Tetouan, Morocco (Fri., Mar. 30, 2012)

Today (Fri., 03/30/2012) we had to rise really early and board the bus bound for Morocco.  Though we were originally slated to go to Tangier (also known as Tangiers), our plans had been changed.  We were told that, because of the transportation strike on Thursday (which had been scheduled far in advance, & everyone knew it was coming), now we could go only as far as Tetouan because it would take too long to go all the way (40 more miles) to Tangier.  Some of the people in our group would have to get up around 3:30 the following morning to leave on the plane, so we must be back to the hotel fairly early.  Though we were sympathetic to the people leaving early, of course, many of us were not pleased about the change in plans.  However, Joe said that he had been assured (probably by Karin) that “Tetouan was even better than Tangier!”  So we were excited to see it.

We drove west to Algeciras (before I saw a sign which spelled out the name, I thought Paco kept saying “Al Jazeera,” but I knew that couldn’t be right); we then boarded the Balearia ferry for the 9-mile ride across the Strait of Gibraltar.  The ferry ride on this leg of the trip was very rough.  A few people, including our fearless Chamber leader, even got seasick.  Also, as I was happily snapping a few photos while inside the ferry, one of the ferry workers came over to warn me that no photo-taking was allowed.  We thought this was very odd and proceeded to make a few jokes about our “Top Secret Boat” ride.  We asked Paco about it, & he didn’t know what the problem was either and said maybe they think we’re spies.  Someone asked Paco if he was James Bond; Bill quipped he must be “Paco Bond,”  to which Paco added, “000!”

     On the ferry crossing the Strait of Gibraltar: Joe, Colleen & Bill

On to Ceuta.  A small strip of land, including the town of Ceuta, is still a part of Spain, so we were not yet at the border.  We loaded into another bus to make the crossing, but at this point our Moroccan tour guide, Abdoul, joined our group.

Moroccan countryside

Abdoul was quite a character.  The first thing I noticed about him was that he was wearing the traditional robe-like garment with a pointy hood which, when worn up, makes the person look just like a gnome.  Abdoul told us this type of robe was called a ‘jalaba.’  (The robes without hoods are called ‘kaftans.’)  He also wore a beanie-type hat, black leather boot-shoes, and white harem pants with the crotch that hung down around his knees.

Abdoul had a very forceful, commanding, almost bullying style of speaking to us.  He started out by saying that, in Morocco, men are allowed to have up to 4 wives.   He informed us that he already had 3 wives and a palace and that he was looking for an American woman to make his fourth wife, and did we have any candidates?  Lori, no doubt inadvertently, volunteered that her friend, Jennifer, just happened to be single.  Thank goodness Jennifer was a great sport, for Abdoul wouldn’t leave her alone after that and kept calling her his “Honey” for the remainder of the tour.  (Of course, we all thought he was kidding until, at the end of the day, he actually gave her a gift of 3 tea bags.  From what I understand, giving someone a gift of 3 of anything means you’re quite serious, so Jennifer was very creeped out by the whole encounter and ended up throwing out the tea bags later.  She said she didn’t want to be caught with them at the airport in case they happened to contain some suspicious ingredient.)

After he announced that he was looking for another wife, Abdoul told us that we could call him “Michael Douglas,” since he claimed he looked a lot like him (you can judge for yourself in the photos).  Abdoul told us his English “came from the Black Market.”  He did teach us a few Arabic words, such as “Shukran,” which means ‘thank you’ and “Salam-Marhaba” for ‘hello.’

Abdoul, our Moroccan tour guide

Abdoul kept addressing us as “FAMILY!” in his loud, forceful voice.  Other terms he used constantly were “If you don’t mind,” “Please, FAMILY!” and “S’cuse me!”  He said at one point that, if we happen to see him greeting another man and kissing him on each cheek, we were not to think he was a “homo,” but that this was just the traditional way.  (I certainly didn’t think he was a “homo,” but after that inappropriate remark, I did think he was a royal jerk.)

We pulled off the road and stopped where there were some men waiting with 3 camels.  We all piled off so that anyone who wanted to ride one could do so, though the riders were led around only in a small circle.  One camel reached over and bit Nancy as she walked by but, fortunately, she said it didn’t hurt.  Then we were quickly herded back onto the bus.

Carol was the first to ride a camel.

A dromedary has only one hump.

As we neared the border, Abdoul warned us not to take any photos because it was a military zone.  He also demanded all of our passports, which was rather disconcerting.  He directed Paco to go around and collect them and said the passports would be returned to us at the end of the day on our way back across.  If we were lucky, he said, our passports would be stamped by the border guards, who didn’t do this for just anybody.

(Bill and I were told later by Lori and Jennifer, who were sitting in the front of the bus and could see everything that was going on, that just prior to reaching the border, Abdoul had exited the bus.  He held a brief conversation with some men in a car, then reentered the bus with a package in hand.  They said that he seemed quite nervous as we were crossing the border.  They could see that some guards had stopped and were searching the car the men were driving.  Jennifer and Lori wondered just what could be inside that mystery package.  I guess we’ll never know.)

A cemetery

A mosque

We drove on.  Abdoul pointed out some storks and their huge nests built on top of some of the houses in the countryside.  Once we reached the city, the neighborhoods seemed dirty and unkempt with piles of garbage around, and I wasn’t much impressed with the architecture either.  Admittedly, though, since we were in such a hurry, we were not shown a lot.  Our destination was the ‘medina,’ which means the interior of the city, which was inside the walls of the ‘kasbah,’ a garrison or fort (if I understood correctly).  Once there, Abdoul said, “FAMILY!  Open your minds!”  We will now be “going back 5 or 6 centuries in time!”

The entrance to the Medina (and Kasbah)

As we entered, I immediately felt like I was in a Charlton Heston movie or something.  I was almost expecting to see some lepers scurrying around the corners or a few blind beggars droning, “Alms?  Alms for the poor?”  Actually, what I did see were lots of jalaba-wearing shop owners setting out their vegetables, fruits, eggs, chickens, meat, bread, fabrics and thread, etc.  The people didn’t seem to pay us much attention.  It was raining now and, since most of the Medina had no roof, people had tried to string up plastic sheets to shield their wares.  The rain still came in along the center of the walkway, and we all got drenched.  Finally, I took my umbrella out of my backpack, mostly to keep my camera dry.

A shop selling chickens and eggs

We hurried around and through the maze of people and shops.  Abdul had warned us not to bother people nor point our cameras in their faces as if they were “animals in a zoo,” so I tried to concentrate on the corridors.  I did see some strange-looking people (an old woman sitting, staring off into space and picking her nose, an old man whose eyes seemed to be looking in 2 different directions, a woman with a large purple tumor on her lip), but there were lots of cute little kids too.  The kids were wearing normal clothes–not the jalabas that most of the adults were sporting.  Abdul had told us that the kids begin learning the Koran at around age 4, then go to regular school from ages 6 to about 16.

Poor chickens!

Lots of cats were roaming around in the Medina.

We entered a rug shop, where we were finally able to use the restrooms.  Then we were herded into a large tiled room where rugs and carpets were displayed for our buying pleasure.  There were no prices on the rug tags, so if you were interested in one or more, you had to say so and a guy would place it at your feet.  When they were finished with showing all the rugs, the serious bartering began.  Needless to say, I was interested in more than a few of those gorgeous wool rugs.  They were colored with natural spice dyes and would not burn, as we were repeatedly shown by a guy going around with a cigarette lighter.  After some difficult decision-making (again, I had to hurry), I settled on a beautiful indigo blue one, and Bill specifically told the salesman we wanted to pay in US dollars.  (Only days later, when I looked at the charge on our credit card account, did I see that they had charged us in Euros–$700 more than we had agreed upon!  We are now in the process of disputing the charge.)

After the rug shop, we made our way to the restaurant for lunch.  Our lunch would consist of Harida vegetable soup, coucous and vegetables, chicken, shish kebabs, and mint tea.  After seeing those poor wretched chickens crowded in their cages back in the shops, I was only too glad to raise my hand when the waiter asked if anyone wanted the vegetarian meal.  The soup looked good, but it had no taste.  Salt could not even give it any pizzazz.  The couscous were fairly good, as was the bread.  Some of the others said the shish kebabs were good, also.  The price of the food was included in our tour, but we were forced to pay for our bottled water, pop and tea.

After lunch, we streamed out of the Medina and back to our bus.  At the border, Abdoul jumped off to go find our passports which, as a stroke of good luck, had been stamped just for us.  We then had to give Abdoul his tip (in Euros, of course) and say goodby.  Reluctantly, he let his “Honey” go (with the gift of the 3 tea bags).

The ferry ride back to Spain was much calmer this time.  It had stopped raining.

(The above photo was taken by Abdoul’s photographer–I paid him 2 Euros for it.)

David, Dallas & Bill

Colors to mix into the chalky white paint for the walls

Chalky rocks from which they make the paint for their walls

Not all the wares were set out yet.

(The above photo was taken by Abdoul’s photographer–I paid him 2 Euros for it.)

Bill and Dallas

One of the areas in the Medina where Jewish people used to live. There were 6 arches in the ceiling, symbolic of the Star of David.

Interesting doors

In the rug shop

Laying out all their rugs

Here’s the rug I want!

Mosaic table



Bob trying on a Jalaba (or is it Obi-Wan Kenobi??)

Musicians at the restaurant

At the restaurant: Patty, Jennifer, Lori, & Greg

Bill excited to see what the food will be like

My plate…

View from the balcony

Well, at least I liked the bread!

A weird guy posing with a tea set on his head.  (Of course, he wanted a few Euros for his trouble.)

One last tune from the musicians

The restaurant welcoming brigade (wanting more Euros)

A persistent peddler bartering with Marj, whether she wanted to or not!

The small leather camel I bought from the same peddler for 5 Euros (I wonder whether I paid more than Marj??)

A seemingly nice young man who was NOT begging for Euros.

View from the ferry on the way back to Spain

Ships in the Strait of Gibraltar