PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Morocco, Day 2

I often tell people that I have adopted Rick Steves approach to travel, which focuses on being a backdoor traveler. Today I took that to a whole new level.

We spent the first part of the day touring Morocco with a driver arranged through our lodging.  Our driver, Mohammed, spoken no English. However, we were able to communicate through Martha’s and my Duolingo Spanish and my high school French. As we discovered, though, that had some limitations.

After driving around Tangier and getting a lay of the land, we went to what my sister and Martha thought was an area to hike. So when we got out of our minivan, Gretchen used Google maps to guide us to what she thought was a hiking area. However, it also looked vaguely like a service road.

We followed it until we came to a back gate, where some people were working. I decided that the trail Gretchen was looking for was inside the back gate, so I boldly walked through it and started looking for a path, completely oblivious to the shock of the guys who were working. After a bit, Gretchen and Martha yelled that I needed to come back, and we saw our driver coming up the road to our rescue.

At his instruction, we went around to the front of the area, which we discovered was botanical garden. And I realized that I had just broken into it from the back door, so that the workers thought I was trying to sneak in without paying. I am quite sure that that is not what Rick Steves had in mind with backdoor traveling.

Continuing our confusion, we went into the botanical garden and walked around the wrong way, not noticing the foot markers that had us on an opposite path from what was intended. The theme of the park was the trials of Hercules, so we started at the end of his life. But in the process, I discovered that although I can’t communicate in French, I can still read it fairly well, so we still got the whole story.

Regardless of the comedy of errors that the botanical garden was, it was truly a beautiful, peaceful place that gave us a good picture of the flora and fauna of the area.

After leaving there, we saw the amazing beauty of the place where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea. It was powerful to see the confluence of the two bodies of water, and as we looked through our binoculars, we were able to see how chaotic the sea was. It was poignant because this is an area where many Syrian and other refugees flee to Europe. They do so because it is so close to Spain, which we could literally see. Unfortunately, the journey is short, but the sea was tumultuous, which is why so many die in the process. As I stood there, I prayed for the many lost souls and the brokenness of our world that leads to such desperate attempts to escape.

From there, our driver  took us to a place to ride camels on the beach. We hadn’t originally planned to do that, but I figured this was my one chance to ride a camel on the beaches of the Mediterranean. And I thought it was a chance to practice for our desert journey coming up. It was fun, but I realized my camel was quite old and had gray hair.

As we were riding it up from beach on a steep hill, Gretchen commented on how loudly and roughly my camel was breathing, and I suddenly realized that it could have a heart attack. I mean why wouldn’t a camel fall over while I was riding it. Last year when I was in Egypt, I saw what happened to camels when they came to the end of their life. I envisioned myself falling from a camel having a heart attack, which made me feel bad for the camel and nervous for myself. I am happy to report that both of us survived the journey.

Our last stop was a cave area with an opening that looked like the continent of Africa. Had I been thinking I would’ve taken a photo of myself pointing out Morocco.

From here, our driver took us to the place where my niece, Johanna, volunteers as part of her study abroad program at the University of New England Tangiers campus. The reason we are in Morocco is to visit Johanna and because it’s Morocco and it’s been on my bucket list for a long time.  In fact, when Johanna decided to go to the University  of New England, I became the No. 1 cheerleader for doing their study abroad program, largely because I thought she would really love it. But I’m not above selfish motives.

We had a phenomenal meal and I felt good about supporting the mission of this place that takes women who have had traumatic lives and provides them with an opportunity for work and money. They make craft items like purses, placemats and rugs to support themselves.

Johanna then took us through the Medina, which is an enclosed shopping area within the walls of the old city. I’m including many pictures, and I wish I could include the vibrancy of it in terms of the noise on the smell. The fish market, in particular, was a veritable smorgasbord of slight smell and sound.

We ended up having a particularly lovely experience at a place that sold soaps, essential oils and honey products. Normally, I find shopping in this area of the world incredibly difficult because of the pressure from the sales people and the desire to bargain, neither of which I enjoy. However, we were not pressured, there were listed prices, and I refused to bargain. The two men working there were funny and engaging and did not pressure us in any way shape or form. Rather than walking away stressed as I often do in similar kinds of situations, it was an utter delight, and I felt good about the prices for goods purchased.

We continued our walking tour of the city with Johanna as our guide and ended the evening at a lovely Italian restaurant on a rooftop overlooking the kasbah, which is where the main mosque is as well as the center of the old city government. From there, we heard the sound of the call of prayer at sunset signaling that Ramadan had ended.

One of the delightful parts of the experience was that our waiter invited us to join him and his friends tomorrow for Iftar, which is the breaking of the Ramadan fast. To receive such an invitation is an honor, so we accepted and will join him for this special event. That, I think, is what Rick Steves likely had in mind with backdoor travel.

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