Welcome to the [opposite of the] jungle

First impressions of Morocco

29 January, 2018: I had a pleasant flight to Morocco today, despite the fact that at some point my phone decided I was in Madrid and changed timezone even though it was on airplane mode, which made me think we were extraordinarily late for most of the flight.

We flew over some lovely Spanish mountains:

2018-01-29 11.40.24
Mountains in Spain

And then over some beautiful North African desert:

2018-01-29 12.18.17
Moroccan desert

And then we landed at Agadir airport.

I knew it was a small airport but it was smaller and more forbidding than I expected. There was a small runway, no gates, and only two planes anywhere in site, including the one I arrived on. We walked across the tarmac to the terminal, which was guarded by two very intense soldiers with assault rifles (i.e. a one-to-one soldier/plane ratio), plus a couple cop/security types with regular guns.

The folks at passport control don’t really speak English and are very serious about things (even more so than usual for folks in that position). They don’t talk to you at all, they make you hand over your passport in a very specific way, and then they look at it verrrryyy carefully for a very long time before they start stamping. Once they stamp your passport (which they do about 4-5 times), there’s one baggage claim, a tiny duty-free kiosk, and a bunch of currency exchange booths. There are no customer service type people around, just men with guns and people staffing the currency exchanges.

Morocco is very strict about currency. If you want to bring in foreign money and then later bring it back *out* again, you have to declare it on your way in. And if you get local currency, you can wind up stuck in a bind, because you can’t exchange it back into another kind of currency when you leave unless you have the original exchange receipt, and you also can’t bring it out of the country (even if you don’t have said receipt). Oh, and ATMs don’t give receipts, and the currency exchange booths don’t take debit cards. So.

I got a smaller amount of cash than I had planned to, given all of that (oh and also the ATMs have a pretty low withdrawal limit). Hopefully it all works out — there’s no ATM in the town where I’m staying and most places don’t take credit cards, so looks like it’s time to practice some stricter-than-usual budgeting!

It was about an hour’s drive from the airport to Taghazout, the town where I’m living for the next five weeks. My accommodation sent me a driver, who was really nice, but he barely spoke English and my French/Arabic is pretty much non-existent, so once we had covered the greetings and the weather we had a pretty quiet (though companionable) drive.

The driving here is very different from what I’m used to. The main roads have two lanes in each direction, but the lines are treated as suggestions, if that. People just sort of drift around wherever they’re comfortable, and sometimes toot their horns if they’re overtaking.

The range of vehicles sharing the road, and the range of speeds at which they do so, is extremely wide. On the main highway we encountered semi trucks, taxis, regular cars, ancient cars with super-narrow cart-like tires, mopeds, mopeds with sidecars, bicycles, tractors, and animal-drawn carts. On the HIGHWAY. They’re all pretty polite drivers, though, as I suppose you’d almost have to be to stay alive with that much variety. At one point we came across three people on a moped driving the wrong direction on the shoulder of the highway, and my driver didn’t so much as blink.

The archictecture is also fascinating. There are miles and miles of mostly-identical, mostly white, 4-story, very cubist buildings — apartments, I think? — with nothing else around them. Paint is used sparingly: sometimes a little blue or red around the windows, mostly not. Many of the buildings have red or green fabric buntings for decoration.

It’s very dusty and not particularly clean. There are stray cats and dogs everywhere and the streets in the towns are dirt and maybe some gravel. The sand (on the beaches) and dirt (elsewhere) has lots of clay and sticks to everything. If there’s too much time without rain it apparently sticks to the leaves of the argan trees (which make up much of the local economy) and can kill them.

After I checked in (the place I’m staying is lovely; more on that later) I went for a walk to the beach. The town is riddled with twisting walkways and stairs and it’s not always clear if you’re in a public or private space. Eventually I made it to the sand, though, and spent a bit of time looking out at the ocean. When I turned around, I was looking at two camels. Welcome to the desert!

After that I stopped at a cafe for a crepe (ham and cheese with a fresh egg on top, tasty but unremarkable), and then spent the evening unpacking, settling in, and starting to meet the rotating cast of 13 co-working/co-living companions I’ll be hanging out with for the next few weeks. By 9pm I could barely keep my eyes open (still regretting that first-day nap), so I’m having an early night. I’m looking forward to exploring more once I’m settled!

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