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Tangier & Fez, Morocco

We left Spain at 1 p.m. and arrived in Morocco at 12 p.m. It was hard to believe a one hour boat trip put us two hours behind, especially as we could see Morocco from Tarifa. There were the usual touts when we jumped off the boat in Tangier but all we wanted to do was find a bus heading down to Fez (a location we decided upon on the ferry over). We allowed one of these touts to direct us to the bus station, where we discovered there was a two and a half hour wait, so the tout talked us into a walking tour of Tangier with one of his friends. We get sucked in too easily.

 

It was uncomfortably hot in Morocco, in the middle of the day with heavy backpacks on, and Tangier was an annoyingly hilly town. Luckily it was a beautiful town as well. All the buildings were sand-coloured and built close together – it felt just like a desert city, although it was not quite in the desert. Animals and people populated the streets but most of the locals left us alone because of our tour guide. He showed us sweeping views across the sea to Spain as well as over the town. Of course he guided us to stores that gave the him commissions whenever we bought anything; it was like being in Asia all over again. Danny bought a beanie, which was a weird item to buy in Morocco but he liked it. We walked through the medina, the casbah, churches of various religions, past numerous street stalls, beggars, people wearing colourful outfits and unrecognisable foods. The whole time the town smelled wonderful, from the spices being cooked in various kitchens we passed. We bought some local bread, which was round, the size of a pizza base but much thicker and cooked in a wood-fired oven. We also bought a bag of mixed olives and roti. The food was ridiculously cheap. The one hour tour, on the other hand, was not cheap and ended up costing us €20 (a huge sum by Moroccan standards). I think we were ripped off big time but we were too hot and tired to haggle. We finally arrived back at the bus stop and immensely enjoyed sitting down in the shade. 

The bus ride was six hours long, so it was a great decision to buy some food in the market (that turned out to be incredible). From the windows we watched the sunset, which was an unusual bright white colour, passing by numerous run-down towns, fruit sellers, feral animals, donkeys pulling carts and far too many squat toilets. A nice family opposite us offered us peanuts in the shell, which we accepted, believing the shell would protect us again any unwanted bacteria. Danny, a peanut hater, felt obliged to try them, so he shelled a few and discovered that he actually enjoyed them. I couldn't believe my eyes, watching him pop peanut after peanut into his mouth. I'll get him on to peanut butter soon – the final frontier. On one of our several stops we discovered that there were toilet attendants, who expected a tip because we used the toilet. It seemed that everyone expected a tip here.

On the bus we looked up Lonely Planet for a hotel to stay in, then worked out how to get there on the map so we weren't misguided by more touts. The only problem was that the bus terminated at a different bus stop to the one we were expecting and it was nowhere near the hotel I looked up. A man from "tourist information" (I hadn't seen any sort of information for tourists in Morocco yet) offered to help us find a hotel. As it was dark and we had no idea where we were, we followed him. A ten minute walk took us to a cheap, basic hotel with a bed and not much else. There weren't even curtains on the window. Communal bathrooms, including one Western toilet. The man chatted to us for a while about walking tours, including a 3-4 hour tour of the old town for €15. We agreed to a tour for tomorrow, thinking it sounded like a not-so-bad deal. He left without asking for a tip, which we took as a good sign. The bed was not very comfortable, but it was the first "real" bed (i.e. not two seats folded down with cushions on top) we had seen in about six weeks. We slept well.

With no curtains in the room it became bright way too early. Not the nicest way to wake up but it does get your eyes open. After our breakfast of leftover bread and a banana, plus keeping up with the footy on the internet, we met up with our tour guide from last night (Said, pronounced "Sigh-yeed"), who took us to a cafe to discuss a desert tour he runs. It was something Danny had heard of and was keen on doing, it was just the price we had to consider. We told him we would think about it.

 

Said advised us not to drink tap water in Morocco. I had just drunk half a litre. Great.

The Moroccan drink is mint tea – hot tea, mint leaves, heaps of sugar. It's nice. It's the first tea I have ever been able to drink and not want to spit straight out. Tea is as popular as coffee, which is strong, black, drunk in a cafe, sitting on the street watching life go by. Never women though, only men. 

Said introduced us to another tour guide, Abdul, who spoke fantastic English. His wife also came along for the trip. They guided us around Fez for half the day, mainly through the medina. It was absolutely crazy. There were small pedestrian-only alleys running off in every direction, and I felt like I was trapped in a maze. I had no idea how anyone found their way around. Donkeys walked by continuously, causing us to flatten ourselves against a wall as they passed. Stalls sold everything you could possibly think of. The aromas were fantastic – so many spices, it made us hungry the whole time. We witnessed several views over the top of the medina, however this did not help us to find our way around or even figure out where we were. We were grateful we had a guide with us. He did lead us to a couple of commission shops but thankfully he stopped when we asked him to. We visited a leather shop and watched the process of making leather (not for the faint-hearted; we needed to hold mint leaves to ward off the smell of carcass). Danny was eager to buy a pair of leather slippers and he found a pair he liked (for a price he didn't like). We were also taken to a carpet shop (which uses Australian merino wool), where they tried to make us buy huge carpets for $20,000 or so. The idea, apparently, was to take them back to Australia and sell them at auction houses to make a profit. Not a chance. The shopkeeper acted extremely offended, stating that he had never heard of an Australian coming to Morocco and not buying carpet. I'm happy to offend someone if it saves me $20,000.

Danny asked Abdul to direct us to a spice store, which ended up being one of the best Danny had ever seen. There were more spices than we could count, including ones Danny had never heard of. They also had oil from a nut that is pooped out from some animal, which tasted great but was too expensive for us. Danny asked them to make up a dukkah mix and ras el hanout, a spice blend Danny makes himself at work but this one had twice as many spices (about 40 all up) as the one he makes.

We glimpsed a university through the gates, which is supposedly the oldest university in the world (it was hard to find out when it opened as the Arabic calendar is different to the Christian calendar). Now it only teaches Islamic law. We also entered part of a school, which had a beautifully-tiled courtyard. For lunch we devoured a fantastic fava bean soup with spices and bread, bought at a small stall in the medina. Dessert was a bag of mixed pastries for €1 (the French influence has really taken off in the bakeries). They were mostly sesame or peanut flavoured, but that didn't matter because Danny likes peanuts now.

After the sensory overload of the medina we headed back to the hotel for some quiet time. A few hours later we had recovered enough to walk around the new town, which was a lot like an Asian city but with palm trees. We weren't hassled much, which was a nice change. For dinner we were keen to order a tagine, a local speciality, and we found a restaurant with tagine on the menu and a sign claiming they spoke English (they forgot to add "a little"). We ordered two different tagines: my chicken one came with a boiled egg and chips on top (I'm not sure how traditional the chips are). Both were very different but equally tasty.

 

Back at the hotel we met up with Said, who led us to a cafe to watch Spanish soccer (Danny was pretty excited by this). Cafes in Morocco don't serve any alcohol. I can't imagine that watching sport at a cafe and not drinking alcohol would go down so well in Australia. It turned out I was the only female there - just me and 50 guys. They didn't get too involved with the game, so it remained relatively peaceful. At half time we left to go to Said's house (apparently this was quite normal) and talked more about the desert tour. It sounded like a once in a lifetime opportunity, so we decided to splurge and sign up for it. Now we had to prepare ourselves for an overnight bus trip. After the one in Laos, we were not looking forward to it. 

We lost another hour the next day. I think we've had more time zone changes than countries we've visited. 

As there were no showers in the hotel I washed my hair in the sink, a practice I'm becoming skilled at. At least the water wasn't freezing cold coming out of the taps. We decided to take it easy today, knowing we had an overnight bus trip to look forward to tonight. We met up with Said for breakfast, which was a beautiful bread and croissant spread, before being directed to a huge, clean, well-organised supermarket to buy food for the trip. The rest of the morning was spent sitting at a cafe reading our books. Luckily Danny liked the coffee in Morocco, otherwise we would be struggling to find excuses to sit in cafes for so long. Once again, I was the only female there. I wondered if I was offending anyone by being there. Cafes seemed to make up every second shop, along with petrol stations and pizza restaurants. I still have to pay to use the toilet, even in the cafes.

Lunch was from a street stall – steamed chicken with noodles, bright yellow from saffron, plus a cold eggplant ragout that was fantastic. It was the biggest quarter of chicken I had ever seen. The meat kept going and going – great value for money. Apparently my drink was quite appealing too, as I had an 11 year old girl following me around asking me for some. It took an elderly Moroccan man to shoo her away.

Danny was keen for a haircut, so Said pointed us in the direction of a barber. The "barber" was just a guy with a tiny shed set up in his backyard. It only cost €4 but Danny thought it was one of the best haircuts he had ever received.  

Dinner, we were told, was a meat sandwich, which could have meant anything. What we ended up with was a baguette filled with something similar to lamb koftas and it was overwhelmingly good. Although we were still full from lunch we could have eaten about ten of them. They just needed a little garlic sauce and they would have been perfect. 

The moment had arrived: the overnight bus trip to the desert. Unfortunately the bus was full, so we couldn't really spread out. It was definitely not as comfortable as the bus we caught in Laos but it wasn't too bad either. We did have a screaming baby behind us, who decided that at every hour she needed have her voice heard. We had bought sleeping pills earlier in the day, yet even with these and our high levels of exhaustion we could not fall asleep for any decent length of time. Hopefully this was the last overnight bus we would be catching.