The morning streets of the Medina reek of Cilantro. The city sleeps well past 9:30. It is much colder in the shadows than I ever thought Africa could get, but the sun breaths a warm breath over half of the city. The people here are more or less disinterested in anything more than a brief stare when we walk by. Many young men try and sell us Hash, a premium version of marijuana, but when we reply with “we don’t smoke” they seem to understand and accept by leaving us alone.
Supposedly this is a world renowned city for it’s hash. For this reason, we are accompanied with only hippies at our hostel (my least favorite group of travelers). You know the kind that wear tank tops to a country that is predominately Muslim. Which just furthers the case that the trend of being culturally informed runs only as deep as is fun. It’s fun to get dread locks, wear baggy pants, and smoke hash, but not fun to cover up your top in 100 degree heat, so we will kindly skip that part of the culture.
Meanwhile, we were sitting on a large rock halfway up a hillside overlooking the Medina and a local man comes down the path. He fervently spits at us from point blank range. Shocked, I let him pass, as some of his filth showers my wrist. I look at Erin, completely covered from head to toe with clothing, specifically to avoid this very situation, to see if she is covered with his insulting putrescence. Apparently the man had about as much spitting power as I do, because she was dry.
As he progressed down the path, three other tourists made their way up, a guy and two girls who were showing considerably more skin than Erin. This was going to be interesting. The man stomps a huge half circle to get around the threesome. In observing his motor skills, I deduce that he is most likely a junkie.
I’ve been spat on before, but not once more than I’ve spat myself. Yes, that does mean that if someone spits on me, they have always got it back. But this was Islamic Africa, and I was more than a little afraid of being stoned in the streets for “speaking ill of Allah”.(so says the local covered in retaliatory filth)
I was considering my options. I could try and fight the guy, but I thought it much more easy to toss him off the cliff (we were on a cliff). Good thing all of those thoughts came after the guy was gone. Good thing I was just shocked. Good thing a nominal amount got on me and none on Erin. I hate cliff tossings.
As if the balance were watching over us, within a few minutes, my impression of Moroccans was tipped back with a man who was very warm and welcoming. He approached us when we got to the top of the hill with warmth. “You are American? Welcome! Welcome to my city! Welcome to Morocco! I very much like your people! A few of them teach at the our local school. I am going back to my village. Would you like to come back and smoke hash with me?” In a soft voice. Well, it IS Africa and you Do have to always be selling to survive 🙂
The primary language that is spoken here is Arabic, but if you know French, you can get by just fine. And if you are trying to buy something, you can speak just about anything and the seller will know enough of your language to barter with you! Moroccans are well known for sneaking up behind you to listen to which language you are speaking and then pop out with that same language to try and sell you something.
When we first got off the bus, loaded with our backpacks, we were sitting ducks for people who wanted to sell us things. One guy just wanted to help us find a hostel (and sell us hash every few minutes). He walked us strait to a good hostel and then asked for some money for his trouble. Considering how impossible it would have been to find without his help, we were happy to pay the price of half a euro.
We were tired from all the travel (a 1.5 hour ferry across the tip of Spain to the Tip of Africa and then a 5 hour bus ride to a nicer town than just a border town), but it was time to find some food. We went to a restaurant that had chickens roasting in the window and had a local dish. It was a bowl of rice, chicken, vegetables, green olives, and a prune, oh and French fries. It was amazing to see how reckless they were with their ingredients. After we went to a bakery that also doubled as a juice bar. For 1 euro I had something called Zaazaa. It was a milk shake with banana, apples, peanuts, and lets not forget the custard and avocado. Believe it or not, it was amazing!
The next day I made it a point to just have some of the chicken that was roasting in the window and it was beautifully doused in a fantastic floury of spices. It beat Nando’s (remember? From New Zealand?) We also went to a sandwich place for lunch that was completely in Arabic, luckily we could just point at the raw meat of choice and watch them cook it up along with a paste made of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro that was grilled into a goo. The shop owner then tore all the inner whites from a French role and filled it with what came off the grill. This, along with minced onions, pickles, peppers, and a squirt of secret sauce made for a brilliant Moroccan sandwich.
Chef Chaouen is the first stop on my Moroccan adventure and so far I am impressed with the food. I have mixed views of the people, and am adjusting to third world living standards, but my wallet is happy. The bus ride was only 4 euro and this was a private bus company. If we take a public bus, it is said to be even much more cheap, but we are likely to not have a seat (for 4 hours) and be holding our new friends chicken on our shoulder. Accommodation was 4.5 euros per person per night (as compared with 15 the night before in Spain).
Just the same as going to China from Japan, Morocco will take some getting used to, but I have high hopes in the local spirit. I can’t believe I’m in Africa!