The most brilliant sky I have ever seen was from the deck of a ferry as I traveled between Algeciras, Spain and Tangiers, Morocco. The sun was blazing red, and it lit up the surrounding clouds with endless shades of reds, oranges, pinks, purples, and blues.
I had met a Parisian kid by the name of Bruno on the bus leaving Sevilla, and couldn’t believe that we were the only ones on the deck admiring the sunset as we glided slowly across the Straight of Gibraltar. There was something very peaceful and symbolic about the sunset as we left the European continent and entered into Africa, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was certain, however, that I felt liberated and lucky to have such freedom in my life.
I was doing a handstand on the deck of the boat when Bruno asked me, “ Would you like to stay at my house in Marrakech? We can take the over-night train right away, and you can stay at my house.” “Really?” is what I usually ask when an offer seems too good to be true, and this offer was no exception. Bruno replied, “Yes, really.” Bruno’s mother was Moroccan and his father Parisian. When they separated his mother returned to Morocco and Bruno visited her frequently.
We only had 30 minutes from the time the ferry docked until the departure of the “Marrakech Express” from the Tangiers train station. Bruno, who had taken the ferry many times assured me that we would have no problem making the train as long as it wasn’t sold out. We scurried off the ferry and into the taxi car of the first man who offered us a ride.
I fell asleep almost immediately after boarding the train and woke up as the sun was rising over a vast desert landscape scattered with small wooden huts. It reminded me a little of India.
Bruno’s house was close to the central plaza in Marrakech and was more like a palace. It was a French Colonial style house with an enormous courtyard, swimming pool, and three large bedrooms with doors opening into the courtyard. It was not possible to know which of these rooms was the master bedroom, as all of them were large, well decorated, and luxurious.
The roof top terrace was covered with tropical plants and flowers and had a row of reclining chairs for lying out in the sun. I was trying to keep my cool as Bruno gave me a tour of his amazing mansion of a home, but I was unable to hide the smile on my face.
After we showered and were comfortable in clean clothes, a chef arrived along with two Moroccan masseuses. Bruno and I took the stairs to the terrace with the two beautiful Moroccan women and were given hour-long massages while the chef prepared our lunch. Midway through the massage we were offered tall glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice while the girls massaged our feet.
For the next five days, Bruno showed me around Marrakech, and introduced me to many of his friends there. We ate traditional Moroccan cuisine, got a massage every day, and explored the ins and outs of the famous souks of the city.
In Arabic, a souk is a market located in the Medina “the old city”. In the souks of Marrakech, which are said to be the largest in the Morocco, you can buy practically everything the country has to offer, from clothes and spices, to rugs and peacocks.
One morning, out of nowhere, during our massage on the terrace, Bruno said calmly, “ I would really like to have some peacocks on my terrace”. I thought he was joking, but an hour later we were returning to his house from the market, walking through the plaza, each holding a peacock by the neck and feet. They were squirming this way and that and really trying hard to get away. We arrived at the house, went directly onto his terrace and let the birds go. Their wings were clipped so they could not fly away, and for the next three days, Bruno and I marveled our newest pets every morning during our daily massage.
It was difficult to leave the luxurious lifestyle in Marrakech, but there was a fishing village on the coast called Essaouira that I was eager to visit.
I hopped on a bus west and somewhere along the route in the middle of the desert, the bus broke down. Most of the passengers huddled along the bus in the shade for two hours waiting for another bus to arrive and nobody seemed remotely fazed by being stranded, as if breaking down was part of the routine. Eventually, we boarded another bus and continued along our route to the Pacific.
Bruno had friends in Essaouira as well, and told them that I would be visiting for a couple nights. I called one of Bruno’s friends from the bus station when I arrived, and walked to the hotel that he owned in the Medina. He showed me to my “room” which was actually the entire top floor of the hotel. I had a king-sized bed, a large living room with a Jacuzzi, a kitchen with a fully stocked refrigerator, a spiral staircase with access to the roof, and the most spectacular 360-degree view of the ocean and the Medina. I told him that I could not afford to stay there, but he insisted that this is where I would be staying and that I would not be paying for it. He said I could stay as long as I wanted.
That night, I explored the village and was invited to eat dinner with my new friend from the hotel and many more local Moroccans at a restaurant close-by. What followed was the most unforgettable dining experience of my life. We started by drinking glass after glass of sweet mint tea and then they brought out a large platter with a lid over it. The lid was pulled off and lying on the platter was a roasted lambs head; eyes, ears, nose, teeth, everything. People casually reached across the table and began picking and pulling meat off of the lambs face. They pulled meat from underneath its eyeballs, off of its forehead, and all around the circumference of its mouth. I tried a piece from one of its cheeks, and had to admit, the meat was delicious. It had been roasting all day long.
Early the next morning, I walked down to the docks as the fisherman were bringing in that mornings catch. I spent the morning holding octopuses, sharks, and many other strange looking fish and taking photos of the fisherman, their boats, the ocean, and the various sea creatures that inhabited the waters.
After a fresh seafood lunch, I decided to rent a horse and ride down the beach to another even smaller village with a teenage boy as my guide. The guide gave me a stick to whip my horse’s behind when I wanted to go faster. Occasionally, the boy would come up behind me and whip my horse very hard, sending it into a full gallop.
I held on for my life and was galloping full speed down the beach when I saw a strange looking structure ahead. As I approached, I saw a castle made of sandstone that had collapsed underneath the waves of the ocean. My guide asked me, “You know Jimi Hendrix?” I nodded yes. He repeated, “Yes. Yes. Jimi Hendrix, the castle made of sand. Yes, Jimi Hendrix.”
I had read before arriving in Morocco that both Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley enjoyed visiting Essaouira and wrote many songs there. I was looking at the castle made of sand melting into the sea, and it only made sense that it was the same castle that Jimi Hendrix was inspired by to write his famous song “Castles Made of Sand” that released on the album titled, Axis: Bold as Love, in 1967. Later, I learned that he didn’t travel to Morocco until after that album was released.
The next day, I traveled by bus 40km south down the coast to a small fishing village that was home to a small surfing camp. I stayed with an elderly man and his nephew in a tiny hut made of stone on the beach, and surfed for two days.
The waves were small and consistent, perfect for a beginner like myself. For dinner, the old man and I built a fire and grilled three small octopuses that he had caught in the tide pools earlier that day.
While hitchhiking a ride back to Essaouira in the back of a pick-up truck, I saw about ten goats in the top of a large tree eating leaves. Climbing goats! I could not believe what I was seeing, and this feeling of astonishment had been happening constantly for the entirety of my trip. Everything had been going my way.
I caught the first bus back to Marrakech, and soon after said farewell to Bruno and the peacocks. I was on my way back to Europe. As the ferry drifted across the Straight of Gibralter back to Spain, I reflected upon the past ten days and barely believed that what had happened was real. My trip to Morocco could not have been better.
There are many ferry crossings daily from Algeciras to Tangiers. There is a slow ferry that takes almost three hours and a faster ferry that takes 70 minutes. I recommend the slow ferry. It is less expensive and very enjoyable, especially if you go while the sun is setting.
The 11-hour overnight train to Marrakech leaves Tangiers every night at 9:00 p.m. It is a five-minute taxi ride from the ferry dock to the Tangiers train station.
Daily departures to Essaouira leave frequently from the Bab Doukkala bus terminal in Marrakech. This ride should take two and a half hours.
Marrakech is a pleasure to visit any time of the year. Spring (March-May) and fall (September-November) are the best times to visit because of the sunshine, the warm temperature during the day, and the not to chilly temperatures at night. At the height of summer from June to August, the temperature can be very hot, up to 38C. If you visit during the winter (December-February), be sure to bring something warm to wear at night. Essaouria has a very similar climate to Marrakech, but is usually a bit colder because of the wind off of the ocean.
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