If I told you I went to Great Britain and Morocco in the same weekend, you’d probably think I’m lying. But actually it’s more plausible than it seems, because the British-owned Gibraltar, the southernmost town of the Iberian Peninsula, shares its northern border with Spain and is separated by only a short ferry ride from Africa. Friday morning, five other friends and I hopped a bus with other travelers to make the journey to the other side of the Mediterranean.
In Gibraltar, we had a couple hours to kill, so we decided to ascend the Rock of Gibraltar in a cable car to see the view of the city, sea, and tip of Africa. What waited for us at the top were hundreds of wild monkeys, much more nonchalant about seeing us than we were about seeing them. I had the worry in the back of my mind that a monkey was going to come along and rip my backpack full of snacks from my body (which was a legit warning on one of the signs), but pictures were obviously more important so many followed. Some of my more brave friends let the baby monkeys climb on their arms, but the sharp teeth one bared at me early on was enough to keep me safely behind the lens of my camera. When we’d visited each post at the human-oriented outlook, we walked up some stairs to what seemed to be ruins, now inhabited by more monkeys. The view from the top (when not blocked by a furry creature) was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in a while.
The town of Gibraltar itself was cute with pubs and shops and English-speakers, but obviously very touristy and seemed to be more of a transition point than a local-dominated site. We then took the bus about half an hour away to the water port where we departed in a large plane-like ferry across the strait to Ceuta, a Spanish territory in the north of Africa. Our first impression of Morocco was an imposing darkness that even the few dull street lamps along the roadway didn’t seem to cut through. We arrived at our hotel with enough time to settle into our rooms before we were due downstairs for dinner. The first night we watched some funny American Arabic-dubbed television before heading to bed relatively early for the busy day ahead.
In the morning, breakfast was served and bags were packed for the bus ride that took us two hours south to the antique town, Chefchaouen. In the old quarter of town, all the building seemed to be dipped halfway in various shades of light blue paint, some still dribbling onto the narrow stone streets that separated them. Our tour guide, Mohammed, walked us through the streets lined with houses, bakeries, and shops. He told us that many cities in Morocco have their chief color (like Chefchaouen’s blue) that dominates both the architecture and the goods sold there. He also explained to us that the doors to enter into houses in Morocco are small, as a sign of respect, because the polite way to enter a house in Morocco is to bow through the door. We saw many locals wearing the traditional Moroccan gender-neutral outfit, called a djellaba, which is a like a thick cloak with a pointy hood. Due to the unforeseen chilly weather, I was strongly considering getting one for myself. We were led to a corner on one of the steep and narrow streets where there was a textile cooperative. Inside, we were taught about the process of making the different qualities of rugs, linens, and scarves, and got to tour around the shop and see an ancient loom in action. Chefchaouen’s main specialty is textiles, and I could definitely see this in the quality of the goods. After this we were given time to walk around the marketplace on our own and test out our bartering skills, which is a normal part of Moroccan culture.
For lunch, we again boarded the bus and traveled back up north to Tétouan. We were greeted with traditional Moroccan music and seated in a large hall with Arabic etchings on the wall. Our meal started with a brothy vegetable minestrone-like soup, then we proceeded to eat chicken shish kebabs in middle-eastern spices. Then we were served a sweet chicken-filled filo dough patty, which is hard to describe but absolutely delicious. Our meal finished off with yummy Moroccan tea and a powdered biscuit. During our meal, we got to watch multiple musical and talent performances, including a man who balanced a tray of shot glass contained flames while he danced. There was also a lady in the corner offering henna hand art.
Next we walked to the marketplace of Tétouan, where we shopped around a bit before reconvening as a group with our tour guide to visit a natural pharmacy. The pharmacist explained each product and with what herby concoction it was made, and we got to test/smell most of the items. One of the most important Moroccan exports is argan oil, which ranged from single-digit euro prices within the pharmacy but can get up in the thirty-dollar range in the States. They also offered saffron, which follows the same story.
We readied ourselves for another long bus ride to our second hotel in Tangiers. For dinner, we were placed in a large decorative tent and served a four course meal of fresh chopped vegetable salad, chicken in a lightly spiced sauce, meat and vegetable couscous, and a tea and cookie dessert. As we were all spread around a stage, we enjoyed more music and performance during dinner. There was an acrobat pair, traditional Moroccan musicians, and a belly dancer. Outside, we were surprised by camels ready to be ridden! Speaking of camels, the next day we got to ride camels under the day-lit sky on the Cape Espartel, which ends at the point at which the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. Before, we visited the Caves of Hercules, which was an amazing sight. It was stunning to see the waves and the grand ocean further out come crashing into the rock formation in which we stood. After we took in the natural beauty, we stepped on the bus for the long bus and ferry ride home.
Here's a little sample of the trip.