Sunday, January 22, 2012

Welcome to Africa

21.01 - Algeciras - Tanger - Casablanca - Marrakech, 584 km by train, 205 MAD.

I already had a preview of Africa in the port of Algeciras, which I reached after six days of more and less fortunate events. Not to say it was a culture shock to me, but indeed, everything looked totally different from the things I've seen in other parts of Europe. Muslims falling on their knees to the prayer, Spanish is replaced by dulcet Arabic, communication in French is much easier, the clothing becomes more conservative, the vendors want to have your money and they want to have a lot of it (why do you only want the ticket from Tanger to Algeciras? Because I might hitchhike a truck to Morocco → disappointed face of the seller. You need to change some money? Sorry, I only have dollars with me → disappointed face of the seller). Soap and toilet paper are missing in the bathrooms.

After a 1,5 h ferry ride we arrived in Tanger Med Port. Your first impression of Morocco is always an amazing one. Halfway between the two continents I went outside to see the sweeping views. The first question that came to my thought was "is this massive bulge and bulk of land the African soil?" Yes, it is. So close yet so different. Densely built-up cities are left behind, now replaced by the mountains stretching on further than the eye can see.

The bus that takes us to the Gare Maritime is very full; it seems nobody else can fit inside. Most of the Moroccans have massive suitcases, as if they were moving all their life from Europe back to their home country. They are yelling, fighting for places; it resembles the market day when everybody wants to get the best products for the best price. They don't give up, everybody wants to be exactly on this bus. Piles of suitcases almost reach the ceiling. People are squished between prams and gigantic packages. They don't doubt it, everybody can fit. And fit they do.

The Arabic charm fascinates me. The Moroccans are so beautiful that I would have loved to have taken photos of them but would never dare do it in a situation like this, considering it too intrusive - so let me snap you a photo in words.

The kids are pretty as a picture. Clad in modest, subdued clothes, with big, brown eyes, they look like dolls. Women have delicate facial features and eyes you could trust with your life. Their clothes are mainly in dark colors, only the hijab is much brighter or has some floral patterns. I can see some of them hide a fancy hairstyle under this piece of clothing. Some of them only expose the part of hair above their forehead. Just a substitute of the pulchritude only few can see in entirety.

Even with my baggy clothes that don't accentuate any femininity and the sleep deprivation so visible in my eyes, I attract attention. Fortunately it's not the kind of attention I wouldn't like to receive. The men I talk to are curious what a single woman does in their country. Where are you going to? I'm going to Marrakech to meet my boyfriend (to "play it safe"). Where do you come from? From Poland. Warsaw? No, a smaller city northwest from Warsaw. Is this your first time in Morocco, Yes, it's the first time. How long are you going to stay here? I don't really know it but something like 2-3 weeks or more.

The ride from Tanger Med Port to the city is a slow one but the views make you wish it lasted for eternity. My surroundings are absolutely beautiful with incredible, often unexpected variety. Colorful houses, fields that begin to shape into rolling hills with sometimes scarce, sometimes very dense vegetation, wide sandy beaches, grazing cows, horses, donkeys and sheep, meadows with multicolored flowers, cacti, palm trees. Optimistic sign - I also see... hitchhikers.

The welcome in Tanger is very warm one, not to say roasting. 30°C at this time of the year is a respectable temperature for a very warm midsummer's day in Poland. Despite the swelter, I don't see many people who undress, and if they do, they're not the locals.

Before coming to Morocco I've heard many warnings from people who've been there before – most of them concerning faux guides, salacious guys and their cat calls addressed to lonely girls, people who want some racket for telling you how to reach your destination. None of those has happened to me in the first African city I'd been to (and the one that was actually described to me as a nightmare for solo female travelers). Only friendly faces, nobody persuading me to take advantage of their services. I'm wondering how different it would be if I didn't speak French. With the knowledge of this language everything is so easy, it takes you seconds to arrive at your destination without meandering through countless streets that go the opposite direction.

Train station, Tanger
As I type it, I'm on my way to Marrakech; scheduled arrival time 22.05. There's a road on my left side, sometimes empty, sometimes a few cars in a row pass. I'm wondering if it's one of the roads we'll hitchhike in next couple of weeks. This first ride certainly kicks off my trip well! I'm in a heightened bug-eyed state and I would have been perfectly happy just walking around all day, looking at the countryside. One thing is certain, for as long as we stay here the routine will be filled with adventure.

Finally in Marrakech - promised problems with soap; here my expectations were exceeded.

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