Mundolengua on tour: Morocco
At 5.30 am, on Friday, Seville was completely silent; revelers had found their way home after a night of socializing, and most early risers had yet to emerge. A sheet of mist descended upon its meandering streets, covering this usually vibrant city with an air of calmness. Seville was asleep. The only sign of life was a mini bus with 11 tired, and probably slightly grumpy, study abroad students, with their Mundolengua coordinator, travelling to the coast.
Sunrise next to the rock of Gibraltar.
A ferry journey and a fairly strong coffee later, our American college students arrived upon the shores of Morocco, ready to take a short rest from their study abroad program. We were immediately greeted by our tour guide, Mohammed, and were escorted to the slightly dated, 70s style Mercedes mini-bus, which would become our golden chariot, our only means of transport for the weekend. Although we were only 20 km from the Spanish coast we felt like we might as well be 1000 miles away: we were in a completely different world. The familiar site of European road signs had been changed with ornate Arabic inscriptions detailing the directions of the closest cities.
Our first port of call was Tetouan, a city which literally translates as ´the white dove´ because of its uniform white buildings; from a distance, it seemed like an oasis in an otherwise barren landscape.
Our college students in front ot Tetouan
The beauty of our visit is that it was in no way commercial or touristy, we had a genuine insight into the life of local people. Our guide led us through the windy streets of the Souk and the Jewish quarter which had stalls and shops selling fresh spices and fruits; these were scenes completely foreign to any western civilization, especially as some stalls were selling battery chickens that were still alive. At least the locals cannot complain about freshness.
After a whistle-stop tour and a lovely three course meal, it was time to return to our ride, which was waiting to whisk us away to Chefchaouen, the blue city. Moroccans, it seems, bask in the pleasure of color coding their towns, with locals re-painting their houses as much as 3 times a year to maintain its aesthetic. You would not get that back in Europe!
It was still Friday, and not only had we travelled to Morocco, but we had now been in at least 2 cities. We were quite tired by this point, especially after our early morning start, thus, our tour guide left us to our own devices letting us spend the evening whichever way we wanted. Our Centro Mundolengua coordinator suggested climbing up a nearby hill, to see the sunset whilst gaining a panorama of the city from above. The view can only be described as mesmerizing. Upon reaching the view point there was complete silence from our William and Mary and CNU college students, as everyone stood and admired the breath-taking view. After this brief pause, the call to prayer resonated through the valley and echoed off the mountains, and we stood admiring this incredible bastion of Andalusian and Arab culture. This was a very humbling moment.
The call to prayer is always my favorite part of visiting any muslim country, but in particular Morocco. As the architecture is reminiscent of that in Andalusia, this chant, this religious cry forces you to take more than just a passive admiration of the Arabic lifestyle; by listening you are somewhat involved and forced to appreciate this sound so alien to those who are accustomed to life in the west. This is the trademark of any Muslim state and it categorically places a fine line between any hybrid of culture that may be present in this North-African country.
Chefchaouen from the hill-side view point
The following day our tour guide showed us round the incredible city of Chefchaouen, drawing our attention to the various amenities used by the locals; such as the streams where the women come to wash clothes, or the bakeries selling fresh bread, or even the carpenter who sold various meticulously designed kitchen utensils made out of wood. We meandered through the many streets, lost in the azure haze of the city, surrounded by the various buildings, which would not be out of place on a Greek island.
Before we knew it we had seen the city, and our 70s style Mercedes impatiently awaited to take us away to our next destination.
The journey to Asilah lasted about three hours, but with a break in the middle, the journey soon passed.
Asilah is a little coastal town with impressive fortifications, overlooking the fierce waves of the Atlantic Ocean. It features a pier which protrudes out slightly into the waters giving a view of the sea from three sides. Looking out into the distance, it is easy to imagine why in times of old people thought that Morocco was the edge of the world. If you consider that ahead lay the Americas and nothing else in between, one could really grasp the feeling of the infinite when looking into the distance.
Finally we were taken away to our four star hotel in Tangier, a mere forty minute journey away from Asilah. After spending just the night at this luxurious lodging we went set off on our next excursion around this coastal city. Firstly, we visited the coast to see where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean, where our college students had the opportunity to ride the camels and buy souvenirs.
Our college students next to where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic
We were then transported to the caspa in Tangier where we given a quick tour round the city centre, before being let loose in their notorious souk; whose venders have, lets say, an aggressive sales pitch. Nonetheless, this was incredibly fascinating for everybody involved.
Following our free hour, we were driven to the pier where we said our goodbyes to our driver and guide, before finally returning to Spain.
This was an incredibly fun and action packed weekend. Irrespective of being in Morocco, Spanish continued to be the integral language of communication. Thus, one could say this was an unusual place for our students to continue their linguistic immersion.