I asked, and you responded! Last week I created a poll on Instagram asking if you'd prefer a food or a travel-related post. Travel won by 62%, so here I am digging in the depths of my memories to write up some cool stuff. Naturally, my mind landed in North Africa! Morocco to be exact. This is one of my favorite countries to visit and I definitely plan on returning.
When I lived in Italy a few years ago, I had a good amount of time that I could use to travel around the area; this is something I absolutely adore about Europe- all the countries are pretty close together so it's easier to travel "internationally." This is probably part of the reason why western Europeans speak a multitude of languages.
Around the end of February, I had decided to go down the south of Spain for a little warmer weather. I planned on staying in Seville for a couple days, since I had a friend who was also studying abroad there at the time. I couldn't help but notice how close the south of Spain was to Africa. If you measure a straight line through the Straight of Gibraltar (the body of water between Europe and Africa) from the lowest point of the border of Spain all the way to the highest tip of the border of Africa (which falls in Morocco), it measures approximately 50 kilometers- that's nothing. All you have to do is hop on a boat! I quickly found a group travel company (Discover Excursions) that did trips into Morocco- a place I always dreamed on visiting. As you can imagine, it only took us a bus ride to the port of Tarifa in the bottom of Spain, to hop on a ferry and cross into Africa, and from there we headed towards our hotel in Tangier, Morocco.
The cities I visited during my trip were as listed below...
Tangier is on the border of the Straight of Gibraltar. This is where our ferry docked, since it is where the main ports of Morocco are found. Tangier was also where our hotel was located, and our main meeting spot. There, we got to explore around the area, look at the vast waters surrounding the city, and hike around the hills. (It's amazing how one country can have so many hills!) This city is more of a site for those who are passing by, as it is where the boats dock, buses arrive, and many flights land. The beauty is found where the waters meet each other and crash on the shore. Imagine being surrounded by both the Atlantic ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Straight of Gibraltar! The wind I breathed gave me a feel for history and a taste for the previous generations that had passed through. A single country had so much heritage of so many different groups of people. I craved more.
Morocco is a very interesting country because it is surrounded by 3 different bodies of water, it has many cities, and has been ruled by the French, English, Portuguese, and the Spanish in addition to the Berbers. Their official language is Arabic, although many speak French as well. This I easily grasped at the restaurants we attended and the markets we visited. The menus were written in both Arabic and French, and the salesmen spoke a Moroccan French, which was a little harder to understand but still helped me feel comfortable knowing I could understand some of the language.
In tangier we also took a bus tour around town to learn about some historic landmarks including the medina (old town). Then we got time to take photos near the hills overlooking the beaches, which provided us with a gorgeous view from the top of the city. Later, we went to a (much more touristy) area on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea where I had the opportunity to touch the waters and even ride a camel. This was such a thrilling experience, and definitely something I will never forget. The camels bent over their four paws as if they were "kneeling down" to let us straddle them. Then, after getting on, as the camel started getting up, I rocked forward and back. Since their legs are long, I moved pretty drastically, which felt like I was going to fall on my face. Let's just say I could feel the adrenaline rush...
Having the chance to ride these amazing and large animals while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea will forever stay in my heart.
After a bumpy but breath-taking bus ride through the hills of northern Morocco, we made our first stop in the famous "blue city." Officially known as Chefchaouen, it literally translates to "blue pearl." If you plan on visiting this lovely place, where buildings are stacked on top of the mountains, like a puzzle that fits tightly close together, just be warned it is located atop the Rif Mountains of Morocco. The entire city is mostly reachable by climbing up and down stairs throughout its narrow alleys and streets.
When we arrived there, I could feel the contagiously magical energy in the air as soon as I stepped off the bus. We followed a tour guide around town to take in the mesmerizing tones of blue. I was surprised to learn that the buildings are all painted blue because of the flock of Jews from Spain into Morocco back in the 15th century, who brought with them some Spanish heritage. After they left Morocco to immigrate into Israel, though, they left behind this tradition and ever since then, the Moroccan government has been selling special paintbrushes specifically so that the city's facade can continue blue.
I quickly fell in love with the details of the city. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The large street squares surrounded by beautifully intricate architecture took my breath away. Not to mention it was the end of February and the weather could not have been more perfect. The sun was warm but the air was crisp and light, and the temperature was probably around the 70's. I just stopped to take it all in. I wanted to keep the sights of the colorful spices, the hooded djellaba attire the men wore around the streets (pictured below), the shapes of the tiles that made up the ground under my feet, and the faces of the people who were always smiling forever in my memories.
Asilah is a small, relaxing beach town located on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. It has intense Spanish and Portuguese roots, easily perceived to this day. Restaurants serve tortillas, paella, and Spanish wine, and the beautiful old town, or medina of Asilah is kept alive and secure by the gates built up by the Portuguese. Coming to Asilah was a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of the big cities I had previously visited. Here, we had more freedom to explore the area, do some shopping in the markets, and roam around the beautifully painted streets.
Back in 1978, two local supporters noticed the medina's walls were slowly vanishing away with time and lack of maintenance and they decided to take action. Artist and curator Mohammed Melehi, and photographer and politician Mohammed Benaissa decided to combine local and international talent and invited artists to paint the walls of the town with inspiring art in order to reconstruct the town's livelihood and cultural focus. This quickly drew attention to the town and in turn motivated the government to launch the International Cultural Moussem of Asilah, a summer festival. Every August artists from all over the world come together to revive the streets with colorful graffiti designs and spark a cultural discussion. In addition to the street art, musicians, dancers, photographers, and writers are all found here during this time to stir inspiration.
Before you go:
A great reason to go to Morocco is to shop. The amount of detail in the leather, string, and metal products is unbelievable; it's easy to see that almost everything is hand-made. You can easily find miles and miles of street shops, tents, and markets throughout the country, and, since the currency rate is extremely low from most countries, products turn out to be pretty affordable. Something that is very common in Morocco is price bargaining while shopping. This is not usually something Western folks usually know how to do, so I'd recommend reading a little about price bargaining before taking off to Morocco. Here are a few sites to check out to help you move past your fears: (https://www.journeybeyondtravel.com, https://www.insightguides.com, https://www.butterfield.com)
After a short lesson on bargaining,I was able to visit many different shops and by the end of my time there, I had become nearly an expert in bargaining. I was able to snatch a ton of good deals on beautiful bags, sandals, oils, jewelry, and a gorgeous blanket. Many people in my tour group looked afraid to bargain for what they wanted, but I loved it. I spent hours just going from shop to shop to practice with my newly acquired skills.