Monday, October 17, 2005

The Road to Morocco

I should warn the reader that I am typing this on a French-style co,puter keyboqrd, which is different enough from American keyboards to make things interesting. I will try to catch my mistakes and correct them, but I can't guarantee anything.

Yesterday was a long day of travel. Sevilla to Tarifa was a three hour bus ride, then a 45 minute boat ride to Tangier in Morocco, followed by a four hour train ride to Fes, which felt like a four hour train ride.

No two Moroccans agree on the relative merits of their different cities. Some like Tangier, others dismiss it as "merely a port town." One might think Meknes is an underrated gem, wheras another warned me not to waste my time there. But everyone likes Fes. It is the heart of Morocco. (I haven't heard anything bad about Marrakesh, either. It's just a little too far for how little time I have in Morocco).

By Bus
The bus driver played an American and British pop radio station exclusively. Alan Parsons is the eye in the sky, Neil Diamond is a believer, Christopher Cross rides like the wind. One of the other passengers on the bus had brought a dog on board. Or rather under board, as the dog rides in a pet carrier in the luggage compartment at the bottom of the bus. The poor animal is quiet for most of the journey, but eventually becomes agitated and soon begins whining and howling. Its cries sound like far off screams, which most songs on the radio successfully drown out, although it can be heard during quiet songs. The cries add a particularly chilling counterpart to John Lennon's "Imagine."

By Boat
The ferry from Tarifa is the fastest way to get to Morocco from Southern Spain: 45 minutes vs. over 2 hours from Gibralter. It's billed as a "speed" boat, but it never feels like it's going fast at all. There's a gentle rising and falling, like being rocked to sleep. The waves outside the boat don't break -- white foam gathers at the crest, then disappates just as quickly. I keep waiting for us to pick up steam, but we never do.

Behind me, an Asian woman zith a British accent is discussing problems in her family with her male companion. Her voice has a sound like music in the otherwise hushed cabin. The boat ride is like being in a dream.

By Train
There are lots of small black plastic shopping bags litering the landscape for part of the journey. I assume they were used as trash bags. At one point, a huge flock of seagulls fly up, startled by the train. Their white feathers form a nice contrast to the black bags. Some donkeys graze on what used to be a soccer field, standing in front of the rusted goal posts. It looks like they were playing and decided to take a break and have a snack.

Children still come out to wave at the train as it goes past.

This month is Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. I'm on the train at sunset, when the fast for the day has ended. Two things strike me: one is the legendary generosity of Moroccans, who, even though they haven't eaten all day, are very eager to share with you, to the point of not accepting is considered an insult. I have a mini-feast of cookies, crackers and cupcakes with the others in my train compartment. I share my water, as it is all I have.

The other thing that strikes me is how fast it gets dark after the sun sets. It becomes middle of the night dark within fifteen minutes, literally. The full moon is suddenly out, and all I can think of are those old cartoons, when the sun zips down; the moon zips into its spot, and the sky goes dark like someone has flicked a switch.


Iva said...

Hi, John,
I thoroughly enjoyed the story of your trip to Morocco...Bing and Bob would be envious!
Your Aunt Bobbi and Uncle Gavin have returned safely to Florida. We had a wonderful time together and I miss them.
Went to debate practice with TJ tonight...I am working with a boy who is in Declamation and has chosen Reagan's "Tear down this wall" speech. No one is less of a Reagan fan than I, but the speech is a good one but Stephen and I have to cut it basically in half to make it acceptable (time wise.) That should be a major job.
I am pleased that you seem to be enjoying yourself and the Morrocan people. I love you.

Heather said...

I'm so envious. I was there last year (at Ramadan, too, actually) and I love the way you've painted it.

It's really a shame you won't have time to see Marrakech. Amazing place.

Safe travels!

Julie said...

Please take lots of pictures while you are there - of the people as well as the landscape.

Iva said...

I think you sister is thinking of future portraits, don't you?

the hanged man said...

Heather -
As late as two hours ago, I was looking at my lonely planet guide, still trying to figure out a way to get to Marakesh. Getting there isn't too bad; it's the getting back to Tangier in time that's tough.

I will just have to come back to Morocco. Soon.

Julie -
I think the pictures are a bit of a wash. I took some, of course, but to be honest, I was so agog in the Medina, not to mention how cramped and overwhelming it is, that I haven't taken as many as I had planned.

I promise to do better in Rabat.


the hanged man said...

Mom -
Reagan's "Tear down this wall" was written primarily by Peggy Noonan, a gifted writer, even if she did decide to serve evil...

bill said...

Meknes is lovely, and rather middle-class. Fez is trickier, as you found. (Me, I love Marrakech and Essouira!)

Yurgen said...

Thank you for very interesting article with useful information. I'm going to visit Morocco later, probably in April.
My friend always inviting me to visit him. He has in Tangiers property and I will stay there.
I want to visit famous Hassan 2 mosque and other interesting places which must seen.