Africa! Wow, what an introduction to the continent. I prebooked our airport taxi through the hostel to keep our arrival logistics simple and stress free. When the taxi dropped us off on the other side of town from our hostel and a new guy started guiding us on foot, I was a bit apprehensive but my gut told me we were probably safe. I had read something about cars not allowed within the Medina and this seemed like a reasonable workaround. We had to jog to keep up as the man guided us down narrow passageways jammed with merchants and tight corners. We would hear horns behind us and jump to the side as motorcycles and scooters brushed by us. We eventually reached an unmarked alley and at the end was a bright blue door with our hostel name painted on it. I don’t know how we would have found it on our own. Even GPS and Google Maps is just an approximation of street locations as some of the shop arrangements change daily.
We checked in and our guide turned hotelier greeted us with sweet mint tea. This is the customary welcome to a hotel, restaurant, or house in Morocco.
As the heat of the day passed and the temperature dropped down to 90 degrees, we ventured out into the Medina to wander the souks and experience the culture of Morocco. It went better than I expected. I had read so many warnings and had heard so many stories of hostile interactions, that I was wary and on guard. Honestly, it was mostly fine. Overwhelming scents, crazy drivers, and pushy shopkeepers, sure, but I didn’t feel unsafe. A man did toss a monkey at Aaron, and a snake charmer had to recapture his uncharmed cobra with a basket, but this was more amusing than unsettling. My most used Arabic phrase: La, shukraan. No, thank you.
People rode their motorcycles recklessly through dense crowds, and one ran into me. Thankfully that caused nothing worse than a bruise. I don’t think he meant to hit me because he crashed into a wall after that. Another person tried to forcefully direct us away from our hostel when we knew exactly where we were going. He then yelled at Aaron for ignoring him.
The shopkeepers had odd techniques for engaging us. I confirmed that I was American to one man, and he followed me a ways demanding to know the population of Chicago. Several people would put a spice or goop in our face and ask us for the English name. A similar variation was when they would point at a basket and call out, “What is this?”
The shops sold purses, lamps, clothes and spices. There were many beautiful wares in the brightest colors imaginable, but every time we stopped to admire something, the shopkeepers would begin haggling with us and we didn’t want to waste their time since we have no room in our packs for souvenirs.
This is my first time in a Muslim country. I wore a headscarf the first day, but it seemed unnecessary when I saw that it wasn’t a big deal in the city. They also have a call to prayer broadcasted over the minaret loudspeakers a few times a day. From 5:45-6am there is a very loud prayer/sermon that serves as an effective alarm clock.
The food is delicious and cheap, but you can’t drink the water or eat foods washed in it. We bought our water in 5 liter jugs and ate Tajines at the restaurants and crepes on the street. Our hostel breakfast was five types of bread and chocolate pudding.