I should be picturing scenes from Casablanca as I sit in the catamaran, which ferries from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier: the so-called White City of Morocco. Instead, I’m imagining Raiders of the Lost Ark with turban-wearing, swash-buckling fighters carrying fez-wearing monkeys on their shoulders running down a dusty dirt road, which is strange, since Raiders of the Lost Ark takes place in Egypt. Regardless, I prepare myself for the teeming throngs. After disembarking the catamaran, my husband, Damon, and I first need to find our private tour guide, Amine, at the dock. I doubt we can find each other through my imagined chaos.
Despite the power of Hollywood stereotypes, we find Amine within minutes and are soon speeding off in his VW Jetta. I am not disappointed that he is wearing a chambray short-sleeve button down shirt and Dockers, but I am saddened by the fact that I will not have the chance to bond with any four pound monkeys. I had plans for us.
After settling into the El-Minzah Hotel, our first site in Morocco is Cap Spartel, where the fresh Mediterranean waters meet the salty Atlantic Ocean. We zip past an impressive, upscale neighborhood in Tangier, called California (also, ironically, the name of the place we’re from in the U.S.A.). At the coast, we should be able to see a clear distinction between the two seas, which, because of the difference in temperature, salinity and density do not mix. Unfortunately, it is a hazy day and all we can see is just that: haze. Despite the circumstances, we take pictures. Back in the car, we drive past the King’s mansion, which looks stately with its iron gates and manicured gardens. Further up the road toward the beach, we see two camels.
Amine asks, “Do you want to ride a camel?” Damon and I simultaneously say, “Sure!” This is something we had both been looking forward to – a camel ride on the beach. Anticipating the rough way camels stand up, we brace ourselves and manage to stay seated. The camel handler must get a lot of tourists because he takes control of our camera and snaps our picture. He yells at us to kiss, so we do. Now that I think about it, he might have been talking to the camels. Since we only ride the camels for three minutes, we don’t need the bandanas we bought to block out the sun and wind.
Next stop is lunch. As with all memorable experiences in my life, food is a big factor. No different here, in the African city closest to Europe. Our first lunch is upstairs at the Restaurant Hammadi, the restaurant is entirely empty. The atmosphere is exotic with red and gold wallpaper throughout, colorful seat cushions and intricate curtains. The only sounds I hear are from the bustling street below. We feel very much like we are in Morocco. The chicken tagine is good, although nothing to write home about. The dessert is sweetened mint tea and a sweet, sticky pastry. Not being a tea fan, I am pleasantly surprised how much I love the mint tea: its sweetness, the fresh mint leaves soaking in it and the cool, refreshed feeling afterwards.