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Mixed visions in Morocco

Tarifa is a magical spot. It is located on the most southern point of Spain, and Europe. Now this is not where the magic of Tarifa lies. This is a spot of coming together. The Mediterranean Sea, meets the Atlantic Ocean; and Europe meets Africa. The magic, as I call it, is not in the fact that these happen, but in the fact the one can be the most southern point in Europe, and watch the Med hit the Atlantic. While all this is happening, across the 15 km of water, Africa’s Rif Mountains climb out of the sea.

I spent one week in Tarifa waiting for my friends to return to Spain from Scandinavia, and mentally preparing myself for my first trip to the Muslim world of Morocco. I had many ideas or preconceived notions of what to expect. I suppose many of them came from my trip I had taken the previous year to the exciting and unpredictable chaos of India. Since this was the only developing country I had been to, I expected Morocco to reflect India. How mistaken I was.

My first real bit of information from travelers’, fresh from Morocco, came to me here in Tarifa. This is another reason why I call Tarifa a place of coming together.

For thousands of years this area has been a port for voyage to Africa, and continues to be so today. I met a few different sets of travelers who had just recently returned to Europe from Morocco. I heard stories of goat heads, and tanneries from Josh and Jason, who had just come back to Spain and had their ‘house’ on wheels die. Well, a Caravan anyways, and the steering column had broke. So these guys were stranded in Tarifa waiting for parts to arrive. They had previously been in Morocco for a month driving around searching for architecture. Josh was in the process of putting together a database of architecture shots from around the world. Now being a photographer myself, I was quite keen to see what he had taken. I was amazed at the photos that Josh had taken. Morocco is exactly what I was looking for! A bit of adventure after the summer spent in the predictability of Europe. A place where one is first shocked to see the chaos in the streets, but after some time adjusting, one begins to see control and order in all of the chaos. I hadn’t experienced this in over a year, since my trip to India. I was very excited, but still nervous to go to Morocco.

The day I met Josh and Jason, I also met Kati and Krissy, two Aussies who has just come back from three weeks in Morocco. These girls raved about Morocco; they told me about camping in the desert and showed me a video of a song some young Moroccans had made for them. They had no problems with the people there, and genuinely enjoyed their time in Morocco. My notions were beginning to become just that, notions. If two pretty blonde girls could travel through Morocco, then why couldn’t a tall blonde man?

So the day finally came, but first I had to get my friends. I drove from Tarifa to the airport in Jerez to pick them up, and then back to Tarifa to catch a ferry that afternoon to Africa. We got back to Tarifa and the swell was finally coming in, so I decided that before my journey I would have my final surf for the year. The afternoon passed, and so did all my ferries, except the eight o’clock ferry. Now this normally wouldn’t have been a problem, but I needed to connect with a nine-thirty train overnight train to Marrakech, and I hadn’t gotten a ticket yet. This wasn’t how I wanted to start the trip out, stuck in Tangiers. Then I realized that with this 30 minute crossing I also went back in time two hours (being summer time still), and would arrive at roughly half past six. I had plenty of time to get to the train station, and get a sleeper for my 12 hour journey to Marrakech.

But first I needed to get across the Straights, so my friends drove me to the port and we said our good-byes. The ferry was nothing special having taken the Helsingor to Helsingborg ferry many times, but something made this different. I was not going from Denmark to Sweden; I was on my way to Africa. I received a stamp of entry in my passport, and in 45 minutes we arrived in Tangiers.

The reason why I had to catch this overnight train to Tangiers, was that everybody I had talked to, said just get out of Tangiers because it wasn’t very nice, and into ‘real’ Morocco.

I stood in the hull of the boat waiting for the doors to open, feeling like the one of the troops in the D-day invasion. Next to me, was a couple who looked a little more worried than me, so I introduced myself. They were a couple from Chicago, and it was also their first time to Morocco. We decided to team up and catch a taxi to the train station as we were on the same night train to Marrakech. We left the ferry and our last connection with Europe behind, and embarked onto African soil – or a parking lot to be specific. The couple had received some information on a good spot to get a taxi, so we walked past the 30 or so waiting, out of the port, and into Tangiers. I could begin to feel the chaos that I yearned for. I flagged a taxi down and he took us to the train station. The driver didn’t speak any English, but we could communicate with the small bit of Spanish I spoke. The first barrier, the language barrier, I only spoke a small bit of Spanish at that time, and even a smaller or non-existent bit of French as well. However in Tangiers, this was no problem. We arrived at the station and paid the driver a very fair rate of ten Dirhams, the Moroccan currency, which was about one Euro. I was shocked to see the train station here, it was nicer than most of the stations I had ever been to in Europe. It looked like what the Pantheon must have looked like 2000 years ago when it was built. It was entirely made of grey marble, with four huge twenty meter pillars, inviting us in. It seems the new King has been busy modernizing Morocco.

We walked into the glory of the new station, and up to the ticket booth. I ordered my ticket with no problems, paid 350 Dirhams, and was the proud owner of a ticket to Marrakech. We had an hour to kill before the train, so we found a nice spot, sat down, made small talk, and had the first of many chicken sandwiches.

The train arrived; we got on, and said our good-byes until Marrakech. I found my compartment, and set my pack up on the overhead luggage racks. Sharing the couchette was a French guy who was just finishing his journey and on his way back to France to make crepes. My other couchette-mate was a retired English school teacher.

“So where you guys from?” he asked.

The French guy said he was from France, and I replied that my Mother was Danish and my Father American.

“Well the Danish part is ok, but I don’t know about the American part.”

“What’s the supposed to mean?” I said, biting my tongue a bit as we had to spend the next 12 hours in close quarters.

“Well it depends if you are a Bush supporter or not.”

I replied that I wasn’t, and had no real opinion of politics I wanted to share with the rest of the class. We went on to have a civil conversation. The retired school teacher was on his way back to his home in Marrakech after spending the summer in England. He had been living in Morocco for the previous 7 years or so – the latest three in Marrakech and the previous four in Fez. He was quite knowledgeable about Morocco, however he carried an air of arrogance, as some travelers’ do that have been traveling most of their life. So in most of the conversation I felt that he was trying to teach me something. He gave me his number as I was going to be in Marrakech for the next few days, and then we closed our eyes for the 12 hour journey to middle Morocco. 

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