Lunch in Europe, dinner in Africa. Hello Morocco, we’re here at last!
“As I lie here on the vinyl mattress in our tiny train cabin I have become acutely aware that there is nothing quite like the flavour of an unshowered man after a full day in the Moroccan sun! I stink, but have had an awesome day!” Jono Russell, 21st July 2013.
Breakfast in Granada, lunch in Algeciras, dinner in Tangier, Morocco. Due to unfortunate train connection times we had to catch a ridiculously early train from Granada to Algeciras where we hopped on a ferry in the afternoon across the Gibraltar Straits. As far as tourists were concerned there was a total of 6 on the whole ferry. The five of us and an American dude. Unbeknown to us you were supposed to go pay a visit to the police mid ferry ride. As we stuck out like sore thumbs they were clearly waiting for us and eventually sent the captain to get us. So we hand our passports to 2 plains clothes cops sitting behind some kind of reception desk and got a stamp for our troubles. The ferry was followed by a bus ride that was followed by a very crazy taxi adventure. Of course the second we got off the bus we were surrounded by men wanting to get us into their taxi. We haggled with a man about a taxi to the old town and once we agreed on a price he took us to the most beat up looking old merc you’ve ever seen. Into the boot went all our backpacks that clearly were never going to fit. Out came the occy strap and then into the car we all went…all five of us, plus the driver and then his friend!
This was a welcome to Africa that was an all out assault on your senses. It was evening by this stage and around the time of what we later came to label ‘hyper- crazy- hanger hour’. It is currently Ramadan and the hour before the fast can be broken, food and drink can finally be consumed again and people can have that ciggie they’ve been craving all day is absolutely crazy. The streets were teeming with people, everyone wearing traditional dress, the women covered, kids running around, markets stall owners shouting in Arabic over the din, the smells of dinners being cooked waft down the streets while sweat trickles down your back and the people drive like mad to get home.
We were aware it was Ramadan before arriving but I didn’t really realize that 100% of the population would be partaking, including on occasion, us. Here are a few fun facts on what Ramadan is all about. As I am not Muslim this is info I found on the net so I hope it’s correct, I really feel I need to describe what Ramadan is all about as it was such a big part of our trip whether we intended it to be or not. I love to learn about different people and experience different cultures so I was really glad to be experiencing Ramadan first hand and we got to talk to a few really cool people about what it means to them and how they deal with it.
The term Ramadan literally means scorching in Arabic and is derived from an Arabic word denoting intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of rations.
After the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad it was established as a Holy Month for Muslims. During the month of Ramadan, most Muslims observe the ‘Sawm’, it is one of the five pillars of Islam and individuals are required to abstain from eating, smoking, drinking and sex from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is held in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle rather than the solar cycle like ours. This means the dates of Ramadan move by approximately 11 days every year. This year Ramadan runs from the 8th of July till the 7th of August.
The fast is supposed to emphasize self-sacrifice and encourages people to use the experience of hunger to grow in empathy with the poor and needy. During Ramadan, Muslim communities work together to raise money for the poor, donate clothes and food, and hold ‘iftar’ dinners for the less fortunate. The practices involved in Ramadan are meant to purify yourself from thoughts and deeds which are counter to Islam. By removing material desires you are supposed to be able to focus fully on devotion and service to Allah.
Almost all Muslims will observe the fast. Some people can be excused such as pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, people who are seriously sick or those with medical conditions such as diabetes. Children that haven’t gone through puberty are also not required to fast. However, people are required to make up for the days they have missed after the month of Ramadan is over and before the next Ramadan arrives. If the circumstance is permanent or present for an extended amount of time they can contribute by feeding a needy person for every day missed.
At sunset, after fasting all day, families and friends gather for ‘Iftar’, which is the meal eaten by Muslims to break the fast. Many Muslims begin the meal by eating dates as the prophet apparently used to do. In Morocco the iftar meal traditionally includes, dates, milk, juices and sweets to provide provide the sugar hit needed after a day of going without food. Harira, a hearty lentil and tomato soup is to satisfy hunger and restore energy. Hard-boiled eggs, meat or seafood filled pastries (briouats), fried fish and pancakes could also be served.
Before sunrise many Muslims have the Suhur or predawn meal before the Fajr prayer. Since the Suhur meal is meant to get you through the day it tends to be a heavy and hearty meal. This year in Morocco, that means over 16 hours of not eating, drinking or smoking! Most Moroccan families serve a hearty tagine for the Suhoor meal. This is in accordance with the Prophet’s saying; “Tasaharu fa ina fi Assuhoori Baraka,” (do have Suhoor for there are blessings in it), Muslim devotees never deliberately miss such a meal. The ending of Ramadan is marked by the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, after the morning prayers the day is filled with feasting and celebration among family and friends.
So we had arrived into the medina (old town area) during the hour before the iftar meal when everyone gets really crazy, yelling, arguing and all racing to get home. We were smack bang in the middle of Tangier, tired and hungry and without an open restaurant in sight we asked a random guy where we could find food. He said ‘I will show you’. Picture this: all five of us have all our bags on our backs, its stinking hot, the streets are teeming with people and the markets stalls very close together. The brisk walk he took us on involved an incredible amount of weaving through alleys and markets, sweating and bashing into poor unsuspecting people with our packs. I got stuck behind Jared at one stage and after seeing his skateboard wack yet another person I started to get pretty awkward, ha!
As the sole occupants of the restaurant, up off the street and out of sight, we enjoyed a delicious Moroccan meal. As we left Jono had a chat with bloke sitting outside who asked us “do you believe in God?” and was very pleased when we said we did. After meeting our cab driver again we made it to the train station in plenty of time for the overnight train to Marrakech. This is the first proper sleeper train I’ve ever been in and we’re now lying in our train cabin with a shoelace tied across the door to keep the crooks out!
We made it to Marrakech 11 hours later. It was so strange to be only 30 mins out of a massive city and have nothing but desert and the occasional goat to see out of the window.
We were met by Ibrahim, our driver for the next 3 days. He was cool. We piled in to a big 4×4 and off we went for another 8 hours of travelling! To say I’m very excited to see the mighty Sahara desert is a massive understatement.