If you read my Truth of Traveling Behind the Lens series, you will know that Morocco was not exactly the majestic place I envisioned in my mind when I got there. However, I always preach to travel as often as you possibly can with zero expectations and a completely open mind. There is no better feeling than creating your own experiences and telling your own unique story.
Here is a tale about finding peace within discomfort in Morocco.
Chapter 1: Tangier
Our bus from Sevilla was running late in true Spanish fashion, so we found ourselves sprinting onto the boat ramp just seconds before taking off across the Mediterranean.
My “we’re def not making it” nerves immediately turned into intense waves of excitement as we sailed away from Spain towards our next continent, North Africa. Pop open those CasaBlanca beers, smooth sailing from here – cheers!
I spent weeks planning our Moroccan road trip and hours zombie-scrolling through all the pretty pictures online. I envisioned Tangier as a charming rustic town on the ocean filled with beautiful colors, textiles, decor, warm teas and savory Moroccan food. Pieces of my visions were true, just a bit more tainted.
Before I went on an around-the-world trip, I used to romanticize places in my head before getting there and fixated on the mysterious [yet pre-discovered online] beauty, culture and delicacies. I also used to have a false sense of security on arrival.
When we arrived on Moroccan shore we were immediately stopped by a strict woman at customs and our bags were searched without hesitation. Within 10 minutes our drone was confiscated and the customs head honcho official came over and said we would only be able to get it back by paying on our way out.
“Well that’s a teeny bit of a problem, kind sir, as this is the starting point of our cross country road trip and we are flying out of CasaBlanca”.
“Too bad for you” he proclaimed. I was holding back a soliloquy of curse words, biting my tongue reminding myself, “we’re not in Kansas… I mean Spain… anymore”.
The stern man walked us outside where we found ourselves surrounded by starving stray cats. I counted 12 hollering cats in my 360-degree view.
To make the anxiety worse, my stepdad had conveniently called me just weeks before telling me that a tourist recently died from a stray cat bite in Morocco. My intense waves of excitement I felt on the boat ride turned into overbearing anxiousness and unwanted fear.
Thankfully our young jubilee driver was in the cat-filled lot to take us to our riad; he was our hired driver for the entire 10-day trip. He was enthusiastic, full of passion and pride for his country, and the life he had created for himself was admirable. However, let’s just say after 50 hours in a car together we don’t miss him much – more to come.
We had chosen to stay in the old town of Tangier as we thought that was the charming historical place to be. We arrived to bare-bones building on a deserted street surrounded by tall cracked white-turned-brown walls. I counted 7 stray cats. I couldn’t get inside fast enough.
But as soon as I darted in those doors and landed inside…. pure calmness. I suddenly felt so relieved and at peace. The Moroccan interior pictures in my head definitely came to life alongside sweet scented candles, fresh flowers, and soft music. We were led up an old charming staircase to our room at the rooftop where we looked out to panoramic views of the city and ocean.
I could have stayed inside our riad our entire time in Tangier; however, apparently due to our confiscation dilemma we missed the cut off time to have dinner at our riad. I had bookmarked a few spots for dinner in advance when I pictured us skipping down cobblestone roads that night. I gulped loudly when I realized we had to walk almost 1 mile through the old town to reach the closest restaurant.
Every corner we turned I spotted a stray cat or eyeballs staring us up and down. The bright African sun was quickly disappearing. My nerves were overwhelming and I felt super uneasy.
We finally arrived at a small family-run restaurant called Rif Kabdani. When we walked in we immediately felt so warm and welcomed. The owners greeted us like we were family. The smells, mosaics on the walls, red and gold pillows and even more soft Moroccan music brought such a zen dining experience. Not to mention the chicken tagine melted in my mouth. I felt like I was at home and didn’t want to leave. Where is teleporting when I need it? Although I’m looking haggard below, I wanted to visualize this place so you get the gist.
We had a few scares and gained a few followers on our dark walk back to our riad which was a test of mental strength. We finally ditched our followers and jumped back into our beloved riad, Tangerina.
As soon as we got inside I was a little panicky and suddenly had a realization that I was going to be stuck in a car for 4-8 hours a day for 9 days straight driving across this country. I’m an urban gal that walks everywhere, literally everywhere. I haven’t owned a car in almost a decade. Was I going to get carsick? Would we get hijacked?! There was a spiral of anxiety.
I physically and mentally didn’t think I could make the trip so I started looking for boat times back to Spain. After a frantic hour, I had to calm myself down in the chaos… “Laura, peace is internal and can be found everywhere, go find that peace… and suck it up”.
I went to the roof and stared at the stars in the sky, admired the old-city skyline, and had another wave of peace rush by. “Okay, let’s do this thing. No turning back now”.
The Next Morning:
Our young jubilee driver picked us up at 7am to drive us to our next destination, the Blue Pearl of Chefchaouen. He also ended up having the personality of a 15-year-old boy. Out of nowhere he asked us if we knew about the Arabian men who came into Morocco to hire minor prostitutes. He felt the need to “tell all” for the first half of our drive that day, which I am not including in this tale. However, this is an infuriating and immoral conflict that is disrupting the peace of the country.
Our driver made fun of me any chance he could by monitoring the amount of food I ate. One morning he called me a “monkey that eats too many bananas”. I lived off bananas and chicken tagine for 10 days.
Although quite tired and experiencing car cabin fever on our long drive, I peered outside and got lost in the gorgeous greenery that spanned for miles. The greenest grass, trees, goats, farms… I found myself in a peaceful trance.
Suddenly it was 3 hours later. Rest break, phew!
I was led into a very small grundgy cafe full of older men smoking and staring. There were cigarette butts everywhere and it smelled like smoke combined with old cheese. I asked where the bathroom was and all fingers pointed to the corner of the cafe behind a curtain. I peered inside and there was a hole in the ground surrounded by flies. Here we go.
To be continued….