20 October 2011


Did you ever wonder what exactly a "casbah" is?  Me too.  As it turns out, the casbah is the heart of a large city, often the oldest part.  In Tangier, Morocco, it's fortified and surrounded by a wall, probably to protect against the threat of invading Christians.  We had occasion to rock the casbah of Tangier toward the end of our trip to Spain, when we hopped on a ferry and took the short trip from the south of Spain to the north of Africa.  We didn't exactly invade.  We were accompanied by our Spanish friends and a tour guide named Aziz, and we came entirely in peace.

Getting ready to board the ferry.

Aziz met us on the dock in Morocco with a van driven by a friendly man named Mohammed.  Aziz's first order of business was to teach us to say hello (salaam aleiku, literally "peace be with you"), and to touch our heart after shaking hands, to signal sincerity.  I loved this latter gesture and vowed to remember it when I got back to New Jersey.

Sign in the port of Tangier.  The French says, "Welcome To Your Country."  (I can't read Arabic.)

Our first stop was the main mosque.  We got out of our tour bus to take a picture.

Aziz drove us all over town and pointed out the important sights:  the King's palace, the most beautiful hotel, the prettiest beach, and the inner city.  The Spanish children in our group had been to Tangier before, though, and all they wanted to do was ride a camel.  Aziz was able to arrange that as well.  I even got on a camel and rode around a bit.  I thought, how many times in my life will I have the opportunity to ride a camel in Morocco?  Probably not too many.

Bobby kissing a camel.  This is one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip.

Tangier boasts a really cool prehistoric cave that was once inhabited by actual cavemen.  Now, it's inhabited by merchants selling locally-produced crafts and cold bottles of drinking water, both of which are in pretty high demand.  The cave opens out onto the ocean, making for some really great photo-taking opportunities.

Aziz took us to the Hotel Mirage, one of the nicest hotels in Tangier, so we could look out over the cliffs at the water.  The beach in the background is for the private use of the King and his guests, so we could only gaze from afar.  Still, the view of the Mediterranean was breathtaking.  We saw someone jet-skiing on the water and wondered whether it might be a member of the royal family.  Personally, I think my daughters looked pretty royal on the balconies.

We had a delicious lunch at a Moroccan restaurant, chosen for us by Aziz, in the casbah.  The children were amused when the waiter told them his best language was French.  This gave us occasion for a little history lesson to explain why so much French was spoken in Morocco.  The children also noticed that Aziz sat and chatted with us but did not eat.  "Aren't you hungry?" they asked him.

He smiled.  "Yes, but it's Ramadan," he told them.

"What's Ramadan?"

Aziz explained that all three of the Abrahamic religions observe periods of fasting and self-reflection. Ramadan is Islam's holy month, during which devout Muslims do not eat during daylight hours.  "So it's like Yom Kippur or Lent?  It's a religious fast?" the kids asked.  Yes, Aziz said, exactly.  He smilingly told them that, while he was indeed hungry, he would wait until sundown.  He also told them that when we wandered through the casbah after lunch, they might see people praying in the streets.  This, too, was a Ramadan tradition.

Sumptuous lunch.

After lunch, we spent some time wandering through the heart of the city.  The place was simply beautiful in its architecture and its layout.  The people were friendly.  The Moroccan children were curious about us and followed us through the casbah, trying their English out on us as they tried to sell poor Bobby, who still had a bad cold, little packets of tissues.

Tangier is known for the many beautiful doorways in the casbah. 

This man was just sitting in a doorway, making a mirror with metal that was hammered thin.

This is the communal oven.  Casbah residents bring their prepared meals here, and the attendant bakes their dishes for them.

All tours end up in the gift shop, and this one was no different.  Aziz appeared to have friends in the retail business.  We were expected to buy souvenirs, and we did.  Bobby and Sam bought jelabas, traditional gowns worn by Muslim men. 

I was enchanted by both the tooled leather and the pottery, and I had a hard time choosing something.

Should I get a beautiful hand-painted plate?  How would my Christmas cookies look on one of these? 
Or maybe a beautiful hand-tooled leather purse?

In the end, I chose a simple brown leather purse, because it was easier to carry home.  I kept that picture of the pottery as the background on my cell phone, though, and I look at it all the time, wondering whether I made the right choice.  I would have really loved one of those beautiful plates.

Late in the afternoon, we took the last ferry back to Spain.  We had to run to catch it, and our last half-hour in Morocco was like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie.  We ran through the casbah to get to the main road, where Mohammed was waiting in his van to take us to the loading dock.  All along the way, Tangierian children chased us, waving pocket-packs of Kleenex and chanting the few English words they knew:  "We love America!  Two Euros for tissues!  Buy tissues!  Go Yankees!  We love America!"

Back on the ferry.

Not feeling great, and ready to go home.

You know you're approaching the coast of Spain when you start seeing this guy everywhere again.

Safely back in Spain, with a solid education and some great memories under our belts, we were ready to go home.  Bobby needed antibiotics, as both his ears were clearly infected.  The flight home would be difficult for him.  And me?  I needed prescription-strength vitamins and some solid rest.

Thanks for joining us on our vacation.  Coming up:  what happened when we got home.

1 comment:

Sofia said...

Looks like you guys had a great time.. and really didn't see that much. Next time, you've got to go south where my family is from. It's much better down there. I'm happy you had a good time though.