To Tangier, formerly known as City of Pedophilia

Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
Trip End Jul 23, 2004

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Friday, July 16, 2004

Funny, what you take for granted. My biggest complaint on the long train ride from Marrakesh to Meknes was how long and boring it was; no mention of creepy starers or potential bag thieves because there were none, unlike every trip on a Rajasthani train. Oh, what a new level of Paris Hilton-ish unappreciation I have reached...
Meknes proved to be the only true disappointment of Morocco. The narrow streets were jam-packed with honking, fume-spewing cars and the medina was a pale comparison to Marrakesh. In it's defense, we were told that the excessive traffic could be blamed on licensing exams for police being held in the city, and our border friends, Ioanni and Esme, had given Meknes rave reviews. Our reason to visit Meknes? The olives. We stocked up with a bucket of magenta Kalamata olives, truly a testament to olive perfection. Armed with our plastic container of little ankle-swellers, we decided to stay only one night, in order to visit the ancient granaries of Moulay Ismail. I know, I know, how could we be so lucky! Ok, so it doesn't sound as good as a trip to...well, most places, but the granaries were actually pretty cool. Only three have been restored, and they are massive; in it's prime, the storerooms held enough food for 12,000 horses. And there is a Hollywood connection: part of The Last Temptation of Christ was shot here. I think it was the debutante scene.
After Meknes, we decided to take another pass at Fes. Murderous miniature psychos aside, the city was impressive. And we actually did make it into the medina this time, sans death threats, only to find that the Medersa Bou Inania, the 14th century building we had most wanted to see, was closed for renovation. Sigh. So instead we wandered around Old Fes aimlessly until the sun and the touts wore us out. In retrospect, I would have hired an official guide to visit the medina. Maybe on our third pass through Fes...
On the advice of virtually everyone (hmmm...shouldn't warning bells have gone off?), we headed to Chefchaouen, a village high in the Rif mountains. And the village is beautiful; all the buildings, and some of the alleys, are painted with a blue-tinged whitewash, giving Chefchaouen (yup, that's almost all the vowels) the feeling of a Mediterranean city. And it is definitely a travellers' mecca, although it may be less for the multiple hiking possibilities or the chance to watch local artisans at work, and more for the apparently endless supply of pot that flows into town from crops grown in the surrounding mountains. I don't smoke pot, but neither am I anti-pot-smokers; still, the constant offers of "good weed" was a little irritating after the fourth day. I felt like I was trapped in the van with Spicoli. Minus the omnipresent dealers (which some may view as a draw, not a deterrent), Chefchaouen was laid-back and relaxed, with a small, centrally-located and picturesque casbah, which we, of course, rocked.
Our last stop before leaving Morocco was a night in Tangier, a city known for many years as a kind of "anything goes" naughtiness. It boasted a huge industry of infamy: drug and money smugglers, pimps, gun dealers. This atmosphere also attracted a high-profile community of artists and writers, a resorty gay scene, and off-the-beaten-path trust fund partiers. It was also an enclave for pedophiles, but supposedly all the epicurean pursuits have been reined in. I thought it was a very European city, all dance club advertisements and Ikea-furnished tea shops. We had read warning upon warning about the push of touts at the port, but I guess that they aren't in full force at 7 am. Our taxi rolled the empty streets like Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot through Boston. We hopped on the ferry to Algeciras (Spain), waving a sad goodbye to beautiful Morocco.
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