Marrakech lent itself well to urban trekking. Ki and I explored this walking city exclusively on foot. Wide sidewalks shaded by trees, tall and short, were irresistibly welcoming. But a stretch of Avenue Mohammed V along gentrified Gueliz had a surprise up its sleeve: a row of tree sculptures. It was a genre of public art that we were not familiar with.
She had WTF written all over her face. Then a suppressed smile lit her eyes. I could see her in my peripheral vision as she was observing Ki pressing his phone on the glass window to take videos of passing landscapes. The observed noticed the observer. She grinned at having been found out. This scene played out in all but one of our train rides around Morocco. Local commuters blind to their daily view were incredulous at a tourist’s child-like amazement. Travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson put it best: “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”
The cultural heart of every Moroccan city beat in its ancienne medina (ancient city). That was why Ki and I dove head on into Tangier’s old quarter by booking a stay at a boutique B&B named Bayt Alice. Bayt, we later learned, was Arabic for house and, by extension, household. Alice, however, was a decidedly Western name. We could only surmise that this was a house owned by a foreign woman. How typical of Tangier, the African city closest to Europe, not only geographically but more so culturally.
Thousands of feet up on Royal Air Maroc, I could make out the tip of Morocco – of Africa, really – forming the lower lip of the Mediterranean’s mouth. That turned out to be Tangier’s coastline stretching from the Atlantic in the west through the Strait of Gibraltar toward Alboran Sea in the east. A day after our arrival at the sun-drenched, sea-kissed city, Ki and I were drawn to go beachcombing through five kilometers of its coast and newly-reinvigorated corniche.
“With time everything vanishes.” Even an entire civilization all but disappeared with scant remnants of its existence. To the unfamiliar, Moroccan history may seem to have begun with the Islamic conquest. That we would stumble on a pillaged Phoenician site in Tangier was the cherry on top – of Marshan Plateau which Ki and I unknowingly explored on foot.
“The soul is the weariest part of the body,” Paul Bowles wrote in his novel The Sheltering Sky set in North Africa. I took exception to that. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was fatigued and dehydrated, so much so that I slumped in the middle of a busy intersection in Fes – and slept. My body shut down for 15 minutes in the shadow of the center island’s stone monument. With the sun still high at 4:30 PM, I pulled my cap over my eyes and dozed off under the sweltering sky of Morocco.
Casablanca was not Casablanca. The movie was not shot, nor could the story even be set, in the city. Given the time and place in history, Tangier would have been a more plausible setting. Everything I knew about Casablanca was fake AF. To top it all, Tripadvisor reviews generally dismissed it as an unavoidable but unnecessary pit stop as travelers made a mad dash to Marrakesh and Fez. Casablanca was tabula rasa in more ways than one.
Den Haag, the Netherlands / Le Puy-Sainte-Reparade, France / Casablanca and Tangier, Morocco
June 10 / 15 / 19, 2019
More than 3,000 kilometers from Amsterdam to Marrakesh. That was how much distance I covered in my epic trip to celebrate my 50th birthday and the 10th anniversary of my blog and alter ego – TTT (The Transcendental Tourist).
Three countries and 15 cities by land. That was how intimately I was acquainted with my itinerary as I traversed almost the entire stretch through railway and highway, but mostly on foot – save for one flight across the Mediterranean.