Last week I traveled to Morocco with my study abroad program, which was a very unique and exciting opportunity for me. I had never been to Africa before and had always wanted to see some part of it. So, I packed my bags and headed off for a three-day adventure in one of the most unique places I have ever encountered.
Along with a group of nine other students and one of our instructors, I left Seville early in the morning by bus. From the coast, we took an hour-long ferry ride to Ceuta, which is a Spanish city in Africa. There, we crossed the border into Morocco and arrived in Tetuan around noon. Our first stop was a school of craft apprenticeship for young boys and women, where we observed several classes practicing the art of painting, metalwork, woodwork, and embroidery.
Already, I noticed an obvious cultural difference in the attitudes surrounding gender and dress in Morocco. Standing in the school, tall, blonde, and dressed in a short romper, I noticed some stares and strange looks. Although not all women I saw wore headscarves or covered their bodies completely, everyone was dressed very modestly and I felt out of place. I clung to my sweater through the first day until I was able to buy a lightweight shawl for my shoulders.
The timing of our trip was very interesting because we arrived in the middle of Ramadan, which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims fast, neither eating nor drinking from sunrise to sunset for a whole month. Because most Moroccans are Muslim, this time of the year greatly affects businesses and the hours that tourists can visit certain sights. Most restaurants close during the day and businesses open later to accommodate adjusted sleeping and eating schedules. Luckily, we were able to find some locations to eat on our usual schedule and our guide found plenty of places for us to see and explore during our trip.
After lunch, we took a tour of the different markets and areas of the city. We visited a fish market and a site where leather is prepared and each of us was given mint leaves to help with the strong scent. Usually, smells don’t bother me much, but it was potent. After the tour, we returned to our hotel for a late dinner. Because most were fasting, we ate about an hour or two after sunset to give the cooks and servers time to eat and recharge.
Interestingly, everywhere we went there were tons of stray cats, but barely ever stray dogs. We asked our guide about the high quantity and he said that, because animals are considered unclean and cannot stay in homes, which must be pure in order for families to pray there, many animals which used to be held as pets now populate the streets.
The next day we visited the beautiful coastal city of Asilah, which is known for its incredible views and blue and white homes. We strolled through the empty streets and explored the coastline. While we were there, there were men adding a fresh coat of crisp, white paint to several buildings. In the photo below, I leaned against the door frame and got a nice patch of powdery, white paint on my sweater.
Next, we had lunch and visited the Caves of Hercules in Tangier, which are partly natural and partly man-made. The cave has a large opening which was made in the shape of Africa, and our guide showed us several other allusions to maps in the cave’s shape.
After our visit to the caves was the moment we had all been waiting for: camel rides. Well, dromedary rides. As hard as I try to fight it at times, I am a tourist and tourists do touristy things. So, we stopped at a beach where we were able to take turns riding up and down the coastline. My dromedary was named Lila and we became fast friends. The ride was short but definitely worth it, at least for the photos.
In Tangier, we had some free time to shop and explore. Bartering is the norm in Morocco and I usually ended up paying a fraction of the marked price for anything in the stores. It was interesting learning the balance between offering a low price, which I would be happier with, and being respectful to shopkeepers. I eventually got the hang of it and picked up a couple souvenirs and gifts.
Our last day, we visited Chefchaouen, the Blue City. It had the perfect mixture of Moroccan and Andalucian style in its architecture and design. Because Morocco and Spain are so close, most of the shopkeepers and guides spoke Spanish and many of the different foods and products sold are the same as those in Seville. It was interesting to see how, although Morocco is a part of a different continent, it still has so much European influence.
Our day in Chefchauen was definitely the shopping highlight of the trip. Everything was unique and cheap. The stores sold everything from paint pigments, spices, and soaps, to leather goods and hand-made textiles. My favorite store we visited was one filled with bath products and perfumes. It was basically Moroccan Lush, and I was in love. It took all of my willpower not to leave with several years’ supply of shampoo and face wash.
After all the shopping and photos, it was time to get back. We hopped on the bus, crossed the border, took the ferry, and then another bus before finally arriving in Seville a little before midnight. I still can’t believe that through studying abroad I have been able to visit so many different places and experience so many different cultures. Five years ago I had never left the states, and now I’ve been to seven countries on three continents. Now, I’m half way through my stay in Seville and hope to make this next month count.