Crossing via ferry from Aljeciras in Spain to Tanger wasn’t exactly how I had imagined arriving in Morocco a few months ago. But neither were so many other things which have happened since. That’s the beauty about life, and travelling life in particular. Forced to stay flexible. Forced to stay open – to what flows cross your path.
Arriving in Tanger Med, an industrial ferry terminal 50km away from Tanger city, we catch a cab to Tetuan – a small town at the edge of the Riff mountains off the beaten backpackers track. We are most warmly welcomed by Abdul from the Riad Delia where we booked in for the night. He helps us carry our bags and find our way through the maze of the ancient, most picturesque and car-free medina. When we arrive I feel we are in fairy tale land. Round decorated arches over all doors and colourful windows. Aladin’s carpets everywhere. Stunning mosaics wherever the eyes rest. Cosy couchy corners in all directions where sweet mint tea is served as a welcome. The Riad owners have a girl about the same age as our boys. They get on like a house on fire from the first moment. After the obligatory welcome ceremony we are let up to our quarters past the black and white squared patio lined with palm trees. Upstairs we enter the royal quarters. A large princess bed which huge cushions and royal curtains hanging down from the high ceiling. Extra beds prepared for the kids. A small and cosy private bathroom through another arched ferry tale gate.
Later we go for an evening stroll through the tiny streets, some so narrow we have to walk in single file and some gates so low only the kids can pass through comfortably without having to pull their head in. Little stands from old and young, men and women everywhere selling anything from delicious French bakeries, over hand-made leather shoes to tiny gifts and gadgets no-one really needs but people still buy. Hustle and bustle everywhere. Aliveness. Coulours. Smiles from the women. Curious looks from the guys although I tried to cover myself up as good as I can. The most delicious scents, from freshly ground coffee, over dried spices to all sorts of undefinable smells. We love and indulge in this strange and intriguing wold until our tummies call us back home for dinner where a mix of steaming sweet and sour Tajin and most delicious tongue-melting couscous awaits us.
The next morning the kids get up without us noticing and start painting with Dalia downstairs. I’m not sure if this strong-willed, cheeky five-year old was named after the Riad or vice versa. Probably the former. In any case, a local kid at home is one of the best things that can happen to travelling parents. At a decent hour we are treated to a delicious and abundant breakfast which strongly shows the French influence and their love and talent for sweets and bakery. Another morning of getting lost and found again through the tiny fairy-tale streets of the medina. Surprisingly, and as usual for this trip contrary to what Lonely Planet states, the arts and crafts school by local berbers is closed, not on a Friday but on a Sunday. It seems that at least Northern Morocco looks much more up then right or down. In other words, it is more influenced by Europe than by Islam and Africa. This, we also find in the dominant language as, again contrary to what the newest Lonely Planet says, is not French, but obviously Spanish. Not surprising that at its narrowest, the stretch of Gibraltar separates Morocco from Spain by a mere 16 kilometres. Away from salty water, we are on to breathe some fresh mountain air. The Riff, they say, is great for the people who love the idea of lush mountains, green forests and enjoyable hikes but are just not quite ready yet for the Atlas Mountains further South. Yes, that’s so us today!
I’m told and I realize that Lonely Planet is so outdatedly, misleadingly yesterday written by people who might have never visited a place, or if so, then a decade ago. The way to go, fellow travellers swear by, if not your own nose and their advice, then TripAdvisor.