We spent the second part of my sister’s visit to Europe in Africa, where the two of us traveled without my mom to Tangier, Morocco. I had been wanting to experience the unique culture for a while and the flights were so cheap we couldn’t pass up the deal—$100 round-trip to get to another continent!
Located just across the water from Spain, Tangier is known for being a fairly progressive city compared to a lot of others in Morocco, so we were confident it was a safe enough destination for two young western women, especially if we took organized tours.
Day 1: Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is understandably referred to as “The Blue City.” It’s one of those towns that’s always featured on “Places You Must Visit”-type articles and viral Facebook travel posts. Although it took over two hours, the drive was out of this world as we winded through the dry landscape of the rocky Riff Mountains past farmers with grazing livestock and vendors selling pottery on the side of the road.
When we arrived in Chefchaouen, we met our English-speaking tour guide and immediately passed through old archways into the medina, or old town. The paths were quiet, as cars were not allowed to drive through the gates, and every single building we passed was some shade of blue. Our guide said the color is supposed to keep mosquitoes away. We got to see a bakery, a rug shop and the spring where women wash their clothes. For me as an animal lover, my favorite thing was all the cats on the streets, even though they were strays. I’ve never seen so many tiny kittens in my life, and I soon learned that this is a common sight in Morocco (more on that later). Our guide also took us to a restaurant where we had chicken skewers, rice, Spanish omelette, French fries, bread and salad for $11! I could definitely get used to eating that cheap. And although we couldn’t drink the tap water, giant bottles only cost $2, whereas in Germany they cost around $5.
Day 2: Tangier
On our second day, we went by ourselves to the Tangier medina via $2 taxi from our hotel. Seriously, if we could pay that for taxis in the U.S. I would never drive anywhere. Overall, we were not as impressed as we were with the Chefchaouen medina because this one seemed dirtier with more pushy vendors. It was a busy maze that we just did not want to get lost in. I didn’t even want to take my phone out for pictures because I thought it would get stolen. In Chefchaouen, although people were out and about, the streets were more peaceful and we felt safer. At least there were still tons of cats! After wandering for about an hour, we headed back to the area where we were staying for lunch and spent the afternoon relaxing at the hotel pool.
Day 3: Asilah
Our flight home wasn’t until the evening so we booked another tour, this time to the picturesque coastal town of Asilah. The buildings of the Medina were white with mostly blue and green details, representing the colors of the nearby ocean, and artists had paintings along the walls from a festival held back in August. Unfortunately, because October is the off season, not a lot of shops and sights were open, and although the beach was right there, no one was on it because it was “too cold,” even though the temperature was about 80 degrees. At least here we ate traditional Moroccan food: chicken tagine and chicken couscous, both of which had a bright yellow turmeric saffron sauce. It wasn’t amazing, but considering I am not an adventurous eater when it comes to ethnic food, I was proud I tried it and finished my whole plate. Oh and back to the cats. They swarmed around us as soon as we got our food and begged the whole time with pathetic little meows, so it’s a good thing I’m not afraid of animals.
I was so grateful to have had the experience I did in Morocco, even if at many times I felt too foreign and lost. For the first time in my life, I found out how it feels to be a minority, and it added to the high level of respect I already have for the minorities and immigrants in the United States. Nine out of 10 men on the street would say uncomfortable things to us or cat call because they knew we were different from the hijab-wearing women (someone thought we were Swedish and another spoke German to us???). It was so bad that we decided we didn’t want to go to the beautiful beach because we knew we would be harassed in our bathing suits. I can easily say no to vendors who bug me to buy their $600 rugs, but the harassment made me question my safety. I’m so grateful to come from a country with higher regard for females, even if we have yet to achieve true gender equality.
While my sister said she’s done with the third world, I still dream of one day going to Marrakesh and experiencing the Sahara Desert. But maybe next time I’ll go on an organized tour for the whole thing, rather than just day trips, where I can count on guides to keep me safe and give me a truly authentic Moroccan experience.