when not,morac 024

morac 085or, drank volumes of mint tea at a cafe just outside the medina walls by a stream and the town laundry.morac 043 The focus of our trip was Fez and eventually we pried ourselves out of Chefchaouen and took the bus down the hill to the world’s largest medina. 150,000 people live in a 15 sq. kilometer medieval walled barrio with no automobiles. It’s amazing.You can walk 3 kilometers straight across it, well as straight as you can in a maze and go through 3 separate commercial centers past 30,000 buildings. It has its own industries. A tannery morac 083operates in the bowels of the medina with donkeysmorac 082 and carts morac 073providing transport. All without a single automobile!

I have to at least mention the great Moroccan food. If you have never tried a chicken, prune tagine or cous cous anything find a Moroccan restaurant! I even tried the snails, morac 078at least the ones that didn’t “swim out of the their shells in the pot” according to the hawker. From Fez we took trains back north through beautiful farmland, morac 095 through places frequented by beat poets and rockers like Jack Kerouac and Jimi Hendrix,and back to Tangier for the ferry.

Tonight I sit in a Spanish holiday flat in Tarifa looking over the straights to Tangier and the Rif mountains and am amazed at what a different world it is.