Weeks before my semester abroad ended, I went to Morocco, Africa. Feeling like a pro-traveler at this point, I decided to wait until the last minute before taking care of some essential pre-trip tasks. Mainly, ensuring I had enough Euros to exchange for Dirhams once I reached Morocco. That’s how I found myself walking through deserted Granada streets at 3am with a severely overpacked backpack. With only 15 minutes to meet up with my group for the bus to the port, I stopped at an ATM and discovered that Granada ATMS do not work at 3 in the morning! As some sort of a security measure, they don’t come online until 6 or so. After trying two more machines and with only 5 minutes left to get to the meeting point, I gave up and headed to Africa with only 30 Euros. That, as you can imagine, didn’t go too well.
After an hour’s ferry ride from Spain, I finally arrived in Tainger, Morocco. I was overwhelmed by the fact that this was my first time on a new continent and, most importantly, it was Africa!
Our guide was a born and bred Moroccan who was led us around for the duration of the trip. He was busy informing us of Morocco’s history when our bus pulled up along side a field empty save for two camels, their handler, and a crowd of tourists. We joined the line and before I knew it, the bearded handler was beckoning me forward with a wave and a command I didn’t understand.
The camel’s hump was swaddled in blankets and pillows. He had the camel lay down and then had me climb on. Almost instantly the animal shot up and started to walk around the field. I spent most of the ride hunched over because it seemed like I was going to fall off at any moment.
By the way, the camels we rode weren’t technically camels because they only had one hump. I don’t remember the specific name the but a quick google search tells me that one-humped camels are called Dromedary or Arabian camels.
Sniffing Who Knows What
Morocco is known for its beauty products so our guide made sure we got to experience this firsthand. He took us a pharmacy where a pharmacist and several of his assistants were decked out in white coats. There was a big table in the middle of the room and several benches situated around it. For the next 30 minutes, the men worked the room , demonstrating products like a green lipstick that turned red when is applied, real Moroccan Oil ( which I can personally say works wonders), an array of skin creams, and a tiny bag of organic herbs which, in the man’s words, was the cure for the common cold. At the first sign of a stuffy noise or sore throat, a quick sniff up each nostril is supposed to knock the virus right out.
I know you’re not supposed to go around sniffing strange things but this was organic! It even had saffron! And besides that, everyone else in my group had tried it and seemed fine so with the assistant pinching one nostril closed, I leaned in and took a sniff.
That was a mistake. Immediately after inhaling the mixture, I felt the powder settle and burn in the back of my throat. Within a few seconds, I was coughing. By the end of the Pharmacy visit, my throat was burning and I had a runny nose. The next morning I had a full-blown cold.
I’m not exactly sure why the miracle cold concoction had the opposite effect on me. I was the only one who responded negatively, so I’m guessing I had some unique allergic reaction. Even so, the pharmacy experience was a nice intro to shopping in Morocco.
Morocco is a great shopping destination. From the shops lining the Medina in Fez to numerous venders walking the roads or setting up shop outside of the bathroom, there is always something to buy in Morocco.
We got to discover this ourselves as we were left to roam the shopping area in Taniger. One shop we visited was owned by a friend of our guide and was lined with soft and vibrant rugs, pillows, and blankets from top to bottom.
Because of the earlier ATM fiasco,I was the only one in the group without an armful of the pretty merchandise. So when I stared at a multi-colored too long, the owner jumped at the potential sale. Because my guide was a “special friend”, he offered me a deal: I could take the blanket now and an assistant would retrieve the cash when he met me and the tour guide by the ATM at the nearby Western Union before our bus pulled out at 5 pm. Normally, I follow the advice my grandfather gave to me, “If you don’t have the cash for it, you don’t need it.” But I was in Africa, encouraged by the safety of my program directors, several other classmates taking advantage of the “the deal”, and a strange feeling that I would never get to purchase a blanket again. I took up the offer.
After leaving the shop we got a bit of free time. It was then that I noticed that the worker from the blanket shop had been following me. Once I was separated from the group, he came up and told me that I had to pay for the blanket now. I reminded him of the deal and told him that my guide hadn’t yet taken us to the atm. This guy was adamant though and said he would take me to an ATM himself. Unable to find the guide, two other girls from my group walked with me to the ATM three minutes away. Along the way, we ran into some other English speakers who told us that the machine wasn’t working but, again, the shop worker insisted and ensured me it was safe.
Less than a minute later, my card disappeared into the machine with a whirl of beeping noises and flashing lights. The shop worker pushed a button or two, shrugged his shoulders and asked if I had another card. I less than politely answered his question and returned his blanket.
The Moment I Was Dreading
Before and during my trip, I was expecting at least one major thing to go wrong. Every trip has its difficult moments so I knew something-whether it was loosing a suitcase or missing a flight and being stranded- was bound to happen. Being in a country where I didn’t speak the language with no money and no means of getting any, was definitely one of those moments.
Luckily, my program director was able to loan me some money until we got back to Spain and after a dozen dropped calls my card was cancelled.
The Plus Side
In between sudden sickness and missing bankcards, it might seem like I didn’t enjoy my time in Morocco. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As if stepping on a new continent wasn’t enough, I also got to experience some delicious Moroccan cuisine.
Got to see a traditional show of dancing, glass walking, belly dancing, and acrobatic tricks.
And saw some beautiful sights.
We spent a lot of time driving through Morocco and it seemed like the country was framed by beauty on all sides. A walk through a local neighborhood exposed alleyways drenched in pastel shades of blue.
They matched the ocean perfectly, which, by the way, could be found by walking through an unsuspecting, crumbling stone archway.
The scenery stunted the long drives. Through the wide bus windows, you could see lush green forests and mountains in the distance. Around every mountain was another picturesque view of the ocean.
Even an empty diner in the middle of nowhere had views like this in its backyard.
My favorite part of the trip by far was our visit to The Cave of Hercules. The century old cave is said to have once been a shelter for the mythical hero Hercules. Inside, vendors camp out in dark corners with post cards and key rings bearing the evil eye symbol.
The cave is also home to one of the most beautiful and well-known sights. In the middle of the cave, is the perfect outline of the African continent. The ocean is visible through the cutout and is probably gorgeous during dusk or dawn. The view is one that has been imprinted in my brain and ,on my desktop, ever since.
P.S-I eventually found the exact same blanket for cheaper at another market place.