When the boat finally stopped moving and I saw that we were docking, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Having vomited two times less than 30 minutes ago, I had never felt happier, although feelings of mortification were still with me after having handed my barf bag (literally) to one of the boat workers. Although I always thought people who became sea sick must be incredibly weak individuals, I entirely underestimated the mighty waters of the Straits of Gibraltar, the body of water that separates Spain from Morocco. On the entire journey the boat had felt as if it was battling every crashing wave that dared get in its way. I had been on a cruise to the Caribbean a couple of years before, but the Straits of Gibraltar made the waters of the Caribbean seem like a paddle boat ride around a pond.
Due to its geography, Spain is somewhat removed from the rest of Europe, but close enough to Morocco to make it an easy day trip. Although many people and guidebooks discount the Moroccan port city of Tangier (or Tanger as it is known in French) as being anything but the real Morocco, I still was anxious to go for multiple reasons, including adding another stamp to my already full passport, as well as saying I had been to Africa (even if it was for less than 24 hours). It was far enough to experience an extremely different culture but close enough that I could still sleep that same night in the comfort and security of my “temporary” homeland.
I was traveling with a couple of people from the program, including my errant traveling companion. Because of her being drunk the night before we were to leave, she caused me to miss my opportunity to visit Gibraltar, an extremely small patch of British controlled land on Spanish soil, known for its most famous residents, the Barbary apes. Still fuming over Hope’s lackadaisical attitude towards most everything in life, I distanced myself from her the rest of the trip, including our time in Morocco.
Not that I had been there before, but the port terminal of Tangier reminded me of everything I had ever heard about Tijuana, another famous border city as well as a transit point for thousands of migrant workers returning home each year. The scene was no different at the Tangier port terminal; just the look of people there was different. Dozens of women were clothed in traditional attire complete with full head scarves; children were sitting atop enormous suitcases bulging with wares that had been picked up in Europe, most likely at cheaper prices.
During the ride into Tangier’s city center, complete with our tour guide Mustafa’s narration, I couldn’t believe the negative labels guidebooks and individuals had given to Tangier. Frankly, I found it to be quite pretty and cosmopolitan. I later found out that the city was divided into two sections, one that existed prior to Morocco becoming a protectorate of France, the other, a petit Paris amidst palm trees and desert winds that had been created by homesick French men and women. We passed by boulevards reminiscent of the famous Champs Elysees in Paris and outdoor cafes that most likely served café au laits along with the more traditional mint tea.
I of course partook in the quintessentially tourist activities- paying a euro to have my picture taken atop a camel, witnessing snake charmers perform their not so subtle acts, visiting a carpet making facility- it was the more simple things in Tangier that made my day so memorable. When the bus drove to a beautiful spot overlooking the Mediterranean, I felt entirely at peace. The feelings of uneasiness I still felt in my stomach from the boat ride completely evaporated. My feelings of resentment towards Hope for being so irresponsible had also dissipated, allowing me to fully focus on the gorgeous sun filled view all around me. Even the best laid travel plans can go awry, but that doesn’t mean your entire trip should suffer as a result of it.
Being able to eat Moroccan food in Morocco was a treat within itself. As a lover of Moroccan cuisine since childhood, I of course adored what we were served at a traditional restaurant in the medina district of the city, complete with belly dancers to set the mood. There was course after course of traditional dishes including salads, hummus, baba ganouj, b’stilla, chicken, beef, lamb, cous cous, and baklava with mint tea. Some others on the tour clearly did not enjoy the meal as much as I did. I can still remember one American woman pushing around the cous cous on her plate while her husband sharply whispered to her, “for God’s sake, eat the damn thing, it’s just a grain.” What I found so amusing was that she traveled to a foreign country, something she clearly had an interest in, but because there was something on her plate that was foreign to her, she had no interest in trying it. One foot in the door of the unknown, the other still safely nestled in the comfort and confines of the known.
The rest of the day was nowhere near as memorable as the wonderful time I had at lunch. A visit to a traditional herb and spice store, while highly informative, was somewhat of a bore, although I did discover that saffron, the core ingredient in paella (it’s what makes the rice yellow) is actually more of an orange/turmeric color. It is only when mixed with water does it take on a yellowish hue. I ended up buying a small amount of it and even tried it out on the paella I made for my family when I returned to the states, although both the taste and look of it were poor substitutes to what I had seen and eaten in Spain.
Before I knew it, my fleeting day in Morocco had come to an end and I was once again back on the boat. A friend of mine was kind enough to supply me with some Dramamine, which thankfully abated any sea sickness, as well as allowing me to sleep for the two hour journey. There were people in the program, my roommate Lisa included, who had traveled to Morocco for a week’s time. While they saw countless more sights than I did, I remember hearing how they had intestinal issues for weeks after they returned and that is something I did not want or need after my own bout with food poisoning. The brief day I spent in Morocco was enough to quench my traveling appetite and to give me the bragging rights of saying I had been in Africa. It was indeed enough… enough for now.