The bike rental shop where I left my luggage was not the kind of place that stored luggage, but it was the closest to my hostel in Cadiz where I could lock it up for a few days – seven, to be exact, since Spain’s Epiphany holiday ensured I wouldn’t be able to get it back any sooner. By the time I left, expecting to never see my luggage or the shop again, there was only thirty-two minutes to walk to the bus station, purchase my ticket, and travel the two hours to the coastal city of Tarifa. It all would have seemed easy enough if the beachy, traveller-happy Tarifa was my destination, but it was not; I was going to Morocco.
As a lone female traveller, it isn’t necessarily the best idea to head off to Morocco or the continent of Africa for a week without a plan – however flimsy – but the decision came about with more inward tossing and turning than I experienced at any other time on my 7-month long journey through three continents. After an awkward, days long inward fumble, I stuffed my bare necessities into a cloth sack, rushed from the hostel and dropped off my luggage, hoping that I would be able to catch the Tarifa bus and the 1 PM ferry from Tangier…and more than anything that I could find somewhere to stay in the Moroccan port city before the sun began to set around five.
For most of my European ‘vacation’, I had worn boots and relatively fashionable clothing, unaware of how European or non-European my appearance was, but by the time I boarded the ferry for Tangier, I was wearing a puffy jacket to cover my neck, runners for the sake of utility, and loose jeans. From the loading area, I watched a woman who sat nonchalantly in her hot pink high heels, and wondered where in Morocco she thought she was going; I came across her again as the boat prepared to dock and noticed no sign of the heels, relegated to the deep recesses of her bag as they now must have been.
The appearance of Africa’s coastline slowly rose into greater visibility, white houses and taupe coloured hills, the currents of the Strait of Gibraltar drawing us closer until the city of Tangier finally came into view. The flats of almost empty pavement and dirt that greeted me were not what I expected, the Kasbah of the city rising up on the edge of a hill that fell back down into the sea, but over the next few days I explored the medina and its network of narrow, meandering streets with curiosity. There is no cultural parallel in Canada to watching the sun set just beyond the walls of the medina, the voice of the Muslim prayer ringing out through its tiny, seemingly infinite corridors.
In the city of Fez, the country’s capital until 1925, I came across a guide outside of my hotel that took me to the old medina in a cab. Even larger and more awe-inspiring than in Tangier, the medina of Fez burst with life: donkeys nearly walked into me as they shuffled through the narrow laneways; old Moroccan men pushed heavy wooden carts full of pastries, setting them down to provide small bags of treats and take money; tied up chickens hung from storefronts along with cleaning supplies and boxes of laundry detergent; unassuming doorways one could walk through held cafes that sold omelettes and sandwiches and soup that could be purchased for a dollar or two.
After the local treat of mint tea and the customary attempt at selling me a rug, the guide led me up a spiral staircase to the roof. From the vantage point at the top of the building, I could see the medina’s vast stretch and the rust-coloured buildings filing off into the horizon, the Atlas Mountains towering above it all as the sun folded over everything. Satellite dishes reached out from nearly every house as the light that remained dialled down to nothing, the experience and its unexplainability best left to the dusk.