Everyone who's met me knows I love languages. Everybody. I'm Iike a vegan or a Crossfitter: you'll know I'm a linguist within the first five minutes of meeting me. And I get a lot of crap for it, because I'm a total nerd, and I mean it's pretty understandable. But if you went through what my mom and I went through this morning, you would have a newfound appreciation for the knowledge of language, that much I can promise you.
Mom and I got into Morocco last night at about 4 after a long day of flying from Porto, Portugal to Madrid for a 6 hour layover before our flight to Tangier. We figured out what we were in for pretty immediately after stepping off the plane: a whole bunch of staring. And I don't mean the cute kind of staring like coy eye contact when you see a cute boy, nor do I mean the kind in most of Europe where they turn their head to follow you a little longer than necessary because you're speaking in English or you're blonde or you look funny. I mean straight up, flat out, crash the car looking backwards holy Lord a blonde never seen one of those before probably never will again second coming of Jesus (or Allah i guess) make you fear for your life kind of staring.
So anyway, we get off the plane, get our passports stamped - yay Africa stamps - and grab our luggage. Wait a second. Can I just ask that we do not get judged for everything that I'm about to say? I mean, many would call me a seasoned traveler, some might even call me experienced for a 20 year old college student in regards to my view of how the world works and my ability to adapt to the environment around me and get where I need to go. But let me just say that the Americas and Europe have nothing on Africa. It is an entirely other animal. So please reserve judgement on our careless mistakes made and lack of experience until you yourself have come to experience Morocco. Do we have a deal?
Okay, so we literally could not find the exit to the airport. In our defense, it was hidden behind a huge crowd of unmoving people and the information desk was deserted so we were on our own from the get-go. We made our way out to the line of taxis and saw that there were only grand taxis waiting - for those of you who don't know, morocco has two types of taxis (grand and normal). The grand ones 70's Mercedes sedans and are meant to be shared by up to six people despite only having four freakin' seats, and the normal ones can range from old VW Rabbits to crappy Skoda cars or what have you and tend to be teal and dented all over (undoubtedly as a result of the despicable driving of this country's residents - there's no way the driving test is anything more than your ability to reach the pedals and not be completely blind. Anyway, we negotiated a price with the driver - you have to negotiate before you get into the taxi, Google told us so - we hopped in and headed to our hotel. 100 dirham later (no idea what the symbol is for that but it's the equivalent to about 25€) we arrived at the Free Zone Hotel. It was outside of town and the pool we were ever so excited about was drained, but the room was spacious and most importantly there were beds so who were we to complain. We decided that due to our distance from the city center and to the fact that it was getting late and I refused to wander Tangier in the dark on our first night that we would just go for a short walk and grab dinner at a nearby restaurant. We hadn't made it five minutes from the hotel when two men about my age asked if we were looking for anything in particular in broken English. While they were very sweet, their efforts were in vain because we understood almost nothing. We decided to walk a bit more and ran into a very sweet security guard who happened to only have one tooth - do what you will with that information - and spoke a bit of English and even French - which obviously didn't do much for me - and he was kind enough to show us where we would need to wait for buses and grand taxis to get into the medina close to our hotel. He recommended a nearby restaurant for dinner so we headed over and sat down.
We established that we needed menus in English and began to look for something to eat. Mom wanted something Moroccan (so not the pizza or pasta) so we agreed on Moroccan chicken and lemon tajine, which was freaking delicious. We were given olives soaked in lemon and oil with bread as a couvert while waiting for our tajine and let me tell you it was worth the wait. A boned chicken covered in a steamed lemon - rind included - along with a sauce of innumerable and unnamable spices that I'm sure would cost a fortune in the states and some olives. It. Was. Delicious. Oh and it was also served with fries because fries are eeeeeverywhere. And for future reference, if you're ever wondering if there's a word that works in every single language, the answer is "ketchup." Everyone and their mother knows what ketchup is, even native Arabic speakers. Just thought I'd share that. We subsequently picked out a sort of chocolate cake for dessert and while it was scrumptious, we had no clue what we were missing out on. Our server brought us Moroccan mint tea and two traditional desserts on the house. For those who don't know, I absolutely love tea - vanilla rooiboos to be exact - but this stuff was the best I've ever had. Lots of mint and even more sugar. It was heavenly. As if that wasn't enough we had the two desserts, one a doughy honey triangular bringer of joy and the other a divinity/peanut/nougat combination of happiness. Suffice it to say they didn't last long and we appreciated every bite. We soon walked back to the hotel and changed into pajamas and got comfortable - the day of travel kicked our butts. We talked to family and friend on the phone for awhile, played cards (I kicked mom's butt) and headed to bed.
This morning I turned off the alarm I set to wake us up instead of hitting snooze - something I've done a few more times than I'm proud of - and we woke up an hour late. We got ready - meaning we made sure all the super provocative parts of our bodies were covered (my shoulders are crazy sexy, I don't know about yours) - and headed downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was some sort of bread (reminded me of a less awesome version of German schmann) which we ate with honey, as well as some fantastic coffee which was given to us along with sugar cubes in place of packets.
After eating, we headed over to the desk to check out. We handed over our keys and the little card we were given to make the electricity in our room work and were asked how we wanted to pay. Naturally we were confused because mom had booked with Travelocity and paid online. This, my friends, is where my newfound appreciation (as if I didn't already appreciate it) comes in. We spent the next hour and a half of our lives at war with an enemy who would not budge: language. I don't know about you but they didn't teach me Arabic in high school and I chose Spanish and German over French because ew who likes French. The men on the other side of our lovely language barrier had Arabic and French on their side. Please take a moment that between the four of us standing there, 5 languages were spoken in total, and none of them overlapped. It was a long morning. After walking to the bank with them, showing them payment receipts, a whole bunch of frustration which involved a lot of saying something in English and then saying it again (louder) as if comprehension would miraculously improve as we raised our voices, several expletives on my part, and the help of some google translate, we were free. Let me just say that the fact that we kept our cool is more of a feat than I can express so points to us. Also, I will never again take google translate for granted.
Anyway, we FINALLY left the hotel and headed over to wait for a bus or grand taxi with several jeering Moroccans. A Mercedes shuttle bus with curtains over the windows and more seats than you'd expect to fit in one van pulled up and told us it would be 10 dirham to get to the medina which was a damn good price so we hopped on and waited until a few other people hopped on and the driver was satisfied he'd be getting his money's worth for this trip. Side note: on the way over, Selena Gomez played... she still sucks, even in Morocco. Maybe especially in Morocco. We headed into the medina with four men and another woman, who stopped when we did and told us (sort of) that she was also headed for the medina and would be happy to show us where it was - this was a Godsend. Through basic English we shared names, hers is Vivian, and she learned that I also speak Spanish. She immediately pulled out her phone and called a friend who was fluent in Arabic and Spanish. She gave me her phone and I discussed with my new phone friend where we wanted to go (bus station) and he said he would tell Vivian and that he hoped we had a wonderful trip and if we ever returned to let him know and he'd be happy to show us around. First off, how in the world did this completely random woman find it in her heart to show some silly Americans where the medina was, happen to have a friend who spoke fluent Spanish, be willing to call him so that we could get where we wanted to go, and then help us hail a taxi to get there? In short, she was truly a blessing and she has now added me on Whatsapp - I plan to thank her by phone as soon as we arrive at our next hotel in Chefchaouen.
So we got a bus to Chef that left an hour from when we arrived at the station. We took a walk around - a short one because our bags are unacceptably heavy - and hopped on the bus. Fun fact: they charge you for having luggage separately from the ticket. It's lovely. But now I'm on a bus, an hour from our destination (Chefchaouen - in case we get lost and die mom says I should mention where we are).
I'll let you know how Chef goes ASAP! And I'm going to work backwards in time in order to fill you in on the past few weeks so bear with me on this one folks.
Ps. Buses suck. The general public cannot drive and if you add that to a huge bus trying to make tight mountain turns and road quality worse than even Morgantown and trying to type a blog post you get a lot of typos and a little road sickness, so sorry for my poor English on this one folks.
Pps. Mom just almost fell out of her seat. It was entertaining. That is all.
I wrote this blog while living in Spain my second year of college - figured it wouldn't hurt to share.