We rewrote the lyrics to the catchiest tune on the radio, and our version is about living in a van!
Thanks Camilla Cabello for writing the original song, ‘Havana’.
Thanks Camilla Cabello for writing the original song, ‘Havana’.
We were on the road to Ait Ben Haddou — a very well known and highly visited kasbah in Morocco. We decided to take a back road, one that tour buses don’t dare drive in fear of donkey traffic (I still can’t believe that’s a real thing that I now consider when planning our driving days), and found that this back road was indeed the scenic route! The view down the valley, the mountains on the other side of the river bed, the surprisingly green riverbanks – it was all totally stunning. We turned a corner and standing majestically in front of us, perched dangerously on a cliff edge, stood a huge kasbah. According to the map, it was not Ait Ben Haddou, but we couldn’t just drive past this place, especially considering that in the car park, there was only one car — with a European license plate — and three camels.
When we stepped out of the van, a Moroccan man wearing a blue deraa, a traditional outfit, approached us. He stunk like cigarettes, his hands were leather, his fingernails were black with dirt, and when he smiled, he revealed just one lonesome brown tooth hanging from his upper gum. In French, with a few English words thrown in, he explained that he would take us to the kasbah. We’ve been burned before with these guys. They tell you they will take you somewhere, they show you the way, or they just walk in front of you, and then when you get there, they demand money, or more money than you offer (we even had a knife pulled on us in Fes because the guy wanted more! But that’s a story for another time). I showed some attitude, and told him we didn’t need a guide. Whether it was the loss in translation, or the fact that he just didn’t care, we found ourselves following him.
He introduced himself as Abdul, and for a man who has only one, brown tooth, he sure smiled a lot. I was still hesitant as we walked through the small streets. I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms. I’m just going to say it, I was acting like a bratty child. We turned a corner and Abdul walked over to a closed door. He unlatched it, pushed it open, and motioned for us to follow him inside. He led us down a dark hallway to a large, open room – an old mosque. The little bit of light in the room came from small windows in the ceiling, but even in dim light, we could see the beautiful colours the mosque was painted. Abdul said “very old, not used anymore,” and shook his head. I softened a bit, he had already shown us something we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, maybe this will be good?
We followed Abdul down some steps from the village into the river valley. He took us through the kasbah gardens. Here, he picked beans from the stalk, opened the pod and let us taste them. He picked almonds off the trees, cracked the shells with a rock, and again, had us taste. There were rose bushes, fig trees, pomegranates, and the biggest, possibly oldest olive trees I’ve ever seen. The kasbah was built in the 1200s. I wonder if these olive trees are from then? Is that even possible?!
After a quick tour inside the kasbah, we walked back through the village towards the van. We took a little detour to a house surrounded by a picket fence. Outside, hanging laundry, was a middle-aged woman. She smiled when she saw Abdul and said something in Arabic. A man of the same age appeared from the garden and greeted Abdul. Abdul asked him something. The man looked at us and nodded. Abdul turned to us, “my father, and my mother.” He smiled that lonesome tooth grin, and walked into the garden. He emerged again with a handful of fresh beans. He handed them to me, “for tagine!” he said. We thanked him and his parents — what a kind gesture!
Trigger warning: Please take note that the following part of the story may not be suitable for vegetarians, vegans, and those meat-eaters who prefer to buy their meat from the frozen, faceless section of the grocery store. Audience discretion is advised.
Back at the van, we asked Abdul for a butcher nearby to buy some chicken for our tagine this evening. He nodded and we followed him down the street. We stopped in front of a closed door, and Abdul yelled across the road to some men on the roof of an unfinished building. One came down, crossed the street, introduced himself – Ismail – and unlocked the door in front of us. Inside, at the back of the room, a bunch of chickens were wandering about, eating seeds from the floor. Oh dear. Ismail quickly grabbed one of the squawking birds, and returned to us. “Twenty minutes,” he said and smiled. I smiled at him, looked at the chicken, and then back at him. “Ok!”
Abdul put out a table and chairs for us to wait. A few moments went by and Ismail came back and sat down. He lit up a cigarette and we chatted for a while. He asked about Canada, about how long we have been in Morocco, and if we like it. I wondered if he had given the chicken to someone else to butcher then Michael turned to me and said, “he’s probably draining the chicken right now…” Ismail excused himself again. We sat with Abdul, in silence and waited. When Ismail returned, in his hand was a plastic bag filled with the freshest chicken I’ve ever had. He handed us another bag with a few vegetables and a handful of parsley and rosemary inside, “for the tagine!” he smiled.
Abdul was the loveliest lesson I’ve learned in Morocco. I was so hesitant, so closed off, and immediately expected him to rip us off. Had I allowed my negativity to win, we wouldn’t have seen such a beautiful side of the kasbah, toured the gardens, or enjoyed the fresh beans. We wouldn’t have met Ismail or had the experience we did with the freshest chicken ever. And we wouldn’t have tasted the most delicious tagine we have EVER made. If there is one thing I have learned from traveling, it’s that when you open yourself up to beautiful and wonderful things, beautiful and wonderful things will happen. Just another life lesson learned.
Read about my experience in a Moroccan Hammam here!
And read about some other Moroccan experiences here!
There are so many aspects to Moroccan culture that make it one of a kind: the mint tea, or as the local’s call it, “Berber whiskey”, a mix of green tea, mint, sometimes absinthe leaves, and more sugar than you ever want to see; the weekly souk, a market at which artisans and farmers, from all around the area, ride in on their donkeys and camels, and sell goods; and of course, the tagine, a ceramic cooking dish that was designed to slow cook meat and vegetables over coals (read about my tagine here!). These are a few of my favourite things, and recently, I’ve added a new one to the list: the hammam.
The hammam is a bath house, where locals go to clean and scrub their bodies. I’m not sure of all the ritual and ceremony behind it, where the idea comes from, or even its place in modern day Morocco. What I do know, is that I am a firm believer in the philosophy, try everything once, so I had to try! I was a bit nervous to be honest, people I met along my travels shared total horror stories of the time they went, friends who had gone, expressed how dirty and gross it had been! I’m not one who gets easily grossed out, and I knew I had to try it anyway, no matter what these other travellers had experienced. I called on my new friend Emily, a Canadian who has been living in Morocco, teaching English for two years. She knows the ins and outs of the hammam, and was thrilled to hear I wanted to go!
I said goodbye to Michael as he disappeared through the man’s curtain, and I walked into the women’s side. I paid the entry fee, bought a piece of black soap and a scrubby glove (which you need), and paid for a woman to scrub my entire body from head to toe. I left the change room, and walked through a huge metal door, into a steamy room, covered in white tile from ceiling to floor. Big windows, high up the wall, and opaque with steam, lit the room with a lovely natural glow. The first room was filled with women and children, the second, a few less, and the third, which was not as hot, had only two or three ladies in the corners. We cleaned our area with water, and sat down. I took the black soap, the oily byproduct from the production of argan, and rubbed it over all my skin. We sat, letting it soak into our steam-opened pores.
Two buxom Moroccan women, with huge bosoms, wearing only thin bras, and delicate, slip-like skirts, made their way over to us. The one who knelt down in front of me had deep wrinkles in her forehead and around her mouth — this is not a woman who smiles very often. Under her furrowed brow, I could see that her skin glowed more radiantly than any magazine ad I’d ever seen. She lay me down on the tile floor, donned the scrubby glove, and went to town. It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t necessarily feel nice either. I looked down at the arm she was scrubbing, and saw peeling layers of dead skin, rolling off as the glove went up and down, up and down. She flipped me over and kept scrubbing my back and butt cheeks. She scrubbed every inch of skin, except my ears. She left my ears alone.
She rinsed me off, cracked her version of a smile, and left me there, sitting in the corner, in the middle of a mountain of my own dead skin. Maybe this is the gross part everyone talks about? Then Emily handed me a jar of mud and instructed me to cover my body in it. I did as I was told, and we sat, again, letting the mud soak into our freshly scrubbed bods. We rinsed again, and then rubbed argan oil all over our bodies as our final step. Before we rinsed it off, we gave our area another wash. Dead skin, hair, and mud, this is the part the luxury spas don’t show you.
I loved this experience. How could I not? I experienced a true taste of local Moroccan culture, and my body has never been softer. Plus, it’s the ultimate van life hack. Never again will I pay for a shower at a campground, and settle for a luke warm trickle. I know where I can have a steam and a luxury scrub for peanuts.
On a more personal note,
While I was sitting in the steam, I watched two young girls, maybe 4 or 5, balancing empty buckets on their heads and slowly walking around giggling. Their moms, sisters, aunts, whoever, were all taking turns scrubbing each other with their gloves. The little girls sat down and had their hair washed and their bodies scrubbed. I smiled. These young girls are spending time with normal women with normal bodies, naked! These girls know no taboo of female nudity. All bodies are normal bodies. I remembered all of the self esteem issues I’ve struggled with and all the hate I’ve had for parts of my body that didn’t look the way I thought they should. In Canada, and a lot of other countries I’m sure, I know women who would primp before the hammam, make sure everything was shaved, plucked, tweezed, waxed, tanned, prior to going. There would be women in bathing suits. There would be women who change behind a towel, or in the toilet stall, as to not be seen. There would also be women sizing each other up, silently comparing themselves to the other bodies in the room. I know this to be true because I have been all of these women. I felt very opened in the hammam, safe and protected. It was a beautiful room, full of beautiful people, who might not even realize what a beautiful thing they have in this place.
Just a thought…
When we stayed in Marrakech, our hotel was located at the intersection of three totally sketchy alleyways. When we walked through the one to get back to the main street, we agreed that this is the kind of alleyway one is led through on the way to their death by shanking. But as luck would have it, after we walked through shank alley, we came across, not our untimely deaths, but instead, the main street.
Michael loaded up MapsMe* and pinned our route, like breadcrumbs, so we could find our way back through the medina. I figured if we just walked slowly and kept calm, even if we did get lost, it would be ok. Chloe and I turned around as we walked, named each alleyway, and took note of what we saw — the archway to shank alley, the gold squiggly sign above a store, the walk through Calm Alley (where there are surprisingly few people), the big green tiled doorway before we had to turn right. We walked down an alley that sold all knock off clothing. Now, this is good. Clothes for women, who traditionally wear headscarves, full length, long sleeve dresses, often times with a hood, and now, with modern labels. I saw one terry cloth looking dress, grey, to the floor, long sleeve, with a hood, that said “REEBOK” across the chest. Another that said Adidas. Another that said, “I don’t remember days.” Haha! I laughed when we walked past a stall that had a sweater that said, “I’m hapy to met you.” I kind of want to buy it!
We left Reebok Alley and found ourselves on a main street with more tourist faces on this one. We walked past a store that sells beautiful wooden boxes, games, statues, and other various wooden things. We walked past another store that sells beautiful tea sets and golden lamps. We walked past multiple shoe stores, and I was excited, I knew I wanted a pair (or two (or ten)) of shoes. I finally walked into one, pointed at the embroidered shoes I loved, and asked the man if they had any in my size. His eyes widened when I told him what size I needed. He couldn’t find the embroidered ones I loved, but he did find a different style in my size. They fit perfectly. I asked again about the embroidered ones. He shook his head. I said, “I have really big feet.” He said, “not really big…. Big, but not really big..” We continued walking. We walked through the main square, past the black cobras being “charmed”, past the monkeys being abused, and past the women doing henna tattoos.
After lunch, we went back to the shoe guy so I could buy my shoes. This, of course, spoiled my bartering game. He knows I have big feet, he knows I have tried shoes on at every other god damn shoe store in the medina, and he knows I am not leaving his stall without shoes. I was able to get him down to a somewhat reasonable price — a black pair and a turquoise pair. Yay!
Then, it was time for rug shopping. We walked into a store and it just felt right. Mohammed, the owner, introduced himself and told us he was here to help. Chloe meant business. She was here to buy everything. They were so helpful. She knew the colours she wanted and the sizes, and they kept pulling rugs out for her. I took pictures of the rugs and Chloe and Michael contemplating which rugs to buy. Michael and I found a cool rug we loved. It is beige with black designs on it. It’s a medium size, so easy to put anywhere, and has no wild colours, so easy to pair with other stuff. Considering we don’t actually have a house, I think we chose the right one. Chloe cleaned up and got everything she wanted. Mohammed is the kind of rug guy I like — no-nonsense, no bartering, just damn good prices, and a damn good experience!
We asked Mohammed if we could climb his wall of carpets. He laughed and let us, “do anything you want,” he said. We had a photoshoot on the rug piles. It was so much fun. Mohammed and his employees just laughed at us. We said farewell, Chloe would go back tomorrow to have Mohammed ship everything to Canada for her — what a guy.
We went around the corner onto Reebok alley. Past the green tiled doorway, right at the gold squiggly sign, through calm alley (where there are surprisingly few people), through the archway to shank alley. Home again home again.
What did we buy?
*MapsMe is a must-have app for travel. It has incredible offline maps, one can use without any sort of internet connection. I highly recommend downloading it. I proudly advocate for this application without any kickback from the company! Check it out here!
A year ago today, I was thrilled about my job. I was facilitating training, enjoying every minute of work, and was considering going full time and really starting a career. Wow. If you had told me a year ago that in one year I would be dancing my heart out at a secret rave in the middle of the desert in Morocco, I would have absolutely not believed you. Absolutely not. Yet, here I was.
We stopped the van at a beautiful vista and made a little snack. We ate olives and tuna and avocado, and looked out the beautiful view stretched out in front of us. Another van pulled up next to us — French licence plate. A man stepped out, he looked dusty, like he had been in the desert a long time. A 3-legged dog jumped out of the van behind him and hobbled towards us. We spoked briefly about where we were coming from and where we were going. He asked if we had been to the Painted Rocks yet. The Painted Rocks is a big valley nearby, where, in the 80s, a bunch of boulders had been painted blue. Now, it is a favourite free camping spot for van travelers. We told him we had just been, but we were the only ones. He told us there was going to be a party at the Painted Rocks next weekend! Michael asked, “how do you know about this party?” The dusty Frenchman responded, “you just have to go to a party and then they tell you when the next one is going to be.” Seems legit.
Our three van, eight person, and one dog convoy arrived at the Painted Rocks at around 3pm. We were three of maybe 15 vans. Hmmm. Maybe the party isn’t real? I mean, we came by our party invitation from a dusty Frenchman with a 3-legged dog, so there was a slight possibility that the information wasn’t correct.
We set up camp, vans in a circle, with a fire pit in the middle and vans slowly began to file into the valley. We had our campfire roaring and we cracked open a few beers. A young Moroccan boy wandered to our fire and asked if we had any water. Sure! We gave him some to drink and he thanked us. We told him that he and his friends were all welcome to sit around our fire this evening and warm up. Soon, a whole gaggle of 17-year old Moroccan boys joined us around the flames. They were lovely. They also assured us that there will, in fact, be a party tomorrow! Yay!
The bass was thunderous and echoed through the whole valley. The stars were bright and the moon lit our way through the valley towards where the bass was booming. I had a beer in the pocket of my jacket. We arrived and sure enough, there was a party! “Oh my gosh, this is insane,” I thought. The DJ was set up under a tent, and in front of him, a wall of HUGE speakers pulsing with bass and vibrating in the dirt. Lights and videos were projected onto the rocks behind the DJ, and strobe lights rhythmicallylit up the faces of the ravers dancing to the beats. Everybody was smiling.
If you had told me a year ago that I would be dancing my heart out at a secret rave in the middle of the desert in Morocco, I would have not believed you. Yet, here I was…
She placed the huge, oven-hot ceramic dish on the table in front of us, and with just the perfect amount of flare, lifted the heavy dome to reveal the most incredible chicken and vegetable mix, yellow with turmeric and billowing steam, and in that moment I thought, “I must have one of these.” A tagine. A Moroccan ceramic cooking dish with a tall, conical lid. It is placed on hot coals and left for an hour or so to slow cook whatever deliciousness you put inside. I wanted one. We could figure out where in the van it would fit later. I had to have one.
A Moroccan friend told us when looking in the souk for a tagine, we should expect to pay about 60-80dh which is about $8-10 CAD, but we, of course, can barter the price down. I knew as well, that in the souk, there would be both functional tagines for those who want to cook with it, and decorative tagines for those who want to put it on their mantle, so we would have to make sure to buy one we could actually use. It wasn’t hard to find the man selling tagines. There were about 50 of them, all different sizes, displayed out in front of his truck. These were the real ones. Not decorative at all. In fact, the glazing was just downright sloppy! These were no-nonsense tagines. We found the right size, one bigger than the smallest one there, and asked the man how much. He offered 50dh. We didn’t barter. We just bought it.
We continued through the souk and found a man selling spices. Bright yellow turmeric, deep red paprika, and sandy brown cumin, were just a few of the big, full bags sitting on the table. I had no idea what we needed in order to create as beautiful a dish as the first tagine we had. The man started speaking to us in French and I just said, “tagine?” “Tagine!” he exclaimed, and began preparing multiple bags of spices for us. We ended up with the bright yellow turmeric, the deep red paprika, and the sandy brown cumin, and a bag of what the spice man called, “tagine mix”. Perfect!
We took our tagine and our too many bags of spices back to the van. We had onions, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, and carrots. For our first tagine we were happy to make a simple vegetarian dish, and, granted we didn’t blow the place up with our first attempt, we could graduate to meat dishes later. While Michael ‘seasoned’ our brand new tagine (boiled water in it for 20 minutes to prep the lid with steam), I took to Google to find recipes we could loosely follow. I was disappointed to discover the top hits on Google for “tagine recipes” were all people cooking in casserole dishes and frying pans, and serving their food in the decorative tagine they bought in Morocco, OR even some on Amazon. Huh?
We would have to figure it out without Google’s help. We rubbed oil all over the bottom part of the dish, and poured a few tablespoons in. We heat the tagine and added onion, and then tomato. While they cooked, I tossed the potato, zucchini, and carrot in all our spices. All of them. When the onion and tomato began sizzling, we turned the heat right down, and stacked our other vegetables on top of each other. And that was that! We set the timer for an hour. We drank wine, played cards, ate a few olives to whet our appetites. The timer went off and our food was done!
I placed the huge, oven-hot ceramic dish on the table in the van, and with just the perfect amount of flare, I lifted the heavy dome to reveal the most incredible vegetable mix, yellow with turmeric and billowing steam. Our very first tagine!
Michael and I have been traveling now for 37 weeks, 19 of which have been living and traveling in our van. We’ve been spending a lot of time together. We eat every meal together, we plan activities together, and we spend our downtime together. We have learned a lot about each other too, how grumpy Michael gets if he’s hungry, how emotional I am when I’m tired, and which foods make us gassy. At the beginning of our trip, when we were in Italy, we went for sushi (yes, you can get something other than pizza and pasta in Italy!). That evening I wore lipstick, and we talked about everything under the sun except plans for our trip. It was lovely! We called it date night. And since then, every three or four weeks, we go on a date night. There are a few rules to date night: I wear lipstick, we go out for dinner, and we don’t talk about poop.
We were in Sidi Ifni and decided to have a date night. We were told by a friend about a restaurant called Suerte Loca, reasonably priced, with great Moroccan food. I donned my lipstick and we left the van. Suerte Loca is a cute little restaurant at the end of the main street in Sidi Ifni. It boasts a huge menu, with so many different tagines. A tagine is a ceramic dish, that one fills with vegetables and/or meat, and places on hot coals. It creates a steamy, oven-type environment and cooks the food beautifully. Suerte Loca boasts an impressive list of meat, chicken, seafood, and veggie tagines. But, even with a menu as expansive as this, they are known for the menu of the day. Today, was a Moroccan salad, an octopus tagine, and a chocolate caramel flan cake. Sounds good to us! We ordered it all, and two mint teas. Moroccan mint tea is sickenenly sweet, and if you ever order it ‘sans sucre’ you’ll understand why. It’s nickname is Berber Whiskey. They say you can’t get drunk off it, but you sure can get sugar high!
We sat and drank our tea as the empty tables in the restaurant began to fill. Three young Moroccan boys took to the stage. By stage, I mean an empty corner of the restaurant. Two guitars and a drum. The drummer kept rhythm, the guitarist impressively picked the strings, and the one who sang had the voice of a pubescent angel. They sang Moroccan songs, they sang French songs, they sang Jason Mraz! We clapped as each song ended, they smiled and nodded and would quickly discuss amongst themselves which song to play next.
Our food came. The salad was fresh and delicious, but the tagine was the star of the show. The huge dish was placed in front of us, and with the perfect amount of flare, the woman lifted the top to reveal a beautiful meal. Octopus cooked with onions and tomatoes, and rubbed down with about a million spices. We took the pieces of fresh bread from the basket on the table and, using the bread like a claw, picked up bits of octopus and sauce. Oh boy, it was delicious. Our conversation ceased as we ate — that’s how you know it’s good. The chocolate cake with caramel flan on top was out of this world. We paid our bill and rolled ourselves out of Suerte Loca. By the door was a tip jar for the boys playing music. We left them a hefty tip — they deserve it.
We walked back to the van, and shared an exuberant high five — another successful date night!
We left the van and went to the Sunday Souk in Sidi Ifni (try saying that three times fast!). The souk is a big marketplace, which boasts vendors from near and far, selling all sorts of things. There are so many stalls, and each one is very specialized; there’s the veggie guy, the olive guy, the spice guy, the clothes guy, the miscellaneous kitchenware guy, the jewellery guy… We prepared ourselves for many stops on this grocery shop.
We stopped at a veggie man and began! The vendor handed us a plastic bin. The idea is that you fill the bin, then you pay by weight of everything together. Cool! We bought 2 potatoes, 3 zucchini, 4 beets, 2 tomatoes, and 3 carrots. Phew! Veggies, done! We continued our walk. We found a chicken man, and figured we would find eggs here, but realized that the chicken man only sells chicken — you choose one from the pen of live chickens, he weighs it, and then takes it behinda tarp, kills it, and prepares it for you. Huh. We didn’t buy any chicken today. We DID however find a fruit guy at the neighbouring stall! We bought 1 mango, 3 oranges, 4 kiwis, and 3 avocados. We walked on and found an olive guy. I like the olive guy because he lets you, nay, encourages you to taste all the different varieties of olives. We did! And we bought 250g of a beautiful preserved lemon and parsley marinated green olive, and 250g of crazy flavourful, and shrivelled up black olives.
Next stop: the spice man. The spice man sells many spices in many forms. For example, here you can buy turmeric roots, turmeric seeds, or ground turmeric. Here, you can buy full henna leaves, henna seeds, ground henna, or henna paste. Here, you can also buy garlic bulbs! We bought 3. Then, we finally found the egg guy — that’s all he sells — and bought 12 beautiful fresh eggs.
We found a banana man, who sells bananas by the kilo. In order to make up a kilo, we had to buy 10 bananas. They aren’t big, but 10 seems like an awful lot of bananas for two people. We walked past the preserves guy and he let us try some Moroccan figs, and natural almonds. Oh man, we just had to buy some! They sure are good salesmen at this souk. We walked past another spice man, and asked if he sold salt. A man buying spices told us we would be better off just going to a grocery store and buying a bag of saltfor 10dh. We thanked him for the advice and chatted with him a bit. He is Berber, from the mountains, and comes in every week for the souk with his friend. He insisted we come to their table. We did. His friend, an old, weathered mountain man, makes rings out of Euro coins and cedar wood. They were stunning pieces of jewellery. We asked how long it takes to drive in from the mountains. The men laughed. “It takes one day on the camel…”We laughed too. We explained to the old man we did not want to buy anything. He assured us that he was just happy to have met us, two young Canadians. He thanked us for saying hello and gave us a gracious welcome to Morocco.
I took to my spreadsheet, the beautiful one I made to keep track of our day-to-day spending (I call myself a highly organized cheapskate), input all the spending we did at the souk today, and took a look at the total. We spent 47dh, which is about €4.19, which is about $6.34 CAD. For all those veggies, fruits, eggs, and preserves, not to mention a kilo of bananas. My goodness. I do LOVE the Sunday souk!
Update: We ate the entire kilo of bananas in three days.
We walked along the beach towards the walled medina of Essaouira, We passed camels on the way and it reminded me I’m in Africa……! The sunset this evening was just breathtaking. To be honest, the first few days adjusting to living van life and to traveling in Morocco in general, have been difficult! A sunset like this helped me realize it will soon all settle into place. We arrived to the medina, and began looking for a place to eat. We walked by a place with a big, busy patio. All the chairs were facing the street, as if it were a stage playing an unmissable show. Here, the show was a pair of musicians, busking across the path, and the people stopping to watch. This patio really did have the ultimate people watching set up. We took a seat and ordered our meal. I had a tagine with Kefta and an egg. Kefta is ground lamb and spices. It was served with bread, so I just made it into a really decadent sandwich. The music was great! The people watching was superb. We sat after dinner for a while, enjoying our tea and coffee, and the beautiful evening. Also, we have no idea what to do this evening. Gah! It’s New Year’s Eve!
We ended up at a party on a rooftop terrace. It was right on the main street, above the restaurant we ate dinner at. It cost 150dh to enter ($20 CAD), but then we could trade your tickets in for alcoholic drinks (a rarity in Morocco)! We walked up the steps to the terrace and man, this place was cool! There were stairs everywhere leading to a second level, and a kind of courtyard dance floor in the middle. There was a stage set up and on it were musicians playing music, and traditional Moroccan dancers dancing along. It was so fun! We bought a bottle of wine and went upstairs where we could enjoy the show and our drinks.
There were lots of tourists at this party. And lots of locals too. It was a fun mixed bag. We danced a bit, drank our wine, and enjoyed the show. A man came over, obviously a paid party promoter or something, took my wine glass out of my hand and handed it to Michael. He then dragged me onto the dance floor and made me dance with the other poor tourists. I laughed, of course, Michael took pictures, of course, and when the song changed, I left the stage to return to Michael and my wine. We laughed about it. Then the man came back and tried to drag me up again. I resisted. He told us to live in the moment, that this is the last moment of 2017, so we must enjoy it. This moment will never happen again, so enjoy this moment, have fun together. I smiled and told him, “we are, we were, leave us be!” He smiled and moved on to another group of tourists. How do you expect me to live in the moment if you keep telling me to live in the moment?! We chatted with some guys standing nearby as a new performer took the stage. The guys were from Switzerland and come to Morocco every year on a surf trip. They gave Michael some tips, where the best breaks are, how to get there, and which beaches to avoid. It was great!
The new performer was a woman whose look screamed, “DIVA!” Her hair was huge and curly, her dress was short and hugged her body, and she talked to us like we were her biggest fans. Dang, that diva could sing too. We danced a bit, and drank our last drink. A man went up on stage between songs and whispered to the diva. She looked at the time and nodded. I looked at my phone and realized it was only one minute to midnight! Gah!
All of a sudden, she began counting, “ONE…” Wait, what? I looked at Michael. He looked as puzzled as me. We looked at the Swiss guys, they too looked confused. In fact, I looked at the faces of all the nearby tourists and they all looked just baffled. “TWO!…. THREE!… FOUR!!!… HAPPY NEW YEARS!” What?! In Canada, we count down to New Years…? I looked at my phone, sure enough, it was midnight! 2018!!! We laughed. I grabbed Michael Quick, world adventurer and van lifer extraordinaire, and gave him a big, romantic, New Years kiss. I love this man. I love this life. Happy New Year, world!
I had only been in Algeciras, Spain for about 5 hours, and already it was quite clear to me that the only reason one comes to Algeciras, Spain is to stock up on groceries, and take the ferry to Morocco. There were hundreds of campers and RVs scattered around the parking lots of the supermarkets and hardware stores of this huge shopping complex. We spent our one day in Algeciras buying what we thought we might miss being away from Europe — wine, beer, sunscreen, and popcorn kernels.
Friday, December 29
The alarm went off at 6am this morning. It was pitch black outside and I did not want to move from my damn cozy van bed. I snoozed the alarm and rolled over onto Michael’s chest. “Hey Michael, what do you want to do today?” He smiled, “wanna go to Africa?”
We finally peeled ourselves out of bed and made the van ready for driving, or as we like to call it “car-erizing”. The drive to the ferry port was fast, not many cars on the road at this time, and we followed the signs that said TANGIER. We quickly found which queue to join, it was the one with 30 or so RVs and campervans. A quick check of our ferry boarding cards and we were on the boat.
We found a seat in the main deck and filled out our declaration forms. There was a huge queue of people along one side of the room. At the front of the line, two official looking men sat at a table and stamped passports and documents — customs. We would fill out our cards now, but wait until the line died down to go over there
When the boat set sail we went to the cafe and ordered a tea, a coffee, and two croissants. We sat at a table and scarfed them down. A man sat down across from us. He saw our passports on the table and, in broken English, with a thick German accent, told us how in 2008, he and his wife went around Canada, the USA, and Mexico for one year in a camping car. Cool! We chatted with him a while, about his time in Jasper and the Rocky Mountains, until Michael noticed the queue for customs disappear entirely, and the men begin packing up their computers! OH NO! We excused ourselves from the German man and ran to the table. The men rolled their eyes, the one unpacked his computer, and took our passports. We apologized for being late. The man looked at Michael’s passport. He saw Michael’s last name, “Quick?” he asked. Michael nodded. He closed the passport and handed it back to Michael. “Pretty slow if you ask me…” and smiled. Haha!
We went to the deck and soaked in our surroundings. Sailing away from the great Rock of Gibraltar, past the beautiful coast of Spain, and towards the rugged and totally unknown-to-us coastline of Morocco. The wind was crisp and the sun, still low in the sky, rose behind a few big, billowy clouds.
The German man came to meet us on the deck. He told us he comes to Morocco for three months, every year for fourteen years. In Canada, we would call this man a snowbird — someone who escapes winter in their own country and heads to warmer weather. He gave us some good advice about the border crossing, things to do in Morocco, places to see, and where to stay. He really set our mind at ease. If he can do this border crossing fourteen times, then we can do it once.
The ferry grew closer and closer to the shore, and when the announcement came on for us to go back to our cars, we said goodbye to the German man. We shuffled down the steep steps with the other campervan’ers, and waited in the van until we were told to go.
We drove through to customs and parked the van in some shade. We sat and waited. A man came to check the vehicle registration and our passports. We waited. I saw a drug sniffer dog go into a few cars. We waited. I saw them ask a man to take out almost the entire contents of his trunk, and then laughed as they all tried to help him fit it back in. We waited. Finally, they asked us to open the doors. We didn’t need to take anything out. The man looked briefly in the back, in the glove compartment, and asked if we had a gun or a drone. We have neither, so he waved us on. That was it! It was a long wait, about an hour or so, but so relaxed.
Morocco is going to be a huge adventure. I am happy to be here. I am happy be checking other country off my to do list. I am so excited to see what we have in store for the next few months.
Stay tuned for more tales of my Moroccan adventure! Let me know what you think in the comments. Been to Morocco before? I would love to hear from you, favourite places, suggestions what to see, where to eat, and any tips from fellow travellers!