Emanuel, Matilde, and I are sitting on top of a Camel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with the outline of the European coastline in the far distance, marking our first trip to the northern African country of Morocco.
How did this happen? Only yesterday we were relaxing in our Spanish city of Cadiz anticipating our first African experience. Relatively easily actually, after booking a hotel online in Tangier, Morocco at short notice, we then booked seats on a bus to transport us from Cadiz to Tarifa, Spain.
Then we booked ferry tickets for the final leg to Tangier. The bus took an hour-and-a-half, and the ferry was a quick couple of hours and “Wah-Lah” we were in another country within another continent.
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Our first surprise was that everyone spoke fluent Spanish which we weren’t expecting. Due to northern Morocco’s close association and historical struggles with the Spaniards it was still a widely spoken language.
Morocco being a Muslim country meant there were differences from Spain regarding its customs, cultures and architecture. Out of respect for the culture and customs and as an additional fashion accessory, Sue had purchased and wore a Hijad (head scarf).
More than once we wrapped Matilde in it for her “on the go” sleeps, making it a very versatile piece of kit.
We typically didn’t like booking guided tours, but all the advice we had received or read, directed us to this form of holiday, and as it transpired it worked well for us.
Our tour continued to a coastal junction overlooking the position where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet. It was clearly visible where these two bodies of water met as we stood at this viewpoint of strategic significance.
Following the coast down and back to Tangier on the loop we’d just driven is where we ended up stopping and having our camel ride, prior to entering the Caves of Hercules. This complex of naturally formed and additionally man-made caves has an interesting physical and spiritual set of histories.
This was an incredible experience as we were introduced to the favours, smells, and noises of the Moroccan way to shop and socialise. We tried circular flatbread baked in clay wood fired ovens, saw the famous tangiers being cooked in similar ovens mixed amongst shops selling spices, carpets, jewellery, and other traditional Moroccan goods.
We had planned a side trip to the mountain town of Chefchaouen, situated in the Rif mountains being an approximate two-hour drive from Tangier up some very windy mountain roads. The town’s buildings are predominately painted in bright blue colours making the whole town a charming and picturesque place to wander through.
We walked the steep stairs of the city, between the gorgeous buildings, entering shops which we liked the look of as we listened to the history of the town from our very informative tour guide. We watched local families completing the weekly chores of washing the household clothes, and colourful blankets and bed sheets in the stream which flows down the back of this steep mountain town.
Tracing our way along this section of the city prior to making our way back to the centre of town to experience a typical Moroccan lunch. Chefchaouen was an incredible city and we only wished we had more time to spend here.
That night I was looking forward to walking down the road to explore and get something to eat over a cold beer. We found a restaurant and I ordered my much-required beer, but to my dismay being a Muslin country a number of restaurants don’t serve alcohol.
The next day marked the festival “Eid al-Adha” (Feast of Sacrifice) which we’d under-estimated the significance of, and the impact this would have on our ability to complete more exploring as everything was closed.
We figured today was going to be a quiet one as we walked down the empty beach, dotted with a local here or there with no other visible activity happening. The “Feast of Sacrifice” was living up to its name as this was the busiest day of the year for the butchers who were employed to go from house to house to sacrifice the livestock.
Despite these surreal scenes we’d encountered on the vacant streets we had worked up a hunger, so opted to attend the roof-top pool party at the hotel next-door to ours, for a Moroccan style buffet lunch and a swim.
We finally headed back to our hotel in the mid-afternoon.
We had only gotten a few paces down the street, when out the corner of our eyes we spotted three very dodgy guys crossing the street to approach us.
Thankfully a lone security guard was standing outside a shop on the other side of us and created a scene whilst telling us to run for it unless we wanted to be robbed.
As we boarded the ferry from Tangier back to Tarifa, Spain we were impressed with our first African experience and were glad that we had chosen to come to Morocco. We were rewarded by an incredible cultural experience.
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Restaurants are modern, clean and some caterer for babies. Be prepared to fit in and go with the flow.
The Hercules Caves. Very rarely would I recommend getting a tour guide.
This is one of them.
Best Little-Known Tip: ★★★★ Side trip to the mountain town of Chefchaouen.
The Blue City with its blue-washed buildings, steep stairs within the laneways is a must-do. An incredibility beautiful and ancient city to explore.
Not only culturally respectful but very handy for travelling with babies and kids. Used as play toy whilst on the road.
Cuddle cloth for sleeping. Versatile!
Overall Rating: ★★★★ Full of small surprises which made this side trip well worthwhile.
Exciting and different from Europe. Colourful and steeped in history and the ancient ways.
Trad and modern seamlessly working well together.