The first book was Crake and Oryx. It was my third Margaret Atwood, and I was struggling. But it’s takes a lot for me to leave a book unfinished, so I trudged on. The flight to Madrid was long, and by the time we got on the tiny plane to Tangier, I was halfway done. The woman next to me carried a toddler in her lap. I dread crying babies on planes, but this one only quietly observed everyone around her with big eyes and curious smile, and I forgave her for all the cracker crumbs that flew into my lap. The woman had lived in Tangier for ten years, and told me to drive down the coast to see the beautiful beaches where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet. I politely feigned enthusiasm, but really, I only came to Morocco to see the desert.
We first realized how complicated the medina roads can be as we followed our guide to the hotel. When we got to the front door he said, “so it’s just left right left (or was it left right right) to get back to the petit souk, very easy” and I nodded as if I had a clue. The hotel was an old building with a bright purple door, with an eclectic collection of art and artifacts that would not be out of place in many museums. The owner was a lady named Fabienne who would be best described as very French, her friendliness somewhat hidden under curt demeanor. She showed us the rooftop, with a gorgeous (if obstructed) view of the mountains, beach, and the coast of Spain faintly visible in the distance. We marveled in awe, not knowing this would only be the first of many beautiful rooftops we have the privilege of visiting this trip.
There was loud music and conversation coming from across the street. The French owner complained about the migrant workers ruining the neighborhood. I must say the noise was not pleasant, and carried on for most of the day. But in the morning I saw one such migrant worker shaving on the roof while holding a piece of broken mirror, and felt guilty of my own displeasure. They left home to find a better life, and here I was, wishing they weren’t there to ruin my vacation.
My planned nap time was shorter than expected, mostly because of the tireless children playing in the alley. The house was two hundred years old and no one has bothered to replace the wooden doors with soundproof windows. I can only imagine our French host’s indignation if anyone ever surfaced such suggestion. As a result I finished another three chapters by the time Xinxin and Jimmy arrived, and it was time for dinner. Food was cheap and we rewarded ourselves by over ordering.
It was our only night in town, and we ventured into the medina, getting lost despite having both paper and electronic maps in hand. By the time we reached the bustling center, we were already ready for a drink. The hotel bar suggested by our hostel owner was a disappointment, as we were the only guests, so we opted for a local tea house instead. For the next two weeks, we would be drinking at least two glasses of mint tea per day, but we didn’t know that yet.
We were soon bored of the stores and wanted to head back. This proved to be even more difficult. The alleys turned in mysterious ways and ended with little notice. We wandered under the dim yellow lights, intrigued by shadows, cats, and cats in shadows.
It turned out that our best time was spent in the lobby of the hostel, where Fabienne made us a warm fire, Larry surprised us with Christmas gifts, and we met another girl named Xinxin.
So that was Tangier. I must say my first impression of Africa was a bit lackluster, but the desert awaits!