Tuesday, November 18, 2014

surfers, hash, and wandering street chickens: Morocco!

Jerry: Morocco is amazing. This leg of the journey we’ve been compromising between my style of intensive research and Laura’s style of completely winging it. We flew into Marrakech with the first three nights of hotel reserved, intending to figure out the rest from there. Marrakech, for the record, is intensely touristy. People are all but assaulting you to buy things from the moment you step outside. I’d like to say something positive about it, so I’ll say: we left on the third day for Rabat.

Buy stuff! Buy stuff now! You lost? Need a guide?
Want to buy? Buy now?!

I’m an ignorant American, and frankly, I hadn’t known Rabat existed. Between Laura and I, the only cities we could have named offhand are Marrakech, Casablanca, and Fez. We were actually looking for rooms to rent in Casablanca, which we were told was much less touristic than the other two, and when we zoomed out on the interactive map, a room popped up with a rasta surfer looking dude smiling over some couscous. Based on that photo, we added Mohktar on facebook and hopped a train to Rabat.

We were convinced by this picture.

Laura: Rabat is definitely a large city, but it's much less stressful than Marrakech. I think this is for three reasons:

  1. Rabat has plenty of tourists, but Marrakech gets the certain type of tourists that have enough expendable income to randomly fly off to a city like Marrakech cause they heard it mentioned in an Indiana Jones movie, and so the salesmen there can make good money if they're aggressive. The tourists in Rabat tend to have actually given some thought to coming to Morocco, and many have already been in the country a while, so most of the salesmen know being too aggressive will just annoy them. 
  2. The city is on the beach and full of surfers.
  3. They smoke a lot of hash. It's difficult for a city of stoned surfers to not be chill. 

View of the beach from the kasbah walls.
You are now totally not surprised that our rasta surfer roommate lives here.

Jerry: It’s also the capitol, so there are a lot of embassies, and therefore a fair amount of diplomats, students, and expats just living and working here. You can walk down the street and be treated like a normal person no matter your colour or native language. We’ve learned more French here than we did in France – and everything else. The Lingua Franca – or I guess, Lingua Maroc – is a pan-European pidgin with charades. The other day we were in a cab with two Germans and two Frenchmen, and an Arab cab driver, and our only common language was Spanish.

Laura: Mohktar's brother tried to drunkenly teach me how to count in Arabic. He taught me up to 50, but I can only remember up to 5. Wahed. Jouj. Taletila. Arriba. Khemsah. That’s not the proper spelling, that’s just more-or-less how they sound in my head.

Jerry: We live in the medina. You know how pretty much every city in Europe has its old medieval quarter, usually in the centre of town around the cathedral, often still fortified? In North Africa, the medieval quarter has two distinct parts – the medina, which is the town or market, and the casbah, which is the citadel.

Opposite view: the kasbah as seen from the beach.

Unlike European cities, where the medieval buildings have usually been gutted and replaced with luxury storefronts, the medina in Rabat still functions exactly like a medieval market. We live, for example, off Rue Boukran, which is where all the vegetable sellers set up.

At least it's not a long walk for groceries.

Laura: There's also a lot of poultry. And by that I mean there's large chickens just sort of wandering around our front door in the morning.

You would think they were tied, until one of them gets up and starts pecking your feet.

Jerry: Google maps does not work here. For one thing, all the streets were renamed after the revolution. Two, they’re named in Arabic, so phonetic spellings in the roman alphabet vary widely. By that logic, Laura's numbers are as accurate as anyone's. I’ve seen Boukran, Bukkran, and Bokrane, on our own street, all on small, hand-painted signs. I’m honestly not sure how the post arrives.

Laura: So if any of you would like to send me a letter, just address it to the red door behind all the chickens. That should do it.

No box or slot to speak of, but Mohktar insists post does come to the house.
We haven't figured out where they put it, though.

Jerry: It’s hard to find pretty much anything here. You just have to know where you’re going and do a lot of exploring. We went on a quest for the liquor store the other day. Alcohol is permitted in Morocco – they even produce their own wine and beer – although licencing is obviously very strict. Generally, only higher-end restaurants and bars that cater to tourists and expats serve alcohol, and their storefronts always have to be extremely discreet. “Liquor store” is a misnomer, really. One, no one’s ever heard the word liquor (“boutique d’alcohol” worked, though I doubt it’s correct) and two, it looks more like a storage unit, complete with unmarked, roll-down metal door.

Laura: Very shady drug-deal-on-the-loading-docks-you-have-to-just-know-where-it-is-first-rule-of-fight-club type thing. I dig it.

That door just screams "obviously a liquor store," doesn't it?

Jerry: They roll the door up just high enough for you to duck under. Inside, there’s bottles of cheap-but-it-works plonk stacked to the ceiling, and about a two foot space packed with twenty or so customers, all waving cash at a guy sitting at a high counter. He shouts what you want to another guy, scaling the walls like a goddamn monkey, who scrambles to fetch it and wrap it discreetly in newspaper before handing it over the counter.

Laura: Oh, and a fifth of scotch? 80 dihrams, or about 9 USD. So yeah, I’m enjoying Morocco.

Jerry: I think that’s enough for one post. Next time we’ll tell you about the beach, the graveyard (it’s epic. And creepy. We got lost in it.) other cities we’ve visited, and everything we’ve learned to cook. Cheers!


  1. Sounds like an amazing time. :) Thanks for the update.

  2. My favorite line: It's difficult for a city of stoned surfers to not be chill.

    I do love stoners. :)